Looking Forward: Catching up on the American’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.

Last week, we took a look at the ACC, the Big 12, the Big Ten and the Pac-12. Yesterday, we looked at the Big East and the SEC. Today, we’re looking at the American.

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MAJOR OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. Is Sterling Gibbs the next superstar PG for the Huskies?: The UConn program has become a haven for star point guards in recent years, as Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier led the Huskies to national titles in the last five years. Ryan Boatright did not have as much success last year, but he certainly was the star of the Huskies. The next in line to take over that lead guard spot is Seton Hall transfer Sterling Gibbs. Gibbs was in the conversation for Big East Player of the Year for the first three months of the 2014-15 season, before the Pirates collapsed. Will he have that kind of impact for the Huskies next season?

2. Will Memphis reach their potential with spring’s turnover?: There have been plenty of changes for the Tigers this offseason. Nick King and Pookie Powell both transferred out of the program, while the Tigers not only brought in Alabama transfer Ricky Tarrant, they landed two four-star forwards in Dedric and K.J. Lawson as well as bringing in former NBA point guard Damon Stoudamire for his second stint as an assistant coach. The Tigers will, once again, have enough talent on their roster to compete for the American title, but will they? Will they get quality point guard play out of Tarrant or Kedren Johnson? Will Shaq Goodwin have any impact in the paint? Will the Lawson brothers be able to contribute immediately?

3. How long will it be before we actually need to pay attention to the bottom of the league?: There really isn’t all that much that separates the five teams in the top half of the American. SMU is probably the favorite and, given the way last season ended, Memphis is probably the most likely to finish fifth in the league standings despite having arguably the most talent in the conference. UConn, Cincinnati and Tulsa are all probably good enough win the American, while Temple will have a shot of earning an at-large berth as well. It’s the bottom of the league where there is a clear separation. How long will we have to wait before UCF, South Florida, East Carolina, Houston and Tulane are relevant in the conference race?

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KEY ADDITIONS

  • Sterling Gibbs, UConn: Gibbs is just one piece of UConn’s incoming class, which also includes top 25 recruit Jalen Adams and Cornell grad transfer Shonn Miller.
  • Ricky Tarrant, Memphis: The Tigers desperately needed a point guard after Kedren Johnson’s addition turned out to be a bust. Tarrant played at Alabama last season and will be eligible immediately for the Tigers.
  • The Lawsons, Memphis: Josh Pastner hired Keelon Lawson, the father of both Dedric and K.J., in an effort to get the two brothers into the program. Long, athletic combo-forwards, it will be interesting to see how they fit into the program with Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin already on the front line.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Nick King, Memphis: King’s departure was not all that much of a surprise. He struggled through two seasons with the Tigers and would have likely found himself behind both of the Lawsons on the depth chart.
  • Anthony Collins, South Florida: Collins became one of the most sought-after point guards on the grad transfer market when he decided to depart from the Bull program. He was replaced by Maryland transfer Roddy Peters.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Nic Moore, SMU (Player of the Year)
Sterling Gibbs, UConn
James Woodard, Tulsa
Markus Kennedy, SMU
Austin Nichols, Memphis

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEET FORM

1. SMU: The Mustangs won the American last season and return the conference Player of the Year in Nic Moore and their best big man, Markus Kennedy.

2. UConn: Much depends on the impact that the newcomers have, but w/ those three joining Hamilton, Brimah and Purvis, there’s a lot to like in Storrs.

3. Cincinnati: Mick Cronin will be healthy and coaching next season, and don’t be surprised when Troy Caupain and Gary Clark both take big steps forward.

4. Tulsa: This is the year for the Golden Hurricane, as their top six scorers from last season will all be seniors this year.

5. Memphis: The talent is there. But it was there last year, too.

6. Temple: Replacing Will Cummings and Jesse Morgan won’t be easy, but Fran Dunphy will have some quality pieces available: Quenton DeCosey, Jaylen Bond, Josh Brown.

7. South Florida: The Bulls hired Orlando Antigua as head coach, and he’s brought in some talent. It may be a year before that translates to a top half AAC finish.

8. Houston: Losing Jherrod Stiggers hurts, but with Devonta Pollard and Chicken Knowles back and the addition of Daymean Dotson, Kelvin Sampson has pieces.

9. East Carolina: The Pirates return their top three scorers from last season, none of whom made an all-AAC team.

10. UCF: Donnie Jones has a solid recruiting class coming in, but the best part of this team is the idea of pairing 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall with 325 lb Justin McBride.

11. Tulane: At least they get to live in New Orleans …

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.