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Tacko Fall’s issues highlight need for NCAA to get out of initial eligibility process

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The wait is over for us.

College basketball will be back this Friday, with actual games that actually count on campuses all around the country. There will be 156 real, live games played on Friday, and while that will fill airtime for the cable networks and provide fodder for hacks like me to bloviate about, the season will not be beginning for far too many players across the country.

Which is why it is past time for the NCAA to get out of the initial eligibility game.

Before I get to that, let’s take a quick rundown of some of the players whose eligibility is currently being held hostage. Keep in mind, starting next season, a list like this is going to be much, much longer when the NCAA’s initial eligibility requirements are increased.

Cheick Diallo at Kansas is the most notable name that has yet to be cleared. A top ten prospect from Mali by way of a high school in Long Island, Diallo’s eligibility situation has resulted in him hiring an attorney in his fight against the NCAA. The hold up for Diallo, according to reports from Yahoo Sports and the Kansas City Star, has to do with both his academic history and his relationship with guardian Tidiane Drame, a fellow Malian-American.

The association has requested more than 2,000 pages worth of homework from Diallo’s classes at Our Savior New American, a private school on Long Island that has been in the NCAA’s crosshairs for a while, that he began attending as a ninth-grader. They’ve asked for transcripts from as far back as sixth grade, when he was still in middle school in Mali.

Diallo, for what it’s worth, is already into his second semester of college classes.

Diallo’s high school teammate, Kassoum Yakwe, is still awaiting clearance from the NCAA as well. Yakwe’s teammate at St. John’s, Marcus Lovett, was next to Yakwe in street clothes when the Johnnies lost an exhibition game to St. Thomas Aquinas by 32 points last week; he hasn’t been cleared yet, either.

Ohio State freshman Mickey Mitchell has not yet been ruled eligible. Auburn’s Danjel Purifoy will not be playing this weekend unless the NCAA sorts out what they’ve deemed a questionable ACT score. UMass guard Luwane Pipkins is still await word as well, while former Syracuse commit Moustapha Diagne was forced to go to Junior College after a class that he took in Senegal was flagged by the NCAA.

I’m sure there are more that I’m not even aware of, but by far the most egregious eligibility misstep is Tacko Fall, a 7-foot-6 center at Central Florida. The NCAA told UCF on Friday that it will only be accepting 7.5 of his core courses from high school and that he is no longer allowed to practice with the team, according to ESPN.com. Here’s the thing: Fall isn’t dumb. I’d actually wager that he’s smarter than most of the folks that are working at the NCAA. He had a 3.6 GPA in high school, and while elite prospects tend to have their grades inflated, do they normally get those grades in calculus and chemistry?

Do they usually declare as engineering majors during their freshman year?

Because that’s the case with Fall.

The issue, however, is the high schools that he attended.

Fall is a native of Senegal. He came over to the United States after spending his first two years of high school in his country. When he first arrived stateside, he bounced around from school to school during the 2012-13 school year as he and his family tried to find him a stable environment to learn and play basketball. He eventually landed at Liberty Christian, where he spent two years and earned a diploma. But the NCAA has been looking into that high school, and the fact that he spent an academic year trying to find a landing spot was a red flag as well.

Like Diallo, Fall has hired legal representation and will be filing a lawsuit against the NCAA in an effort to be allowed to play.

Here’s the cruel irony of it all: Fall should be the poster-boy for college athletics. He should be the kid that the NCAA touts as what college sports should be all about. He’s a student-athlete in the truest sense of the word, a kid that is trying to use his God-given gifts — he is 7-foot-6, after all — to better his lot in life, whether that’s as a college-educated engineer, a professional basketball player or both.

Chew on this for a minute: Fall sends the money he gets from his cost of attendance stipend back home to his family in Senegal so his mother can afford to send his younger brother to school. If he’s declared a non-qualifier by the NCAA, that scholarship — that cost of attendance stipend — could end up disappearing.

“We are exploring every option available to us to support Tacko through this process,” head coach Donnie Jones said in a statement released to NBCSports.com.

This is what the initial eligibility process has come down to.

