SEC Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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There’s plenty of star power and intrigue in this year’s SEC tournament. Despite their recent overall dominance, this isn’t an event that Kentucky has owned in recent years, and the Wildcats, while the favorites, will have plenty of competition from the league’s upper echelon this season. The top four seeds (Texas A&M, Kentucky, South Carolina and LSU) receive byes into the quarterfinals while Tennessee and Auburn faceoff Wednesday trying to join the rest of the league in the “second round.”

The Bracket 

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When: March 9-13

Where: Bridgestone Arena; Nashville, Tenn.

Final: Sunday, March 13, Noon (ESPN)

Favorite: Kentucky

There have been plenty of questions about this group of Wildcats, but there’s no doubting they’re rounding into form at just the right time. Skal Labissiere appears to be breaking through after a mostly lackluster season, and if that continues, that raises the ceiling for an already immensely talented team.

And if they lose?: Texas A&M

That four-game losing streak that had alarm bells blaring in College Station last month appear to be well in the rear view with the Aggies entering the postseason winners of six straight. That streak includes victories over Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Billy Kennedy’s group is going to be a tough out.

Other Contenders:

  • Vanderbilt: The Commodores have two wins over Florida and one over Kentucky this season. Their 3-point shooting has to keep opposing coaches up at night.
  • South Carolina: That 15-0 start seems like a long time ago, but the Gamecocks’ defense is legit.

Sleeper: LSU

The Tigers have been a disappointment this season and they’re certainly not heading into the tournament playing high-level ball, but they have a great talent in Ben Simmons and the need to perform if they’re going to sneak into the NCAA tournament field.

The Bubble Dwellers

  • LSU: The Tigers’ RPI sits at 90 so two wins, which would likely be against Vanderbilt and Texas A&M, would go a long way. One might get it done.
  • Florida: A win over Arkansas might not be enough. That means beating the Aggies in the quarterfinals.
  • Vanderbilt: The Commodores are probably safe, but winning one game would certainly help ensure a bid.

SEC Player of the Year: Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

At the start of the season, it was largely assumed Ben SImmons would be the easy choice here, but instead the 5-foot-9 point guard averaged 16.6 points and 7.4 assists per game while establishing himself as a no-doubt All-American. He’s fantastic on the other side of the ball as well, setting the Wildcats’ defensive tone from the point guard position.

SEC Coach of the Year: John Calipari, Kentucky

It’s easy to underrate just how hard it is to reboot your roster after massive NBA defections every year because Calipari has done it so well so often, but the fact of the matter is Kentucky lost seven players early to the NBA draft and still finished atop the SEC standings. And now it looks like Calipari’s prodding of Labissiere is paying off at just the right time as well.

First-Team All-SEC

  • Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
  • Jamal Murray, Kentucky: Murray may have had the best freshman season in the SEC, no small feat with the likely No. 1 draft pick in the conference.
  • Ben Simmons, LSU: It’s easy to knock Simmons for LSU’s struggles but he’s averaging 19.6 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5 assists per game.
  • Stefan Moody, Mississippi: Moody had the SEC’s highest usage rate during conference play and still managed to be quite efficient and productive.
  • Wade Baldwin, Vanderbilt: Baldwin averaged 14.3 points while shooting 43.6 percent from deep . Put up 5.1 assists per game.

Second Team All-SEC:

  • Kevin Punter, Tennessee
  • Damian Jones, Vanderbilt
  • Jalen Jones, Texas A&M
  • Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
  • Michael Carrera, South Carolina

Defining moment of the season: [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXEhp4SOURY%5D

CBT Prediction: Kentucky over LSU

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.