The NCAA tournament is the most exciting three weeks in sports. Of course, I’m biased when I say that. I spend 12 months a year immersed in the sport; most people are only concerned with college hoops in the month of March.
But regardless of how much hoops you consume through out the season, the excitement of multiple games happening at once, the upsets sprung by teams like Lehigh and the fact that you are one Louisville win away from taking the lead in your office’s bracket pool is what makes this tournament great.
There is a downside, however. For every grand story line about a mid-major running through the tournament’s first weekend, there is a senior that is just so easy to root for that sees his collegiate career come to an end. Here are five kids that would ideally have permanent NCAA eligibility:
Jae Crowder, Marquette: On the court, with braids running down his back and a frame that looks like it belongs on the gridiron, Crowder is an intimidating presence. Scary, almost. Off the court, he’s friendly, humble and a great interview. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, however. Crowder almost didn’t make it to the Division I level. After spending a year at an unaccredited Junior College, Crowder had to do two years worth of work in one year at Howard College before enrolling at Marquette. Is it worth mentioning he won a national title that year was named tournament MVP?
Kim English, Missouri: Kimmie is one of the only athletes worth following on twitter, if not for the commentary he provides on teams and players than for the way uses poetry to talk about hoops. There is more to English than just a twitter feed, however. He overcame a stuttering problem in high school, which can’t be an easy thing to deal with when your name is Kim and you’re growing up in Baltimore.
Draymond Green, Michigan State: There are few leaders out there as strong as Green. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories and the anecdotes over the last few months, as Green as carried the Spartans from a group that lost their starting back court from a 15 loss team to a No. 1 seed, Big Ten regular season tri-champions and Big Ten tournament champs. That’s almost as impressive as Green’s skill-set; he’s the first player from a power conference to average 15 points, 10 boards and three assists since Tim Duncan.
Jorge Gutierrez, Cal: There may not be a player in the country that is more miserable to play against than Gutierrez, and I mean that as a compliment. He’s fiery, he’s tough, he’s never one to back down from a challenge and he will quite literally be in your jersey defensively. The Pac-12 Player of the Year, Gutierrez came a long way from a kid that immigrated from Mexico as a 15-year old and spent years living with two other kids his age in Denver to try and make their way as basketball players. Read this story on him.
Robbie Hummel, Purdue: What is there to say about Hummel that hasn’t been written a thousand times already? He was on the road to being an all-american before two torn ACLs in the span of 10 months cost this Purdue program two shots at the Final Four. He came back this season and earned First Team All-Big Ten honors. I’ll admit, I got dusty seeing him hold back tears while walking off the floor on Sunday night.
VIDEO: Wisconsin beats Western Kentucky on controversial blocking call 90 feet from the hoop
Wisconsin freshman Brad Davison helped the Badgers sneak past Western Kentucky for an 81-80 win on Wednesday night by drawing a blocking call 90 feet from the basket on an inbounds play with two seconds left.
With the game tied at 80 and the Badgers in the double bonus, the blocking foul on Western Kentucky’s Marek Nelson sent Davison to the free throw line to clinch the game. Davison made the first free throw and purposely missed the second to give Wisconsin the one-point win.
Obviously, some smart coaching from Gard (if he called it) and a good play from Davison to elicit the call from the official. But for Western Kentucky to lose like this? On a call like this? That’s a really poor look from the officials, who could have just as easily called this a charge. Or even better, let the play go and settle for a likely overtime between two tied teams.
That referee’s call, on what’s very close to a non-basketball play, decided Wisconsin’s win over the Hilltoppers.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jalen Brunson had 22 of his career-high 31 points in No. 1 Villanova’s dominating first half and Omari Spellman scored 27 to help lead the Wildcats to an 87-67 rout of Temple on Wednesday night.
Donte DiVincenzo added 12 points for Villanova (11-0), which won its unprecedented 22nd straight Big 5 game. The Wildcats last lost a contest in the Philadelphia round-robin series to Temple on Dec. 5, 2012. The Big 5 also consists of La Salle, Saint Joseph’s and Penn.
The Wildcats, who moved into the top spot in the rankings for the third straight season this week, looked like the best team in the country in a dominating opening 20 minutes.
