Big East

Four conferences sign on to basketball officiating alliance

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Four more Division I conferences will join a men’s basketball officiating alliance formed last year by the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and Colonial Athletic Association.

The Big South, the Ivy League, the Northeast and the Patriot League are joining ahead of the 2017-18 season, according to announcements from the leagues Thursday. The alliance launched last summer for conferences to work together on officiating matters and enhance training, development, recruitment, retention and feedback for officials.

John Cahill, the Big East’s supervisor of officials, and Bryan Kersey, the ACC’s coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, will continue to lead the alliance operations.

ACC commissioner John Swofford says the new additions to the alliance “provide an even greater opportunity to build chemistry and quality” across the officiating ranks.

Creighton’s Khyri Thomas posterizes defender

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Creighton rising junior wing Khyri Thomas, like several of his teammates, are taking part in the Omaha Summer League this offseason.

On Thursday night, the 6-foot-3, 205-lb. Thomas eviscerated a defender with a one-handed posterization.

Thomas is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign for the Bluejays. He started all 35 games, averaging 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Aside from the increase in offensive production, Thomas served as one of the top defenders in the Big East. He shared the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award with Villanova’s Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges.

Five Things We Learned This Week: Malik Monk, Justin Jackson and Aaron Holiday

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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1. Malik Monk is the most dangerous scorer in college basketball: We all saw the 47 points that he scored, right?

And if you didn’t see it you’ve at least heard about it by now, correct?

On Saturday, squaring off against No. 7 North Carolina, Monk went 18-for-28 from the floor and 8-for-12 from three en route to a 47-point eruption, which included a pair of threes in the final two minutes to give the Wildcats a 103-100 win. I honestly cannot remember an individual performance as impressive – I’m sure there’s been one – and it’s critical for the Wildcats for two reasons:

  1. That vaunted Kentucky defense doesn’t look so scary all of a sudden. In the two games they’ve played against elite competition, the Wildcats have now given up 197 points in 162 possessions, or 1.216 PPP, which is a pretty bad number. If this group is going to make a deep tournament run, they’re going to be playing in games where they will need to score in the 90s to win, and I think Monk has proven that he’s capable and unafraid of being the guy to carry this team.
  2. Monk is far and away the most effective player this Kentucky team has in half court settings. Coach Cal knows this, which is why he put in set plays to run specifically to ensure that Monk would get the ball in a spot where he can do some damage. They worked. The key to beating this Kentucky team is keeping them out of transition, where they are just too fast to defend. Forcing them to execute in the half court is the better option given some of the issues they have with perimeter shooting and floor-spacing, but if Monk is going to consistently be able to score when plays are run for him, it makes UK that much more effective offensively.
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17: Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels drives to the basket against De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kentucky won 103-100. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Justin Jackson. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

2. UNC’s stars gave us reason to believe in them: We learned just how valuable Joel Berry II was last week, when North Carolina struggled at home with Davidson and Tennessee as Berry nursed an injured ankle back to health. If that didn’t prove it to you, then his 23 points and seven assists on Saturday against Kentucky should have.

Berry was terrific.

He was also the second-best player on North Carolina that day, as junior wing Justin Jackson went for a career-high 34 points and kept the Tar Heels within striking distance while their front court seemingly spent the entire game battling foul trouble. That matters, because it is really the first time against competition like this that Jackson has shown that he’s capable of throwing the Tar Heels on his back and carrying them. He damn near led them to a win, too; his three with two minutes left to give UNC their first lead since the opening seconds will go down as one of the biggest shots he’ll ever make even if it doesn’t matter at this point.

The bottom line is this: I’m not sold on UNC’s front court. I think that the Tar Heels were a bit overrated after the way they started the season. But Jackson and Berry very nearly dragged this team to a come-from-behind win over a really good Kentucky team that had a star player going all NBA Jam. That’s notable even in a loss.

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3. Aaron Holiday is the best sixth-man in the country: There are 351 Division I programs in college basketball. There are, at most, five or six programs where Holiday wouldn’t step in and immediately start in their back court. There probably aren’t 20 teams in America where he wouldn’t be the best player on the roster. And yet, Holiday – the younger brother of NBA guards Jrue and Justin – is content working as UCLA’s sixth-man as a sophomore after starting his freshman season.

In fact, he’s more than content. He’s thriving, averaging 14.4 points, 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals. He’s shooting 53.3 percent from three, which leads the team. He’s playing more than 26 minutes a night. He had a team-high 20 points in UCLA’s win over Ohio State. He had 13 points and four assists in the first half of the win at Kentucky, his play changing the course of the game.

It works because of his versatility. He can replace any of Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton and do what they do. He is a point guard by trade, but he’s also capable of playing off the ball as a shooter and can score when he puts the ball on the floor. He’s also a very good on-ball defender, which isn’t necessarily the case for the rest of UCLA’s perimeter. He’s clearly not this team’s MVP, but the Bruins would not be where they are right now without him.