The NCAA has a high school under review, so a Senegalese engineering major that had a 3.6 GPA may not be allowed to play this season. He’s still on scholarship, according to his guardian, Amanda Wettstein, and he’s still attending classes — all A’s and B’s this semester, in case you were wondering — but as of right now he can no longer practice with the team.

If a kid like Tacko Fall cannot make it through the NCAA’s Eligibility Center untainted, then it is time to declare the process broken. It is time for them to get out of determining initial eligibility.

This isn’t a new sentiment, either. A core function of colleges and universities is determining what high school students are worthy and capable of being admitted. There is literally an entire department — probably named the Office of Admissions, maybe you’ve heard of it — where employees are paid by the school to determine whether or not applicants can succeed academically based on those same transcripts that the NCAA uses.

The NCAA’s initial eligibility process replicates that.

And theoretically, it makes sense. The NCAA wants a level playing field and they have to protect that student-athlete ideal. I get it. But the way the system is currently operating, the majority of these investigations tend to be focused on kids from foreign countries or impoverished backgrounds, kids that are trying to use their athletic ability to further an education and, quite possibly, break their family out of a cycle of poverty.

Fall, at this very moment, is getting A’s and B’s in chemistry, calculus and engineering classes at UCF.

And the NCAA is wasting time, money and resources in trying to determine whether or not he’s truly capable of holding his own academically? Is this real life?

More to the point, college basketball games start in 72 hours and there are still players that will not know if they are going to be able to play in them.

Or at all this season.

It’s ludicrous.

If the system can’t ensure that a kid like Fall is cleared and if it can’t get all of the paperwork and decision-making done before the games actually begin, then the system is flawed.

And it needs to be changed.

 

 

Point man: Can Nick Weiler-Babb’s move to PG put Iowa State back in the tourney?

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AMES, Ia. — It was clear Iowa State needed a change. The Cyclones stood 0-2 with an 18-point home loss to Milwaukee already on the resume. It was clear they were due for a reboot this season after losing four starters – including All-American point guard Monte Morris – but getting trounced at Hilton Coliseum by a team picked to finish eighth in the Horizon League constitutes an emergency.

The Cyclones didn’t panic, though. They adjusted. 

After that disastrous start to the season, coach Steve Prohm moved Nick Weiler-Babb from small forward to point guard while slotting the two players who had been manning the point –  sharpshooter Donovan Jackson and five-star freshman Lindell Wigginton – off the ball.

All Iowa State done since is win.

The Cyclones have rattled off seven-straight with Weiler-Babb flirting with triple-doubles, Jackson shooting 41.6 percent from deep and Wigginton looking like a future star.

“Good we moved him over there,” Prohm said.

It certainly has been good for the Cyclones. Iowa State was 9 of 34 (26.5 percent) from 3-point range, shot 38.8 percent overall and failed to reach 60 points in its opening two losses. In the seven games since, they’re converting at a 46.4 percent clip overall, 39.4 percent from distance and averaging 83.6 points per game. They’ve seemingly become a different team with Weiler-Babb at the helm.

“It’s taking a whole new role,” Weiler-Babb said. “Coach just told me whatever I have to do to win, I have to do it. That’s what I’ve tried to do. Take the ball out of the guys’ hands and give it to the scorers.”

The 6-foot-5 junior is averaging 7.9 assists along with 12.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He’s become indispensable for the Cyclones a year after being a bit player on the Big 12 tournament championship team.

“He went through some tough times last year,” Prohm said. “But that’s what everybody’s got to understand. Freshmen, sophomore, you’ve got to put your time in a little bit to have success and earn success. He’s doing that.”

The immediate returns have been spectacular for Iowa State, but a question still lingers as they eye Big 12 play later this month.

Is it real?

Or, rather, will it be real against an unforgiving Big 12 schedule? Given Iowa State’s non-conference slate, whether it is or not will determine the postseason fate of a team sitting on a program-best six-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

As good as Weiler-Babb and the Cyclones have been during their seven-game winning streak, the competition can’t be ignored. Iowa State’s best win during this stretch is either Boise State, which only got 8 minutes from Chandler Hutchison after a head injury, or Iowa, which is 5-6 with losses to Louisiana Lafayette and South Dakota State. The wins haven’t all come easy for Iowa State, either. They narrowly defeated Appalachian State and Tulsa while initially struggling against Northern Illinois and Alcorn State before pulling away.

