Highlights and lowlights from the 2017-18 college basketball season: What we learned from the season of the FBI
A look back at an unprecedented season, including the five biggest moments from the 2018 NCAA Tournament
College basketball just had one of its most notable, if not notorious, seasons in history. A dominant team winning a second title in three years, a federal investigation still looming over the sport's head, a number of coaches who've managed to hold on to their jobs, and a historic season by a freshman who still somehow managed to wind up as a disappointment in the eyes of many.
That's just the start of it.
For everything this unprecedented college basketball season provided, it all still went by pretty fast, didn't it? The 2017-18 campaign will be remembered for many big storylines, all of which are highlighted below. Let's look back, mostly chronologically, at what's happened over the past six months.
Duke gets Marvin Bagley III eligible
Before the FBI investigation became public knowledge, this was arguably the biggest story of college basketball's offseason. It happened all the way back on Sept. 8 and it undeniably altered Duke's season. Sure, you can point to what Duke didn't do (didn't win an ACC regular season or postseason title, didn't get a No. 1 seed, didn't make a Final Four) and claim that Bagley wasn't the season-changer he was promised to be. But that's not taking everything into account.
Bagley, for me,in the regular season (though Bagley did win CBS Sports' Freshman of the Year thanks to Duke's Elite Eight push). He put up arguably the best freshman season (21.0 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 61.4 FG%) in ACC history. He turned Duke into the third-ranked team at KenPom.com. And though Duke is always interesting, Bagley's inclusion made it even more so.
FBI investigation rocks the sport
The biggie. This story broke in late September. It dominated coverage throughout the preseason. Yet this part's sort of glossed over: Once the games started, the FBI stuff faded to the background until February. In fact, the case itself hasn't had significant movement since September. Media reports have advanced the story (more on that below), but the men charged in the complaints won't go to trial until 2019. And no new arrests have been made. It go so "quiet" at one point thatbased on how much speculation had taken hold.
Remember how some were breathlessly positing that the NCAA Tournament would be affected by this? That was never going to be the case. Interestingly enough, coaches like Sean Miller, Bruce Pearl, Jim Larranaga and Andy Enfield have been able to keep their jobs. Only Rick Pitino got pinched, . Pitino's firing in and of itself was a huge headline, but falls under this initial category of the FBI thunderstorm.
It remains to be seen how much real impact the FBI will have on college basketball. What we do know: It scared Mark Emmert to the point that he started a commission, one led by Condoleezza Rice, a commission that's expected to put forth to the NCAA its recommendations on changes to college basketball and potentially the amateurism model as we know it.
Trae Young mania takes hold
Oklahoma got all the way up to No. 4 in the rankings thanks to a 12-1 start that included Young going for double-doubles in eight of his first 13 games. He put up 43 points on Oregon, and tied an NCAA record with 22 assists vs. Northwestern State. Young was a five-star prospect but quickly became the second most famous player in college basketball (to Grayson Allen) with his flaming start to the season.
At one point he was averaging more than 31 points and 10 assists per game. Outrageous numbers for any college basketball player, but particularly a freshman. He ended the season leading the country in scoring (27.4 points) and assists (8.7), something no one had ever done before. He also had 3.9 rebounds per game. But Oklahoma kept losing. It reached as high as 13th at KenPom. The Sooners finished the season 48th.
Young was wrongly blamed for a lot of the Sooners' issues. In reality, his teammates could not create offense. This team would not have made the NIT were Young not on the roster. He was adored early and abhorred late. In reality, his game deserved some criticism, but not nearly the amount it received.
Auburn and Arizona State strut to crazy starts
Arizona State was the No. 1 surprise of the first six weeks of any team in college basketball. Bobby Hurley's team went 12-0 and got to No. 3 in the polls, their run highlighted by a 95-85 win at Kansas. It was the best start in school history.
Meanwhile, Auburn was missing players and dealing with rumors of Bruce Pearl getting fired. In spite of this, and in spite of having one of the smallest rosters (height-wise) of any major-conference team, the Tigers won 16 of their first 17 games.
Things didn't end too well for either team. ASU went 8-12 after non-conference play and barely made the NCAA Tournament, then lost in the First Four to Syracuse. Auburn went 5-6 in its final 11 games and lost in the second round of the NCAAs to Clemson by 31 points!
ESPN report on Michigan State brings scrutiny
On Feb. 1, ESPN published a lengthy article -- with some information that was new and other information that wasn't -- that depicted Michigan State University, and specifically its athletic department,. Hours before that story published, longtime MSU athletic director Mark Hollis retired. The story dovetailed with the sentencing, just days before, of former USA Gymnastics trainer Larry Nassar, a convicted child molester who worked for nearly two decades at Michigan State.
ESPN's story included past sexual assault allegations against former Spartans football and basketball players. In the wake of this, MSU coach Tom Izzo was repeatedly questioned at postgame press conferences about how he, his program and MSU's athletic department handled such matters. Izzo is still yet to go into specifics on many of the things put forth in ESPN's story, but has insisted he's always done things correctly and by the book, and said he will speak to much of this when the time is appropriate.
The story wound up taking over the first half of February in college basketball. That is until ...
FBI probe gets rebirth with revealing Yahoo Sports report
It wasn't the FBI that brought this story back into the mainstream. Instead, in the early hours of Feb. 23, Yahoo Sports published a story thatthat many high profile college basketball players -- or their family members -- received varying types of benefits from former agent Andy Miller's company, ASM Sports.
Ironically, the report actually wound up sparking conversation about how outdated the current amateurism model actually is. Players like Miles Bridges, Wendell Carter, Collin Sexton and Kevin Knox -- either them or their family members -- were afforded meals on ASM's bill. Other players, all of whom are long gone from college basketball, were revealed in that report to have potentially received tens of thousands of dollars worth of loans.
The story sent the sport into a tizzy, undeniably, but there was no actual fallout from the piece. Not one significant player missed significant time -- most didn't even sit out a game -- and it remains to be seen if the former players (like Dennis Smith Jr. at NC State and Isaiah Whitehead at Seton Hall) even wind up getting their former schools in trouble. The NCAA continues to wait on its cues from the FBI before it does anything.
Crazily enough, the same day the Yahoo Sports story broke ...
Sean Miller disputes reports regarding paying Deandre Ayton to attend Arizona
The night of Feb. 23, ESPN published a story that cited sources familiar with a government wiretap, and stated "Miller discussed paying $100,000 to ensure star freshman Deandre Ayton signed with the Wildcats." This story became volcanic overnight. By the next morning, many were predicting Miller's career over and Ayton's time with Arizona to be done.
Then: Arizona declared Ayton eligible, informed the public he'd been interviewed previously by the FBI, and (through legal representation) insisted he never took money to play at Arizona. Ayton had arguably his best game of the season 24 hours after the story broke, putting up 28 points and 18 rebounds at Oregon. Miller did not coach that night, but soon thereafter.
He's still at Arizona. It remains to be seen what will come of his situation there, as there still is this federal case to shake out and all. But it's amazing in retrospect to see where most people in the media stood the night of Feb. 23, the declarations that were made, and yet Ayton never missed a game and Miller's got his university still behind him. Ayton, of course, was right there with Young and Bagley to comprise a trio of tremendous freshmen. They separated themselves from the rest of their classmates.
The Wildcats went on to steamroll to a Pac-12 tournament title, then got punked by Buffalo in the most shocking upset (non-UMBC division) of the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Kansas loses three times at home, still wins the Big 12, gets No. 1 seed
Kansas winning the Big 12 might be boilerplate for you, or maybe others, but I still think it's not given enough attention for its ridiculousness. This is one of the most amazing streaks in sports history. It really does speak to the outrageousness of Kansas' 14-year streak of winning the Big 12 regular season title that it could field arguably its least talented team in that stretch, lose three times at home for the first time ever under Bill Self, and still win the league ... by two games! KU fell to Arizona State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. It also lost in Kansas City to Washington.
Yet it rightfully got a No. 1 seed and still managed to make the Final Four. A weird, yet oddly vintage, season for the Jayhawks, who had a First Team All-American in Devonte' Graham.
Ironically, Xavier ends Nova's run atop the Big East, gets No. 1 seed
If Villanova goes on to win the Big East's regular season title the next three or four years, then it's going to make for a good trivia question: Who won the Big East the year Villanova beat Michigan in the title game? Because the answer is Xavier, even though X was swept by Villanova this season. This also all led to Chris Mack leaving his alma mater to coach at Louisville. Which school has more success over the next five seasons: Xavier or U of L?
NCAA Tournament features all-time great first weekend and all-time great team
Because the Final Four had three games decided by an average of 15 points, we can't proclaim the 2018 NCAA Tournament as the best ever. It just doesn't work that way. If you're the best tournament ever, you have to have at least a competitive, dramatic ending. Not the case in 2018. It was a solid tournament, probably a B-plus. But that first weekend?. In fact, I did the research and came to conclude that .
After a buzzy regular season, and a good run in the conference tournaments, 2017-18 wrapped up with a quality NCAA Tournament that included.
I think there are five big elements/stories the NCAA Tournament will be remembered for. In order:
- Loyola-Chicago makes the Final Four, and with Sister Jean as the face of the program, becomes the biggest story of the tournament. The Ramblers get to San Antonio thanks to three winning shots in the closing seconds by three different players in their first three games. Then they smash Kansas State and break through the door. Legendary run. Read up on .
- UMBC beats No. 1 overall seed Virginia 74-54 to become the first No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed. The Retrievers' win is the kind of thing we'll remember forever, and something that .
- Villanova wins the title thanks to Donte DiVincenzo is now a college hoops legend. Plus, Nova won all nine of its postseason games by double digits. It also set records for 3-pointers made in a single season (469); in an NCAA Tournament (77); and in a Final Four (18). This team's reputation will only grow as the years go on. . With this, Villanova also puts forth a case as one of the best teams of all time -- yes, of all time. The fact a bench player, who went legend with 31 points, led the team in the title game tells you how good the Wildcats were.
- Jordan Poole's splayed-leg 3-pointer goes in at the buzzer, giving Michigan a second-round win over Houston and ultimately propelling the Wolverines to the national title game. This is the most memorable shot of the tournament, edging out Donte Ingram's winner for Loyola over Miami in the first round.
- The fifth big thing from the 2018 tournament is the best game of the 67 that were played. We had 27 games decided by six points or less. The top of them all: Duke and Kansas play an overtime epic, providing one of the very best regional finals in history. Kansas won 85-81 in overtime, getting there after the final shot of Grayson Allen's college career rolled out in regulation. The Jayhawks made a Final Four for the third time under Bill Self. The game was the only regional final between a No. 1 and No. 2 seed this year. You had Hall of Fame coaches. Seventeen lead changes and 11 ties. It was, truly, a classic.
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