Last month, we started our Sales Pitch series by ranking the schools in the ACC based on the quality of their enticements for men’s basketball recruits and then moved on to the Big East, where we examined whether anyone in the league can close the recruiting gap on Villanova. We followed that up with the Big Ten, and the biggest first tier we’ve seen of any conference so far, and the Pac-12, where UCLA and Arizona are keeping the rest of the league at arm’s length. Last week we continued with the SEC, where everyone continues to chase Kentucky on the recruiting trail, and then looked at the Memphis vs. Houston battle at the top of the American.
This week, we continue our exercise with the Big 12. The league is home to one of the true bluebloods in college basketball history, but also has the reigning national champions and several deep-pocketed programs. Within the past six seasons, seven of the 10 teams in the Big 12 have been to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, and of the three to miss out, one is about to have the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft (Oklahoma State) and another just hired one of the best coaches in the sport (Texas).
As a reminder, ESPN spoke with a wide variety of anonymous coaches across college basketball’s top seven leagues (as rated by KenPom and other relevant metrics systems), as well as nationally relevant programs beyond those conferences, for our Sales Pitch feature. Over an eight-week period, we’ll rank the programs in order of which have the best sales pitches for recruits and transfers.
Argentina ensured their place in the quarterfinals of the Copa America on Monday when they beat Paraguay 1-0 in a game notable for Lionel Messi’s record-equalling 147th appearance for the national side.
The victory in Brasilia was Argentina’s second 1-0 win in a row in this tournament and their 16th match without defeat since losing in the Copa America semifinal in 2019.
It gives them seven points from three games and leaves them top of Group A, two points ahead of Chile, four ahead of Paraguay and six ahead of Uruguay.
– Vickery: Youngsters relishing the big stage at the Copa America – Copa America bracket, fixtures schedule – Why is the Copa back in Brazil? All you need to know
Bolivia are bottom with no points from two matches so with four of the five teams qualifying for the last eight, Argentina are sure of progressing.
“We’re through but we have to keep improving,” said defender German Pezzella. “We had a great first half, our intensity wasn’t the same in the second but they didn’t have very many chances at goal.”
Paraguay had never beaten Argentina over 90 minutes in the Copa America, a run that covers 25 matches, and they were up against it as early as the 10th minute when Argentina went ahead.
Alejandro Gomez took a delightful pass from Angel Di Maria and dinked the ball over the diving keeper.
“Angel’s pass was great,” said Gomez. “I just had to get my foot under it and put it away.”
Argentina thought they had a second when Junior Alonso deflected a cross into his own net on the stroke of half-time, but the goal was chalked off by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
Paraguay came out more positive in a changed second half, with Newcastle United’s Miguel Almiron always dangerous on the left wing.
However, although they enjoyed the bulk of the possession they could not turn it into chances and now face two tricky games against Chile and Uruguay.
For Argentina, Sergio Aguero made his first international start since November 2019 but was anonymous up front and it was Di Maria and Messi who stood out.
On the night he equalled Javier Mascherano’s record of 147 games in the blue and white shirt, Messi was a busy presence in the Paraguayan half.
Both he and Di Maria drew fouls from their opponents who ended up committing 23 fouls to Argentina’s 11.
EUGENE, Ore. — The rooms in Tokyo practically had their names on them.
Instead, others will be taking the spots that seemed all but reserved for two American track champions, Jenny Simpson and Donavan Brazier.
The cold realities of the U.S. Olympic qualifying reared their ugly head on a scorcher of a day at track and field trials Monday. In a format where records and resumes mean nothing, and only the top three finishers in each event earn a spot, Simpson and Brazier fell short.
“There are things that champions overcome. I couldn’t overcome them,” said Brazier, the world champion at 800 meters, after finishing last in that race, more than 4 seconds behind winner Clayton Murphy.
“It’s hard to believe,” said Simpson, a former world champion whose 10th-place finish in the 1,500 meters, well behind winner Elle Purrier St. Pierre, had stunned the crowd only moments before.
They were not quite superstars, and no massive ad campaigns had been built around them, a la Dan O’Brien, whose flop in the decathlon at trials back in 1992 stands as maybe the most stunning “sure thing” to not happen at the U.S. trials.
Still, they were favorites in their events — if not to win, then at least to finish in the top three and head to Tokyo next month.
Simpson, who took bronze in Rio to become the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in the 1,500, was done almost before she started. There was heavy jostling at the start that knocked five or six runners off stride.
“No one went down,” she said. “Maybe they should have called the race back. That was extreme.”
Brazier has prided himself on entering the 800 without a concrete game plan and improvising on the fly. This time, it backfired. The pace was pushed. Brazier tried to keep up and he didn’t have his customary kick at the finish. He knew with about 200 meters left that it wasn’t his day. Instead, it belonged to Murphy, who will get a chance to add to the bronze he won five years ago in Rio.
