Seton Hall v Xavier
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Just another reason to love college basketball: A previously obscure, 6-foot-3, 175-pound dynamo in his debut season as a combo point guard — at 24 years old — has become the major difference-maker in one of the renaissance stories in the sport. 

We're talking about Xavier's Souley Boum, a former San Francisco and UTEP guard who has taken the Big East by storm. You can make a convincing case he rates as one of the most valuable transfers in the country, alongside Kansas State's Keyontae Johnson, Providence's Bryce Hopkins and Memphis' Kendric Davis. Boum is as valuable as he is watchable, easily landing on the short list of must-see players. His lissom nature gives way to playing on angles that most players can't imagine, let alone perform on.

Boum's preferred playing speeds are: fast, faster and blurry. His game is irresistible. He plays with an atypical wiggle. His quick-twitch capability makes him a headache to prepare for, and that's before you take into account his playing swag and irrational confidence. 

"I'm skinny as hell," Boum said.

And that, too. 

Sean Miller changed his coaching philosophy after being fired from Arizona and spending a year away from the game. He came back with an emphasis on offense that has paid immediate dividends. The 16th-ranked Musketeers are top-10 in points per game (83.2) and offensive efficiency (119.1). Boum is the catalyst of the machine, averaging 16.1 points, 4.9 assists, 4.1 rebounds and shooting 44.2% from 3, the best 3-point rate of any player in the Big East averaging more than 2.5 attempts

Even more impressive: Boum is doing this while running an offense for the first time. 

"It was just the perfect situation for me, I felt like God put me in this position," Boum told CBS Sports. "Everybody has their own path. So I just felt like it was a big opportunity I was blessed to fall into." 

When Miller got the Xavier job last March, he inherited a roster that was coming off the disappointment of missing the NCAA Tournament but also the high of winning the NIT. He didn't want to dismantle the roster; what would be the point? He was going to add just one transfer. Boum, who was on his short list, was not highly recruited coming out of high school. Current Florida coach Todd Golden saw Boum way back in 2016 during his first day on the recruiting trail as a San Francisco assistant. The first game he watched with a USF polo on, Boum was playing. His hunch was correct. Golden got Boum to commit to USF, but he transferred to UTEP after one season. 

That transfer to UTEP is why Boum is now at Xavier.

In 2020, UTEP played at Arizona. It was a competitive game, a 69-61 Wildcats win. Miller had never forgotten Boum since. He had 16 points, nothing outstanding, but he left enough of an impression that Miller targeted Boum within days after getting to Xavier.

"You play him and then you kind of follow him afterwards," Miller told CBS Sports. "And I always had high regard for him as a player. And in particular, the way we're playing. We want guards that can score. It doesn't mean they don't pass, but we're not trying for, like, pure [point guard play]. We want guys that can shoot and he really fit that."

Xavier would be a good team had it never brought Boum aboard, but it wouldn't be in first place in the Big East and probably wouldn't have Final Four aspirations. 

Boum was courted doggedly by a number of programs after he went into the portal. He had a connection with James Akinjo, who played at Arizona for Miller in his final year there. That helped. The only school he took an official visit to was Xavier, and he committed within a week.

He didn't need to see practice facilities or get the sell on locker rooms, NIL, etc. That stuff did not matter. It was entirely about connection with the head coach and trust in his role. His BS detector was up big, and he immediately sensed a genuine connection with Xavier's staff. 

"I had schools from the Big 12, SEC, everywhere. I could have could have went anywhere, really," he said. "I could've gone and played in Alaska, didn't matter as long as I was gonna be able to be the point guard and with a coach who is gonna rock on me." 

Boum fit in right away, and Miller believes a large part of that is because Miller was new to coaching everyone there as well. There were no favorites. All of Xavier's players had to prove it. Boum called it "a perfect fit for me, a perfect situation."

"It's a confidence, but it's also a real unselfish nature, too," Miller said. "I don't think anyone can look and say this guy is coming in for a year, trying to audition for something. I mean, he really fit in Day 1 and that was helpful to us because he's such a great kid, he is an awesome kid. And when you can get a transfer who's that experienced and playing on the court the way he is, and he's that good of a person off the court, I think that's when great things can happen and he's in the middle of a lot of good things for us."

