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No. 18 Michigan embarrasses No. 8 Villanova in title game rematch

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VILLANOVA, Pa. — It was the toughest ticket in town.

$3,000 to sit courtside. A month or two worth of cable and phone bills just to get in the door. A student section that didn’t look safe to inhabit.

It’s about what you’d expect for a team that’s coming off their second national title in three years and unveiling the $25 million renovation to their on-campus facility while playing a rematch of their most recent national title game in a building that typically plays host to Villanova’s buy games and the dregs of the Big East.

Finneran Pavilion was electric.

And No. 8 Villanova never led.

They were tied for a grand total of 13 seconds. Jordan Poole got free on a backcut, laid the ball in with 19:47 left in the first half and the Wolverines never looked back. They led 10-2 at the first media timeout. It was 26-10 by the time the under eight timeout rolled around. When halftime mercifully arrived, Michigan held a 44-17 lead — the biggest halftime deficit that Villanova had faced since playing St. Joseph’s at the Palestra on Feb. 3rd, 2003, the infamous 40-9 Holy War beatdown. The only intrigue the second half held was whether or not Zavier Simpson would leave the Philly suburbs with Colin Gillespie’s soul or just his pride.

No. 18 Michigan’s 73-46 win won’t change the fact that Villanova has a third national title banner hanging in the arena the Wolverines now own, but humiliating the Wildcats on a night meant for celebration is not a bad consolation prize.

We knew Villanova was young, and we knew Michigan was and is one of the toughest defensive teams in the country, but no one saw this coming.

And it begs the question: Just what the hell happened on Wednesday night?


(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Jay Wright knew.

He knew that his youngest team in years wasn’t ready, regardless of what the AP Poll says. He knew that his freshmen, getting thrown into a game like this against a team like that, were not going to handle it well. He was subdued at shootaround, far too aware of the fact that his young guys didn’t know what they don’t know.

“I can’t say I’m shocked this happened,” Wright said after the game. “I thought we could be down. I didn’t think it would be this.”

The crux of the issue, Wright explained, was the youth on his roster. As of today, Nov. 14th, this is not a Villanova basketball team. It’s a bunch of tall guys in Villanova jerseys. What I mean by that is there is a beauty in the way that Villanova plays basketball. This is not a program is relies on calling out set plays. They only have a handful of plays that they run. They are a read-and-react offense, one predicated on the simplicity that comes as a result of understanding complicated concepts. Their success, as much as anything, comes as a result of the ability of Wright and his coaching staff to teach the guys in his program how to be basketball players, not simply run a basketball play.

That takes time.

And as any coach at any level of college basketball will tell you, freshmen don’t usually arrive at college knowing how to play. There’s a reason why Wright tries to get old and stay old. There’s a reason that he redshirts players as much as any power program in college basketball. There’s a reason that the most successful program in the sport over the last half-decade has shied away from chasing one-and-done talent.

The problem is that the Villanova Way worked too quickly.

As much as anyone in college basketball, Wright intentionally tries to stagger his recruiting classes to minimize how much he loses each offseason. He’ll actively leave scholarships open to avoid years where he brings in four or five or six players. The goal is to avoid what happened this past season — watching his top four players bolt for the NBA.

Villanova expected Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges to leave.

What they didn’t expect was for Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo to develop into first round picks in their own right. Those were the two guys, along with Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, that were supposed to shepherd Villanova through this season. Jermaine Samuels, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree and Colin Gillespie would be afforded another season of seasoning. Villanova’s talented four-man recruiting class would get a year of experience under their belt.

What Wright didn’t expect was to walk into this season as reigning champions with a team that, frankly, doesn’t know what they’re doing just yet.

“We didn’t have that cohesiveness that you need to have,” Wright said. That showed up offensively, as Gillespie and Jahvon Quinerly tried without little success to get Villanova into a semblance of an offense. It showed up defensively as well. One of the staples of Villanova on the defensive end is that they switch everything. They’ll deal with bad matchups if it forces the team they’re playing out of their offense. A player getting beaten one-on-one is not an uncommon sight; it’s the risk Wright takes.

