Confident Bill O'Brien barnstorming for Penn State

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Confident Bill O'Brien barnstorming for Penn State

READING, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien got to the point.

There's no time to waste for a major college football program, even in the offseason -- and especially for a Penn State team facing roster restrictions because of NCAA sanctions.

Whether he was rallying the fan base Monday at a luncheon or explaining to reporters about the post-spring practice evaluations that led to the departure of starting quarterback candidate Steven Bench, O'Brien didn't mince words.

"There's no room for gray area. We don't have time for it," he said at a news conference at the student center of the Penn State-Berks campus in Reading. "We only have time for the truth."

Confident after a successful debut season, O'Brien is returning to the road this week for the Penn State coaches caravan. The second annual installment followed last year's three-week, 18-stop road trip organized in part to introduce O'Brien to Penn State's massive alumni base up and down the mid-Atlantic region.

This year's caravan isn't quite as ambitious, down to two weeks and 12 stops. It began with an appearance before a sold-out crowd of 250 in Reading.

But it's a different O'Brien, too. He enjoys strong support from alumni after guiding the Nittany Lions through the turbulent 2012 season, which included the sanctions on the program for the child sex abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Penn State ended 8-4, a smashing success given the unprecedented penalties on players who had nothing to do with the scandal. He thanked fans for sticking by the team.

"I'm more proud to be a Penn State graduate today than at any time since I graduated in 1986," gushed one fan into a microphone during a question-and-answer period while O'Brien awaited queries on a stage.

An appreciative O'Brien focused on looking ahead. Joined on stage by friend and Penn State basketball coach Patrick Chambers, O'Brien often flashed a dry sense of humor.

At other times, O'Brien sounded a defiant tone. He said other schools are questioning to potential recruits whether the team can succeed while under sanctions.

"Our commitment is to forge ahead together. It's no secret that others expect us to be down," O'Brien said. "Recruiting is a cutthroat business. That's just the way it is."

He told alumni Monday that students, including players, needed their support -- whether through donations, attendance at sporting events or otherwise. He spoke of the importance of unity for the sake of students during tough times.

Penn State attendance declined last year. The average attendance of roughly 96,000 left the stadium at about 91 percent capacity, down from the usual 97-98 percent.

He also promised a continued focus on academics.

"When I took the job here, I spoke to (Joe Paterno). I promised him that these guys would be students first and they would earn their degrees to the best of my abilities," O'Brien said to applause. "When it comes to athletics, that is our culture at Penn State, across all 31 teams."

The sanctions require Penn State to reduce its scholarship roster to 65 for a four-year period starting in 2014. Most major college teams have 85 scholarship players.

But the Nittany Lions were already down to nearly 70 by midseason last year after post-sanction player defections -- and still finished second in the Big Ten Leaders Division.

Bench announced last week he was transferring. O'Brien said Monday that freshman offensive lineman Anthony Stanko, who did not play last year, also plans to leave the team but has chosen to stay on scholarship.

The roster shuffling means the Nittany Lions will probably be at the 65-man limit anyway by the time 2013 season kicks off Aug. 31 against Syracuse.

"We have to prove ourselves -- again. And show what we're made of -- again," O'Brien said. "We have a culture of integrity. That is not new at Penn State, and that is not going to get old at Penn State."

The NCAA's transfer exception expires by the start of Penn State training camp in early August.

Bench left well before that deadline. O'Brien declined to get into specifics about his post-spring evaluation meeting last week with Bench, but said the quarterback improved during the spring. He said he would help Bench and wished his former player the best.

"I told him the truth, and what he needed to do to get better," O'Brien said. "No starter has been named, but going in (to preseason practice) maybe you won't get as many reps as the other guys, but you're still going to get reps."

For now, junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson has an offseason edge by default after splitting spring reps with Bench. Incoming freshman quarterback and touted prospect Christian Hackenberg will also get an audition in preseason camp.

