Oral Roberts to Hire Paul Mills as Head Coach

By Kevin Sweeney

For the second consecutive offseason, a Baylor assistant is getting his own program.

Longtime Scott Drew understudy Paul Mills is expected to be named the next head coach at Oral Roberts, according to multiple media reports. Mills has been on Drew’s Baylor staff since 2003, and has been an assistant coach for the Bears since the 2009-10 season. This is Mills’ first collegiate head coaching job. Before working on the staffs at Baylor and Rice, he worked as the head coach at a pair of high school programs in the state of Texas.

He will replace Scott Sutton, who was fired after 18 seasons at the helm of the ORU program earlier this month. Sutton amassed a 328-247 record in his time with the Golden Eagles, per sportsreference.com, and is the winningest coach in program history. He brought the program to 3 NCAA Tournaments during his tenure. However, he was fired after a pair of sub-.500 seasons, including an 8-22 mark this season that included not even qualifying for the Summit League Tournament.

Mills inherits a program that drew plenty of media attention recently when a report was released about the school’s recruiting policy. It was reported that University President Billy Wilson had told Sutton to not recruit players with tattoos and wanted prospective recruits to pass a “faith exam” to test their Christian values. This obviously limits the pool the school can recruit from, and it’s unclear whether or not this policy will be continued or if it affected the search for a new head coach.

Verbalcommits.com currently lists the Golden Eagles with no scholarships open for next season, but it’s very possible that space could open up in the aftermath of the coaching change. Rising senior forward Albert Owens, who led the team in both scoring and rebounding in the 2016-17 season, should be key to Mills having a good start to his head coaching career. ORU saw promising rising junior guard Kris Martin transfer to Colorado State at the beginning of this offseason.

 

What Should the Missouri Valley Do?

By Kevin Sweeney

With Wichita State departing the Missouri Valley Conference for the American Athletic Conference earlier this month, “The Valley” has a big question to answer:

“Do we need to add more teams?”

The answer to that question is most certainly “yes”. In a time in which it is harder than ever for mid-majors to get at-large bids (as the MVC saw itself this season with Illinois State), losing your premiere program without replacing it would be disastrous for the long-term future of the league. Without Wichita State, the Missouri Valley seems destined to be a one-bid league the vast majority of years unless it can add more teams to the fray.

So, who could join the Missouri Valley?

Murray State

Murray State seems like the most likely candidate to join the MVC. In yesterday’s Board of Regents meeting, the school’s president and athletic director both made it sound like it would seriously consider accepting an invitation to the MVC should it receive one. Murray State has great fan support, is a “basketball school”, and consistently produces a winning product. It would also maintain the current split between public and private institutions in the Missouri Valley. However, it would add significant costs in travel and would require stepping away from a conference they have been the premiere program in for a long time. From the MVC’s perspective, adding Murray State wouldn’t really expand the conference’s reach into larger media markets.

Valparaiso

Another very logical potential addition, Valparaiso shares many of the same qualities as Murray State (other than being a private school). Valpo has been a model for mid-majors over the past 2 decades, with consistent success done the right way. In recent years, we’ve seen the Crusaders put together some incredible seasons, just to fall in their conference tournament and be left out of the Field of 68 on Selection Sunday. With a move to the Missouri Valley from the Horizon League, an at-large bid would become much more possible. I believe that Valparaiso would accept an invitation if one were to be extended.

UW-Milwaukee

UWM is a relatively new candidate to join the discussion. However, they make a ton of sense as an MVC addition. For the Panthers, it would provide the opportunity to re-energize a fan base that has been frustrated over the past few seasons. And while UWM may seem like a questionable addition from a basketball perspective given their 11-24 mark this season, it wasn’t long ago that the Panthers went to 3 NCAA Tournaments in 4 years and have won 19 or more games 9 times in the last 15 seasons. For the MVC, UWM would allow the conference to expand into the Milwaukee media market, which could provide increased revenue.

