2014-2015 Season Preview: Coastal Carolina, High Point early favorites in competitive Big South

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Andrew Rowsey of UNC Asheville (Getty Images)

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

The Big South will be one of the most entertaining mid-major conferences to follow this season, and it’s not just because of the absurd about of young talent in the league. Let’s talk about that before I get into the meat and potatoes of this preview. The best player in the conference, High Point’s John Brown, is a junior this year. Last year’s leading scorer, Andrew Rowsey of UNC Asheville, is a sophomore this season. The leading scorer on Coastal Carolina, the team that won the automatic bid last year and the favorite to win the league this season, was now-sophomore Elijah Wilson. How many leagues can make that same claim, particularly at that level?

It’s not just the talent in the league that’s exciting, however. Last season, seven of the 12 teams in the Big South won at least 10 games, with six teams finishing within two games of regular season champ High Point. While VMI has left the conference for the SoCon, there are still enough quality teams here to make this regular season title race wild.

It starts with Coastal Carolina, who will strengthen what is the best perimeter attack in the conference. Wilson returns, as does senior point guard Warren Gillis, the best player on the Chanticleers. Add in senior Josh Cameron and transfer Shivaughn Wiggins, who may end up being the best point guard on the roster, and Cliff Ellis has himself some serious back court talent.

Should I mention that the Big South tournament is played at the HTC Center, Coastal’s home floor?

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High Point’s John Brown (HPU Men’s Basketball)

The biggest question mark, however, is CCU’s front court simply because they don’t have anyone on the roster that can matchup with Brown, a 6-foot-8 athletic specimen that led High Point with averages of 19.5 points and 7.7 boards. Brown is a workhorse that creates all kinds of matchup problems with opponents because, quite frankly, he has no business being a Big South player. Sharpshooter Devante Wallace, who hit nearly 60% of his threes in league play, is back, as is Adam Weary. The x-factor for this group will be sophomore Anthony Lindauer, who played well when HPU’s starting point guard got hurt last year.

Anyone looking at last year’s standings may not realize this, but Charleston Southern is a team to keep a very close eye on this year. They entered last season as the favorites to win the league, but injuries to Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper derailed their season. Those two are reportedly healthy now, and if they are, the Buccaneers will be a factor in the conference race.

Radford brings back five seniors from last year’s team, headlined by Javonte Green, who may be the best player in the conference not named John Brown. He’s a bit undersized at 6-foot-4, but he scores, rebounds and defends well. Size will be an issue, however, as there are times the Highlanders play Green at the four with three guards on the floor. UNC Asheville will never be out of a game when Rowsey is on the floor, but losing Jaron Lane and big man D.J. Cunningham will be a lot to overcome.

Winthrop returns four starters, including another standout sophomore in Keon Johnson. The Eagles will be a serious threat to win the league if former Louisville and Missouri center Zach Price gets a waiver to be eligible immediately. Gardner-Webb brings back Jerome Hill, but they lose three starters, including Naji Hibbert and Donta Harper.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

  • In: None 
  • Out: VMI

PRESEASON BIG SOUTH PLAYER OF THE YEAR: John Brown, High Point

Brown has been one of the most productive players in the country since he made his debut with the Panthers two seasons ago. Expect much of the same from the reigning Big South Player of the Year, and don’t be surprised when one of the nation’s hardest-working big men routinely makes it on Sportscenter’s Top Ten.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SOUTH TEAM:

  • Andrew Rowsey, UNC-Asheville, So.: Rowsey averaged 20.3 points as a freshman, the second person to ever do that. The first? Seth Curry. And he’s just getting started.
  • Saah Nimley, Charleston Southern, Sr.: Nimley is just 5-foot-8, but he’s one of the best mid-major players in the country … when healthy.
  • Javonte Green, Radford, Sr.: A 6-foot-4 forward, Green averaged 16.9 points and 8.1 boards last season.
  • Warren Gillis, Coastal Carolina, Sr.: Gillis, a point guard, was the best player on the Big South’s conference tournament champion last season.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @BigSouthSports

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Coastal Carolina
2. High Point
3. Radford
4. Charleston Southern
5. Winthrop
6. UNC-Asheville
7. Gardner-Webb
8. Campbell
9. Longwood
10. Presbyterian
11. Liberty

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.