With his dad Rick – a former Temple standout and current assistant coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves who played nine seasons in the NBA – sitting two rows behind the Villanova bench, Brunson led the way.
The 6-foot-2 junior point guard made 8 of 10 shots, including 5 of 7 3-pointers, and added four assists while controlling the opening 20 minutes.
The performance surely impressed Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown and Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons, who were among the sellout crowd of 10,206 at Temple.
Quinton Rose scored 27 points for the Owls (6-3), who began the week No. 11 in the RPI rankings. It was the third straight season Temple played Villanova as a No. 1, and the Owls fell to 2-18 all-time against No. 1-ranked opponents.
The Temple student section was fired up in the pregame, hoping to help the Owls end Villanova’s Philadelphia dominance, but the Wildcats gave them little for which to cheer.
The Wildcats scored the first seven points as Temple came out cold, missing its first five shots and committing three turnovers.
And Villanova went from there.
The Wildcats took their biggest lead of the half on DiVincenzo’s 3-pointer that made it 25-5 with 11 minutes left before the break. And the lead reached 20 again on Brunson’s 3-pointer that made it 28-8 44 seconds later.
Temple rallied by scoring the next 13 points over 3 1/2 minutes to pull within 28-21 on Josh Brown’s jumper with 6:45 left before the break.
But Villanova continued making shots and Brunson, appropriately, finished the first-half scoring with a 3-pointer with 47 seconds left that gave the Wildcats a 46-29 lead.
Villanova shot 59 percent from the field and 50 percent from the arc in the opening 20 minutes.
The second half was a mere formality.
Villanova: The Wildcats likely will hold the top spot in the rankings for at least another week, as they will take nine days off for exams before returning to the court. They will next play a nonconference game against Hofstra, the program Wildcats coach Jay Wright led before coming to Villanova, on Dec. 22 before beginning Big East play on Dec. 27 at DePaul.
Temple: The Owls host another Philadelphia school, Drexel, on Saturday and then play at Georgia on Dec. 22 before starting American Conference play on Dec. 28 against Tulane. The Owls will be looking for their 33rd NCAA Tournament appearance and will need a high finish in the conference to get there.
Villanova: After a break for exams, the Wildcats play Hofstra on Dec. 22 in Uniondale, New York.
The University of Louisville has filed a lawsuit against former head coach Rick Pitino, seeking monetary damages, including money the school will lose from vacated NCAA tournament wins from 2012-2015.
According to a report from Jason Riley of WDRB, the school is claiming that since Pitino is the active wrongdoer and not the University. “To the extent the University is obligated to pay financial penalties to the NCAA, the University is entitled to indemnity from Mr. Pitino for the total amount of the penalties, if any, and any other resultant consequential damages, including the costs and attorneys’ fees associated with the compliance investigation and defense of this action,” the lawsuit read.
The university is also going after “any bonuses and other compensation wrongly paid” to Pitino, according to the suit.
Based on the back-and-forth lawsuits, this sounds like it’s just getting started as we’ll likely hear a lot more from both sides in the coming months. Never shy to publicly respond to anything, it’ll be interesting if Pitino speaks or if he’s told to stay quiet until anything is required in court.
NCAA committee hears final Louisville appeal as they try to keep title banner
Louisville had their final day in court on Wednesday as they made a last-ditch appeal to the NCAA Infractions Committee to try and save their 2012 Final Four and 2013 National Title.
Neither Rick Pitino nor Tom Jurich, who were both fired by Louisville in the wake of this fall’s FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball, were in attendance.
An interim president and interim athletic director were present for the University as they tried to push back against the ruling the NCAA came down with this summer. If you’ve forgotten: The Cardinals were hit with a slew of recruiting restrictions, sit on probation and must pay back a bunch of money they won in forfeited NCAA tournament games due to a former staffer’s efforts to provide strippers and sex workers to players and recruits over the course of four years. The vacated wins are the result of players that were retroactively ruled ineligible for receiving what the NCAA is deeming impermissible benefits participating in those games.
Louisville also initially self-imposed violations, including a 2016 postseason ban that was implemented in February of that year.
Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal has all the details here, but we know what the story is at this point.
