2014 Big East Tournament Preview: Can Villanova finally beat Creighton?

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It seems weird to write a Big East tournament preview in the realignment era. How can one describe the upcoming four long days at Madison Square Garden without including Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, or Connecticut?

Despite it’s current lean appearance, the Big East, according to Ken Pomeroy’s conference rankings, trails only the Big Ten and the Big 12, and sports two teams – Creighton and Villanova – that are threats to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. After that duo, however, the rest of the conference is riddled with question marks, and lacking a strong showing at the Garden, it isn’t inconceivable that only the conference’s top two dance.

RELATED: Read through NBCSports.com’s latest Bracketology

Providence, Xavier, and St. John’s have all missed opportunities to provide any separation during the past two months. Puzzling defeats follow what seemed to be season-defining wins, and without at least one victory in the coming days for SJU and Xavier (in particular), those two squads will be absent from the tournament field (despite the Friars’ 20-win record, PC likely has to make the title game to get a bid).

As the memories of Allen Iverson, the six overtime semifinal, and Kemba Walker, among others, fade and become highlight packages for fans of Dave Gavitt’s Big East, the league’s new era begins on Wednesday – considering it is still the Big East, there should be a few surprises along the way.

MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews

BRACKET

When: March 12-15

Where: Madison Square Garden

Final: March 15, 8:30 (Fox Sports 1)

Favorite: Creighton

Yes, Creighton has serious question marks – following St. John’s blueprint, teams have concentrated on stopping the Bluejays not named Doug McDermott, and the team’s defense (while improved!) is susceptible to undermining lapses – but Greg McDermott’s squad is still the conference’s team to beat. The path to a win on Saturday starts with McDermott, the senior forward who recently topped 3,000 career points, and when the team is clicking offensively, they are unstoppable.

MORE: Who joined Doug McDermott as an NBCSports.com All-American

The key for McDermott and company, however, is Ethan Wragge, the team’s bearded three-point specialist. Since February 1st, the senior has slightly slipped beyond the arc: his three-point percentage has slid to 40 percent, a decline from the 49 percent Wragge had converted during the first month of Big East play. As demonstrated in recent losses to Xavier and Georgetown, when Wragge isn’t connecting from deep, Creighton’s offense becomes stagnant, and open looks (and makes) for the forward enables better half court spacing and clear lanes for the other Bluejays.

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And if they lose?: Villanova

The team most overlooked in many Big East preseason rankings, Villanova has cracked the discussion for a top seed in the tournament field. Non-conference wins over Kansas and Iowa at the Battle 4 Atlantis padded the team’s resume, but they still haven’t beaten Creighton during Big East play, which is why the Wildcats aren’t the favorite for the tournament title. What is most impressive about this Jay Wright-led team is their offensive efficiency. Both James Bell and Darrun Hilliard make more than 50 percent of their twos and roughly 40 percent of their threes, and JayVaughn Pinkston ranks behind McDermott as the conference’s toughest one-on-one matchup.

How did a team which only lost one true contributor from a year ago manage to post an offensive rating with a conference efficiency margin of plus .16 from 2013? The squad cut down on their twos, beefed up their three point attempts, and display halfcourt ball movement that recalls the classic four-guard Nova teams from the mid-aughts.

Other Contenders:

  • St. John’s: After losing their first five Big East contests, St. John’s finished the season winning ten of their last thirteen games. The backcourt core of D’Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan has propelled the Red Storm during their run, but the crux of the Johnnies success lies with JaKarr Sampson.
  • Xavier: Matt Stainbrook’s potential absence severely undermines the Muskeeters’ tourney title chances. The transfer wasn’t just the team’s most consistent scorer within the paint, but Stainbrook was Xavier’s best defensive rebounder. His potential loss will further Semaj Christon’s responsibilities, but the guard, whose sophomore leap helped him crack the conference’s first team list, should be up to the task.

Sleeper: Providence

The Friars are the tournament’s primary sleeper due to Bryce Cotton. Standing only 6-foot-1, Cotton never leaves the floor – he averages 40.1 minutes per game – is quick enough to get into the lane at will, and possesses a 40-plus vertical that helps him unleash jumpers from all over the court, regardless on how tight teams guard him. The most efficient player on PC’s roster, he could solely carry the team to Saturday night.

