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Big East tournament preview and postseason awards

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POSTSEASON AWARDS

BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Markus Howard, Marquette

There really isn’t all that much of a discussion to be had here. Howard was the best player in the Big East this season, and I’m honestly not sure it was all that close. He carried the Golden Eagles for long stretches despite the fact that he’s playing somewhat out of position. Howard is a scoring guard. He’s a shooter first and foremost, but he is also the only ball-handler on Marquette’s roster. That put him in a difficult situation this season, and frankly, it came back to bite Marquette at the end of the year. Part of the reason the Golden Eagles finished in second in the Big East standings and not as the regular season champions is because they blew leads in four straight games to close out the year, a direct result of Marquette’s turnover issues.

But that shouldn’t take away from just how good Howard has been.

BIG EAST COACH OF THE YEAR: Kevin Willard, Seton Hall

To think that there were people that wanted Kevin Willard fired just a couple of years ago. In the last two seasons, he has more than proven that he is one of the better coaches in the Big East, but this year will likely go down as his best coaching job. Coming off of a year where the Pirates lost four senior starters — Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, Ismael Sanogo — Willard found a way to get this group to the No. 3 seed heading into the Big East tournament and, barring something catastrophic, a spot in their fourth straight NCAA tournament. I don’t think anyone saw that coming in October.

FIRST TEAM ALL-BIG EAST

  • MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette
  • SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s
  • MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall
  • PHIL BOOTH, Villanova
  • ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova

SECOND TEAM ALL-BIG EAST

  • KAMAR BALDWIN, Butler
  • MAX STRUS, DePaul
  • NAJI MARSHALL, Xavier
  • SAM HAUSER, Marquette
  • JESSIE GOVAN, Georgetown

BIG EAST TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

WHEN: March 13-16
WHERE: New York City
FINAL: March 16, 6:30 p.m., FOX

FAVORITE: Villanova (+175)

I know Villanova is down this season and I know they lost four of their last six and five of their last eight regular season games. I know they lost the last five games that they have played away from home. I know all of that. I also know that this is a program that has won three of the last four Big East tournaments and two of the last three national titles. They know how to get the job done in a tournament setting, and in a conference where it appears that no one is actually good, that should be enough.

And here’s the other thing: Given the way that this bracket broke down, Villanova is going to have the two best players on the floor every time they take the floor until the Big East tournament title game. Eric Paschall and Phil Booth have both hit something of a slump late in the year, but their half of the bracket doesn’t have a surefire NCAA tournament team — Creighton pending.

One other note: I love this Marquette (+200) team, but considering that there is a very real chance that they end up playing St. John’s — who swept them — in the second round of the tournament, I am going to stay from them. Justin Simon’s length has given Markus Howard fits for years, and I’m not going to bet on him figuring it out today.

SLEEPER: St. John’s (+900)

So let’s talk about this St. John’s team. On the one hand, they are super, super talented. Shamorie Ponds, Marvin Clark, Justin Simon, Mustapha Heron, L.J. Figueroa. On paper, that might be the best starting five in the Big East, and yet the Johnnies still managed to put together a 20-11 season with an 8-10 mark in Big East play. That’s not ideal.

The reason I have them listed here is two-fold. For starters, they tend to turn up with the lights are the brightest. The Johnnies get swept by DePaul, Providence and Xavier — games that no one really cares about — but went 3-1 against Marquette and Villanova and would have swept Seton Hall if it wasn’t for a blown call in with 3.9 seconds left. This is the Big East tournament. They should care.

Oh, and should I mention that they are playing in one of their home arenas?

This is a risky play, but the value is there. Think about it like this: St. John’s is the No. 7 seed, but if they can win their first round game, they get Marquette — who they swept — in the quarterfinals. To get there, they have to beat No. 10 seed DePaul, who swept them.

Buckle up!

BEST VALUE: DePaul (+5000)

OK, so hear me out on this one.

