Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (maps to the basket sold separately in Raleigh, after North Carolina State scored 24 points in an entire regulation game Saturday):
[More Minutes: Which teams are in contention for No. 1 seeds?]
WHAT BILL SELF SHOULD HAVE SAID
Last Friday, when the NCAA benched Kansas big man Silvio De Sousa (1) for all of this season and the next one, the outrage from Lawrence was both potent and predictable. Here is what coach Bill Self (2) said in a statement: “In my 30-plus years of coaching college basketball, I have never witnessed such a mean-spirited and vindictive punishment against a young man who did nothing wrong. To take away his opportunity to play college basketball is shameful and a failure of the NCAA. Silvio is a tremendous young man who absolutely deserves to be on the court with his teammates. This process took way too long to address these issues. We will support Silvio as he considers his options.”
Here is what Bill Self should have said, if he had a lot less gall and a lot more Self-awareness: “I apologize to Silvio De Sousa for putting him in this predicament. I’m sorry that T.J. Gassnola (3), a known bag man and now convicted felon, who I was in contact with during this recruitment and others, paid the money that helped bring Silvio to Kansas. We have said that Silvio didn’t know what was transpiring, but I should have. Everyone in college basketball was aware of T.J.’s reputation and how he operated. I acknowledge that it’s very hard to believe that someone with my experience and connections had no idea that he was working a deal to abruptly pull Silvio away from Maryland and send him to Kansas. Instead of blaming the NCAA for its ruling, I should blame myself for using T.J. Gassnola as an unofficial recruiter.”
Here is what Kansas athletic director Jeff Long (4) should have said, instead of joining Self in railing against the NCAA: “Silvio De Sousa’s ineligibility rests with us, not the NCAA. As was revealed in federal court, our head coach said in a text message to T.J. Gassnola, who was working recruiting angles as an Adidas bag man, ‘I’m happy with Adidas. Just got to get a couple real guys.’ Well, T.J. got us a guy, and he did it with a cash payment. We let a fox in the hen house, then acted surprised when he ate a chicken. That’s on us, and nobody else.”
Here is what Kansas president Douglas Girod (5) should have said, if he’d bothered to say anything at all: “As the head of the university, I’m here to accept responsibility for what’s happened within our basketball program and not fall back on the tired, easy, blame-the-NCAA lamentation. Silvio De Sousa has been declared ineligible, and playing him last year will almost certainly vacate our 2018 Final Four appearance. Billy Preston (6) was recruited to Kansas and never played a minute after his mother also was paid by T.J. Gassnola. Cliff Alexander (7) was declared ineligible during the 2015 NCAA tournament and never played again for our school. Assistant coach Kurtis Townsend (8) was quoted on a wiretap transcript discussing a housing-job-cash deal to land Zion Williamson (9). We should have taken a hard look at the way Kansas basketball does business long before now — but frankly, we didn’t want to.”
Self’s tantrum and the media outcry supporting De Sousa wasn’t surprising. What’s surprising is that Long excoriated the NCAA twice in 24 hours, which harkened back to the response of former USC athletic director Mike Garrett when his football program was under investigation. (That didn’t end well.) This seemingly is a sign that Long is all-in on Self, despite the red flags that were waved in federal court. But Long is protected either way, thanks to a creative contract that gives him an extension for the length of any “federal, state, NCAA, or conference investigation leading to restrictions or probation for its football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball or women’s volleyball athletic programs.” And it’s extended at $1.5 million per year.
It has been suggested by several media outlets — perhaps first by CBSsports.com — that De Sousa should be allowed to play next season wherever he wants, as long as it’s not Kansas. That would be a satisfactory resolution. But everyone in college basketball — coaches, administrators, myopic media members — should stop blaming the NCAA for enforcing rules its member schools have agreed to live by. And given what federal investigators have uncovered within the sport, whining about the consequences of being caught comes off as the height of delusional arrogance.
The bills are coming due in a cheating sport. Pipe down and pay up.
FIRST TIME IN A LONG TIME (OR EVER)
Teams seeking to end some long streaks come NCAA tournament time:
Tennessee (10) has been to exactly zero Final Fours in its history, despite being an NCAA member since the tournament began in 1939. Why this could/should be the year: The Volunteers have been fantastic all season, racing to a 20-1 record and putting themselves in prime position to be a No. 1 seed when the NCAA selection committee gives its early bracket reveal Saturday. With its top five in minutes played being all juniors and seniors, the time has never been better for Tennessee basketball to exorcize a few postseason demons and go where it has never gone before.
(Another example of how miserable Tennessee basketball has been in March: This year is the 40th anniversary of its last SEC tournament title. Ten SEC schools have won the tourney since the last time the Vols did.)
