Kemba wasn’t a unanimous first team Big East selection, Calhoun cries foul

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Kemba Walker didn’t win Big East player of the year.

Ben Hansbrough did.

And no matter how clouded your judgement is with UConn bias, arguing against Hansbrough is a tough thing to do. Kemba was sensational earlier in the season, but struggled a bit in Big East play. Hansbrough, on the other hand, carried the Irish from a potential tournament team in the preseason to a potential No. 1 seed in the postseason.

You can argue Kemba was more deserving if you like, but you cannot rightfully say that Hansbrough didn’t deserve this award.

You also cannot rightfully say that Kemba Walker was, at worst, the second best player in the Big East conference, which is why it was shocking to find out that he was not a unanimous pick by the Big East head coaches for first team all-Big East, which, for the record, has six players.

UConn head coach Jim Calhoun, for one, was not pleased when he found out.

“I think someone took a vacation and didn’t tell us and has been gone for five months,” Calhoun told reporters after the game. “If anybody did it because they lost out in him recruiting wise, which we went to one city this year that that was the story in the paper, something from three years ago.”

The article that Calhoun is referring to came from Bill Koch at the Cincinnati Enquirer at the end of February, and it highlights one of the issues with having coaches select the postseason awards in a conference. Kemba committed to UConn, backing off from Cincinnati late in the recruiting process. What if Mick Cronin, voting out of spite for the decision of an 18 year old, cost Kemba the player of the year in the Big East?

I’m not insinuating that Cronin was the coach that didn’t vote Kemba on the first team, but in a business as cutthroat and shady as collegiate coaching, you’re telling me there is no chance that a coach would allow a personal beef over a broken commitment, a hurt feeling, or a backroom deal backed-out on influence his voting?

“I’ve always said the media should vote this because I’ve watched things,” Calhoun said. “Coach of the Year and Player of the Year, and they don’t always come out because there is enough guys who thinks it actually makes a difference.”

“[Kemba]’s as good a player in America and he’ll be a first-team all American. I can’t believe that no one would ever see him play and see the joy in which he plays with the speed he plays with the ability he plays with and the pure love of the game and think he is not as good of a player as he is in the league.”

Kemba was terrific again in this afternoon’s 79-62 win over Georgetown in the Big East Tournament’s, confirming Calhoun’s feelings about him. He finished with 28 points on 10-18 shooting from the field while adding six rebounds, three assists, and two steals. This came a night after he had 26 points, seven boards, and five assists in UConn’s win over DePaul.

But DePaul is DePaul. And Georgetown without Chris Wright has played like DePaul.

Up next for the Huskies will be Pitt, who beat the Huskies by 15 this season despite a 31 point performance from Walker. That game, however, took place back in December, and since then the rest of the UConn roster has come alive.

Jeremy Lamb and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel have both become legitimate double digit scoring threats from the perimeter. Getting the scoring isn’t as important as simply having a presence on the floor that the defense needs to be aware of.

“You don’t need a lot of those shots to go in,” Calhoun said. “You need the threat of a guy who can make those shots go in, that makes a big difference. They changed the defense, he made a difference today he’s going to have to make one tomorrow.”

Lamb and Coombs-McDaniel will help create space for penetrators like Kemba and Shabazz Napier, but the key for the Huskies tomorrow will be in the form of their front court. Pitt is the best offensive rebounding team in the Big East, and while the Huskies have a knack for getting to the offensive back boards, boxing out isn’t necessarily this team’s strong point.

“We need Roscoe and Alex and those guys to be tough for us,” Walker said after the game. “That’s the biggest thing. Pitt is an aggressive team down low and they get rebounds you’ve got to outrebound them and stay tough.”

Yesterday, Alex Oriakhi ended up with 19 rebounds. He only had five in 24 minutes this after noon. Charles Okwandu only had three rebounds, while Lamb and Smith added four each.

Believe it or not, Kemba Walker was the Huskies leading rebounder on Wednesday.

While that supports Calhoun’s argument that leaving Kemba Walker off of the Big East’s first team is ludicrous, its a bad sign for UConn’s team.

If that happens tomorrow, The Huskies can spend Friday and Saturday packing for the NCAA Tournament.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.