What does Harvard hoops’ involvement in scandal mean for future?


Before we get into any kind of analysis, let’s first update you on the latest in the academic scandal at Harvard.

Over the summer, news broke of an academic scandal brewing on Harvard’s campus. As many as 125 students were implicated in cheating on a take-home final exam, that may have been as serious as plagiarized answers or as commonplace as simply collaborating on the test.

Early on Tuesday morning, Sports Illustrated broke the news that senior forward Kyle Casey was one of the students being investigated and would likely be withdrawing from school in an effort to preserve his final year of collegiate eligibility. CBSSports.com followed up with the scoop that senior point guard Brandyn Curry was also implicated but, as of now, has yet to make the final decision to leave school. There may also be a third player involved.

If Casey and Curry do end up leaving school, it will be a massive blow to the Crimson. With Keith Wright and Oliver McNally graduating, Harvard will be without 80% of their starting lineup from a year ago. Tommy Amaker and his staff have put together a number of incredibly impressive recruiting classes in a row, consistently beating out high-major programs for recruits that are ranked in or around the top 100 or 150.

But the issue isn’t the talent level on Harvard; it’s the experience level. Everyone is young, which is bad news for a league where every other team has experience. As Andy Katz put it earlier today, “the players are intelligent and eat up the scouting report. The gyms are small and everyone is extremely familiar with each team, making it even harder for any team to coast.” Think about it like this: despite having more talent on their roster, Harvard didn’t make the NCAA tournament in 2011 and had to scrap their way through the conference in 2012. No Curry means a freshman starts at the point. No Casey means a pair of seldom-used sophomores will patrol the paint. That could easily spell trouble for Harvard during the 2012-2013 season, even if it means they have a chance to be scary-good if Casey and Curry return for 2013-2014.

The more intriguing question, however, is what this means for the future of the Crimson.

Last summer, I wrote an lengthy feature on Harvard’s recruiting tactics and how they have been able to thrust themselves into the mix with some of the biggest of the big boys. The long and short of it: Harvard targets the most talented hoopers in the country that have grades good enough to get them into school and goes after them hard, selling them on what a Harvard degree will mean for their future. As assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel told me at the time, “Harvard’s not a four year decision, it’s a 40 year decision.”

It has become a bit of a point of contention in the Ivy, however, as most believe that Harvard has lowered their standards for admitting basketball players. The Ivy League has a rule, an Academic Index in which an athlete must earn a qualifying value to be eligible. If they don’t have a high enough score — a combination of their grades, their class rank and their standardized test scores — they aren’t going to an Ivy League school. Harvard can’t get around that.

But as a source told me at the time, it used to be that Harvard, Yale and Princeton held themselves to a higher standard, and that the Crimson are no longer doing that.

Will the administration continue to allow students closer to the cut line into the University when there is this kind of negative press associated with it?

Because keep in mind, this scandal is different from the one involving UNC. This isn’t an institutional issue or a case of athletes being shuffled off to a “friendly” professor and major. This is two, possibly three, basketball players finding themselves embroiled in a cheating scandal. How hard would it be for a stuffy department head to make the argument that this is proof the players allowed in with a lower academic standard cannot cut it at Harvard?

Taking it a step further, if Amaker is no longer allowed to get in the more-talented-but-academically-borderline recruits, does he stay at Harvard or does he jump to a higher-paying job in a better league at a bigger program?

I don’t think it is crazy to say that at the rate things are currently going, Harvard has a chance to become the Gonzaga of the east coast. But given the amount of bad press this scandal is going to receive and the fact that it will be tied back into the basketball program, will things really continue to develop at this rate?

It will be one of the most intriguing story lines to follow over the course of the next year.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Sister Jean the star of Loyola’s Cinderella run

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Yeah, Loyola beating Tennessee to gain a spot in the Sweet 16 is a great basketball story, but the best news about their Cinderella run is something else entirely.

America gets another week with Sister Jean.