Virginia (11). The Cavaliers’ last Final Four was 1984, when coach Tony Bennett was 14 years old. The road from then to now has been littered with heartbreak, the worst of it on Bennett’s watch. (Virginia has lost to a lower seed in four of the past five tourneys, usually in ghastly fashion, none worse than last year’s historic disaster against No. 16 seed UMBC.) With a 20-1 record and a veteran core, Virginia again would have only itself to blame if it continues to come up short of the Final Four.
Nevada (12). The Wolf Pack has never advanced to a regional final, much less the Final Four. It never was a realistic expectation until now, as Eric Musselman’s team is 21-1 and rolling toward its highest NCAA seeding in school history. A bizarrely bad night in Albuquerque, when Nevada’s big three of Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin combined to go 2-for-13 from 3-point range, is the only thing separating the Wolf Pack from undefeated. They may not lose again before the NCAA tourney.
San Francisco (13). The Dons’ last NCAA bid came in 1998. Since then they have watched Gonzaga take over the West Coast Conference, with Saint Mary’s as the established secondary power. At 17-5, Kyle Smith’s team has made a push for this to be a three-bid league this year. But victories over Pac-12 teams (Stanford and California) aren’t what they used to be, and the Dons now take a two-game losing streak to Gonzaga on Thursday. USF hasn’t won there in 30 years but it may need to this year, or win the WCC tournament, to get back in the NCAA field.
Central Florida (14). The Knights’ last bid was 2005, which was two leagues ago (Atlantic Sun, then Conference USA, now American Athletic). Johnny Dawkins’ third UCF team is 16-4, 6-2 in conference play, but likely still in need of another résumé-building win or two. They have four opportunities remaining against league co-leaders Houston and Cincinnati, starting with a home game Thursday against the Cougars. It would be a shame not to have the spectacle of 7-foot-6 senior Tacko Fall playing at least one NCAA tournament game.
Washington (15). The Huskies’ last bid was 2011, which reinforces how amazing it is that Lorenzo Romar kept his job until a sixth straight NCAA tourney miss got him fired in 2017. Mike Hopkins is making quick work of the rebuild, surging to a 9-0 Pac-12 record at the halfway point of the league race. But given the atrocious nature of that conference, the best thing on Washington’s résumé is a last-second loss to Gonzaga. What passes for quality win opportunities in the Pac-12 present themselves this week, when the Huskies travel to Arizona on Thursday and Arizona State on Saturday.
STREAKING THE WRONG DIRECTION?
Things are not going as well at these five schools:
Indiana (16) is threatening to miss the Big Dance for the third straight season, something that hasn’t happened without NCAA probation as a factor since the early 1970s — when the field consisted of just 25 teams, and only one Big Ten team was invited. The Hoosiers took a huge step back toward Bracketville on Saturday with a shocking upset triumph at Michigan State, ending a seven-game losing streak. That win pairs well with victories over Marquette and Louisville, but a 4-7 Big Ten mark will need to be improved down the stretch. That should happen, with six games remaining at home and only three on the road.
Texas (17) is in jeopardy of three consecutive losing seasons in conference play for the first time since 1983-85, when the Longhorns were in the Southwest Conference. After going 12-24 in the Big 12 the previous two seasons, Shaka Smart’s team is 4-5 at present. The good news is that Texas has its three toughest conference games out of the way (Kansas twice, and at Iowa State). But there are plenty of potential losses still on the schedule in a league where almost no games are easy. Since a win at Kansas State on Jan. 2, the Horns have lost five straight road games.
Wichita State (18) is trying to extend a streak of seven straight NCAA tournament appearances. It looks like a long shot at present, after losing eight of its top nine players from last season in terms of minutes per game. The Shockers did get up off the mat last week, winning home games over SMU and Tulsa to get to 10-11, 3-6 in the American, but they almost assuredly must win the league automatic bid to get back to the Big Dance again. Wichita is a poor shooting team that fouls too much — two problems that go a long way in explaining seven straight losses away from home.
Arizona (19) has made six straight NCAA tourneys, but resides on the wrong side of the bubble right now. The Wildcats, who have lost three straight games and four of the last five, have what appears to be a must-win home game against Washington on Thursday for at-large consideration. The task grows harder if guard Brandon Williams (third on the team in scoring, first in assists) doesn’t return quickly from a right knee injury .
Illinois (20) is headed toward a sixth straight season without an NCAA bid, something that last happened from 1975-80. The young Illini have played better after a gruesome 4-12 start against a tough schedule, but at 7-15 they aren’t going anywhere in the postseason without winning the Big Ten tourney. And that would require a miracle at this point.
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