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Georgetown’s pathetic schedule is a symptom of larger, systemic issues in college basketball

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On Tuesday, Georgetown released the worst non-conference schedule that I’ve seen in 10 years of covering college basketball.

It’s atrocious. By one metric, it’s the second-worst non-conference schedule in the KenPom era, which dates all the way back to 2002. They play seven teams that ranked 320th or lower in KenPom last season. That’s hard to do.

But, as I wrote yesterday, it’s happening for a reason: the Hoyas are trying to stack up wins in a year where new head coach Patrick Ewing knows they aren’t going to be very good. It’s better to finish around .500 in a year where you go 3-15 in the Big East than it is to play a tough schedule and win just eight games. In three years, when it comes time to decide whether or not the Hoya legend should be on the hot seat, no one is going to be thinking about how tough the schedule was. They’re going to be referencing his win-loss record.

Gary Parrish over at CBS Sports wrote a similar column, but he made a salient point that needs to be addressed: This kind of scheduling is at the core of what’s ailing college basketball.

Considering just how many Division I basketball teams there are, the number of relevant college basketball games during November and December are miniscule. There are a few exempt events around Thanksgiving, events that are played at neutral sites in exotic locales with almost no one in the crowd, and maybe two dozen marquee games played between top 25 teams, but the overwhelming majority of games that are played prior to the start of the conference season by the best teams in the country are completely non-competitive.

Part of it is so that these coaches can point to their streak of winning 20 games in a season to try and earn an extension. But the more relevant part of it is because the university needs to sell season ticket packages; generally speaking, athletic directors require college basketball coaches to schedule seven or eight home games, and the only way to get that many home games when every high major program in the country is dealing with this same issue is to load up on buy games.

In other words, pay a team that has no chance of winning a game in your building somewhere between $50,000-$100,000 to fly into town, taking a beating and then head home, check in hand.

Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Louisville each did that six times last season. Kansas four times. Michigan State seven times. We can go on and on.

That’s the way that the system works, and it’s where the idea of “exploitation” within college athletics really comes into play.

I don’t love using that word in regards to some of the unfair rules and operating procedures of the NCAA. I believe many college athletes on scholarship are getting a pretty good deal. I also believe that many, maybe even a majority, are getting less than they deserve. I can say that I believe a full cost-of-attendance scholarship, a sizable stipend and the removal of amateurism rules is what would actually be fair while saying that there’s enough value in getting a college education paid for to make “exploitation” too strong in most cases.

But when it comes to buy games?

It’s uncomfortable on both sides of the aisle.

On the one hand, the players on the power conference rosters are playing relatively value-less games because their school needs to be able to provide a supply for season ticket holders to spend their money on, which means there’s enough of a budget to pay a visiting team $75,000 but not enough of a budget to pay the players wearing the home team’s uniform for their play?

On the other hand, the low- and mid-major programs across the country turn their fall into a barnstorming tour designed to generate funding for the athletic department throughout the year. Many of the teams that have the wildest non-conference schedules come from notoriously under-funded HBCU programs. Take a look at the non-conference schedule Texas Southern will be playing this season:

Nov. 11 @ Gonzaga
Nov. 13 @ Washington State
Nov. 16 @ Ohio State
Nov. 18 @ Syracuse
Nov. 21 @ Kansas
Nov. 24 @ Clemson
Nov. 30 @ Oakland
Dec. 2 @ Toledo
Dec. 11 @ Oregon
Dec. 14 @ Baylor
Dec. 16 @ Wyoming
Dec. 18 @ TCU
Dec. 23 @ BYU

If the checks for those 13 games average $77,000, an entirely plausible number, then Mike Davis will have generated $1 million for his university in 42 days.

And if you think that’s bad, how about this: Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson, who routinely plays one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, has a clause in his contract that says he gets a cut of all of those game checks.

Yikes.

Now look, this isn’t all bad for the players. Playing at Gonzaga or at Syracuse is probably much better than playing home games in front of, what, a couple thousand people? It’s an opportunity to prove themselves in front of pro scouts — and college coaches they may be able to transfer up and play for — and given the rise of online classes, they may not actually be missing all that much school at the end of the day. There is also an issue for programs in the midwest and mountain regions, as there simply aren’t all that many potential opponents locally. As one former HBCU assistant told NBC Sports, “as long as they aren’t cutting corners on travel they probably eat better on the road than they do at home.”

But the larger point remains the same.

Davis and his team just spent six weeks on the road, generated hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the players got … a chance to prove themselves on a bigger and better food than they eat at home while their head coach gets to pocket some of that money?

That’s exploitation.

And it’s bad for the game of college basketball.

The question is whether or not it is fixable, and I just don’t know if it is.

Should Division I cut the bottom 16-20 conferences? Does it make sense for Abilene Christian to be competing at the same level as Duke? But if the NCAA does eliminate those leagues and create a Division I-AA, would it ruin the charm of the NCAA tournament?

What if the power conferences instead opted to expand their conference schedules to, say, 24 or 26 games? That would certainly increase the number of relevant games early in the season, and in the leagues with more than 12 teams — which is every high major conference not named the Big 12 or the Big East — it would create more balanced schedules, but then you run into the issue of playing home conference games during December, when these schools are in the middle of finals and the students are not on campus. What is conference play in college basketball without a rowdy student section?

There is no easy answer.

But that doesn’t mean that the way the current system is set up makes sense.

