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

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source: AP
Melo Trimble, Dez Wells (AP Photo)

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 the ACC, the Big 12 and the Pac-12. Today, we’ll look at the Big Ten.

READ MOREThe NBCSports.com preseason top 25 | Coaches on the hot seat

MAJOR OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. Maryland is back as one of the nation’s elite: At this time last year, the talk about Maryland was that head coach Mark Turgeon was on the verge of losing his job. His was three seasons into his tenure, had just lost five players to transfer in one spring and was moving from the ACC to the Big Ten, a league he had never coached in and which would require road trips halfway across the country. But the Terps ended up earning a top four seed in the NCAA tournament, returned Melo Trimble and Jake Layman, and will add Diamond State, Rasheed Sulaimon and Robert Carter next season. Suddenly, Maryland is a consensus preseason top two team. That’s quite the 12-month turnaround.

2. The conference was the early entry deadline’s biggest winner: The Big Ten will be losing some underclassmen talent to the NBA this year — namely, Sam Dekker and D’angelo Russell — but almost every player who was on the fence about whether or not to go pro decided to return. Indiana got Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. back. Michigan returned Caris LeVert. Maryland’s Melo Trimble and Jake Layman bypassed the draft. Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. Purdue’s A.J. Hammons. Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine. Everyone of those has a chance at being a preseason all-Big Ten player. Every realistic preseason Player of the Year is in that group. I hope your cable provider carries the Big Ten Network, because …

3. … those returnees make the Big Ten arguably the nation’s best conference: There are five teams currently ranked in the NBCSports.com preseason top 25: Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Purdue didn’t make our cut, but they will likely pop up in other preseason top 25 polls. In other words, the Big Ten, on paper, is right there with the ACC in the argument for the nation’s best conference. It’s going to be a good year for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

READ MOREEleven potential Breakout Stars in 2015-16 | Eight intriguing coaching hires

KEY ADDITIONS

  • Diamond Stone, Maryland: Stone, a 6-foot-10 forward that is ranked as a top ten recruit, is the perfect fit as a face-up big man for the Terps. He should work well with Carter’s ability on the low-block and Trimble’s ability in ball-screen actions.
  • Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Bryant’s addition is almost as important as the return of Ferrell and Blackmon. The Hoosiers desperately needed a big body to rebound and block shots last season, and Bryant will be able to do that.
  • Deyonta Davis, Michigan State: With Caleb Swanigan decommitting — more on that below — Davis, a top 30 recruit, will be asked to replace the low-post scoring and rebounding presence that Branden Dawson provided.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Caleb Swanigan, Michigan State: Swanigan, a top 20 recruit, committed this spring and a month later reopened his recruitment. His departure hurts the Spartans in that he would have provided some low-post scoring pop that the team will be lacking without him.
  • Terran Petteway, Nebraska: Petteway had a terrific sophomore season with the Huskers, but he struggled during a junior year where Nebraska regressed back to the bottom of the Big Ten standings.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS 

  • Melo Trimble, Maryland (Player of the Year)
  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
  • Caris LeVert, Michigan
  • Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEET FORM

1. Maryland: Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone are two of the best at their position. If Sulaimon buys in, Layman remains consistent, Terps can win a title.

2. Michigan State: Losing Swanigan hurts, but Davis may be a better fit if Tum Tum Nairn continues to push pace. Denzel Valentine is a sleeper all-american.

3. Indiana: Getting Yogi Ferrell back is huge. Expect Indiana to be just as entertaining as last season but better on the defensive end.

4. Michigan: Health will be the key. Can Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton and Spike Albrecht last an entire season?

5. Wisconsin: Bo Ryan has never finished worse than tied for 4th in the Big Ten, but replacing Dekker, Kaminsky, Gasser, Jackson and Dukan isn’t easy.

6. Purdue: The Boilermakers will be loaded on their front line but the lack of a true point guard on the roster will hurt them against good teams.

7. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have a lot to replace, but they add another loaded recruiting class to a solid core of young returning talent. The Big Ten’s sleeper.

8. Illinois: The Illini lose Rayvonte Rice, Aaron Cosby and Ahmad Starks, but is that addition by subtraction? Keep an eye on Malcolm Hill.

9. Iowa: What happens to the Hawkeyes now that they are without Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni? Can Jarrod Uthoff carry a Big Ten team?

10. Minnesota: Nate Mason may be the breakout star of the Big Ten, but the Golden Gophers have a lot of minutes to replace.

11. Northwestern: The Wildcats bring back the top four scorers from a team that was a handful of heartbreaking losses from pushing for the NIT. Sleeper alert!

12. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers had the Big Ten’s best home court in 2013-14. Last season was a massive disappointment. Can they find a way to score?

13. Penn State: Tough to rebuild when you lose a guy that averaged 20 points.

14. Rutgers: Rutgers is the DePaul of the Big Ten. Has anyone figured out how they beat Wisconsin last year yet?

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.