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Georgetown’s horrid non-conference schedule puts a damper on any NCAA tournament optimism for this season

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Here’s something I didn’t think I would say at any point this season: Georgetown isn’t all that far away from being relevant.

On Wednesday night, in their Big East opener against Butler, Georgetown gave away a 20-point first half lead in a game that quite clearly had the kind of growing pains you’d expect out of a young team that has never experienced winning at a high-level with a first-year head coach. The final score was 91-89. It took three overtimes to get there. Georgetown had their chances to put this thing away.

Patrick Ewing deserves some criticism here. The defensive assignments were questionable. The zone offense was difficult to watch. The failure of the Hoyas to get the ball into the hands of their best players on the biggest possessions may have cost them the game, and these are issues that are not necessarily unique to this game. Remember, Georgetown blew a 15-point lead to Syracuse at home earlier this season.

But that’s not really what I want to discuss.

The bigger story, in my mind, is this: Georgetown is not terrible this year. Hell, they’re on the doorstep of being pretty good. If they can figure out what’s going on at the point and if they can find a way to be functional against a zone, I don’t think it’s out of the question that they can get to .500 in the Big East this year. Jessie Govan is a beast. Marcus Derrickson is good. Jamarco Pickett and Kaleb Johnson can fill a role. So can Jagan Mosely and Jonathan Mulmore.

Don’t laugh at what I’m about to say, but I actually believe it: Come March, I can see a scenario where Georgetown is one of the 68 best teams in the country. If they don’t blow those big leads and lose in overtime to Syracuse and to Butler, that sentence doesn’t sound quite as crazy.

But the problem is that their chances of getting to the NCAA tournament are just about dead.

This is not exactly breaking news, but Georgetown has played an absolutely atrocious non-conference schedule. As it stands, they have the worst non-conference schedule in the nation, according to KenPom. According to the RPI, it is the nation’s second-worst non-conference schedule, and according to me, it is the worst that I can ever remember seeing from a high-major program since I started covering college basketball a decade ago.

Georgetown’s best win in the non-conference came against either North Carolina A&T (163rd in the RPI) or Richmond (232nd on KenPom, 2-10 on the season), depending on your metric of choice. That’s bad, but teams have been able to overcome poor performances in non-conference play before.

Take Cincinnati in 2012, for example. They entered Selection Sunday with the 319th non-conference SOS, according to the RPI, but they earned a No. 6 seed after gong 12-6 in a strong iteration of the old Big East and beating two top 15 teams – including No. 2 Syracuse – en route to the title game of the Big East tournament. In 2015, Notre Dame earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament with the 323rd-best non-conference schedule, but they also went 14-4 in the ACC, 29-5 overall and won the ACC tournament title.

Those, however, are not the examples that Georgetown should concern themselves with.

If they can get to 12 wins in this Big East, while picking off a couple of the big dogs – Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton – in the process, they probably will find themselves in the mix come Selection Sunday.

I don’t think that will happen.

Which is why SMU’s 2014 snub is the one that immediately comes to mind. That SMU team had just four top 100 wins on the season, but all four were top 40 wins. Their schedule was that lopsided because they played the 302nd-ranked non-conference schedule that season, and despite being as high as a No. 9 seed in many a bracketology, the Mustangs found themselves on the wrong side of the bubble come Selection Sunday.

“Their non-conference strength of schedule was ranked No. 302 out of, what do we have, 350 teams eligible for the tournament?” NCAA men’s basketball committee chairman Ron Wellman said at the time. “It’s one of the worst non-conference schedules. Their overall strength of schedule was 129. That would have been by far the worst at-large strength of schedule. The next-worst was 91. Really, the glaring weakness about SMU was their schedule.”

Not only did Georgetown put together an awful schedule, they actively made it worse; the Hoyas were supposed to be a part of the PK80 Invitational and dropped out.

I understand why.

A young team and a new coach trying to gel. Sometimes what you need are wins to boost confidence. I get it.

But I told you this would happen.

Patrick Ewing scheduled his team out of NCAA tournament contention.

 

Christian Vital going back to UConn for junior season

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Dan Hurley is keeping his roster intact at the top.

Christian Vital, UConn’s second-leading scorer a season ago, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, he announced Monday via social media.

“Great Talk Today Coach! Appreciate The Wisdom You Have Let Me In On!” Vital wrote “I Think It’s Time To Get Back To Winning Ways In Storrs! I’m Going To Need That #1 Back ASAP! WE GOT (UNFINISHED) BUSINESS!”

