With another early tournament exit, Villanova’s legacy is complicated

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The best story in college basketball — not the biggest story, not the weirdest story, not the story that gets non-stop run on every sports talk show, but the best — came to a thrilling end on Saturday afternoon in Buffalo.

Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes was the hero, capping off a game-winning, 15-5 run over the final five minutes with a layup with 11.4 seconds left, sending the No. 8 seed Badgers to the Sweet 16 with a 65-62 win over Villanova, who entered the tournament as the nation’s No. 1 overall seed.

Villanova is — was? — the reigning national champion.

They were looking to become the first team since Florida in 2007 to repeat as national champions, and it seemed like they had the horses to get it done.

But …

Well, did they?

And that’s where this conversation gets complicated, because this is the third time in four years that the Wildcats lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as a top two seed. That national title? It covers up some real questions about just what the legacy of this team will be.

Let’s start with Saturday.

On paper, Villanova has a very real and very obvious hole in their roster, and it’s right there in the middle. Daniel Ochefu graduated off of last year’s team and incoming freshman Omari Spellman was ruled ineligible, meaning that the Wildcats spent the season relying on 6-foot-9 Darryl Reynolds and 6-foot-7 Eric Paschall to man the paint. This is not an ideal situation against anyone, let alone against a team like Wisconsin, who lives on the ability of Ethan Happ and Hayes to score in the post and get to the offensive glass.

That’s before you consider the fact that Wisconsin as a No. 8 seed was one of the dumber decisions that the Selection Committee made. The Badgers finished second in the Big Ten and reached the Big Ten title game, but there were four teams from the conference that were seeded above them? That doesn’t make much sense.

Put another way, this was never a good matchup for Villanova. There’s a reason a lot of smart people thought Wisconsin would give the Wildcats a fight. In a vacuum, this loss was more about matchups and miss-seeds than it was an indictment on the Villanova program.

But this loss didn’t come in a vacuum.

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In 2014, No. 2 seed Villanova lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 7 seed UConn. In 2015, the Wildcats lost to No. 8 seed N.C. State in the second round as a No. 1 seed. The current Villanova stars, Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, played on all three of those teams. More to the point, of the 29 programs that have played at least six games as a No. 1 seed, Villanova ranks tied-for-last in winning percentage in those games, going 5-3 as a No. 1 seed.

It makes me wonder: What is the legacy of this Villanova team going to be?

Because they’ve run roughshod over their conference during the four-year reign of Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. After a 32-4 season that saw Villanova win a dual-Big East titles, the Wildcats with Hart and Jenkins have now won four Big East regular season titles, two Big East tournament titles, a national title and 129 games. In their worst season, they went 29-5. They’ve never lost more than three games to Big East foes in a single season and never more than five games, total.

That’s incredible.

But the Big East that they play is in not the same Big East that they were in before conference realignment. There are good teams in the league, but the closest thing we saw to a contender to them during that time frame ended this season when Mo Watson and Edmond Sumner tore their ACLs two weeks apart from each other.

Then there’s that national title that the Wildcats won, one that saw Villanova run through Kansas, Oklahoma and North Carolina — two No. 1 seeds and a team that was ranked No. 1 in February — in their final three games. That’s incredible. It’s a moment that Villanova fans will never forget, and the shot that won the title will go down in history and one of the greatest moments in the history of sports.

Not just this sport.

All sports.

But that title came in a year where the level of elite talent in college basketball was at a four-year low. The best player that they faced during that title run was Buddy Hield, an incredible story that provided the NBA world with some much-needed comedic relief when he was the centerpiece of the DeMarcus Cousins trade. There were three elite freshmen that entered the sport in 2015-16, and Ben Simmons missed the tournament, Skal Labissiere couldn’t get off the bench and Brandon Ingram was out in the Sweet 16.

Put another way, Villanova’s 2016 national title was like being named the Best Dresser on Press Row, and it came as the filling in an otherwise disastrous string of NCAA tournament appearances.

Those details are really easy to pick through now.

That won’t be the case in five years, in 10 years.

My son is 18 months old. When he gets to eight years old, nine years old, 10 years old, when he finally starts realizing that sports are more than something that keeps him from being able to watch Elmo on TV, he’s not going to wonder about the context of Villanova’s title. He’s not going to think about whether or not Villanova was fortuitous in putting together a title-contending team in a year where the other contenders weren’t all that good.