Not just because of his skill set.

But because he embraced the “demotion” of coming off the bench.

4. Can Notre Dame close out games?: Two Saturdays in a row now we’ve seen the Fighting Irish jump out to big first half leads against two of the best teams in the country, and two Saturdays in a row we’ve seen them give those leads right back. The Irish blew an 11-point first half lead against Villanova two weeks ago, following that up by losing to Purdue after holding a 14 point lead at the break.

Point guard Matt Farrell, who has starred in both of those games, was blunt when he asked what happened.

“I think it’s just toughness,” he said. “This is two times now we’ve had double-digit leads and it’s come down to defensive rebounding and we haven’t done that. That’s just toughness.”

“I feel like we got comfortable at halftime just like we did in the Villanova game. We can’t get comfortable, especially if we’re up by 15, we gotta make that jump, extend the lead. It’s all about toughness and winning close games.”

The Irish watched Josh Hart put together the best performance we saw this season pre-Malik Monk. They then let Caleb Swanigan get loose against them on Saturday. On a team without much proven size and with a star big man that tops out at about 6-foot-6 on a good day, it’s worth wondering whether Notre Dame has the physicality inside to be able to handle games against teams like that.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 17: Matt Farrell #5 of Notre Dame shoots the ball during the game against the Purdue Boiermakers in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 17, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Matt Farrell Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

5. The Big East is as good as it has been since the split: I think that this is the best that we’ve seen the Big East since it split off from the AAC. Villanova, the reigning national champs, are a threat to repeat. Creighton is still undefeated and find themselves ranked in the top 15. The Bluejays have usurped Xavier’s title as Villanova’s biggest threat in the league, although that may change when Myles Davis is allowed to play again. Then there’s Butler, who is the proud owner of the best résumé in the conference, with wins against Indiana, Arizona, Cincinnati, Northwestern and at Utah.

There is a valid argument to make that that top four may actually be better than the top four teams in the ACC.

There also appears to be more depth in the conference than in recent years. Seton Hall is a tough, veteran group that landed a brand-name win last week, handing South Carolina their first loss of the season. Providence is 9-2 on the year with a win over Rhode Island. Georgetown had some struggles early on in the year but just won at Syracuse over the weekend. Marquette probably isn’t looking at a tournament trip this season, but they certainly aren’t going to be pushovers this year. DePaul is DePaul and St. John’s is a tire fire, but overall, there is a lot to like about the league this season.

Big East releases conference slate

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The Big East will open conference play with a quartet of games, headlined by the defending-national champions.

Villanova will host DePaul (6:30 ET), Providence visits Xavier (7 p.m.), Creighton welcomes Seton Hall ( 8 p.m.) and Georgetown goes to Marquette (8:30 p.m.) on Dec. 28, to tip off league play, it was announced Tuesday.

Other highlights include Xavier travelling to Georgetown on New Year’s Eve, Xavier at Villanova on Jan. 10, the five-game Big East marathon on Jan. 16 and Villanova at Xavier on Feb. 11.

The Big East tournament runs March 8-11.

Click here for the full schedule.

Looking Forward: Josh Hart’s Draft decision changes the course of Villanova’s season

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — Villanova’s unlikely run to the 2016 national title captured America’s attention and solidified Jay Wright’s program as a national power. Nobody expected the Wildcats to be champions. In one prominent bracket challenge last March, more people picked Villanova to lose in the first round to a No. 15 seed than win the national championship.

Kris Jenkins’ legendary buzzer-beater helped change the public perception of Villanova. People respect them now, which makes sense considering that Villanova is potentially in position to be the team with the best chance to repeat as national champions since Florida took home back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.

“Potentially” being the key word.

Because they just have to wait on the NBA decision of junior Josh Hart.

If the 6-foot-6, do-it-all guard decides to return to Philadelphia for his senior season, then Villanova returns approximately 70 percent of its scoring and rebounding from last season’s title team. Since Florida went back-to-back, no defending champion in the “one-and-done” era outside of Louisville in 2013 comes even close to those returning totals. Of the eight defending champions since Florida, none have made it past the Sweet 16. Three defending champions missed the tournament completely — North Carolina in 2010, Kentucky in 2013 and UConn in 2015, to say nothing of the fact that Florida went to the NIT in back-to-back years after their back-to-back titles.

And all but two of those eight defending champions were ranked in the preseason top five.

Villanova will likely find itself in the top five of preseason polls for the 2016-17 season, but it will be based on a roster that has already succeeded at the college level. It won’t be half respect and half recruiting hype; Villanova is returning a ton of players who just won on the sport’s biggest stage.