Belmont

Early in the process, it seemed like Belmont was a frontrunner to leave the Ohio Valley and join the Missouri Valley. Momentum for a move has seemed to halt in recent days, for reasons detailed by this article in the Tennessean by Mike Organ. However, it’s a move that makes sense from a strictly basketball perspective. Like Valparaiso, Belmont has been hit hard over the years with losses in their conference tournament. That hasn’t taken away from how Rick Byrd has produced a perennial power, having won at least 20 games in all but one season since 2005.

A Mystery Candidate

It’s entirely possible that a candidate could come out of left field to join the league and leave the college basketball world shocked. St. Louis is the ideal choice, though I don’t see a scenario in which they leave the Atlantic 10. If the MVC is looking to expand into larger markets, Denver could makes sense, as could Nebraska-Omaha. North Dakota State has also been briefly mentioned in connection with the MVC, with South Dakota State often mentioned with them in order to ease the travel burden adding just one of them would cause.

How many teams will the Missouri Valley add?

This is perhaps the essential question to be asked, and it’s one without a “right” answer. Remaining at 9 teams makes very little sense in my mind, as it would leave the conference weakened in a time in perhaps the most important time in its history. However, that doesn’t mean the MVC couldn’t test 9 teams for a couple of years to see how it works out.

Adding one additional team to bring the total back to ten would be the simplest solution. The conference’s scheduling, tournament, and revenue sharing system could all remain in tact, with the new member swapping with Wichita State.

Two additional teams to bring the total to 11 could work as well. However, going to eleven teams might create more problems than solutions. For one, it would cause there to be an unbalance between public and private schools in the conference. Additionally, it becomes very difficult to fit 20 conference games in if the MVC wants to continue to play its conference tournament the first weekend in March (avoiding media conflicts with power conferences). To fit all those games in, more midweek games (lower attendance and ratings) or playing a pair of conference games in December would likely be necessary. Also, by playing 20 conference games, MVC teams would be playing shorter non-conference schedules, which could hurt their strength of schedules.

The final option is adding 3 teams, which would leave the Missouri Valley with 12 teams. This approach makes a lot of sense, as it would allow the conference to grow its reach and add multiple top mid-major programs to its ranks. However, the plan is not without its flaws. Revenue would have to be divided up into smaller segments than the current members are used to. The hope would be that bringing in additional teams would bring in enough more revenue to the league to at least offset that difference, but it would still be a smaller piece of the pie. It would also lead to not being able to have a traditional round-robin schedule with every team playing each other twice. Instead, the MVC would likely go to the division system.

So, What Should the Missouri Valley Do?

Here’s my proposal: add Murray State, Valparaiso, and UW-Milwaukee. That strengthens the league with a pair of currently successful mid-majors in Murray State & Valpo, while adding a high-upside program in UWM that is located in a large market. Divide the programs into two divisions by geography to play an 16 game conference schedule (play teams in division twice and outside division once). Here’s an idea of how the conference would look, thanks to PantherU.com on Twitter.

What do you think the Missouri Valley should do? Comment below or send me a tweet (handle is @CBB_Central)!

Note: The original article stated that a 12-team conference would play 18 games, it would actually play 16. It also stated that the Missouri Valley would have an even public/private split, which it wouldn’t.

Portsmouth Invitational Recap: Which Mid-Major Stars Boosted Their Stock?

By Kevin Sweeney

In many ways, the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament was the original scouting combine. Rather than focusing on how fast a player can run, how high he can jump, or how long his wingspan is, The PIT brings together the top 64 seniors in college basketball, grouping them in teams of 8. A strong performance can be parlayed into an invitation to the NBA Draft Combine, a summer league invite, or even into position to be drafted. It also provides plenty of exposure to scouts from top overseas leagues. 

This year, Portsmouth Partnership took home the title, with Houston wing Damyean Dotson taking home Tournament MVP honors. However, there were a ton of former mid-major stars who put on an excellent display. Here’s a look at some of the guys who boosted their stock the most. 

Tyler Cavanaugh (George Washington)- While Dotson was named MVP, you could have easily made a case for Cavanaugh to receive that honor. Also playing for Portsmouth Partnership, Cavanaugh ranked second among all participants with 19.3 points per game, while also averaging 6.3 rebounds and connecting on 6 of his 13 3-point attempts. The 6-9 Cavanaugh has excellent size for the power forward position and showcased his ability to stretch the floor this weekend. I truly believe Cavanaugh could work his way onto an NBA roster this fall based on his performance at the PIT. 