“I’ve been able to win from the front. I’ve been able to win from the back. I don’t know if it was just overconfidence going into the race thinking I could do whatever the hell I want and come out successful,” Brazier said. “Maybe lack of race plan is what got me.”
On other days, Chris Nilsen’s upset of two-time world champion Sam Kendricks in the pole vault might have made headlines. Kendricks is heading to Tokyo, however, thanks to a second-place finish that wasn’t exactly what he planned. But still good enough.
“This will go down in history as the hardest team ever to make,” he said.
Two-time Olympic silver medalist Will Claye did the expected, winning the triple jump, while the women’s 5,000 was mostly a no-fuss affair, taken by Elise Cranny in 15 minutes, 27.81 seconds.
“During the warmup, we were in ice baths and I kept my body temperature as cold as possible,” said Rachel Schneider, who finished third in the 5K. “Outside of that, we just said be tough and don’t worry about it because everyone’s dealing with the same heat.”
Maybe Jordan Mann dealt with it best. The steeplechase runner missed a step and found himself plunging into the water pit during prelims. He finished 12th, but at least he got some relief.
It was 94 degrees when that race started, and the sunshine heated the surface of the track to well over 100.
“The heat makes it tricky out there,” Claye said. “You don’t want to blow a gasket out there.”
Simpson insisted the heat was not a factor in her race. Clearly, it wasn’t for the winner, either. Purrier St. Pierre, the 25-year-old who grew up o a dairy farm in Vermont, overcame the early jostling on the inside and simply sprinted out to the front and didn’t look back. She finished in 3:58.03, a trials record.
“It happened so fast, and your plan changes,” she said. “You always have a couple different plans in mind. It was never to lead the whole thing.”
She’s not the only one who found herself staring at a different sort of future Monday.
“It will be shocking to watch the Olympics on TV,” Simpson said. “It may be hard for athletes to admit, or say out loud, but the sport goes on without you.”
LE CASTELLET, France — Valtteri Bottas is confident he has rediscovered his form at this weekend’s French Grand Prix after beating teammate Lewis Hamilton in both Friday practice sessions.
Bottas was 0.008s off Max Verstappen’s fastest time in second practice at Circuit Paul Ricard on Friday and 0.245s faster than Hamilton.
Closer analysis of the lap times showed Hamilton was losing most of his time on the straights, indicating he was simply running a lower power mode, but Bottas still appears to be more competitive than he was at the last round in Baku, where he finished a lowly 12th.
Hamilton was heard on team radio saying “something’s not right with this car” during practice, but played down the comments when speaking to the media after the session.
Bottas’ return to form and Hamilton’s team radio comment coincide with news from Mercedes that it has swapped Hamilton’s and Bottas’ chassis for this weekend’s race.
Bottas is now using chassis six, which Hamilton used for the first six races of the season, and Hamilton is using chassis four, which Bottas switched to after damaging chassis five at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in April.
Mercedes says the switch was made in order to manage mileage between the various chassis in its pool and was not related to the recent performances of the two cars.
Both chassis four and six were crack tested by the team ahead of the weekend and found to be in good condition. Chassis three remains available and could be built up if Hamilton believes there is an issue with chassis four.
“It’s hard to say if it’s the chassis or the track conditions, but there’s a lot better feeling than two weeks ago, that’s for sure,” Bottas said after Friday practice.
“I felt we started the weekend on the right foot, everything was feeling OK, being comfortable and pretty fast with the car so far.”
“It’s such a different track, but the balance is good, the tyres are working well, I’m confident with the car, I can trust the car – I think that’s the biggest difference.”
Hamilton played down suggestions the chassis swap had impacted performance.
“It’s a different track, so … very rarely do you have any differences between the chassis.”
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz had his vision blocked by his players, who were standing at the bench in the final seconds of Game 4, clinging to a 3-2 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
So, he watched on the Jumbotron as Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh executed a spin-o-rama shot that was headed for an open Islanders net. He then watched defenseman Ryan Pulock make the defensive play of the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far, lurching across the crease, deflecting the puck out of harm’s way with his glove and sending New York’s bench leaping in celebration.
“I would say it was never in doubt,” deadpanned Trotz, whose team tied its NHL semifinal series with the Lightning at 2-2 with the win on Saturday night at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. “It looked like it was going into the net. Puly slid across and saved the day for us.”
The Islanders had a 3-0 lead entering the third period, but the Lightning charged back with goals by Brayden Point — who extended his playoff goal streak to seven games — and Tyler Johnson. It looked like New York might be in the clear when Tampa Bay defenseman took a tripping penalty with 1:12 remaining in regulation, but the Lightning pulled their goalie while shorthanded and generated one more incredible scoring chance.
McDonagh got the puck with four seconds on the clock. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov came far out from his crease to defend the shot. With Brock Nelson sliding in front of him, McDonagh pulled off a spin-o-rama and released a backhand shot. Varlamov had left the net open, but Pulock smartly dove to his right as he saw McDonagh make his move.