What is uncommon is a total defensive breakdown, a miscommunication that results in someone being left unguarded for a three or a layup. That happened on the first play of the game. It happened at least three more times that I noticed in the first half. All told, Michigan had 16 layups on Wednesday night. They had 44 points in the paint, 26 of which came in the first half.

“We’ve got too many pieces,” Wright said, “running guys in and out. We’re not as organized as we walk to be. We were trying to find a lineup here early … throwing guys in there against an experienced team.”

“When you get in that mode against good teams,” he added, “with young guys going in and out, rarely does that work.”

While it’s easy to pin blame on Villanova’s youth, the credit for exploiting that mismatch has to be given to Michigan, who has turned into an absolute defensive juggernaut.

Simpson is a monster on that end of the floor. He’s owned better point guards than Gillespie in the past. He’ll own better point guards than him in the future. And he’s just one half of a backcourt that thrives on a defensive mentality that we’ve never seen out of a John Beilein-coached team before, maybe ever.

“Charles Matthews is relentless when given a matchup like this,” Beilein said. “These two guys, this is what they love to do. They have a defensive mindset. They want to know that they’re guarding Phil Booth out there. They want to know that they’re guarding Gillespie out there. That’s what makes them go.”

We knew that.

What we learned today was just how dangerous and matchup proof Michigan can be.

Some of that is because of the improvement of Isaiah Livers, a 6-foot-8, 230 pound athletic monster that can play the five in Michigan’s offense. The Wolverines made their big first half run when Livers was at the five on Wednesday — it was a 27-9 surge over about a 10 minute stretch, and Livers buried two threes in the middle of that surge — but the difference-maker might actually be the freshman that we’ve been hearing about for months.

Iggy Brazdeikis.

At 6-foot-7, Brazdeikis is skilled enough that he can play the two in Michigan’s offense. He’s athletic enough that the first of his 18 points on Wednesday came via a powerful tip-dunk in the first two minutes of the game. And he’s tough enough that he’s already earned the respect of Michigan’s defensive stalwarts.

“The thing about Iggy,” Matthews said, a wry smile peeking out, “is he has a lot of pride. Defensively, that’s half the battle. He’s ready to compete on the big stage.”

“He’s a mini-pitbull,” Simpson said of his much larger teammate. “He’s not scared of anything. He took the challenge against Paschall.”

That right there is where the difference for this team is made.

Beilein went out of his way to praise the defensive work of Jon Teske on Wednesday night, and while I’m not one to quibble with a man that is on his way to the Basketball Hall of Fame, it’s hard not to get excited about what Michigan can do when they put Brazdeikis and Livers on the floor together. Suddenly, you have two players big and strong enough to hang with the biggest players in the Big Ten, yet athletic and mobile enough to guard a future first round pick in Paschall.

Livers is the guy that can space the floor.

Brazdeikis is the animal on the glass.

And both of them, thrown out there with Simpson and Matthews, are going to give opposing offenses nightmares.


Ignas Brazdeikis (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

So where do these two teams go from here?

Michigan appears destined for a fight to the top of a Big Ten that suddenly looks far more formidable than any of us imagined. With Indiana blowing out No. 24 Marquette and Nebraska pounding Seton Hall on Wednesday, we’re nine days into the season and the only losses anyone in the league has suffered came when Illinois was beaten by Georgetown and Michigan State lost to Kansas.

A team with an elite defense, coming off of a trip to the national title game, that is coached by a Hall of Famer whose track record suggests his teams play their best in March, not November, just beat a top ten team by 27 points on their home floor.

I’d say the future is pretty bright.

It’s a bit different for Villanova.

“Getting beat by 30 is a wake-up call,” Wright said, “but you try not to do that.”

He knew his team did not play great in their wins over Morgan State and Quinnipiac, but when you’re winning by 30, those youngsters don’t always hear what their coach is saying. Talent allows team to get away with more against overmatched competition.

Against Michigan?

Not a chance.

“Theres a lot of things you talk about when you win by 30, and you try and get them to listen,” Wright said. “Hopefully, this is a great learning experience.”

When your team has everything left to learn, every moment becomes a teachable moment.

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.