A look at the Big East’s disappointing tournament

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Once you get past the referee mistakes and the poor late game execution, the central talking point of this tournament’s first weekend was that, for the second straight year, the conference that was supposed to be the nation’s best woefully underperformed.

There really is no way to argue around it.

The Big East sent 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament. Nine of those teams failed to make it to the Sweet 16. Of the two that did, they had to beat another Big East conference foe to get there — Marquette beat Syracuse in the second round and UConn beat Cincinnati in the second round.

There is really no defense. The Big East sucked in the tournament.

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have gotten 11 teams into the dance.

The league went 29-16 against the five other BCS leagues. The 11 teams that made the tournament had a combined record of 24-10 against tournament teams from other conferences. Yes, the Big East proved its worth during the regular season. There really is no justifiable argument against any team in the conference.

That said, it probably shouldn’t be that big of a surprise that the Big East struggled.

All season long, the consensus regarding the Big East conference was that it was a collection of a number of quality basketball teams. That there was a lot of good in the league but not much great. That beyond Kemba Walker, there wasn’t a single, surefire first round pick in the conference.

In conference play, the Big East slowly but surely built up each team’s individual profile. With so many games against good, but not great, teams, RPI’s became inflated. Wins began to look better than they were. Teams began to look more promising because they were winning games against the team in third place in the Big East.

What makes the Big East so entertaining to watch is also what causes an early tournament demise.

Villanova, for the second straight season, collapsed down the stretch of the season. They lost their last five games, seven of their last nine, and nine of their last thirteen heading into the NCAA Tournament. Anyone that picked them to beat George Mason was either a Villanova alum or a Philly native.

The same can be said for Georgetown. The Hoyas collapsed down the stretch without Chris Wright, and while he came back for the tournament, he wasn’t the same player and the Hoyas weren’t the same team. Everyone saw that loss coming as well.

St. John’s got an inflated seed thanks to a one-month stretch where the Johnnies played out of their minds and struggled to compete after losing DJ Kennedy to a torn acl. Anyone that watched Syracuse play this season knew that they were not going to go very far in the tournament with Scoop Jardine leading the way. Notre Dame and Louisville were both thought to be “overrated” all season long.

The writing was on the wall.

Perhaps the most telling fact, however, is that the Big East simply does not have the individual talent this season. Other than Kemba Walker of UConn, who is a surefire first round pick?

Regular season success is the result of team play and coaching. The season is a grind, and the teams that have their players prepared — physically, mentally, and with a firm understanding of the game plan — are the ones that succeed. But in a one game, winner-takes-all tournament, talent takes over. And the Big East just doesn’t — didn’t — have that talent level.

That said, the NCAA Tournament doesn’t change a season’s worth of sample size.

The Big East didn’t have the best teams this season, but they were the best conference. They deserved to get all 11 teams into the tournament, proven by the fact that the ninth and 11th place teams in the league are the two schools headed to the Sweet 16.

A disappointing performance in the NCAA Tournament — one that was predicted by just about every columnist, writer, blogger, and fan — doesn’t change that fact.

Villanova lands four-star 2018 guard

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Villanova added its first recruit in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright and his staff landed a verbal commitment from Paul VI Catholic High School’s Brandon Slater, a four-star guard by Rivals as the No. 42 overall prospect in the rising senior class.

The 6-foot-5 Slater announced his decision via Twitter.

Slater, according to Jeff Borzello of ESPN, picked the Wildcats over Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, and Virginia.

He is currently playing the Nike EYBL with Team Takeover, the same grassroots program that produced current Villanova guard Phil Booth.

Comic-Con forces Providence to play at Alumni Hall for home opener

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Providence will play its first game at Alumni Hall, the on-campus facility, for the first time in 35 years this fall.

The Friars unveiled their 2017-18 non-conference schedule on Thursday afternoon. The team’s home opener will play either Houston Baptist or Belmont in Mullaney Gym inside Alumni Hall.