“Desperation play by their defenseman,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But to be honest, I thought the play McDonagh made was better than the save. Just to get the puck on the net was a phenomenal play. But give their guy credit. They’re desperate and he came in and made that save. Probably made for some pretty exciting TV, I’ll tell you that.”
Indeed, with 1.9 seconds left in regulation, Pulock blocked the shot on the goal line, preserving the Islanders’ emotional victory.
“That’s a special play,” said winger Josh Bailey, who scored his sixth goal of the playoffs in the win. “The patience to stick with it. It was just a great play by him. Game-saving play, obviously. Huge.”
The buzzer sounded, and Pulock was mobbed by his teammates like he had just scored a game-winner, instead of preventing a trying goal.
“I think everyone’s breath just got taken away when that puck was coming,” said center Mathew Barzal, who also scored his sixth goal in the victory. “I thought that was going in. Just a miraculous play by [Pulock]. I’m not going to be forgetting that one.”
Pulock said he hadn’t had any formal goaltending training, having only manned the crease during street hockey games as a youngster. But he knew goaltenders try to take away as much space as they can on shot attempts.
“The net was open,” he said. “I just tried to make myself big and take it away. I got a glove on it. It rattled there. I just tried to push it to the side, and not let it get through me.”
Pulock said it was an incredible feeling when the buzzer sounded and his teammates mobbed him. “You hear the sound of the clock go, and all the boys jump on you,” he said. “It feels good to score goals, but when you can save the game like that, it’s a good feeling.”
Pulock, 26, is in his sixth NHL season, all with the Islanders. His status as one of the NHL’s top defensemen has been growing since Trotz took over the team in 2018, and the coach said plays like this — on a stage like this — will solidify it.
“The biggest stage is always the playoffs,” Trotz said. “If you play well in the playoffs, you’re going to get noticed. These are the hardest games. He’s starting to get the recognition he deserves.”
The third set of match days of the controversial Copa America in Brazil have concluded. Coronavirus cases continue to rise within the event, but the matches roll on at empty stadiums across the country.
Bolivia and hosts Brazil sat out this round of fixtures, but there was still action aplenty. Venezuela rallied twice in thrilling 2-2 draw with Ecuador, while Colombia blundered against Peru in a 2-1 loss. Chile also suffered a lapse in a 1-1 draw with Uruguay, while Argentina eased past Paraguay 1-0 on a record-equalling night for Lionel Messi.
ESPN looks back at the action from the oldest international tournament in the world.
– Copa America bracket, fixtures schedule – Why is the Copa back in Brazil? All you need to know
At last a goal for Uruguay!
Last November Uruguay won 3-0 away to Colombia in World Cup qualification, and everything seemed right in their garden. Statistically the best South American team at the 2018 World Cup, they still had the duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani firing together up front, plus a generation of young and talented midfielders. What could go wrong?
Surprisingly, the goals dried up. There were none in the next game against Brazil, none in two more World Cup qualifiers earlier this month, and none in their Copa debut, Friday’s 1-0 defeat to Argentina.
A fifth consecutive shutout would be unprecedented. The team badly needed to get on the scoresheet against Chile — all the more so when Eduardo Vargas gave La Roja the lead with their first attack of note half way through the first half.
For this match veteran coach Oscar Washington Tabarez gave a recall to playmaker Giorgian De Arrascaeta. Around the squad for nearly seven years, De Arrascaeta has yet to make a big impression, though his subtle skills are a vital part of Brazil’s all-conquering Flamengo side.
In part his problem is Uruguay’s 4-4-2, with that pair of great strikers up top. De Arrascaeta is not a winger. Lacking the pace for a wide midfield role, he prefers to drift in towards the centre. Uruguay tried to give him his wish. Federico Valverde used his dynamism to break right from the centre of midfield, allowing De Arrascaeta to move infield.
There was some early promise against Chile, but no end product. The 4-4-2 clearly did not work. With Diego Godin in the heart of the defence, the team find it hard to press up, and the full-backs do not supply enough attacking threat.
Come half-time Tabarez had a rethink, emerging after the break with three at the back and wing-backs pushed higher. He hoped it might give De Arrascaeta a platform, but soon changed his mind. Before the hour mark, the Flamengo schemer gave way to young Facundo Torres of Penarol, the new sensation of the domestic Uruguayan game.
Torres, full of bright and bold left-footed dribbling, made an immediate impact, both winning and taking the corner that was flicked on for Suarez to fire off Chile’s Arturo Vidal and into the roof of the net at the far post. At last Uruguay had a goal — an own goal, but a goal all the same. And come the end of the match they should have had more. At least they had got on the scoresheet, and Tabarez will have a clearer head about the best way to set up his side for the next match, Thursday’s meeting with Bolivia, when Uruguay will expect to fill their boots.
A win there will almost certainly be good enough to take Uruguay through to the quarterfinals, where an entirely different competition kicks off. Now they have ended their drought there will be less pressure to score and more importance on keeping a clean sheet. And this might work to Uruguay’s advantage.
