2014-2015 Season Preview: College Basketball’s Top 13 Dunkers (VIDEOS)

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Michael Qualls, Arkansas (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

There are very few things in the sport basketball that can get fans out of their seats the way that a massive dunk can, which is why we’re here to help you. You want to know what games and what players to watch in case a freak athlete decides to take flight on some poor, unsuspecting defender that jumped? We’ve got you covered.

Here are college basketball’s best dunkers (with examples of why):

RELATED: 12 minutes of the best dunks from 2013-2014

1. Michael Qualls, Arkansas: Qualls is a 6-foot-6 wing that plays for Mike Anderson and Arkansas, meaning that he’ll have plenty of opportunities in the open floor with a lane to the rim. Qualls averaged 11.6 points last season, but he’s probably best known for the game-winning tip-dunk he had in a win over Kentucky. That wasn’t his best dunk, however:

2. John Brown, High Point: High Point isn’t exactly known for being a basketball powerhouse, but they managed to land one of the nation’s highest-flyers three years ago. Brown has been posterizing defenders for a long, long time in the Big South:

MORE: John Brown’s road from being a JV QB to the Big South Player of the Year

3. Sam Thompson, Ohio State: You know you’re a big-time dunker when you have a nickname that is a synonym for dunk: Slam Thompson. His specialty? Finishing alley-oops. Here’s what I mean:

4. Shaquille Johnson, Longwood: Johnson did not last long at Auburn, as he’s looking for a second chance to get his hoops career going with the Lancers. It may not actually happen for Johnson this season, but the former top 100 recruit still owns the most impressive mixtape I’ve seen:

5. Ike Nwamu, Mercer: Nwamu threw down one of the best dunks I’ve ever seen at the Mercer Midnight Madness. He dunks like that in games, too:

6. Keifer Sykes, Green Bay: Sykes is the smallest player on this list, but he may actually be the best leaper. How many players do you know that can throw an alley-oop to themselves?:

RELATED: NBCSports.com’s Mid-Major All-Americans

7. Troy Williams, Indiana: Williams entered college with the reputation of being one of the best dunkers in high school basketball, but his freshmen season yielded surprisingly few posterizations. That should change this season, as Williams is a year older, stronger and better and the Hoosiers will be looking to play a more uptempo, spread out style.

8. J.P. Tokoto, North Carolina: Tokoto is a high-flying wing for the Tar Heels, and while his lack of a jump shot means he’s a long way away from being more than an athlete and an energy at this point, he should be a nice compliment alongside Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson. And given Roy Williams’ tendency to push tempo, don’t be surprised to see Tokoto constantly making the highlight reel.

9. Deuce Bello, Missouri: Bello is a high-flying shooting guard that was a favorite of the mixtape guys during his time in high school. But he was never able to catch on with Baylor, and eventually transferred to Missouri before sitting out the 2013-2014 season. You don’t just lose hops like this, though.

10. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: There is nothing pretty about Harrell. His game is entirely centered

11. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona: Hollis-Jefferson is a unique player, an explosive, entertainingly athletic wing that attacks the glass, is a terror defensively and is a more-than-capable passer. He could have been a first round pick if he left school after last season, but he returned to school and is a jump shot away from being in the 2015 lottery. In the meantime, let’s hope he keeps doing this.

12. Javonte Douglas, Old Dominion: He’s a JuCo transfer, but I promise you know who he is:

13. Cliff Alexander, Kansas: Alexander may not end up being the player that Montrezl Harrell is this season, and he may not end up being a major part of Bill Self’s offensive attack, but the Jayhawk big man will dunk anything and everything around the rim.

BEST OF THE REST:

  • Kethan Savage, George Washington: A broken foot kept Savage out for much of the end of last season, but that hasn’t hurt his explosiveness.
  • Chris McCullough, Syracuse: McCullough is the latest in a long line of lanky athletes playing for Jim Boeheim.
  • Deonte Burton, Marquette: Burton threw down what might have been the Dunk of the Year last season.
  • Norman Powell, UCLA: Powell will have a chance to play a bigger role in the offense this season with all of the pieces the Bruins lost. Will that leads to more of this?
  • Dez Wells, Maryland: Wells had an off-year from a dunking perspective this past season.
  • Damarius Smith, Austin Peay: He should probably be higher. This is ridiculous.
  • Tekele Cotton, Wichita State: Cotton is the least-known member of the Shocker perimeter, but that’ll change if he keeps posterizing defenders.

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

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.