Florida State picked up a commitment from ESPN 300 quarterback Sam Howell on Monday night. The No. 289-ranked prospect overall is the first quarterback to commit to the Noles under new coach Willie Taggart and adds to an already strong 2019 class.
Howell, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound pocket passer out of Sun Valley High School in Monroe, North Carolina, chose Florida State over offers from Florida, Ohio State, Georgia, Michigan, Ole Miss, Oregon and plenty of others.
A big reason for his commitment to Florida State was new Seminoles offensive coordinator Walt Bell, who recently joined Taggart after leaving the same position at Maryland.
“Coach Bell went [to Florida State] and it felt like everything was falling into place,” Howell said. “It just felt right.”
Bell had recruited Howell while at Maryland since Howell was 15 years old, and the two have established an excellent relationship throughout the process.
The Florida State coaches tried to land a few quarterbacks in the 2018 class, including James Foster, who signed with previous Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M. But the short amount of time Taggart and his coaches had to recruit before February’s signing day prevented them from landing a signal-caller in the class.
Landing Howell now gives Bell and Taggart an excellent prospect to add future depth behind Deondre Francois, James Blackman and Bailey Hockman. With Howell in the mix, the staff can take its time evaluating other quarterbacks, if the Seminoles were to add a second to the class.
Florida State now has five ESPN 300 commitments in the 2019 class with Howell, defensive back Akeem Dent, and defensive linemen Michael Morris Jr., Tru Thompson and Quashon Fuller.
“Oh, no. Heck, no!” Holyfield said Tuesday of a possible return to boxing, which he last did competitively as a middle schooler. “I’ve been out of it too long, and I wouldn’t want to go in there and get hit again. I don’t want to get punched anymore. I get hit enough running.”
That would be running with a football. And he’s going to stick with that a bit longer.
In fact, Holyfield’s football career is just beginning to take off, in college anyway. At least it looks that way as the Georgia Bulldogs move toward the end of spring practice in Holyfield’s third year. All signs are point to the rising junior from College Park with the famous last name being Georgia’s primary ball carrier when G-Day kicks off this Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN, News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB).
In a position largely defined by the “survival-of-the-fittest” model, Holyfield has both survived and proved the most fit this spring. As the Bulldogs prepare to play before an estimated crowd of 78,000 at Saturday, Holyfield is the odds-0n favorite to play the role of Georgia’s No. 1 tailback. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have moved on, of course, and heir apparent D’Andre Swift is slightly gimpy with a groin injury.
But Holyfield might’ve been the man anyway. In fact, that’s exactly what some of his teammates were saying about him on Tuesday.
“That’s a man right there,” said defensive end David Marshall, who gets to tackle Holyfield almost every practice. “I love how he practices, I love how he comes hard every play. I’ve never seen him slacking, ever.”
Holyfield and fellow junior Brian Herrien have managed to stay healthy while getting the majority of repetitions in Georgia’s considerable running back corps this spring. Ballyhooed freshman signee Zamir “Zeus” White is running drills but has not been cleared for contact while recovering from December knee surgery. Fellow blue-chip recruit James Cook hasn’t arrived yet. Georgia also has a small selection of walk-ons at running back, including sophomores Prather Hudson and Ian Donald-McIntyre.
But Holyfield has created the buzz in camp. Not only does he look physically imposing, he has been playing a high level, as well.
“He’s a physical, tough guy, one of my favorite competitors out there,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said last week. “He’s got to pass protect better. He’s got to work on it, and that’s been a big emphasis for him. But I’m excited to see where he goes. He’s had some really good, tough runs this spring.”
Holyfield’s opportunities to show his stuff have been very limited since he signed with the Bulldogs out of Atlanta’s Woodward Academy. Playing a mop-up role behind Chubb and Michel the last two seasons, he has only 56 career rushing attempts for 322 yards.
But he has averaged 5.8 yards on those carries and recorded 2 touchdowns. Both of them were impressive, but especially the 39-yarder early in the fourth quarter against Florida last October. He capped it off with a Superman dive into the end zone.
“Breaking that was really a confidence builder for me to know I can play on this level,” Holyfield said.
Holyfield, who is listed at 5-foot-11, 217 pounds, is known as a strong, tough runner. But that play and the 90-yard kickoff return against Notre Dame that was nullified by a holding penalty demonstrated that he also has speed and some moves.
But Holyfield is exceptionally strong and works hard to be that way. He doesn’t mind telling people that he can hang with Chubb when it comes to pumping iron.
“I try to do what he could do,” Holyfield said. “I look at his numbers and try to get to those.”