The inconsistency of youth
Last November, young Ecuador winger Gonzalo Plata scored a wonderful goal against Colombia in World Cup qualification, and celebrated by taking off his shirt and swirling it around his head. This, of course, is a yellow card offence. Plata already had a yellow card, and so off he went. He could be filed under “promising but infuriating.”
Team coach Gustavo Alfaro doubtless has him filed under the same headings after Sunday`s 2-2 draw with Venezuela.
Plata came off the bench to put his side 2-1 up with a wonderful solo goal. He picked up the ball deep in his own half following a Venezuelan corner, and he ran. It was Forrest Gump with a brain, with footballing technique and with an excellent change of rhythm. Plata surged away from his pursuers, charged behind the defensive line, forced a save from Wuilker Farinez in the Venezuelan goal and was on hand to coolly slip home a shot when the ball broke back to him.
It was a goal well worthy of winning a match, and it would have done so had Plata not lost concentration at a vital moment. As the left winger, it was his job to track the forward runs of Ronald Hernandez, Venezuela’s right wing-back. But Plata switched off, and Hernandez ran behind him to meet a superb long pass from Edson Castillo and head home an unlikely stoppage-time equaliser.
In the space of a few minutes Plata had once more showcased the glaring inconsistencies of youth. The fact that he held his hand up and confessed his mistake can be seen as evidence for the view that such inconsistency will not last forever.
Back to the future for Argentina
Lionel Messi was reunited with Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria for Argentina’s game against Paraguay. And the trio, who have been in harness together for over a decade, were joined by Alejandro Gomez, who scored the only goal of the game.
Once more Lionel Scaloni’s side got off to a fast start. Messi and Di Maria combined for the goal, one setting up the other for a ball that was met by a run across the box from Gomez and a cute chip over the keeper. Full of movement and options, the move was Argentina at their best. Once again they could not sustain their impressive start, but, for the second game running they kept a clean sheet.
Playing Gomez plus the front three was a possibility because Scaloni tweaked his usual 4-3-3. Holding midfielder Guido Rodriguez had come in for the previous match in place of Leandro Paredes. After topping a sound performance last time out with the only goal, Rodriguez had to stay in. This time he operated alongside Paredes in a 4-2-3-1, in which Di Maria and Gomez worked the flanks.
Defensively this presented a challenge, because Paraguay had the option of playing outside the two Argentina midfielders. Miguel Almiron was used wide on the left for this very reason, and Argentina’s rookie right-back Nahuel Molina was stretched at times. But the defence held firm, and Argentina come out of the game with another win and another clean sheet. Options are increasing and confidence is rising as the knockout phase looms.
TAMPA, Fla. — Florida Senator Marco Rubio penned a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to assist former Navy cornerback Cameron Kinley in delaying his commission with the Navy so he can attend training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“In the past, the U.S. Department of Defense has issued many waivers to allow athletes to temporarily delay their service to our nation to pursue their professional sports dreams. Unfortunately, Mr. Kinley seems to be the exception, and without reason,” Rubio wrote.
“Grant Mr. Kinley’s waiver to play in the NFL, and send a message to future academy graduates that the United States is a country where Americans can follow their dreams and be true to their commitment.”
Rubio referenced previous administrations’ willingness to grant waivers so service academy graduates can “live out their dreams of playing a professional sport” and cited other service academy graduates who were granted the waiver this year: Jon Rhattigan (West Point), Nolan Laufenberg (Air Force) and George Silvanic (Air Force).
Kinley was not given an explanation from the Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker, who declined to send Kinley’s deferment package to the Secretary of Defense, and was told he cannot appeal the decision, prompting Kinley to reach out to Senator Marsha Blackburn, who represents Kinley’s home state of Tennessee.
Harker also denied former Navy pitcher Charlie Connolly so he won’t be eligible for the 2021 MLB draft.
Kinley signed with the Bucs as an undrafted free agent and attended rookie camp, where he intercepted second-round draft pick Kyle Trask, before learning he would not be able to delay his commission.
Kinley is scheduled to report to the Navy in June 28. Coach Bruce Arians said if there is a reversal, the Bucs would welcome him back.
“Well, he’s obviously very, very important to the Navy,” Arians said. “It’s kind of a Catch-22. I know he wants to attempt to be a professional football player, but he obviously means a ton to the Navy. So I’ll leave that up to them. I would love to have him.”
“If anything, whether or not they reverse the decision for me — that would be nice — but at the end of the day, I just hope that some kind of consistency is created moving forward,” Kinley told ESPN. “That way nobody has to deal with this heartbreak and disappointment that I’m having to go through right now. I don’t want anybody to have to experience that.”
