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Bubble Banter: Does anyone understand what’s happening in the Big East?

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The Big East is a weird league this year.

Villanova may have started the season off in disastrous fashion, but they’ve rebounded as Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have grown into their starring roles. As of today, the Wildcats sit all alone in first place in the conference, just one game ahead of Marquette in the loss column.

Beyond that, however, the league does not make all that much sense.

For starters, eight of the ten teams in the conference are sitting below .500, with the team in tenth place sitting just a half game back of the team in third place.

You read that right. The eight teams in the Big East not named Marquette or Villanova are all 3-4 or 3-5 in league play, which will make for some fun theater and, in all likelihood, super-complicated tie-breakers when it comes conference tournament time. But it also creates a scenario where no one can really feel all that great about their position in the bubble hierarchy.

Best I can tell, there are five Big East teams that are currently sitting on the bubble, in order of their current comfort level: St. John’s, Seton Hall, Butler, Creighton and Providence. All five of those teams are in action tonight, with four of them squaring off against one-another, and all five desperately need a win. St. John’s has been a mess since an extended undefeated run to start the season. Seton Hall hasn’t one a game in three weeks. Creighton and Butler are in danger of seeing their seasons careen off the tracks, and Providence has a hole to dig out of thanks to A.J. Reeves’ injury.

I don’t know if the Big East is going to get more than four teams into the tournament, and nights like Wednesday night will go a long way towards determining which four teams get in.

Here are tonight’s results:

WINNERS

FLORIDA (NET: 39, SOS: 50): What a massive, massive win for the Gators, who trailed by three when KeVaughn Allen forced overtime with a three with 2.5 seconds left. The Gators are 12-8 on the season, but since a season-opening loss at Florida State, the only game they had lost by more than seven points came against No. 1 Tennessee, when they trailed by two with two minutes left. Florida has good computer numbers, but they just don’t quite have the wins to back them up right now. Ole Miss is a solid Q2 win, and the first top 50 team that the Gators have beaten this season.

Their next six games are as follows: Kentucky, at Auburn, at Tennessee, Vanderbilt, at Alabama, at LSU. That’s a brutal schedule, one that will make or break their season.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 48, SOS: 82): The Johnnies got things headed in the right direction, as they snapped a losing skid by going into Omaha and knocking off Creighton. It’s the second Q1 win on the season for Chris Mullin’s team, but it’s just their second win in the last six games — both came against Creighton. On Saturday, St. John’s heads down to Durham for a massive game at Duke.

SETON HALL (NET: 62, SOS: 23): Seton Hall entered Wednesday’s home game against Providence having gone three full weeks without winning a basketball game, and they busted out of their slump by picking off the Friars. Seton Hall has two really impressive wins — Kentucky on a neutral, at Maryland — and a trio of bad losses — they were swept by DePaul and lost to Saint Louis at home.

SYRACUSE (NET: 47, SOS: 38): The Orange bounced back from being humiliated by Virginia Tech to book a win at Boston College. With a 15-6 record, a win at Duke (which will likely be the best win anyone gets this season) and a 6-4 record in Q1 and Q2 games, the Orange are in a good spot even with home losses to Georgia Tech and Old Dominion.

AUBURN (NET: 24, SOS: 29): The Tigers smoked Missouri at home on Wednesday, but they still do not have a Q1 win. They are 5-1 in Q2 games, one of which — Washington (31) — is one spot in the NET away from becoming a Q1 win. But that should tell you everything you need to know about this team’s profile right now. There isn’t as much there as you might think.

LOSERS

INDIANA (NET: 44, SOS: 45): At this point, the issue for Indiana is not what their current resume is, because as of today they probably still have done enough to be considered, at the very least, one of the first four out. They are 12-9, but eight of those nine losses are in Q1 games while their worst loss — Wednesday at Rutgers (125) — is still just a Q2 loss. Throw in wins against Louisville and Marquette, and there are a lot of teams with much uglier profiles.

The issue for Indiana is that they still play a ridiculous tough schedule and there is nothing to lead us to believe this thing is going to get turned around. Rutgers was their seventh straight loss, a game they led by double digits late in the second half before they collapsed. This team lacks leadership, they lack confidence and, at this point, I think they might even lack a desire to finish out the season.