Xavier hosts No. 17 Providence in a big Big East affair on Wednesday night. The two teams are tied with Marquette atop the conference ledger. Adding to the urgency, with starting PF Zach Freemantle out at least a month, Boum's production might boom beyond what he's done through 22 games. With Freemantle unavailable, Boum's importance to this team has gone up another level. It would be understandable for a transfer to come into a locker room as the only new guy who isn't a freshman and not have the true trust of his teammates. 

But that's not the situation at X. Boum has been the near-perfect addition and helped this team become one of most entertaining squads in the country. 

"I know all those guys love me," Boum said of his teammates. "I love all of them." 

Mock non-con matchups show how much better February could be

Last spring, I reported on a groundbreaking scheduling concept from WAC commissioner Brian Thornton and others that would concoct mid-February non-con matchups involving the best teams from outside the Big Six conferences. This idea is way more ambitious and beneficial than Bracket Busters (RIP). One working title for it was "Wild Card Week." The purpose: uplift multi-bid leagues like the American, A-10, Mountain West and WCC, in addition to benefitting top teams in one-bid conferences. 

You want to try and reduce the number of high-majors getting at-larges? This is the way.

Alas, some ambivalent conference commissioners and athletic directors left the decision in the hands of fraidy-cat coaches, who predictably balked. 

After 22 conferences engaged in dialogue in the spring and summer of 2022, the idea died on the vine in October due to seven leagues pledging to the concept. In order to make it work from coast to coast, logistically and financially, there needs to be at least 10 conferences on board, Thornton told me. So, this won't be happening next season. But there is a chance the idea could be saved for the '24-25 season. 

I caught up with one of the creators of Wild Card Week, Kevin Pauga, the man behind the KPI. Though the idea was never in play for 2023, Pauga ran the numbers over the weekend to see what matchups would have been on the table this year. (A computer model determines the best games against teams of similar strength.)

"The branding opportunities are also numerous to build a narrative around a given team," Pauga said. "The best way to make the NCAA Tournament remains winning games against good teams, and somebody is doing that in nearly all these matchups."

Here are the 24 biggest games we'd be afforded in the context of this season. Every team would play one at home, one on the road. The good teams play the good teams. Look at this schedule!

Tues/WedSt. Mary's@Boise StateWCCMW
Tues/WedSan Diego State@MemphisMWAmerican
Tues/WedNew Mexico@Saint LouisMWA10
Tues/WedCharleston@Florida AtlanticCAAC-USA
Tues/WedSam Houston State@LibertyWACASUN
Tues/WedNorth Texas@Utah StateC-USAMW
Tues/WedKent State@NevadaMACMW
Tues/WedOral Roberts@Southern MissSummitSun Belt
Tues/WedUNLV@Loyola MarymountMWWCC
Tues/WedUtah Valley@Santa ClaraWACWCC
Tues/WedMarshall@VCUSun BeltA10

Sat/SunFlorida Atlantic@San Diego StateC-USAMW
Sat/SunBoise State@North TexasMWC-USA
Sat/SunMemphis@New MexicoAmericanMW
Sat/SunNevada@St. Mary'sMWWCC
Sat/SunUtah State@Sam Houston StateMWWAC
Sat/SunSouthern Miss@Kent StateSun BeltMAC
Sat/SunSaint Louis@Oral RobertsA10Summit
Sat/SunLoyola Marymount@Utah ValleyWCCWAC
Sat/SunSanta Clara@UNLVWCCMW
Sat/SunDayton@MarshallA10Sun Belt

Think of the publicity, anticipation and excitement that would come with dozens of compelling nonconference tilts in the middle of February — after the Super Bowl —with at-large bids in the balance.

Pauga said there would have been 85 total Quad 1 and Quad 2 games (24 Q1, 61 Q2) with 132 games involving 66 teams from 19 conferences, many of them in Tier 1  mid-major schools ranked in the top 135 of the NET. That's a huge inventory, big enough to impact the bubble in significant ways. Teams doing this would merely have to give up two non-con games in November or December for the two in February — when many more follow college hoops and results draw more attention. 

