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College coaches willing to take risks on players despite growing sexual assault scandals

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“Why did you let two prospects who were accused of that come onto your campus?”

That is the question posed by Gary Parrish of CBS Sports on a podcast last week, after news broke that Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo had allowed at least four players and a student assistant to remain with his program while and after they were accused of and investigated for violence against women.

“You couldn’t do it now,” Parrish continued. “If there were two recruits in the country who were accused of what Adreian Payne and Keith Appling were accused of, you could not enroll them at a University.”

And that is a beautiful sentiment, one I wish was true.

But it’s not reality.

On the same day that the ESPN published a report detailing what appears to be a system in place to cover-up sexual assaults by athletes in the Michigan State athletic department, LSU accepted a commitment from a five-star prospect that was accused of rape just over three months ago. If that player does end up enrolling at LSU, he will be the second player on that roster with a highly-publicized sexual assault allegation in his recent past.

Emmitt Williams is a five-star prospect from Florida that was, at one time or another, being recruited by the likes of Kansas, Duke and Oregon. NBC Sports broke the news that he was arrested on Oct. 18th on accusations of sexual battery and false imprisonment which stemmed from an incident that happened a week earlier. His accuser told police that Williams was at her house but that he would not let her leave, even when she tried to go pick up her friend. Williams began touching her, she said, despite the fact that she told Williams she was not interested in sex. Williams ignored that, pulled down her pants and raped her while her attempts to stop him were unsuccessful, she said.

In the arrest report it states that a friend of the victim, in the presence of police officers, had a text conversation with Williams where he acknowledged being told “no”.

Charges were filed.

They were dropped on Dec. 21st.

Williams committed to LSU on Jan. 25th.

Emmitt Williams, Orange County Incarcerations

If he eventually enrolls at LSU, he’ll team up with Kavell Bigby-Williams, a former Oregon player who played the entirety of the 2016-17 season while under investigation for forcible rape. In mid-September of 2016, Bigby-Williams, who transferred to Oregon from Gillette College in Wyoming, returned to his previous school to visit for a week. On the night of Sept. 17th, according to the police report, the victim drank whiskey and vodka and blacked from from 10 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. the next day. Her roommates, who were in the suite the night of the incident, told police that she was throwing up in a trashcan at midnight and passed out in her bed afterwards. She woke up the next morning, naked with a large bruise on her neck and soreness and bleeding in her vagina. There were dark stains on her bedsheets.

The roommates told police that Bigby-Williams admitted to having sex with the victim but that he insisted it was consensual. He had already returned to Oregon by the time police in Wyoming contacted him, and a Sports Illustrated investigation determined that Oregon failed to follow its Title IX policies during the investigation. The University, just two years earlier, was at the epicenter of a scandal that should have cost head coach Dana Altman his job, when three players were accused of a gang rape — including one player that has been under investigation for sexual assault while at Providence.

Bigby-Williams helped Oregon get to the Final Four. He was never interviewed by police in Wyoming or Oregon. He was never charged with a crime. He announced his commitment to LSU in June of this year. LSU did not make his enrollment official until August.

“The university conducted a responsible and comprehensive review before approving the transfer,” a release posted on LSU’s Athletics site read at the time, “including close coordination with Title IX officials, multiple discussions with Gillette and Oregon officials and a thorough examination of available public records.”

All of this is and was public.

If LSU head coach Will Wade or his coaching staff are surprised by any of this, they should be fired for an inability to do their job.

It’s a risk they are taking, bringing players like Williams and Bigby-Williams to their campus, and one that I’m not sure is wrong to take.

Kavell Bigby-Williams (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

In the eyes of the law, neither of these men committed a crime. This is still America and we are all still considered innocent until proven guilty. Sexual assaults are unbelievably difficult to prosecute because they all end up being ‘he said, she said’ cases. Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that one person is telling the truth while the other is lying is not easy. When charges are not brought in a sexual assault case, it usually means that the charges are not provable, not that prosecutors believe the person being accused is innocent.

While they are exceedingly rare, there are cases where false allegations do occur. The settlement that Dez Wells received from Xavier for their reaction to a false allegation made against him was roughly the same as what Oregon paid out to the woman that was allegedly raped by the three players in 2014.

Should a player never again allowed to be a part of a team because of an accusation that was never proven in court?

I don’t believe so.