Most defending champions since Florida had to completely re-tool rosters that were filled with future NBA lottery picks and one-and-done freshmen, but Villanova only has to deal with the loss of seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu if Hart decides to come back.

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Hart knows all of the factors involved in his decision, and he’s weighing them all accordingly. But how do you decide between chasing your dreams and chasing history?

“I’d probably say [I’m] 50-50. My dream is to play in the NBA and I definitely want to pursue that but I love Villanova,” Hart said at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. “I love the program. I love the people that we have. I love the school and the support that we have there. Torn between two good situations. Obviously, you want to have this choice, a choice of having two good situations. But it’s a tough one.”

While Nova Nation sits and waits on Hart’s next move, ironically, he’s one of the only students currently left on Villanova’s campus. Like many NBA Draft hopefuls who didn’t hire an agent to go through this process, Hart is staying at school to work out for the draft as he will likely decide his future on the final day, May 25th.

And on that final day, Hart will go over his options with a support system that includes his parents, Jay Wright and Villanova assistant Baker Dunleavy. Until then, most of the other students on Villanova’s campus — including Hart’s teammates — have left for break, so Hart is left to working out on his own and playing XBox in his dorm room. When he’s not getting up shots or working out for a NBA team, Hart is a self-described “homebody”, a national champion who would be recognized all over Philly that opts to keep his competitive juices flowing during the offseason via XBox — Call of Duty: Black Ops III or NBA 2K16 are his go-to games.

“My walls are taking a beating between me hitting it and me throwing my controller around,” Hart said.

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Between working out and games of 2K, Hart hears the lobbying from Villanova fans and deciding what the future may hold. Losing Arcidiacono and Ochefu will undoubtedly hurt the Wildcats next season. But Jalen Brunson, a former McDonald’s All-American point guard, will help mitigate the loss of Arch while the Wildcats also add forward Eric Paschall, a transfer from Fordham, and bring in a talented recruiting class that includes five-star big man Omari Spellman. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth should all be expected to improve from last season, when they were counted on as role players for the most part.

“I think they could be stars at different programs,” Hart said. “The way we play, we don’t look like we have a star.”

And if Hart decides to return to Villanova, the Wildcats will again be a matchup nightmare, as Jenkins is also returning to school after flirting with the NBA Draft.

“We were very young last year. We’re only losing two guys. Granted, they were huge leaders on our team. But it’s the guys that are there. The guys that are coming in are very talented and dedicated to playing Villanova basketball and being all-in to that system,” Hart said. “Obviously if I come back that goal is to repeat, but with or without me, they’re going to make a deep run.”

If he decides to close out his college basketball career with one final season, Hart knows that making a repeat run will be tough. If you bring up that Florida team to Hart, he’s also quick to downplay any sort of comparison. In talking to media at the NBA combine, Hart said he models his game after players like Tony Allen, Danny Green and Courtney Lee — role players who were all picked at least No. 22 or later in the NBA Draft.

Without missing a beat, Hart could name three members of the Florida national championship teams.

“[We’re] not really like them,” Hart said. “I think they had three lottery guys come back with Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah. They had three guys that could go in the top 14 come back. So it’s a little bit different situation. But that would be the goal if I were to come back. The goal would be to repeat so I would look after that team.”

Villanova will have different roster makeup than Florida did for those championship seasons, but they’re also in the best position of any team since that Gator group to make a deep NCAA tournament run after winning a championship.

The Wildcats won’t have a roster littered with future lottery picks and they’ll probably get passed over for younger teams with more future NBA talent when people pick a preseason national champion. But if Hart returns, it would be wise to keep the Wildcats in mind for the 2017 national championship. With Hart back, Villanova isn’t even close to a sure thing, but it’ll be intriguing to see how they bounce back after the national title.

“At the end of the day, there’s no guarantees in anything. There’s no guarantee that I go back next year and we have a great year,” Hart said. “I could go back next year, have a good year and be in the same position that I am now. That’s something I have to think about. There’s no guarantees in this process.”

Foot injury sidelines Villanova freshman DiVincenzo

Associated Press
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Villanova has one of the deeper backcourt rotations in the country, but Friday morning they announced that they’ll be a man short in this area for the next four to six weeks.

6-foot-6 freshman guard Donte DiVincenzo suffered a broken fifth metatarsal in his right foot, and with the school’s timeline he isn’t expected back until mid-January at the earliest. DiVincenzo missed the Wildcats’ home win over La Salle on Sunday as a result of the injury.

The freshman from Delaware is averaging just over nine minutes per game for Villanova, which relies upon the likes of Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges for their majority of the minutes on the perimeter. All five of those guards play at least 19 minutes per game with Hart leading the way at 30.4 mpg, so it’s likely that DiVincenzo’s minutes get spread amongst this quintet moving forward.