Early struggles of Syracuse, Kaleb Joseph example of the downside of early entry

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NEW YORK — Syracuse survived Iowa on Friday night, 63-62, as the soon-to-be former No. 23 team in the country got 20 points, 10 boards and three blocks from Chris McCullough, taking home third place in the 2K Sports Classic.

I say survived because Syracuse allowed a not-very-good Hawkeye team to erase a deficit that was as big as 15 points and was 14 with 8:35 left in the game to evaporate. Iowa used a 15-2 run over a five minute stretch to cut the lead to 59-58, and the issues that plague this Syracuse team could not have been more evident; issues that were created by the unexpected early entry of Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant to the NBA.

The Orange don’t have a point guard that they trust. After Thursday night’s loss to Cal, head coach Jim Boeheim made it very clear just how much they miss Tyler Ennis.

“We got spoiled a little bit last year,” Boeheim said. “We had an unusual freshman point guard. They don’t come around. That’s a once in like a coach’s career that you get a freshman that can play with that kind of understanding of the game.”

Kaleb Joseph has a chance to be pretty good down the road, but as of now, he’s an overmatched freshman that is still learning how to run a team at this level. Joseph had three of the seven Syracuse turnovers during the Iowa run, one that was sparked by 1-2-2, one that may not have happened if Joseph was beginning his college career as a backup point guard.

Syracuse also does not have a backup point guard on the roster. The reason that Ennis was able to be a one-and-done freshman was that he starred as the only point guard on the Syracuse roster last season. He was forced into that role when Michael Carter-Williams turned into a lottery pick after his sophomore season, the first year the current Sixer got real minutes for the Orange.

“Kaleb’s a very good freshman point guard,” Boeheim said. “Very talented. But he’s got a lot to learn about the game. And none of this is going to happen by tomorrow, or two weeks after that.”

There’s more to it than simply getting stuck with just one point guard on their roster, however. The Orange have leadership issues. Joseph isn’t ready yet that guy. Neither is McCullough. Can Trevor Cooney? Rakeem Christmas? Michael Gbinije? Only time will tell, but I can say that Ennis would have been that guy.

Along those same lines, there is no go-to guy on this roster. Who do you run a play for when you need a bucket? Who do you trust with the ball in their hands in crunch time? For the last two years, it was C.J. Fair. This season, it would have been Ennis, but he’s gone.

Tonight, Joseph missed a jumper with 25 seconds left on the shot clock in the final minute with the Orange up 61-60. Cooney missed a couple jumpers and had three turnovers of his own during Iowa’s run. The answer might actually be the front line for the Orange — McCullough and Christmas have been quite effective at times scoring in the post — but the key to getting quality post touches is strong guard play.

“Chris and Rak were good, we just got to do a better job of getting them the ball down low,” Boeheim said. “We’ve certainly got a lot of work to do on the offensive end.”

“We realize we’re young,” Joseph said. “A little inexperienced. We made a few mistakes.”

This is the downside of early entry into the NBA Draft. When college basketball teams plan out who they are going to recruit, they do it years in advance. By now, most programs are going to know what positions they need to recruit in the Class of 2017, current high school sophomores, and have a good idea of who, specifically, they want to target. They will have already started the recruiting process for those players and should have a good idea of who they actually have a chance of landing in the Class of 2016, current high school juniors, and they should have at least a couple of commitments for the Class of 2015.

When you suddenly realize in February that you’ll be losing a player that you had planned on having in the program for at least one, if not two or three more years, this is what happens.

“There’s a little bit of pressure, but I think that’ll make me better,” Joseph said, who added that he thinks that being forced into such a major role so early is a good thing for him. There’s no one backing him up, which means he’s going to be forced to play through his mistakes.. “I’ll get tossed into the fire, I’m going to learn on the run. It’s great experience.”

It’s too early in the season to write off the Orange, not when you have the kind of talent up and down the roster that Boeheim does.

But that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start wondering if this is an NIT team.

And if that happens, the blame should fall squarely on Tyler Ennis and the fact that he was better than anyone thought he would be.

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.