ESPN continued its Sales Pitch (ESPN+) series this week, examining the men’s college basketball programs in the Big 12 that have the most and fewest advantages in enticing recruits and transfers to campus. After seeing the results of our survey, ESPN.com’s writing team of Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway and Joe Lunardi debated some of the finer details within the Big 12 recruiting landscape, including how Baylor became Baylor, how Kansas can get back to being Kansas, and what the new faces in the conference coaching landscape need to do to make a long-term impact.
Follow this link to read what anonymous coaches said about recruiting in the ACC, the Big East, the Big Ten, the Pac-12, the SEC, the AAC and the Big 12.
Name one critical piece of roster construction that led to Baylor’s first national championship in program history. Why do you think it was so meaningful?
Medcalf: I think it makes sense to put the spotlight on the immediate contributions of the program-altering transfers who led Baylor to its first national title in school history. You don’t win that title without MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Adam Flagler. You could probably count Jared Butler too since he was originally headed to Tuscaloosa.
But the most critical addition to the program arrived in 2003, when the school convinced a young coach who’d just won 20 games at Valparaiso, the school his father had led to a miraculous moment in 1998, to leave his post and inherit one of the worst situations in college basketball history. Yes, it was Scott Drew’s big opportunity to coach a major program and he knew it was a significant opportunity. But he wouldn’t have been the first young coach to say no to a bigger salary when it came with major fallout – which in Baylor’s case included the murder of a player, a conviction of another player for that murder and a head coach who tried to cover up the whole thing.
Drew’s program has been building up to this current run for a long time, with two Elite Eight runs and two trips to the Sweet 16 before this, but Baylor got lucky when Drew said yes. None of this happens without that decision in 2003.
Borzello: It has to be transfers. Of the five players who saw 20 or more minutes in the national title game against Gonzaga, four of them started their careers somewhere else. Mitchell was a bench piece at Auburn; Drew dipped into the Big South for both Teague and Flagler; and as Myron mentioned, Butler signed with Alabama before looking elsewhere a couple months before the 2018-19 season began.
Drew changed the way he approached recruiting after landing a string of five-star prospects a decade ago. While the talent in Waco was consistently at a high level, it didn’t consistently lead to late March success. He instead began to find guys that would buy in and fit what he wanted to do, while supplementing those players every offseason with transfers.
Drew has also had success redshirting players; much of that has to do with transfers, of course, but Mark Vital also redshirted as a freshman, and past players like Cory Jefferson and Johnathan Motley also spent a year in Waco redshirting. Here’s all the proof you need about Drew’s change in recruiting: Baylor signing Kendall Brown last fall was the Bears’ first five-star prospect since 2012.
Gasaway: It’s not college basketball unless you’re arguing about whether veterans or one-and-dones will win you the national title. Baylor didn’t do it with extreme youth, of course, but you can make a case that continuity was even more important than age for the Bears in 2020-21.
This was a rotation that lost only Freddie Gillespie and Devonte Bandoo from the previous season (though Tristan Clark saw limited action in 2019-20 before being sidelined by a knee injury that also cost him the following year). Meaning that for two consecutive seasons, BU was defined by a backcourt consisting of Butler, Mitchell and Teague, while Vital locked down the paint at both ends of the floor. That was a winning combination two years ago (at 26-4, Baylor was likely on its way to a No. 1 seed in a 2020 tournament that never happened) and it was next to unbeatable last season.
“Get old and stay old” is the popular saying among coaches. Well, the Bears won it all in April with “just” two seniors (Teague and Vital) because, who knows, maybe continuity is just as important as age. When you can construct your roster to get top-tier college performance out of returning veterans not yet drawing sufficient interest from the NBA, you have a shot at what Drew put together in 2021.
Lunardi: Baylor was a perfect college team in the current era: older, but not too old to be stale; skilled, but not too skilled to lose guys a year early; and balanced, but with an appropriate emphasis on perimeter play at both ends of the floor. If not for Baylor’s late-season pandemic woes, we may have had two unbeaten teams in the national title game and an even more historic outcome. The most critical piece? Scott Drew, who took the job when everyone said it was a bad idea, and then had the vision and perseverance to see it through. And the Bears may not be finished.
Kansas looks like a team with Final Four potential in 2021-22. Name one thing you like about this roster, and one thing that worries you.
Borzello: The biggest issue for Kansas last season was the Jayhawks’ lack of a consistent go-to scorer who could go get a bucket when needed. Devon Dotson filled that role a couple years ago, and Bill Self has seemingly always had a guard to fill that role. Frank Mason, Devonte Graham, even Tyshawn Taylor as a senior back in 2012. And going into this offseason, that looked like it could be an issue again — but Self likely solved that problem by landing Arizona State transfer Remy Martin, arguably the country’s best transfer. Martin was a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection, and one of the best scorers in the country.
With that issue solved, I don’t have too many concerns — but Kansas wasn’t a very good 3-point shooting team last season (32.7% in Big 12 play) and Ochai Agbaji, the team’s leading 3-point shooter, could decide to keep his name in the NBA draft. Agbaji caused matchup issues for opponents given his physicality and shooting ability, and while Self is bringing in a slew of talented transfers and newcomers, they will have to improve the team’s perimeter shooting.
