Last Friday, the Louisville Cardinals announced it would be instituting a self-imposed postseason ban for this season in light of the NCAA's ongoing investigation into some recruiting "tactics" employed by former hoops staffer Andre McGee. McGee is being accused of hiring escorts to "entertain" recruits and players from 2010-2014.
The self-imposed ban is a nifty trick that's been used by several prominent programs recently in an effort to show some contrition to the NCAA and mitigate a potential big penalty. There's no hard and fast rule for how programs can elect to self-impose sanctions; they can reduce scholarships, vacate victories, accept recruiting restrictions, etc. That the University chose to take the basketball team out of consideration for this year's postseason, despite a ranked squad that was a certain lock for the tournament field tells me that whatever was coming out during the NCAA's investigation was pretty bad, and that the University didn't mind screwing over some kids who had nothing to do with the violations.
Make no mistake, the University made this choice with the best interest of their brand in mind, not the interests of their student athletes, specifically two seniors who were nowhere near Louisville at the time of the violations.
Louisville's two best players, Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, graduated last spring from Drexel and Cleveland State respectively. Neither player had ever played in the NCAA tournament, but both had a year of eligibility remaining and could transfer as graduate students and play immediately. Lewis was offered a spot with Xavier and Ohio State, while Lee was courted by Gonzaga, Maryland, and Arizona. They both picked Louisville with the expectation that they would get a chance to play in their only NCAA tournament. But now, with Louisville's decision, they never will.
Self-imposed bans are a joke. They don't necessarily guarantee a lighter punishment, and more importantly, an institution should not be allowed to elect its own form of punishment to right its wrongs. The NCAA rules have to change. I'd like to see universities stripped of the right to make self-imposed sanctions, which is probably not going to happen anytime soon. At the very least, once a semester or season has started, a postseason ban for that season should be off the table--whether the ban is self-imposed or not. That Louisville's postseason ban was announced just one month prior to the start of the tournament, with Lee and Lewis unable to transfer out to keep their dreams of playing in the Big Dance alive, shouldn't sit well with anyone.
On the Bubble: Duke, Michigan State, West Virginia
No. 11 - Gonzaga (19-5, LW: NR)
Homer pick? Maybe...but there's no doubt that the Zags have been playing much better of late. Something that can't be said for many of the teams that have grown comfortable in these rankings over the last few weeks. Gonzaga's five losses have come by a combined 15 points. And, in all five losses the Zags held a double-digit lead in the second half. The team looks to have finally shaken off the loss of Przemek Karnowski and is improving at the right time of year.
No. 10 - Wisconsin (15-9, LW: NR)
Wisconsin basketball is back! The Badgers had a truly putrid start to the season, including back-to-back losses to in-state foes Marquette and UW-Milwaukee just days before Bo Ryan
abandoned his team in their moment of need abruptly announced his retirement. Despite having that ugly "9" in the loss column, Wisconsin is riding a six-game winning streak in the rugged Big 10, with victories against Michigan State and Indiana in that stretch. Despite the recent success, the Badgers are very much on the bubble and have a very difficult schedule to close the regular season. With road games against Maryland, Michigan State, Iowa, and Purdue all on the calendar, a pessimist (and every state of Wisconsin hater who's watched Making A Murderer) would say they're toast. An optimist would say the Badgers have four big opportunities for resume-boosting wins.
No. 9 - Miami (FL) (19-4, LW: NR)
The Hurricanes are 12-2 against RPI Top 100 teams, including wins over Pitt and Notre Dame in the last week. Despite fielding a guard-heavy team, this is not a team that plays with pace as they rank 220th in the nation in adjusted tempo.
No. 8 - North Carolina (20-4, LW: 4)
The Tar Heels sit here only because...I'm honestly not sure why. The last week has not been kind to UNC. They followed up consecutive losses against Louisville and Notre Dame with a shaky win over lowly Boston College, a game in which Roy Williams collapsed on the sideline allegedly due to a vertigo attack. If you needed yet even more evidence that this is one of the oddest college basketball seasons ever, this year's version of the Tar Heels is the WORST THREE-POINT SHOOTING TEAM IN PROGRAM HISTORY (30.8%), yet they're still considered one of the national championship "favorites" (we're using the term favorites loosely considering the roller-coaster ride that has been the 2015-16 season).
No. 7 - Kansas (20-4, LW: 11)
The Jayhawks prevented West Virginia from becoming the first Big-12 team to sweep them in conference play during the Bill Self era.
No. 6 - Oregon (20-4, LW: 10)
Oregon's 6'10, 190lb (uhhh, please eat more, sir) Chris Boucher is averaging 3.4 blocks/game, which is on-par with Anthony Davis' monster rate during his ridiculous lone-season in college. Just as impressive is Oregon's surprising presence at #1 in the RPI Rankings. Take a second to let that marinate...the Oregon Ducks are the #1 team in a non-football ranking.
No. 5 - Oklahoma (20-3, LW: 1)
A road loss to Kansas State knocks the Sooners down a few spots, and if it wasn't for Buddy Hield's heroics against Texas in the Red River Rivalry, OU would be staring at its first losing streak of the season.
No. 4 - Iowa (19-4, LW: 3)
I'm weirded out by how good Iowa has been at sportsball this year.
First time in school history Iowa has had a football and basketball player in the same year on the SI cover. pic.twitter.com/icNL5EQrtJ— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) February 2, 2016
No. 3 - Maryland (22-3, LW: 6)
The Terrapins set a new school record with 27 consecutive home wins. That the victory came against powerhouse Bowie State will (should) be a footnote in the history books. The 27 is cute, but let us know when you get to 41 straight home wins.
No. 2 - Virginia (20-4, LW: 5)
The Cavaliers have built a seven-game winning streak dating back to January 19. With a big road game against Duke on the schedule for the weekend, Virginia has a chance to redeem some of its woes away from Charlottesville this season.
No. 1 - Villanova (21-3, LW: 2)
Congratulations to Villanova on achieving its first #1 AP ranking in program history. If this year's trend holds, they will probably be ruing that ranking by the end of the weekend.