March Madness 2019: Zion Williamson and the seven best players to watch in the East Regional

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March Madness 2019: Zion Williamson and the seven best players to watch in the East Regional

The top four teams in the 2019 NCAA Tournament East Region made the Sweet 16 and it allows some of the nation's best players to come to Washington D.C.

Like most of the NCAA Tournament, the East Region rocked chalk to get to four teams in the regional semifinals. No. 1 Duke, No. 2 Michigan State, No. 3 LSU and No. 4 Virginia Tech will play for a right to go to the Final Four on March 29 and 31. 

Of course Zion Williamson and the rest of his Duke Blue Devils are the class of the region and projected champs. No one however, should discredit the talent of the other three teams remaining in the East. Under Tom Izzo, Michigan State has some of the best well-rounded players in the country, LSU is one of the more athletic teams in the NCAA, and Virginia Tech has a plethora of potent scorers. 

Including Williamson, here's who to watch in the East Regional:

Zion Williamson, F, Freshman, Duke

Zion is the face of college basketball this season. He's almost made Duke likable as half the country was torn on who to root for in their UCF matchup in the Second Round. Every game the 6-7 freshman is due to put on a show, whether it is a mammoth dunk, an acrobatic finish at the rim or a thunderous block he never disappoints. Even when he blew out of his shoe, it is impressive. You cannot miss him on the court, he'll make plays and likely be the difference in each contest. 

RJ Barrett, F, Freshman, Duke

Don't be upset that Duke has the top two players on this list. If it were not for Williamson, Barrett would be the most fascinating player on Duke's roster. He does everything Williamson does, but with slightly less flair. He also has a nice stroke from behind the arc (31.3 percent) that his teammate does not. Honestly he is probably the better NBA prospect.  In fact, if it was not for his put-back layup at the end of the UCSF game, Duke would not be here. 

Cassius Winston, G, Junior, Michigan State

Cassius Winston is arguably the best true point guard in this region. He could be better than True Jones, Justin Robinson and Tremont Waters. Not only is Winston a playmaker, but he actively looks to get his teammates involved. If he doesn't have a good scoring night, he'll have 10 assists to compliment his team. On the season he is scoring 18.9 points and dishing out 7.5 assists per contest. Collectively, he's led his team to a 48.6 percent clip on the year. At 6-1 he may be small, but he's no push-over. 

Justin Robinson, G, Senior, Virginia Tech

Since his foot injury it does not appear that Justin Robinson is the same. In his two tournament games he's only recorded nine and 13 points against Saint Louis and Liberty. However, his first 20 games of the year, pre-injury, he was averaging 14 points a game. He also had a 35 point night against Syracuse to boost it. With him the Hokies are an entirely different team, running an offensive scheme and having multiple guys racking up the stat sheet.

Naz Reid, F/C, Freshman, LSU

Like Williamson, Naz Reid does not look like he is a freshman in college. Aside from the Duke freshmen, there may not be a more dominant forward in college basketball than Reid. He has the rare ability to take over a game against high-level competition. In fact, if there is anyone that can matchup against Williamson and Barrett, it is Reid. 

Cam Reddish, F, Freshman, Duke

Another forward from Duke? Yep. Cam Reddish is the third option for this talented Duke team and is another First Round NBA Draft prospect. He's more a shooter than Williamson and Barrett, however, his stretches of shooting are not as consistent. Behind the other two forwards, he's had eight games with 20-plus points and he is due for one with his last being in the season finale. 

Tremont Waters, G, Sophomore, LSU

Tremont Waters already has a game-winner in this NCAA Tournament and he has more coming behind it. A crafty player that can score from all areas of the court, Waters is a gem at 5-11. Defensively he also has the ability to impact the game. Smart and quick he can jump down the court to turn the game on it's head. Would not at all be surprising to see him explode further in this tournament. 

Former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill joins Hokies football staff to help Justin Fuente, not replace him

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Former Minnesota coach Jerry Kill joins Hokies football staff to help Justin Fuente, not replace him

Virginia Tech is coming off a come-from-behind victory over FCS opponent Furman, they have an opening loss against Boston College which was just blown out by perennial punchline Kansas and, because they are playing two FCS opponents this year, they have to find a way to earn five more wins this season to keep the vaunted bowl streak alive. That was the background for Monday’s announcement from head coach Justin Fuente.

