Looking Forward: Eight programs on the decline

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With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.

Yesterday, we took a look at eight programs on the rise. Today, we’re Looking Forward at some programs that are on the decline:

READ MORE: The NBCSports.com preseason top 25 | Coaches on the hot seat

Florida: There’s no way around it: losing Billy Donovan to the NBA is a massive blow for the Florida basketball program. He was one of the best coaches in the college game, and regardless of who the Gators hire to replace him — Mike White? — it’s a step backwards. But that’s not the only factor at play here. The Gators are coming off of a 16-17 season, losing Michael Frazier II and Chris Walker to the NBA and will enter the 2015-16 season without a season-changing recruit coming into the program. Florida may still be an elite job, but it will be a year or two at the least before they are once again an elite college basketball team again.

VCU: The Rams had one of the roughest offseasons of any team in the country. Not only did they lose Shaka Smart, the guy that turned VCU into a top 25 program, but they also will enter next season without Briante Weber, Treveon Graham, Terry Larrier or either of their elite class of 2015 recruits, Tevin Mack and Kenny Williams. Will Wade, Smart’s successor, may be able to keep the Rams at the top of the Atlantic 10 power structure, but he’s going to have his work cut out for him.

Wisconsin: Bo Ryan is going to have a bit of a rebuilding job on his hands in 2015-16. After spending the last two seasons as a top ten team led by first round draft picks Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, after making back-to-back Final Fours, the Badgers will be losing five of their seven rotation players from last season. Ryan has never finished worse than fourth in his 14 years as the head coach of the Badgers, and that may not chance this season, but don’t be surprised to see Wisconsin fighting for fourth instead of battling for a Big Ten title.

READ MORE: Eleven potential Breakout Stars in 2015-16 | Eight intriguing coaching hires

Harvard: The Crimson have made four straight NCAA tournaments, having won a game in the Big Dance in two of the last three years and earning themselves consideration for the top 25. But that all came with Wesley Saunders and Steve Moundou-Missi on the roster, and even then, Yale would have won the Ivy League title if it wasn’t for a collapse in the final game of the regular season at Dartmouth. With Saunders and Moundou-Missi gone, Harvard may still compete for a league title, but they will no longer be in the conversation as a potential top 25 team.

Stanford: Everything looked so perfect for the Cardinal in 2014-15. They were coming off of a trip to the Sweet 16 and had a senior-laden team that looked primed to make a run at Arizona at the top of the Pac-12. But after a disappointing end to the Pac-12 season, Stanford will head into 2015-16 without Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown or Stefan Nastic with a return trip to the NIT being a successful season.

Kansas State: The Wildcats were a mess last season, going from preseason top 25 to a .500 team. They’ve lost their top three scorers from last season, including Marcus Foster, who transferred out of the program. Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas both transferred as well. It’s a mess in Manhattan, Kansas.

Illinois: The Illini missed the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, the first time that that has happened in more than two decades. The Illini haven’t missed three straight NCAA tournaments since the late ’70s. Losing Rayvonte Rice and Ahmad Bradshaw may be addition by subtraction, but this is not a lock NCAA tournament team.

Missouri: Kim Anderson’s first season in Columbia could not have gone much worse. Not only did the Tigers go 3-15 in the SEC, but they lost Jonathan Williams III to transfer, missed out on some key recruits and saw assistant coach Tim Fuller leave the program. Things aren’t going to get any better in 2015-16, either.

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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.