He’s going to ask about The Shot. He’s going to ask about what I remember from that moment. He’s going to ask to see the video of The Shot I took on my phone. He’s going to ask whether or not I think he’ll ever get a chance to see a shot like that live.

That’s what Villanova’s legacy is, and thanks to Kris Jenkins’ clutch gene, no one is ever going to ask otherwise.

One Shining Moment, when it shines bright enough, will live on forever, and there will never be a moment that shines brighter than Jenkins’ game-winner. People don’t remember what it took to get there or what happened after. They remember the moment.

They remember the title.

It’s amazing what The Shot can do to change a narrative.

Final Four sites selected through 2026

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The NCAA announced the location of the Final Four for the 2023-2026 seasons.

It goes like this:

  • 2023: Houston
  • 2024: Phoenix
  • 2025: San Antonio
  • 2026: Indianapolis

That will follow Final Fours the next four years in:

  • 2019: Minneapolis
  • 2020: Atlanta
  • 2021: Indianapolis
  • 2022: New Orleans

For the most part, this is fine. What makes a good Final Four city — hell, what makes a city a good candidate to host any major sporting event — is that the arena, stadium or dome is walking distance from good hotels and the best restaurants and bars.

That’s why Indianapolis, New Orleans and San Antonio are generally considered the best locations for the event and why cities like Houston, Dallas and Phoenix are not.

The saving grace with Phoenix is that Scottsdale is a ton of fun and a great spot for fans to go, even if it is a $30 Uber ride from seemingly everywhere in the state of Arizona, and while I’ve heard great things about Minneapolis, going in early April does not sound all that pleasant.

But Houston?

I despite little more than going to Houston for the Final Four. Everything is so spread out, the traffic is a nightmare and I’m still searching to find a place that actually felt like a night at the Final Four instead of a night out in a big city.

Houston is fine, I guess. Houston is not a place where the Final Four should be.

That said, last time I was there I saw James Harden tip a bathroom attendant $20.

So it’s not all bad, I guess.

2018 Peach Jam Takeaways: Vernon Carey tops the class, C.J. Walker shines, and why the media saved Peach Jam

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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Peach Jam is unquestionably my favorite event to cover during the summer months.

It’s the highest level basketball that you are going to find in America prior to college, the atmosphere is better than most high school games and the town of Augusta has really grown on me; there are some good restaurants there, and the bar scene isn’t all that bad as long as certain media members that shall remain unnamed aren’t taking you to a place where smoking is still legal inside.

Combine that with the fact that every coach in the country is there along with, at a minimum, a half-dozen future lottery picks, and I truly believe that it’s an event that every real hoophead in the country needs to attend at least once in their life.

This year’s Peach Jam ended on Sunday afternoon with Team Takeover out of Washington D.C. winning the title by going 23-1, the best record in the history of the EYBL. Here are a few things to take away from the event.

THE MEDIA SAVED PEACH JAM

I realize that there is a large portion of our population that despises the media, and even those that do appreciate the job that journalists have to do can get fed up with the self-importance that people in my industry tend to have. We’re here to tell stories, break news and operate as a watchdog for our nation’s biggest entities. We’re not here to complain about flight delays and getting shorted a few Marriott points.

That said, I’m here to tell you that the college basketball media saved Peach Jam.

I’m convinced of it.

Here’s what happened: In June, Jeff Goodman and I caught wind of changes that were going to be proposed by the NABC to the Commission on College Basketball that would ban coaches from attending AAU tournaments and show company events in July. I railed against the recommended changes in a podcast last week, as did every media member even remotely involved in covering college basketball, from recruiting analysts and independent bloggers to the likes of Jay Bilas and Gary Parrish. I spoke with more coaches at the event about those changes than any other subject, and I honestly could not find a single one out of what probably amounted to 50 or so coaches that was a fan of the changes, and I know for a fact that I was not the only one that heard about it from those coaches.

That is why you are now seeing some influential voices start to pump the brakes while speaking on the record.

One thing that the NCAA, and college basketball decision-makers specifically, does a good job of is listening to the criticism. For example, they’ve been crushed for years about the flaws with the RPI as a metric and, as a result, they’ve started to phase it out. They listened when we said that valuing home and road wins equally is silly. They listened when we said college basketball needs a better opening night. And it appears that they are listening to us now.

