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

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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.

     RELATED: Looking Forward Big 12 | ACC | A-10 | Big East | Big Ten

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.”

Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim comment on death of Kobe Bryant and daughter, Gianna

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Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski was the head coach of the USA Men’s National team for nearly a decade, and in that time, he won two gold medals with Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, and his daughter Gianna, died on Sunday morning after a helicopter that they were flying in crashed in Calabasas, Cali.

“We have tragically lost one of the greatest sports figures of our time with the passing of Kobe Bryant,” Coach K said. “He was an incredibly gifted person who was universally respected. He was in constant pursuit of doing something special and there will never be a greater warrior in our sport.

“I had the amazing honor of coaching Kobe in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, and I will always remember how much he cherished representing his country in a first-class manner playing the game he so loved. The game of basketball is better today because of Kobe, and he deserves eternal appreciation for that. This is a devastating loss, made even more tragic by the passing of his daughter, Gianna, and all others on board. The entire Krzyzewski family is saddened as we genuinely loved and admired Kobe. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Vanessa, their daughters Natalia, Bianka, and Capri, and the families of those involved.”

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim was an assistant on the 2008 Gold Medal winning team, dubbed the Reedem Team. That squad restored the image of USA Basketball after winning bronze medals in the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Championships.

“I first saw him in person when he came to the qualifier in ’07 before the Olympic year,” Boeheim told Syracuse.com. “He came in the first day and worked twice as hard as everybody else. He taught all the young players, LeBron and Carmelo and all those guys: ‘This is what you gotta do. You gotta go after this.’

“We lost in the World Championship the year before. And he just showed everybody — this is what you do. And we overpowered everybody in that tournament, then we went to the Olympics and overpowered everybody. When it was a close game against Spain in the finals, he took the ball, made the play to win the game.

“That’s who he was. He set a high standard. He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen. Jordan, I didn’t coach, but Jordan was the same. Of all the guys that I’ve ever coached and ever seen, he worked harder than everybody.”

Tom Izzo broke the news of Kobe Bryant’s death to Cassius Winston on live TV

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While the shock and immediacy of Kobe Bryant’s death spread through my network of friends and social media follows like wildfire on Sunday afternoon, one thing I kept thinking about was how many people involved with the game of basketball were actually playing while this was happening.

Take Michigan State and Minnesota, for example. The news of Bryant’s death broke around 2:30 p.m. ET. This game tipped off at 3 p.m. ET. Cassius Winston, Michigan State’s resident all-american, found out about Kobe’s death live on TV after the game came to an end:

 

Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu breaks down during moment of silence honoring Kobe Bryant

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Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu was moved to tears during a pregame moment of silence in honor of Kobe Bryant prior to a rivalry game against Oregon State on Sunday:

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna died Sunday morning in a place crash that also resulted in the death of one of Gianna’s teammates and a parent.

Ionescu is the best women’s player in the country, recently surpassing Gary Payton for the Pac-12 career assist record, and she has developed a friendship with Kobe Bryant over the years. Gianna, a budding basketball star in her own right, was a huge fan of Sabrina Ionescu’s game, and Kobe Bryant had brought her and her teammates to a number of Oregon games in recent years.

These are the details of the crash, according to our Kurt Helin:

The crash took place in Calabasas, an area about 30 miles northeast of the Staples Center, where Kobe starred as a player for more than a decade. It is not far from the Mamba Academy athletic training center where Kobe was both an owner and an active participant. It was a foggy day in Southern California, which could have contributed to the crash.

The crash killed five people, of which Kobe was one.

Kobe was 41. He and his wife Vanessa have four daughters. Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was aboard the helicopter with Kobe (they were on their way to one of her basketball games, along with a fellow teammate of Gianna’s and her parent).

 

Saturday’s Things To Know: Kentucky survives, Ayo Dosunmu’s on a tear, Roy and Huggs reach milestones

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It was actually a relatively slow day for a Saturday in late-January in college hoops, but there is still plenty to discuss. Here are the ten things that you need to know:

1. No. 15 KENTUCKY KNOCKED OFF No. 18 TEXAS TECH

Nick Richards went for 25 points, 14 boards and four blocks and Immanuel Quickley chipped in with 21 points of his own as Kentucky went into Lubbock and knocked off the Red Raiders in overtime. A full breakdown of that game can be found here.

2. TEXAS TECH IS IN REAL BUBBLE TROUBLE

I’m not sure people realize just how little their is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

3. AYO DOSUNMU CONTINUED HIS TEAR

In case you haven’t noticed, No. 21 Illinois is the hottest team in the Big Ten, sitting all alone in first-place in the conference standings and Ayo Dosunmu — who scored 27 points and hit the game-winner at Michigan today — has been the best player in the Big Ten this month. More on the Illini and their star here.

4. ROY WILLIAMS PASSED DEAN SMITH ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

It’s ironic when you think about it: North Carolina was in the midst of their first five-game losing streak since 2003, and it just so happened to come after Williams had tied Smith on the all-time wins list. He finally broke the streak on Saturday, blowing out Miami, 94-71, to win his 880th game as a head coach. It is, quite literally, the first win for the Tar Heels in 2020.

5. BOB HUGGINS PASSED ADOLPH RUPP ON THE ALL-TIME WINS LIST

No. 14 West Virginia blew out Missouri in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge to give Huggy Bear is 876th career win, good for seventh on the all-time list, one better than Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky head coach.

6. No. 1 BAYLOR UPSET UNRANKED FLORIDA

This might sound ridiculous, but if you subscribe to the theory that any underdog that wins a game is an upset happening, then No. 1 Baylor going into the O-Dome and knocking off Florida is, technically, an upset. The Gators entered the game as 2.5 point favorites, jumped out to a big league and then proceeded to watch as the nation’s best team proved that they are, in fact, the nation’s best team.