But there has to be responsibility for those that consent to bringing a player like Williams or Bigby-Williams — or Reggie Lynch, or Brandon Austin — to campus. It’s why I believe that Altman should have been fired back in 2014. It’s why I believe that Richard Pitino should lose his job over the way that Minnesota has handled Lynch. And it’s why I believe that Wade and his coaching staff should be fired if either Williams or Bigby-Williams has anything even close to an accusation of violence against women or sexual assault while on the LSU campus.

If there are no serious repercussions for taking a risk that the kid you are bringing onto a college campus, where sexual violence is an epidemic, might actually be a serial sexual predator, then nothing is ever going to change.

College coaches that NBC Sports spoke with agreed for the most part. They were granted anonymity in exchange for honesty.

“We’ve missed out on some all-league guys because of background checks from guys in high school or transfer,” said one head coach that has reached the NCAA tournament. “We do a lot of background work.”

That coach also added that he’s stepped up the amount of effort he puts into educating his players about sexual violence on campus. His school has two seminars a year trying to educate students about the epidemic, and he has made his players read the police report from the alleged gang rape at Oregon, out loud in the locker room in front of the team.

One coach from a top 25 program that initially tried to get involved in the Williams recruitment said they would not even have been able to recruit the player once the arrest went public.

“If you were arrested for rape, I don’t trust your judgement,” said a high-major assistant coach. “I don’t want anyone associated with the word rape around my program.”

Which leads me back to Izzo.

The crux of the problems the Hall of Famer is currently facing isn’t necessarily with Payne and Appling. They were accused of sexual assault by a Michigan State student during one of their first weekends on campus as freshmen. In an interview with police, Payne said that his victim had indicated she wanted to leave, and that he could “understand how she would feel that she was not free to leave.” Neither Payne nor Appling appear to have been punished at all by the basketball program, athletic department or the University.

Keith Appling and Adreian Payne (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

There are questions that Izzo needs to answer about that situation. Why there was never any punishment? Why were they immediately allowed back into the program? Why didn’t the University start a Title IX investigation into the allegation until, according to Outside The Lines, a representative of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights alerted them that not doing so broke federal law?

To be crystal clear, the way that was handled — by Izzo, by Mark Hollis, by the athletic department, by the school — was wrong.

But that is also old news that was a major story locally at the time that it happened. It did not draw anywhere near the national media attention it’s generating now. This happened before the scandals that plagued Baylor and Oregon and Penn State, before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. The very reason that those two things exist, that so many men in power are having to pay for their actions, is because it has become abundantly clear that we, as a society, did not take sexual harassment and sexual assault seriously enough for far too long. No one is denying that, but it’s fair to question whether or not we can hold Izzo to a 2018 standard for an incident that occurred in 2010.

Where Izzo may be in real trouble is in the way that Travis Walton was handled.

Walton played for the Spartans until 2009. He was a three-time captain. He spent the 2009-10 season as a student assistant with the program as he finished his degree. He told The Lima News, in a story published two days before this news broke, that he lived in Izzo’s basement that year.

In February of 2010, Walton was accused by a woman of punching her twice in the face at a bar, knocking her unconscious and giving her a concussion. A judge ruled that Walton was “OK to travel with the MSU basketball team,” according to Outside the Lines, and he was with the team when they reached the Final Four that season.

Student assistant coach Travis Walton looks on during practice prior to the 2010 Final Four (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

That charge eventually was reduced to a civil infraction for littering, which Walton plead guilty to, but his name came up in another accusation. Walton and two players on that 2009-10 team were named in a sexual assault report given to the Michigan State athletic department and obtained by Outside The Lines. That incident occurred in April of 2010. “None of the players were reprimanded in anyway,” according to the report, although it does allege that Walton was fired. Walton told Outside The Lines that he left Michigan State after the season to pursue a pro career in Europe.

And this is Izzo’s biggest problem.

He believed in a member of his program that he had known for at least seven years. He trusted a former player, student assistant coach, a three-time captain of his program when he said that the allegation against him was a lie. That is understandable; you never want to believe the worst about a person, especially a person you care about. Hearing a judge allow that person to travel out of state while there is an investigation into those charges confirms what you already want to believe.

But Izzo also must understand that allowing someone that has been accused of that kind of violence around your program and on your campus means that you are, in part, culpable if they strike again. Walton is alleged to have struck again, possibly more than once.

You cannot control what the people you trust do in their free time.

What you can control, however, is who you trust.

Tom Izzo is finding out the hard way that he shouldn’t have trusted everyone. Just like Dana Altman should have, just like Richard Pitino has and just like Will Wade will if the players he recruited make headlines again.

