February 28, 2023
The Weekly Fast Break: The postseason is here
Our first NIL violation and what it means
With just a few exceptions, we have reached the pivotal turn in the journey of the 2022-23 college basketball season. It is the gentle rolling stop at the corner that shows just one arrow for the next part of our travels – postseason play. It is so hard to remember all the way back to November when we entered about the non-conference season and then sprinted to conference play where we have had hundreds of fantastic games with amazing performances and finishes.
It is time to gas up the cars, pick up the dry cleaning, pack for what we hope is weeks away from home and refresh the “who’s on the bubble” conversation in our browsers every 30 minutes. Postseason tournaments begin this week across the country and 32 automatic qualifying bids to the 2023 NCAA Tournament are at stake. For some your bid may be a lock, whether you win your conference tournament or not. But for others, this is the last chance – the one opportunity to get your dance card punched and put your team on the road to the Final Four.
At The Weekly Fast Break, we send a huge congratulations to all the regular season conference champions from coast to coast because your accomplishment is not for the faint of heart. You persevered through months of games, travel, wins, loses, and did what you needed to do as a team to get the job done. Next up will be your postseason aspirations that take center stage. We recommend you take a day or two to rest and recover because remember, there is no tomorrow – survive and advance is the only way now. Who stays the longest at conference tournaments and beyond? We cannot wait to see.
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Ute Crossing: The nickname for Salt Lake City, UT is ‘the crossroads of the west’. To win the 2023 outright Pac-12 regular-season championship, #6 Stanford had to cross right through that great city and #3 Utah did not make it an easy journey. In front of a record-setting crowd of over 9,000 fans, Utah beat Stanford for just the second time in 33 contests, 84-78. The win crowned both teams as co-champions of the Pac-12 this year, Utah’s first regular-season title in program history. Sophomore guard Gianna Kneepkens had a season-high 27 points, including 5-for-9 from three-point range. In a game where so much of the stat sheet looked the same for both teams, one line stood out – 26 Utah points off 21 Stanford turnovers. Will these two teams meet again at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas? They are on opposite sides of the bracket as the top two seeds and so if they do, it will be with another championship on the line.
Irish Champions: Whether you are superstitious or not, sometimes a team just needs a little luck to come their way. It cannot hurt that if you are #10 Notre Dame, your mascot is a happy little leprechaun who found the treasure this weekend, bringing the 2022-23 ACC regular-season champions trophy back to South Bend. On Sunday, the Fighting Irish went on the road to (R/V) Louisville, found themselves down nine at halftime but rallied to a 68-65 victory. Sophomore standout Olivia Miles, who leads the team in scoring, left the game in the second quarter with an injury and did not return. Fellow sophomore Sonia Citron picked up the slack and delivered a standout performance of her own, posting 27 points including 10-for-14 from the free throw line. Two freshmen, KK Bransford and Cassandre Prosper, each scored 14 apiece and helped propel the Irish to their first regular-season title since 2019. In just her third season at Notre Dame, head coach Niele Ivey has her first ACC title and a new trophy to add to her collection.
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Jacked Up: For just the fifth time in Summit League history. (R/V) South Dakota State finished the regular-season conference schedule undefeated with a 92-67 win on the road over Oral Roberts. The Jackrabbits bounced their way to 18-0, becoming the first team since Northern Illinois in 1993-94 to win 18 conference games. But this success it not new to head coach Aaron Johnston’s program – this is the second time in three seasons that SDSU has gone undefeated in conference action. The keys to that success? Veterans who are just like the wind chill advisories in Brookings, SD in February – consistent. Redshirt senior Mya Selland leads the team in scoring (16.9 points/game) and fellow senior Paiton Burckhard averages double figures as well. While the Jackrabbits can score at a fast pace, their defense has held teams to just 60.7 points/game on year. They will look to add hardware next week with a Summit League postseason tournament title and then gladly pack up their dancing shoes for the NCAA Tournament.
Southern Smash: It took an extra time to get a winner, but Southern Miss women’s basketball won their 800th game in program history on Feb. 24 with a 69-64 overtime victory over Louisiana. The win also crowned the Lady Eagles regular season co-champions of the Sun Belt Conference for the first time since 1993-94. 6’3 sophomore Melyia Grayson paced Southern Miss in the win with a double-double (16 points and 11 rebounds). Head Coach Joye Lee-McNelis has been associated with the Lady Eagles’ program for most of the last 40 years in some form or fashion and now leads her 20-9 squad into the Sun Belt postseason tournament as the third overall seed. They will play their first game on March 3.
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You know that March Madness is right around the corner when a buzzer-beater bonanza takes over this past week. It started on Feb. 23 when #8 Virginia Tech senior Elizabeth Kitley beat the buzzer with a textbook turnaround jump shot as the Hokies took down #18 North Carolina, 61-59. The All-American’s 21 points and 10 rebounds led the way in the road win. Her rock-star performances continued Sunday as she posted a season-high 29 points and added 11 rebounds as the Hokies topped Georgia Tech, 65-52. Kitley was 22-for-34 from the field in those two games, earning her the final ACC Player of the Week award of the regular season. The Hokies finished the ACC season winning eight games in a row.
