On the surface, last week’s report issued jointly by the NCAA and the University of Missouri should have been good news for Frank Haith. Even though his former employer imposed a postseason ban for violations that were partly committed under Haith’s watch, Haith, who is currently in his second season as head coach at Tulsa, was not cited in the report and will not face any penalties.
And yet, that is not how last week’s developments are being viewed by the media and the public. This is, after all, Haith’s second go-round with the NCAA’s meat grinder. He served a five-game suspension at the beginning of the 2013-14 season because of violations that occurred during his previous stop at Miami. Not only did some of the violations at Missouri occur while Haith was in charge, but they were aided in part by his close friend and former assistant, Tim Fuller, who was slapped with a minor violation. And because the Missouri case still has to go before the Committee on Infractions, Haith is unable to speak publicly and defend himself. So he has to zip his lips while being held up as a public pinata. That can’t be easy.
The heart of this case is an internship program conducted by a Missouri grad named Mark Tuley, a mid-level donor who is the founder of a national intelligence company based in Martinez, Georgia. Tuley hosted Missouri players for jobs during the summers of 2013 and ’14. These arrangements are common in college athletics, and they are kosher as long as they meet a few barometers: The opportunities have to be available to non-athletes, the athletes need to be paid a standard market rate, and the work has to be real. At the conclusion of its 19-month investigation, the NCAA decided the jobs did not meet those standards. That is the only Level I (i.e. major) violation levied against Missouri in this report.
But is that Haith’s fault? Technically, no. It is not the head coach’s duty to vet internships. Rather, that falls to a university’s compliance office. The compliance personnel at Missouri did their due diligence at the outset, but they did not follow up by collecting pay stubs and W-2 forms from the players when they returned to Missouri. That’s why the NCAA also gave Missouri a Level II violation for failure to monitor but did not penalize Haith.
On the other hand, given what happened at Miami (in which booster Nevin Shapiro admitted to giving basketball players and their families cash and to merchandise, among other violations) wasn’t it in Haith’s interest to be absolutely sure that these jobs were on the up and up? Shouldn’t he have been on the phone with his players to make certain that the situation wouldn’t become a problem in the eyes of the NCAA? If he didn’t want to ask Jordan Clarkson and Tony Criswell, the two players who worked for Tuley in the summer of 2013, then he could have asked his graduate assistant, Ricky Bolton, who, according to two sources with direct knowledge of this matter, also worked for Tuley that summer. Bolton is Haith’s nephew, and he is currently serving on Haith’s staff at Tulsa as a strength and conditioning coordinator.
On the other other hand, it is perfectly plausible that Haith did have those conversations and concluded the jobs met the NCAA’s standards. Tuley has not been heard from publicly since the report was issued (the university has been ordered to permanently disassociate itself from him), but from what I am told, he was not entirely cooperative with the NCAA. He did meet with NCAA investigators, but he did not participate in follow-up interviews, and he did not turn over all the information they requested. So it is possible that Tuley maintains, and Haith honestly believed, that those athletes did proper work and were paid accordingly.
Fuller was also the point person on another player who plays a major role in this report, Jakeenan Gant, a 6'8" sophomore forward from Springfield, Ga. Toward the end of his senior year in high school in 2014, Gant’s family wanted to move from Georgia to Missouri, partly because it was not clear that Gant was on track to be academically eligible. Fuller connected them with a different booster who helped arrange rental housing for them, a Level III violation. The Gant family’s move is what initially raised the interest of the NCAA. Unlike Clarkson and Criswell, who are no longer playing college basketball, Gant is required to meet with the NCAA’s investigators. It was during that interview that he revealed the internship he did with Tuley during the summer of 2014, apparently unaware that he was disclosing a major violation.
As a result, Gant had to sit out the first nine games of his freshman season. Fuller, who was retained by Haith’s successor, Kim Anderson, at the behest of then-athletic director Mike Alden, was prohibited from recruiting for three months while Missouri looked into the matter. When last season ended, Fuller was not retained. He is currently not working in coaching.
