The new-look Big East will improve heading into Year 2

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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.

Today, we preview the Big East.

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

NEW YORK — The Big East Conference was college basketball royalty.

From the three Big East schools reaching the 1985 Final Four, culminating with Villanova’s historic upset over Georgetown, to more recent history with then-members UConn and Louisville cutting down the nets as national champions in 2011 and 2013, respectively.

In 2013-14, the Big East relaunched as a 10-team league, with the Catholic 7 joined by Butler, Creighton and Xavier. The end result? Four teams in the NCAA tournament, one No. 2 seed and the unanimous National Player of the Year in Doug McDermott. It was promising, but the new Big East isn’t without its doubts and criticism.

The Sweet 16 included zero Big East teams. To make the misery of March worse, Buzz Williams, one of the conference’s top coaches, took less money to leave Marquette in favor of Virginia Tech.

But the gloom and doom of the new Big East should stop. What league could afford to split ties with Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, lose two Hall of Fame coaches, and its top coach (Brad Stevens) to the NBA?

“We ran into the national champions in the second game,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said at Big East Media Day at Madison Square Garden. “Providence-Carolina game: Providence could have won that game, and Creighton playing Baylor was like us playing Creighton. It was just a horrible matchup. So it happened. You can’t make excuses. We gotta deal with it.”

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Wright’s Wildcats were the top Big East team heading into the 2014 NCAA Tournament, as a No. 2 seed. That will likely be the case again this season with four returning starters. Although, how many other teams will join them in the field of 68 is up for debate. Georgetown and St. John’s, bubble teams from a season ago, should give the conference two more Big East originals in the Big Dance. Xavier and Providence saw significant turnover this spring, but have the pieces to be back in the conversation, as well. The 10 team league won’t replicate the 11 bids from 2011, but five or six bids is where this conference thinks it could be annually.

“I think we’ll see a difference this year and in years to come,” Wright added. “It’s going to be a great basketball league that is going to have five or six teams knocking on the door every year. If you’re getting 50 or 60 percent of your league in every year, that’s a hell of a league.”

Despite the conference’s changes and its shortcomings in the NCAA tournament, the league is still an attractive destination for recruits. Five-star shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead picked Seton Hall over fellow Big East foe St. John’s. Marquette’s new head coach, Steve Wojciechowski, made an early splash when he landed a verbal commitment from Henry Ellenson, a top-5 recruit according to several scouting services. The Big East could also be home to the two best point guards in the Class of 2015, as Jalen Brunson is committed to Villanova and St. John’s is a finalist for Isaiah Briscoe.

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Dave Gavitt used media markets in New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. to catapult the original Big East into the national spotlight. Those markets remain intact, and the conference still has a strong national TV presence, only now it is with FOX Sports 1. While the ratings may not have been eye-popping in the new Big East’s first year, coaches have seen it’s advantages, especially in terms of recruiting.

“Now if I ask a kid if he’s watched our games and he says, ‘No, not really’, I know no matter what he tells me he’s not interested because kids now don’t watch TV the way they used to,” Wright added. “They watch Netflix. We all grew up turn on ESPN, then see what else is on. They know what they want to watch and they go and find it. So if they’re interested, they’ll find you.”

Year 1 of the new Big East is a small sample size. The league still has a respected name and the tradition that comes with it. It still has the coaches and storied programs and its tournament inside Madison Square Garden. The league has gone through drastic changes over the past two years, and we shouldn’t have expected results over night.

“The identity will happen over time,” Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said. “The rivalries will happen over time. I almost feel like the media wants us to force tradition to happen. You know, the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry didn’t happen in one year. It was over time, over many heated games.”

It doesn’t matter what the critics say or ask of this new-look Big East. All that matters is what happens between the lines. And the Big East coaches are feeling optimistic about the league’s future.

“I don’t deal with the criticism,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said. “I deal with the reality of who we are, and I think we’re pretty damn good.”

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.