AP Photo/Darren Hauck

Markus Howard’s 38 points paces No. 10 Marquette in win over No. 14 Villanova

Leave a comment

Markus Howard scored 38 points and Sacar Anim added 18 as No. 10 Marquette knocked off No. 14 Villanova, 66-65, in Milwaukee to keep the Big East title race interesting over the final month of the season.

Entering the day, Villanova held a two-game lead on first place in the Big East standings over the Golden Eagles, and a win would have locked them into a fifth Big East regular season title in the last six seasons. Early on, it looked like Marquette was going to cruise to an easy victory, as they jumped out to a 47-32 lead midway through the second half.

Villanova responded by hitting six straight threes during a 23-6 run, taking a 55-53 lead.

Phil Booth led the way for Villanova with 19 points while Eric Paschall added 17.

Here are three things we can take away from this result:

1. MARKUS HOWARD IS A BAD MAN, BUT PHIL BOOTH MIGHT BE THE BEST PRO IN THIS GAME

Markus Howard is sensational.

Anyone that reads this space should know by now how I feel about him. He had 38 points on 13-for-24 shooting, hitting 5-for-11 from three, despite the fact that both of the Hauser brothers played about as poorly has they are capable of playing.

That said, the turnover that Howard committed on the final possession of the game drives home a point that I’ve made about Howard before: He struggles when dealing with length and athleticism, and that has me wondering just what his ceiling is as an NBA player. I’m also an Eric Paschall guy, but seeing him get roasted by Sacar Anim — who was terrific, by the way — is concerning for his pro prospects as well.

Which is why I think that Phil Booth has a very real chance to be the best NBA player on either of these two teams.

There isn’t much that he can’t do on a basketball court. He’s a knockdown shooter. He’s capable of creating his own shot off the dribble — the behind-the-back step-back that he hit in the deep corner with 2:19 left was an NBA move. He can pass. He can defend on the perimeter. With just over a minute left, Steve Wojciechowski called a timeout and drew up a play designed to get Sam Hauser isolated on Booth, who was giving up five inches, and Booth held his own and forced a missed shot.

Hell, I think the only bad decision that he made in this game was when he opted not to shoot here:

Howard is probably going to end up being the Big East Player of the Year, and he’ll deserve it when he gets it.

But Booth has 10-year NBA rotation player written all over him.

2. THEO JOHN’S FOUL ISSUES MAY COST MARQUETTE COME MARCH

One of the biggest reasons that Marquette has improved on the defensive end of the floor this season is that Theo John has really grown into the role of eraser at the rim. He’s averaging 4.4 blocks per 40 minutes, and while his rebounding numbers aren’t amazing, he does a good enough job at ending defensive possessions.

The problem with John is that he just can’t stay out of foul trouble, and he is particularly susceptible to picking up fouls when he is forced to defend on the perimeter. He played just 16 minutes against Villanova before fouling out, which makes sense given the fact that the Wildcats opted to use a frontline that consisted of Eric Paschall, Jermaine Samuels and Saddiq Bey.

At some point during the NCAA tournament, Marquette is going to run into a team that can space the floor and force John into situations where he has to move his feet on the perimeter. Whether or not he is able to do that and stay out of foul trouble may be what determines whether or not the Golden Eagles get out of the first weekend.

3. JERMAINE SAMUELS AND SACAR ANIM ARE WAKING UP AT THE RIGHT TIME

It may be a little unfair to say that Anim is just now waking up, but I do think that he has been playing his best basketball over the course of the last couple of weeks. He had 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting against Villanova, which came after he scored 14 points at Butler and finished with 11 points in the loss to St. John’s. He’s also made 6-for-9 from three over the last four games. Out Marquette’s perimeter weapons, he is the one that opposing coaches are going to want to force to make shots — that’s what Villanova did — and when he does, Marquette can do things like beat Villanova.

Samuels, on the other hand, is actually waking up. He’s seen him minutes take a major jump in the last month, and while he’s never going to be looked at as much of an offensive threat right now, he is producing on the glass and defensively. What happened on Saturday was that Marquette helped off of Samuels — he had taken just a single three in his last five games — and dared him to beat them. He made a pair of threes during Villanova’s 23-6 run to get back into the game.

The athleticism and toughness Samuels brings on the defensive end of the floor is something that Villanova has to have right now, and anything that he can provide from a scoring perspective is found money. If he gets to a point where he’s consistently a 7-9 point-per-game guy that makes threes when defenses don’t guard him, he’ll be a difference-maker for Jay Wright just like he was on Saturday.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
7 Comments

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

Getty Images
4 Comments

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.