Louisville’s argument is centered around the money. Essentially, they are saying that value of the transactions in question – the amount of money that was spent by former assistant Andre McGee – was small enough that the players involved would have been able to pay back what was owed had the violations been discovered in real time. The NCAA’s argument is even simpler: We’ve never seen something like this, so precedence does not matter in this case.
A final ruling is not expected until at least January.
College Basketball Futures Watch Part I: Alabama through Louisville
Over the course of the next three days, we at College Basketball Talk will be cruising through the best, the most surprising and the most disappointing teams in college basketball.
As of today, how should we view the 45 most interesting teams in the country based on preseason expectation?
Are we more confident in them? Less confident? Still unsure?
We used five different labels here to help define how we feel about each of the 45 teams mentioned:
Bet The Mortgage
Get Your Stuff And Go Home
Today, we go through everyone from Alabama to Louisville.
Let’s get into it.
Collin Sexton is awesome. He’s fun to watch, he’s efficient and he puts massive pressure on defenses. Still, the Tide may just not have enough to be a true contender in the SEC. Losses to Minnesota, UCF and Arizona suggest that Avery Johnson’s group isn’t strong enough past Sexton. (Travis Hines)
It hasn’t been pretty early for Arizona, especially with that 0-3 run in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Yet despite the issues this team needs to address, most notably its defense – especially when DeAndre Ayton and Dusan Ristic are on the court at the same time – Arizona has one of the best 1-2 tandems in Ayton and Allonzo Trier. Ayton’s damn near unstoppable offensively, as he can score inside and out which makes him an absolute handful for just about any team Arizona faces. And for all the talk of Trier’s shot selection last season, he’s been one of the most efficient players in the country. After taking six of his seven shots from three and attempting just two free throws in the win over Texas A&M, Trier managed to earn 16 free throw attempts with just six official shots from the field against Alabama. The return of Rawle Alkins gives Arizona a consistent peripheral offensive option moving forward, and I think Sean Miller will be able to turn this group into an adequate defensive unit. (Raphielle Johnson)
ARIZONA STATE: Raise
I still have questions about the Sun Devils when it comes to their defensive chops, especially with just two front court players who are 6-foot-9 or taller (Vitaliy Shibel and DeQuon Lake) and opponents rebounding just over 30 percent of their misses on the season. But if you have good guard play, and experienced at that, this can cover up a lot of issues in the college game. As their hashtag says the perimeter unit of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II, Remy Martin and Kodi Justice is #Hard2Guard, and they all play with a chip on their shoulders that Bobby Hurley had during his own playing career. And there aren’t many teams around that have two wins as good as Arizona State’s over Xavier and Kansas on their resume. I believe in this group, and I’ll believe even more if they can improve the defense (and rebounding). (RJ)
The Razorbacks have my attention. They blew out UConn, they beat Minnesota soundly, they handled Oklahoma, they have a talented crop of veteran guards. But they also got smoked at Houston and beaten by North Carolina again. Mike Anderson’s teams have a tendency to be great at home and miserable on the road. Before I make any sweeping proclamations about this Arkansas team, let’s see what they can do on the road during league play. (Rob Dauster)
A lot of the Bears’ early-season success has been predicated on a defense that has really kept opponents in check. Is it sustainable though? Baylor is keeping opponents to 29.7 percent from 3-point range and an effective field goal percentage of 44.9. Those would all be the best numbers of a Scott Drew team in recent years – dramatically better than many of his teams. I’m skeptical that Baylor can keep up this pace. (TH)
It’s easy to be optimistic about a team with a top-five defense but Cincinnati hasn’t defeated anybody of relevance this season. Losing to Xavier and Florida, the Bearcats’ best win came over Mississippi State this week. Cincinnati can get balanced scoring on certain nights but on others they have to win in rock fights. Let’s see them beat somebody good before we commit more to them. (Scott Phillips)
There are things to like about the Bluejays. They have a great offense and own solid wins over Northwestern, Nebraska and UCLA. But Creighton has also fallen to better teams like Baylor and Gonzaga and they’re still the Big East’s fourth best team at this point. Are they truly any kind of contender or just a tournament team? (SP)
So I think I’m the only person covering college basketball that is worried about Duke right now. That might mean I’m an idiot. It might also mean I’m a genius. But here are my concerns, which I laid out in this column in more depth a couple of weeks ago:
They don’t play defense all that well. Boston College’s guards looked like all-americans running something as simple as pick-and-rolls every possession.