Tumble continues for Oklahoma as No. 8 Kansas cruises to win

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Oklahoma desperately needed a win. Not even necessarily in the classic sense of the term of outscoring your opponent. The Sooners just needed something, anything, positive to build on in a season that’s suddenly crumbling around them.

Unfortunately for Lon Kruger and his team, Allen Fieldhouse is not the place to go when you’re in need of a pick-me-up. It’s a place more suited for realizing your worst nightmares.

Eighth-ranked Kansas eviscerated the Sooners in a 104-74 beatdown that not only exposed Oklahoma’s problems but exacerbated them to the point where the NCAA tournament no longer looks to be assured.

Oh, and it set up a potential Big 12 title game in Lubbock later this week with a 13-year streak on the line, but more on that later.

The headline here is that Oklahoma and the man who set college basketball ablaze, Trae Young, look broken. And maybe beyond repair.

Oklahoma has now lost six in a row, tumbling from burgeoning Final Four contender to potential First Four hopeful. Things are spinning out of control fast.

The person who will draw the bulk of the blame, fair or not, is Young. The freshman from Norman North looked like the college basketball’s answer to Steph Curry while carrying his hometown university to a 12-1 start to the year, leading the country in scoring, assists and jaw-dropping plays and performances. The substance of his game matched the style, which was no small feat for a guy who routinely would splash shots from 35 feet out.

He’s been a bit of a disaster during this six-game slide, however. Young is just 11 of 56 (19.6 percent) from 3-point range and 27 of 57 (47.3 percent) from inside the arc during the losing streak. He’s also turned it over 25 times. He’s still distributing at a high-rate, but that’s not enough to offset his shooting numbers. His teammates don’t score it well enough to pick up the slack. They also can’t create for Young. He’s got to do all of it himself – get looks and dole them out.

Young and Oklahoma’s issue runs deeper than just the makes and misses of their offense, though. The Sooners’ defense has become a massive liability. Kansas took a sledgehammer to it and blasted it to smithereens in front of 16,300 witnesses in Allen Fieldhouse and millions more in their living rooms.

The Jayhawks shot 60.9 percent for the game. They made 16 of 29 of their 3-point attempts. That’s 55.2 percent from deep. Nineteen of their buckets came from layups or dunks and averaged 1.444 points per possession.

It was as if the Sooners weren’t there at all, which actually might have been of some consolation to Kruger because that would at least mean no one could see their baffling lack of effort, cohesiveness and pride on the defensive end. It was really a sight to behold for the rest of us, though.

Young is as big of culprit here as anyone. Yes, he carries an incredible offensive burden with a 39.6 usage rate. No one is expecting him to be Jevon Carter, but he has to offer some resistance some of the time. Against the Jayhawks, he died on screens again and again or simply didn’t even put up a fight too often when guarding the ball.

He’s not alone, however, as the Sooners looked disconnected as a unit. They were simply incapable of even slowing Kansas. The Jayhawks got hot, sure, but Oklahoma can’t write this off as just catching a team on a night they couldn’t miss. The Sooners had as much to do with it as anything.

That’s the area that’s got to get fixed. Young may not be able to put up the absurd numbers he did for long stretches earlier this season, but his talent is so immense that it would be foolish to expect this slump to stay this bad for too much longer. Without a superhuman Young, however, they’ve got to get some stops. Without them, Young may join the ignominious list of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz as pheoms who failed to make the NCAA tournament.

Now, back to that Big 12 title game in West Texas.

Assuming Texas Tech can get in and out of Stillwater with a win over Oklahoma State – potentially without Keenan Evans – the Red Raiders and Jayhawks will be tied atop the Big 12 with matching 11-4 league records with Kansas making the trip to Lubbock.

The Jayhawks, you may have heard, have won 13 consecutive Big 12 regular season championships. It very well could be decided Saturday if there will be a 14th.

After a two-game hiccup of losses at Texas and Iowa State, Chris Beard’s team won seven-straight before falling to a resurgent Baylor on Saturday. They’re undefeated at home and possess one of the country’s best defenses. They’ve been the biggest threat to Kansas’ streak since they knocked off the Jayhawks in Lawrence in January.

The Jayhawks will go into the game with their best offensive performance of the season. Devonte Graham finally looked like he may be the Big 12’s best player – he certainly bested Young – and Svi Mykhailiuk, LeGerald VIck and Malik Newman looked like the more-than-capable secondary options this Jayhawks team desperately needs. Silvio De Sousa even looked serviceable for the first time, putting up 10 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes. Which is also to say nothing of Udoka Azubuike being one of the Big 12’s toughest matchups.