Gasaway: I like the defense with this roster. The Big 12 made less than 45% of its 2s against these guys last year, and the return of David McCormack should help keep that number low in the coming season. Self’s best teams have almost always forced misses in the paint, and it would appear that box is checked for 2021-22.
What I don’t like as much, diametrically enough, is the KU offense. I love Remy Martin’s game and Kansas fans with long memories can still recall what Martin and his Arizona State teammates were able to do in the Sun Devils’ win at Allen Fieldhouse in December of 2018. Still, Martin’s going to need help, and last season — from 2- and 3-point accuracy to shot volume to you name it — the Jayhawk offense was average across the board in conference play.
Medcalf: I love the leap of McCormack from his sophomore to junior seasons. He had a few misses throughout the year, but Kansas was a challenge for any team in America when he played his best basketball. That double-digit win over Baylor that made a lot of us (or maybe just me) second-guess the Bears’ national title aspirations? Sure, fatigue after Baylor’s COVID-19 pause was a factor, but McCormack’s 20 points and three blocks changed the game. That guy is a potential All-American in 2021-22, and Bill Self’s best teams have always included reliable bigs — you pair him with Martin and the Jayhawks will have one of the nation’s top inside-outside combos.
What worries me is that no one in America seems to have a clue about the next steps in this independent review process involving Kansas and other schools tied to the FBI scandal. What’s the next move? Will we get news before this season? During the season? And if there is a severe penalty (schools cannot appeal the independent review panel’s decisions), what will that mean? Kansas is still walking into a season full of unknowns with its infractions case.
Lunardi: Most know I am a student of NCAA tournament history. When a program is a top four seed for 18 consecutive seasons — and a No. 1 seed in fully half of those years — success goes beyond individual roster moves. The program is obviously positioned and administered in a way that failure is never an option. Such is Kansas, which has been caught by Baylor for the time being and perhaps threatened next in the Big 12 by Texas, yet is unsurpassed in terms of staying power and consistency. What I like most about the Jayhawks for next season is simply that they’re due, both to return to the top of the conference and for a long tournament run.
New Texas coach Chris Beard will be among the most scrutinized coaches in the country in 2021-22 (and beyond). Do you expect his recruiting philosophy to change? What are your long-term expectations for the Texas program?
Medcalf: I don’t think Chris Beard will change. He’s always gone after the top available talent. Now, he’s attached to one of the most recognizable brands in college basketball and he’ll have more access to those elite prospects. He’ll always battle powerhouse programs for talent in the rich pools of Dallas and Houston, but I think Beard will get a bunch of the best prospects and make Texas a perennial threat in the Big 12.
But we’ve also said this a few times for Texas. Rick Barnes reached the Final Four but couldn’t find that magic again. Shaka Smart had more buzz than any young coach in the country but kept hitting a wall in the postseason. Maybe Beard will be different. Texas has the potential (a new arena will open in 2022), long-term, to become a force in college basketball. But with Baylor and Houston in the area, Texas first has to become the best program in its own state before it can consider those ambitions.
Borzello: Beard began changing his recruiting philosophy over his final couple seasons in Texas Tech, after the Red Raiders started having consistent success on the court. He signed Texas Tech’s first ESPN 100 prospect since 2007 in 2018, then signed the program’s highest-ranked recruit in 2019 — a record that lasted just one year before he signed the program’s first five-star recruit in the ESPN recruiting era. So he had clearly began moving away from the more gritty, under-the-radar prospects with whom he started his Lubbock tenure.
I expect Beard to continue to recruit in the five-star waters now that he’s at Texas, and the Longhorns have already had several five-star prospects on campus since he arrived in Austin. He’s also clearly going to hit the transfer portal in a major way; he’s signed six high-major transfers already including UMass transfer Tre Mitchell, who committed earlier this week. With the talent Beard is bringing in, along with his coaching ability and the recruiting acumen of his assistants, Texas should regularly be competing for conference titles and Final Fours.
Gasaway: My expectation is that Beard will get blue-chip recruits to play outstanding defense. He won’t be the first coach to do so, of course. Self and John Calipari, to name two mainstays, have rather extensive track records in this area and let us not forget that Ben Howland had a rather spectacular if fleeting moment in this space at UCLA roughly 15 years ago. Now it’s Beard’s turn.
The Texas program was already a revolving door for NBA-track talent even before the ex-Texas Tech coach’s arrival. That level of recruiting is likely to continue, while the defense is in all likelihood due for an upgrade.
Lunardi: It’s U.S. Open week, so let’s use a golf analogy: Best player never to win a major? In college basketball, the equivalent question is this: What’s the top program yet to win a national championship? Given the events of the current offseason, I think a legitimate argument could be made for the Texas Longhorns. They have all the resources in the world, plenty of top players in the state, and now a world-class jockey. I don’t know what the odds are for Texas to win a title in the next five years, but count me in on that action.