Asked if he matched any, Holyfield said, “Oh, yeah. Ask Chubb” — but he withheld details.
Doesn’t matter. Playing running back is all about performing on the field. And while Saturday won’t be a sanctioned college football game, Holyfield’s excited to show Georgia fans what he has to offer in 2018.
“I’m looking forward to G-Day and running the ball in front of a lot of people,” Holyfield said. “As I get the ball more I think everybody will see all the things I can do.”
At one time, Holyfield was known as that Atlanta running back who looks strikingly similar to his famous father, world heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield. But his goal is to be known as an exceptional football player by his own right. And he’s working hard to make it happen.
“It’s not really a shadow,” he said of his father’s fame. “If it is, it’s just motivation to get out of it.”
With time running out for Romeo Langford to make his decision, flashbacks of Trae Young’s decision come to mind. The Kansas Jayhawks patiently wait.
Three schools are in the running to land Romeo Langford, the No. 2 shooting guard in the country and No. 6 player overall according to rivals.com. Other sources have him ranked higher, but you get the point. This guy is special. His decision will come sometime this month, when he chooses either Indiana, Vanderbilt, or the Kansas Jayhawks.
Langford is the likely choice to become Indiana’s Mr. Basketball for 2018, where he averaged 35.5 points at New Albany High School. This situation is very similar to that of Trae Young. Young’s senior year he averaged 42.8 points per game for Norman North in Oklahoma. He waited as long as possible to make his decision as well, before choosing to be the man rather than part of a team at Oklahoma University.
Hindsight may be 20/20, but Young may have made a wrong decision. His stock actually went down as his freshman year went on. He took the college basketball world by storm, becoming ESPN’s adopted love-child as he lit up the scoreboards. As soon as teams figured out that his teammates couldn’t pick up the slack, the Sooners started to fall.
Young was on an island all by himself. His team was no good, and unfairly, he was blamed by many in the media. Romeo Langford won’t be the hated player that Young was, but their paths are the same.
If Langford wants to be the man and pad his stats, Indiana will likely be his destination. Like Young, where better to be the man than right where you live. He has a better chance of being noticed at Vanderbilt, as he will be playing on a better team facing teams like Kentucky and Louisville throughout the season.
Now, if Langford wants to be seen there is only one school to choose. Kansas. The Jayhawks are playing on national television every week. The consecutive conference title streak will grab attention as long as the streak continues. Plus, Kansas is favored to be the preseason No.1 team next season by practically every source. Even with the recent departures.
Langford won’t be averaging 35.5 points at Kansas. Had Young chosen the Jayhawks rather than the Sooners, he wouldn’t have averaged the numbers he did either. That just doesn’t happen when you are surrounded by other talented scorers in college.
Speculation on where Langford will play has gone on for months, especially since he narrowed his teams down to three. The fear coming from Kansas fans relates directly back to Trae Young. Bill Self is known for letting his guards play freely, which is a common reason for the recent success he has had at that position. Playing at home prevailed with Trae Young.
On paper, if Langford joins Kansas, the backcourt may be one of the most dangerous backcourts in history. There is definitely reason to get excited about Romeo’s decision here. The Jayhawks may have benefitted from him taking his time since Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick both announced they were leaving.
Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Eye on the Tigers, a rundown of everything happening in LSU Tigers recruiting, with Sam Spiegelman. Today, we discuss LSU’s pursuit of Louisiana’s top running back John Emery Jr. After releasing his top eight schools, the 4-star prospect broke down the Tigers’ chances.
LSU remains strong contender for John Emery Jr.
John Emery Jr. is down to eight.
On Friday, the elite Louisiana tailback trimmed his impressive double-digit offer sheet down to eight. Emery went in-depth on the process and how he settled on eight here.
As we dip further into the spring, the nation’s No. 5-ranked running back will continue to make unofficial visits. He has already been to LSU, Michigan, Auburn and Florida, with stops at Georgia and Tennessee expected in April. Emery’s most recent stop in Baton Rouge came on March 17 as he took in the Tigers’ first spring scrimmage. The return visit marked Emery’s first time back on campus since the fall.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that Emery was a mainstay at LSU at this time a year ago after garnering an early offer. He attended a handful of home games in the fall, but began exploring his out-of-state options in January. Simply put, he was doing his due diligence.
“We lost a tad bit, but we’re back on it,” Emery told SEC Country in regard to his communication with the Tigers staff. “Everything is good right now. We’re still communicating. By taking these [out-of-state] visits, I can focus on some other schools, too, but the communication is still the same. I’m still feeling the love and everything is good.”
