College hoops roundup: loss of a legend, Dean Smith

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  • Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski acknowledges former UNC coach Dean Smith as he is honored with the Dr. James A. Naismith Good Sportsmanship Award on Wednesday, June 29, 2011, at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh, N.C. (Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS)

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The college basketball world lost a legend on Saturday when former North Carolina head coach Dean Smith passed away at the age of 83. 

Smith led the Tar Heels to two national titles and 11 Final Fours during his 36-year tenure at UNC, and perhaps more importantly, he was a tremendous person off the court. For non-basketball fans, maybe this will help put Smith’s influence into perspective: He coached and mentored Michael Jordan before Jordan became the global icon he is today.

Twelve years after retiring, Jordan is still arguably the most recognizable sports name on the planet. The Illinois student body — made up of primarily Bulls fans — is hyperaware of MJ’s impact. Although current college seniors were only 5 years old at the time of Jordan’s sixth and final championship, his legacy has been embedded into Chicago fans’ livelihoods since birth. As a Washington D.C. native and Wizards fan, I can still say with utter confidence that I’ve never seen a better player than mid-90s Michael (you’re not quite there yet, LeBron).

After Smith’s death, Jordan released a touching statement in which he said, “(Smith) was more than a coach — he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father.”

B1G Bubble Watch

We’re a month out from Selection Sunday, and currently, the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers are the only Big Ten team locked in the NCAA tournament. Barring a monumental collapse, No. 19 Maryland should make the field. The Terrapins have been shaky of late — they’ve lost three of their last five games in blowout fashion to Indiana, Ohio State and Iowa. 

Melo Trimble, Jake Layman and Co. need to get back to what made them such a tough matchup in December and January: their ability to get to the free throw line.

Meanwhile, there is optimism surrounding Illinois’ tournament chances for the first time since nonconference play. The Illini have rattled off three straight Big Ten wins — most recently a 59-54 victory against Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan, on Saturday. Sophomore Malcolm Hill has stepped up to average 19.4 points per game over his last five outings. He’s averaging 14.8 on the season, and everything indicates he’ll be a bona fide star for the Illini for the remainder of his collegiate career. Hill’s play has been especially huge in the absence of leading scorer Rayvonte Rice, who remains suspended alongside guard Aaron Cosby. 

Rock Chalk dominance

Kansas has won 10 straight Big 12 regular season championships and is gunning for another. After a slight hiccup against No. 17 Oklahoma State on Saturday, the No. 8 Jayhawks are looking to bounce back and finish another year atop the conference. 

There’s the perception that the rest of the Big 12 is weak because of KU’s dominance over the past decade, but that is certainly not the case in 2015. Six schools — Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Baylor — are in the Top 25 and look to do damage come tournament time. 

Although Kansas took a hit over the weekend, my money is on the Jayhawks having a short memory and getting back on course. 

Eli is a junior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @eschwad.