Kansas is a flawed team, but once again the Jayhawks have put themselves in enviable position and appear to be rounding into tip-top form toward the end of February. It’s their conference, and they’ll have the chance this weekend to keep it that way.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma is just trying to stay out of playing Wednesday in the Big 12 tournament. The Sooners sure could use a win. Of any kind.

Bubble Banter: Oklahoma in danger of missing tournament?

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

MIAMI (RPI: 33, KenPom: 43, NBC seed: 8): Miami added a fourth Quadrant 1 win on Monday night by going into South Bend and picking off Notre Dame. The Hurricanes are in the conversation as a bubble team for a two reasons — they have a Quadrant 3 loss to Georgia Tech, and they had lost three in a row entering Monday night. What’s interesting with Miami’s profile is that they don’t really have any elite wins. They beat Middle Tennessee State on a neutral. They won at Virginia Tech, N.C. State and Notre Dame. That’s it. Those are their four Quadrant 1 wins. Their profile is probably strong enough to get them in, but I do think there is a world where they get a lower seed than you might be expecting.

MARYLAND (RPI: 54, KenPom: 41, NBC seed: Out): The Terps, who won at Northwestern tonight, seem to be in the mix on most of the places that I go to read about the bubble, and frankly, I just don’t get it. They do not have a Quadrant 1 win. They are 0-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents. In a year where the NCAA Selection Committee showed us just how much they value quality wins already, I’m not sure that they can build a profile that is strong enough to get a bid unless they beat Michigan on Saturday and win a couple of games against the top of the Big Ten in the Big Ten tournament. They’re at least three wins away in my mind. Like I said, I just don’t see it, but I figured it was worth mentioning here on a slow night.

LOSERS

OKLAHOMA (RPI: 36, KenPom: 40, NBC seed: 8): Just eight days ago, when the NCAA tournament Selection Committee convened to release an early look at the top 16 seeds for the NCAA tournament, Oklahoma was a No. 4 seed. They were one of the top 16 teams, according to the committee, in an event that will need 36 at-large members to complete it. Going from there to the bubble is a long, long fall, and to be frank, I am not sure that the Sooners are on the bubble yet. Hell, they’re still 16-11 overall even after that embarrassing loss at Kansas. They’re still 6-7 against Quadrant 1 opponents without a hint of a bad loss to their name. They’ve still beaten USC in LA. They still won at Wichita. They beat Texas Tech. They beat TCU. Hell, they beat Kansas.

For comparison’s sake, our current last team in is Syracuse. They are 18-9 overall and 3-5 against Quadrant 1 with losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.

But we can no longer ignore the fact that this team has hit rock bottom. Tonight was their sixth-straight loss. They have lost seven of eight and nine of 11. They’ve lost eight straight on the road. If the tournament was tomorrow, they would be in the field with some room to spare, but the problem is that there is absolutely no reason for us to assume that they are simply going to be able to get the job done against the teams left on their schedule. It is, admittedly, relatively easy by Big 12 standards — Kansas State, at Baylor, Iowa State — but Big 12 standards are absolutely preposterous.

No one would be surprised if Oklahoma lost two of their last three games — hell, I would be fairly shocked if they found a way to win at Baylor at this point — and if they do happen to lose two of their last three, they’ll enter the Big 12 tournament with a 17-14 record and a 7-11 mark in the league while having to play on the first day of the Big 12 tournament in either the 7-10 or 8-9 game.

If that were to be the case, they would probably have to win two Big 12 games to get to the Big Dance.

Put another way, Oklahoma went from being a No. 4 seed in the first bracket projection to needing to win three games in the next three weeks to avoid having to sweat out Selection Sunday.

It’s crazy how far and fast they’ve fallen.

NOTRE DAME (RPI: 68, KenPom: 33, NBC seed: Next four out): The Fighting Irish are in an interesting spot. Their profile is not exactly worthy of an at-large bid. But they’ve also been decimated by injury. Bonzie Colson is still out with a foot injury. So is D.J. Harvey. Matt Farrell and Rex Pflueger have both missed tie with injuries. If Colson can get healthy before the season ends and the Irish can win a couple games at or near full strength, they will have an interesting case to make. I do, however, think that would require winning two of their last three games. One of those three games is at Virginia, so they have their work cut out for them.

Calipari defends Diallo, gives insight into own philosophy

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John Calipari was asked a question about struggling freshman Hamidou Diallo. He ended up giving an answer about his general coaching philosophy.

