Big 12 Conference Tournament Preview

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This was supposed to be the year where someone could come out of nowhere and knock the Jayhawks off of their pedestal, but that didn’t happen. In fact, if Kansas hadn’t been blown out by Baylor on the last day of the regular season, the Jayhawks would have been the outright Big 12 champs despite losing three games in a row earlier this year.

But the Jayhawks did get blown out by Baylor. And they did lose three games in a row earlier this year, which is why this year’s Big 12 tournament — much like college hoops as a whole — should be as fun and exciting as any tournament in recent memory.

There is no dominant team. There is no team without flaws. And frankly, if TCU can beat Kansas soundly, if Baylor can blow Kansas out when the Jayhawks have an outright regular season title on the line, than anything can happen.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: Kansas City, MO (Sprint Center)

When: March 13 – March 16

Final: March 16, 6 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Kansas

Until someone knocks Kansas down a peg or two, they will forever be the favorite to win any and every title in the Big 12 while Bill Self in their head coach. The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the last nine Big 12 regular season titles, including this season. If they win the Big 12 tournament title this week, it will be the sixth time in the last eight seasons that they have done so. As you can tell, the Jayhawks are owned the Big 12.

Things may actually be a bit more open this season than usual, as the Jayhawks are as good as anyone in the country but they have some exploitable flaws. Jeff Withey’s defense can be nullified with a jump-shooting big man. Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe can be flustered with oppressive on-ball defense. Ben McLemore can struggle when he’s forced to be nothing but a jumpshooter. And despite all of those issues, the Jayhawks are still 26-2 outside of that three-game losing streak where they lost all sense of confidence. Pretty impressive.

And if they lose?: Kansas State

The Wildcats are an intriguing team this season. They still have that toughness and that defense mindset that was ingrained in their heads when Frank Martin was their head coach, but with Bruce Weber running the show, the Wildcat offense has been better. It helps that Angel Rodriguez has blossomed into one of the more underrated playmakers in the Big 12, and Rodney McGruder is still one of the best players in the conference. If Kansas State can avoid getting beaten on the offensive glass and get consistent perimeter shooting out of McGruder and Rodriguez, they’ll have a chance to make a run.

Other contenders: Oklahoma State is probably the most talented team outside of the state of Kansas in the Big 12 this season, as the trio of Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and LeBryan Nash have become one of the most dangerous three-headed monsters in the country. Oklahoma should have a chance to win this thing as well. The Sooners are a tough team to matchup with given the versatility of their bigs, Amath M’Baye and Romero Osby. Plus, Buddy Hield is back. If only the Sooners can erase the pain of an embarrassing loss to TCU out of their minds.

Sleeper: Iowa State

The Cyclones are a very dangerous basketball team thanks to their ability to spread the floor and shoot the ball. Fred Hoiberg’s club is never going to be much defensively and they are going to struggle on the nights their threes aren’t going down, but when they’re hot, they will be able to play with anyone in the country. They are also entertaining to watch, as they push the ball and have athletes up and down their roster.

Deeper sleeper: Baylor

The Bears have the talent to be a top 15 team. That’s inarguable. Pierre Jackson, Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson. Their performance this season was disappointing, but that’s what makes them a threat to win this tournament. Look at what happened on Saturday: Baylor beat the Jayhawks by 23 after losing eight of their last 11 games. What happens if the Bears actually try hard this week?

Studs:

–  Ben McLemore, Kansas: He could end up being the first pick in the draft, and he’s got a gorgeous jumpshot complimented by the athletic ability to dunk on anyone. Fun player to watch.

– Pierre Jackson, Baylor: Jackson can get out of control at times, but when he’s playing well, the 5-foot-9 Jackson is dominant. He’s as quick as anyone in the country, he can soar, and he’s an excellent playmaker off the dribble.

– Tyrus McGee, Iowa State: ISU’s sixth-man, when he gets in a rhythm, everything he throws up goes in.

CBT Prediction: Like I said, I’m rolling with Kansas until proven otherwise.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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

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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.