2016 NCAA Tournament Preview: The guards that will win you your bracket

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It’s been said many times over that guard play is needed to make a run deep into the NCAA tournament, and with good reason. Look at teams that have won national titles over the years, and quality options on the perimeter tend to be a tie that binds. With that in mind, below are some of the guards (one per team) you need to know heading into the NCAA tournament beginning with four who have been part of national Player of the Year and All-American conversations all year long.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: Valentine’s versatility is what has made him a favorite for national Player of the Year honors along with Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. On the season the senior guard, who can play any position on the perimeter for the Spartans, is averaging 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. No other player in the country can boast averaging 19/7/7 per game.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield’s the prolific scorer who leads the way in a backcourt rotation that includes two other veterans in Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard. Hield’s averaging 25.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, shooting 49.6 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from three. Teams have tried a variety of approaches in defending Hield, but few have been successful. He’s that good of a scorer.

Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: The sophomore point guard has emerged as one of the best leaders in college basketball. Sure there’s talent, with Ulis averaging 17.2 points and 7.2 assists per game, but his work running the Wildcats has helped the team’s role players with their development.

Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: The ACC Player of the Year, Brogdon leads the Cavaliers in scoring with an average of 18.7 points per game. The redshirt senior is shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from three, and he’s also one of the best defenders in the country.

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Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: Good as a junior, Ferrell’s been even better in his senior season for the Big Ten regular season champions. Averaging 17.0 points and 5.5 assists per game, Yogi’s shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also made strides as a leader, which has been key for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers.

Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Much has been made of Paige’s perimeter shooting struggles and rightfully so, as the Tar Heels lack consistent options in that area. But one has to believe that at some point he’ll get going, and the senior guard did a very good job defensively against Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon in the ACC championship game Saturday night.

Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: VanVleet already has a win in this year’s tournament under his belt, and his experience (along with fellow seniors Ron Baker and Evan Wessel) is something that will help the other Shockers in the NCAA tournament. VanVleet’s ability to score and distribute the basketball is what makes Gregg Marshall’s team go, and they could make another run to the second weekend as a result.

Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: Jackson’s been the point guard Mike Brey envisioned him being when the Fighting Irish lost last year’s starter (Jerian Grant) to graduation. Jackson’s averaging 15.5 points and 4.8 assists per contest, and with a possible matchup with No.3  seed West Virginia in the second round he’ll be a key figure against the Mountaineers’ full-court pressure.

Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn began the season as a favorite for national Player of the Year honors, yet despite dealing with health issues on multiple occasions the redshirt junior has remained one of the nation’s best point guards. Dunn can make things happen offensively, but he’s also one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. If Dunn’s at his best, Providence is capable of making some noise in the Big Dance.

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The Most Outstanding Player of the Big East tournament, Whitehead’s been a big reason why the Pirates are making their first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade. As a sophomore Whitehead has a better grasp of when to score and when to get the ball to his capable teammates. Whitehead’s talent and toughness have rubbed off on a team that entered the season looking to rebound from a disappointing 2014-15 season. Mission accomplished, with SHU looking to do even more this week.

Gary Payton II, Oregon State: There aren’t many point guards who have the versatility of Payton. He currently leads the Beavers in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals. Oregon State’s making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1990, when Payton’s father ran the show as a senior.  The skill sets are different, but the younger Payton has has a major impact on Wayne Tinkle’s program.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart broke out down the stretch last season, and he’s picked up where he left off the Big East regular season champions. Hart’s averaging 15.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, shooting 51.1 percent from the field. Hart can both knock down jumpers and attack the basket, and with his combination of size and skill the 6-foot-5 junior is a touch matchup for many opponents.

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Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble’s struggled in recent weeks, but there’s no denying the talent possessed by the sophomore point guard. Trimble’s a handful off the bounce, and as evidenced by his game-winner at Wisconsin in January Trimble’s more than willing to take the big shot as well.

Danuel House Jr., Texas A&M: House is shooting just over 39 percent from the field, but he’s a player capable of exploding offensively in any game. House is averaging 15.5 points per game, sharing the team lead with forward Jalen Jones. House’s scoring ability opens things up for the Texas A&M front court, which is led by Jones and freshman Tyler Davis.

Five who could spark a surprise run

  • A.J. English, Iona: The senior guard is averaging 22.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, and he’s the only player in college basketball who can make that claim this season.
  • DeAndré Bembry, Saint Joseph’s: Bembry’s an incredibly versatile player, and the emergence of Isaiah Miles and Aaron Brown has taken some of the load off his sholder.
  • Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa: Washpun’s jumper to beat Evansville in the title game of the Missouri Valley tournament. He’s been a handful in pick and roll situations this season, so that’s something to keep an eye on when the Panthers take on No. 6 seed Texas in their tournament opener.
  • Marvelle Harris, Fresno State: The Mountain West coaches named Harris their league player of the year and with goof reasons. Harris is averaging 20.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game for the Bulldogs, who have the pieces needed to play dep into the tournament.
  • Chris Flemmings, UNCW: Flemmings, whose fascinating story began at Division II Barton College, emerged as one of the top players in the CAA in his first season on the court. With their matchup with No. 4 seed Duke, the Seahawks are capable of making some noise with Flemmings leading the way.

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.