Atlantic 10 Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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Tyler Kalinoski (AP Photo)

A year after the Atlantic 10 got six bids to the NCAA tournament, the conference took a major hit in 2014-2015. George Washington didn’t end up being as good as expected, UMass entered a rebuilding year with the loss of Chaz Williams, Saint Louis lost everyone, and St. Joe’s and La Salle both had down years.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

Early in the season, it looked as if VCU was going to run away with the conference title, but Briante Weber shredded his knee in February, which opened the door for teams like Davidson, Dayton, Richmond and Rhode Island to finish in the top four. If there’s anything that this season in the conference taught us, it’s that the A-10 tournament is going to be wide-open, as a number of the conference’s best teams are looking to secure at-large bids or need the automatic bid outright.

Bracket

 

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MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

When: March 11-15

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn

Final: March 15, 1:00 p.m.

Favorite: Davidson

The Wildcats were the A-10’s outright champs this season, finishing 12-4 in the league with exactly half of those losses coming while star guard Jack Gibbs was laid up with a knee injury. Their only losses while at full strength this season? At VCU, at Virginia, at Richmond and vs. North Carolina.

And if they lose?: Dayton

The Flyers dismissed their only two scholarship players over 6-foot-6 back in December, meaning that they were left with just six players and no big men. But that didn’t stop Archie Miller from finishing second in the conference and 22-7 overall.

Other Contenders

  • VCU: It’s hard not to think of the Rams as title favorites until they are actually out of the tournament. Losing Briante Weber really, really hurt, and while they’ve lost six of their last 11 games, four of those losses were decided in the final minute. There’s no reason Shaka Smart’s team can’t make a run to the title.
  • Rhode Island: The Rams were one of the league’s most pleasant surprises this season, as E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin carried them into a second-place finish in the conference.

Sleeper: Richmond

The Spiders are a tough team to peg. They swept VCU this season, but they also finished just 10-6 against the rest of the conference. Their back court of Kendall Anthony and Shawn’Dre Jones is difficult to matchup with and talented enough to lead them on a run through Brooklyn.

Deeper Sleeper: George Washington

I still think that the Colonials are a dangerous team. Kevin Larsen can be dominant on the block, Patricio Garino creates so many problems defensively and Yuta Watanabe is going to be a star. Mike Lonergan’s club has been in a rut for the last month, but remember, this is still the team that beat Wichita State in December.

Atlantic 10 Player of the Year: Tyler Kalinoski, Davidson

Kalinoski finished the season averaging 16.9 points, 4.2 assists and 5.7 boards while shooting 43.3 percent from beyond the arc. He spent most of the year as the best player on the league’s most entertaining team, stabilizing things while Jack Gibbs dealt with his knee injury.

Atlantic 10 Co-Coaches of the Year: Bob McKillop, Davidson, and Archie Miller, Dayton

If you want to try and differentiate between the job that these two have done this season, good luck. McKillop led the Wildcats to the outright Atlantic 10 title in their first season in the conference, as they moved from the SoCon for this season. And Miller? He managed to lead the Flyers to the No. 2 seed in the A-10 tournament despite playing with just six scholarship players for much of the season.

First-Team All-A10:

  • Kalinoski
  • Treveon Graham, VCU: For four years, Graham has flown under the radar with the Rams. It’d be a shame if his senior season fizzled out due to Weber’s injury.
  • Jordan Sibert, Dayton: Sibert was the leading scorer for one of the nation’s most surprising teams, leading the Flyers to a second place finish in the conference.
  • E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: Matthews is probably the best NBA prospect in the league.
  • Kendall Anthony, Richmond: No one in the conference was as difficult to defend as Anthony, a 5-foot-8 point guard that doubled as Richmond’s leading scorer.

Second Team All-A10:

  • Jack Gibbs, Davidson
  • Briante Weber, VCU
  • Deandre Bembry, St. Joseph’s
  • Hassan Martin, Rhode Island
  • Jordan Price, La Salle

Defining moment of the season: Briante Weber’s injury

Near the end of the first installment of the VCU-Richmond rivalry this season, Briante Weber’s knee buckled on him as he came to a jump-stop in the middle of the lane. The injury was not initially thought to be too bad, but further testing revealed catastrophic damage: Weber had torn his ACL, MCL and meniscus. His season — and his college career — was over, and since then, VCU’s been careening off the rails. They are 5-6 since the injury, falling to the No. 5 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament, a conference they were in complete control of before he was hurt. Weber was such an important piece for the Rams, the sparkplug of their ‘Havoc’ defense, and losing him has changed that team.

CBT Prediction: VCU finds their rhythm and knocks off Rhode Island in the final.

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.