2014-2015 Season Preview: Programs on the rise and the decline

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

It’s been a long offseason for some programs. The NBA Draft, graduation, off-the-court issues and transfers have altered some tournament team’s rosters. While those teams look to regroup in the 2013-2014 season, others are looking to take a major step forward, returning to postseason play or attempt to make an NCAA tournament run.

FIVE PROGRAMS ON THE RISE

Kansas State: The Wildcats won 20 games and made an NCAA tournament appearance last season. This year, Bruce Weber is hoping sophomores Marcus Foster — a potential first-team All-American — and Wesley Iwundu, who played major roles in their first year, can take K-State a step further. The program adds four-star forward Malek Harris, as well transfers Justin Edwards, Brandon Bolden and Stephen Hurt. Contending for the Big 12 title isn’t out of the question pending Foster’s ability to develop as a playmaker.

LSU: This time last year, I had the Tigers as a program on the rise. LSU couldn’t improve on a 19-win (9-9 SEC) record from 2012-2013 and settled for the NIT. With Jarrell Martin and Jordan Mickey — joined by Elbert Robertson — the Tigers will have no shortage of size on the frontline. The back court will be new with JuCo point guard Josh Gray and 6-foot-4 transfer Keith Hornsby. LSU is one of several SEC teams looking to join Kentucky and Florida in the Big Dance.

Miami: After a rebuilding campaign this past season, Jim Larranaga has a pair of impact transfers in the back court: Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. The depth in that back court is added with four-star guard Deandre Burnett (redshirted 2013-2014) and JaQuan Newton. Though, an injury to Davon Reed and first-year forward Ivan Cruz Uceda ruled ineligible for 16 games has been a setback this fall. The Hurricanes aren’t ACC contenders, but they are trending back toward postseason play.

Nebraska: For the first time since 1998, the Cornhuskers danced last season. They’ll look to continue the basketball program’s resurgence in 2014-2015. In a conference where several tournament teams lost key contributors, Tim Miles brings back all-Big Ten first team members Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. Early reports are positive for freshman floor general Tarin Smith, and Tai Webster spent his summer playing in the FIBA Basketball World Cup with New Zealand.

Utah: In three seasons as Pac-12 members, the Utes have failed to finish in the top half of the conference. Coming off a 9-9 record in the Pac-12 this past season, Utah is poised for a jump toward the top of the standings. Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge are back for the NCAA tournament hopefuls. Are the Utes ready for the heightened expectations? They’ll have a chance to answer that question early with non-conference contests against San Diego State, Wichita State, Kansas and UNLV.

Two to keep an eye on:

  • Oklahoma: The Sooners finished second in the Big 12 and return four starters. But Oklahoma could see a huge boost in its lineup if Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas receives a waiver to play this season.
  • Arkansas: The Razorbacks are another SEC team looking to break through this season. With six of their top seven scorers back, including forward Bobby Portis, the Razorbacks could be a tournament team for the first time since 2008.
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FIVE PROGRAMS ON THE DECLINE

Cincinnati: The Bearcats will be young. Mick Cronin brings in five newcomers and adds two redshirt freshman to the lineup. Cincy, coming off a 27-win season and a first-place finish in the American, will lose their top three scorers — All-American guard Sean Kilpatrick, Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles — as well as former five-star forward Jermaine Lawrence. Luckily for Cronin, he got an early start with his program, taking a week trip to the Bahamas in August.

Creighton: It was a great debut for Creighton as a member of the Big East, winner of 14 conference games. A sophomore slump will likely be in store for Greg McDermott’s club after graduating four starters, most notably national player of the year Doug McDermott and his 3,150 career points. Austin Chatman leads the cast of returners, five of whom logged 10 or more minutes per game in the 2013-2014 season.

Tennessee: A march to the Sweet 16 was immediately followed by three players exhausting their eligibility and another one, Jarnell Stokes, declaring early for the NBA Draft. Third-year head coach Cuonzo Martin cut ties with the Vols before their inevitable divorce got even uglier. It’s full rebuilding mode for Donnie Tyndall, who inherits an inexperienced team led by Josh Richardson and Robert Hubbs III. He adds newcomers Detrick Mostella and IUPUI transfer Ian Chiles to the perimeter.

Oklahoma State: Travis Ford had a rough stretch. Markel Brown had graduated, Marcus Smart went No. 6 overall in the NBA Draft, Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy transferred and Jared Terrell decommitted. Despite having Le’Bryan Nash, Phil Forte, Anthony Hickey and Michael Cobbins, the Cowboys are projected to finish in the bottom half of the Big 12, a season after being predicted as Kansas’ biggest threat.

Oregon: A tumultuous offseason is an understatement for Dana Altman. Oregon dismissed Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis and Brandon Austin in May after sexual assault allegations tainted Altman’s reputation. Neither Ray Kasongo and Ja’Quan Lyle, two freshmen commits, ended up enrolling. Most recently, Jalil Abdul-Bassit and Elgin Cook, two of the three returning scholarship players, were cited with a misdemeanor. Joseph Young will be asked to do some heavy lifting.

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.