Big Ten Midseason Catchup: There is Wisconsin, and then there is everyone else

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source: AP
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College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

MORE: All of CBT’s Conference Catchups

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Big Ten.

MIDSEASON BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

Frank the Tank keeps rolling in his senior season as the center is eighth in the league in scoring (16.5 points per game) and second in rebounding (7.9 rebounds per game). Even more importantly, though, is Kaminsky’s efficiency and improvement on the defensive end. Kaminsky has improved his field goal percentages to 53 percent shooting and 42 percent three-point shooting even though he’s taking more shots. The 7-footer also averages more blocks per game this season and has committed fewer fouls per game even though he’s seen an increase in his minutes. Kaminsky is the most complete big man in college basketball and a big reason why Wisconsin is once again a major threat to make a Final Four run.

THE ALL-BIG TEN FIRST TEAM

  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
  • Rayvonte Rice, Illinois: Rice is tied for fourth in the league in scoring (17.7 points per game), 12th in rebounding (6.5 per game), sixth in steals (1.9 per game) and sixth in 3-point percentage (47 percent). He’s already hit a game-winner against Missouri this season.
  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: The freshman is tied with Rice in scoring at 17.7 per game, but fourth in the league in assists (5.3 per game) — despite being the secondary ball handler to Shannon Scott — ninth in steals (1.8 per game) and seventh in 3-point percentage (46 percent). Cool, calm and collected for a freshman being asked to carry the primary scorer’s role.
  • D.J. Newbill, Penn State: The Big Ten’s leader in points (21.4 per game) and minutes (37.5 per game), Newbill has improved his shooting percentages in his senior season to respectable splits (47% FG, 39% 3PT, 78% FT) while leading the team to a 12-1 start. Also owns a buzzer-beater to win a game this season.
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: Another freshman who has stepped in and played a huge role while shooting great percentages. The McDonald’s All-American is ninth in scoring (15.8 per game), 15th in assists (3.1 per game) and the best free-throw shooter in the conference at 90 percent. He’s also shot 49 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range.

THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED

1. Wisconsin is worthy again of Final Four discussion: The Badgers didn’t shy away from legitimate competition before jumping into the Big Ten schedule, as they won the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis, played three true road games within its own state and hosted and lost to No. 2 Duke. We know what this team is capable of and it’s another run at a Final Four. By only losing Ben Brust, Wisconsin returns so much experience and this team plays so well together. They move the ball around the perimeter as well as any team in the country and can space at all five positions with legitimate perimeter threats. Bo Ryan’s team loves exploiting mismatches and inverting the floor.

2. The rest of the Big Ten is a question mark (and doesn’t appear very good): Outside of Wisconsin, there isn’t a team in the Big Ten that you can legitimately say would make it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament if given the choice today. There probably will be a few when the tournament does commence, but none of these teams are a guarantee. Maryland is off to a great start but still young and unproven in the conference. Ohio State, Penn State and Minnesota have played cupcake schedules and beaten nobody good. Illinois and Iowa have no-showed at too many random times. Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska already own bad home losses to lower conference teams. The race for second place — and all other spots in the league — appears to be incredibly wide open.

3. The league’s guards are superior to the front courts: I was having this discussion with some colleagues the other day and we couldn’t think of many legitimate front courts in the Big Ten outside of Madison. Purdue has the tough-to-defend center combination of A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, but Hammons is inconsistent. But outside of that, the league doesn’t have many good and deep front-court units. It’s a league dominated by guards and we’ve even seen three freshmen emerge as legitimate all-conference candidates in James Blackmon Jr., D’Angelo Russell and Melo Trimble. Great guard play also might be the biggest way any team can compete with Wisconsin this season, but good luck matching the Badgers up front.

THREE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

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Melo Trimble (Getty Images)

1. Who is the second best team in the Big Ten?: If you had to make a pick today you might say Maryland because of its 12-1 start, even with injuries, but they’ve never played a Big Ten schedule before, so it’s definitely uncertain. Ohio State hasn’t beaten a legitimate team all year. Maybe one of the teams with early-season struggles like Michigan or Nebraska will turn things around during conference play? Who knows? It’s completely wide open and multiple teams own head-scratching losses.

2. How good is Penn State and Minnesota after easy non-conference schedules?: We’ve already read about the uncertainty of the Big Ten outside of Wisconsin. We also know that the Pac-12 outside of Arizona, the SEC outside of Kentucky and the entire AAC looks weaker this season. So there are potential tournament bids to be poached with high win totals and decent conference records if things go correctly for a few teams. That’s where Penn State and Minnesota become interesting. It’s hard to gauge whether either team is a credible Big Ten (or NCAA Tournament) threat, but they each have gaudy records to start the season. The Nittany Lions are 12-1 and D.J. Newbill is having a monster season while the Golden Gophers are quietly 11-2 and playing team-oriented ball. They lead the nation in assists per game (20.2) and have scored 84 or more points in seven straight games — all wins.

3. Will multiple freshmen make the All-Big Ten team?: It’s certainly looking possible. We’ve already talked about D’Angelo Russell and Melo Trimble as early-season all-league selections, but Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. is actually the conference’s freshman leader in scoring at 17.9 per game. That’s good enough for third in the league and Indiana has a chance to make a run if Blackmon Jr. continues to play well.  These are three special underclass performers that are all stepping up in primary roles for NCAA Tournament contenders.

THREE PREDICTIONS

1. Wisconsin will win the league but won’t go unbeaten. And again make the Final Four: The Badgers look like the clear-cut favorite to win the Big Ten, but they’ll probably lose at some point during the conference schedule. Wisconsin will have an off-night and some team will get hot at home, especially as pressure might mount for the attention an unbeaten conference season. Closing with two consecutive road games at rival Minnesota and Ohio State might do the trick, if it isn’t done by then. As for the Final Four, this Wisconsin team is a matchup nightmare in a tournament setting because it’s hard to prepare for the Badgers’ ability to stretch the floor. Big Ten opponents who have seen Wisconsin multiple times might have better luck., but the Badgers should be able to get to Indianapolis this March.

2. Maryland will finish second in the Big Ten: There’s just something about the way this Maryland team has been playing. They play with confidence and have a lot of players who can score and they’ve played really well despite losing Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz to injury at different points this season. When fully healthy, the Terrapins could be pretty deep, with plenty of shooting options. It also doesn’t hurt Maryland that much of the Big Ten has weak front courts as well to test their unproven interior.

3. The Big Ten will get seven teams in the NCAA Tournament: This is more of a testament to how weak the other conference landscapes are then the strength of the Big Ten. Still, half of the league’s membership making the Big Dance would be a solid year, it just doesn’t seem like any other team is a strong Final Four contender outside of Wisconsin. If the Big Ten teams outside the Badgers don’t beat up on each other too badly I can see seven teams safely making the field, with the potential of even more depending on how bad the AAC, SEC and PAC-12 continue to look.

HOW THEY FINISH

NCAA: Wisconsin, Maryland, Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Indiana

NIT: Penn State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan, Purdue

NO POSTSEASON: Northwestern, Rutgers

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.