Who should be the Preseason No. 1 team in the country?

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A month ago, as we tried to hash out our Preseason Top 25 rankings, Raphielle Johnson, Scott Phillips and myself had an fairly intense email discussion regarding where we wanted to place Kentucky in comparison to Michigan State and Louisville.

I wanted the Wildcats to be No. 1. Raph and Scott did not, and as you can tell by the post that went up this morning, I got outvoted. This is the discussion that followed.

Please join in the debate with us in the comments section. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Why?

Rob: I really don’t get it. Tom Izzo makes that much of a difference for a team that’s going to rely on a point guard that’s not really a point guard and a center with no proven back up or and three year of inconsistency to his name?

Raphielle: For all their talent, I don’t trust the Harrisons yet. That’s why I didn’t take UK. And if anything, I have faith in Appling improving, Harris staying healthy and Payne making the move he should make in his senior year.

Rob: That’s fair, I guess. I have concerns about the Harrisons as well, and I’m worried that Kentucky might just have TOO much talent. But they also have the nation’s best coach when it comes to smoothing egos.

And, for what it’s worth, it’s not like Michigan State is without question marks. Appling’s heading into second or third season as Michigan State’s PG (depending on how you view Draymond Green’s role in 2012), why does he make the jump now? For all the love thrust on Adreian Payne, he only averaged 10.5 points and 7.6 boards last season, rarely showing up when it wasn’t a national TV game.

I’ll go with it if that’s what we end up voting, but I’m not giving up this argument easily.

Raphielle: Why do I think Appling and Payne take the next step? Urgency. They’re both seniors. No more time to mess around and say “I’ll get it right next year.” I think the end result is a level of urgency that pushes them, and by extension Michigan State, over the hump.

And while I trust Calipari, quite a few people said until February last year that he’d figure it out. Far more talented team than that group (and deeper), but by no means is it a lock. I expect them at Jerry World, but I buy MSU and Louisville* more right now.

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Rob: Last year’s issue had more to do with Ryan Harrow, Alex Poythress and just an overall lack of talent that fit well together. Then Noel went down. This year? Much, much closer to 2010 and 2012 than anything else. I have Michigan State No. 3, so I obviously love that group, but I just cannot understand putting anyone above UK or UL right now.*

*(This conversation happened before Chane Behanan’s suspension.)

Scott: I don’t like Kentucky to win it all because their three best players are ball-dominant, isolation guys. The Harrisons don’t make plays by using some intricate two-man game in the backcourt; to this point in their career, they’ve passed to each other as a bailout when one can’t score by himself. Julius Randle loves isolations. He has a tendency to overdribble and uses power moves to score, which is a concern given the freedom Coach Cal is reportedly giving him on the perimeter. Now all three of them are pros and can score on most anyone, but this is a deep and talented year with a number of teams that can stop an offense that doesn’t move the ball particularly well.

I don’t think that Kentucky will ever be cohesive enough to maximize their potential.

Rob: I mean, I agree with most of that, Scott. I do. But keep this in mind: John Calipari made DeMarcus Cousins sane for an entire year. Cousins is STILL sane whenever he goes back to Lexington. Cal convinces people to buy-in. That’s what he does.

Now, I’ve said all summer long that the biggest difference between this team and the 2011-2012 team is that the two best players that year, Davis and MKG, were essentially role players, and that it’s impossible understate just how much that means. I’ve also said that my biggest concerns about Kentucky are, more or less, exactly what you just said. But I think it’s ludicrous to ignore the fact that Kentucky could end up bringing three eventual first picks off of their bench.

Think about that!

Kentucky is so loaded this year that neither of you have even mentioned James Young yet, the guy that scouts have been drooling over this fall!

We have a team with far and away the most talent in the country and a coach with a proven track record of taking talented teams and getting them to mesh. The idea that that team isn’t preseason No. 1, to me, is kind of insane.

Now if Louisville wasn’t losing Siva and Dieng or if Michigan State didn’t have question marks at the point and in their front court, this would be a different story. But without a clearcut favorite, I just think it’s crazy not to rank Kentucky No. 1.

Scott: With Kentucky this year it isn’t just “making Boogie sane”. It’s about getting a half-dozen wannabe all-americans and future lottery picks to somehow all collectively buy in, share the dream — and the ball — and beat some very good, very deep and very experienced teams.

No doubt Kentucky has the most talent, but what happens when they face adversity and start pointing fingers, especially in light of the insane expectations and ludicrous talk of a perfect season? I just don’t buy that they mesh.

Rob: I agree. I don’t think it’s crazy to think that UK will lose to both Louisville and MSU before the New Year.

These guys may want to be all-americans, but I’m pretty sure they all really, really like money. In fact, I remember the Harrisons’ father saying something along the lines of “why is it worth it for me to take money to send my kids to a school when they’re seven months from guaranteed millions?” It’s a pretty easy pitch for Calipari to say Davis/MKG/etc. shut up, played their roles, won a title and went No. 1 and No. 2 in the draft and that the kids in 2013 didn’t, and look what happened.

This is what Calipari does. Until proven otherwise, it’s insane that a team that he coaches with multiple first rounders coming off the bench isn’t preseason No. 1. It just is.

Now if I get outvoted, that’s fine. We can go a different way. But we’re overthinking this. Talent is talent, and at the end of the day, more talent is going to beat less talent most of the time. Preseason rankings should reflect that.

Scott: If college basketball played 7-game series like the NBA then I would buy your talent argument, but I’m going with the proven and experienced team that’s been there. Anthony Davis and MKG were selfless winners that did up everything on both ends of the floor and that isn’t this group.

Rob: Wait, so you’re saying that Kentucky is the best team, but you think they’ll lose in the tournament? For me, preseason rankings aren’t about who we think is going to win the NCAA tournament, it’s about who we think the best team is. And, for those ranking Michigan State No. 1, what have they proven and what is their experience? No one on this roster has been past the Sweet 16…

Raphielle: If you’re going to use the “what have they proven” point on Michigan State, what has Kentucky’s current group proven? Their best players are freshmen and the sophomores went to the NIT. If you use that argument, aren’t you essentially saying Cal can out coach Izzo?

Rob: I don’t do rankings based solely on talent alone. That’s why you don’t see Baylor in my top 25, and it’s why you see Michigan State and Louisville at No. 2 and No. 3 instead of teams like Arizona, Kansas and Duke, who I’d argue have more talent. I say all that because I don’t think there is an obvious No. 1 team in the country. Michigan State, Louisville, Duke (front court), Arizona (Aaron Gordon as a three, shooting), Kansas (point guard, Perry Ellis, youth?) all have issues.

Kentucky does as well.

But simply saying “I don’t think Coach Cal can get thru to these players” is a good enough reason to move a team with seven players in most first round mocks out of the No. 1 spot when every single team in this discussion has major question marks?

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.