Conference Catch-ups: The Missouri Valley

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Favorite: Creighton

How can anyone vote against the Bluejays right now? Creighton is 10-1 heading into the start of league play, with the ‘1’ coming on the road against a better-than-you-think St. Joe’s team. The Bluejays have size up front and shooting on the perimeter, but more than anything they have the guy that is one of the current front runners for Player of the Year — National, not Missouri Valley — Doug McDermott. Creighton is going to be able to score this season, the question mark with this group lies on the defensive end of the floor: are they going to be able to get enough stops to win the bare-knuckle brawls that make up MVC conference games?

And-1: I would be remiss if I didn’t have Wichita State listed somewhere near favorite territory for the Valley. The Shockers — and not Creighton — are currently the highest ranked MVC team. Where Creighton does it with the scoring ability of McDermott, Wichita State thrives on their balance. Five players average double figures and a sixth sits at 9.4 ppg. Three more players average double-figures in minutes. Wichita State can hurt you in so many different ways, whether its the 31 points that Joe Ragland had in the win over UNLV or the six players that reached double-figures in a win over Tulsa, defenses aren’t going to be able to focus on slowing down one player on the Shockers. And that’s why they are so dangerous.

Biggest Surprise: Northern Iowa

Let’s forget, for a second, that UNI just lost to Ohio at home by 17 points. A loss to Ohio, as good as they are this season, at home by 17 points is a far cry from being a “good loss”. Because once you get past that game, you see that the Panthers have actually had a very strong non-conference season. they’ve won at Iowa State and Old Dominion. They beat Colorado State, Providence and Iowa. Their only loss on the season came during the 2am tip of Marathon Madness out in Moraga, CA, against St. Mary’s. Even when you factor in the loss to Ohio, its very difficult to ignore the kind of success that UNI has had early on this season. This wasn’t supposed to happen until next year, but with Anthony James and Jake Koch both playing at an all-league level, UNI is going to continue to win games.

Biggest Disappointment: Missouri State

Yeah, I know, its a bit unfair to call the Bears a disappointment this season given what they lost from last year’s team (literally everyone — players and coaches — other than Kyle Weems). And, to be honest, the fact that they are 7-5 in non-conference play is actually probably a good start for them considering. The issue, however, is that Missouri State could be in better shape. They lost a game in OT to West Virginia after leading by five with 45 seconds left in regulation. They lost games to Oklahoma State and Oral Roberts due to poor late-game execution. The biggest issue? That all of this has happened while Kyle Weems has played some of the worst basketball of his career. His shooting is down and his scoring is down, and while much of that can be explained by the fact that defenses are focusing on him, it only makes you wonder where the Bears would be right now if Weems was playing well.

Something left to prove: Indiana State

The Sycamores were a trendy sleeper pick in this league coming into the season, and that pick certainly hasn’t disappointed. Jake Odum has been a terrific leader of a balanced attack that has been good enough to go into Nashville and beat Vanderbilt. ISU is about as stereotypically Valley as you can get: they are undersized, they don’t rebound well on the offensive end of the floor but they pound the defensive glass, they don’t turn the ball over and they shoot the ball well from three. The problem is that they don’t really have a go-to scorer, which is something that could end up coming back to bite them late in the year. ISU will be competitive, but just how competitive is something that remains to be seen.

Who’s dancing?: Creighton, Wichita State, Northern Iowa

Wrong side of the bubble?: Missouri State, Indiana State

Player of the Year: Doug McDermott, Creighton

Duh.

All-conference team:

POY: Doug McDermott, Creighton
G: Jake Odum, Indiana State
G: Joe Ragland, Wichita State
G: Colt Ryan, Evansville
G: Rayvonte Rice, Drake
F: Jake Koch, Northern Iowa

Power Rankings

1. Creighton
2. Wichita State
3. Northern Iowa
4. Indiana State
5. Missouri State
6. Illinois State
7. Drake
8. Evansville
9. Bradley
10. Southern Illinois

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.