Notes
Last year's starting quarterback, Matt McGloin, is scheduled to take part in Washington Redskins rookie training camp. McGloin set the school season record for passing yardage (3,266) last year ... O'Brien confirmed that running back Zach Zwinak hurt his left wrist at the spring game 10 days ago but will be ready for the season. Zwinak will likely be kept out of full contact during preseason practice.

Georgetown fires John Thompson III after another losing year

Georgetown fires John Thompson III after another losing year

WASHINGTON -- John Thompson III was fired as Georgetown's basketball coach Thursday after two consecutive losing seasons at the school his father led to a national championship.

Thompson said in a statement released by agent David Falk that he was "honored" to have been the Hoyas' coach and proud of what his players have "accomplished on the court and how they are thriving since leaving Georgetown."

"Georgetown Basketball has been a part of my life since 1972," Thompson's statement said, referring to the year his father took over as the Hoyas' coach, "which makes this moment even more impactful, but I look forward to my next chapter."

School president John DeGioia told Thompson on Thursday he would not be brought back next year at a basketball program strongly associated with his last name.

"Our tradition of excellence as a university will forever be inextricably linked with John and his family," DeGioia said in a statement. "We are committed to taking the necessary steps to strengthen our program and maintaining the highest levels of academic integrity and national competitiveness."

Thompson, known as "JT3," was Georgetown's head coach for 13 seasons, including a run to the Final Four in 2007 with future NBA players Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert on the roster. But he went a combined 29-36 the past two years, with some of those defeats punctuated by crowd chants of "Fire Thompson!"

What had once been unimaginable -- a Thompson being sent away from Georgetown -- became a topic of conversation among the team's fans as the losses mounted. When the subject was broached with Thompson after a defeat against defending national champion Villanova, a team spokesman jumped in to say: "Leave it to game-related questions, please."

The Hoyas' 14-18 record this season included six losses in a row to finish and marked the team's worst winning percentage since the 1950s. They went 15-18 a year ago, losing seven of their last eight games.

"We're not going to keep rehashing last year," Thompson said before the start of this season. "A lot of introspection where you just stop and, from top to bottom, look at everything: How you do things, how you approach things, how we should change things, how you should alter things. ... We have to make some changes on how things were done, and we have. We're in the process of doing it."

Not quickly enough, apparently.

Thompson's record was 278-151 at Georgetown, with eight trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Since that lone Final Four appearance a decade ago, the Hoyas had several missteps at the Big Dance, going 3-6 and never winning more than one game in any single bracket. There were plenty of memorable exits against low-seeded opponents such as Florida Gulf Coast and Ohio.

His father, John Thompson Jr., led the Hoyas to 20 trips to the NCAAs, three Final Fours and a national title in 1984 with Patrick Ewing at center while coaching the team from 1972-99. "Big John," as many call him, has been a visible and vocal presence at Georgetown's games during his son's tenure, often sitting in on news conferences and interjecting his thoughts from the back of the room.

Georgetown's new on-campus practice facility, which was opened with a dedication ceremony in October, is named after the older Thompson.

NCAA Tournament Wrap: South Carolina upsets Duke; Michigan stuns Louisville

NCAA Tournament Wrap: South Carolina upsets Duke; Michigan stuns Louisville

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Sindarius Thornwell had 24 points, Chris Silva scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half and seventh-seeded South Carolina stunned No. 2 seed Duke 88-81 on Sunday night to advance to its first Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament's expanded bracket.

The Gamecocks (24-10) trailed by 10 points early in the second half after one of its coldest shooting stretches of the season to start. But behind Thornwell's outside shooting and Silva's dominance underneath, South Carolina rallied to win two NCAA games for the first time in 44 years.

The Gamecocks rushed to their fans when things were over, celebrating one of the biggest wins in program history.

Next up is the East Regional at Madison Square Garden where the Gamecocks will face third-seeded Baylor, an 82-78 winner over Southern Cal earlier Sunday.

Duke (28-9) was attempting to reach the round of 16 for the sixth time in eight seasons. The Blue Devils, though, could not surmount South Carolina's stifling defense. Leading scorer Luke Kennard had his second straight subpar shooting game, finishing 1 of 6 for 11 points before fouling out (see full recap).

