Proud 'Nova program enduring rare slide

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Proud 'Nova program enduring rare slide

A year ago today, Villanova was ranked No. 9 in both the AP and USA TodayESPN Coaches polls. The Wildcats were 21-6 overall, 9-5 in the brutally tough Big East, coming off back-to-back road conference wins at Seton Hall and DePaul.

They werent quite at the top of the college basketball world, but they were close. Two years removed from a Final Four, seemingly on the way toward another deep NCAA tournament run.

Since then? Disaster.

Villanova is 11-22 in 33 games in the last 365 days, and a team that a year ago Monday was nationally ranked in the top 10 is now tied for 13th in the Big East and sputtering toward the end of the season for a second straight year.

Last year, Nova lost its last six games. This year, the Wildcats have lost six of their last seven. The circumstances are different last years team was a senior-laden group with great expectations, this years team is loaded with freshmen but the results are similar.

Hugely disappointing.

Theres no choice but for us to say were going to learn from this, were going to get better and there will be a point where this is something we draw upon, but right now theres no question its tough on our guys, Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

Were battling, were in games ... I just think were just going to learn from this. This is part of the process of an inexperienced team. Its obviously painful, but its what sports is all about.

With its 73-70 overtime loss to UConn Monday, Villanova fell to 11-16 this year, virtually clinching the programs first losing season since 2003 and first season without an NIT or NCAA invitation since the 1998 team went 12-17 under Steve Lappas.

Villanova has conference games remaining against Georgetown, Rutgers and Cincinnati combined record 51-28 and at least one game in the Big East tournament. This is a school that has never lost more than 19 games in a season in the programs 92-year history.

The Wildcats are playing without two starters, including all-conference guard Maalik Wayns, and the injuries have forced Wright to go deep on his very young bench. Freshmen played 112 minutes against Connecticut Monday, and at one point in the UConn game, four members of Villanovas prized five-man freshmen class were on the court at the same time.

Several of the freshmen have shown great promise notably forward JayVaughn Pinkston and point guard Ty Johnson, who combined for 27 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists against the Huskies. But the Wildcats youth doesnt make the losing any easier.

We always come in the locker room after the game and just look at each other in the eyes and we know we gave it up for each other, Johnson said. We have two starters not playing right now, but weve just got to keep coming to practice, learning and continue to get better.

One recurring problem for Nova both this year and last year has been squandering huge leads.

After blowing an 18-point lead against Connecticut, the Wildcats have lost three games in the span of 24 days in which they led by 18 or more points. They also blew a nine-point lead in the final 3:01 against Santa Clara, a 10-point lead over St. Louis and eight-point leads against South Florida and Cincinnati.

Last year, Nova blew a 10-point lead with less than three minutes left against Rutgers, a 16-point lead in the Big East tournament against South Florida and a 10-point second-half lead in the NCAA tourney vs. George Mason.

Youve got to just look at the positive situations in those tight games to show them, Wright said. For instance in the Notre Dame game (Saturday), you show them at the end of regulation, end-of-game situation ... Notre Dame had the ball, tried to run a play, couldnt, called timeout, couldnt get a shot off, we got a stop, we came down and scored.

Youve just got to do that one or two possessions more and not look at the results. The results hit you right now, so everybodys hurting, so its what can we learn from it.

Villanova has averaged 24.6 wins over the last seven years, reaching the NCAA tourney each year. The most losses in Nova history is 19, by the 1974 and 1993 teams.

The last time a Wright-coached team didnt reach the postseason was 1998, when Hofstra went 19-12 but didnt get an NIT invite. Last time he had a losing season was 1997, when Hofstra went 12-15.

I feel more for the players because being a coach youve been through this and you know this is part of the process to being successful, he said. Youve got to earn it. This group really hasnt ... our juniors havent been in a leadership position to learn this yet, our young guys havent even been here.

So were earning this, and youve got to go through these situations and youve got to take the heat and stay strong through it and make sure it pulls you together.
E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

Baylor to fire football coach Briles, re-assign president

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Baylor to fire football coach Briles, re-assign president

WACO, Texas -- Baylor University's board of regents said Thursday that it will fire football coach Art Briles and re-assign university President Kenneth Starr amid questions over the school's handling of sexual assault complaints against players.

The nation's largest Baptist university said in a statement Thursday that it had suspended Briles "with intent to terminate." Starr will leave the position of president on May 31, but the school says he will serve as chancellor.

The university also placed athletic director Ian McCaw on probation.

Baylor asked a law firm last year to conduct a review of its handling of sexual assault cases following allegations that the football program mishandled several cases of players attacking women.