If there is one thing we can count on from #7 Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, it is heroic shots and happy celebrations. On Sunday, the Hawkeyes hosted #2 Indiana in front of a sold-out crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and were looking to hand the Big Ten-champion Hoosiers only their second loss in conference play all year. In a tightly contested battle down to the wire, it looked like Indiana would escape after senior Mackenzie Holmes hit two free throws with 1.5 seconds remaining to put the Hoosiers up 85-83. Iowa took a timeout to advance the ball and Clark came off a deep curl cut and screen to catch and hit a falling three-point shot to give her team the victory, 86-85. Holmes finished with 21 points and Clark posted 34, going 4-for-12 from three, the last being the highlight of the college basketball day. Even with the loss, Indiana is the #1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, which begins March 1 in Minneapolis, MN. Clark was named Big Ten Player of the Week for the sixth time this season.
The month of February has been rocky for Kansas State, but a bright spot has been the consistent play of sophomore Serena Sundell. The 6’ guard was named Big 12 Player of the Week for the first time in her career after two performances that have shown the continued growth in her game. Against in-state rival Kansas, Sundell had 24 points, seven assists and four steals in the Wildcats 63-45 win at home on Feb. 22. On Saturday, Feb. 25 at West Virginia, Sundell led a K-State comeback from down 19 points to tie the game in the fourth quarter. She posted a game-high 21 points, going 9-for-13 from the floor in the 67-58 loss to the Mountaineers. Sundell has developed into more of an assertive penetrator and scorer without All-American center Ayoka Lee available this season and her leadership and toughness have been a lift for the Wildcats.
SHOT CLOCK VIOLATION
We knew it was coming. It was only going to be a matter of time. How it happened, when it happened and who was going to be the first target to be penalized were the unknowns. Name, image, and likeness (NIL) entered college athletics in July 2021, and everything instantly changed. No longer were there incredibly stringent rules on what student-athletes could or could not do, but more parameters that everyone must operate within.
On Feb. 24, the NCAA issued its first sanctions related to a NIL case and even though many thought it would be about a supposed $13M NIL deal for a quarterback to go to Florida, it was against the Miami women’s basketball. The NCAA penalized the Miami program for its involvement in urging a meeting between a wealthy alum and two players who transferred to the school last summer. The sanctions are a result of a meeting between Miami alum John Ruiz and transfer basketball players Haley and Hanna Cavinder.
Ruiz has signed over 100 Miami student-athletes to NIL deals to help promote his company LifeWallet, some of which have been reported to be for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Cavinder twins were some of the first collegiate athletes in 2021 to cash in on NIL with a splashy Times Square billboard announcement in New York City. With over 3 million followers on social media, the Cavinders are very marketable and so when they put them name into the transfer portal, many speculated that NIL opportunities would play a role in their decision. Yet we must remember that per the rules set by the NCAA, it is a violation of the rules to use NIL opportunities as a recruiting inducement to persuade an athlete to attend a particular school.
Per Ruiz, he hosted the twins and their parents for a dinner at his house after the former Fresno State basketball players had decided to attend Miami. The interest from the NCAA and others occurred after Ruiz posted a photo of all of them at his home on social media. Miami head coach Katie Meier served a school-imposed three-game suspension at the start of the Hurricanes’ season as a punishment related to this case. The NCAA said Meier communicated with Ruiz to say that she would make sure the Cavinder twins knew who he was after he tried to arrange a meeting with them before their official visit to campus last summer. The head coach’s involvement in arranging contact between the prospects and a booster violated NCAA recruiting rules.
In addition to Meier’s suspension at the start of the season, The Miami women’s basketball program was given one-year probation by the NCAA, as well as other penalties, including a fine and a reduction in various recruiting opportunities (official visits and in person recruiting days). No penalties were handed down against Ruiz or the Cavinder twins.
Is it odd that the first sanctions are handed down against a women’s program? Possibly yes, but we must remember that no one is above the rules or insulated from being scrutinized. When you plaster yourself (or selves) across social media, people see where you are, what you are doing and whom you are with. If coaches get caught “helping to facilitate” NIL opportunities for potential recruits, then they must deal with consequences. As Julia Roberts’ character in the movie Ocean’s 11 so eloquently says: “someone is always watching.”
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FULL COURT PRESS
It is very difficult to pick out games that we need to watch because there are going to be many coming up in the next 13 days which gets us to March 12 and Selection Sunday. There are a handful of conferences that still have regular season games left on the docket that will impact regular season championships and seeding for their post-season tournaments. Our friends at ESPN.com have a fantastic schedule on their site that will update with teams that advance in their tournament play and keep your viewing schedule right on point. You may find yourself up too late one night watching games or checking others over lunch the next day but that is exactly how it should be – March Madness is upon us. Enjoy every moment!
Written by Missy Heidrick
I am a former shooting guard at Kansas State and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!