The Blue Demons finished in last place in the Big East, but this team is better than you probably realize they are. They won seven games in the league for the first time since 2007. They swept St. John’s, who they play in the first round. They swept Seton Hall, who they would play in the semifinals if seeds hold. They’ve won two of their last three games and they have a kid named Max Strus that is among the most dangerous scorers in the country; he had 43 points against St. John’s nine days ago.

In a league that makes absolutely no sense, 50:1 odds is pretty good value.

BUBBLE DWELLERS

SETON HALL (NET: 62, SOS: 31): With a 6-7 record against Q1 opponents, a 12-10 mark against Q1 and Q2 and wins over Kentucky (5) on a neutral and at Maryland, the Pirates are probably safe regardless of what happens, but as a team sitting in that No. 10 seed range in most bracket projections, there certainly is a world where a first round loss costs them a trip to the tournament.

CREIGHTON (NET: 54, SOS: 15)
XAVIER (NET: 71, SOS: 48): The Bluejays face what could amount to a play-in game right off the bat as they draw Xavier in the 4-5 game on Thursday afternoon. Creighton is in a better spot than Xavier right now after winning five games in a row — including at Marquette (29) — to close the regular season. They also do not have any bad losses, while Xavier lost to DePaul (100) at home and to San Diego State (134) on a neutral. Creighton might still have a chance if they lose. Xavier probably needs to wins to have a real chance to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.

ST. JOHN’S (NET: 66, SOS: 68): In a normal year, we probably would barely consider a Saint Joh’s team that was swept by DePaul (100), swept by Xavier (71), swept by Providence (74) and lost to Georgetown (76) at home anything close to a bubble team, but here we are. The Red Storm swept Marquette (29), beat Villanova (25) at home and has a neutral court win over VCU (31). But they also played a non-conference schedule that ranks 211th nationally. I think that with a third loss to DePaul, the Johnnies — who currently sit as an 11 seed in our latest bracket — could be in some trouble.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 76, SOS: 77): The Hoyas are a longshot to dance, but their resume is awfully similar to St. John’s. They also have five Q1 wins. They are 11-10 against Q1 anf Q2 opponents as opposed to St. John’s’ 10-9 mark. They, too, have a pair of bad losses and an ugly non-conference schedule. If the Hoyas can get passed Seton Hall (62) in the quarterfinals, a win over Marquette in the semis might actually get them into the tournament.

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE LINE?

Beyond all of the bubble teams trying to play their way into the NCAA tournament, I think what’s on the line here is Villanova and Marquette finding a way to turn this thing around and get it going before the NCAA tournament starts. Villanova has lost four of six and five of eight to close the regular season. Marquette lost four in a row. These are the two teams that have a real shot to make some noise in the NCAA tournament this season — particularly Marquette — and if the Big East wants a representative. in the second weekend of the tournament, this is where it is going to come from.

PREDICTION

I have no idea what is going to happen in this tournament, so my prediction is simple: None of the top three seeds — Villanova, Marquette and Seton Hall — will still be playing on Saturday.

Seven returning collegians among Team USA U19 invites

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USA Basketball is welcoming seven sophomores among its 34 total invitees to training camp next month ahead of the FIBA U19 World Cup in Greece.

Incoming freshmen and Class of 2020 will vie for 12 roster spots with Kansas State coach Bruce Weber helming the team and being assisted by Washington’s Mike Hopkins and North Carolina Central’s LaVelle Moton.

The returning college players garnering invites are Kessler Edwards (Pepperdine), Tyrse Haliburton (Iowa State), Kira Lewis (Alabama), Isaac Likekele (Oklahoma State), Trevion Williams (Purdue) and Bryce Willis (Stanford), along with Jayden Scrubb from the junior college ranks.

“The committee is excited at the level of talent that will be at training camp for the USA U19 World Cup team, and we expect to have a difficult decision trying to narrow down the group to 12 team members,” Matt Painter, Purdue coach and cahr of the junior national team committee, said in a statement.

R.J. Hampton, Samuell Williamson, Scottie Barnes and Jalen Suggs are some of the headliners from the group of players without college experience.

