With another early tournament exit, Villanova’s legacy is complicated

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The best story in college basketball — not the biggest story, not the weirdest story, not the story that gets non-stop run on every sports talk show, but the best — came to a thrilling end on Saturday afternoon in Buffalo.

Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes was the hero, capping off a game-winning, 15-5 run over the final five minutes with a layup with 11.4 seconds left, sending the No. 8 seed Badgers to the Sweet 16 with a 65-62 win over Villanova, who entered the tournament as the nation’s No. 1 overall seed.

Villanova is — was? — the reigning national champion.

They were looking to become the first team since Florida in 2007 to repeat as national champions, and it seemed like they had the horses to get it done.

But …

Well, did they?

And that’s where this conversation gets complicated, because this is the third time in four years that the Wildcats lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as a top two seed. That national title? It covers up some real questions about just what the legacy of this team will be.

Let’s start with Saturday.

On paper, Villanova has a very real and very obvious hole in their roster, and it’s right there in the middle. Daniel Ochefu graduated off of last year’s team and incoming freshman Omari Spellman was ruled ineligible, meaning that the Wildcats spent the season relying on 6-foot-9 Darryl Reynolds and 6-foot-7 Eric Paschall to man the paint. This is not an ideal situation against anyone, let alone against a team like Wisconsin, who lives on the ability of Ethan Happ and Hayes to score in the post and get to the offensive glass.

That’s before you consider the fact that Wisconsin as a No. 8 seed was one of the dumber decisions that the Selection Committee made. The Badgers finished second in the Big Ten and reached the Big Ten title game, but there were four teams from the conference that were seeded above them? That doesn’t make much sense.

Put another way, this was never a good matchup for Villanova. There’s a reason a lot of smart people thought Wisconsin would give the Wildcats a fight. In a vacuum, this loss was more about matchups and miss-seeds than it was an indictment on the Villanova program.

But this loss didn’t come in a vacuum.

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In 2014, No. 2 seed Villanova lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 7 seed UConn. In 2015, the Wildcats lost to No. 8 seed N.C. State in the second round as a No. 1 seed. The current Villanova stars, Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, played on all three of those teams. More to the point, of the 29 programs that have played at least six games as a No. 1 seed, Villanova ranks tied-for-last in winning percentage in those games, going 5-3 as a No. 1 seed.

It makes me wonder: What is the legacy of this Villanova team going to be?

Because they’ve run roughshod over their conference during the four-year reign of Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. After a 32-4 season that saw Villanova win a dual-Big East titles, the Wildcats with Hart and Jenkins have now won four Big East regular season titles, two Big East tournament titles, a national title and 129 games. In their worst season, they went 29-5. They’ve never lost more than three games to Big East foes in a single season and never more than five games, total.

That’s incredible.

But the Big East that they play is in not the same Big East that they were in before conference realignment. There are good teams in the league, but the closest thing we saw to a contender to them during that time frame ended this season when Mo Watson and Edmond Sumner tore their ACLs two weeks apart from each other.

Then there’s that national title that the Wildcats won, one that saw Villanova run through Kansas, Oklahoma and North Carolina — two No. 1 seeds and a team that was ranked No. 1 in February — in their final three games. That’s incredible. It’s a moment that Villanova fans will never forget, and the shot that won the title will go down in history and one of the greatest moments in the history of sports.

Not just this sport.

All sports.

But that title came in a year where the level of elite talent in college basketball was at a four-year low. The best player that they faced during that title run was Buddy Hield, an incredible story that provided the NBA world with some much-needed comedic relief when he was the centerpiece of the DeMarcus Cousins trade. There were three elite freshmen that entered the sport in 2015-16, and Ben Simmons missed the tournament, Skal Labissiere couldn’t get off the bench and Brandon Ingram was out in the Sweet 16.

Put another way, Villanova’s 2016 national title was like being named the Best Dresser on Press Row, and it came as the filling in an otherwise disastrous string of NCAA tournament appearances.

Those details are really easy to pick through now.

That won’t be the case in five years, in 10 years.

My son is 18 months old. When he gets to eight years old, nine years old, 10 years old, when he finally starts realizing that sports are more than something that keeps him from being able to watch Elmo on TV, he’s not going to wonder about the context of Villanova’s title. He’s not going to think about whether or not Villanova was fortuitous in putting together a title-contending team in a year where the other contenders weren’t all that good.

He’s going to ask about The Shot. He’s going to ask about what I remember from that moment. He’s going to ask to see the video of The Shot I took on my phone. He’s going to ask whether or not I think he’ll ever get a chance to see a shot like that live.

That’s what Villanova’s legacy is, and thanks to Kris Jenkins’ clutch gene, no one is ever going to ask otherwise.

One Shining Moment, when it shines bright enough, will live on forever, and there will never be a moment that shines brighter than Jenkins’ game-winner. People don’t remember what it took to get there or what happened after. They remember the moment.

They remember the title.

It’s amazing what The Shot can do to change a narrative.

Sex assault count dropped against ex-Creighton player Watson

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Prosecutors have dropped a first-degree sexual assault charge against former Creighton point guard Maurice Watson after questions arose about the accuser’s story.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine announced Friday that his office had dropped the felony charge, filed earlier this year when a 19-year-old woman accused Watson of assaulting her early Feb. 4 at a party in an Omaha home. Watson has denied that allegation.