Things have been good for the Cyclones, but they haven’t been perfect.

Iowa State is a mediocre shooting team overall and could have serious spacing issues going forward given the roster forces Prohm to play two non-shooting bigs together for major minutes. Wigginton has been excellent, scoring 20-plus in three of the last four games, but his level of athleticism is something the likes of Western Illinois can’t counter. Texas, Kansas and West Virginia can. Big swaths of the roster, which features eight newcomers, haven’t faced Big 12 caliber competition ever in their careers. Weiler-Babb’s size and skill at the point guard position makes him a major problem for mid-majors, but can he keep up this pace when he faces length and physicality similar to his own?

Those questions, though, have to be welcomed by the Cyclones. If there were answers to them for a team with so much youth and so many unproven players in new positions in mid-December, it probably would register in the negative.

That they’re unknown means there is possibility, opportunity and promise. That exists in no small part because Prohm made Weiler-Babb a point guard.

“The challenge is, what do we really want to be?” Prohm said. “But he spearheads everything we do.”

Texas’ Jones out with a broken wrist

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Texas may be without its leading scorer heading into conference play.

Longhorns coach Shaka Smart announced Monday that sophomore Andrew Jones suffered a hairline fracture in his right wrist and will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.

“Fortunately it’s not one of those injuries where he should be out for an extended long period of time,” Smart said at his news conference Monday, “but he’s going to miss at least the next few games before Christmas. They decided not to put it in a cast, which is good news.”

Jones suffered the injury last week against VCU when he took a number of tumbles to the floor. He’s averaging 15.3 points while shooting 52.4 percent from the floor and 43.2 percent from 3-point range.

“It’s a tough injury for us because he’s our leading scorer and has done a phenomenal job for us this year,” Smart said. “We’re going to need everyone on our team, not just guards, but everyone on our team to step up and take a little more responsibility.

“Your margin for error is a little smaller.”

The Longhorns, who are 6-2 with losses to Duke and Gonzaga, face Michigan on Tuesday, Louisiana Tech on Saturday and Alabama next week. Jones is certainly out for those games, and his availability for Texas’ first Big 12 games – Dec. 29 vs. Kansas and Jan. 1 at Iowa State – would seem to be in question.

“We don’t have an exact timeframe,” Smart said. “It’s really good news they didn’t put it in a cast.

“We’re hopeful that we can get him back in three, four weeks, but that’s not a set timetable.”

 

Coaches Poll: Villanova climbs to the No. 1 spot

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The new top 25 coaches poll is out, and the No. 1 team in college basketball is now Villanova.

Michigan State, who received 10 of a possible 32 first-place votes, came in at No. 2 while Duke, last week’s No. 1 team, fell to No. 4 with a loss to Boston College.

After winning at Kansas this week, Arizona State vaulted up to the No. 6 spot, while the Jayhawks fell to No. 12.

Here is the full coaches poll.

1. Villanova (22 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (10)
3. Wichita State
4. Duke
5. Kentucky
6. Arizona State
7. North Carolina
8. Miami
9. Xavier
10. Texas A&M
11. West Virginia
12. Kansas
13. Gonzaga
14. TCU
15. Seton Hall
16. Virginia
17. Purdue
18. Notre Dame
19. Florida State
20. Tennessee
21. Baylor
22. Florida
23. Arizona
24. Oklahoma
25. Creighton

Villanova hops over Michigan State for No. 1 in AP Top 25

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Villanova’s unbeaten start now includes a No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25 , while Arizona State is making a rapid rise into the top 10 under third-year coach Bobby Hurley.

After a tumultuous week in which unanimous No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Kansas lost, the Wildcats (10-0) earned 41 of 65 first-place votes to hop over Michigan State and reach the top for the third straight season.