Sophomores

Kessler Edwards (Pepperdine/Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.)

Tyrese Haliburton (Iowa State/Oshkosh, Wis.)

Kira Lewis Jr. (Alabama/Meridianville, Ala.)

Isaac Likekele (Oklahoma State/Mansfield, Texas)

Jayden Scrubb (John A. Logan College/Louisville, Ky.)

Trevion Williams (Purdue/Chicago, Ill.)

Bryce Wills (Stanford/White Plains, N.Y.).

Incoming freshmen

Eric Dixon (Abington H.S./William Grove, Pa.)

Dajuan Gordon (Curie H.S./Chicago, Ill.)

R.J. Hampton (Little Elm H.S./Little Elm, Texas)

Justin Moore(DeMatha Catholic H.S./Accokeek, Md.)

Casey Morsell (St. John’s College H.S./Washington, D.C.)

Zeke Nnaji (Hopkins H.S./Hopkins, Minn.)

Isaac Okoro (McEachern H.S./Powder Springs, Ga.)

Onyeka Okongwu (Chino Hills H.S./Chino, Calif.)

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (IMG Academy, FL/Overland Park, Kan.)

Isaiah Stewart (La Lumiere School, IN/Rochester, N.Y.)

Anton Watson (Gonzaga Prep/Spokane, Wash.)

Mark Watts Jr. (SPIRE Institute/Pontiac, Mich.)

Romeo Weems (New Haven H.S./Chesterfield, Mich.)

Samuell Williamson (Rockwall H.S./Rockwall, Texas).

Class of 2020

Scottie Barnes (University School/West Palm Beach, Fla.)

Nimari Burnett (Prolific Prep, Calif./Chicago, Ill.)

Joshua Christopher (Mayfair H.S./Lakewood, Calif.)

Sharife Cooper (McEachern H.S./Powder Springs, Ga.)

Cade Cunningham (Montverde Academy, Fla./Arlington, Texas)

Hunter Dickinson (DeMatha Catholic H.S., Md./Alexandria, Va.)

Jalen Green(Prolific Prep/Fresno, Calif.)

Walker Kessler (Woodward Academy/Newnan, Ga.)

Caleb Love (Christian Brothers College H.S./St. Louis, Mo.)

Evan Mobley (Rancho Christian School/Temecula, Calif.)

Ethan Morton (Butler H.S./Butler, Pa.)

Jalen Suggs (Minnehaha Academy/Minneapolis, Minn.)

Ziaire Williams (Notre Dame H.S./Sherman Oaks, Calif.).

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey: Transferring players need ‘deterrent’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The NCAA is granting too many waivers allowing players who transfer to compete immediately, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said Wednesday, calling the requirement that players sit out a year a useful “deterrent” to players switching schools.

Brey made his comments at a meeting of the Knight Commission, a nonprofit that pushes for reform in college sports. While the commission has not taken a position on transfer waivers, it often advocates for players being given more freedom to pursue their professional ambitions.

“As coaches we’re concerned about the number of waivers, to the point where the NCAA has given too much of a blueprint on how to get a waiver,” Brey said. “Kids feel they can go and, you know, bring up enough of a case to get eligible right away. So they’re more apt to want to go.”

In April 2018, the NCAA relaxed its waiver requirements, allowing a transferring player to suit up immediately if there are “documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete.”

During the 2018-19 academic year, 79 men’s basketball players requested waivers and 44 were granted, a 56% success rate, according to NCAA data. Men’s basketball accounted for 33% of all waiver requests, the NCAA said.

Commission co-chairman Arne Duncan, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, declined to comment on waivers but lauded the “transparency” of the NCAA’s transfer portal, in which players submit their names if they want to switch schools.

Brey said he believes players should be free to transfer and that it’s up to coaches to make their players want to stay, but he said sitting out a year can be beneficial and prevents players from transferring for immature or capricious reasons.

“It’s a bit of a deterrent for a kid. The year in residency saves kids from themselves sometimes,” Brey said. “I’ve seen some kids then come back, stick it out, and now they’re in the lineup and they come back five years later and go, ‘I was an idiot.’ Because every kid thinks about (transferring) when he’s not playing.”

