Big East Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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Last season, the Big East had zero teams get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. The lack of success in March led to questions in November regarding the strength of the conference. The Big East relaunch entered its second season with many expecting a shell of its former self. That wasn’t the case as Big East teams rallied off impressive non-conference wins, one after the other.

Less than a week before Selection Sunday — even with a February meltdown from Seton Hall — the Big East is expecting 60 percent of its league to be in the field of 68, including Villanova, a No. 1 seed in the latest College Basketball Talk bracket.

Before the Big East members can go dancing, they’ll have to slug it out in the World’s Most Famous Arena.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

The Wildcats enter as the favorite, riding a 12-game winning streak, but hanging over their heads will be the shortcomings of last spring. Challenging Villanova will be Georgetown, Butler and Providence. However, St. John’s, a team of mismatches, will be playing on its home floor.

With two play-in games to be decided, the madness begins in quarterfinals, live from New York, with everyone eyeing a chance to play Saturday night.

Bracket

source:

MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

When: March 11-14

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City

Final: March 14, 8 p.m. (Fox Sports 1)

Favorite: Villanova

The Wildcats haven’t lost since Jan. 19, a blowout loss to Georgetown. Villanova has rallied off 12 straight heading into Madison Square Garden, including double-digit wins over Georgetown, Providence (twice) and St. John’s. Villanova was the top seed in the Big East Tournament last year, only to get knocked out by Seton Hall in the quarterfinals. Villanova went on to lose in the Round of 32 — to eventual champion UConn — in the NCAA tournament. You think Jay Wright’s team wants to change its postseason perception?

And if they lose?: Georgetown

The Hoyas took care of business on Saturday and got some help to secure the No. 2 seed. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who missed Saturday’s win over Seton Hall will also be back in the lineup this week. Georgetown is the last team to beat Villanova.

Other Contenders

  • Providence: The defending tournament champions have the conference’s best 1-2 punch in Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton.
  • Butler: The Bulldogs are healthy with the return of Andrew Chrabascz and have already been battle tested in neutral site games (North Carolina, Oklahoma, Indiana).

Sleeper: St. John’s

After digging itself into a whole to begin conference play, St. John’s was able to finish in the top half of the league standings. The Red Storm play small, which can cause problems for the opposition, but are they healthy?

Deeper Sleeper: Xavier

The Musketeers are likely in, but a few wins in the Big East Tournament wouldn’t hurt either. Xavier split the regular season series with quarterfinal opponent Butler and swept potential semifinal opponent Georgetown.

Big East Player of the Year: Kris Dunn, Providence

Two years had gone by and we had only seen a glimpse of Kris Dunn, the former McDonald’s All-American. Finally healthy, the Providence guard has played his way into All-American consideration, averaging 15.5 points, 7.4 assists — ranks him third nationally — 5.6 rebounds and 2.8 steals — fifth nationally. Turnovers are an issue, but no one in the Big East can take over a game like Dunn can.

Big East Coach of the Year: Chris Holtmann, Butler

Holtmann still had the interim head coaching title until early January. The second-year assistant was thrusted into the head coaching role after Brandon Miller took a leave of absence. He responded with a November upset of No. 5 North Carolina at the Battle 4 Atlantis and ended with a share of second-place in the conference standings.

First-Team All-Big East:

  • Dunn
  • D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s: One of the more exciting players in the league was second in scoring at 17.8 points per game. He will have the Johnnies in the tournament for the first time since 2011.
  • LaDontae Henton, Providence: The preseason first team snub led the conference in scoring at 20.1 points per game. He was also top-10 in rebounding with at 6.3 a night.
  • Darrun Hilliard, Villanova: The senior guided Villanova to a second straight regular season title averaging a team-high 14.2 points per game. He dropped 31 at Butler and averaged 20.0 in two wins over Providence.
  • Sir’Dominic Pointer, St. John’s: He’s top-10 in scoring. Top-15 in assists. And top-5 in rebounds, blocks and steals. Oh, and he’s serving as an undersized four. He’s first-team selection, no question asked.
  • D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: The preseason player of the year pick averaged 16.0 points, 4.3 boards and 3.3 assists for the second-place Hoyas.

Second Team All-Big East:

  • Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
  • Kellen Dunham, Butler
  • Roosevelt Jones, Butler
  • Sterling Gibbs, Seton Hall
  • Daniel Ochefu, Villanova

Defining moment of the season: Butler upset No. 5 North Carolina

Arguably the most important non-conference win for the Big East was unranked Butler over then-No. 5 North Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The victory was big for the perception of the new Big East and also the state of the Butler program in the post-Brad Stevens era.

CBT Prediction: Villanova has been too good down the stretch, taking the Wildcats over Butler.

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.