I was told back in June that these changes were being proposed to be implemented as soon as possible, that the plan was to get the rules changed for next summer. But what happened is that the NABC — National Association of Basketball Coaches — ad-hoc committee that developed this proposal was made up of the upper-echelon of the coaching profession, and that the rank and file by and large does not agree with the biggest names, and that the biggest names supported these changes more or less out of selfishness.

For some, it’s because they recruit their home city and know all of the high school coaches that they don’t need AAU events to find players. For others, it’s because they’re a high-academic institution and thus can easily identify who actually has a chance to get into their school. For at least one influential voice in that room, it is because his program is in hot water for dealing with a shoe company and he’s looking to make his own life easier.

Whatever the case may be, I believe now our voices were heard.

“Keep killing them,” one coach at a top 25 program who despises the proposal told me. “It’s working.”

VERNON CAREY IS THE BEST PROSPECT IN THE CLASS

The 2019 class is weird in the sense that there are a lot of guys that are a typical top five prospect but there doesn’t appear to truly be a No. 1 player in this class. There is no Anthony Davis. There is no Deandre Ayton or Marvin Bagley III. Sometimes that happens.

James Wiseman, throughout the last few years, has been considered by most to be the best player in the Class of 2019, and I get it. He’s a 7-footer that can get up and down the floor with pretty good range on his jumper. He certainly isn’t a small-ball five, but he’s not inept when it comes to playing on the perimeter.

Cole Anthony is probably the most well-known player in this class, in part because of his pedigree — he is Greg Anthony’s son — and in part because he’s an uber-productive player that led the EYBL in scoring with highlight reel athleticism.

I get why you would have either of them ranked as the No. 1 prospect in 2019.

But for my money, Vernon Carey Jr. is the best player in the class.

At 6-foot-10, Carey has the athleticism, mobility and handle to thrive. He is a constant grab-and-go threat in transition, he can score in the post and while facing up and, when engaged, he’s a man-child on the glass. As one coach recruiting him told me, “he’s the best player in the world when he decides to play hard.”

And at Peach Jam, he did. In five games at the Riverview Park Activities Center, Carey averaged 23 points, 10.4 boards, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 steals, up from 17.8 points, 7.4 boards, 0.8 blocks and 0.7 steals during his 14 previous EYBL games. That included 21 points, 13 boards, five blocks and four steals while going head-to-head with Wiseman in a one point loss. He also had 25 points while grabbing one of the most impressive rebounds I’ve ever seen to seal a win over Team Takeover, the only loss TTO took on the EYBL circuit.

There’s another issue as well. Carey is the son of former offensive lineman Vernon Carey Sr. and seems to have inherited his father’s ability to carry weight. Carey Jr. was about 255 pounds at Peach Jam, but that was because he got sick during Team USA’s trip to Argentina for the U17 World Championships and lost 20 pounds.

Motivating a player with weight issues is not exactly ideal, but neither is hoping Cole Anthony is Russell Westbrook or rely on Wiseman, a 7-footer that averaged 5.8 boards in the EYBL while shooting 10 percent from three in 16 games, to thrive in the small-ball era.

THEN THERE IS JADEN MCDANIELS

The ascent that McDaniels, the latest in a long line of talented players to come through the Seattle Rotary program, has made in the past year is impressive. The younger brother of Jalen McDaniels, a potential first round pick at San Diego State, has gone from a player that was a borderline top 100 prospect to someone that may just have the highest ceiling of anyone in the class.

He’s an absolute scoring machine. A slender, 6-foot-11 perimeter four, he has the skill-set to one day be a 20 point-per-game scorer in the NBA. He needs to add strength — he’s currently listed at 182 pounds — and continue to get more fluid and explosive. He needs to be more consistent from beyond the arc and I’m not convinced he’s close to being the defender or the passer he needs to be, but it’s hard not to look at him and be reminded of Brandon Ingram, another lanky late-bloomer that developed into the No. 2 pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. Hell, I had one coach tell me that he was going to be the killer from Golden State that I refuse to compare any basketball player to.

Every coach on the west coast should be prioritizing him.

HOP ON BOARD THE C.J. WALKER HYPE TRAIN

If there was a breakout star at this year’s Peach Jam, it was probably C.J. Walker, a borderline top 50 prospect out of Orlando that plays for Each 1 Teach 1.

