Wrap: Federal probe, Villanova’s follow-up top 2018-19 story lines
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.
Now let’s take a look at a couple of threads to watch in the offseason and leading into the 2018-19 season:
This issue has the potential to overshadow everything: the 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.
The Wildcats were brilliant in winning their third championship, becoming the first team since North Carolina in 2009 to win all six games by double figures in the NCAA Tournament.
Now the Wildcats 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.
“We really feel humbled and blessed to be in this position,” coach Jay Wright said after the Michigan win.
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.
Michigan lost in the national championship game for the second time under John Beilein . Can the Wolverines get back there?
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.
The Wolverines can at least look to some recent history for inspiration; North Carolina lost to Villanova in the 2016 final then made it all the way back to win the title last year.
DUKE’S TOP TRIO
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.
SHAKE IT OFF
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 in an interview with the AP. “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.
No matter what Miller manages to pull together in recruiting, the Wildcats will look very different.
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.
LOUISVILLE’S FRESH START
Louisville has a new coach in Chris Mack as well as a new athletic director in the wake of an embarrassing sex scandal and connections to the federal case.
Mack left Xavier to take over the Cardinals, who spent last year under interim coach David Padgett after the ouster of Hall of Famer Rick Pitino.
Several prominent programs have new coaches, including Duke assistant Jeff Capel taking over at Pittsburgh and former Indiana coach Tom Crean stepping in at Georgia.
Some other new coaches to watch include promoted Xavier assistant Travis Steele, Mississippi’s Kermit Davis (from Middle Tennessee), Connecticut’s Dan Hurley (from Rhode Island) and Memphis’s Penny Hardaway.
There’s also Tubby Smith , whose taking his power-conference experience to his alma mater at High Point.