Deeper Sleeper: Georgetown

Despite a sub-.500 conference record, Georgetown has a slightly easier road to the title game than the other three teams playing on Wednesday. The Hoyas recently beat down on Creighton and Xavier, two potential matchups, and the backcourt of Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is an unpredictable nightmare to defend. Both guards could offensively take control of a game – versus CU and XU, the duo scored a combined 44 percent of the team’s points – or they could disappear.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • Josh Fortune, Providence: While he doesn’t play as many minutes as Cotton, Fortune also rarely leaves the court, and his improved three-point touch has made the guard less of the offensive liability he was as a freshman in 2013.
  • Daniel Ochefu, Villanova: The only Wildcat taller than 6-foot-7 who uses consistent minutes, Ochefu’s defensive contributions have helped Nova hold opponents to roughly one point per possession in Big East play.
  • Deonte Burton, Marquette: Freshmen don’t normally plays for Williams unless they have shown a necessary dedication defensively, but Burton is such a versatile threat that Williams has had to give Burton meaningful minutes.
  • Jalen Reynolds, Xavier: Since it is unclear if Stainbrook will play (or if he does, how many minutes he will contribute), Reynolds’ role will increase. Luckily for coach Chris Mack, Reynolds has shined with extra PT.

CBT Prediction: Villanova over Creighton

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ODU graduate transfer Trey Porter headed to Nevada

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Nevada is adding an immediate impact big to its roster.

The Wolf Pack received the commitment of Old Dominion graduate transfer Trey Porter, they announced Wednesday.

The 6-foot-10 Porter averaged 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks for ODU last season. He announced his decision to finish his career elsewhere last month.

“We are so excited about Trey Porter joining our Nevada Family,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said in a statement. “Trey is an incredible athlete, has tremendous length, and has huge upside. He is a great rebounder who can score the ball in the post and face up. He has phenomenal speed for his size and will really fit in our uptempo style on both ends of the floor.”

Porter, who began his career at George Mason, shot 58.8 percent from the field last season and registered four double-doubles.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to play at a program like Nevada,” Porter said in a statement. “As soon as I stepped on campus, I could tell how invested the coaching staff, program, and university were to my success and how I would fit in with the team. I am ready to get back to Reno and get to work on next season.”

Nevada upset Cincinnati and Texas in the NCAA tournament last season to reach the Sweet 16. They finished 29-8 overall. The Wolf Pack have uncertainty with their roster with Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin all testing the NBA draft waters.

Loyola extends Porter Moser through 2026

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A trip to the Final Four might prove significantly lucrative to Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser.

The Ramblers announced Wednesday that they reached a new contract agreement with Moser that will extend his deal through 2026 with what the Chicago Tribune called a “hefty raise” on his $420,000 per year salary, citing an anonymous source.

“As I have said many times before, I am a Catholic kid from Chicago who played in the Missouri Valley Conference,” Moser said in a statement released by the school. “This is the trifecta for me. We have invested so much time and energy in this program and I’m beyond excited to continue the journey. Watching Chicago as well as Loyola students, alumni and fans get excited for this team was exactly the vision we had when we took over the program.

“I will continue to challenge our fans to fill Gentile Arena as we did for the final home game to make it one of the best college basketball atmospheres in the country.”

The Ramblers went 32-6 last year, winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles ahead of their magical run to the Final Four for the first time winning the NCAA tournament in 1963. They return three starters from the Final Four squad, including MVC player of the year Clayton Custer.

“We are excited to be able to announce a new contract for Porter that will keep him at Loyola a long time,” athletic director Steve Watson said. “He is the perfect fit for Loyola and operates his program the right way, with student-athletes who achieve excellence on the court and in the classroom and are also excellent representatives of the institution.

“We are fortunate to work at a university like Loyola, that values and has made a commitment to athletics. It is nice to reward Porter not just for an outstanding season, but also for the job he has done during his time here.”

 

Dayton adds Michigan transfer

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After two years with a limited role at Michigan, Ibi Watson is returning to his home state.

The Wolverines guard is transferring to Dayton, it was announced Wednesday.  

“We are very pleased to have Ibi join our Flyer Family,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said in a statement.  “He is a young man who knew what he wanted after leaving a great University and winning basketball team at Michigan.  He has seen first-hand what it takes to be successful at this level.”

Watson averaged just 5.2 minutes per game during his sophomore season in Ann Arbor. He will sit out the upcoming season and then have two years of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

“I know he will utilize his redshirt year to improve himself in every way,” Grant said, “and having an experienced, talented player to go against every day in practice next season will only help our younger players grow.  Ibi is an important piece of our future. Our team and campus community will enjoy having him become a Flyer.”