ROADBLOCKS TO REFORM

Brey’s comments were one of a few examples from Wednesday’s meeting of the basketball establishment pushing back against reforms that would give players more autonomy or promote transparency about the way schools profit from college athletics.

The Knight Commission is pushing the NCAA to release to the public the financial details of contracts between athletic departments and shoe and apparel companies, a proposal that has not gained much traction. In the past, the commission has persuaded the NCAA to release graduation rates and other financial data, including compensation for coaches.

“The shoe companies, there has to be agreement across the board, that there has to be willingness and openness to share all those records. Candidly, I think more work needs to be done,” said Kevin Lennon, the NCAA’s vice president for Division I governance. “We don’t control all the third parties and their ability to cooperate with us. More conversation needs to continue to occur within the NCAA and between the NCAA and the third parties if we want to move the ball.”

Two NBA executives told the commission the league is in talks with the players’ union about lowering the NBA’s minimum age to 18, prompted largely by a recommendation by the Commission on College Basketball to rid the sport of the “one-and-done rule.”

But even that proposal is meeting some resistance in the NBA. David Krichavsky, the league’s senior vice president and head of youth basketball development, said some in the league would rather raise the age limit than lower it.

“Many teams and general managers would still be in favor of going to 20, given the additional scouting information you receive on players, seeing them compete at the NCAA level for two years after high school,” Krichavsky said, “but at the same time we recognize that the world has changed and will continue to change.”

COACHES BEHAVING BADLY

Brey, the president of the board of directors of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said he’d like to see coaches reach a consensus about how to police their own behavior.

An ongoing federal investigation into illicit payments made to players during the recruiting process led Louisville to fire longtime coach Rick Pitino, but some other coaches implicated in the probe have held onto their jobs. Brey said schools ought to move more aggressively to fire coaches for cause when they violate NCAA rules.

“We all have clauses in our contracts about NCAA rules and behavior, all of us. If those are violated, doesn’t that start on the campuses?” Brey said. “And no question the NABC could make a stronger stand. We have not maybe been as vocal about some of the things that have gone on.”

Report: NCAA will give more notices of allegations soon

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Now that the FBI’s college basketball corruption cases are complete, the NCAA will likely move forward with more notices of allegations.

Speaking to ESPN’s Heather Dinich on Wednesday at the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, NCAA vice president of Division I Governance Kevin Lennon said that more investigations could come “in due time and I think  very quickly.”

The NCAA needed to wait for the FBI’s trials to finish up before launching its own investigations on schools mentioned over the past 18 months. We could see a high number of big-name programs get investigated during the NCAA’s process.

“You don’t get in the way of a federal investigation,” Lennon said Wednesday. “Activity was going on during that span that was within our purview, but now that the court cases are done, now we’re in a position where you’re likely to see notices of allegations going to institutions that have violated NCAA rules, etc. I think you can anticipate notices of allegations will be coming.”

Following the completion of the first FBI trial in October 2018, the NCAA already reportedly sent notice of allegations to Arizona, Kansas, NC State and Louisville. Other prominent programs, including but not limited to, Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma State and USC have also been mentioned during recent college basketball corruption trials.

While the NCAA will seek all documents that schools turned over to the federal government during legal procedures, the real difficulty in the NCAA’s investigations will be getting third-party participants to speak — or even cooperate in the first place. Those not tied to the NCAA through member schools have no legal obligation to help the NCAA during their investigation process.

Wednesday’s Knight Commission meeting also went over processes discussed or implemented because of the Rice Commission’s April 2018 report. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, president of the board of directors for the NABC, made waves by questioning where accountability comes from when it comes to coaching penalties.

Asking why “there’s been no hammer from the top of campus,” Brey asked why schools haven’t been accountable with coaches who break the rules.

“Why hasn’t an athletic director or a president acted in some of these current cases?” Brey said.