They don’t seem to want to play all that hard until they’re down by 10 points in the second half of a game they shouldn’t be losing.
Trevon Duval is talented but he’s not the best decision-maker we’ve seen at the point guard spot. When he goes to the bench, it forces Grayson Allen to play on the ball, which is not his best position.
Allen, as a result, has become a streaky shooter that seems to be a little too reliant on the jumper.
As a team, Duke is a little too reliant on their jumpers for a team that is not loaded with great shooters.
Maybe I’m reading too much into a young team going through some growing pains, but considering that Duke is, quite literally, the favorite to win the title in Vegas, let’s wait before we put any more money in the middle. (RD)
The Gators had their issues last week. They lost at home to in-state rival Florida State. They lost at home to Loyola-Chicago. That came after they blew a 17-point lead to Duke. None of those things are a good look for a top five team, and they took a hit in public perception as a result. I think that reaction may have swung the pendulum too far. They showed an impressive amount of toughness in their win over Cincinnati, and I have faith that Mike White will be able to figure this thing out. Plus, John Egbunu’s return is looming. This isn’t a top five team, but they’re better than being a borderline top 25 team. (RD)
FLORIDA STATE: Raise
A surprising 9-0 start has Florida State in the top 25 after they smoked Florida on the road. Food for thought: Everyone freaked out about Arizona State’s 10-point win on the road against a top five team, so why didn’t they freak out about the Seminole’s 17-point win on the road against a top five team? Junior Terance Mann has breakout potential in the ACC and Braian Angola can put up numbers across the board. This team is intriguing. (SP)
GONZAGA: Bet The Mortgage
Despite having a lot of holes to fill from last year’s national runner-up team the Bulldogs are off to an 8-2 start with the only losses coming against Florida (in double overtime) and Villanova. Josh Perkins has done a good job of running the show, the perimeter rotation has both athleticism and talent, and the front court doesn’t lack for bodies with Johnathan Williams III leading the way. Player such as Perkins, Williams, Killian Tillie and Silas Melson were part of last season’s rotation so this isn’t an inexperienced team by any stretch; they’ve simply got a decent number of players who are getting used to more significant roles than what they had in the past. Add in the presence of Mark Few, and Gonzaga has what it takes to once again play deep into the NCAA tournament. (RJ)
IOWA STATE: Check
Steve Prohm’s team had a brutal start to the season, losing at Missouri and at home to Milwaukee, but a move to put Nick Weiler-Babb at point guard has energized the Cyclones and has them on a seven-game winning streak. Still, none of those seven wins are against impressive opponents. They topped Boise State without Chandler Hutchison on a neutral and a spiraling Iowa team at home. We just don’t know enough yet about the Cyclones to see which way their season will go. (TH)
The Jayhawks have lost back-to-back games, but they’re still immensely talented and coached by Bill Self. Kansas’ roster was always flawed, but it’s not something that can’t be overcome with some tweaks – and the potential arrival of Silvio De Sousa next semester. Kansas remains the team to beat in the Big 12, and the reinforcements are (hopefully, in the case of Billy Preston) on the way. (TH)
Frankly, I still have no idea what to make of this Kentucky team. They haven’t really been tested beyond playing Kansas, and that Kansas team, as it would turn out, is not as good as we thought they were. They are still flawed – having one point guard that can score but can’t guard and another that can guard but can’t score is going to be endlessly frustrating – but they are also flying totally under the radar right now. If we’ve learned anything through the first month of the season, it’s that no one outside of Michigan State and Villanova appear to actually be great. There is no third-best team in the country right now, best that I can tell. So why can’t it be Kentucky? (RD)
Prior to the season, reasonable minds could disagree about the status of the Louisville program in the post-Pitino era. There still was talent on the roster, and that talent was old enough that, in theory, they could coach themselves. But that hasn’t exactly worked out. Shockingly, replacing one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all-time with a 32-year old interim in his first season as a head coach is not easy. Louisville will probably make the NCAA tournament still, but I can’t see them being a contender for much of anything this season. Cut your losses now. (RD)