Jacob Wiley (Eastern Washington)- Wiley is certainly undersized for a big man at the next level, but his energy and hustle popped off the screen whenever I watched him play. Despite standing just 6-7, Wiley was a force on the glass and finished well around the rim. He put on one of the performances of the tournament with a 29 point, 11 rebound display on Friday. I expect Wiley to get plenty of calls from European scouts following this weekend’s showing. 

Justin Robinson (Monmouth)- With Isaiah Thomas of the Celtics taking the NBA by a storm this season, I’m sure there are plenty of NBA teams looking for the next short guard ready to dominate the league. Enter Justin Robinson. The 5-8 Robinson sliced through defenses with his drives to the hoop, while tying London Perrantes for tops in the tournament with 8.7 assists per game. He also took care of the ball extremely well, turning the ball over just 5 times in 3 games. Having watched a ton of Robinson’s games at Monmouth, it was no surprise to see him put on a show in Portsmouth. I believe Robinson did enough to earn an invite to the NBA Draft Combine, which will give him the opportunity to impress more NBA scouts. 

JaCorey Williams (Middle Tennessee)- Williams led the tournament in scoring, averaging 20.3 points per game. His multi-faceted offensive game combined with his excellent athleticism and strength makes him a matchup nightmare on that end of the floor. It’s incredible to think that 2 years ago, Williams had just been kicked off the team at Arkansas and his basketball career seemed in jeopardy. Now, he has a chance to compete for an NBA roster spot. 

Emmanuel Omogbo (Colorado State)- Omogbo was a double-double machine at CSU, and that didn’t change this weekend in Portsmouth. He was one of just 2 players who averaged a double-double, posting 13 points and 11 rebounds per game. Omogbo was a terror on the offensive glass, averaging 5 offensive rebounds per contest. For his efforts, he was named to the all-tournament team. I expect Omogbo to have a lengthy professional career, whether it be in the NBA or overseas. 

Jeremy Senglin (Weber State)- 3-point shooting is a valued commodity at the next level, and Senglin certainly had that on display at the PIT. He connected on 48% of his triples en route to averaging 17.3 points per game in his 3 games in Portsmouth. Senglin asserted himself as the team’s top guard, an impressive feat considering his competition included Bronson Koenig (Wisconsin), Marquise Moore (George Mason), and Kadeem Allen (Arizona). 

Dallas Moore (North Florida)- Moore was on FIRE from downtown! Moore went 11-19 from 3 during the tournament, and seemed to improve his game every time he went out there. In game 1, he posted just 12 points. By game 3, Moore posted a near-flawless performance, with 22 points, 8 assists, and just one turnover. The top player in the history of the North Florida program, Moore clearly had no issue playing against tougher competition. He’ll thrive in the much more open professional game. 

Paul Weir Hired as New Mexico Head Coach

By Kevin Sweeney

New Mexico has turned to an in-state rival in its search for a new head coach. 

Current New Mexico State head coach Paul Weir is will be hired as the next head coach at New Mexico, according to The Lobo Lair. He will replace Craig Neal, who was fired after 4 seasons at the helm in Albuquerque. 

Other candidates who were connected with the vacancy included FGCU head coach Joe Dooley, ETSU head coach Steve Forbes, UT-Arlington head coach Scott Cross, and San Antonio Spurs assistant James Borrego. 

The 37 year-old Weir departs Las Cruces after just 1 season in charge. However, it was a very successful season, as NMSU went 28-6 in a campaign that featured a 20-game win streak and an NCAA Tournament berth. One of only 3 Canadian-born Division 1 head coaches, Weir has strong recruiting ties in Canada. NMSU has 4 Canadians currently on their roster. 

Weir will have to move quickly in the coming days to assemble a roster for the 2017-18 season. UNM currently has no players on the roster who averaged more than 6 points per game last season, and appear to be facing a rebuilding year this coming season.