It’s getting ugly in Bloomington.

BUTLER (NET: 51, SOS: 22): The Bulldogs missed on what was their best chance to land a marquee win this season, getting smoked by Marquette at home. They are now 12-10 on the season with three Q2 losses and a Q3 loss to Georgetown at home. Their only Q1 win came against Florida on a neutral, a team that beat them by 34 points in the O-Dome. For the time being, Butler probably needs to be moved off the bubble.

CREIGHTON (NET: 57, SOS: 6): After snapping a four-game losing straight with a win at Georgetown, Creighton had a three-game home-stand to get themselves right before a critical game at Villanova on Feb. 6th. On Wednesday, the Bluejays missed on a chance to take down St. John’s at home, losing by 16 points. The biggest issue facing Greg McDermott’s club right now is that their two biggest games (Villanova and Marquette) are both on the road. If they don’t get this figured out quickly, they might need both of those.

PROVIDENCE (NET: 72, SOS: 60): Providence missed out on a chance to last their second Q1 win with a two-point loss at Seton Hall on Wednesday. The Friars are going to be an interesting team to track as we move closer to tournament time, mainly because four of their eight losses came without A.J. Reeves healthy. The problem with that? Their two best wins — at Texas and Seton Hall at home — came during that stretch as well. For my money, the Friars need to do three things to have a shot at dancing — split their remaining two games against Villanova and Marquette; go 2-2 in road trips to St. John’s, DePaul, Butler and Creighton; handle their business if their other four home games.

Kara Lawson hired as new Duke head coach

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Duke announced on Saturday that Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee guard and ESPN commentator, has been hired as the new head coach of the school’s women’s basketball team.

Lawson, 39, had been an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics before accepting the job at Duke, where she will be replacing Joanne McCallie. McCallie announced earlier this month that she would not be returning to the program.

Lawson is the first Black head coach in the program’s history, the second Black head coach hired by an ACC school this offseason and the third Black woman coaching an ACC women’s team. In total, there are five Black head coaches in the league on the women’s side.

Zion’s attorneys: Court filing claiming $400K payment contains fraudulent information

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Attorneys representing Zion Williamson in a lawsuit filed by former his marketing agent Gina Ford have claimed that the allegations set forth in her latest court filing are “fraudulent” and “a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson.”

Ford claimed to have obtain “newly-discovered evidence” regarding her lawsuit against Zion, specifically that the player and his stepfather accepted $400,000 from a marketing agent named Slavko Duric in October of 2018. Zion signed a contract with Ford and her company, Prime Sports Marketing, on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of the case hinges on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers are arguing that this made the contract itself invalid. Ford’s attorneys, on the other hand, are attempting to prove that Zion was actually ineligible at the time, meaning that he was not protected by UAAA, and this evidence is their latest attempt to do it.

Except, according to the attorneys representing Zion Williamson’s family, all of the evidence in the latest filing in this lawsuit is fake.

Included in the exhibits attached to the motion filed by Ford’s lawyers is a statement from a man named Donald Kreiss, who claims that he invested in a company owned by Duric called Maximum Management Group. MMG purportedly had an exclusive marketing agreement with Williamson, the proof being an agreement that was allegedly signed by Williamson, a letter of declaration to repay the $400,000 that was paid in 2018 and a copy of Zion’s driver’s license.

“The alleged ‘agreements’ and driver’s license attached to these papers are fraudulent,” read a statement from Jeffery Klein, Zion’s attorney and obtained by Daniel Wallach of The Athletic. “Neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealing with them. We had previously alerted Ms. Ford’s lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway.”

Here is a photo, courtesy of Wallach’s twitter feed, of Zion’s license.

Via @WALLACHLegal

Speaking as someone that bartended on a college campus for a decade, I would not accept this ID. The ‘E’ at the end of LICENSE is not in bold. The last three digits of his zip code are a different font than the first two. There is no shadow behind his ears in the picture, which is the first thing I was taught to look for on an ID I thought was fake. Most conspicuous? His weight is listed as a height and his height is listed as a weight.

Furthermore, Zion’s attorneys claim that Duric is the same man that tried to run a similar scam on Luka Doncic.

