Villanova biggest disappointment in disappointing Big East

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The Big East has been one of the most disappointing conferences in the country this season.

UConn lost to Central Florida over the weekend after spending their first five games of the year struggling to put away their season-opening cupcakes. With Alex Oriakhi struggling and neither Shabazz Napier or Jeremy Lamb ready to play the role of the star for the Huskies, it was only a matter of time until UConn blew a lead and lost a game. The same can be said for Pitt, who lost to Long Beach State and followed that up with an underwhelming performance against La Salle. The Panthers have always been a good-but-not-great defensive team. This year, they are currently sitting at 156th in the country in defensive efficiency.

That’s not it, either.

West Virginia dropped a game to Kent State. Cincinnati’s dropped two, to Presbyterian and Marshall. Notre Dame was blown out by Missouri, lost to Georgia and then lost Tim Abromaitis for the season with a torn acl. St. John’s basically did away with their impressive start by losing two close games to Arizona and Texas A&M before losing by 14 to Northeastern over the weekend. Louisville has remained undefeated, but they have done so while battling injuries to what feels like 75% of their roster.

I’d go as far as to say that Georgetown, who lost to Kansas in the Maui Invitational and needed overtime to beat Memphis, has been the most impressive team in the conference. And they haven’t even been impressive enough to warrant a place in the top 25.

Perhaps the most disappointing team in the Big East this year has been Villanova.

The Wildcats were one of the favorites to win the 76 Classic out in Anaheim this weekend, but left the west coast with a 1-2 record and a pair of ugly losses. After building up a 26-16 lead just 10 minutes into their semifinal game against St. Louis, Villanova completely collapsed. They allowed the Billikens to shoot 14-27 from beyond the arc and eventually ended up losing the game 80-68.

The loss to Santa Clara was even more puzzling. Villanova was up nine with three minutes left and up seven with just over a minute left, but they managed to give the game away down the stretch. They twice missed the front-end of a one-and-one, and after a controversial foul with under 10 seconds left — the Villanova bench was told that they had a foul to give with 10 seconds left when, in fact, they were already in the bonus — Villanova’s JayVaughn Pinkston committed fouled a Santa Clara player 75 feet from the basket trying to chase down a missed FT. The Broncs hit both free throws and took a 65-64 lead with 3.5 seconds left. Villanova could only muster a half-court prayer that bounced harmlessly off the backboard.

What’s the issue for the Wildcats?

Well, for starters, their defense just simply isn’t there. What made Villanova so special during their run to the Final Four was that they were able to completely lock down their opponents with their switching man-to-man defense. Their roster make up this season is quite similar to that of the 2008-2009 team. But the results — Villanova currently sits at 101st in defensive efficiency — haven’t been there yet this season.

The Wildcats have also looked terrible offensively. Their offense is stagnant. Maalik Wayns is having a good year as a penetrator and a creator, but he needs help. After a terrific start to the season, Dominic Cheek went just 4-21 from the floor and scored only 17 points in the three games out in Anaheim. As good as Mouphtaou Yarou was against Santa Clara, he was that bad against St. Louis. Even Wayns has a couple of issues he needs to work out, particularly protecting the ball on the offensive end of the floor and extending his range beyond the three point line.

The good news is that this group is young. Wayns, Yarou and Cheek are all juniors playing their first minutes in a starring role. The supporting cast is made up almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores.

This group has a lot to learn, yes.

But there is still plenty of time for them to figure it out.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.