New Mexico State heads into a coaching search for the second consecutive offseason. If looking to hire from within, they could look to Jessie Bopp, a well-regarded recruiter and young assistant. If not, a pair of former NMSU assistants currently at power conference schools in Tony Stubblefield (Oregon) and Chris Crutchfield (Oklahoma) could be candidates. 

New Mexico State and New Mexico meet for a home-and-home series every season. That meeting will certainly be an interesting one to watch this year, especially as Weir returns to Las Cruces as the coach of a rival. 

March Madness: Top 10 Moments of March

By Kevin Sweeney

The month of March is without a doubt the best month of the year for college basketball fans. Every year, there are incredible moments that make March Madness so great. Whether they be conference tournament upsets, to buzzer-beaters, to miraculous runs deep into the NCAA Tournament, March provides fans with incredible entertainment and memories that last a lifetime. I’ve ranked my top 10 moments of March (and April) as I relive them, sitting in denial that the season is actually over.

10. Youngstown State’s Buzzer-Beater sends Motor City Madness into Disarray

“They rope-a-doped the one seed!” was the call as Cameron Morse found a wide-open Jorden Kaufman under the basket for the game winning bucket. The Penguins, who had lost their first two meetings to Oakland by a combined total of 43 points, came away with a stunning win in the first quarterfinal of a Horizon League Tournament in which Oakland was heavily favored. With Valparaiso’s Alec Peters injured, it was Oakland’s tournament to lose. But Morse posted 34 points and Kaufman had the game of his career with 22 points and 10 rebounds to shake things up in a big way.

9. Northwestern Dances, Finally

Northwestern, long the only power conference school to never make the NCAA Tournament, finally reached the Big Dance this year. Even though they were widely expected to hear their name called on Selection Sunday, the jubilation on the faces of players and coaches when they finally had their dream come true was special. The Wildcats provided us with a pair of scintillating games,. First, they snuck past Vanderbilt after Matthew Fisher-Davis lost track of the score and foul intentionally, allowing Bryant McIntosh to sink a pair of game-winning free throws. Then, they roared back from 20 down against Gonzaga before falling just short, partially due to a missed goaltending call and subsequent technical on Northwestern coach Chris Collins.

8. Chris Clemons Scores 51!

One of the reasons I love March Madness is that guys most have never even heard of get a chance at the national spotlight. Clemons, a diminutive 5-9 guard, put on a scoring performance unlike anything I’d seen all season as he almost single-handedly carried Campbell to an upset victory over UNC-Asheville. Clemons did it all, from blocking shots to ridiculous step-back 3’s to nearly jumping OVER a defender for a layup. He continued his hot play to carry the Camels to a Big South title game appearance and a deep run in the CIT. He will be one of the stars of mid-major college basketball next season.

7. Clareth’s Insane Second Half Carries Siena Past Monmouth

It was one of the most incredible games I’ve ever witnessed personally. Facing a seventeen-point second half deficit against top-seeded Monmouth, Siena star guard Nico Clareth put on a performance for the ages. Clareth, who was barely able to play in the first half with a nasty ankle injury, drained 7 of his 8 three-point attempts in the second half, as well an insane leaner from the baseline in the closing moments, to help Siena complete an incredible comeback. Clareth, who dealt with plenty of adversity throughout the season, put on a display head coach Jimmy Patsos compared to Kirk Gibson’s home run. While Clareth’s Saints fell just short in the MAAC Championship game against Iona, that second half will be remembered by Siena fans for a very long time.

6. Fox Outduels Ball

The Sweet 16 matchup between Kentucky and UCLA had more hype associated with it than any Sweet 16 game I can remember. Potential top pick Lonzo Ball and his uber-confident father LaVar were about to matchup with Kentucky, one of the favorites to win the tournament. While most of the talk in the run-up to the game was about Ball, it was Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox that took over when the lights came on. Fox dominated for 39 points and held Ball to just 10 points in the game.

