Looking forward: Federal probe, reform, can Villanova follow up?
April 3, 2018
SAN ANTONIO — A year ago at this time, Villanova faced the question of whether it could keep rolling after two seasons of key player losses from its 2016 national championship team.
The Wildcats offered an emphatic answer with Monday night's win against Michigan, the finale for a dominating run through the NCAA Tournament that earned coach Jay Wright his second title and capped the 2017-18 college basketball season.
For next year, though, the issue of reform has the potential to overshadow everything, considering the ongoing federal investigation into corruption in college basketball. And because of it, the sport could look very different come fall. The probe seized headlines in September with the arrests of 10 agents, coaches and businessmen with basketball ties in a case tied to hundreds of thousands of dollars in alleged bribes and kickbacks designed to influence recruits on choosing a school or an agent.
Speaking at the Final Four, NCAA President Mark Emmert said that the commission on college basketball — led by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — examining reforms to the sport will present its report to the Division I Board of Directors and Board of Governors on April 25.
Next season, Villanova will try to become only the third repeat champion since UCLA's run of seven straight ended in 1973, the other two being Duke in 1991-92 and Florida in 2006-07.
It's unclear how the Wildcats will look next year. Associated Press national player of the year Jalen Brunson and NBA prospect Mikal Bridges could decide to leave a year early to pursue a professional career after winning two national championships.
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Much will depend on whether juniors Moe Wagner (14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds) and Charles Matthews (13.0 points) decide to return for their final season.
Duke checked in at No. 1 in the AP's way-too-early ranking for next season based on the latest wave of touted incoming recruits. That includes Duke's sweep of the nation's top three recruits — No. 1 R.J. Barrett, No. 2 Cameron Reddish and No. 3 Zion Williamson — though they play the same position as wing forwards. The Blue Devils also have a top-10 recruit in point guard Tre Jones.
Virginia made an unexpected climb to end the regular season as a unanimous No. 1 in the AP Top 25 — only to become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16-seed against UMBC in the NCAA Tournament. The Atlantic Coast Conference champion Cavaliers could have plenty of guard talent back with Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De'Andre Hunter. But coach Tony Bennett — named the AP coach of the year last week — said his players can build from that only if they apply lessons learned from the season.
"Everybody will say, you know, you're going to be better because of this," Bennett said. "There's nothing further from the truth. If you don't do anything with it, just because you suffered a loss, that's not going to make you better."
Arizona had a tumultuous year, which started when an assistant coach was one of the 10 people charged in the federal case. There were also questions about the future of coach Sean Miller.
The Wildcats could face a difficult situation next year. Star freshman Deandre Ayton is going pro along with high-scoring junior Allonzo Trier and guard Rawle Alkins. And their recruiting class fell apart amid the uncertainty of the federal probe.
Loyola-Chicago was the story of the NCAA Tournament by reaching the Final Four for the first time since winning the 1963 title. The Ramblers lose key seniors but return Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Clayton Custer. Loyola could also see a recruiting boost, especially if coach Porter Moser stays in place instead of moving on to another job.
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