The university's statement said the review revealed "a fundamental failure."

Baylor has faced increasing criticism in recent months for its handling of reports of rape and other violent incidents involving football players and students. One victim has sued the university, saying it was deliberately indifferent to her allegations against a former player who was eventually convicted of sexually assaulting her.

Starr ordered an investigation last year but has been mostly silent amid mounting criticism over the school's handling of the complaints, which erupted under his leadership. He took over as the university's president in 2010, about a decade after the former prosecutor investigated former President Clinton's sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewisnky.

The football team, whose players were at the center of the upheaval, enjoyed unprecedented success under Briles' tenure, including two Big 12 championships in the last three years. That success brought a financial windfall, and in 2014, Baylor opened a new, $250-million on-campus football stadium. But Briles' program has also been criticized for recruiting or accepting transfer players without regard to the harm they might cause fellow students.

Starr rode the waves of the program's success, and often ran on the football field with Baylor students in pregame ceremonies. But as investigations began into the school's handling of sexual assault allegations against players, Starr provided only brief comments, even as criticism of the school mounted.

In a February statement issued by university, Starr said "our hearts break for those whose lives are impacted by execrable acts of sexual violence." And at a prayer breakfast last month, Starr told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "I am in favor of transparency. Stand up, take your medicine if you made a mistake."

Baylor's Board of Regents was recently briefed by a law firm hired to investigate how the school responded to assault incidents, and the school on Thursday released a summary of its findings. Starr initiated the review in 2015, after former football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of sexually assaulting a female soccer player.

Ukwuachu, who was convicted in 2015, transferred to Baylor after he was dismissed from Boise State. Ukwuachu's former girlfriend testified during his rape trial in Texas that he had struck and choked her when he attended Boise State.

Ukwuachu's former coach, Chris Peterson, now the coach at Washington, said he "thoroughly apprised" Briles about the circumstances of Ukuwachu's dismissal. Briles disputed that account, saying he talked with Peterson and there was no mention of the incident.

The school is also facing a federal lawsuit from a former student claiming the school was "deliberately indifferent" to rape allegations levied at a former football player Tevin Elliott, who was convicted in 2014 of sexually assaulting the woman.

The uproar following Ukwuachu's conviction caused Baylor to initiate the review by the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton, and to announce a $5 million effort to improve efforts on how it responds to sexual assault, including adding another investigator and more staff.

But the Ukwuachu case was just the start of months of revelations of football players being involved in violent incidents with little or no repercussions. At least seven other woman have publicly come forward to say the school ignored their sexual assault allegations.

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Josh Hart discusses NBA draft process, returning to Villanova

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Josh Hart discusses NBA draft process, returning to Villanova

Josh Hart said the decision wasn’t easy.

But he’s happy with it.

After withdrawing his name from the NBA draft to return to school (see story), Hart is excited to focus on Villanova, graduation and then the NBA dream.

“I love the school, I love the teachers, the student body, the support, my teammates that we have coming back,” the 6-foot-5 guard said Wednesday on Comcast SportsNet’s Philly Sports Talk. “So it was a tough one and I just thought at the end of the day, I think going back for my senior year would be in the best interest of my parents and myself.”

As a junior, Hart helped Villanova win its second national championship in program history by leading the Wildcats in scoring with 15.5 points per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field.

Hart received plenty of feedback from NBA teams. He said shooting and ball handling are what he hopes to improve.

As far as his draft stock …

“There were teams interested maybe in the first [round], and then there were teams that said they would take me in the second,” Hart said. “But there’s a whole month before the draft, a lot of teams didn’t know exactly what they were doing with their picks — whether they were trying to trade up for a pick, trying to trade down, trying to trade a pick for a player. Several teams said that they would take me.”

For more from Hart on the draft and Villanova, watch the video above.

Delaware hires Martin Ingelsby as new head basketball coach

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Delaware hires Martin Ingelsby as new head basketball coach

Delaware has its new head basketball coach in Martin Ingelsby.

Ingelsby, a native of Berwyn, Pennsylvania, comes from Notre Dame, where he played from 1997-2001 and coached for 13 seasons, seven as an assistant.

Ingelsby played his high school ball at Archbishop Carroll and is the son of Tom Ingelsby, who played for Villanova from 1970-73.

Delaware is coming off a 7-23 season and 2-16 mark in CAA play, which led to the firing of head coach Monte Ross.

The Blue Hens, who announced the hire Tuesday, will formally introduce Ingelsby in a press conference Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Bob Carpenter Center Auditorium.