No. 5 Villanova beats Tennessee 85-76 in Battle 4 Atlantis

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 16: Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats drives against Elijah Long #55 of the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers in the first half during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KeyBank Center on March 16, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Jalen Brunson scored 25 points to help fifth-ranked Villanova rally from 15 down and beat Tennessee 85-76 in Thursday’s semifinals at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Wildcats (5-0) trailed 44-29 with 1:39 left before roaring out of a break with a dominating run. Villanova scored the first 11 points as part of that 23-2 burst, with the Wildcats playing far more aggressively and getting out in transition.

Mikal Bridges added 21 points for Villanova, which shot 52 percent after halftime and built a 15-point lead with 4:40 left before having to hold off a late rally by the Volunteers.

Grant Williams scored 20 points for Tennessee (3-1), which clawed to within 79-76 on Admiral Schofield’s 3-pointer with 51.6 seconds left. But that was as close as the Volunteers got, with Villanova hitting four free throws and getting a breakaway dunk from Donte DiVincenzo with 13.2 seconds left to seal it.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers were coming off an overtime win against No. 18 Purdue in the first round and they were poised to add an even bigger upset. But that flat second-half start wiped out a strong half’s worth of work and squandered the momentum that came through their board work and converting turnovers.

Villanova: That’s two straight days the Wildcats put together a second-half spurt to take control in the Bahamas. They did it in Round 1 against Western Kentucky to finally break the game open, but this one — full of active hands, deflected passes and guys diving on the floor — brought them back in a game that was once getting away from them.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers will play the North Carolina State-Northern Iowa loser in Friday’s third-place game.

Villanova: The Wildcats will play the N.C. State-Northern Iowa winner in Friday’s championship game.

VIDEO: Mike Brey celebrates Maui win shirtless

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Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey celebrated his team’s win in the Maui Invitational by going shirtless in the team locker room:

This came after Brey spent the entire tournament coaching in shorts and a t-shirt:

Mike Brey (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

I think it’s safe to say Brey enjoyed himself on the islands.

No. 13 Notre Dame lands come-from-behind win to beat No. 6 Wichita State in Maui

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Notre Dame led twice during Wednesday night’s Maui Invitational title game.

At 4-2, and, after Martinas Geben hit the second of two free throws with 2.3 seconds left, at 67-66.

That score would end up being the final, as the 13th-ranked Irish erased a 14-point second half deficit to knock off No. 6 Wichita State and bring home that Maui trophy.

Bonzie Colson led the way with 25 points and 11 boards while Matt Farrell chipped in with 15 points, four assists, four boards and three steals. Geben chipped in with 12 points, including those two free throws that served as the eventual game-winners.

Beyond the simple fact that they did it against one of the best teams in the country, what makes this comeback so impressive is that the Irish didn’t rely on a flurry of threes to change the course of the game. This comeback came through grit, toughness defensively and, if we’re being honest, a little bit of luck.

With less than 20 seconds left on the clock and the Irish down by three points, Colson airballed a pretty good look at a three from the top of the key. On the ensuing inbounds, Farrell stole the ball and happened to find Colson under the rim for a layup. The lead was cut to one, and Wichita State proceeded to miss the front end of a one-and-one after being fouled.

The ball once again ended up underneath Notre Dame’s basket, but this time it was the Irish ball, and after a gorgeous inbounds play, Geben headed to the line for two shots. The first shots somehow managed to go down after bouncing off the back of the rim, the backboard and the front of the rim twice.

And with that, Notre Dame would get off of the islands with another quality win for their résumé and a title to their name.

No. 8 Kentucky finally has it easy against Fort Wayne, 86-67

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Nick Richards had career highs of 25 points and 15 rebounds, and 70 percent first-half shooting propelled No. 8 Kentucky to an 86-67 rout of Fort Wayne on Wednesday night.

Kentucky’s 19-of-27 shooting before halftime countered the Mastodons’ eight 3-pointers that kept them close for a while. Once Fort Wayne started missing, it couldn’t match the length or speed of the young Wildcats (5-1), who eventually led 78-48 with 6:50 remaining on the way to their most decisive win this season.

Richards thrived in both halves and on both ends, making 9 of 10 from the field and all seven free throws for his first career double-double. The 6-foot-11 freshman’s previous highs were 10 points against Utah Valley and nine rebounds against Kansas last week.

Quade Green, Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander each added 11 points as Kentucky shot a season-best 33 of 55 (60 percent) and dominated the rebounding 44-21.

Junior guard John Konchar had 19 points and Bryson Scott 18 for Fort Wayne (3-2), who had won three in a row before losing on 40 percent shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Fort Wayne: A year after upsetting Indiana, the Mastodons led Kentucky 37-36 with 3:51 left in the first half behind 8-of-22 shooting from long range. They went cold from outside and elsewhere after that and the Wildcats pounced to lead at the break and stretch the advantage to 30 points in the second half. The Mastodons’ 12 3-pointers were their third-highest total this season.

Kentucky: Something had to give after all those tense performances and the Wildcats thrived because of their size and best shooting effort this season. Richards couldn’t be stopped on either end, and teammates seemed in sync for the first time. Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel came up just short of a double-double with 10 rebounds and nine points.

UP NEXT

Kentucky hosts Illinois-Chicago on Sunday to wrap up the Rupp Classic before getting a few days off.

Fort Wayne visits East Tennessee State on Saturday. ETSU lost 78-31 to Kentucky last Friday.

VIDEO: Providence beats Belmont on Kyron Cartwright’s buzzer-beating three

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We got the first wild buzzer-beater of the college basketball season on Wednesday night, as Kyron Cartwright answered a Belmont bucket with 3.7 seconds left by going 94-feet to hit a leaning three at the buzzer:

Providence won the game 65-63.

Cartwright finished with 17 points in the win.