NCAA men’s basketball: Gonzaga continues to dominate, Duke set to return to play

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Young Kwak | Associated Press

Dixie State guard Emad Elniel (34) shoots and is fouled by Gonzaga forward Ben Gregg (33) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Spokane, Wash., Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. Gonzaga won 112-67.

Wes Sanderson, Columnist

As the calendar turns to 2021, the sports scene turns its attention to the next collegiate mega event the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, set to take place entirely in Indianapolis, IN, according to the NCAA.

In 2021 all major conferences are scheduled to have finished their non-conference schedules, and will begin positioning for conference ranking early on in such an unpredictable season.

Though Chicago State University is the only Division 1 school to pull the plug on its entire men’s basketball season, questions remain for how far seasons will go and if March Madness will consist of the normal field of 68 teams. 

In the meantime, here are some of the headlines throughout the NCAA.

 

Chicago State University suspends men’s basketball’s season

The Chicago State University Cougars announced on Dec. 23 they would be suspending all men’s basketball operations for the 2020-21 season, according to a news release from its athletic department.

The Cougars were winless thus far on the season, but Chicago State stated its record was not the reason for ending its season.

The decision was made to “prioritize the health, wellness, and academic success of the student-athletes,” said Elliott Charles, Athletic Director at Chicago State University

Chicago State suffered through multiple COVID-19 outbreaks in the first few weeks of the season. According to multiple reports, the Cougars struggled to roster a team for many games. 

In its match-up on Dec. 15 against the Illinois State University Redbirds, Chicago State only had six available players for the game. The struggle to field a team continued on Dec. 20 when the Cougars roster only consisted of seven players against the Drake University Bulldogs. 

Though Chicago State’s remaining 14 athletic programs will continue competing as scheduled, the Cougars became the first D1 men’s program to begin its season, only to end it less than two months into its voyage.

 

Big Ten conference continues to proves its depth

Seven weeks ago, the Big Ten Conference had seven teams ranked in the AP Preseason Men’s Basketball poll. Now, as the conference exits non-conference play, the Big Ten holds nine spots in the AP Top-25 the most out of any conference. 

Though the University of Iowa Hawkeyes have dropped from the top-five to the 10th ranked team, the University of Wisconsin Badgers have remained steady throughout the early half of the season sitting at number six in the nation.

Michigan center Hunter Dickinson (1) and guard Franz Wagner (21) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Maryland, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in College Park, Md. Michigan won 84-73. (Nick Wass | Associated Press)

The bigger surprise from the conference comes not from it’s typical blue chip programs such as Wisconsin and the Michigan State University Spartans, but the competitive depth from the rest of the conference. 

Early on in conference play the Northwestern University Wildcats and University of Minnesota Golden Gophers have stunned the likes of Iowa and Michigan State to vault themselves into the conversation of contending for the Big Ten crown. 

The Big Ten conference has proven to be a hub for entertainment, theatrical upsets and discussion about the depth and credibility of any team ranked from the conference. Each team has another 14 to 16 games schedule between other conference schools, so time will only tell which teams are for real and who is currently running the hot hand.

While unlikely, the Big Ten could see itself in a strong position come March to send 10 of its 14 teams in the conference to the big dance and increase its chances of bringing home a national championship for the first time since 2000 when Michigan State Defeated the University of Florida Gators 89-76. Ironically, the 2000 National Championship was held in this year’s host city, Indianapolis. 

 

Gonzaga continues to solidify its hold on number one

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have held the number one spot in the AP Top-25 since early fall when the rankings were released, and as the Zags enter West Coast Conference play, their non-conference resume shows why this program is the odds on favorite to make the National Title.

Gonzaga has played and beaten four AP Top-25 teams thus far. Opening the season with a convincing 102-90 victory over the Kansas University Jayhawks seemed to set the tone for this high scoring starting five.

Since its season-opening win, Gonzaga has knocked off the 11th-ranked West Virginia University Mountaineers, third-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes and 16th-ranked University of Virginia Cavaliers. Add in a win against the Auburn University Tigers, who are projected to make the NCAA tournament, according to ESPN Bracketology, and the Bulldogs have an impressive resume through eight games.

The Bulldogs were also scheduled to face-off against the second-ranked Baylor University Bears on Dec. 5, but the game had to be postponed to a later date due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Gonzaga program. No make-up date has been scheduled for this highly anticipated match-up, but both programs have stated their desire to play the game publicly.

Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert shoots during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Dixie State in Spokane, Wash., Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. Gonzaga won 112-67. (Young Kwak | Associated Press)

Gonzaga needed to have a strong performance in non-conference play in order to solidify itself as a true National Championship threat. The Bulldogs compete in the West Coast Conference that is not known for producing competitive basketball programs. From here on out, the Zags best conference opponent looks to be the Gales of Saint Mary’s University. The Bulldogs are set to take on the Gales Jan. 16 at home in Moraga, CA.

 

Duke set to return after a 15 day Hiatus

The Duke Blue Devils currently sit at 3-2 and 20th in the AP Poll, but the Blue Devils have not been seen in action since a 75-65 win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Dec. 16.

Duke has not been absent from the hardwood due to a COVID-19 outbreak within its locker room. No, instead Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski announced on Dec. 10 that the team would cancel its remaining non-conference opponents before the holidays due to rising numbers in COVID-19 cases.

“This is the best decision we could make as a program, in making sure that we are doing the right thing for our players,” said Krzyzewski in a Dec. 10 news conference. “This will also allow our team to have time over the holidays to safely enjoy with their families. These kids go through so much, and we need to take care of them.”

Though the announcement came just two days after Duke suffered its second convincing loss against a ranked opponent, Coach K should be commended for making the decision to put his players safety ahead of the program’s goal of competing for a national title. 

Coach K is right. College athletes give up so much for their programs, especially blue-chip programs like Duke. With a pandemic that is far from over, the actions taken by Coach K and Duke University show there is more to college athletics than just winning. 

The Blue Devils are set to return to the hardwood Saturday when the team travels to Tallahassee, FL to face the 18th ranked Florida State University Seminoles. 

After facing the Seminoles, Duke returns home to Cameron Indoor Stadium for two games against the Boston College Eagle and the Wake Forest University Demon Deacons.

 

Arizona imposes Ban on NCAA Tournament Appearance

Tuesday, the University of Arizona announced it would not compete in the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament after self-imposing a one year postseason ban, according to a news release by the University.

Arizona’s Terrell Brown Jr. (31) drives past Washington’s Quade Green in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson | Associated Press)

The University states the ban was a proactive measure in its ongoing cooperation with the NCAA enforcement process. Arizona University also said in its statement that the ban reinforces the University’s commitment to accountability and integrity along with serving the best long-term interests of the program.

This self-imposed ban means the wildcats will not compete in the NCAA tournament or the Pac-12 conference tournament in March. 

This news comes after the NCAA sent a Notice of Allegations to the University regarding NCAA recruiting violations within the Men’s Basketball and Swimming programs.

The two programs were cited with nine NCAA violations including five Level I allegations. The University was charged with lack of institutional control and failure to monitor, and both programs’ head coaches were charged with lack of head coach control, according to reporting in The Athletic on Oct. 25.

Arizona is the second school to make a move like this due to the 2017 FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. In November, Auburn University announced it would also self-impose a postseason ban for the 2021 season. 

The University of Arizona has requested the Notice of Allegations go before the Independent Accountability Resolution Process and is scheduled to be heard sometime in the first quarter of 2021.