“A simple Google search reveals that Slavko Duric, whose ostensible sports marketing entity has no online presence, purportedly attempted to defraud Luka Doncic … using a scheme in which he forged Doncic’s and his mother’s signatures on a contract,” read a letter, obtained by Wallach. that Williamson’s attorney sent to Ford’s attorney before the motion was filed.

The intrigue into Zion Williamson’s lawsuit is about smearing Duke basketball’s image

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This column was originally published on May 11th of 2020.

The public intrigue into Zion Williamson’s current lawsuit and legal battle has nothing to do with Zion Williamson himself and everything to do with smearing the glossy veneer of the Duke basketball program.

That’s the truth.

The numbers involved in this litigation — reportedly up to $200 million is at stake — will certainly raise some eyebrows, but contract disputes are rarely interesting for anyone that isn’t in law school. That’s what this is. Zion signed a contract with Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing on April 20, 2019, five days after he declared for the NBA draft. Less than two months later, he backed out of that deal to sign with CAA, the most powerful agency in the business that will also be representing his basketball interests. Ford is suing Williamson for breach of contract.

The outcome of this civil case is going to hinge on a law in the state of North Carolina known as UAAA — the Uniform Athlete Agent Act — that requires a contract to make it clear to a student-athlete that by signing with an agent, they forfeit their remaining eligibility. This marketing contract did not have that language in it, and Williamson’s lawyers will argue that this made the contract itself invalid.

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(And no, I don’t, for a second, think that Zion was ever returning to Duke. Neither does Ford, or anyone with any common sense. It’s why I wrote this “column” last May, when the rumors of Zion returning to school started rolling through the basketball world. That said, if I was a cynic, I would take a close look at that timeline. Rumors of Zion returning to school just happened to start circulating right around the time that he was trying to find a way out of a marketing contract to sign with a bigger agency? Hmm. Interesting. But I’m not a cynic, so I certainly won’t suggest that it was nothing other than a well-orchestrated PR ploy knowing that this would inevitably end up in the court system one day. Wouldn’t dream of insinuating anything like it.)

Which brings us to Mother’s Day.

That’s when Daniel Wallach of The Athletic first published snippets of the latest Zion Williamson lawsuit that was filed by Ford and her attorneys. Among them were requests for admission that Zion and his family received all kinds of money, benefits and gifts to play at Duke and to induce him to wear Nike and Adidas at different points during his high school career. The legal ploy is simple, really: If Zion or his parents are forced, under oath, to admit that they accepted illegal benefits at any point during his recruitment or while on the roster at Duke, it would mean that he was retroactively ineligible. If he was actually ineligible during his one season in Durham, then the UAAA wouldn’t be relevant. The contract, which, according to Ford’s lawsuit, could only be terminated with cause, would stand and Zion would be on the hook for a lot of money.

At this point, it does not appear that there is much evidence proving that Zion accepted illegal benefits. When asked by Dana O’Neil of The Athletic if they have any proof of wrongdoing, Ford’s attorney said, “We have ideas, opinions and some leads of our own. We are looking for information to support our case. This is what we want to know.” Requests for admission are, essentially, fact-finding missions during discovery in civil cases. Put another way, at this point, these requests are nothing more than proof that Ford’s lawyers have heard the same rumors and read the same court docs that people in basketball circles and on college basketball message boards have.

But no one actually cares about the legalese here, because if they did, they’d realize that Zion is under no obligation to answer, and even if he is somehow forced to, nothing will come of this for a long, long time.

The people that care this case care about catching Coach K in a lie. They care about proving that the holier-than-thou way that Duke carries itself is fraudulent. They care about finding a way to get something — anything — to stick to the program that recruits better than anyone else in an era where recruiting is the Wild, Wild West.

Do you remember when Lance Thomas dropped $30,000 in cash as a down payment for $67,800 in jewelry a year before Thomas and Duke won the 2010 national title? Nothing came of it. Remember when Corey Maggette admitted to receiving payments from Myron Piggie before becoming a member of the team that made it to the 1999 national title game? Nothing came of that, either. Nothing happened when Wendell Carter’s name popped up on expense reports submitted by Christian Dawkins. Nothing happened when Michael Avenatti alleged that Nike paid Marvin Bagley’s family.