Haith, meanwhile, had bolted for Tulsa four days after the school received its official notice of inquiry from the NCAA on April 14, 2014. That move looked odd at the time, and while it is plausible that Haith did not know about the letter of inquiry, it is also plausible that he knew the NCAA was poking around Gant’s recruitment and decided to get out of Dodge. Last week, Anderson revealed that when he interviewed for the head coaching job, Alden did not inform him that the school had received the notice of inquiry. That was highly unethical on Alden’s part, and it sheds further light on why Missouri’s athletic department wound up in this situation.
When an investigation gets launched, it can go one of two ways. The school and the NCAA’s enforcement staff can retreat to their separate corners, fight tooth and nail, and then take their cases to the Committee on Infractions. Or they can work together and issue a summary disposition, where the two parties agree on the facts as well as the appropriate penalties. Missouri chose the latter route, and while the Committee on Infractions will still have its say, in most cases the committee does not go much further when it comes to imposing penalties. Missouri’s postseason ban means very little because the Tigers, who are 8–9 (1–3 SEC) and were unlikely to qualify for postseason play anyway, but for a basketball program that has faced stiff NCAA penalties on multiple occasions throughout its history, last week’s revelation was yet another sordid chapter.
What’s next for Haith? Well, he was given a strong vote of support from Tulsa athletic director Derrick Gragg, so it doesn’t appear that he is in jeopardy of losing his job. And many of the facts are on his side. Still, Haith knows all too well that facts don’t always matter, perception is reality, and coaching is a tough, tough business. The only thing we know for sure is that when we zoom in on a mess like this, no one involved looks pretty.
Other Hoop Thoughts
• Denzel Valentine’s re-entry has been anything but smooth for Michigan State, but I do believe things will get better very soon. Keep in mind that Valentine didn’t just have an injury, he underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in his knee. You know the old saying—a surgery is only minor if it happens to someone else. Valentine came back after only three weeks, so it will take him a while to get back his old form. He showed glimpses of his previous self in Sunday’s loss at Wisconsin, finishing with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists. It will also take Valentine’s teammates a while to get readjusted to playing with him. Give it another two weeks or so, and I’d bet the Spartans will be looking like an elite team again.
• I wish I could be as bullish about Duke’s short-term future. As I reported in my Twitterbag last Wednesday, Amile Jefferson is at least another four weeks from returning—and that is the best-case scenario. It is possible that he may not come back at all this season and instead take a medical redshirt. In the meantime, I have no logical explanation for Mike Krzyzewski’s adamant refusal to develop his bench. During Saturday’s home loss to Notre Dame, Krzyzewski played his two frontcourt reserves, 6'9" sophomore Sean Obi (a transfer from Rice) and 6'10" freshman Chase Jeter, less than three minutes combined. Obviously, Coach K does not think they are ready for high-level competition, but how are they supposed to become ready if they don’t play meaningful minutes? The Blue Devils can’t go through the season playing six guys, so one way or another, Coach K has to develop some depth, or this season could go south in a hurry.
• Iowa State is also suffering from a dearth of bodies. Fortunately, it appears that Hallice Cooke’s suspension (for a violation of team rules) lasted only one game, which the Cyclones won anyway at Kansas State. But I don’t know how much longer these guys can hold on.
• I kind of laugh when I hear about violations of team rules. In the old days, when a good player violated team rules, the coach changed the rules. Reminds me of what Jim Valvano used to say: “The departure time for the team bus is right after my two leading scorers get on it.”
• I haven’t seen any numbers to confirm this, but I watch a ton of games, and my eyes tell me the referees are reverting to some old habits when it comes to enforcing the directives against physical play. Hope we can remedy this before it gets any worse.
• Not sure how I missed this, but I just learned that Oklahoma sophomore forward Khadeem Lattin’s grandfather is David “Big Daddy” Lattin, who was the starting center for the famed 1966 Texas Western NCAA champs. Lattin had the game-winning tip-in for the Sooners in their win over West Virginia on Saturday.
• Speaking of which, congrats to Oklahoma for becoming the nation’s new No. 1 team, but let’s keep in mind that the Mountaineers took them to the wire in Norman, and they were within a three-point shot at the buzzer from losing at Oklahoma State on Wednesday. Reminds me of John Updike’s famous words describing success in baseball as being determined by “a tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.”
