Why is the Pac-12 struggling?

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It seems like we say it every year around Christmas time, but it may actually be true this season: the Pac-12 might struggle to get an at-large bid.

Seriously.

Chew on these stats, if you please. The league is currently ninth in the RPI, sitting behind the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and Missouri Valley. They don’t have a single win against a top 25 program and are just 2-16 vs. the RPI top 50 and 12-33 against the top 100. Their best win on the season is against Texas, NC State, Denver or Colorado State.

Their bad losses are too many to mention, but I’ll do it anyway: Loyola Marymount, Middle Tennessee State, Cal Poly, Northern Arizona, Georgia, Pepperdine, Fairfield, DePaul, Idaho, UC Riverside, South Dakota State and, well, everyone that Utah has played.

Does that sound like a high-major league to you?

Hell, does that sound like a league that deserves more than one-bid to the NCAA Tournament?

Let’s break it down:

Arizona: The Wildcats have the highest RPI in the conference, but they are 37th nationally. The Wildcats should be credited for playing a tough schedule early in the season, but they’ve missed on all of their chances for a marquee win, capped by their blowout loss to Gonzaga in Seattle. The Wildcats don’t have a terrible profile (they beat St. John’s at St. John’s before Nurideen Lindsay transferred and won at New Mexico State), but they aren’t the team we expected this season. The young talent is younger than they are talented and Josiah Turner still hasn’t figured out how to be more than a distraction.

Cal: The Bears are currently 9-2, but their best win on the year came against either a) Georgia or b) Denver, neither of which is all that appealing. They’re 196th in the country in SOS and they lost by 39 points to Missouri on a neutral floor. To make matters worse, Cal will only play Washington and Arizona once apiece this season, limiting the number of quality opponents they play in the league. Oh, and their starting power forward, who was suspended earlier this season, has a stress fracture.

Oregon: The Ducks were a sleeper heading into the season. But with big losses to Vanderbilt, BYU and Virginia and the defections of Jabari Brown and Bruce Barron, that possibility is looking slimmer and slimmer. The addition of Devoe Joseph should help, but Oregon is not the team we all thought they were going to be.

Oregon State: Prior to a 14 point home loss to Idaho, Oregon State was as impressive as any team in teh league. They’ve been plowing through mediocre competition, they have a come-from-behind win over Texas and they came within a possession or knocking off Vanderbilt. For a while, the Beavers looked like a team that actually wanted to make the NCAA Tournament. Then they had to go and lose to Idaho and make me question everything I thought about this team. The Beavers will have to earn their bid in league play. They get Washington and Cal twice and Arizona on the road.

Stanford: Believe it or not, Stanford has been the most impressive team in the Pac-12, and its not even close. They are 9-1 on the year with wins over NC State, Oklahoma State and Colorado State and have the second-highest RPI in the conference (one higher than Baylor). Their only loss on the year came to Syracuse in MSG (as close as it gets to being a home game) by four when the Cardinal handed over a game they had been leading for 36 minutes. The only issue Stanford could end up facing is that they only get one games against Washington and Arizona in the unbalanced schedule.

UCLA: Its amazing what one player can do to a team’s chemistry, isn’t it? Without Reeves Nelson, can UCLA turn their season around?

Washington: If anyone knows what’s going on with the Huskies, feel free to share it with me. They struggled through the first month of the season, providing the exclamation point with a 19 point home loss to South Dakota State. They don’t have a notable win to speak of and will only get one chance against Cal. They are 86th in the country in RPI, and given how weak the Pac-12 is, its tough to imagine that number going up too much. If there is anything that I am sure of, its that Washington will meander through the rest of the season before making a run to the Pac-12 tournament title game.

Washington and Arizona played tough enough schedules in non-conference play that they are still in play to get an at-large bid. Cal is probably good enough to deserve a bid. Stanford and Oregon State look like they deserve to go dancing.

The problem is going to be that, thanks to the struggles this league has had in non-conference play, there are simply not going to be enough good wins to come by in Pac-12 play. How much is a team like Oregon really going to be able to boost their profile playing as many games against Utah, Washington State and Arizona State and they do against Cal, Washington and Arizona?

Personally, I think that someone is going to figure it out. Maybe its Arizona, maybe its Washington, maybe its Cal, maybe its all three. But someone is going to put it together enough in this league to play their way into an at-large bid. There is too much talent in the league for that not too happen.

But the way it looks right now, there is a real chance the Pac-12 could be a one-bid league come Selection Sunday.

If there is a silver-lining to this, its that the Pac-12 is a toss-up.

Not having a favorite in a conference means that the league’s race will be exciting and unpredictable. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.