Burning Questions: Coach of the Year picks, and biggest surprises and disappointments

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Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon (AP Photo)

Following up on the first round of questions, we’re now delving into the topics of national Coach of the Year and the biggest surprises and disappointments in college basketball to this point in the season. Included are two undefeated head coaches and a program that’s hit the ground running in its first season as a member of the Big Ten.

1. Who would be your choice for national Coach of the Year? 

Rob Dauster: At this point, I think I’d lean towards Coach Cal for National Coach of the Year. Regardless of whether or not you believe he’s actually using platoons, he’s convinced a team full of future first round picks to buy into this idea that no one plays more than 20-25 minutes a night. He was expected to have a team that could go undefeated this season and he’s managed to outperform expectations. That’s not easy to do.

Raphielle Johnson: I like both Calipari and Turgeon as possibilities, but I have to go with Virginia’s Tony Bennett here. He lost two key starters in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, and the Cavaliers haven’t missed a beat. London Perrantes remains solid at the point, and with Malcolm Brodgon and Justin Anderson on the wings they have two talented players capable of giving opponents fits on both ends of the floor. Add in the front court, anchored by Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey, and Virginia’s picked up right where they left off in 2013-14.

Scott Phillips: Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon was at the top of my Coaches on the Hot Seat list this preseason and he’s navigated a young Terrapin team to near the top 10 in the polls and the top of the Big Ten. Turgeon deserves a ton of credit for having his team play so well after the litany of transfers they faced in the offseason all while joining a new conference and dealing with the pressure to win now.

Terrence Payne: Last season, Gregg Marshall won AP Coach of the Year honors after leading Wichita State to a perfect regular season. With that precedent, you’d expect John Calipari and Tony Bennett to be the two prime candidates if their seasons end in similar fashion. But Mark Turgeon, like Rick Barnes did last season, has gone from hot seat to coach of the year candidate after an offseason of turnover. More importantly he did so with injuries to Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz.

2. Which team has been the biggest surprise?

RD: I’m going with Virginia. I thought that losing Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell would have a much bigger impact on this group than it has. Credit the likes of Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill for taking giant steps forward this season.

RJ: I’ll take Maryland for biggest surprise. I was cautiously optimistic about this team, hesitant to label them a lock NCAA tournament team given the fact that they’ve missed out in each of the last four seasons. But not only are they a lock, they’re also firmly entrenched in the “who’s the best team in the Big Ten” conversation right there with preseason favorite Wisconsin.

SP: For me, it’s Seton Hall. The Pirates have exceeded my expectations from the preseason, the middle of the season and now look like a NCAA Tournament team even without freshman McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Whitehead for the last few weeks. Sterling Gibbs has matured into a really good scoring guard and Kevin Willard has a hard-playing team with a lot of young pieces like Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington that are stepping up.

TP: I’ll go with West Virginia despite losing two of three. Bobby Huggins lost two of his three top scorers to transfer this offseason, but the Mountaineers have found a place right in the heart of a loaded Big 12 title race with a host of other ranked teams.

3. Which team has been the biggest disappointment? 

RD: I’ll say Michigan, even though their issues are not entirely this team’s fault. Their front line is just simply too young to be ready to compete at this level, and that, in turn, put too much pressure on guys like Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin to be as good as Nik Stauskas and Trey Burke. And now with Caris LeVert’s broken foot, they looked destined for the NIT, at best.

RJ: I’ll take another Big Ten team and pick Nebraska. Coming off of last season’s NCAA tournament appearance the Huskers were expected to factor into the Big Ten race behind Wisconsin, and they haven’t been that team to this point. Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields are guys they can look to for scoring night in and night out, but a consistent third option hasn’t stepped forward. The return of Leslee Smith should help them in the post, but there are still questions to be answered at the point. Nebraska has a lot of work to do if they’re to return to the NCAA tournament.

SP: The most disappointing team has to be Florida. The Gators had high preseason aspirations and they’ve started off 10-7 including getting swept by Miami and Florida State and not beating any legitimate teams this season. Kasey Hill and Chris Walker have both been really mediocre in their sophomore seasons and this team should be way better than their current record.

TP: UConn. The loss of DeAndre Daniels, Neils Giffey and most importantly Shabazz Napier can’t be stated enough. But the cupboard wasn’t particularly bare for the defending national champion entering this season. UConn returned Ryan Boatright, who has battled an injury this year, while adding transfer Rodney Purvis and star recruit Daniel Hamilton.

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.