Former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill has been added to the Virginia Tech football staff as a special assistant to the head coach, Fuente announced. With the lackluster start to the season, Monday’s announcement led to plenty of speculation from Hokie nation as to what this meant for Fuente’s future.

Make no mistake, however, Kill is headed to Blacksburg to assist Fuente, not replace him.

"Jerry Kill will serve as a tremendous resource for our football program," Fuente said in a statement. "Coach Kill possesses over three decades of expertise and will be great addition to our staff. In addition to over 20 years of experience as collegiate and high school head coach, he's served as a coordinator on both sides of the ball. He can dissect the game from virtually every angle and will be able to provide his unique perspective on everything from recruiting, to personnel and facilities.

"After Coach Kill spent some time with our staff during preseason camp, it was apparent that he possesses a passion for being involved with a football program on a daily basis," Fuente continued. "I have all the respect in the world for Coach Kill. I'm excited that he'll be an integral part of our program at Virginia Tech and can't wait for him to get on campus."

Kill was the head coach of Minnesota from 2011 to ‘15 and took the team to three bowl games. He also was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2014. His epilepsy, however, forced him to step down. The rigors of coaching consumed Kill to the point that he was not taking care of himself or adequately managing his condition. He suffered multiple seizures while at Minnesota, many of which came during games.

Since then, Kill has served as an associate athletics director at Kansas State, the offensive coordinator at Rutgers and the athletics director for Southern Illinois.

During this time, however, the desire to coach and be involved with a football team never went away. That was really the genesis of how he ended up at Virginia Tech.

According to Andy Bitter of The Athletic, Fuente invited Kill to watch a few of the team’s August practices and Kill provided feedback on what he saw. Originally , his relationship with the Hokies was not expected to go beyond that and Fuente did not intend for a job to come from that, but Kill’s desire to get back into football was enough for him to leave his job as an AD to join Virginia Tech.

"While it was a difficult decision to leave so many wonderful friends and colleagues at Southern Illinois, I am thrilled for the opportunity to join Coach Fuente and his staff at Virginia Tech," Kill said in a statement. "I've long appreciated and admired Justin as a coach and teacher of the game. I respect his penchant for identifying talent and helping young men reach their potential. He has assembled a fabulous coaching staff and roster of talented players at Virginia Tech. I can't wait to help the Hokies in any way I can."

The timing of this announcement may lead to speculation, but Kill’s health will not allow for him to get back into coaching. This is just a situation in which Fuente had the opportunity to help a fellow coach follow his passion and, in turn, Kill will help the Hokies.

Tony Bennett turned down a pay raise because his staff needed it more

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Tony Bennett turned down a pay raise because his staff needed it more

Tony Bennett is one of the few people in sports to be offered a raise and turn it down.

Instead of adding dollars to his current contract, the Virginia men's basketball head coach would rather that money be used for other purposes. He wants additional funding, that would be used for a raise, to be given to his assistants or to help other aspects of the program. 

“I have more than I need,” Bennett said in a release. “I’m blessed beyond what I deserve.”

This past season Bennett lead the Cavaliers to their first NCAA men's basketball national championship. Rewriting UVA's history books, of course, warrants Bennett to be rewarded with a new deal and with it an increase in pay. But in a meeting with athletic director Carla Williams and university president Jim Ryan, where a "substantial raise" was discussed, he turned it down.

“This just does not happen in our industry,” Williams said in the release.

He did, however, add another year to his contract. It keeps Bennett in Charlottesville for seven more seasons.

Additional salary money for his assistants is definitely a huge boost to the program is trying to build. Every year several of the top 'Power Five' assistant coaches are the sought out targets of new head coaching candidates and lower programs. For example, Dennis Gates moved as an assistant at Florida State to the head coaching spot at Cleveland State this offseason. Year-in and year-out, a coach has to expect to deal with staff turnover.

In his 10-year tenure with the Cavaliers, Bennett has turned Virginia into national contenders. Since 2014, the Cavaliers have earned a No. 1 seed into the NCAA Tournament four times, including the past two years. They've also won two ACC tournament championships and three regular-season titles in that span.

Currently, all three of his assistants from last year's championship team are staffed for the upcoming season. His top assistant, Jason Williford, has been with Bennett ever since he took over the program.

This practice of requesting money being diverted to assistants is not new. Jim Larranaga left George Mason for Miami because of his request to pay assistants more money was declined. 

Bennett is even showing further support for the program. He has donated $500,000 toward a career-development program in place for current and former players of the program.