Conference Catch-ups: West Coast Conference

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Over the course of this week, we will spend a few minutes catching you up on how some of the best conferences in the country currently look. With conference play starting up, its time to get into the basketball spirit.

Favorite: BYU

The Cougars are still a bit of an unknown entity, and that is in very large part due to the way that Matt Carlino has kicked off the season. He’s only been on the roster for four games after transferring in from BYU, but Carlino has been fantastic in those four games, averaging 17.3 ppg and 4.8 apg and, most importantly, giving the Cougars a playmaker and a scorer on the perimeter. He’s not Jimmer, but he can take the pressure off of BYU’s big men, as we saw in BYU’s near-upset of Baylor. And those big men — namely Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock — have been terrific in the early going. BYU is the highest ranked team in Kenpom’s efficiency ratings this season and are a much-improved defensive team. That defensive prowess, combined with the 1-2-3 punch of Carlino, Davies and Hartsock, is why BYU gets the nod over Gonzaga and St. Mary’s.

And-1: I actually think Gonzaga is the second best team in this conference, but seeing as I’ll be touching on them later, I’ll hit on St. Mary’s here. The Gaels have not quite gotten the performance we expected out of Jorden Page and Stephen Holt this year, but the play of Matthew Dellavedova and Rob Jones has more than made up for that. Dellavedova has seamlessly switched over to primary ball-handling duties after Mickey McConnell’s graduation while Jones has continued his steady improvement throughout his career, averaging a double-double this season despite playing at a size disadvantage every game. Clint Steindl has given Randy Bennett a sniper on the wing while Stephen Holt, while struggling with his shot offensively, has become the Gael’s defensive stopper. The biggest issue I see is in the paint. Yes, St. Mary’s leads the country in defensive rebounding percentage, but I see issues against (much) bigger Gonzaga and BYU front lines if Kenton Walker and Mitchell Young don’t start to have a bigger impact.

Biggest surprise: Santa Clara

The Broncs probably aren’t going to be competing for the top three in this league, but they may actually be the fourth best team in the WCC. While that wouldn’t have been much of a surprise back in August, once Marc Trasolini went down with a torn acl early in September, the expectations for SCU went downhill. But Kevin Foster and Evan Roquemore have become the best back court in the conference and Santa Clara has compiled wins over New Mexico and Villanova. While that performance in the 76 Classic was nice, the fact that the Broncs are 290th in the country in defensive efficiency is going to be a problem down the road.

Biggest disappointment: Loyola Marymount

The Lions started off the season so well, with a double-digit win over UCLA, and followed that up with a nice win over St. Louis earlier this month. But in the meantime, LMU has put together some truly horrific performances, including a 24 point loss to Morgan State, a loss to Columbia and a 13 point loss to North Texas. While the Lions should get a boost with the return of Drew Viney and Ashlee Hamilton, I think we can officially designate LMU “Team Schizophrenia”.

Something left to prove: Gonzaga

I like the Bulldogs. I do. But there are just too many question marks on this team for me to think of them as a real contender to do much more than make the NCAA Tournament and, potentially, win a game. For starters, I’m don’t think Elias Harris is ever going to be a star. He’s a very good WCC-level player, but he’s closer to Rob Jones than he is Perry Jones. The same can be said for Robert Sacre. But the bigger issue is that the Zags simply are not a very good defensive team. Leading scorer Kevin Pangos is a subpar defender, and Gonzaga’s perimeter defense becomes that much more of a liability when David Stockton is on the floor as well. Further complicating matter? Gonzaga has, at times, been the most effective offensively when Stockton and Pangos are on the court together. Who are they going to be able to guard?

Player of the Year: Noah Hartsock, BYU

Most expected Brandon Davies to be the BYU big man that thrived playing in a conference with lesser competition, but its been Hartsock that has had a break out year. The senior has never averaged more than 8.5 ppg in his career, but he’s more than doubled that this season, posting 17.5 ppg and 6.0 rpg for the 9-3 Cougars and league favorites.

All-Conference Team:

POY: Noah Hartsock, BYU
G: Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
G: Evan Roquemore, Santa Clara
G: Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary’s
F: Rob Jones, St. Mary’s
F: Elias Harris, Gonzaga

Power Rankings

1. BYU
2. Gonzaga
3. St. Mary’s
4. San Francisco
5. Santa Clara
6. Loyola Marymount
7. Pepperdine
8. Portland
9. San Diego

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

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

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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.