Emery made a visit to Michigan during LSU’s elite junior day in January. He was at The Plains for LSU’s second junior day function, but made his way up I-10 as spring practice rolled on.
LSU running backs coach Tommie Robinson and New Orleans area recruiter Mickey Joseph quickly took advantage of having the elite running back on campus again, devoting a good deal of attention to Emery for much of the afternoon. It did not take long for Emery to reconnect with the staff.
“LSU, I can see myself there,” he said. “I love LSU. It’s home. Every time I go there, it’s a good time. I can make big things at LSU. Also, I’ve been taking these visits to other schools, seeing Michigan and Florida, and I’ve felt at home at other schools. I want to go where I’d feel comfortable living the next three or four years.
“When I first got offered by LSU, it was a great feeling. My feelings for LSU never decreased. I love LSU.”
If anything, visiting out-of-state schools has provided Emery with some perspective in this long-winding recruiting process.
After all, Emery spent the majority of his time last year in Baton Rouge. He’s well aware of what’s in Robinson’s current running backs room and the need for an alpha in this 2019 recruiting class. Making visits to other schools has merely given Emery a long-awaited opportunity to compare and contrast all of his options.
“LSU showed a lot of love when I was there,” Emery said. “I’ve been talking to Coach T-Rob and they’re trying to figure out who’s going to be the No. 1 running back. I was checking out those running backs. I know they have Clyde [Edwards-Helaire], they have [Tae Provens]. I was watching him. They’re trying to figure it out, but I don’t want to get too caught up with that.
“My visits have been great. I’ve noticed some differences. I’ve been to LSU a couple of times and they wanted me on campus for a junior day before spring ball started up. I wanted to shoot out and see the differences, and that’s been amazing for me to see the differences. I’m enjoying it.”
In Emery’s newly released top eight, there’s LSU and a host of other SEC powers, including Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Florida and Auburn. Additionally, Southern Cal and Michigan made the cut.
The 4-star running back has been to most of those campuses this spring, and if not, has plans to do so before he slices his top group down to three ahead of his senior season at Destrehan (La.) High School. A commitment date is tentatively scheduled during the December signing period.
It appears as if it will be LSU versus the field with an emphasis on the depth chart and what transpires during the season. Each of the schools embedded in Emery’s top eight have enticed him in different facets and he can see the positives in all the pitches.
“At LSU, it’s love, and definitely when I go there, it’s home and it feels like home,” Emery explained. “When I go out-of-state, schools like Michigan and coach Jim Harbaugh, it was businesslike, straightforward. That’s the difference. Auburn was business. Do your time and do what you got to do for the school and take care of your own business.
“When I go to LSU, it’s business, but it’s home, too. It’s love. I love the school, so it’s going to be a hard decision for me at the end.”
Miss a previous edition? Find every post of SEC Country’s daily Eye on the Tigers recruiting notebook right here.
On a day when the defense dominated the majority of the practice, Deejay Dallas took it upon himself to change the course of practice.
“I was just trying to get us a spark, trying to be that spark player,” Dallas said afterward on Tuesday.
So what exactly did Dallas do when he came face-to-face with a defender during his next rep?
“He trucked him,” coach Mark Richt said. “He ran his you know what over.”
It was a telling sign from Dallas, who is emerging as a vocal presence from the Hurricanes’ offense early in spring practice. It was also, perhaps, a glimpse of what’s to come for a player who spent his freshman year learning Miami’s playbook and trying to find his role in the offense after a changing positions midyear.
“Good things come to those who wait,” Dallas said.
For Dallas, though, waiting time is over. The all-around athlete wrapped up in a 5-10, 221-pound frame, is ready to take on an expanded role for the Hurricanes after a strong finish to his freshman year.
“It’s more comfortable now. [It’s] Year 2,” Dallas said. “The first year, you’re kind of shaky. Year 2, it’s time to make something happen.”
He gave the coaching staff a taste of what he could do in the back half of the 2017 season. After seeing minimal action through the first seven games of the season, Dallas transitioned from wide receiver to running back to give the Hurricanes more depth in the backfield. In the end, Dallas rushed for 217 yards and three touchdowns in the final six games of the year. Included in that was a two-touchdown night against Notre Dame.
“From Day 1, Deejay has been a competitive football player,” offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said.
That was back when he was 200 pounds and still figuring out how to handle the load at running back against ACC-caliber defenses.
Since then, he has gained about 20 pounds, enough to help him go head-to-head with defenders but not too much for him to lose his explosiveness.
“When he makes contact,” Richt said, “it’s impressive.”
And while Dallas has always been confident in his abilities, having more reps under his belt helps, too.