A 6-foot-7 forward already known for his athleticism, Walker did not disappoint in that department, throwing down what was probably the dunk of the week, on Vernon Carey, no less:

Walker finished with 40 points in that game, and what was perhaps the most impressive part about the performance was his shot-making. We know the kind of athlete that he is, but if he can develop into a player that can consistently make threes and create offense with the ball in his hands, he’s reaches a different level.

He’s already had a couple of programs, including Louisville, offer him based off of what he did in Augusta. It will be interesting to see who else follows suit.

SOMEONE IS GETTING A STEAL IN DREW TIMME

Maybe I just happened to catch him when he was playing well, but I could not have been more impressed with Drew Timme.

A 6-foot-11 center from Texas, Timme was sensational offensively in the two games I watched him. He had 25 points against MoKan Elite and followed that up with 21 points, including a dominating second half, against Cole Anthony’s PSA Cardinals. He can pass, he can shoot, he can handle the ball, he’s mobile, he scores with his back-to-the-basket. One coach that played in the NBA told me he thinks Timme is the next Spencer Hawes, although I think Ethan Happ is a more apt comparison. Timme to me screams college all-american that will play in the NBA if he learns to shoot it.

SCOTTIE BARNES IS A MONSTER

I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I know the Class of 2020 all that well, but I do know this: If there truly are two players in that class better than Scottie Barnes, they are going to be superstars.

Because, for me money, Barnes was one of the eight or so best players at the event.

He’s a 6-foot-8 wing that defends, can handle the rock and is a really good passer, especially in transition. He also made some big plays and big shots in close games, and did all of that despite heading to Peach Jam just a day or two after returning home from Argentina, where he was playing for the U17s despite being a year younger than most of the players on that roster.

Duke’s White to chair NCAA selection committee for 2019-20

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Duke athletic director Kevin White will serve as the chairman of the NCAA Tournament selection committee in 2020.

The NCAA announced White’s role Friday. White will serve as vice chairman this season for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee headed by Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir, then take over for the 2019-20 season.

White has been a committee member since the 2015-16 season.

In a statement, White called it “an incredible honor” to serve on the committee and be selected for a leadership role.

Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen served as chairman of the committee last season and will rotate off the committee Sept. 1.

Ohio State grabs five-star 2019 point guard D.J. Carton

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Ohio State landed one of the biggest commitments so far this summer on Saturday as five-star Class of 2019 point guard D.J. Carton pledged to the Buckeyes.

The 5-foot-11 Carton burst onto the national recruiting scene this spring as he went from a relative unknown into a five-star prospect. Although Carton doesn’t play on a major shoe-company circuit he impressed national scouts and college coaches with his play during the April live evaluation period with Quad Cities Elite — the same program that produced quality college players like Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and Montana State’s Tyler Hall.

An explosive athlete who can play above the rim, Carton showed a high amount of upside during the USA Basketball U18 tryouts in June as he competed against many of the top players in his class.

Ohio State is landing a key piece at an opportune time as they now have a lead guard of the future to help build around. Carton is only the third five-star prospect to commit from the Class of 2019 so far, as he’s the No. 17 overall prospect in the Rivals national rankings. Carton joins in-state four-star wing Alonzo Gaffney in the Buckeyes’ 2019 recruiting class as Ohio State has the makings of a potential top 10 recruiting class.

With where Ohio State was last summer, with head coach Chris Holtmann taking the job in June and the roster lacking scholarship players, the Buckeyes have had a monster turnaround in the last 14 months. Ohio State now, once again, looks like a scary team when it comes to recruiting as they should be a major factor for some elite prospects.

Alabama lands four-star wing Juwan Gary

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Alabama added a quality wing to its Class of 2019 recruiting haul on Friday as four-star Juwan Gary pledged to the Crimson Tide.

The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Gary has been a known national prospect since his freshman season as the South Carolina native is an athletic two-way wing who thrives in the open court. Although Gary still needs to polish up his jumper, he has the potential to be an impact player in the SEC, especially if Alabama gets him going in transition.

Gary joins four-star forward Diante Smith in the Crimson Tide recruiting class in 2019 as now head coach Avery Johnson and his staff can focus more of their efforts on adding to a potentially strong class. Pulling Gary out of South Carolina — especially in light of recent NCAA tournament success from in-state programs like South Carolina and Clemson — is an impressive recruiting win for Alabama.