Sports

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Buffalo Bulls Headline List of Teams Tucsonans Should Root for in NCAA Tournament

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2019 at 11:34 AM

COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF BUFFALO
  • Courtesy University of Buffalo
Welcome to March Madness, or something more like March Sadness in the Old Pueblo, given how the hometown Wildcats missed the Big Dance.

With no local vested interest in this year's 68-team tournament for the first time since the 2011-12 season, fans might find themselves devoid of a team to pull for in the tourney.

Rest assured, my sports-crazed friends, here is a list of teams that are surefire picks to root for in the opening round of the tournament, which kicks off on Thursday.

1. The University of Buffalo Bulls (31-3, 7th seed)

COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF BUFFALO
  • Courtesy University of Buffalo
Many of you will recall that Nate Oats' squad were the ones that hammered Arizona in Boise in last year's tournament. That, while true, shouldn't discourage you from rooting for the squad this season. Oats has done God's work in upstate New York, turning the program from a one-hit-wonder under former coach Bobby "Fucking" Hurley (who now coaches at ASU) into a regional power. The Bulls' starting five includes three seniors, with CJ Massinburg, Nick Perkins and Jeremy Harris scoring 46.7 points per game this season. What's even better is that Oats' squad could face Hurley in Friday's first round, as the Sun Devils have to play in tonight's First Four round against Saint John's to earn the right to, in all likelihood, lose to the Bulls. That alone should make you feel some semblance of desire to root for Buffalo on Friday.

2. The Wofford University Terriers (29-4, 7th seed)

The Terriers have been the darlings of college basketball this season (and for good reason). Wofford is in the midst of a historic season, having run the table in an ultra-competitive Southern Conference, going 16-0 in conference play. They followed that up by winning their conference tournament, giving the team its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2015. The team, which hails from lovely Spartansburg, South Carolina, lost its four games to North Carolina, Kansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi State (all of whom made the NCAA Tournament). What's great about Wofford is their up-tempo offense, which averages a whopping 83.3 points per game, with senior guard Fletcher Magee leading the charge. Magee might be the best point guard you've never heard of, with the 6'4 senior averaging 20.5 points per game this season. The Terrier's quest for tournament immortality won't be easy, with an opening round clash with Seton Hall on Thursday, and a possible second round matchup with Kentucky awaiting them. Keep an eye on this scrappy bunch of southerners, however, as they could be this year's Cinderella story.

3. Belmont Bruins (27-5, 11th seed)

The Bruins have punched way above their weight class for so-called 'mid-major' conference teams this season, earning an at-large berth into the tournament from the Ohio Valley Conference. The squad put on a show on Tuesday night in the First Four, beating Temple, 81-70, to advance to Thursday's first round. The Bruins, who are coached by legend Rick Byrd, won their first NCAA Tournament game last night, with Byrd, who is in his 33rd season coaching the Nashville team, breaking down in tears in a very emotional postgame press conference. Belmont should have a fighter's chance on Thursday, playing the mystery wrapped in an enigma that is the University of Maryland, who somehow received a six seed in this thing. The Bruins have a unicorn of sorts in their lineup, with 6'8 guard Dylan Windler returning to the lineup after suffering a severe ankle injury earlier in the season. Windler, who leads Belmont in scoring (20.8), wasn't in top form against the Owls on Tuesday, scoring 5 points in 40 minutes of action. The guard did have a huge night on the glass, however, pulling down 14 rebounds in the win. Expect Windler to get his feet under him on Thursday, with Belmont looking the part of a bracket buster.

4. Murray State Racers (27-4, 12th seed)

The Racers, like Belmont, hail from the venerable Ohio Valley Conference, and have one of the best players in the nation. Guard Ja Morant is expected to be a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, will square off against 5th-seeded Marquette in Thursday's first round. I'm stoked to watch Morant and Chandler's own Markus Howard go head-to-head, with Morant averaging 24.6 points per game this season, while Howard is putting up 25.0 himself. Murray State is a fascinating team, with a dynamic sophomore point guard (Morant), who can literally do whatever you need him to on a basketball court. Thursday's opening round contest between the Racers and Eagles, which tips off at 1:30 p.m. local time, will be appointment television, thanks to having two of the best guards in the nation squaring off against one another. The Racers have a real shot at busting a lot of brackets, with a potential second round matchup against fourth-seed Florida State, who the Racers match up very well against.