“It’s like instincts now,” Dallas said. “Last year, I was like ‘oh, what do I do?’ Now, it’s like ‘I’m doing it.’ It’s clockwork.”
Now, the focus shifts back to the field, where Dallas hopes to be part of a running back rotation that will feature him, Travis Homer and top freshman Lorenzo Lingard. Each offers a different look: Dallas’ versatility, Homer’s physicality, Lingard’s speed.
And Dallas is taking it upon himself to make sure Lingard, who came to Coral Gables as the No. 2-ranked running back in the 2018 class, has a smooth transition to his college football career.
Dallas’ main message to the freshman is the same one he told himself last year as he was switching positions: Don’t overthink it.
“I’m trying to hold his hand through the way,” Dallas said, “but he’ll get it.”
Richt announced Tuesday that starting linebacker Zach McCloud suffered a wrist injury and will be out for the remainder of spring practice.
“He won’t be able to go through spring, but he’ll be ready in the fall,” Richt said. “I think the entire summer he’ll be good as well to train.”
McCloud had a brace on his left wrist during practice Tuesday. During the portion open to the media, he took part in non-contact drills with a group including De’Andre Wilder, Romeo Finley and Derrick Smith.
In 26 career games over his first two seasons (including 22 starts), McCloud has recorded 85 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 defended passes and a forced fumble. He had a career-high 10 tackles in Miami’s loss to Pittsburgh last season.
Michigan fans wanted to fire John Beilein as recently as last year. Like, badly.
The Wolverines opened the 2016-17 Big Ten season losing four of their first six in-conference games. They were 12-7 overall in mid-January, well off where they had been at that point during the season before, which ultimately ended in a first-round NCAA tournament ousting. The year before that, they were also 12-7, before finishing 16-16 and missing the Big Dance altogether.
In context it made sense Michigan fans were lighting message boards saying things like “the team has lacked intensity and grit for far too long,” and predicting the end of NCAA tournament runs past the Sweet 16 unless a change was made. The team had been mired in injuries and bad defense for more than two years. Never mind that Michigan had gone to a national title game and chased it with an Elite Eight appearance under Beilein, too. Mediocrity had gotten to feel like the new normal in Ann Arbor.
So yeah, on one hand it’s easy to understand where the “Fire Beilein” folk were coming from. On the other hand — Ahahaha! Get a load of those goobers now. Michigan went on to win the 2017 Big Ten tournament after a getting in a plane crash, then they went to the Sweet 16 as a No. 7-seed after upsetting two-seed Louisville. This year, they won another Big Ten tournament title and they’re in the Final Four, with 11-seed Loyola-Chicago standing in the way of Beilein’s second title game appearance in six years.
Now Michigan fans are offering up mea culpas, though it’s not like Beilein has ever needed them. This year’s Michigan team has looked roughly like the vision of Beilein teams in the past. The Wolverines space the floor well with scorers, and they don’t turn the ball over. The bigs can shoot and the guards can penetrate and feel confident guarding anyone. When they’re at their offensive best, like they were against Texas A&M last weekend, they can seemingly take whatever they want from a defense. Michigan put up 99 points against Kenpom’s No. 13 efficiency defense on 61.9 percent shooting, making roughly 64 percent of theirs twos and 58 percent of their threes.
The fact Michigan can fill it up isn’t what makes it special, however. By Kenpom, they’re a solid 31st in offensive efficiency, but that’s actually the team’s second-worst mark since 2011 (only that 16-16 team was worse). Relative to past Michigan teams, this edition isn’t great from deep, and it has a very real Achilles heel in free throws, ranking 321st out of 351 teams at 66 percent from the stripe.
In fact, among Michigan’s four NCAA tournament games, that A&M game was a blip. In the three others, the Wolverines shot a combined 39 percent from the field, and 25 percent from three. Moe Wagner, Michigan’s season leading scorer and conference tournament star, has been erratic offensively. Against Florida State in the Elite Eight, he was 0-for-7 from three-point range, contributing to he a 4-for-22 team effort, and the Wolverines nearly blew its lead late by missing four of its last six free-throw attempts — two on the front of one-and-ones (which makes Florida State’s decision not to foul late all the more odd, but alas).
Here’s how Michigan has evolved under Beilein. The Wolverines have been impeccable defensively since late in the season, climbing up to No. 4 in Kenpom’s defensive efficency ratings. Their previous high under Beilein was 37th in 2011 and 2013, and normally they reside somewhere between 60th and 100th as a team that rarely presses and often lacks athleticism in the post. Yet for this tournament, opponents are shooting just 38 percent against Michigan with just 34 assists to 49 turnovers.
