Conference Catch-ups: The Big Ten

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Favorite: Ohio State

This pick will be as much of a consensus as any league in country with one, absolutely crucial technicality: Jared Sullinger stays healthy. I love Aaron Craft and his ability to control a game without being a scorer. William Buford may be the best wing in the country. DeShaun Thomas can score with the best of them. Hell, even Lenzelle Smith and Evan Ravenel have been impressive at times this season. But without a healthy Jared Sullinger, Ohio State is a different team. His is the single most dominant force in the paint in the country, and his presence makes it so much easier for his teammates to operate.

And-1: This may not be the popular pick, but I am going to go with Michigan State. They are not the most talented team in the conference, but they have gotten rid of the egos that ruined their chemistry the past couple of seasons. In other words, this is just the kind of blue-collar team that Tom Izzo thrives with, led by the player with the bluest collar in the country in Draymond Green.

Biggest Surprise: Indiana

Everyone thought that Indiana was going to be better this season. With everyone coming back and a star big man entering the fold, it only made sense, right? But next year was supposed to be the year that Indiana vaulted themselves back into the national consciousness, not this season. But here we are hitting Big Ten play and the Hoosiers are still undefeated. How? Well, Zeller has been better than expected, Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey have become impact role players and Christian Watford, Verdell Jones and Jordy Hulls have embraced their leadership roles.

And-1: Minnesota lost Trevor Mbakwe, their star big man, to a torn acl. They’ve had what seems like six players transfer out of the program in the last few years. They are a young team and have a roster devoid of a point guard. Yet Tubby Smith has this team at 12-1 heading into league play. That’s impressive.

Biggest Disappointment: Wisconsin

Well, not the entire Wisconsin team, because the Badgers actually aren’t having a bad year. Yes, they lost to Marquette at home. And yes, they lost to UNC on the road by three (which is anything but a bad loss). In fact, the Badgers are currently sitting in first place in the country based on the numbers that Kenpom crunches. But what’s scary is to think about how good this team could be if Jordan Taylor was playing like, well, Jordan Taylor. His shooting numbers are way down, his turnover numbers are up and he just isn’t the same presence on the floor. The good news? Taylor’s going to come around eventually, and in his absence Jared Berggren has developed into a very good big man.

And-1: Its tough to label anyone in this conference a disappointment considering how good the league, as a whole, has been, but if I have to pick another disappointment I’ll go with Purdue. Specifically, Purdue’s late-game execution. The Boilermakers could be sitting at 12-1 if they hadn’t blown big leads against both Butler and Xavier.

Something left to prove: Michigan and Illinois

I actually like both of these teams. I think Michigan has a chance to be a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament and I think that Illinois has the pieces to make it to the second weekend of the tournament. But I also think that both teams have some flaws. I’m not yet convinced that Michigan is a good enough defensive team. I think they have some holes in their front line and that, when facing a good team with a smart point guard, will have their defensive weaknesses exposed. With Illinois, I think the issue is that they don’t have a closer. There isn’t a star on that roster. There is no one that makes me say “he could go for 30 any night”. They’ll win their fair share of games and they’ll be in the mix all year long, but I think that lack of star power will cost them eventually.

And-1: This could be Northwestern’s year. The Big Ten is very strong and very deep. And Northwestern has enough on their roster that they should be able to finish around .500 in league play. If they can get to 9-9 or 10-8 in league play, a tournament berth should be in their future. But I’m not yet convinced they are good enough to make that happen.

Who’s dancing?: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan State

Wrong side of the bubble?: Minnesota, Northwestern

Player of the Year: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State

Sullinger, as I said earlier, is the most dominant force in all of college basketball, not just in the Big Ten. He’s a double-double machine with a textbook back to the basket game. His effectiveness goes beyond the numbers that he puts up, however. Defenses have to adjust when he is on the floor. Coaches have to game-plan how they will double in the post and rotate out of it. They have to decide who they are going to leave open. If I were starting a basketball team, it would take a good amount of convincing not to make Sully be the first player that I picked.

All-conference team:

POY: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
G: Aaron Craft, Ohio State
F: Robbie Hummel, Purdue
F: John Shurna, Northwestern
F: Draymond Green, Michigan State
C: Cody Zeller, Indiana

Power Rankings:

1. Ohio State
2. Michigan State
3. Wisconsin
4. Indiana
5. Michigan
6. Illinois
7. Purdue
8. Northwestern
9. Minnesota
10. Nebraska
11. Iowa
12. Penn State

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.