2013-2014 WAC Preview: Changes aplenty, but the favorite remains the same

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

With so much change (seven schools out, six schools in), how will the upcoming basketball season shake out in the WAC? Well, look no further than defending WAC tournament champion New Mexico State for that answer. Head coach Marvin Menzies welcomes back a guard in Daniel Mullings who’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the WAC and a preseason favorite to take home league Player of the Year honors, and brothers Sim (reigning WAC Rookie of the Year and WAC tournament MVP) and Tanveer Bhullar represent the tallest tandem in college basketball. Sim’s 7-5 while his younger brother is two inches shorter at 7-3.

Picking the Aggies to win the conference is an easy exercise. Figuring out how the remainder of the conference will shake out is an entirely different matter. Utah Valley may be the newcomer best equipped to contend immediately, with seniors Ben Aird (15.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg) and Holton Hunsaker (13.2, 3.1 apg) leading the way for head coach Dick Hunsaker. Seattle, one of the three holdovers, is a team to watch with three of their six newcomers being transfers including guards Emerson Murray (Cal) and Isaiah Umipig (Cal-State Fullerton).

source:
AP

In most leagues losing the reigning league Player of the Year would prohibit a team from contending the following season, but thanks to realignment that won’t be the case for Idaho. Center Kyle Barone is gone but starters Connor Hill (12.1 ppg, 44.4% 3PT) and Stephen Madison (14.1, 4.7 rpg) both return for head coach Don Verlin. Chicago State, which won the Great West tournament and made an appearance in the CollegeInsider.com tournament, returns four starters including forwards Matt Ross (10.1, 6.3) and Quinton Pippen (10.4, 4.2; nephew of Scottie Pippen).

As for the remainder of the conference, Bakersfield will incorporate five players who redshirted last season to go along with guards Brandon Barnes (12.1, 5.3) and Javonte Maynor (10.5 ppg). Grand Canyon, Kansas City and UTPA all welcome new head coaches, with the Antelopes playing their first season as a Division I member as well. The WAC looks a lot different in 2013 than it did a year ago, but look for a familiar face to sit atop the standings come March.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Bakersfield, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, UMKC, UTPA and Utah Valley
Out: Denver (Summit), Louisiana Tech (C-USA), San Jose State (Mountain West), Texas State (Sun Belt), UT-Arlington (Sun Belt), UTSA (Conference USA), Utah State (Mountain West)

PRESEASON WAC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: G Daniel Mullings (New Mexico State)

Mullings isn’t the type of player who will light up the scoreboard, but he’s the most versatile player in the WAC. As a sophomore he averaged 13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.3 steals per game for the Aggies, who won their second consecutive WAC tournament crown. And with the Aggies being the clear favorite to win the league this season, Mullings is well-positioned to take home the league’s highest individual honor.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • G/F Quinton Pippen (Chicago State): The nephew of Scottie Pippen, Quinton averaged 10.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game last season. He’ll be productive for a CSU squad that should challenge for a top-half finish in the WAC standings.
  • F Stephen Madison (Idaho): Reigning WAC POY Kyle Barone is out of eligibility, meaning that Madison’s (14.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg) scoring load will increase this season.
  • C Ben Aird (Utah Valley): Aird (15.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg) led the Wolverines to the Great West regular season title last season, and he’s a big reason why Utah Valley can contend for the WAC crown.
  • C Sim Bhullar (New Mexico State): Bhullar hit his stride during the latter stages of the 2012-13 season, winning WAC tournament MVP honors and averaging 10.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game for the year.

PREDICTED FINISH
1. New Mexico State
2. Idaho
3. Utah Valley
4. Seattle
5. Chicago State
6. Bakersfield
7. Kansas City
8. Grand Canyon
9. Texas-Pan American

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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.