“I think a lot of our coaches want to know why hasn’t the hammer come down? I’m a little naïve to it. Is it legal stuff? A lot of lawyers? I think our profession would love to see the hammer be dropped on some of these situations. We need an explosion back.”

Brey has every right to question where penalties are coming from since only Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has lost his job among head coaches during this scandal. There seems to be a lot of confusion on where some things stand with the NCAA, and its rules, but maybe we’ll get more clarification now that the FBI trials are done.

Juwan Howard will be the next Michigan head coach

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Juwan Howard is heading back to school.

The former Fab Five member has accepted an offer to replace John Beilein as Michigan’s next head coach, according to multiple reports. He has spent the last six seasons as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, where he played his final three seasons as a pro. The Wolverines ultimately picked Howard over Providence head coach Ed Cooley and Luke Yaklich, who was an assistant on Michigan’s staff the last two years.

Stadium is reporting that Howard has agreed to a five-year deal.

This will be the first time in 25 years that Howard has been back in the mix on a college campus, since he left Ann Arbor to become the No. 5 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and that is what makes this decision a risk for the Wolverines.

Howard has never been an assistant coach at the college level. He hasn’t worked at the high school level. He hasn’t coached in the AAU ranks. There is not a strong track record for this kind of a hire. Of all the former NBA player that have ended up coaching a college team, Fred Hoiberg is really the only one that has had unquestionable and continued success. Kevin Ollie won a national title with UConn, but he not only was an assistant coach on Jim Calhoun’s staff for two years before getting the job, his title-winning team was a No. 7-seed that rode Shabazz Napier’s coattails to the title and he eventually got fired after driving UConn straight into the ground. Chris Mullin was a bust at St. John’s. The jury is still out on Patrick Ewing at Georgetown, but two years in he’s sitting with a 34-29 record and a 14-22 mark in the Big East.

Avery Johnson. Isiah Thomas. Clyde Drexler. Mike Dunleavy. Mark Price. Danny Manning. The list of NBA guys that have gone back to school and fizzled out is long.

Penny Hardaway — and, to a point, Jerry Stackhouse — are different. Penny worked his way up from the bottom. He started as a middle school coach and spent about a decade coaching in the high school and AAU ranks in Memphis before taking over the Tigers. Stackhouse coached an AAU program before taking over at Vanderbilt as well. They know the ins and outs of building relationships at that level. They had a keen understanding of what it means to be a head coach at the college level when they got hired, even if that understanding came from dealing with coaches recruiting their players.

Howard doesn’t have that.

And it doesn’t mean that he is going to be a flop.

When you have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade campaigning for you, the kids you will be recruiting will take notice. When your candidacy brings Jalen Rose and Chris Webber together, there are going to be people in Ann Arbor that want to make this work. He spent two decades playing in the NBA. He was an assistant on Erik Spoelstra’s staff, a staff that has turned the Heat into one of the better defensive teams in the NBA ever since LeBron left. That same staff has also proven themselves capable of establishing a culture of hard work, toughness and player development.

Howard may not have a ton of experience on a college bench — or doing the things required to run a college program — but the coaching chops are there.

But there is no question that this is a major risk.

And while Warde Manuel’s decision to hire Ollie when he had the same job in Storrs did result in UConn winning their fourth national title, he also ended up bringing in the guy that had to be fired just four years after cutting down those nets.

Clemson forward Baehre tears knee ligament

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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson forward Jonathan Baehre is out indefinitely after tearing a knee ligament.

The school says the injury occurred during practice Monday. There is no timetable for his return.

Baehre is a 6-foot-10 junior transfer from UNC Asheville who sat out last season. With four senior starters gone off this year’s team, Baehre was expected to play a major role for the Tigers.

Coach Brad Brownell says it’s an unfortunate injury for Baehre and the team. Brownell says Baehre had worked hard since joining the Tigers and he had no doubt Baehre would approach rehab strongly “and have a very productive career at Clemson.”

Baehre, from Germany, started 21 games for UNC Asheville in 2017-18 and averaged 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game.