Looking Forward: Catching up on the Big 12’s offseason

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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.

Earlier, we took an early look at the ACC. Today, we’re Looking Forward at the Big 12:

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

MAJOR OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. Will Fred Hoiberg be in Ames next season?: Fred Hoiberg will stay at Iowa State for the rest of his collegiate coaching career, but just how long he remains in the college ranks has always been a question mark. He’s a former NBA player with front office experience that has always been considered a favorite to take over for Tom Thibodeau in Chicago if — when? — Thibs gets the axe. The Cyclones have the talent to remain relevant if Hoiberg is gone, but his ability to get castoffs from other programs to buy-in and his unique ability to exploit mismatches is what has made Iowa State a true title contender.

2. What kind of success will Shaka Smart have in Austin?: Shaka Smart taking over at Texas is the single-most intriguing new hire in college basketball. Smart turned VCU from a CAA program into a perennial top 25 team, but he did it using a full-court pressing system called ‘HAVOC’ that I do not believe can work at an elite level. Will he adjust the way that he plays with the Longhorns — he has to in the short term as he doesn’t have the personnel to pressure full court for 40 minutes — or will he be able to tap into the myriad of elite-level athletes in the state of Texas and turn this program into the second-coming of Nolan Richardson’s ’40 Minutes of Hell’ Arkansas teams.

3. Kansas looks like the favorite to win their 12th straight Big 12 title: Everything broke right for the Jayhawks this spring. Cliff Alexander declared for the NBA Draft, which is addition by subtraction, while Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis both decided to return to Lawrence for another season. And in addition to landing top 25 recruit Carlton Bragg, the Jayhawks picked up a commitment from top five big man Cheick Diallo, the kind of aggressive and athletic big they have lacked to last two seasons. If Frank Mason can continue to play the way he played as a sophomore and if Svi Myhailiuk can showcase the potential that he has, the Jayhawks will likely once again emerge as the favorite in a top-heavy conference.

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

KEY ADDITIONS

  • Cheick Diallo, Kansas: I think Diallo is somewhat limited as a prospect. He’s not overskilled, rather he’s more of a guy that thrives because he plays harder than anyone else. But that’s what Kansas desperately needed along side Perry Ellis and Carlton Bragg. He’ll be what we all wanted Cliff Alexander to be last season.
  • Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: Evans is my favorite point guard in the Class of 2015. He’s a ballhawk defensively that understands how to run an offense, a pure point guard in the sense that he always makes the right decision. He’ll remind Oklahoma State fans of Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis.
  • Eric Davis and Kerwin Roach, Texas: The Longhorns have plenty of bigs to rotate through, but they really needed depth on the perimeter, particularly given the way Shaka Smart likes to play. Keeping them interested in coming to Austin was a priority.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Kansas State’s back court: It was fairly obvious by the middle of the season that Marcus Foster was going to be transferring out of Kansas State. What wasn’t as expected was that Bruce Weber would also be losing Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson, the two veteran point guards on his roster. The Wildcats will be in major rebuilding mode next season.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (Player of the Year)
  • Georges Niang, Iowa State
  • Rico Gathers, Baylor
  • Perry Ellis, Kansas
  • Isaiah Taylor, Texas

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEET FORM

1. Kansas: Kansas upgraded Cliff Alexander to Cheick Diallo, added Carlton Bragg and returned everyone other than Kelly Oubre. They’ll be a contender.

2. Iowa State: With Monte’ Morris and Georges Niang back in the fold, the Cyclones will be as deadly as ever offensively. Can they improve defensively?

3. Baylor: Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince will anchor one of the sport’s best front lines. How good they are depends on how they replace Kenny Chery.

4. Oklahoma: Buddy Hield coming back is huge, but a lack of depth and losing Tashawn Thomas keeps the Sooners from being among the Big 12’s top three.

5. Texas: Can a coaching change improve the fortunes of the most disappointing team in the country from last season?

6. West Virginia: Losing Juwan Staten hurts, but WVU should still find a way to be competitive with their depth and the style Bob Huggins has adopted.

7. Oklahoma State: Perimeter of Phil Forte, Jeff Newberry, Tavarius Shine and Jawun Evans will be good. But can the frontcourt compete with league’s best?

8. Kansas State: Nino Williams and Thomas Gipson graduated. Marcus Foster, Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson transferred. What’s left in Manhattan?

9. TCU: The Horned Frogs lose their two leading scorers from a team that went 4-14 in the league last season.

10. Texas Tech: There’s not much to get excited about on the Red Raider roster.

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.