5. University of Houston (31-3, 3rd seed)

Who doesn't love a good redemption storyline in the midst of an event of national hoopla? Well, Houston has just that, thanks to its coach, Kelvin Sampson. You might remember Sampson for his tenure at Indiana, which ended with a series of NCAA violations, as well as a series of violations that took place while he coached at the University of Oklahoma (his previous employer before leaving for Indiana in 2006). Sampson, who literally has an entire subsection of his Wikipedia page devoted to 'NCAA Violations' has Houston in a place it hasn't been since the days of 'Phi Slamma Jamma' in the early-1980s. The Cougars have been one of the nation's most dominant teams this season, with a stout defense that ranks 8th in the nation in points allowed (61.0). The Cougars have a pair of explosive guards, Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks, who combined to average 30.3 points per game this season. It may seem odd, or downright difficult to cheer for a Sampson coached squad, given his previous NCAA sins. I argue, however, that the NCAA's bylaws are draconian and out-of-date, and that Sampson's misconduct had to do with sending too many text messages, so why not cheer for him now? Plus, by holding onto some sort of puritanical standard of conduct, we rob ourselves of enjoying what is one of the sport's best storylines this year. I say we sit back and enjoy watching Sampson's magic unfold, with the Cougars looking like a sure bet to reach the Sweet 16 in the Midwest region. 

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

All Bets Are On: Breaking Down the Men's NCAA Tournament Bracket

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 1:55 PM

Co-hosts Christopher Boan and Tyler Vondrak return to give you all the insights you'll need to dominate your NCAA Tournament pool.

The dynamic duo harp on their picks for the Big Dance's opening weekend, as well as who they see making a deep run in the tournament.

The gents also remember some of their favorite memories from tournaments of yore, with each handing out their most memorable March moments.

Tune in on Friday for the pair's regular show, when Boan and Vondrak will break down the results from Thursday's opening round games. 

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Tucson Roadrunners Unveil Kachina-Themed Jerseys

Posted By on Mon, Mar 18, 2019 at 2:41 PM

Tucson Roadrunners' captain Dakota Mermis models the team's new alternate Kachina-themed uniforms on Monday. - CHRISTOPHER BOAN
  • Christopher Boan
  • Tucson Roadrunners' captain Dakota Mermis models the team's new alternate Kachina-themed uniforms on Monday.
The Tucson Roadrunners will have a new set of uniforms for the 2019-20 regular season, paying homage to their parent club, the Arizona Coyotes.

Team President Bob Hoffman announced that the Roadrunners, who are the American Hockey League affiliate of the Coyotes, will wear alternate jerseys that mirror the Phoenix club's original, Kachina themed uniforms.

Hoffman said the new uniforms, which will be released in time for the Roadrunners' fourth season in Tucson, will be an excellent link between the two clubs.

“The Kachina style has become synonymous with the Arizona Coyotes in the sport of hockey and we are confident that our fans and players both enjoy our version here in the Old Pueblo.”

Hoffman and the team expressed excitement at extending the branding to Tucson with the new third jersey.

Fans can purchase Kachina-themed apparel online, at tucsonroadrunners.com, or at any of the team's apparel shops immediately.

Hoffman estimated the jerseys will be available sometime in August or September, giving fans a chance to buy them with plenty of time for the start of the regular season.

Team captain Dakota Mermis, who modeled the jersey for fans in attendance on Monday afternoon, was thrilled with the new uniform.

"Anytime you, especially being here all three years to be able to grow, continue to grow the brand in Arizona, and specifically here in Tucson, is something really cool," Mermis said. "Obviously, the history with the Kachina makes it that much more special to share it to fans."

Hoffman said that fans who purchase 2019-20 season tickets before April 13 will receive one replica Kachina jersey per group.

Mermis said the team is thrilled with the new jerseys, with many counting the hours until they can sport them on the Tucson Arena ice.

"They love it. I think especially for the guys that know that they'll be back in Arizona next season. Everyone's excited," Mermis said. "I wish we could start wearing them this year. They look that great, so everyone's excited for them."