Villanova and Michigan State were the favorites to take over at the top after the Blue Devils’ weekend loss at Boston College, though there was far less certainty for voters about who was now the nation’s top team. The Spartans (9-1) earned 19 first-place votes to climb from third to second, while the other five first-place votes went to the Sun Devils — who leapt 11 spots to No. 5 after Sunday’s win at Kansas.

Arizona State (9-0) is off to its best start since the 1974-75 season. Now the Sun Devils — who also have a win against Xavier this season — have their highest ranking since reaching third during the 1980-81 season.

Wichita State climbed three spots to No. 3, followed by Duke and Arizona State. Unbeaten Miami climbed four spots to No. 6, followed by North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Xavier to round out the top 10.

Villanova helped itself with an impressive win against No. 12 Gonzaga last week in New York, though the Wildcats had to fight to the final minute Sunday to close out a La Salle team that entered at 5-5.

“It’s always an honor to be ranked No. 1,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “It’s great for the Nova Nation and we appreciate the respect of the writers. We know it’s early, though, and we need to get a lot better.”

KANSAS’ FALL

The Jayhawks (7-2) slid 11 spots to No. 13 after two losses last week, the first coming against Washington in Kansas City, Missouri, before losing to the Sun Devils in Allen Fieldhouse.

SHUFFLE UP

Only two teams — No. 8 Kentucky and No. 12 Gonzaga — stayed in the same spot. Thirteen teams rose in the poll, while four of the seven teams that fell slid at least eight spots.

TOP RISERS

Arizona State’s leap was the biggest, though No. 11 West Virginia (9-1) moved up seven spots after beating then-No. 15 Virginia. No. 14 TCU (10-0) climbed six spots after a win against a then-ranked Nevada team.

Miami, UNC, No. 15 Seton Hall, No. 17 Purdue and No. 20 Tennessee all climbed four spots.

LONGEST SLIDES

While Kansas’ losses stood out, No. 22 Florida had the biggest fall of the week.

The Gators (6-3) slid 17 spots after home losses to Florida State and to Loyola Chicago — a game in which they led for all of 93 seconds. Florida salvaged a win against Cincinnati in the Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, New Jersey, to avoid a four-game skid.

No. 18 Notre Dame (8-2) fell nine spots after an upset loss to Ball State, while the No. 25 Bearcats (7-2) slid eight spots.

NEWCOMERS

There were three newcomers to this week’s poll, though one is more of a welcome back.

The list included No. 19 Florida State (9-0) and No. 24 Texas Tech (7-1), while Arizona returned to the rankings at No. 23.

Arizona’s 0-3 showing at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas made the Wildcats the first team in three decades to go from No. 2 in the AP Top 25 to unranked in a week. But four straight wins have the preseason Final Four favorite back in the poll.

SLIDING OUT

Minnesota (No. 14 last week), Nevada (No. 22) and Southern California (No. 25) all fell out of the poll.

1. Villanova (41 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Wichita State
4. Duke
5. Arizona State (5)
6. Miami
7. North Carolina
8. Kentucky
9. Texas A&M
10. Xavier
11. West Virginia
12. Gonzaga
13. Kansas
14. TCU
15. Seton Hall
16. Virginia
17. Purdue
18. Notre Dame
19. Florida State
20. Tennessee
21. Baylor
22. Florida
23. Arizona
24. Texas Tech
25. Cincinnati

Expelled Yale captain has enrolled at Belmont University

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Former Yale basketball captain Jack Montague, who was expelled from the Ivy League school in 2016 for sexual misconduct, has enrolled at Belmont University in Tennessee.

Montague, who is still suing to be readmitted to Yale, complained in a court deposition last spring that he was unable to apply to other schools. He said Yale would not release his transcript until he paid a disputed tuition bill.

Karen Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for Montague, says Yale later released the transcript, allowing Montague to enroll at Belmont this fall. She says not all of his credits transferred and he will need two semesters to graduate.

He exhausted his basketball eligibility at Yale.

Montague denies the sexual misconduct allegations. No criminal charges were ever sought.

Yale’s attorneys have said the school and its officials acted appropriately.

The lawsuit, which also seeks monetary damages, is expected to go to trial next year.