The Pickerington, Ohio native was a first-team all state selection as a senior when he averaged more than 19 points per game. He now joins Dwayne Cohill, Jhery Matos and Frankie Policelli as Grant’s 2018 class.

Report: NBA unlikely to change one-and-done rule before 2020 draft

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The Commission on College Basketball made a whole host of recommendations Wednesday. From increasing penalties on cheaters, to restructuring summer basketball to player representation, the report had plenty of ideas (though it omitted the most obvious).

One of its core recommendations, however, came in an area the NCAA has zero control.

The NBA draft.

The Commission suggested that the “one-and-done” rule be scrapped in favor of letting players leave straight from high school to the pros, a rule that has been collectively bargained by the NBA and its players union.

If any change is going to happen, it’s got to happen there, and it apparently won’t be in the next couple years. The NBA is unlikely to change its draft entry requirements ahead of the 2020 draft, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The subject has been broached by both the league and the union, but how any negotiation about the issue will unfold is uncertain, according to the report.

The NCAA has little leverage on the matter as the NBA and the union ultimately will act in what they believe is in their own best interests with little mind paid to what the NCAA wants. The NCAA also has little leverage in the matter as its most heavy-handed card to play is freshman ineligibility, which would seem to be an unwieldy and ill-advised option.

Disallowing an entire class to play their freshman season would likely have unintended consequences that harm college basketball while doing little to actually solve the problem The Commission set out to fix – illicit money in the game.

Commission on College Basketball Proposals: Can they actually work?

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On Wednesday morning, The Commission on College Basketball finally unveiled their findings on what changes need to be enacted in the sport to clean up the mess that has been created.

And while The Commission’s findings were far from perfect, there were some suggestions that they came up with that might actually have some benefit to the sport.

It just takes some time to actually dig them up.

Best I can tell, there are six talking points that we need to address stemming from today’s release.

Let’s work through all of them.

1. A BIG ‘NO COMMENT’ ON THE OLYMPIC MODEL AND CHANGES TO AMATEURISM RULES

We discussed this in depth in a column already posted on the site, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but the bottom-line is this: Amateurism rules are never going to work, at least not in the current form. There is too much money on the line for too many people. The Commission opted not to address the issues involving amateurism because of pending litigation involving the NCAA’s use of an athlete’s name and likeness, but based on some of the comments that Condoleeza Rice made, it seems as if they at least realized that amateurism is a root cause of the problems they were trying to answer.

Hopefully, change will be coming at some point.

2. BEGGING (BLACKMAILING?) THE NBA AND NBPA TO CHANGE THE ONE-AND-DONE RULE

The one-and-done rule, which has come to define the sport of college basketball over the course of the last 12 years, is not a college basketball rule. It is an NBA rule, which means that the NCAA is essentially powerless to change the minimum age requirements that NBA owners wanted back in 2006, when they stopped allowing high school kids to declare for the NBA draft.

The Commission’s response?

To recommend that they combat the one-and-done rule by considering reinstating freshman ineligibility or by punishing programs that recruit one-and-done players by forcing them to lose a scholarship for each athlete that leaves school after one season.

Both of those suggestions are, of course, undeniably and unbelievably idiotic.

In the last 11 drafts, there have been an average of 10.2 freshmen that have been selected. This year, there are 17 freshmen that have declared for the draft and signed with an agent. This is in a sport with 351 teams that are all allowed to give out 13 scholarships; do that math, and there were roughly 4,500 Division I college basketball players. The Commission suggesting that it is a good idea to make those 1,100-or-so other Division I freshmen ineligible for a year because they’re mad the NBA forces 1.5 percent of the class to enroll makes me wonder why we should take any of their other suggestions seriously.

Simply put: This is an empty threat.

The other option, forcing a school to have one-and-done players count against one of their 13 scholarships for one season after they leave, is just as dumb. It’s not going to stop programs from recruiting those players, but it is going to make scholarship opportunities for other athletes disappear into thin air. For an organization that claims to have the best interest of “student-athletes” in mind, revoking scholarships in anyway is and always will be hypocritical. It should never happen.

And that’s before we get into the idea that the one-and-done players are the be-all and end-all of what’s happening here. They’re not. Brian Bowen, the central figure in the allegations made by the FBI that resulted in Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, was not a one-and-done prospect. Silvio De Sousa, who was allegedly funneled money by two different shoe companies to earn a commitment to two different programs, is not a one-and-done prospect. Nine of the 15 players that were mentioned in February’s Yahoo report as receiving money and/or loans were one-and-done players. The practice of boosters paying the best players dates back to the 50s. John Wooden’s legacy is, in part, a result of Sam Gilbert being flush with disposable income.