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Arizona Basketball: Sean Miller's Offseason of Discontent

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2019 at 4:01 PM

Coach Sean Miller - CHRISTOPHER BOAN
  • Christopher Boan
  • Coach Sean Miller
The University of Arizona mens basketball team's lost season came to an unspectacular end in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

The Wildcats finished their season with a 17-15 record, going 8-10 in conference play (8-11, if you include Wednesday's 78-65 loss to USC in the Pac-12 Tournament).

The Wildcats will certainly miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011-12, Miller's third in Tucson.

That team, which lost to Bucknell University in the NIT, featured future NBA fixture Solomon Hill, along with a fresh-faced Nick Johnson manning the point.

Miller's fate improved drastically from there, of course, reaching four Sweet 16s and two Elite Eights between 2012 and 2017.

The course of MIller's tenure in Tucson took an abrupt turn in the early morning hours of Sept. 7, 2017, as you probably recall.

That morning, longtime MIller confidante, Emanuel 'Book' Richardson was rung up as part of the FBI's investigation into college basketball.

That investigation, which resulted in Richardson pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, is still ongoing.

Its impact on the Arizona program continues, as well, with Miller being hit with a subpoena to testify in court in late April.

Miller's connection to the FBI investigation swirled in February of 2018, with ESPN's infamous story on Miller being caught on federal wiretaps offering a $100,000 payment to former center (and NBA number one pick) Deandre Ayton.

Miller has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing during his public comments since the story broke 13 months ago.

What April's testimony will unveil, however, is a matter that is sure to befuddle those tasked with deciding the coach's future in Tucson.

What is clear is that the NCAA will be tuned in to what Miller and current LSU coach Will Wade, the other coach subpoenaed, say on the witness stand.

The NCAA's seemingly-endless set of bylaws lay out how a head coach is responsible for any misconduct committed by an assistant.

Bylaw 11.1.1.1, which was adopted in 2005, says:

An institution's head coach is presumed to be responsible for the actions of all institutional staff members who report, directly or indirectly, to the head coach. An institution's head coach shall promote an atmosphere of compliance within his or her program and shall monitor the activities of all institutional staff members involved with the program who report, directly or indirectly, to the coach. 
Whether Richardson's conduct, and his subsequent guilty plea, will be used by the organization in the future is uncertain.  We'll know a lot more about the future of Miller's tenure in Tucson and how long he'll stay once he takes the stand.

Arizona currently has the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation, according to 247 Sports and ESPN. The addition of in-state guard Nico Mannion, who was named one of three Gatorade National Boys Player finalists on Friday, should boost the team's fortunes a year from now.

Mannion, in addition to five-star small forward Josh Green, have a shot at being the men who bring the Wildcats back to their rightful place atop the sport's lexicon.

All of that will rest on the words of the man who recruited them in a New York City courthouse next month.

The countdown to the 2019-20 basketball season has started in the Old Pueblo. What happens between now and then is anybody's guess. 

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Arizona Bowl Moving to New Year’s Eve

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2019 at 10:47 AM

COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
A downtown power outage couldn’t suck the energy from the confines of the Hotel Congress Tuesday afternoon.

Football fans flocked to the hotel in anticipation to hear from organizers of the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl. Executive director Kim Adair delivered the big news of the day: the bowl will be held on New Year’s Eve for the first time.

The exhibition, which first kicked off inside Arizona Stadium in 2015, will still pit teams from the Mountain West and Sun Belt conferences this season, according to board member Ali Farhang.

Farhang, who preceded Adair as the game’s executive director, said moving the game to Dec. 31 was a no-brainer. Farhang said the game, which will kick off at an undisclosed time during that afternoon, will be followed by a downtown party to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

The Tucson-based attorney believes such a celebration would be a first for the community, further cementing the game’s importance to Southern Arizonans.

“we’ve never had a major ball-drop party in downtown that I’m aware of,” Farhang said. “So, we think this is something that can really bring the community together. And a community that celebrates together, thrives together.”

Farhang and Adair also handed out checks to several local nonprofits during the ceremony, hoping to demonstrate the game’s altruistic goals. The pair delivered checks for $5,000 to the Centurions, the Tucson Conquistadores, the Tucson Indian Center and the Tucson Pet Sanctuary.

The biggest check went to members of the Tucson Boys and Girls Club, which received a donation of $87,150 from the bowl, a donation matched by a private donor.

Adair covered the importance of the bowl’s mission of giving 100 percent of the proceeds to charity in her comments during the ceremony.

