Recruiting rundown: Kentucky’s repeat hinges 2012’s top two recruits

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The position of anti-Kentucky college basketball observers that the three consecutive national top-rated recruiting classes under coach John Calipari lacked meaning, due to not winning a national title, is now out the window with Monday’s win over Kansas.

Despite a constant stream of one-and-done players in the aforementioned recruiting classes, Kentucky captured the big one, partially on the shoulders of three freshmen that were ranked in the top-10 players in last year’s recruiting class in Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague. All three, in addition to sophomore starters Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones, will strongly entertain the possibility of jumping to the NBA.

The scary thing for next year’s opponents of Kentucky is that it has now been proven that young talent can win a championship, and the Wildcats may have a fourth straight top national recruiting class on the way in. Recruiting fans already know that Kentucky signed two McDonald’s All-American game participants in scintillating shooting guard Archie Goodwin and versatile forward Alex Poythress. Additionally, near seven-foot center Willie Cauley of Kansas is in the tier of players just outside of the top-25 nationally.

Kentucky’s worst case-scenario is that it will return only two known quantities in freshman face up forward Kyle Wiltjer and Jon Hood, who was a contributor for two years but sat out this season with an injury.

Looking beyond the surface, though, Kentucky has a former borderline top-25 prospect in lithe point guard Ryan Harrow, who sat out this season following his transfer from NC State. He showed flashes of his tremendous talent for a dysfunctional NC State team as a freshman, and will be handed the keys to the offense if Teague joins his older brother Jeff in the NBA. With a year of redshirt seasoning, Harrow could be ready to run and gun next year.

The reason for the optimism regarding Kentucky’s recruiting hopes is that the Wildcats are in the final three schools for the top two players in the country in 6-6 wing Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman (Nev.) and 6-10 center Nerlens Noel of Tilton School (N.H.). Muhammad narrowed his school list to Kentucky, UCLA and Duke at the McDonald’s All-American game, while Noel similarly honed in on Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown.

It’s hard to bet against Calipari finishing strong on the recruiting trail, and there is a certain school of thought that if Muhammad wanted to commit to his presumed early leader, UCLA, he would have done it by now. The same could be true for Noel, who was unofficially considered a Syracuse lean, but reportedly has had Kentucky and Georgetown gain ground recently on the Orange. It’s safe to say that landing the two top high school prospects in the country is a possibility for the Wildcats.

Muhammad and Noel both have skillsets that draw parallels to the elite talent on the current team. Muhammad may not have the prettiest game, but like Kidd-Gilchrist, he plays with a constant motor and work ethic that is unmatched in the class. Noel, the top shotblocker in high school basketball, is better defensively than Anthony Davis was as a high school senior, though his offensive skills lag behind Davis.

Kentucky is also on the list of five for 6-7 yeoman power forward Anthony Bennett, who has drawn some comparisons to former UNLV star Larry Johnson. Bennett likely hasn’t progressed in his recruitment the way that Muhammad and Noel have, as he hasn’t taken an official visit yet. Still, Bennett is a legitimate top-10 talent in the 2012 class, and could complete a triumvirate that rivals the Teague/Davis/Kidd-Gilchrist trio, with Muhammad and Noel.

The NBA early entry situation still needs to shake out, but with two McDonald’s All-Americans on the way, and three more strongly considering Kentucky, the young ‘Cats could be back in the national title mix again next year, with the right incoming talent.

Kellon Hassenstab runs Hoopniks.com. Follow him on Twitter @hoopniks.

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.