According to Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal, the reason for that is a schedule conflict at Providence’s home arena, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, in downtown Providence. A Comic-Con convention is scheduled Nov. 10-12. As McNamara notes, it’s a busy part of the season for The Dunk. The arena also is home to the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Boston Bruins, and by mid-November, their season is in full swing.

The Friars haven’t played at Alumni Hall since 1972, the same year the Dunkin’ Donuts Center was opened. In the three decades since Providence last played a regular season game there, the facility has gone under necessary renovations, as you could imagine. Even with added seats, Mullaney Gym can host a maximum of 1,549. That’s a fraction of what The Dunk’s capacity of 12,400.

Providence will return to its downtown home on Nov. 13, hosting Minnesota as part of the Gavitt Games. The Golden Gophers will likely be a top-20 team to open the season. The Friars, who bring back every notable player from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, is a fringe top-25 team.

Jalen Coleman-Lands to transfer out of Illinois

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The already-thin Illinois roster got thinner on Thursday afternoon.

Evan Daniels of Scout.com reported that sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands has requested and received his release from the program. He will have to sit out next season but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Coleman-Lands was a top-40 recruit in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals. He becomes the second player from that recruiting class this month to exit the school. Reserve guard D.J. Williams elected to transfer on May 8. With Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett, two incoming recruits, both previously reopened their recruitments following John Groce’s firing.

Even with the addition of Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork, who officially joined the Fighting Illini on Wednesday, Illinois is left with only nine scholarship players as of right now.

Coleman-Lands’ production dipped from his freshman campaign, ending the 2016-17 season averaging 8.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, shooting 38 percent from three.

One destination that will likely be rumored will be nearby DePaul. Coleman-Lands played for new DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman at prep school powerhouse La Lumiere School. Heriman quickly tapped into that prep pipeline, helping secure a commitment from La Lumiere from five-star 2019 point guard Tyger Campbell earlier this month.

Coleman-Lands had taken official visits to Notre Dame and UNLV before committing to the Illini in September 2014.

North Carolina releases response to latest NCAA Notice of Allegations

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North Carolina is still trying to convince the NCAA that their investigation into the paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department is not, in fact, an NCAA matter.

On Thursday afternoon, the University released their response to the NCAA’s third iteration of the Notice of Allegations, and the core argument in that response is that the school’s “inadequate academic oversight” does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s bylaws. In other words, North Carolina is arguing that a rogue professor creating fake classes is not an NCAA issue. It’s a school issue.

What’s more, North Carolina is also arguing that athletes taking these classes should not be classified as an extra benefit because they were available to the entire student body.

“No special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation,” the response reads. “Student-athletes were not treated differently than other students who took the Courses.”

“The public narrative for the last six years, popularized by media accounts, is that Department of Athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took advantage of ‘fake classes’ in the Department of African and African-American Studies to keep student-athletes eligible. That narrative is wrong and contradicted by the facts in the record.”

The NCAA’s allegations center around the idea that UNC’s athletes, most notably members of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, were guided to the fake classes within that department in order to keep their GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The classes in question had a disproportionate percentage of athletes.

A hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions is expected to take place at some point this summer.

No indictment for escort, staffer in Louisville sex scandal

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A grand jury declined to indict an escort and former Louisville men’s basketball staffer in a sex scandal that engulfed the program.

The Jefferson County grand jury decided Thursday there wasn’t enough evidence for charges of prostitution and unlawful transactions with a minor against Katina Powell and Andre McGee.

Powell wrote in a book published in 2015 that McGee hired her to provide dancers to perform sex acts for Cardinal recruits and players from 2010-2014.

The announcement by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office comes as the school awaits discipline in early June by the NCAA after an investigation.

Louisville has imposed its own penalties, including a postseason ban in 2015-16 and reductions in scholarships and recruiting visits by coaches.