Like Farhang, Adair is confident the committee’s vision and effort over the past five years have cemented the game’s importance within the community.

“Every decision we make is focused on how we generate more money for these charities, how we generate meaningful economic impact for southern Arizona, and how we provide a first-class experience to our student athletes,” Adair said. “We're working to build a Tucson tradition that is attractive not just to football fans, but to the entire community, a tradition that the community continues to embrace.”

Farhang said the 2019 game will be broadcast nationwide on CBS Sports Network, which also aired last year’s game. That partnership between the network and Tucson’s only bowl game has been mutually beneficial, Farhang said, delivering the game to a wider audience.

“They've been really good partners,” he said. “They do a really good job promoting our game nationally, promoting our community nationally. We've been very happy with our relationship with CBS Sports.”

Discussions are underway regarding the conference alignments for the bowl, during the 2020-25 media rights cycle.

Farhang said the bowl is in active discussions with upwards of seven or eight of the 10 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision conferences for the next cycle. He believes an announcement on the future of the bowl will be made in the coming months, with Tuesday’s proclamation serving as the start of a new era for the sport in the community.

“We're going to know who the conferences are, what teams we're going to be getting from those conferences,” Farhang said. “And right around that time we should have an idea about the TV network, as well.”

Adair believes the game can become a holiday tradition, similar to the Sun Bowl in El Paso and others around the country.

“The NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl will become Tucson's biggest and best New Year's Eve tradition,” she said. “It's something that can't be missed.”

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

All Bets Are On: Breaking Down Arizona's Pac-12 Tournament Odds

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2019 at 2:01 PM


The Arizona Wildcats are heading to Sin City to face off against USC in the opening round of the Pac-12 Conference Tournament on Wednesday.

Co-hosts Christopher Boan and Tyler Vondrak break down the team's chances, both against the Trojans and in the tournament at-large, during this week's episode of All Bets Are On.

The duo then discuss their teams to watch during the 12-team event, as well as five players that fans should keep an eye on in the conference.

The pair finish their special edition podcast by discussing who will make the NCAA Tournament from the Pac-12, capping off a 20-minute podcast in style.

Tune in to the pair's next episode on Friday, March 15, when Boan and Vondrak will discuss a bevy of sports topics that go down outside of the Pacific Time Zone. 

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Sean Miller Previews Arizona's Pac-12 Tournament Opener Against USC

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2019 at 10:24 AM

Coach Sean Miller - CHRISTOPHER BOAN
  • Christopher Boan
  • Coach Sean Miller

The University of Arizona mens basketball team finds itself in an unfamiliar predicament this week, playing four games in as many days on the Las Vegas Strip.

The Wildcats (17-14, 8-10) begin their quest for a second-straight Pac-12 conference tournament championship at noon on Wednesday, against the USC Trojans (15-16, 8-10).

Arizona will have to win four games in four days to win this year's championship, after finishing outside the top-four in the final conference standings (the top four teams receive a first round bye in the tournament).

The Wildcats enter Wednesday's opening round off consecutive losses to Oregon and Arizona State, finishing the regular season with its most single season defeats since the 2009-10 campaign—Sean Miller's first in Tucson.

Miller addressed the team's conference tournament slate and a host of other topics during his weekly media availability on Monday afternoon.

The longtime Arizona coach described his team's late-season slide as the result of sloppy ballhandling, resulting in turnovers that gave their opponents a much-needed edge.

"Well, our last two regular season games were when things really changed," Miller said. "...But in both games, the thing that we had as our greatest strength, that kept us in a lot of games and allowed us to win a few away from home, and win some really though games all the way to the final buzzer, was our ability to carry the ball."

Continue reading »

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Friday, March 8, 2019

All Bets Are On: Christopher Boan and Tyler Vondrak Break Down Arizona-ASU Basketball, LSU Scandal

Posted By on Fri, Mar 8, 2019 at 12:04 PM

Co-hosts Christopher Boan and Tyler Vondrak are back in town and have plenty to cover in this week's installment of All Bets Are On.

The duo cover a gamut of sports-related topics, ranging from Saturday's Arizona-Arizona State basketball game to the Yahoo! Sports story on LSU basketball coach Will Wade.

The pair conclude this week's segment discussing the weekend's action on the college basketball hardwood, before handing out their pick for player of the year. 

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