All told, there are 13 high-major programs that are dealing with the fallout from the FBI’s investigation into college basketball: Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Creighton, Kansas, Louisville, LSU, Memphis, N.C. State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC.

Duke, despite a cloud of smoke surrounding Zion that would make Seth Rogen envious, has been hit with … nada.

The public is looking for their pound of flesh, and nothing would satiate that bloodlust quite like an admission from Zion Williamson in this lawsuit that he was paid to go to Duke.

Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak

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The Ivy League on Wednesday became the first Division I conference to say it will not play sports this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. The league left open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the outbreak is better controlled by then.

The decision was described to the AP by a person speaking on the condition of anonymity in advance of the official announcement.

Although the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports. Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely.

The Ivy decision affects not just football but everything before Jan. 1, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the nonconference portion of the basketball season.

Power Five conferences told The Associated Press on Wednesday that they were still considering their options. But it was the Ivy League’s March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations that eventually enveloped all major college and professional sports.

“What’s happening in other conferences is clearly a reflection of what’s happening nationally and any decisions are made within that context,” said Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force, adding that there is no “hard deadline” for a decision.

“Clearly, regardless of what happens in the fall, sports are coming back eventually,” he said. “So we want to make sure that whenever that time (is) right to return to competition, that we have the infrastructure and the recommendations in place to be able to do so safely for the student-athletes, staff, coaches, fans, students.”

Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed.

Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity.

Coaches 4 Change: Siena’s Carmen Maciariello spearheads social justice initiative

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Carmen Maciariello found himself in the same place so many of us did in the days after George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis.

Devastated by what he was seeing. Motivated to find a way to use his platform as the head coach at Siena College to enact change. Struggling with how, as he puts it, “a white head coach from privilege at a school in New York,” can have real, honest, open dialogue with his majority-Black roster.

So he picked up the phone. He called Louis Orr, his former college coach and now an assistant coach at Georgetown. He called his closest friends in the coaching business. He called his advisor, Brad Konerman, an entrepreneur who connected him with a couple of talented website designers. By early June, 25 like-minded people from all walks of life were on a zoom call.

“I’ve never been pulled over and feared for my life for not using my blinker,” Maciariello, who is white, told me. “We had those conversations. How are we talking to our teams about that? What are we doing with the police? How can we help our young people navigate through these tough times?”

That’s how Coaches 4 Change was born.

Maciariello has grand plans for the organization. On a zoom call with nearly all of the 43 coaches that have committed to the group to date, he said he wants “to try to change the world. Let’s not think small, we’ve gotta think big with this.” He is not lacking for ambition.

But Maciariello also understands that something like this has to start small and it has to start locally. It’s why he limited the first group of invitees to coaches that are “doing this for the right reasons.”

“I didn’t want to have a donate link and bring in coaches that felt like, ‘I donated money, I did my part supporting it,” he said. “It was about the time commitment and the vision. We have to focus on one thing first.”

That first thing?

Voting.

C4C developed a sleek, interactive website to help educate young people about social injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement, things as basic as the difference between systemic and systematic racism and Jackie Robinson’s impact on sports. But the site also provides users with all of the information necessary to vote in this year’s elections, information on what makes voting so important in a democracy and — most importantly — a tutorial for how a person in every state can register to vote, where their polling stations are and whether or not they are eligible for mail-in voting. Their website also has a ‘Keep Learning‘ page that links to all documentaries, podcasts, audiobooks and literary resources available on all streaming platforms, including content for children.

C4C has partnered with Vote.org with a goal of “100 percent voter registration for all college athletes” regardless of the sport they play, Maciariello said.

Currently, the only coaches involved with C4C are men’s college basketball coaches, but that will change. They are in the process of reaching out to counterparts on the women’s side, and will eventually invite staff members from other sports as well. One of the barriers to entry to become a member will be ensuring that every player on a coach’s team is registered to vote.

Eventually, Maciariello envisions C4C developing community outreach initiatives. He wants the members of C4C to connect with their campus communities and put together voter registration drives for students. He wants to eventually connect with lawmakers and work on changing legislation that helps systemic racism continue to exist.

No one ever said he wasn’t ambitious.

But he knows he has to start somewhere, and that somewhere is this platform.

“I want to engage people in issues,” he said. “Educate them, empower them to change, encourage them to grow and evolve.”