• I realize Villanova fans have an ominous feeling given the Wildcats’ pratfalls in March this decade. (They have not made it past the first weekend since reaching the Final Four in 2009.) But unlike Jay Wright’s recent teams, I believe this squad is built for the postseason. They play great defense (ranked No. 4 in the country in defensive efficiency) and they don’t mind grinding games out in the halfcourt (312th nationally in tempo). And 6'11" senior center Daniel Ochefu has improved tremendously on the offensive end while still providing the rebounding and rim protection he always has. Ochefu is like the rug in The Big Lebowski. He ties the room together. That’s what you need in the tournament.
• For the record, I love the NCAA’s decision to push back the deadline for NBA draft entrants to return to school until after the combine in mid-May. I’d go even further and allow college underclassmen to participate in pro-am leagues and D-League games during the off-season. Think of it as a summer internship, just like other college kids get. Let these AAU hotshots play a few games against older no-names who are playing for dinner. That will teach them just how hard it is to be a professional.
• Also for the record, I am not buying the Pitino-to-UNLV rumors. Amazing how one story based on a single anonymous source can get such traction.
• Man, that was some emotional ceremony for Andrew Smith at halftime of the Butler-St. John’s game on Saturday. Kid was only 25 years old. Life is precious, people. Cherish every day.
• Remember when Providence sophomore forward Rodney Bullock had 25 points on 6-for-9 three-point shooting in the Friars’ win in Hinkle Fieldhouse three weeks ago? Well, it appears that was an aberration. Bullock has averaged just eight points in his last four games and has made 12 of his last 32 shots. It’s no coincidence Providence has dropped two of its last three games—both at home.
• It’s very possible that the Pac-12 has a higher percentage of its teams playing in the NCAA tournament than any other Power Five league, and yet still have only one team ranked in the top 25. That would be weird.
• Here’s one thing you should know about Texas A&M, which has established itself as the clear favorite in the SEC. It has the NCAA’s active career leaders in assists (Anthony Collins, with 650) and steals (Alex Caruso, with 237). That’s a lot of winning plays coming from just two uniforms.
• Kansas freshman forward Carlton Bragg isn’t getting a ton of run just yet, but trust me, there will come a moment late in the season, and perhaps in the NCAA tournament, where Bragg will play great for a segment and make the difference in an important game. He’s that good.
• LSU guard Tim Quarterman has to be one of the most frustrating players in the country. He is big for his position (6'6", 190 pounds) and can look like a world-beater at times (21 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists in the win over Kentucky). Yet, he has scored in single digits in seven of his last nine games, and he went scoreless in 10 minutes of play during the Tigers’ narrow win at home over Arkansas on Saturday. A player this talented should never be this inconsistent.
• I know it’s still early, but it is quite possible that Kentucky will not win another SEC road game this season. The Wildcats beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but they have already lost at LSU and Auburn, and they still have to play at Arkansas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Florida. Oh, and they also have a road game at Kansas on Jan. 30. Which one of those games would you bank on them winning?
• As to what is wrong with this team, it is pretty basic: They can’t shoot—close range, mid range, three-pointers, free throws. Take your pick.
• I’ll say it again: Why do we even have a coaches’ box in college basketball? Might be the most ignored rule in sports.
• Please tell me you know about Jack Gibbs! Six-foot-tall junior guard. Plays for Davidson. Ranked third in the country in scoring at 25.7 points per game. Scored 43 points (to go along with eight rebounds and eight rebounds) against UMass on Saturday. Third time this season he has gone for more than 40. If only there were another high-scoring former guard from Davidson whom we could compare him to.
• Very quietly, first-year VCU coach Will Wade has his Rams at 5–0 in the Atlantic 10. They have won eight games in a row, including Saturday’s OT win at Richmond. VCU has a doozy of a game at home Saturday against St. Bonaventure, which has a truly wonderful sophomore guard in Jaylen Adams. Catch him if you can.
• By the way, the Atlantic 10 is on fire right now. It has four teams ranked in the top 40 of the RPI, and six teams ranked in the top 100. The race to the top is wide open, which means this league is going to be so much fun to watch over the next two months.
