West Coast Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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Gonzaga looks to complete the double in Las Vegas (AP Photo)

For the 14th time in the last 15 seasons No. 7 Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference regular season title, winning 17 straight before falling to BYU in the regular season finale for both. And that result may have changed the tenor of this year’s WCC tournament, with the Cougars now in possession of the marquee victory their NCAA tournament resume lacked. Mark Few’s Bulldogs, led by senior guard Kevin Pangos, don’t lack for options on the perimeter or in the post and they could be a threat to reach the Final Four for the first time in school history.

While those talents make Gonzaga the favorites in Las Vegas, it also makes them an attractive target for the rest of the WCC. BYU and Saint Mary’s finished tied for second, and both teams have all-conference caliber options. The Cougars are led by guards Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth, and Saint Mary’s has senior forward Brad Waldow to call upon in the post. But even with the talent that both teams have, this will not be a three-team tournament.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

Pepperdine, led by junior forward Stacy Davis, once again exceeded preseason expectations under head coach Marty Wilson. The Waves won ten conference games, and while teams such as San Diego, Portland and Santa Clara all finished below .500 they have the ability to pull off a surprise or two in Las Vegas. That could make things tricky for the teams expected to get to Monday’s semifinals, but is it enough to provide a surprise champion?

That won’t be the expectation, with the most important question for the WCC being how many NCAA tournament bids will the conference receive. With Gonzaga being the only lock to hear its name called Selection Sunday the best way to remove any doubt is to win the automatic bid. And that should make for a fun five days at Orleans Arena.

MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

The Bracket

source:   When: March 5-10 (no games Sunday, March 8)

Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas

Final: March 10, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Gonzaga

The Bulldogs are the clear favorites in Las Vegas thanks to their dominance throughout WCC play. In addition to Pangos and Wiltjer, Mark Few can call upon a host of experienced options including WCC Defensive Player of the Year Gary Bell Jr., wing Byron Wesley and bigs Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis. And with players such as Kyle Dranginis and Eric McClellan serving as reserves, the Bulldogs have depth as well. Skilled offensively and solid defensively, Gonzaga can use this weekend as a springboard into the NCAA tournament.

And if they lose?: BYU

The Cougars have little trouble putting points on the board, as they averaged 81.1 points per game and shot 46.4 percent from the field in conference games. Haws and Collinsworth lead the way for BYU, with Chase Fischer and Anson Winder both averaging at least 13 points per contest as well. BYU arrives in Las Vegas having won six straight games, and a key during the stretch has been senior guard Skyler Halford. Scoring 8.7 points per game on the season, Halford is averaging 14.8 ppg during this current win streak. If that continues, and BYU can string together stops on the other end, they’re a threat to win the tournament.

Other Contenders

  • Saint Mary’s: Brad Waldow leads the way for Randy Bennett’s team, and they’re experienced on the perimeter thanks to the presence of players such as seniors Aaron Bright and Kerry Carter. The Gaels ranked second in the WCC in both field goal and three-point percentage in league games, and they were tops in the WCC in defensive rebounding percentage. If Garrett Jackson can build on his final two games of the regular season (19.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg), that would undoubtedly help the Gaels.
  • Pepperdine: Marty Wilson’s Waves won ten conference games thanks in large part to their defense, as they were second in the WCC in field goal percentage defense and first in three-point percentage defense. Forwards Stacy Davis and Jett Raines lead the way offensively, and guards Jeremy Major and freshman Shawn Olden are solid as well. The key for Pepperdine: rebounding, as they ranked ninth in the WCC in defensive rebounding percentage in conference games (65.9%).

Sleeper: San Francisco

Unlike the Pilots, Rex Walters’ team enters the tournament having won four of its last five games. Of course three of those wins came against teams seeded seventh (Santa Clara), ninth (Pacific) and tenth (Loyola Marymount), with Pepperdine being the other. Kruize Pinkins and Mark Tollefsen lead the way for a team that has three players averaging between 12.3 and 14.2 points per game.

Deeper Sleeper: San Diego

The Toreros are the five-seed, but they’ve struggled mightily on the offensive end in conference games (last in field goal percentage, eighth in three-point percentage). The good news is that they have an experienced backcourt of Christopher Anderson and Johnny Dee, with the latter having the ability to get rolling from deep. But if they’re to make a run, players such as Duda Sanadze and Thomas Jacobs will need to step forward in the scoring department with Jito Kok serving as the defensive anchor in the post.

WCC Player of the Year: F Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga

Teammate Kevin Pangos was the conference’s pick for Player of the Year and that’s certainly understandable given his role on the team. But Wiltjer’s debut season for Gonzaga was an excellent one, as he averaged 16.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 53 percent from the field and 44.9 percent from beyond the arc.

WCC Coach of the Year: Mark Few, Gonzaga

Sure the expectation was that Gonzaga would win the conference. But that doesn’t mean Few should be prohibited from receiving this honor. The Bulldogs went 29-2 overall and 17-1 in WCC play, with 14 of those conference wins being by ten points or more.

First-Team All-WCC:

  • Wiltjer
  • G Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: Pangos averaged 11.6 points and 5.0 assists per game for the champions, playing an average of nearly 33 minutes per contest.
  • G Tyler Haws, BYU: One of the best shooters in the country, BYU’s all-time leading scorer averaged 22 points per game and shot 47 percent from the field.
  • G Kyle Collinsworth, BYU: An argument can be made that Collinsworth is the most versatile player in college basketball, as he tallied an NCAA-record five triple-doubles this season.
  • F Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s: Waldow averaged 19.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, shooting better than 56 percent from the field.

Second Team All-WCC:

  • G Jared Brownridge, Santa Clara
  • G Johnny Dee, San Diego
  • G Kerry Carter, Saint Mary’s
  • F Stacy Davis, Pepperdine
  • C Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga

Defining moment of conference play: BYU’s win at Gonzaga (February 28)

While the Bulldogs have been part of the one-seed conversation for most of the season, the same wasn’t the case for a BYU team that’s had to navigate multiple injuries throughout the season. And while they had the benefit of a solid non-conference schedule, Dave Rose’s team had yet to pick up a “signature” victory. That changed in Spokane on the last day of February, and that win could be what gets BYU an at-large bid should they need it.

CBT Prediction: Gonzaga wins its third straight WCC tournament title, beating Saint Mary’s in the title game.

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.