The 24-year-old Watson pleaded no contest Friday to misdemeanor assault for an encounter the same night with a different Creighton student, who said Watson touched her thigh and tried to make her touch his genitals. Watson was sentenced to the five days he’d already served in jail.

Watson was a senior when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in January, just days before the party.

Storm damage forces Paradise Jam out of Virgin Islands

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MIAMI (AP) — The Paradise Jam basketball tournament will not be played in the U.S. Virgin Islands this year because of damage caused by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

The tournament will be played in the U.S., with a new site expected to be announced by Sept. 29.

The Paradise Jam field this year includes Wake Forest, Colorado, Drake, Drexel, Houston, Liberty, Mercer and Quinnipiac, and each of those schools was given the chance to bid for the right to host the tournament.

Tournament officials say they looked at multiple other options, such as moving to another island and using a cruise ship for accommodations, before deciding to move the event to the U.S.

For now, the tournament is scheduled to be played from Nov. 17-20.

Kentucky lands commitment from five-star point guard

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Kentucky landed a commitment from Immanuel Quickley on Friday night, a top ten prospect and arguably the best point guard in the Class of 2018.

Quickley picked the Wildcats over Kansas, who he visited earlier this month, and Miami, who he was scheduled to visit before Hurricane Irma struck south Florida.

The 6-foot-3 point guard is the first commitment in the class of head coach John Calipari, and it really comes as no surprise. He’s been considered a Kentucky lean for months, and Quickley played for Calipari on the USA U19 team during the 2017 FIBA World Cup.

While Quickley has the size and the build – he’s 180 pounds with broad shoulders and long arms – of some of Kentucky’s former elite point guards, he’s not the same kind of point guard as, say, De’Aaron Fox or John Wall. He’s more of a smooth athlete than an explosive one, and while his long strides allow him to get out into transition, he’s not the finisher at the rim that those two were. What he is, however, is an intelligent player. He’s good in ball-screens, he’s an excellent passer and facilitator and he is a good enough shooter that he forces defenses to stay honest. He also has the potential to be a plus defender given his physical tools and the fact that he’ll try on that end of the floor.

Where this commitment gets interesting is the current point guard in Kentucky’s back court, Quade Green. Green was a five-star recruit in his own right, but he’s not quite built as a potential one-and-done prospect. Calipari has maneuvered through two point guards in the past, and each of the last five national champions have played major minutes with two point guards on the floor at the same time, but if Green is back next season that will be something to monitor.

That, however, is a long ways away.

What matters now is that Kentucky has gotten this commitment out of the way, and it paves the way for them to also receive a commitment from Zion Williamson. There has long been talk of those two attending college together, and with Quickley on the board, that likely keeps Kentucky in the driver’s seat as they pursue the South Carolina native.

If Kentucky can also wrangle a commitment out of R.J. Barrett, the No. 1 player in the 2018 recruiting class, that would likely be the end of the discussion of whether or not Duke has surpassed the Wildcats on the recruiting trail.

Five-star forward King picks Oregon

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Oregon has nabbed one of the top players in the 2018 class.

Louis King, a top-20 forward, committed to Dana Altman and the Ducks on Thursday via a video on social media.

“It’s been a tough, strenuous process,” King said, “but today makes all of that worth it. I’ve been blessed with great opportunities.”

The 6-foot-8 New Jersey native selected Oregon over other finalists Seton Hall, NC State, Purdue and Kansas.

“I would like to thank each of them for all the time and effort they put into my recruitment,” King said. “I would like to thank my coaches and my teammates that have pushed me and helped get me to this point in my career. My friends for all their love and support, but most of all I would like to thank my family, who has been by my side through it all.”

King is Altman’s second commit in 2018, joining four-star big man Miles Norris, a top-75 recruit in the class. It’s the beginning of what could be an absolutely dynamic class for Oregon, which still has two scholarships remaining.

“Out of all of my schools I felt like it was best for me and my family,” King said to MADE Hoops. “Coach Altman said that I would have the ball in my hands throughout the season. When I get there, it will be an easy adjustment for me with how I handle rock and get my teammates open. Our goal is to win a national championship next year.”

 

Four-star forward Miller Kopp commits to Northwestern

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Northwestern has a second four-star recruit in its 2018 class.

The Wildcats received a commitment from Miller Kopp, a 6-foot-6 forward, on Thursday, he announced via social media.

“I built a really strong relationship with (coach) Chris Collins and I fell in love with the campus,” Kopp told Scout. “I knew it would be a nice campus and have that stuff, but I think me and him are wired the same way. II think that his personality fits mine and I think we complement each other. I’m definitely excited to be able to go to a program on the rise and be able to make some history.”

Kopp picked the Wildcats over offers from Georgetown, Butler, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. The Houston native is ranked in the top-100 of his class by most recruiting services.

He gives Collins and the Wildcats an exceedingly strong 2018 class, which already featured four-star guard Pete Nance of Ohio along with three-star recruits Jordan Lathon and Ryan Young. It represents a major leap forward for Northwestern. It would appear that the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament appearance last March has brought momentum to the recruiting trail.