The reason for the uptick is multifaceted, but starts with Beilein admitting that, yes, something was wrong. After the 2016 season, he essentially delegated defensive coaching responsibility to assistant coach Billy Donlon, and then Luke Yaklich this season after Donlon was hired by Northwestern. After Selection Sunday, Beilein confessed to the Associated Press that his eye isn’t trained for defense.
“My eye draws to offense all the time,” he told the AP. “Even if we have our first team practicing against our second team, I look at offense both ways. I don’t see certain things.”
Beilein also said that, even at 65, “I have changed like the wind.” The best example of that may be the decision to make sophomore Zavier Simpson his primary point guard after playing him in a platoon early in the season. Simpson isn’t a typical Beilein point guard in one important facet: He can’t shoot. At just over 30 percent for the season from three and a moribund 51 percent from the free throw-line, you can understand why he wasn’t given the reins immediately. In all other ways, however, Simpson is the Beilein prototype — undersized but pugnacious, and fearless towards the rim much like last year’s super-senior Derrick Walton, and former National College Player of the Year Trey Burke before him.
Most importantly, Simpson is an unrelenting defender. For the last three weeks, he has been perhaps Michigan’s most important player for the way he has shut down opposing point guards and the point of attack. In the second round, he held Houston’s Rob Gray, who had 39 points in a round-one game against San Diego State, to 8-for-22 shooting. Texas A&M point guard T.J. Starks dubbed himself “unguardable” before Simpson held him to 2-for-11 and five points. And on Saturday night, Florida State’s dual point guards C.J. Walker and Trent Forrest went a combined 1-for-9 with five turnovers.
And, my God, there’s still so much more to say about this Michigan team here. We haven’t even gotten to Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the West region in large part thanks to a heroic 17-point performance against Florida State when every one of his teammates couldn’t find the net. Nor have we mentioned Jordan Poole, the bushy-haired, short-shorted freshman with an overdose of swag who hit a time-expiring three-pointer to beat Houston. There’s a lot to cover, as there ought to be for any team that has just earned its banner in the rafters and may soon be playing for its first national title in nearly 30 years.
For now, let’s think back to January 2017, to that time when so many fans were ready to say goodbye to the first coach to take Michigan back to a championship game since the Fab Five, and what we know about Beilein now — the way he held firm to some principles and the way he let go of others, the patience and humility that took, and the way that, this time as in the past, his players have been able to play up to their exact capabilities at the perfect time of year.
No, Beilein teams don’t just win in March, and this won’t last forever. We’re probably too quick to deify coaches based on this one silly month, and nor should the way we view a coach swing because of one bad season or tournament (i.e., if you want hate on Tom Izzo, pick something that matters). Overreaction to a bad season-and-a-half-ish of basketball almost cost Michigan one of the best coaches in the game.
And by the way, Michigan will almost certainly have an off year or two again, regardless of what happens in San Antonio. That’s just what tends to happen when your talent is annually of the three- and four-star variety, not four and five. We’ve seen Beilein at Michigan long enough to know a few things to be certain, however: 1) Beilein is absolutely one of college basketball’s dorkiest coach-dads, 2) Players will develop under him as well as they would at any school in the country, and 3) Michigan may or may not make another Final Four before he retires, but it’d be stupid to bet against him.
The lesson is never assume anything, like that if something isn’t working, that means it needs fixing. Patience is boring is hell, but as Beilein and Michigan could tell you it does wonders for healing. If you ever need a reminder, don’t worry — just wait, it’ll come to you.
Join us daily at ACC DieHards for the latest North Carolina recruiting news and notes on the next crop of Tar Heels. Don’t miss any coverage from Cody Pace and the DieHards.com team. Read his daily notebooks here at 7 p.m. ET Sunday through Thursday. In this edition, we discuss the North Carolina Basketball Coaches Association all-state team.
Teammates Rechon Black, Wendell Moore named to all-state squad
North Carolina’s Class of 2018 is one of its best in a long time.
When most people talk about how good this basketball class is, they bring up 5-star small forward Nassir Little, one of the Tar Heels’ highest-rated recruits this decade, or 5-star combo guard Coby White.
Not discussed as often is 4-star guard/forward Rechon Black, who’s also a very good player. Basketball fans across the state were reminded of that on Tuesday when the North Carolina Basketball Coaches Association announced its all-state team.
In a state loaded with basketball talent, Black was one of the first-team selections, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Black averaged 13.4 points per game, 5.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.2 steals in his senior season at Cox Mill.