• With the shot clock being trimmed to 30 seconds, I feel like I’m seeing a lot more teams use a soft 1-2-2 fullcourt press, which is designed not to force turnovers but to eat up a few extra seconds.
• Good to see Edmond Sumner back in action for Xavier. The 6'5" redshirt freshman is the team’s starting point guard, but he missed nearly four full games because of a concussion he sustained in the opening minutes of the loss to Villanova. Sumner had 15 points, five assists and three rebounds in Saturday’s road win over Marquette.
• I really like how North Carolina is playing right now, but I spy two flies in their ointment. First, while it’s terrific that Kennedy Meeks had 23 points and six rebounds in Saturday’s win against NC State, it sticks in my craw a little that Brice Johnson, who often played like an All-America during Meeks’s seven-game absence, is being relegated (or is relegating himself) to a subservient role. Second, has anyone else noticed that Marcus Paige is having just a so-so season? He scored a total of six points while shooting 2-for-17 (1-for-12 from three) in the Tar Heels’ last two games. The Heels need to find a way to get everyone playing their best in big games, because when they do, there is nobody better.
• It’s too bad a fantastic Monmouth-Iona game was sullied by an incident in the handshake line between the players, but the two coaches did not acquit themselves well, either. Iona’s Tim Cluess took a silly swipe at the Monmouth bench beforehand, and Monmouth’s victorious coach King Rice blew kisses at the Iona crowd on his way off the floor. When the head coaches take the low road, it’s no surprise when their players follow.
• Add this to the list of things I never thought I’d see: Oregon State senior forward Jamal Reid was ejected for tripping an official with the score tied and three minutes to play in the Beavers’ loss at Utah on Sunday night. I actually feel bad for the kid. He made a split-second bad decision, and now millions of people who never heard of him before will know his name. That’s a life lesson learned the hard way.
• Don’t count out Syracuse just yet, people. The selection committee always takes into account injuries and personnel changes, so it is going to have to take into account the fact that the Orange were without Jim Boeheim for five of their seven losses. If Syracuse demonstrates that it is an NCAA tournament-worthy team with Boeheim on the sidelines—and Saturday’s 26-point win at Wake Forest was a heck of a start—then it will be in the field of 68. Long, long way to go here.
• I often hear a game announcer say he’d like college hoops to adopt the NBA rule that gives a team possession in the frontcourt after it calls time out. I couldn’t disagree more. That’s some precious real estate there. It ought to be earned.
• Stanford has quietly picked up a couple of nice wins in January over Cal and Utah at home, plus Oregon State on the road, but there’s no word yet on when the Cardinal will get Reid Travis back. The 6'8" sophomore forward, who is built like an NFL linebacker, hasn’t played in over a month because of a stress fracture in his left leg.
• Am I the only one who thinks Oakland coach Greg Kampe looks like Artie Lange?
• Did you see that Bob Huggins has a clause in his contract that pays him a $25,000 bonus for beating Kansas? I think that’s ridiculous. It reflects priorities that are out of whack, not to mention a codified inferiority complex.
Five games I’m psyched to see this week
Syracuse at Duke, Monday, 7 p.m., ESPN
Suffice to say, it’s not real common for Duke to lose three games in a row. It’s rarer still for the Blue Devils to lose in Cameron Indoor Stadium. And Syracuse’s issues regarding depth and defense are even worse than Duke’s. I spy a bounce-back.
Duke 78, Syracuse 70
Oklahoma at Iowa State, Monday, 9 p.m., ESPN
Hilton magic hasn’t been quite so magical this season, but it is going to be hot and hopping for the nation’s newly crowned No. 1 team. As I mentioned above, the Sooners tiptoed along a perilous edge last week, so it’s not hard to see them getting tripped up in Ames. Oklahoma can be deficient on defense at times, and the Cyclones are well equipped to take advantage.
Iowa State 80, Oklahoma 77
LSU at Texas A&M, Tuesday, 8 p.m., ESPN
Ben Simmons is Ben Simmons, but the Tigers do not have the cohesion or the discipline to beat a veteran, quality team like Texas A&M on the road.