There are three more new coaches in the league beyond Beard: Porter Moser (Oklahoma), Mark Adams (Texas Tech) and T.J. Otzelberger (Iowa State). Pick one of these three and offer them a blueprint for success in this difficult league.
Gasaway: Porter Moser could do worse than take a page from Lon Kruger’s book at Oklahoma. The previous coach in Norman reached seven of the last eight NCAA tournaments that were played, and he did it, for the most part, with recruits who were more blue-collar than blue-chip. To be sure, a guy named Trae Young did play for Kruger and senior-year Buddy Hield was no slouch either. Nevertheless, for every season with a Young or a Hield, there were two or three others with a cohesive group of veterans taking exceptionally good care of the ball and playing strong defense. Which, come to think of it, sounds a bit like Loyola Chicago last season. Moser should feel right at home.
Lunardi: I’m also in the Moser camp, not just because of track record, but because Oklahoma — from the top down — has the most going for it. Athletic director Joe Castiglione is at the top of the profession and the Sooners want for nothing in any sport. Who has dominated Big 12 berths in the college football playoff? Who has turned the Women’s College World Series into a personal playground? Who always seems to be ahead of the curve in hiring the next big-time coach? If any of the league’s “next tier” can hang with Kansas, Baylor and Texas in the next few years, it’d be Oklahoma.
Borzello: I think T.J. Otzelberger is going to have to rebuild Iowa State the same way Fred Hoiberg did during his time in Ames. Fortunately for Cyclones fans, Otzelberger has plenty of experience in that department — he was an assistant at Iowa State for eight years, four of those coming under Hoiberg.
Iowa State isn’t a place where you can consistently rely on in-state high school talent to keep you afloat; you need to get creative. Hoiberg went to four straight NCAA tournaments with rosters built mostly on transfers, along with Canadian prospects and some prep school prospects from New England and the Northeast. Otzelberger has strong Midwest ties and will be able to dip into Wisconsin and other neighboring states for high school prospects, but he will need to work the transfer portal heavily.
Medcalf: Otzelberger already knows what to do, as Jeff says, and will identify top players and promote the rowdy atmosphere on the team’s home floor and its great facilities. More than anything, however, he should mention to prospects that Monte’ Morris, Tyrese Haliburton, Georges Niang and other Iowa State products are on NBA rosters right now. I think he has to sell ISU not just as a program with a chance to make its mark in the NCAA tournament but also as a place where you can grow and eventually get paid at the next level.
Major League Soccer will launch a development-focused league next year, aimed to bridge the gap between youth academies and first-team rosters, the league announced on Monday.
The new league, which has yet to be named, is expected to include roughly 20 teams in its first year, including several MLS-operated teams currently playing in the USL Championship and USL League One. By 2023, every MLS team with a lower-division team will play in the league, which will also include an uncapped number independent teams outside of the league’s current ownership structure. It is likely there will be at least some independent representation in Year 1.
There are three primary motivating factors for the league’s creation, according to MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott: Completing the pro pathway from the youth level to MLS, taking professional soccer into new media markets and providing more opportunities in various soccer-related to roles to a more a diverse pool of candidates.
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“One of the really key components of [the pro pathway] is to have a lower-division opportunity for players that have come up through the development system, but aren’t yet ready to play for their first team,” Abbott told ESPN. “We need to find a place for them to have meaningful competition and meaningful minutes and having a vibrant, lower division league is a way to do that.”
For several years, USL has provided that function and the relationship has benefitted each league to varying degrees. However, as both leagues have grown, it has been increasingly clear the MLS-operated teams were motivated by player development, while the USL teams prioritized on-field results.
“In the early years, I believe that USL really wanted us in and they were accommodating,” said longtime Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes. “They were trying to, obviously, grow their league and it was a way to make it a little bit exciting to have us around. But realistically, what we’re trying to do and the way that we’re trying to use those teams as an extension of our first team, how we’re trying to develop the future of our MLS teams, it’s not necessarily their objectives.
“That’s not any sort of criticism, it’s just reality.”
MLS has applied for Division III sanctioning from the United States Soccer Federation, which is the same level as USL League One and a level below the USL Championship. In the U.S., where there is not a promotion-relegation system, sanctioning for different divisions takes into account factors like stadium size and standards, media capabilities, market size and more. There will not be any restrictions related to age.
“I wouldn’t characterize it us versus the USL,” Abbott said. “I expect USL, which we have a great relationship with, to remain a really dynamic and vibrant league and continue to be very strong and do what it’s doing. And I think they’ve done a great job of growing and I don’t see that changing.”
A USL spokesperson said: “The more pathways there are for young players across the country, the better. We wish MLS success in their efforts and look forward to continuing our work together to grow the sport of soccer in the United States.”
Matthew McConaughey helps energize the crowd as he bangs bongo drums on the field during Austin FC’s first-ever home game.