Also on the first team was Black’s teammate, 5-star Class of 2019 small forward Wendell Moore. One of North Carolina’s top targets in the junior class, Moore averaged 25.4 points per game and 7.3 rebounds. An excellent season also earned him the association’s Player of the Year award.
Black and Moore were joined by two of North Carolina’s early Class of 2020 targets. Jaden Springer, a 5-star shooting guard at Rocky River High School, was a first-team selection while Jalen Cone, a 4-star point guard from Walkertown High School, earned a spot on the third team.
Those four players join White and 4-star Class of 2019 shooting guard Josh Nickelberry on the postseason awards list. White and Nickelberry were named to the Independence Schools Athletic Association all-state team in February for the 1A classification.
Tar Heels expecting big visitor Saturday
As far as football recruiting is concerned, spring practice brings positives and negatives.
On the negative side, it’s a lot harder for coaches to get on the road to evaluate players and continue to build relationships. The positive is that, with actual football practices happening, it gives recruits who already have some kind of relationship cultivated a reason to make visits and check out the program.
This weekend, the Tar Heels expect their first big recruit to attend spring practice. Four-star Class of 2020 tackle Mitchell Mayes will be on campus, according to his Twitter account.
Mayes, a Raleigh, N.C., product, has just three offers — North Carolina, N.C. State and Duke. North Carolina was the last of the three to offer, extending Mayes his offer on Feb. 2.
It’s not surprising to see those schools offer such a talented player in their own backyard. Mayes ranks as the No. 3 tackle and No. 16 overall player in the sophomore class, according to 247Sports.
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The final NCAA sanctioned swimming event of the season looms on the horizon. Looking to ride the momentum of a successful campaign in the water into the national meet, the University of Notre Dame men’s swimming and diving team will take part in the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
No. 19 Notre Dame returns to the NCAA meet following the best finish at the championships in program history in 2017. The Irish scored 29 points to place 25th at the NCAA Championships last March in Indianapolis, raising the bar for the program at the national meet in 2018. Notre Dame sends four individual competitors and four total relay squads to Minneapolis in search of NCAA points and prestige.
Irish Storm The NCAA Pool
A host of Notre Dame student-athletes have punched their tickets to the NCAA Championships, which will be held Wednesday through Saturday in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Three Notre Dame swimmers have qualified for individual events at this week’s NCAA men’s meet. Justin Plaschka will race in both the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly events, entering the meet ranked 23rd nationally in the 50 free and 11th nationally in the 100 fly.
Rob Whitacre will compete in both the 200 backstroke and the 200 IM during the 2018 NCAA Championships for Notre Dame. Whitacre set an Irish program record in the 200 back earlier this season, ranking 13th nationally. His top 200 IM effort is the 34th-fastest time in the country thus far in 2017-18.
Zach Yeadon enters his first career NCAA Championships meet in the midst of a historic freshman season for Notre Dame. Yeadon, a two-time ACC Men’s Swimmer Selection of the Week (Oct. 10 and Jan. 30), will race in the 500 and 1650 freestyle events. To date, his Irish record time in the 500 free ranks seventh in the country and earned him an automatic invitation to the NCAA meet. Yeadon’s school record 1650 free swim is slotted third in the country on the eve of NCAAs, with his additional record split in the 1000 free ranking sixth in Division I men’s swimming.
On the relay schedule, Notre Dame will be represented in the 200 and 400 freestyle relay events, along with the 200 and 400 medley relay preliminary heats. The Irish posted NCAA A-cuts in both the 200 (1:17.61) and 400 (2:51.62) free relays earlier this season to earn automatic bids to the NCAA Championships.
In diving, Joe Coumos returns to the NCAA Championships for the fourth time in his career and will dive off both the 1-meter and 3-meter boards. Coumos was the ACC runner-up in the 1-meter event at the conference championships meet last month with a score of 391.90 points.
Irish Rewrite The Record Books
A total of eight Notre Dame program records have been established during the 2017-18 season on the road to the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships. Seven individual swimming events and one diving high score off the 3-meter board set the pace in Irish program history, with the oldest top time in the Notre Dame record book now dating back only as far as 2014.
Justin Plaschka threw down the fastest Notre Dame 50 freestyle in history, placing fourth in the ‘A’ final at the ACC Championships with a time of 19.30. Plaschka added the top 100 butterfly mark ever by an Irish men’s swimmer during the ACC meet, touching the wall in :45.41 for an NCAA A-cut and automatic slot in the national meet. Plaschka previously set the Notre Dame 100 freestyle (:42.78) last season.