The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be Vital joins Jalen Adams, who was the Huskies’ top-returning scorer, back in Storrs in Hurley’s first year. Vital averaged 14.9 points on 38.3 percent shooting. Adams previously announced he would return to school without declaring for the draft.

The return of UConn’s top two scorers underscores an even bigger trend under Hurley as the Huskies appear to have avoided any major defections from last year’s roster despite the coaching change.

UConn is coming off a 14-18 season that proved to be the last of coach Kevin Ollie’s six years with the Huskies that included a national championship but also back-to-back losing seasons.

Chris Silva returning to South Carolina for senior season

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South Carolina is getting an first-team all-SEC performer back.

Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding last season, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, the school announced Monday.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to workout for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The 6-foot-9 Silva, who did not get an NBA draft combine invite, averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior.  He shot 46.7 percent from the floor.

“Going through the evaluation process was an unbelievable experience for Chris and us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in a statement. “He comes back to a place he loves with some knowledge on some of the things that we have to help him improve on in his efforts to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s leading scorer, he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season after averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His return to Columbia gives the Gamecocks a potential contender for SEC player of the year in 2018-19.

Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

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Kansas has fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger, effective immediately, citing a lack of progress in key areas within the athletic department.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership,” Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod wrote in an email to KU faculty and staff. “But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

Zenger had been in the role of AD since 2011.

The issue, of course, is not the play of the Kansas basketball program. The Jayhawks have won every Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and head coach Bill Self has taken the program to two Final Fours since Zenger was hired.

The football team is still a disaster, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not the real issue at hand here is Kansas’ getting tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

The Jayhawks were not mentioned in the initial indictments that were handed down, but Kansas was a central figure in the superseding indictments that were dropped after the national title game. The mother of Billy Preston, who did not play for the Jayhawks this season, was alleged to have been funneled $90,000 by Adidas, while Silvio De Sousa’s status is currently in question after the FBI alleged his guardian was paid at least $20,000 to help offset money that the family had already accepted from a rival shoe company.

All of that came in the aftermath of dealing with Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, both of whom had their one season in Lawrence reduced due to off the court issues.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our broader mission as a flagship research university.”

Louisville, ex-AD Tom Jurich reach $4.5M settlement

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has reached a $4.5 million settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich, who was fired in the wake of a national federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

Jurich disputed his Oct. 18 firing for cause after nearly 20 years as AD and had considered suing the school. The University of Louisville Athletic Association and Board of Trustees on Friday approved the settlement. Jurich’s employment ended “without cause” as a result of his resignation, also described in the settlement as “retirement.”

He’ll also receive another $2.6 million in accrued employment benefits, along with home game tickets and parking for Louisville football and basketball for 20 years.

An audit of the University of Louisville Foundation released last June showed that Jurich averaged annual compensation of more than $2.76 million from 2010-16, including more than $5.35 million in 2016.

Then-interim president Greg Postel had placed Jurich on paid administrative leave in September after the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the investigation. Trustees voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, two days after the ULAA unanimously fired Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The former AD said in a joint statement that he “spent the better part of my career” working with dedicated athletes, coaches and staff to elevate Louisville. He added, “I am proud of what we accomplished, which is well documented.”

Jurich’s legal team had stressed that the ex-AD did nothing illegal and hadn’t violated NCAA rules.

Trustee chairman J. David Grissom said in the statement that “Everyone is pleased that this matter has been successfully resolved. All parties can move forward to begin the next chapter.”

Jurich played a major role in Louisville’s success on the field and how the school handled issues off it. He led the school’s 2014 entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference and oversaw numerous program and facility upgrades, including a $63 million expansion of the football stadium due for completion by fall.

He also hired several successful coaches including Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville ultimately vacated that title in February as part of NCAA penalties for a sex scandal after an escort’s book allegations that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino has filed a $38.7 million federal lawsuit against Louisville, alleging breach of contract.

Georgia Tech’s Okogie to sign with agent

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Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie, one of the big winners from this past weekend’s NBA combine, announced on Monday that he will be signing with an agent and remaining in the NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-4 Okogie finished his sophomore season averaged 18.5 points and shooting 38.4 percent from three. The numbers he posted during the athletic testing at the combine, as well as his 7-foot wingspan, makes Okogie an ideal 3-and-D wing at the NBA level.

“Josh is a tremendous young man and an excellent student-athlete,” said head coach Josh Pastner. “He has set a tremendous example, making the Dean’s List this past semester, and deserves a lot of credit for making himself a much better player over the course of his two years here. We will miss him in our program in many respects, from his performance on the court to the energy he plays with and brought to our team. We fully support his decision to take this next step, and wish him all the best.”