5. Michigan Goes From Bubble to Cinderella

Entering the month of March, it was no guarantee Michigan would even make the NCAA Tournament. Then, the Wolverines dealt with something much bigger than basketball: a plane crash. Thankfully, everyone was alright. However, that scary experience turned out to be the turning point in their season, as the Wolverines ripped off 4 wins in 4 days (including one in their practice jerseys) to win the Big Ten Tournament. Then, they knocked off Oklahoma State & Louisville and had many people-including me- thinking that they were a team of destiny. Unfortunately, their season came to an end with a heartbreaking loss to Oregon in the Sweet 16, but it was still an incredible story and an inspiring run.

4. Chiozza’s Runner Sends Garden Into a Frenzy

It was as good a NCAA Tournament buzzer-beater as we’ve seen in a long time.  After a crazy game that featured miraculous comebacks, discount-double-checks, and chasedown blocks by the guy best known for shooting free throws granny-style, it was only fitting that the Wisconsin vs Florida battle in the Sweet 16 would end like this. With 4 seconds to go, the speedy Chris Chiozza went almost the entire length of the floor to put up a floater from beyond the arc that just beat the horn.

3. South Carolina Stuns Everyone on Way to Glendale

When South Carolina finished their season with losses to Alabama and Ole Miss, most gave up on them as a team who could make noise in March Madness.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

First was a victory over Marquette in which the Gamecocks pulled away late for a 20-point victory. Then was an incredible 65-point second half to knock off heavily favored Duke in the Round of 32. After that, a blowout victory over Baylor before knocking off Florida in the Elite Eight to punch their ticket to the Final Four. Sindarius Thornwell had an incredible tournament, averaging 23.6 points per game during the tournament. While the Gamecocks fell just short against Gonzaga, it was an incredible run that shocked us all.

2. This. Is. Maye?

One of the great stories of the NCAA Tournament was that of UNC’s Luke Maye. Maye, a big man that declined scholarship offers from multiple Division 1 programs to be a preferred walk-on at North Carolina, had multiple big games during the Tar Heels’ big run. However, it was his last-second jumper to knock off Kentucky that will be remembered forever in Chapel Hill. After Malik Monk had tied the game for Kentucky with a desperation three, Theo Pinson rushed the ball up the floor and dished it to Maye, whose long jumper was nothing but net.

Then of course, Maye made headlines the next day for showing up to his 8am class.

1. North Carolina Gets Redemption

After losing last season’s national title game on a buzzer-beater by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, UNC had one thing on its mind: redemption. It was such a theme that the team named its group chat “Redemption”.

They got exactly what they were looking for.

The Tar Heels knocked off Gonzaga in an ugly, yet entertaining affair to cut down the nets for the first time since 2009.

Kassius Robertson to Transfer from Canisius-Eligible Immediately

By Kevin Sweeney

A knockdown three-point shooter has just hit the graduate transfer market.

Canisius shooting guard Kassius Robertson will graduate and transfer, per verbalcommits.com. The 6’3″ Robertson averaged 16.1 points per game and shot 41% from 3-point range this season for the Golden Griffins, who finished 7th in the MAAC this season.

Robertson, a native of Ontario, Canada, redshirted his first season at Canisius before playing 3 seasons for the Griffs. He was a member of the MAAC All-Rookie Team in the 2014-15 season and was selected to the All-MAAC 2nd team this season. Originally recruited to play under Jim Baron, Robertson flourished last season in the wide-open offense Reggie Weatherspoon installed upon taking over the Canisius program before the 2016-17 season.

However, in the Griffs’ MAAC Quarterfinal game against St. Peter’s, Robertson was benched for much of the second half by Weatherspoon for an apparent lack of effort. Robertson scored just 2 points in the game. It’s unclear if that event has anything to do with his decision to transfer.

Robertson will likely have a long list of suitors as he looks for a school where he can play out his final year of eligibility. If Robertson wants to take a decreased role in the offense as a shooter off the bench/6th man, he will likely draw interest from power conference programs and top mid-majors. If he wants to play a bigger role, it’s possible that Robertson could move to another team from a one-bid league, hoping to be the piece that puts them over the top in their search for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Update: Jon Rothstein is reporting that Robertson will visit Georgia Tech and Missouri.