Zach Yeadon etched his name into three places on the Notre Dame record book during his freshman season. His runner-up time of 4:12.74 in the 500 freestyle at the ACC Championships was good for the fastest in Irish history and a silver medal. Yeadon added his second silver finish at the ACC meet with a time of 14:34.60 in the 1650 freestyle, with his 8:51.16 1000 free split also on the top of the all-time Notre Dame list.
Rob Whitacre has enjoyed a standout senior season for the Irish in the backstroke, putting his name on the top 100 and 200 back swims in program history this season. Whitacre swam a prelim time of 46.46 in the 100 backstroke at the ACC Championships before finishing seventh in the event final to extend his team mark. He was also the top seed in the 200 back at ACCs following a Notre Dame record time of 1:40.17 in his prelim session.
Off the 3-meter diving board, Joe Coumos extended his own team record with 419.80 points on his way to victory at the Shamrock Invitational. Coumos also holds the top Notre Dame score in the 1-meter dive with a score of 420.00 points in 2017.
Irish Riding High In 2018
Racking up a 9-2 record in dual meets earlier in the season, Notre Dame staked its claim as one of the top teams in the ACC on its way to a fourth-place finish at the conference championship meet. The Irish downed No. 7 Louisville (Oct. 7), No. 23 Purdue (Oct. 27) and No. 20 Florida State (Jan. 19-20) in dual action, adding a first-place result in a talented Shamrock Invitational field that featured two additional ranked foes in January and a third-place finish at a loaded Ohio State Fall Invitational last November.
In addition to the key dual victories, Notre Dame scored a fourth-place finish at the ACC Swimming and Diving Championships in February to build off its third-place result in 2017. The Irish scored 941 points during the meet, with top finishes earned in the 500 and 1650 freestyle by Zach Yeadon (second place), a runner-up result for Rob Whitacre in the 200 backstroke and a silver medal for Joe Coumos off the 1-meter diving board. Whitacre added a fourth-place result in the 200 IM to his conference meet weekend, while Justin Plaschka was fourth in the ACC in the 50 freestyle.
ony Jones, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2012 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame softball, men’s soccer and swimming and diving programs. A native of Jamestown, New York, Jones is a 2011 graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and prior to arriving at Notre Dame held positions at the University of Louisiana Monroe and with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills.
The Ohio State Buckeyes and South Dakota State Jackrabbits played an entertaining 5-vs-12 NCAA Tournament matchup Thursday afternoon with the Buckeyes prevailing 81-73. The hero may have been senior Kam Williams who converted on a four-point play with the game tied at 70 with 1:36 remaining. Junior Keita Bates-Diop led Ohio State with 24 points and 12 rebounds. The Jackrabbits were paced by junior Mike Daum with 27 points on 5-10 shooting from three.
Let’s take a look at what we can learn from Ohio State’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 2015.
What We Learned
1. Ohio State Can Win With Offense In The NCAA Tournament
The formula for Ohio State’s success this season has been the Big Ten Player of the Year play of Bates-Diop and lockdown defense. The Buckeyes were a KenPom top 20 defense overall this season. Ohio State expected the replicate that type of game in today’s matchup
What they got was more of an offensive showdown with the Jackrabbits. Ohio State responded and leaned on its offensive playmaking from upperclassmen Bates-Diop, C.J. Jackson, and Williams. All had 20 points apiece and contributed with big shots down the stretch.
Now, this isn’t to disparage the Ohio State offense. They are rated no. 26 on KenPom and have shown an ability to light up the scoreboard, but overall, this is a team that digs in and wins with getting stops and grinding it out. It was somewhat unexpected to see Ohio State up-and-down the court keeping up with the Jackrabbits. It has to give the Buckeyes confidence to know that they can win NCAA Tournament games playing multiple ways.
2. Daum vs Bates-Diop Lived Up To The Hype
The talk before this afternoon’s game was the matchup between Mike Daum and Keita Bates-Diop. The talk was backed up with inspired play by both players.
Daum, who entered the game averaging 23.8 points per game and 10 rebounds, ended up leading all scorers with 27. Ohio State was able to limit him to just nine points in the second half, but the Nebraska-native played a heck of a game against a tough defensive team.
Bates-Diop was right there as well. The Big Ten Player of the Year dropped 24 and 12, 17 of which came in the first half.
Neither player was particularly efficient, both shot 20 or more shots. Still, it was exciting to see players of this caliber go at each other and delivering on this type of stage.