For Vermes, the alignment between the league’s recently-launched youth league, MLS Next, the new league that will begin next season and MLS will have significant benefits compared to when MLS clubs relied on the U.S. Soccer-run Development Academy (which folded in 2020) for youth development and USL for its second teams.
“[The alignment] is such an important aspect because you can go out and focus on what you’re doing,” he said. “If you have three different organizations representing those areas of play and they are not aligned in a way that they’re trying to push players along, and they’re not aligned in the way that you can move players up and down and all that. That’s where it becomes very difficult.”
Plans for the league were first reported by The Athletic.
MLS-operated teams in the new league are expected to play either at the MLS stadium or at a smaller venue in relatively close proximity, as is the case now with the teams playing in USL. Over time, it’s possible some MLS teams could choose to base their second team in a different media market in an attempt to expand their reach. Independent teams will be required to pay an undisclosed expansion fee to take part in the league.
The structure and calendar will closely resemble that of MLS, including the use of conferences. A 20-26 game schedule will begin in late March leading into playoffs and a championship game slated for early December. Independent teams will also be eligible to participate in the U.S. Open Cup and as the league grows, MLS plans to explore options to allow teams in the league to play lower-division teams from other countries.
It’s unclear exactly how television distribution will be handled, however, the league envisions every game will be produced with some games appearing on linear television, according to Abbott.
“A lot would be streamed and we think that there’s obviously a growing market for streaming products,” he said. “One of the exciting things about all of this is we think that this is a very attractive commercial and media opportunity. There is going to be a great number of games for distributors who are looking for a product that people are interested in that can be available on streaming platforms and I think this fits that need.”
Leadership for the league will be determined over the next six months and be based at MLS headquarters in New York City.
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Romain Grosjean paced IndyCar’s opening practice at Road America and immediately wished he was not at the top of the board.
“I don’t like topping free practice,” the Frenchman said after Friday’s session.
Grosjean went 1 minute, 47.6781 seconds in his Dale Coyne Racing with RWR Honda on the 14-turn, 4.014-mile road course, where he tested two weeks ago. The former Formula One driver must now try to maintain the pace through Sunday’s race.
“When you lead a free practice, you don’t want to make many changes for the rest of the weekend,” Grosjean said. “When you’re first, you don’t want to make too big changes, but if you… (are) struggling in practice, you know you need to make some big changes because you kind of feel there’s nothing to lose.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay was second fastest in practice and followed by Josef Newgarden.
IndyCar has another practice scheduled Saturday ahead of qualifying and the three fastest drivers in the first session all lobbied for IndyCar to return to a more traditional schedule. The series this year has eliminated Friday morning practices in a cost-saving measure.
“What is a normal schedule?” asked rookie Grosjean.
Hunter-Reay explained to him that IndyCar up until this season held two Friday practices, one Saturday morning practice and then qualifying — the same format used in F1.
“The teams apparently are saving money on doing the shortened schedule because it’s one less day in hotels, things like that. There’s a bigger subject on the economics of the whole thing,” Hunter-Reay said. “As for a racing driver and fans, it would be better to have the Friday, Saturday, Sunday back again.”
Newgarden said all of his Team Penske teammates want the old schedule back. The four Penske drivers are winless through the first eight races of the season.
Kevin Magnussen, meanwhile, turned his first laps in an Indy car in the practice session as the replacement driver for Felix Rosenqvist, who was injured in a crash last week at Detroit. He was Grosjean’s teammate at Haas in F1 until both were dumped at the end of last season and the Danish driver has since looked for work in the United States.
His full-time job is driving the IMSA sports car for Chip Ganassi Racing, but the team gave him permission to race for Arrow McLaren SP this weekend. Magnussen’s father, Jan, subbed for an injured Emerson Fittipaldi 25 years ago at Road America and is an F1 veteran and sports car standout who made 11 starts when IndyCar was called CART.
“It’s never been a secret that IndyCar is something that I am pretty passionate about,” Magnussen said. “It’s nothing new. My dad raced Indy cars in the mid-90s when I was only a small little kid, and I can remember back then that I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to do that one day.'”
He’s joined in the field this weekend by Cody Shane Ware, who races mostly in NASCAR this year and will make his debut as Grosjean’s teammate. Ware was 22nd on the speed chart, sandwiched between seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and Magnussen.
Oliver Askew also returned to the field for the second consecutive race as a substitute. He filled in for Rosenqvist at Detroit but was grabbed by Ed Carpenter Racing for this weekend after Rinus VeeKay broke his collarbone when he fell off his bike during a training ride.
Askew was ninth fastest in Friday practice and said returning to a car – he was let go at the end of last season by Arrow McLaren and has no ride this year – “was just like riding a bike, right?” He was immediately mortified and insisted he wasn’t making fun of VeeKay, his former rival in the Road to Indy ladder system.
VeeKay, who fist-bumped Askew after the practice session, took the pun in stride.
“I’ll tell you, riding a bike isn’t that easy,” he wrote to Askew on social media.