We have spent the majority of this season explaining away the reasons why there isn’t an elite team in college basketball, but I’m beginning to think that there’s a chance Baylor could be that team. They’re never going to be the darlings of the metrics and they don’t have much NBA talent, but they are so balanced, so effective in crunch time and elite on the defensive end of the floor.

7. MEMPHIS BLEW AN 11-POINT LEAD IN THE FINAL SIX MINUTES

This one was hard to do.

The Tigers were up 70-59 with less than six minutes remaining in the game and then never scored again. They would give up a 15-0 run in that stretch and go on to lose, 74-70, at home to an SMU team that is not very good. Penny Hardaway’s team has found themselves in a bad, bad spot this season.

8. ARIZONA BLEW A 22-POINT LEAD

The No. 22 Wildcats led Arizona State in Tempe by 22 points in the first half. With 1:40 left before the break, they were ahead 43-24. At halftime, they were up 43-30. With 16:30 left on the clock, the Sun Devils had cut that lead to 43-40, and after Alonzo Verge scored with 10 seconds remaining, the Sun Devils had a 66-65 lead and went on to win by that score.

The importance of this win for Bobby Hurley’s club cannot be overstated.

9. SAN FRANCISCO WORKED THEIR FOULING MAGIC AGAIN

Last weekend, San Francisco fouled a ball-handler at the end of the first half in order to get the ball back. It was a sneaky bit of math that gave the Dons an extra two points on their lead heading into the break.

On Saturday against BYU, Todd Golden drew up something similar. With 22 seconds left in the game and the Dons clinging to a 79-77 lead, he had his team intentionally foul Yoeli Childs, BYU’s star center who just so happens to be a 60 percent free throw shooter and coming off of a broken finger. The reasoning was simple: Since BYU was in the one-and-one, Childs shooting free throws meant that A) BYU’s xPPP for that possessions was 0.96, lower than the average possession for a team that had scored 77 points in 39 minutes and shot 15-for-27 from three on the night. If he made both, USF had a chance to win on the final possession. If he missed one, BYU’s best rebounder was shooting the free throws. Turns out, he missed the first, and USF hung on to win, 83-82.

10. SAMUELL WILLIAMSON MAY HAVE HAD HIS BREAKOUT GAME

Last weekend, it was freshman David Johnson that had his breakout game for No. 6 Louisville. He went for 19 points and seven boards as the Cardinals went into Cameron and beat Duke. This weekend, it was fellow freshman Williamson, who scored 14 points for the Cards as they blew out Clemson in the Yum! Center. Is this the start of his star turn?

No. 1 Baylor smothers Florida 72-61, 16th straight win

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — MaCio Teague and Devonte Bandoo scored 16 points apiece and No. 1 Baylor extended its winning steak to 16 with a 72-61 victory over Florida in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday night.

The Bears improved to 6-1 in the annual inter-conference series – the best record of any team in either conference – and themselves another week atop The Associated Press poll.

Baylor also gave the Big 12 an even split (5-5) in the daylong series.

The Bears (17-1) overcame an eight-point deficit early and led by 19 points in the second half before Florida mounted a minor rally. The Gators (12-7) had a chance to make it a single-digit game with a little more than 7 minutes to play, but they missed the front end of three consecutive one-and-ones. Kerry Blackshear Jr. misfired twice on back-to-back possessions and then Noah Locke did the same seconds later.

What could have been an eight-point game was still a comfortable lead for the Bears.

Florida eventually managed to whittle Baylor’s lead to 10 on Andrew Nembhard’s driving layup with 2:40 remaining. But the Bears answered on the other end thanks to their 13th offensive rebound, which led to two free throws for Bandoo.

Davion Mitchell finished with 11 points and six assists for Baylor, which was a slight underdog entering the game. Jared Butler chipped in 10 points.

Baylor’s length, athleticism and defensive prowess posed problems all night for Florida, which shot 44% from the field and 23.5% from 3-point range.

The Gators fell to 2-17 against the No. 1 team, including 10 consecutive losses.

Keyontae Johnson led Florida with 20 points. Nembhard added 16 points and eight assists, but he missed more shots (8) than he made (6), including all four 3-pointers. The Gators missed 13 of 17 from behind the arc.

Baylor took control of the game with a 13-2 run to close the first half, turning a tie game into a double-digit lead. The Bears hit six 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes – twice as many as Florida – and had seven offensive rebounds.

They got help from an unlikely source. Bandoo, who averages 7.5 points off the benched, scored 11 in the opening half on 4 of 6 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears matched their best 18-game start in school history. They also started 17-1 in 2011-12 and 2016-17. They landed No. 3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament after those regular seasons and were eliminated both times by SEC teams (Kentucky in ’12, South Carolina in `17).

Florida: The Gators appeared to be taking strides while beating then-No. 4 Auburn last Saturday and nearly stunning LSU on the road earlier this week. But the team’s offensive woes returned against Baylor – no surprise given the Bears are one of the best defenses in the nation.

STILL HOBBLING

Florida forward Dontay Bassett missed his second consecutive game with a calf injury. Bassett averages 1.3 points and 2.1 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Baylor: Returns to Big 12 action and plays at Iowa State on Wednesday night. The Bears have won three of the last four in the series, but lost to the Cyclones in the conference tournament last March.

Florida: Returns to SEC play and hosts Mississippi State on Tuesday night. The Gators lost to the Bulldogs last year to end an eight-game winning streak in the series.