The Ramblers’ 98-year-old team chaplain has captured the hearts of the March Madness public, with her pre-game prayers and post-game celebrations. Clayton Custer’s game-winner was fine, but Sister Jean’s been great.

Loyola, though, will now have to try to defy Sister Jean. She picked against the Ramblers in the Sweet 16 in her bracket.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Azubuike’s presence huge as No. 1 Kansas holds off No. 8 Seton Hall

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It turns out Kansas is a whole heck of a lot better when Udoka Azubuike is in the floor.

Who knew?

The sophomore center returned Saturday for extended minutes after being limited with a knee injury to help the No. 1 Jayhawks to a 83-79 win over No. 8 Seton Hall to earn a spot in the Sweet 16.

Azubuike had 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, but the strongest stat in his column was his plus-minus. When he was on the floor, Kansas bested the Pirates by 21 points. When he was off, the Jayhawks got outscored by 17, and there is noise in that number as Seton Hall continued to put them on the foul line in the last minute with Azubuike on the bench.

The 7-footer’s importance to Kansas has been apparent all season, but it was even starker against the Pirates, whose Angel Delgado feasted when Azubuike wasn’t on the floor.  Seton Hall’s double-double machine finished with 24 points and 23 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to power the Pirates into next week. Neither was Khadeen Carrington’s 28 points, all but two of which came after halftime.

Azubuike’s critical role for Kansas is three-fold. First, he’s very talented. Second, he makes the four-out offense possible. Third, the drop-off behind him – apologies to Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa – is rather significant.

Kansas, which got 28 points from Malik Newman, has to play a very specific way offensively with guard-heavy roster. The Jayhawks have to get up a ton of 3s, and they’ve got to make a bunch of them. Without Azubuike in the middle drawing attention and making it difficult for defenders to stay hugged-up on shooters on the perimeter, the architecture of the offense can crumble in on itself.

Azubuike certainly isn’t a perfect or dominant player, but he rebounds well, blocks shots and makes about three-quarters of his shots. Which, of course, means he fits his role perfectly for maybe the most vulnerable Kansas team in Bill Self’s tenure. The Jayhawks’ margin for error, at least at this juncture against the competition they’re going to see in Omaha, is pretty small. Deviate from the plan and things can get away from them quickly. Duke and Michigan State, Kansas’ presumptive opponents in the Elite Eight, will punish them for any missteps or holes in their gameplan.

Azubuike is the linchpin. When he’s in place, things hold together. When he’s not, there’s trouble.

No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago beats No. 3 Tennessee to advance to Sweet 16

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Cinderella is headed to the Sweet 16!

For the second time in this tournament, trailing 62-61 on the final possession of the game, Loyola-Chicago has won.

On Thursday, the Ramblers got the benefit of a missed Lonnie Walker free throw and a game-winning three from Donte Ingram to beat No. 6-seed Miami, 64-62.

On Saturday, the situation was almost the same — the Ramblers had the ball with 10.5 seconds left on the clock — but the execution was different.

Clayton Custer hit a jumper with 3.6 seconds left to answer Grant Williams’ and-one and send Loyola-Chicago to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

In the immortal words of Gus Johnson, the slipper still fits:

Loyola was in control of this game for the majority of the second half and led by eight points at the under-four time out, but a pair of threes from Tennessee set up Williams’ and-one on Tennessee’s final possession. Jordan Bone had a shot to win the game at the buzzer that bounced off the back of the rim.

Aundre Jackson led the Ramblers 16 points off the bench as No. 11-seed Loyola landed their second upset of the weekend, beating No. 3-seed Tennessee, 63-62, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Those 16 points that Jackson scored were the most that any Loyola player scored in either of their games this weekend. The 10 shots that Jackson took in the first round win over No. 3-seed Miami was the only time in those two games that a Rambler player had double-digit field goal attempts. They held Miami and Tennessee to a combined 116 points.