"These hypothetical matchups prove what we said all along: There are Quadrant 1 and 2 games that would be available to teams that need it most as the end of the season nears," Pauga said. 

Going 2-0 would be the biggest PR win a mid-major could possibly ask for. 

Pauga also pointed out how the Mountain West has five teams in play for the NCAAs. Those teams need both strengthened pathways to make the field and to improve their seeding.

"For that fourth and fifth Mountain West team, it may help push them across the finish line," he said. "A 7-3 or 8-2 league record may help cement a record-tying number of bids in this scenario."

Conferences have another chance to come together and make this happen. If it doesn't, I don't want to hear mid-major coaches gripe about not getting in. The opportunity is here, and it would be foolish to bypass this out of scheduling traditionalism and fear of the unknown. 

Thornton previously told me there is basically no reason not to try to uplift the non-power leagues in February, when more fans are invested and paying attention. He's right. Going 2-0 in this would massively increase a team's résumé. Pauga said a 1-1 record "will help more times than not." Sure, 0-2 hurts you, but what's the alternative? The status quo. How's that working out for most mid-majors?

NCAA cops in NIL era: Guilty until proven innocent

Sports Illustrated published a story that leads with this dose of absurdity on new NCAA NIL protocol: "Investigators can now use circumstantial evidence (like a tip or news story) instead of on-record sourcing to presume a school violated NCAA rules. Schools can disprove the allegation or else be potentially charged. The move strengthens the enforcement staff's ability to charge schools and allows more leeway for investigators."

Don't believe it? Listen to top NCAA cop Jon Duncan, who heads up enforcement in Indianapolis. 

This new bylaw, which went on the books this month, only pertains to violations in the NIL space. 

"Instead of putting the burden on the enforcement staff to always come up with a smoking gun, which we don't always have, there is a presumption," Duncan also told SI. "It puts the burden on the school. It's a really powerful tool."

It's also pretty terrible, Jon. 

At the request of the membership (meaning many, but not all, the schools) the NCAA has moved the goalposts on how it can punish those breaking NIL rules ... rules that are still up for some interpretation. The NCAA is still begging for congressional oversight on all of this, which may never arrive. The only reason the NCAA's done this is because coaches, administrators and athletic directors have been bemoaning privately — with or without the facts to back it up — about one school doing this or another program doing that. 

Whereas before the NCAA rightfully held itself to a fairly strict codes and thresholds to punish rule-breakers, that logical standard is now out the window. We think you did it. Now prove you didn't, or else.

The NIL genie is out of the bottle, never to return, and NCAA enforcement taking this approach is doomed to be inconsistent at best and a public embarrassment (with humongous legal fallout) at worst. What's the point? If anything, players who come from poorer backgrounds stand to be disproportionately affected. This could be a catastrophe ... if the punishments even amount to much. Maybe they won't? This whole thing doesn't seem to improve the enterprise. 

@ me

The Court Report's mailbag! Find me, toss a Q and I'll answer some each week.

Here are the 2023 rates, according to a few sources I checked in with this week.

• Big Six conferences pay officials $3,700 per game (pre-taxes) on average — league and non-league games alike. An Elon-Duke game pays the same as UNC-Duke. Officials have to cover all their costs: flights, hotels, rental cars, ride services, meals, etc. All told, they're taking home around 3K per game (before taxes).
• Pay rate is the same for league tournaments. 
• The NCAA Tournament pays $2,500 for the first weekend, $3,000 for the regionals and $3,500 to work the Final Four. But unlike conferences, the NCAA covers travel and hotel costs. 

If you're a top-40 referee, you can easily get to 90 games in a season. At that pace, an official working through the Final Four would bring home somewhere in the neighborhood of $330,000 in one season, before taking out taxes and before deducting the tens of thousands of dollars in travel expenses. These are independent contractors compensated generously for a job that comes with immense pressure and scrutiny.

No, there are officiating consortiums, wherein hundreds of refs work with a variety of leagues. It's why you might see a familiar face work four consecutive nights in four conferences: say ... Big Ten, then CAA, then ACC, then Big East. My tweet above about John Higgins' travel/game schedule got a lot of response; I may eventually do a story on this topic. It's a vicious cycle. The paycheck is good, there isn't an abundance of top-tier officials, coaches want the best reffing their games. That leads to Higgins working seven games in eight days and logging close to 7,000 miles of air and ground travel.

Over the weekend, I made my first trip to Mackey Arena and my third venture out to Assembly Hall. This led to many IU and Boiler fans to ask: Which venue do I think is better? I went in depth on this topic on this podcast, so be sure to listen for all the pros and (few) cons with each. Ultimately, I give the narrow edge to Mackey Arena over Assembly Hall. I do think both have to be in the top 10 of best venues in college hoops. Purdue fans are among the best in the country. Invested, passionate, intelligent. Much can be said the same about IU backers. And these two fanbases detest each other, which makes me all the happier considering No. 1 Purdue heads to Assembly this Saturday.

This is precisely what I don't want to see! Have 'em play the big boys and stop pitting mid-majors against each other in their first-round tourney games. If we want to see FAU vs. Charleston, scroll back up and look: that is the exact matchup that would've been provided in a Wild Card Week-type arrangement. Send an email to your local conference commissioner and help make it happen.

Kevin, your hunch is correct. The Wolfpack's 79-77 win Saturday at Wake Forest improved them to 17-5, marking the first time in NC State history the school reached 17 victories before the end of January. (State is still unranked, however.) The two best teams in NCSU history were the '72-73 and '73-74 teams that went a combined 57-1 (with State winning the title in '74). Those teams hit 17 wins more than a week into February. Some of this is a function of how the schedule used to be; as recently as the early '80s, teams didn't play their first game until the final days of November, if not the beginning of December. 

Final shots

Louisville (2-19) hosts Georgia Tech (8-13) tonight. The Cards are 2-point underdogs, but KenPom gives U of L a 40% chance to win, its highest percentage of any remaining game. The Cards sit at 299 at KenPom, flirting with the worst finish of a power-conference team in that database going back to 2001-02. The upside-down champ? Utah finished 302nd in 2011-12.
Texas Tech's 23-point comeback win over Iowa State was the school's largest ever and ended its drought in Big 12 play. That means Louisville and Pepperdine are the only schools in high-major or multi-bid conferences yet to win a game in league play. KenPom gives 7-16 Pepperdine only a 5.5% chance of losing out. Louisville? It's 21%. 
• A 50-point final-score gap between conference brothers is basically a twice-a-year occurrence. It's happened 22 times in the past decade, with three of those belonging to Gonzaga. And yet, we got it on back-to-back nights this week. That might be a first. Oral Roberts beat South Dakota by 50 Monday night, Alabama erased Vanderbilt 101-44 on Tuesday. The Golden Eagles are 20-4, top-60 in multiple metrics and should get back to the NCAAs after missing last season. 
• You might have heard how the NBA is having an 50-point revolution this season. There have been 19 50-point games by pro players in '22-23. If 50 in the NBA = 40 in college, then the trend line is similar. Of course, D-I has so many more teams and players, so the odds are ever in college hoops' favor for more 40-plus games. Men's D-I has seen 22 40-point games this season, with nobody hitting 50 yet. The record is 48, set just last week by UNC Asheville's Drew Pember. 
• Jim Boeheim is good for a couple of ornery press conference moments each season. He had his latest Monday night after a student reporter reasonably opened by asking where star Benny Williams was, since he didn't attend the game. (Williams took a personal day, Boeheim said.) There's increasing curiosity around college hoops over if this will be Boeheim's last season. I don't even know if Boeheim knows that, but with Syracuse fighting to be an NIT team, the natives are beyond restless. Whenever Boeheim finally retires, I'm expecting SU associate head coach Adrian Autry to get the job.
• Tell you what, there were some folks who thought Fordham made the wrong move staying in-house and promoting Keith Urgo after Kyle Neptune went to Villanova. To date, those people were wrong. The Rams are 18-4 and beat Saint Louis on Tuesday to improve to 6-3 in the A-10. FU's next win will bring its winningest season since 1990-91.
• Rutgers is about to give Steve Pikiell a contract that should keep him at the university until he wants to call it quits
• Give a few minutes for this. USC released a video about freshman Vince Iwuchukwu's cardiac arrest from last summer, and the people who saved his life.