Wagner's big game sends Michigan past Louisville in NCAAs
INDIANAPOLIS -- Moe Wagner scored a career-high 26 points and spurred a furious second-half rally to send Michigan past second-seeded Louisville 73-69 on Sunday and into the Sweet 16.

The seventh-seeded Wolverines (26-11) have won seven straight -- six since a frightening plane accident before the Big Ten Tournament. They also earned a ticket to the Midwest Regional in Kansas City, Missouri, their first since 2014.

Donovan Mitchell scored 19 points and Deng Adel had 16 points to lead Louisville (25-9), which had made the Sweet 16 in its last four NCAA Tournament appearances.

But Wagner bailed out the Wolverines from a poor game.

Trailing 45-36 with 16:09 to play, the German native scored on a layup to start a 17-6 run that gave Michigan its first lead since the opening minutes. And after Wagner's 3-pointer broke a 55-55 tie with 6:39 to go, the Wolverines led the rest of the way (see full recap).

Ball helps UCLA past Cincinnati to earn Sweet 16 trip
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Lonzo Ball scored 19 points and ignited UCLA's rally from a poor start with nine assists, lifting the third-seeded Bruins to a 79-67 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday in the South Regional.

UCLA (31-4) had a hard time solving sixth-seeded Cincinnati's active defense in the first half, unable to get shots to drop or get out in transition. The Bruins found a new gear in the second half, breaking out for dunks and dropping in strings of 3-pointers to quickly push the lead to double digits.

Now UCLA is headed to its third Sweet 16 appearance in four seasons under coach Steve Alford, erasing -- at least in part -- the 15-17 letdown of a year ago.

The Bruins will face No. 2 seed Kentucky in the South Regional semifinals Friday in Memphis.

Cincinnati (30-6) had no real answer when the Bruins got rolling falling short of their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2012 (see full recap).

UNC survives close scare from Arkansas
After blowing a 17-point lead, No. 1 seed North Carolina came from behind in the second half to beat Arkansas 72-65 and advance to the NCAA South Region semifinals. North Carolina next faces Butler.

The ACC had nine teams invited to the NCAA Tournament, but seven of them already have lost. The ACC still could get a second team into the Sweet 16, as Duke faces South Carolina later tonight.

North Carolina also avoided becoming the second No. 1 seed to exit this tournament. Defending national champion Villanova, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, lost to Wisconsin on Saturday (see full recap).

Josh Jackson heats up in second half to lift Kansas over Michigan State
TULSA, Okla. -- Josh Jackson scored 14 of his 23 points in the second half to help Kansas pull away late and reach the Sweet 16 for a second straight year with a 90-70 victory over Michigan State on Sunday.

Frank Mason III added 20 points for the top-seeded Jayhawks (30-4), who have advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in nine of coach Bill Self's 14 seasons.

Devonte' Graham added 18 points and Landen Lucas had 10 for the Jayhawks, who shot 53.1 percent (34 of 64) in the win.

Miles Bridges scored 22 points to lead Michigan State (20-15) despite leaving briefly in the first half with an injury. Nick Ward also finished in double figures with 13 points and Joshua Langford had 10 for the Spartans (see full recap).

Kentucky edges out Wichita State with block at the buzzer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bam Adebayo had a double-double and swatted away the final shot on Sunday as Kentucky sent Wichita State to yet another second-round heartbreak, 65-62 in the South region.

The youngest team in the NCAA Tournament grew up in the closing minutes.

Adebayo had 13 points and 10 rebounds. De'Aaron Fox had 14 points, including a late steal and dunk. Malik Monk blocked a shot and made a pair of free throws in the final 13 seconds. Adebayo clinched it by blocking Landry Shamet's 3-pointer shot at the buzzer.

Yes, Kentucky's freshman trio did it all.

Wham, Bam, move on `Cats (31-5), right into the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in nine years (see full recap).