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NBCSports.com Postseason Awards: Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and All-Americans

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PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

Hield was in the lead as the favorite for National Player of the Year from the moment he went for 46 points in that triple-overtime thriller against Kansas. Throw in Valentine’s injury issues in the middle of the season, and it’s understandable that folks considered Hield a lock for all 37 (roughly) National Player of the Years Awards that are given out every March.

And Hield never really slowed down. He had a brief, four or five game blip where he wasn’t shooting astronomical percentages, but he still finished the season averaging 25.1 points with shooting splits of 49.5/47.3/89.3. But Valentine threw this Michigan State team on his back, becoming the first player since assists became an official stat to average 19 points, seven boards and seven assists, and he’s doing it for a team that is arguably playing the best basketball of anyone in the country. It became too much to ignore.

So while Hield didn’t do anything that would have lost him the award, for us, the decision came down to this: If we were starting a college basketball team, who would we pick first, Denzel or Buddy? And the answer is Denzel, because he makes everyone on the floor with him better.

Kansas head coach Bill Self (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Kansas head coach Bill Self (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

COACH OF THE YEAR: Bill Self, Kansas

The bottom line is this: Bill Self, coaching a team that doesn’t have a projected first round pick in his starting lineup, won what KenPom rates as the best conference in the last 14 seasons by a full two games while putting together a profile that is strong enough to earn the Jayhawks the No. 1 overall seed even if they lose in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament by 50.

Dana Altman, Chris Mack, Tony Bennett, Greg Gard, Tom Crean, Bob Huggins, Tubby Smith, Buzz Williams, even Coach K and John Calipari belong in the conversation. Every one of those dudes has a really strong case for Coach of the Year. They’ve all done a fabulous job with their teams this season. But what Self has been able to accomplish with this roster is not something that can be overlooked.

FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICA

  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State (Player of the Year)
  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: There shouldn’t need to be much explanation here. Hield was the best player in the country for much of the season.
  • Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: Ulis emerged as the best point guard in college basketball by the end of the season as he recovered from an elbow injury and Kentucky made the change to play a lineup that would better space the floor. The diminutive floor general is the guy that controls that team, and the reason they now look like a national title contender.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: Brogdon is one of the best defenders in the ACC and a guy that averaged 18.4 points while playing on the slowest team in the sport. He’s got the ability to go into star mode and take a game over at the same time as he is shutting down an opponent’s best player. How many guys in the country can do that?
  • Jakob Poeltl, Utah: The best big man in college basketball. Poeltl is a shot-blocking presence at the rim that has developed the ability to have¬†offense run through him. There’s also an argument to make that he is the most improved player in college basketball.

SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICA

  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: Ferrell put Indiana on his back this season, running as the engine of an offense that carried the Hoosiers to the outright Big Ten title by two full games. He was unbelievable.
  • Grayson Allen, Duke: Duke has struggled with injuries, a lack of depth and a lack of a point guard, but Allen’s ability to beat defenders one-on-one has been the biggest reason the Blue Devils are still relevant.
  • Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa: The Hawkeyes struggled down the stretch, but the reason they were a top ten team for much of the Big Ten season was due to the play of Uthoff, who is one of the most unique talents in the country.
  • Georges Niang, Iowa State: Niang is one of those players whose been so consistently great for so long that his talent is probably under-appreciated. He eas a first-team all-american on two of our ballots.
  • Brice Johnson, North Carolina: Johnson burst onto the scene in December when Kennedy Meeks went out with a knee issue and hasn’t slowed down since.

THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICA

  • Kay Felder, Oakland: We’re going with Felder over Kris Dunn because Felder (24.3 points, 9.3 assists) had an unbelievable year while Dunn and the Friars totally faded down the stretch. And this is coming from Dunn’s biggest fan.
  • Jamal Murray, Kentucky: Murray went from being a questionable decision-maker that was inconsistent and out of position to arguably the most dangerous shooter in the country.
  • Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart is such a key piece for Villanova. It’s not just what he can do offensively, his versatility on the defensive end allows them to hide Kris Jenkins and his rebounding plays a major role in Villanova’s ability to go small.
  • Perry Ellis, Kansas: Has there ever been a more under-appreciated great player than Perry Ellis?
  • Ben Simmons, LSU: Simmons’ numbers were out of this world. He team’s performance wasn’t, and it still felt underwhelming.

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.