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Washington’s one season with Markelle Fultz looks destined to end in obscurity

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The hardest thing to do at a Power 5 school is to lose consistently, to put together an extended run of underwhelming, disappointing seasons without having to find new employment.

Only three of the 65 head coaches employed at Power 5 schools have missed five straight NCAA tournaments at their current job. Two of those three are basketball coaches at football schools, Penn State’s Pat Chambers and Clemson’s Brad Brownell. Chambers has built enough recruiting momentum in Philly that the argument can be made that his program is trending up; at least that’s the pitch that earned him a sixth-year. Brownell made the tournament his first season with the Tigers, and with Jaron Blossomgame back this season and Elijah Thomas coming eligible in December, this group will be the best team he’s had since then.

The third member of that ignominious group isn’t like the others.

Both Chambers and Brownell have coached a single NBA player at their current gig – Tim Frazier and K.J. McDaniels, respectively – and neither of them were first round picks.

Washington’s Lorenzo Romar has had five first round picks in the last five years.

None of them have played in the NCAA tournament, and without a win over No. 8 Gonzaga on Wednesday night, there’s a very real chance that Markelle Fultz, the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, will find himself watching the NCAA tournament on television as well.


As of today, Washington is 4-3 this season. They lost to Yale at home in their season-opener. They lost a pair of games to TCU – one on a neutral court, one on the road – and while the Horned Frogs are currently undefeated this season, they haven’t really landed a win that would let us know just how good they actually are.

After Wednesday, the Huskies won’t get another chance against a real team until Pac-12 play, and that could end up being a real problem.

A loss tonight puts them at 4-4 on the season and ensures that they will not have a quality non-conference win on their résumé, which wouldn’t be a huge issue if we could ensure that neither Yale nor TCU would eventually show up as a bad loss. But the other side of it is that the Pac-12 isn’t quite as loaded as we expected it to be. Oregon has fizzled out of the gate, failing to impress during non-conference play, while Arizona’s one relevant win – Michigan State – looks like it is anything but a marquee victory. UCLA is carrying the torch for the league.

Put another way, we’re looking at a situation where, for the second straight season, the best NBA prospect in college basketball will end up missing the NCAA tournament. Last year, the Ben Simmons-to-LSU experiment started slowly and ended as a train wreck, with the team opting not to accept a bid to the NIT.

How did this go so wrong?

RELATEDHow ‘keeping it in the family’ led Michael Porter Jr. to Washington

TUCSON, AZ - JANUARY 14: Head coach Lorenzo Romar of the Washington Huskies gestures during the first half of the college basketball game at McKale Center on January 14, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona. The Arizona Wildcats beat the Washington Huskies 99-67. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Lorenzo Romar (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

There are a couple reasons:

1. Washington just does not have the talent around Markelle Fultz that Romar needed, and it’s not entirely his fault. Marquese Chriss and DeJounte Murray, who both ended up being first round picks in the 2016 NBA Draft, were one-and-done players that no one expected to head to the NBA when they did. Chriss was a borderline top 50 recruit coming out of high school. Murray was closer to the top 30, but you’d be lying if you said you thought he was going to be able to leave school after one season with a guaranteed contract.

What’s left is a crop of players that are just OK. David Crisp is a fine player but isn’t necessarily a guy you want as your second option at the Pac-12 level. Malik Dime and Noah Dickerson are, at worst, serviceable high-major bigs. Matisse Thybulle hasn’t quite lived up to the hype that he had entering the season. Part of the reason that Romar is left with a roster bereft of high-level talent is a result of the way that he coaches.

Romar is going to play his most talented guys right away, said a person with knowledge of the way that Washington’s staff operates. It doesn’t matter if they are freshmen or seniors, he’s going to let his best players do what they can do. If that comes with a learning curve – Fultz isn’t going to get pulled for turnovers the same way that Chriss and Murray were allowed to play through their freshmen mistakes – then so be it. Compare that with a program like Wisconsin, where guys like Devin Harris and Frank Kaminsky, eventual top ten picks, were buried on the bench until they learned the system and earned the playing time. Even Bill Self has struggled with when to let his one-and-done stars play through their issues and when to hold them accountable.

Romar gives his talent a chance to showcase what they’re capable of, for better or worse. And, of late, it’s been the latter.

2. His teams don’t defend. “They were so ******* bad on defense. It was like they had never been coached,” a coach who has played the Huskies this season told NBCSports.com. “They had no plan.” The Huskies are entertaining to watch offensively because of how fast they play – they’re currently sixth in KenPom in tempo – but there isn’t much structure on that end and it comes at the expense of any kind of discipline on the defensive end.

That’s a by-product of giving his young guys freedom that they wouldn’t necessarily experience at other programs. It’s also a result of how he wants to play defensively. His best teams would get out and play a pressuring, half-court man-to-man defense, and with the new freedom of movement rules, that just doesn’t work. All Washington does is foul. They’ve been in the bottom 25% nationally in free throw rate the last two seasons. Chriss fouled out of 15 of the 34 games he played in college.

3. That environment isn’t necessarily the best for getting the most out of a guy like Fultz. For as talented as he is, Fultz still has some warts. He’s a slow-starter, a guy with a sleepy demeanor that has a habit of slowly growing into games. He’s a talented defender that doesn’t always play with the kind of effort on that end of the floor that he needs to. If he was from the west coast, he’d get criticized for having the same kind of “Cali-cool” that Lonzo Ball gets knocked for.

And it’s a shame, because Fultz really is an unbelievable talent.

But, at this point, it looks like he’ll be the unknown in this NBA Draft.

With the exception of Washington’s only game against Oregon and their second matchup with Arizona, every quality opponent that Washington plays will tip after 10:30 p.m. ET.

How many people are going to stay up that late to watch what could very well end up being a series of blowouts?


Lorenzo Romar is in a decidedly unique situation at Washington.

On the one hand, in the last five years, his teams have underperformed given the amount of talent that has come through Seattle. In 2011-2012, Washington won the Pac-12 regular season title but failed to get an at-large bid to the Big Dance with Terrence Ross, the No. 8 pick, and Tony Wroten, the No. 25 pick, on the roster. C.J. Wilcox, the No. 28 pick in the 2014 Draft, couldn’t get Washington into the dance either of the next two seasons, and this past year, Romar was NIT-bound despite having Marquese Chriss, the No. 8 pick, and DeJounte Murray, the No. 29 pick, on his roster. The only time in his Washington coaching tenure that he didn’t have a future first round pick on the roster was the 2014-15 season, and, in theory, that fact could change if current Gonzaga point guard and Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss gets drafted.

In 15 years with the Huskies, Romar has reached the tournament just six times, the Sweet 16 just three times and finished with fewer than 10 losses just three times despite a nine-year run where U-Dub finished top three in the Pac-12 seven times and won two regular season titles.

But he’s also been by far the best coach in the history of the program. The Huskies reached the Final Four in 1953, and in the nearly 50 years between that day and the day that Romar was hired, Washington reached just six NCAA tournaments and two Sweet 16s.

Washington fans have a right to be frustrated with the way his tenure has gone, but that frustration stems from the fact that Romar carried Washington to an unprecedented level of success.

But that’s in the past. Brandon Roy’s college career ended a decade ago. Isaiah Thomas was drafted in 2011.

So while there’s an outside chance that both Fultz and Michael Porter Jr., the star that Romar has committed in the Class of 2017, could end up being the No. 1 pick in their respective NBA Drafts, it may be more likely that, without a win on Wednesday night, Romar may never end up coaching the latter.

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

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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.