There is, always was and always will be a black market for the best players entering college basketball, whether those are the top 15-20 players in each class — the one-and-dones that will go straight to the pros — or the players ranked in the 20-40 range, that will spend a few years on campus, developing into the crafty veterans that have won Villanova and North Carolina the last three titles.

Shoe companies with nine-figure sponsorship deals with universities want to protect their investment. Coaches that get seven-figure raises and multi-year contract extensions when they win big want to win big. Boosters with deep pockets that love their school’s basketball team are always going to look for a way to get the best players on campus.

That’s a college basketball “problem” that’s only a “problem” because something as stupid and old-fashioned as amateurism still exists.

It’s not a one-and-done problem.

3. ALLOWING PLAYERS ACCESS TO AGENT REPRESENTATION

This is certainly a good thing.

I’ve said all along that it is silly to think that it’s a bad thing for kids that have earning potential that reaches eight or nine figures cannot have a professional advising them on what they can do. There are details that are going to need to be worked out — like, for example, how the NCAA handles the inevitable loans that agents are going to make to the players they sign — but without question this is a good thing.

4. UNDERCLASSMEN THAT AREN’T DRAFTED CAN RETURN TO SCHOOL

In theory, I like this suggestion, but in practice, I think that it is going to be somewhat more complicated than people realize.

For starters, the NBA draft is in late June. Players start the process of declaring for the draft in mid-March, when they get knocked out of whatever tournament their team ends up playing in. That means there are more than three months where they will be away from their team, their coaching staffs and, potentially, out of class while they train and prepare for becoming a professional.

The other side of it is that players getting selected late in the second round often end up coming nowhere near making that team’s roster. Many times, agents and teams will already be in touch about the possibility of a second round pick signing a training camp deal or playing with that organization’s G League team. There are people that will tell you it’s better to go undrafted than it is to be selected late in the second round because it puts the player on the market and lets them pick a destination that is the best instead of being forced to go somewhere based on getting picked.

The sentiment here is great, but I’m not sure it is as simple as it seems on paper.

5. CHANGING THE WAY SUMMER BASKETBALL WORKS

This is where things stop making sense.

With all due respect to the people that were on The Commission, I’m not sure that any of them — outside of John Thompson III — truly have a feel for how AAU and grassroots basketball truly operates. Do you think that Condoleeza Rice has ever actually been to an Under Armour Association event? Have they spoken to the organizers of events like Hoop Group’s Pitt Jam Fest or the people that run Nike’s EYBL?

“We create more opportunities than anyone within the system,” said once source that helps organize events in the summer.

What it seems like The Commission is proposing is bringing summer basketball in-house, whether that is under the umbrella of the NCAA itself, USA Basketball, the NBA or all of the above. The problem with that is that there are so many different levels to college basketball and college basketball recruiting. I played college basketball. The coaches that recruited me at the Division III level saw me when I was playing on an AAU team, but the idea that there would be any benefit for anyone if a player of my caliber and one of the top players in the country were to be at the same event is ludicrous.

Then how do you determine who plays at what events? Do you really want the NCAA running hundreds of summer tournaments that include each include many hundreds of teams? How are they going to determine which players go to which events? How are they going to determine which coaches are allowed to be at which events?

And, this may be the most important part, they aren’t going to eliminate shoe companies from getting involved at the youth level. If anything, if they take away the access coaches have to shoe company events, they’ll only be making the people that run scouting services that much richer.

Asking for transparency from these apparel companies isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but then will the NCAA provide transparency into what happens with the billions of dollars that they bring in?

As one source so eloquently put it, the NCAA running their own camps is “Lolololol”.

Pretty much sums it up.

6. CHANGING ENFORCEMENT

One of the proposals that The Commission made is for stricter punishments for those that go outside the rules — longer postseason bans for schools, lifetime bans for serial offenders, punishments for schools that hire offenders. I guess that would be a deterrent, but not everything that goes on here involves people associated with the NCAA or the schools.

But that is beside the point.

Because the real issue is that the NCAA cannot dig any of this stuff up themselves. The enforcement arm is toothless, and while I do think that hiring independent investigators would help, the truth is that this was all brought to light because the FBI is allowed to tap phones and send in undercover agents that can splash around thousands of dollars of government money.

What independent investigators is going to be able to do that?