Conference Catch-ups: The Big 12

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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: Baylor

I just finished recording a podcast over at CBS, and one of the things that we discussed was Baylor and why they aren’t getting the same kind of hype as, say, Indiana or Ohio State or UConn. The most obvious reason is that they haven’t exactly beaten a murderer’s row; BYU, West Virginia and St. Mary’s are, by far, the Bear’s three best wins. Teams build hype by winning games that you cannot help but watch, and as of now, Baylor doesn’t have a single win of that ilk. But there is more to it: Baylor has serious question marks about three important pieces on their team. Is Scott Drew a good enough coach? His reputation is that of a recruiter, not a play-by-play tactician. Can Pierre Jackson run the point for this team? He’s made some clutch plays over the past couple of games, but he also has a tendency to go into NBA 2K mode when he’s not good enough for that. Is Perry Jones III ever going to find the “Eff You!” mentality that the best-of-the-best have? Assertiveness and aggressiveness are the only things that are keeping PJIII from being a serious contender for National Player of the Year.

And-1: There are four undefeated teams left in the country. Baylor is one of them. Missouri is another. The Tigers are a much different team from Baylor — where the Bears are one of the longest and most athletic teams in the country, Missouri plays four guards and is arguably the best shooting team — but they have been just as impressive. Mizzou is a potent offensive team, with two playmaking point guards (Phil Pressey, Mike Dixon) that free up a pair of devastatingly good shooters (Kim English, Marcus Denmon). The issue plaguing Missouri right now is whether the numbers they have put up (they are second in adjusted offensive efficiency in the country) are simply a result of playing a weak schedule. Teams like Cal, Illinois and Villanova are not as good as they have been in recent season.

Biggest Surprise: Kansas State

The Wildcats have had a nice start to the year. They are 11-1 — with the “1” being a double-overtime loss to West Virginia — and are playing some typical Frank Martin basketball. They have a trio of quality big men (Thomas Gibson, Jamar Samuels and Jordan Henriquez) that pound the offensive glass and they have a roster of kids that go to work on the defensive end of the floor. The difference of late has been the emergence Angel Rodriguez alongside Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling. Not bad for a team that lost Jacob Pullen last season.

And-1: I have to admit, I really didn’t expect much out of Texas this season. They lost a ton of talent from a team that chronically underperformed and replaced it with slightly off-the-radar freshmen. But it has worked this year. J’Covan Brown has been good and Myck Kabongo, who has had the typical ups-and-downs of a freshman point guard, is getting better. More impressive, however, has been the play of Julien Lewis, Sheldon McClellan, and Jonathon Holmes, all freshmen as well. The Horns have six freshmen in their nine man rotation. That means the season will be a learning process, but that this group will have a steep learning curve.

Biggest Disappointment: Texas A&M

At this point in the season, its really not fair to be too harsh on the Aggies. Besides the fact that their best player, Khris Middleton, missed seven games early in the season with a knee injury, Kourtney Roberson has missed the past three games with a fractured ankle and freshman Jamal Branch has transferred out of the program. The biggest issue is that their head coach is battling early on-set Parkinson’s. That’s far from an ideal situation. But A&M’s start has been far from ideal as well, with the Aggies most recently getting blown out by Florida and following that up with a loss to Rice. Until A&M can find a consistent way to score the ball, they are going to continue to struggle.

And-1: Oklahoma State wasn’t exactly expected to win the Big 12 this season, but they also weren’t expected to finish in last place. But that’s exactly where they stand heading into the start of league play, and things aren’t exactly looking up. LeBryan Nash has been, well, awful. JP Olukemi is out for the season after tearing his acl. Fred Gulley and Reger Dowell have both transferred out of the program. Travis Ford is going to have his work cut out for him as he tries to turn this thing around.

Something left to prove: Kansas

Thomas Robinson is a monster. That much we do know about the Jayhawks. After that, however, there still is plenty to find out. There are the questions marks surrounding the leadership abilities of Elijah Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor. There are the issues regarding the amount of talent that Bill Self’s role players have — Travis Releford, Jeff Withey, Naadir Tharpe. The are concerns (at least on my end) of whether or not T-Rob is enough of a go-to player to carry the Jayhawks. That said, Kansas is Kansas. Bill Self is Bill Self. And there is a reason that the Jayhawks have won seven straight Big 12 titles. Until its official, Kansas has to be considered in the mix for the title.

And-1: Lon Kruger has done a great job turning around the Oklahoma program. Heading into Big 12 play, the Sooners are 10-2 on the season. They have wins over Washington State, Santa Clara, Houston and Arkansas. They have one of the most improved players in the country in Steven Pledger. They came within a late-game collapse of knocking off the new-and-improved Cincinnati Bearcats. We’ll find out just how “for real” this group is when they open up league play at Missouri.

Player of the Year: Thomas Robinson, Kansas

T-Rob has proved that the all-american hype he had in the preseason was deserved. He’s averaging 17.7 ppg and 12.2 rpg through non-conference play, providing a rock in the post for the Jayhawks. If he’s not the hardest-working player in the country, he’s somewhere in the top five. In a conference that has plenty of Player of the Year options, Robinson is a pretty easy pick.

All-Conference Team:

POY: Thomas Robinson, Kansas
G: J’Covan Brown, Texas
G: Marcus Denmon, Missouri
G: Steven Pledger, Oklahoma
F: Royce White, Iowa State
C: Perry Jones III, Baylor

Power Rankings

1. Baylor
2. Missouri
3. Kansas
4. Kansas State
5. Texas
6. Texas A&M
7. Oklahoma
8. Iowa State
9. Texas Tech
10. Oklahoma 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

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.