I say all that to say this: Loyola is not a typical Cinderella team. They don’t have some superstar scorer that carried them to this point in the tournament, like a Jairus Lyles from UMBC or a Jon Elmore from Marshall. They’re not a high-scoring team or a team that just-so-happened to catch fire from three at the right time. What they are is a smart, tough and extremely well-coached group that is everything you think of when you picture Missouri Valley basketball.

They aren’t going to give up penetration defensively. They are going to pound the defensive glass. They aren’t going to commit silly turnovers or take dumb shots. They’ll run their offense and trust that whatever their coach calls is going to get them the shot they need to get.

They will not beat themselves, and if you are going to beat them, you’re going to work for every possession.

And it’s worked.

Loyola will advance to Atlanta where they will face the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 2 Cincinnati and No. 7 Nevada. With Buffalo losing and either No. 10-seed Butler or No. 11-seed Syracuse counting as anything close to a mid-major, Loyola, Marshall and UMBC are the only true Cinderella teams left in the tournament. The 16th-seeded UMBC Retrievers, who became the first No. 16 seed to get to the second round of the tournament after a Friday night win over top overall seed Virginia, take on No. 9-seed Kansas State on Sunday while No. 13-seed Marshall gets a date with in-state an rival, No. 5 West Virginia.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander paces No. 5 Kentucky past No. 13 Buffalo

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Its deficit cut to five, Buffalo zipped down the floor in transition. The ball found Jeremy Harris, who stepped into his 3-point shot attempt and let it fly as the crowd in Boise was ready to blow the roof off Taco Bell Arena, hopeful they’d have the chance to will the Bulls to an upset of Kentucky. The shot barrelled toward the basket, carrying Buffalo’s Sweet 16 dreams with it.

The ball, along with control of the game, clanged off the rim and bounced into Kentucky’s hands.

The No. 5 Wildcats turned away No. 13 Buffalo, 95-75, on Saturday to advance to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.

Buffalo got 26 points from Wes Clark and 18 from CJ Massinburg, and made the Wildcats sweat deep into the second round until things spiraled away from them. Making just 7 of 31 shots from 3-point range and your opponent shooting 56.3 percent from the floor is no recipe for an upset.

Even with a rough shooting day, Buffalo threatened Kentucky time and again, but at every turn, the Wildcats had Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The 6-foot-6 freshman was simply spectacular, scoring 27 points on 10 of 12 shooting. He added six rebounds and six assists for good measure.

Gilgeous-Alexander was an unsolvable problem for Buffalo. The Bulls were never able to find a way to corral or deny him. He just got what he wanted when he wanted it, and what he wanted was buckets. Lots of them.

Inconsistency has been the pock on Gilgeous-Alexander’s rookie campaign, but in recent weeks he’s found his groove. He’s scored in double-digits in nine-straight games. He’s either made shots or gotten to the free-throw line. Sometimes both.

For a Kentucky team without a dominant player, Gilgeous-Alexander’s emergence as a go-to and consistent scorer is huge. The Wildcats are going to have an athletic advantage in almost every game they play. If they’ve got a guy other than Kevin Knox they can count on for 15-plus, that’s going to take a lot of pressure off an offense that doesn’t have the benefit of much in the way of shooting.

The path for Kentucky to the Elite 8 looks incredibly navigable after Virginia’s stunning and historic loss Friday to UMBC. The Wildcats will have to beat a nine or 16 seed to be just 40 minutes from another Final Four.

If Gilgeous-Alexander can continue to be the offensive weapon he’s turned into over the last month, San Antonio may very well be hosting Big Blue Nation in April.

VIDEO: Buffalo’s Nick Perkins posterizes Kevin Knox

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Buffalo and Kentucky are locked in an entertaining battle on Saturday afternoon, and while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been completely dominant, the play of the day comes courtesy of the Bulls.

After Kentucky pushed their lead to 10 points with less than nine minutes left, Nick Perkins — who is known for as a three-point shooter than anything else — dunked on Kentucky’s soon-to-be lottery pick, Kevin Knox, emphatically: