Jerian Grant, D’Angelo Russell headline guards to watch in the 2015 NCAA Tournament

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After Shabazz Napier helped lead No. 7 seed UConn to a national championship last year, guards are all the rage in the NCAA Tournament this year. “Who is the next Shabazz Napier?” is a question that has been frequently asked leading into the 2015 NCAA Tournament. We might never get a performance to match Napier’s incredible run last March, but there are plenty of exciting guards playing this March, and the top four didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament last season.

There are plenty of guards who could have been included on this list, (let us know in the comments section) but we’re going to look at the players most vital to team success and a potential deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

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1. Jerian Grant (Notre Dame): Without Grant last season, who missed the second half of the season with academic issues, the Irish were a mediocre team. Now that the senior has returned, Notre Dame won the ACC conference tournament and enter as a very intriguing No. 3 seed. The 6-foot-5 Grant averaged 16.8 points, 6.6 assists and 3 rebounds per game. He also has the best dunk of the college basketball season.

2. D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State): Before we begin talking about the best backcourt NBA Draft prospect in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, I want you to watch some of Russell’s ridiculous passes. Besides his breathtaking vision and passing ability (5.1 assists per game), the 6-foot-5 McDonald’s All-American is averaging 19.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He can hit shots from anywhere (41 percent 3-point). Watching Russell’s unique style will be a lot of fun when he goes against VCU’s “Havoc” in the Round of 64.

3. Kris Dunn (Providence): The 6-foot-3 Dunn has battled injury the last two seasons, but now the basketball world is seeing what made him a McDonald’s All-American in 2012. Electric with the ball in his hands, Dunn is probably the most fun to watch after snaring a rebound and going coast-to-coast with his speed and open-floor ability. The turnovers will drive some crazy (4.1 per game) but those come in-part because Dunn is trying to make some highly difficult plays. Dunn averaged 15.8 points, 7.6 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game this season.

4. Delon Wright (Utah): One of the best in college hoops at working pick-and-rolls, the younger brother of NBA veteran Dorell Wright is having a fantastic senior season. The 6-foot-5 Wright averaged 14.9 points, 5.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game this season and, like Dunn, has the potential to make thrilling plays going coast-to-coast with the ball in his hands. Wright can also elevate in traffic and finish above the rim.

5. Buddy Hield (Oklahoma): Many view Oklahoma as a darkhorse Final Four pick and one of the nation’s premier two-way guards is a big reason why. The 6-foot-4 junior averaged 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game in winning Big 12 Player of the Year honors this season. Hield is also regarded as a clutch performer and had a game-winning tip against Kansas this season.

READ MORE: Ranking the field | Eight teams that can win | Perfect bracket pool

6. Melo Trimble (Maryland): Some have called the freshman McDonald’s All-American underrated, but we at CBT admired Trimble’s play enough to make him a third-team All-American this season. The 6-foot-2 freshman is one of the game’s best closers thanks to his 86 percent free-throw shooting and he’s also putting up 16.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for the resurgent Terps.

7. T.J. McConnell (Arizona): We hear the phrase “true point guard” thrown around quite a bit in the basketball world and the 6-foot-1 senior fits that bill. McConnell is the undisputed leader of the No. 2 seed Wildcats and averaged 9.8 points, 6.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. The senior also is a pest on the defensive end, averaging 2.1 steals per game, and is the main setup guy for Arizona’s talented roster.

8. Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia): When Justin Anderson went down with injury it looked like Virginia might be in trouble. Thanks to the elevated play of the 6-foot-5 Brogdon, the Cavaliers kept winning a lot of games. The junior first-team All-ACC selection led Virginia in scoring at 13.9 points per game and also had 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Brogdon also doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. He’s made buzzer beaters and shoots 87 percent from the free-throw line.

9. Marcus Paige (North Carolina): It wasn’t the best regular season for the 6-foot-1 junior, but Paige has the potential to take the Tar Heels on a run here if he gets going. A third-team All-ACC selection this season, Paige 13.9 points, 4.6 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game. Paige has a propensity to make tough shots and opposing defenses always have to track his whereabouts closely.

10. Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga): The 6-foot-2 senior is actually averaging a career low 11.5 poins per game this season, but it’s because he’s doing such a tremendous job of setting up his teammates. Pangos averaged a career-high five assists per game as a senior and elevated his already stellar shooting splits (46% FG, 44% 3PT, 83% FT). He’s the type of player who can run off multiple 3-pointers in short order.

Six More to Keep in Mind

  • Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova)
  • Ron Baker (Wichita State)
  • Quinn Cook (Duke)
  • Darrun Hilliard (Villanova)
  • Monte’ Morris (Iowa State)
  • Juwan Staten (West Virginia)

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.