3. The Gonzaga Rematch Will Be Different
Now that the Buckeyes have gotten by the Jackrabbits, a rematch with Gonzaga awaits for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. The Zags destroyed Ohio State 86-59 in the PK80 tournament in Portland back in November. But just expecting a similar result in their game on Saturday would be foolish. True, the Buckeyes will need to solve Johnathan Williams, who scored 21 points in that game. The Buckeyes weren’t yet the Buckeyes from this year in that game. Defensively they were poor, giving up 44 first-half points, and Bates-Diop only passively took seven shots to score seven points. Expect the game to be much more competitive this time around, especially given Gonzaga’s struggles in their opening round matchup against UNC Greensboro.
Ohio State continued its strong turnaround season with a First Round victory over South Dakota State this afternoon. Before the season, this accomplishment looked improbable to even the most diehard Buckeye supporters. Still, the Buckeyes have done it and now look towards Gonzaga for some revenge on Saturday. It should be a great game with the Buckeyes playing with house money given all they have achieved this season.
NORMAN, Okla. — It was almost like a sudden gust of wind hit the floor at Lloyd Noble Center late Sunday afternoon. NCAA Tournament selection show host Greg Gumbel and Ernie Johnson reached the Os and right after Ohio State, there was Oklahoma.
The month-long swoon where the Sooners dropped from a top-10 team in every poll and metric to on the NCAA Tournament bubble wasn’t enough to keep them out of the field.
“I was nervous,” freshman guard Trae Young said. “I was very anxious to see if our name was being called. I’ve been very comfortable throughout this whole process until the last minute and a half. But once they called our name, all my emotions just let go. I’m very fortunate that they chose us. I think they did it right.”
Whether the Sooners (18-13) belonged is a debate that heated up a few weeks ago and showed no signs of cooling off. NCAA Tournament selection committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen laid out the rationale for the Sooners’ inclusion in the field. For most doubters, it wasn’t enough.
If Oklahoma and its fans that gathered for their team banquet prior to the selection show knew they were a shoe-in for an at-large berth, the roaring sigh of relief wouldn’t have been as loud.
“Look we didn’t do what we needed to do towards the end, and so we put our fate up in the air,” Oklahoma center Khadeem Lattin said. “So, at this point, all we can do is get ready for whatever is ahead of us, and pray for the best outcome. That’s what we did. We had two very intense practices, and we just started to get ready for the fight that lies ahead of us.”
The Sooners are the No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region. They face No. 7 seed Rhode Island (25-7) on Thursday at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
Oklahoma knows where it stands
The Sooners’ players are not deaf and they’re very adept at social media. They’ve heard all the critiques they’ve received while dropping nine of their final 12 games going into selection Sunday.
Young lobbied for the Sooners after the 71-60 loss Wednesday to Oklahoma State, which didn’t receive an NCAA Tournament bid. He cited Oklahoma’s strength of schedule and the quality of its victories.
Turner Sports analyst Charles Barkley didn’t hold back. When the meeting with Rhode Island was announced he said: “I don’t think they deserve to be in the (NCAA) Tournament and they’re gonna lose to Rhode Island.”
“I know our team has a big chip on our shoulder. Me, personally, I have a tremendous chip on our shoulder. I’ll be ready to play,” Young said. “I hear a lot of things. Not a lot people think we should be in, which is fine. The people who make the decision that we should be and that’s what matters. If you put our blind resume up, I think we would be in. I think we’ll have a tremendous chip on our shoulder. I don’t think that a lot of people not having us in is gonna affect us. We have to be ready to play.”
Getting out of Big 12 play should help Oklahoma
It’s no coincidence that Oklahoma’s slide began in early February, which is when it started facing Big 12 opponents for the second time in the round-robin schedule. It’s one thing to scout an opponent. The understanding grows of personnel multiples after playing against them.
The Sooners and Rams have never met.
“I’m not gonna say it’s a relief,” Young said. “The relief now is that it’s zero and zero and everyone has the same record. Now we know who we have to play. It’s gonna be different playing against a non-Big 12 team. We have to get prepared for them [Rhode Island]. They’re a really good team and we have to be ready to play.”
Much like the Sooners, Rhode Island limped into the postseason. After securing the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season title, the Rams fell to St. Bonaventure and Davidson to close the regular-season. Davidson upset the Rams on Sunday in the Atlantic 10 Tournament title to grab a bid.
None of that matters to the Sooners. They’re in the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence and four days of sweating since their abrupt exit from the Big 12 tournament.
“Obviously any time you get to play in the tournament you’re delighted,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “A long year, and we’ve had the extremes all in one season, very good play to less than that by a lot.”
This represents their last chance to recapture that level of play they had in December and January that has been absent for a month.