“Making them be responsible for who they are. In his case, I’m with Hami. He’s trying. He’s working,” Calipari said. “If he’s willing to do that and put in extra work, I’m for him. If you’re playing awful, I may not play you as much, but I’m going to play you and if you’re doing what we’re asking you to do, I’m going to encourage you.

“It would probably be easier when a guy plays poorly to say you’re out and i’m going with these seven I’m just not going to do that.”

Calipari likened the approach to what a well-intentioned parent might say to him about their son who is struggling.

“I would say (a parent) would say, ‘Coach, he’s responsible for himself, but please keep coaching him and let him know you love him and keep being there for him but hold him accountable,’” Calipari said. “‘If he’s not going to listen to you you should not play him. That’s what I think a parent that’s not trying to enable their son (should say).”

On the other hand, Calipari discussed what the opposite of that situation would look like.

“If they’re listening to an enabler, whoever that enabler is, I can’t help you,” he said. “I told you when I walked in the door, this is going to be about the players first and I’m trying to stay that course but they are responsible for themselves.

“If they can’t perform, I’m going to play you but when they’re not performing, you can’t be in there.”

Calipari can oftentimes be full of bluster – it’s an essential part of his Always Be Selling philosophy that’s won the hearts of countless five-star recruits and a national championship. But this looks to be an honest look into the way he views his job and role with his players. Give ultra-talented guys opportunity, but keep them accountable. It’s a simple thought, but one that few execute as well and as consistently as he does.

Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans ‘day-to-day’ with toe injury

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It would appear that sixth-ranked Texas Tech may have avoided its worst-case scenario with star guard Keenan Evans.

The senior is considered day-to-day with a toe injury suffered Saturday in a loss at Baylor, and could play as soon as Wednesday against Oklahoma State, Red Raiders coach Chris Beard said Monday.

“It’s going to come down to just pain tolerance and can he move,” Beard said, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “We all know Keenan is a warrior. He’s going to do everything he possibly can to play. … At the end of the day, just kind of how he reacts to his body.”

Evans is averaging 18.2 points per game for the Red Raiders, and his health is paramount for their attempt to unseat Kansas atop the Big 12. Texas Tech and the Jayhawks are locked in a first-place tie with matching 10-4 league records with four games to play. After the Red Raiders’ trip to Stillwater on Wednesday, they host Kansas on Saturday in a game that very well could decide the fate of the Jayhawks’ 13-year run of conference championships.

While the Big 12 race is certainly front of mind, the fact that Evans is potentially going to be able to play this week is a great sign for Texas Tech. Even if Evans does need to miss a game or two to get his toe fully healthy, the timeline and conditions Beard laid out Monday suggest that he’ll be good to go before the NCAA tournament for a Red Raiders team that certainly is a contender to finish its season in its home state – at the Final Four in San Antonio.

NCAA tourney chair addresses non-conference strength of schedule and quadrant system

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The way the NCAA tournament selection committee picks teams for inclusion into the sport’s crowning event is always under intense scrutiny. It’s a national past time, really.

One of the easiest targets is the RPI, an obviously flawed metric. It was the topic of discussion recently in the Omaha World-Herald, most notably the non-conference strength of schedule component.

That post spurred a lengthy response from Creighton athletic director and selection committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen, who defended the committee’s work with a metric that it acknowledges to be imperfect.

Here’s Rasmussen:

“Non-conference SOS is not a predominant tool in selections.

In fact, each year that I have been on the committee, we have discussed why you have to look beyond the number to evaluate a team’s non-conference strength of schedule, and even with this qualifier, non-conference schedule ranks well behind other factors such as how you did against other tournament caliber teams, did you win the games you were supposed to win, and how did you do away from home since winning away from home is difficult and the tournament games are all games away from home.

“I have argued each year that I have been on the committee that non-conference SOS should be taken off the team sheet, but until we develop a new metric it is staying. However, understand that the committee understands its fallacies (as we also recognize other weaknesses in the current RPI formula) and it is not a prominent factor in decisions.”

Rasmussen also examined the quadrant system being used:

“Many think that the first and second quadrants are silos and that every win in the first quadrant or every win in the second quadrant is treated equally.  I think it is important that while we refer to first and second quadrant wins, we also better communicate that this is only a sorting mechanism and each game in these quadrants is looked at differently. They don’t have the same value.”

So while it’s fair to question NCAA selection committee’s decisions and the way in which they make them, it’s clear there is an extensive amount of well-intentioned thought put into the process.