Texas A&M 74, LSU 62
Northern Iowa made lots of noise early in the season with wins over North Carolina and Iowa State, but the Panthers have opened conference play poorly. They won’t be easy to beat in Cedar Falls, but I think the Shockers are a rapidly improving team. Conner Frankamp, a midsemester transfer, is growing more comfortable; Anton Grady has returned to form after a neck injury; and Fred VanVleet is coming off a career-high 29 points in Sunday’s win over Indiana State.
Wichita State 79, Northern Iowa 69
Villanova at Seton Hall, Wednesday, 8 p.m., CBS Sports Network
The Pirates fit the profile of a team that could hand the Wildcats their first Big East loss. They have a versatile, high-scoring point guard in 6'4" sophomore Isaiah Whitehead. They have a rugged rebounder in 6'9" sophomore Angel Delgado, who can bang with Daniel Ochefu. They have a deep bench and a bunch of good wins, including Georgia and Wichita State at home plus road wins over Marquette and Providence. Seton Hall will be primed to pull off the upset, and ‘Nova is due to be plucked.
Seton Hall 78, Villanova 75
This week’s AP ballot
* (Last week’s rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Oklahoma (2)
2. North Carolina (4)
3. West Virginia (12)
4. Kansas (1)
5. Villanova (6)
6. Xavier (7)
7. Iowa (8)
8. SMU (10)
9. Maryland (3)
10. Texas A&M (13)
11. Miami (9)
12. Baylor (18)
13. Arizona (23)
14. South Carolina (14)
15. Butler (16)
16. Iowa State (19)
17. Michigan State (5)
18. Indiana (24)
19. Louisville (21)
20. Valparaiso (25)
21. Wichita State (NR)
22. Virginia (22)
23. Providence (15)
24. Clemson (NR)
25. USC (NR)
Dropped out: Duke (11), UCLA (17), Pittsburgh (20)
It felt like there were a lot of upsets and surprising results, but as I mentioned last week, we are starting to approach the time of year when the landscape is getting to be settled. Teams have a large body of work with plenty of blemishes, so it is harder to do a major leapfrog. Also, lots of good teams are losing on the road, so beating a higher-ranked team at home is not going to have the same impression on voters. I have three new teams on my ballot, but they are all ranked in my bottom five. And only one top 15 team dropped from the rankings altogether.
That team, of course, was Duke. I normally base my voting on how a team has been playing over the previous two to four weeks, and by that framework you could make a case Duke is not one of the best 25 teams in the country. But if you look at their overall , you will find that the Blue Devils’ best wins came at Wake Forest on Jan. 6 and at home over Indiana on Dec. 2. So whether you evaluate Duke’s recent performances or its entire résumé, it just does not pass the test for a top 25 team.
Arizona might be the most volatile team on my ballot right now. Last week, the Wildcats moved from 16 to 23, and now they are back up to 13—mostly because they did not lose a game. Not only that, but they won convincingly, defeating Washington and Washington State at home by a combined 66 points. Next week the ‘Cats have to travel to the Bay Area to play Cal and Stanford. If they lose them both, they’ll plummet again.
Clemson was a tricky one. Yes, the Tigers defeated three consecutive ranked teams in Louisville, Duke and Miami, but all of those games were at home. Moreover, the Tigers have lost this season to pretty bad teams in UMass and Minnesota. They also lost at home to a so-so Alabama team. But this is a real impressive run they’re on, and I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for a week. They only have one game this week, and that’s at Virginia on Tuesday night. If they win that one, they’ll have justified my faith. If not, I will probably drop them out next week.
Other schools I considered ranking include Dayton, which plays two road games in the Atlantic 10 this week, including a big one Tuesday at St. Bonaventure; Saint Mary’s, which lost at Pepperdine but is tied with Gonzaga atop the WCC standings; VCU, which is the only Atlantic 10 team with an undefeated conference record; Michigan, which scored an impressive win at home over Maryland despite not having Caris LeVert; Seton Hall, which will definitely be ranked if they can pull off the upset at home over Villanova; Evansville, which is just a game behind Wichita State in the MVC standings; and Pittsburgh, which bounced back from its woeful offensive performance at Louisville by routing Boston College at home by 23 points.
You know the rule, guys. You have to win to get in.