Cleveland St. lost Norris Cole, but hasn’t lost a step this year

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INDIANAPOLIS – The Horizon League has been the preeminent mid-major conference over the past two seasons.

With all due respect to the things that the Missouri Valley, the WCC and the CAA have accomplished, they can’t count Butler has a member of their league. All the Bulldogs have done is go to back-to-back national title games. No big deal.

What made their second trip to the title game all the more impressive isn’t that they made the run as an eight seed; cinderella stories are a dime-a-dozen in the NCAA Tournament, and given the Madness of March in 2011, Brad Stevens didn’t even half to pull an upset in the Final Four for the right to take on UConn on the best Monday night of the season.

No, what made that trip incredible is that they were able to do it despite losing a first round NBA Draft pick in Gordon Hayward. Horizon League teams aren’t supposed to have players that get guaranteed contracts in the NBA, let alone have enough talent on the roster to remain relevant after that kind of personnel loss.

It looks like Butler gave their blueprint to Cleveland State.

After the Vikings’ 76-69 win over Butler on Friday night, Cleveland State moved to 5-1 in the Horizon League and 15-3 on the season. They already own a road win dominating road win against Vanderbilt and stole a game at home against St. Bonaventure and now they can also claim their first win at Hinkle Fieldhouse since 2005.

Should I mention this is all happening despite the fact that Gary Waters’ team lost Norris Cole, who is currently averaging 9.8 ppg in 22.2 mpg for the Miami Heat, to gradtuation?

What happened?

“I knew that we had a chance this year because we had three guys that could score 1,000 points,” Waters said, referring to his perimeter attack of Jeremy Montgomery, D’Aundray Brown and Trevon Harmon. “When you got three guys on one team scoring 1,000 points you have that potential.”

All three of those guys are fourth year players — Brown is a junior but he redshirted a year because of an injury. No matter the level of competition, the value of having veteran leadership cannot be overstated. These guys have been through the battles of the Horizon League before.

“I think they understand how good they were with Norris Cole,” Butler senior guard Ronald Nored said. “When he left, they had to turn it up another level when because they don’t have him. Those guys have been making big plays even when Norris was there, even when Cedric Jackson was there, they were making big plays then and now its their time.”

Gary Waters credits Jeremy Montgomery for sparking this group. Montgomery has made a position switch this season. Spending most of his career playing off the ball, the man known as J-Mo has slid over to full time point guard this season.

That’s a change that isn’t always easy to make. Obviously, there are some differences in the skills required for each position — shooting is more valuable at the off-guard spot, ball-handling and passing ability are needed at the point — but the difference in mindset at each spot is more important.

“He’s knows when to make decisions and when to shoot the ball,” Waters said. “That’s hard for a kid that’s played the two, but its great for the next level because they want him to be able to do both things. Norris made it because he was able to do both things. The difference between him and Norris is Norris had two years of it. He’s had only this one year. As he goes running our show and doing what we need, the better we will be.”

It certainly didn’t hurt learning from and practicing daily against a player like Cole. In fact, Cole is still helping Montgomery make the positional change.

“I talk to Norris here and there,” said J-Mo, who scored 16 of his 18 points against Butler in the second half, including a pair of tough, deep threes that helped cut Butler’s comeback attempt short. “I just get information from him. He’s a great guy, he’s humble, I love his attitude. All praise to him, I’m just getting all the information from him and taking it to the court.”

“I know I’m still a scorer, I can do a couple things here and there. But sometimes its not there. I can get everyone else involved, everyone else feeling it. And I can come in the second half and if they leave me open, I make them pay for it.”

As good as Montgomery has been filling Cole’s shoes, this has been a team effort for the Vikings. They are a deep and athletic team, one that is capable of playing devastatingly tough defense. They are second in the country at forcing turnovers defensively which stems from the depth, balance and athleticism there is up and down this roster.

For starters, the Vikings also start veterans Aaron Pogue and Tim Kamczyc in the front court. Kamczyc finished with 17 points against the Bulldogs. But its more than just the veterans, as Waters has raved about the freshmen class that he and his staff brought in this season.

“We’ve got three very good freshmen,” he said. “In my estimation they’re the best freshmen in this league. We’ve got Anton Grady, Charlie Lee and Marlon Mason. Those are three very good freshmen.”

When you have veteran leadership, youthful exuberance, a stifling defense and three scorers talented enough to score 1,000 points in their career, having success at the college level shouldn’t come as a surprise.

With or without Norris Cole.

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

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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

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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.