Top 25 Countdown: No. 22 Michigan State Spartans

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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 college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 22 Michigan State.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

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Tom Izzo and Branden Dawson (Getty Images)

Last Season: 29-9, 12-6 Big Ten (t-2nd)

Head Coach: Tom Izzo

Key Losses: Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, Keith Appling, Kenny Kaminski

Newcomers: Bryn Forbes (transfer), Lourawls Nairn Jr., Marvin Clark, Javon Bess, Kenny Goins

Projected Lineup

G: Travis Trice, Sr.
G: Bryn Forbes, Jr.
F: Denzel Valentine, Jr.
F: Branden Dawson, Sr.
F: Matt Costello, Jr.
Bench: Lourawls Nairn Jr., Fr.; Gavin Schilling, So.; Alvin Ellis, So.; Javon Bess, Fr.; Marvin Clark, Fr.

They’ll be good because … : Tom Izzo is still the head coach at Michigan State, and as long as he’s running things in East Lansing, the Spartans will be relevant. He’s been to the Sweet 16 12 times in the last 17 seasons, he’s made the Elite 8 eight times and by losing to UConn last year in the Regional Final, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling became Izzo’s first four-year players to leave school without reaching a Final Four. He wins. Period.

And while the Spartans will have quite a bit of production to replace this season, Izzo will himself have a veteran, blue-collar group to work with. It starts with Branden Dawson, a former five-star recruit that played the best basketball of his career in March last season, averaging 15.7 points and 8.1 boards in the postseason. Denzel Valentine, the other forward in Michigan State’s starting lineup, is one of the most versatile players in the country, a guy that can guard power forwards and run the point. Bruisers Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling round out the bigs.

The back court is more of a question mark. Travis Trice has spent three years recovering from a variety of ailments, but he’s a coach’s son that can run the point and hit three or four threes in a row when he gets into a rhythm. Lansing native and Cleveland State transfer Bryn Forbes needs to become a better defender, but he’ll certainly be able to score in the Big Ten. Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr. is a four-star freshman point guard with a five-star name, while sophomore Alvin Ellis should provide some pop off the bench.

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Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice (Getty Images)

But they might disappoint because … : The Spartans don’t have the amount of pure talent that they have had in the past. They’ll make up for it with experience, as the Spartans will start three juniors and two seniors, but experience and coaching will only get you so far. Having a guy like a Gary Harris or an Adreian Payne is, obviously, a valuable weapon. Who will Michigan State’s go-to guy be? Whose name does Tom Izzo call when his team is down two with 15 seconds left in Ann Arbor?

I’m also concerned about the point guard spot. Trice is a capable senior point guard, a guy that can run a team and get his offense into their sets. But he’s more of a spot-up shooter than he is someone that can create those open looks for his teammates, which will be an issue on a team that lacks big-time scoring threats. The only other point guard on the roster is Tum Tum, and while he’s got talent — and speed! — to spare, he’s still learning the nuances of the game. He’ll be a factor defensively and do things in transition, but he’s not a guy that can run a team, at least not yet.

Outlook: There are definitely some red flags with this Michigan State team entering this season, specifically their lack of scorers and their question marks at the point. The Spartans are going to have quite a few games end up being dogfights, but I have a feeling that won’t bother Izzo one bit.

But there are two reasons why I’m higher on this group that a lot of people — even some Michigan State fans — seem to be. For starters, I think that Valentine’s ability to distribute will alleviate some of the point guard concerns. He averaged 3.8 assists as a sophomore and should be able to have the offense flow through him. I can’t over-emphasize how much I love the pairing of Valentine and Dawson at the forward spots.

The other reason? Losing Appling, Harris and Payne will hurt from a talent perspective, but this year’s Spartan team should be more consistent and will have much better leadership at the top. Wisconsin is the clear favorite to win the Big Ten this season, but there’s no reason the Spartans can’t end up being the second-best team in the league.

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.