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Looking Forward: Is Bill Self the right coach for a one-and-done star like Josh Jackson?

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As we take a look at ahead at the 2016-17 season, we’re also going to take a deeper dive into what we think will end up being some of the biggest storylines next season. Today, we’re talking about Kansas and whether or not Bill Self has earned the reputation he has with one-and-done freshmen.

Last week, we looked at Duke and the potential for a 40-0 season.

The consensus among college basketball observers is that Duke and Kentucky are the two programs that, right now, are recruiting better than anyone in the sport.

They’re the teams that can lose three — or four or five or six — players to the NBA Draft and find a way to reload their roster enough to compete for league titles and Final Fours the following season. Kentucky had cornered the market on one-and-done prospects until Duke and Coach K decided to throw their hat into the mix, and on Tuesday, I wrote a column about the tension that the rivalry has created on the recruiting trail.

But nowhere in there did I mention Kansas, and I’d be willing to wager that there aren’t many hoops pundits or recruitniks that would tell you the Jayhawks are on the same level as Duke and Kentucky when it comes to bringing in elite talent.

There’s a reason for that, and it’s not Bill Self’s ability to put together strong recruiting classes. Kansas is the best in the country at gathering the leftovers once Duke and Kentucky have picked through the kids they want from each class. In the 11 recruiting classes since the one-and-done era went into effect in 2006 — the year Kevin Durant and Greg Oden were freshmen — Self has landed 15 five-star recruits, according to Rivals. (For comparison’s sake, John Calipari has landed 32 five-star recruits since he came to Kentucky in 2009 and Coach K has landed 20 since 2006, with 10 coming in the last three seasons.) Nine of those 15 kids have come in the last four recruiting classes, a stretch that has included six of the eight top ten recruits that Self has brought to Lawrence. Three times in the last seven years and twice in the last four seasons Self has landed the No. 1 recruit in the country.

The natural question to ask, then, is why so many consider Kansas to be a step below Duke and Kentucky in the current recruiting climate, but the more pressing question given the way that the 2016-17 college basketball season is taking shape is this: Can we trust Bill Self to make the most out of landing the nation’s No. 1 prospect, Josh Jackson?

The answer to the former is the reason why we even have to consider the latter.

Bill Self is one of the best coaches in all of college basketball. No one is going to argue that if they aren’t senile. The 12 straight Big 12 regular season titles that he has won, combined with the National Title that he won in 2008, are enough that he would be elected to the Hall of Fame if he were to retire today. Mark Few is the only coach to come close to putting together a streak like that, and even he hasn’t been able to win 12 straight regular season titles at Gonzaga. Say what you will about the strength of the Big 12, it’s a hell of a lot better than the WCC.

But this past season was the first time in a while — probably since the 2012 team — where it felt like Kansas had the rest of the conference outclassed, and that only happened late in league play, thanks to an 11-game winning streak to close out the regular season. In other words, you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong in saying that the Jayhawks’ reign over the Big 12 is due the impossibility of winning a road game in Phog Allen Fieldhouse as much as anything else. They’re almost assured of going 9-0 at home in league play, which means that a 5-4 record on the road in conference will just about guarantee at the very least a share of the regular season crown. With Texas Tech and TCU at the bottom of the conference, and with the state of the current Kansas State and Oklahoma State programs, going 5-4 on the road in the Big 12 isn’t exactly a daunting task.

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The fact that Kansas has struggled in the NCAA tournament relative to expectations in recent seasons hasn’t helped, either. In the last four years — the four years where Self has done what he can to embrace the one-and-done ideal — Kansas has not made a Final Four. In 2013, they lost to Michigan in the Sweet 16 as a No. 1 seed. In 2014 and 2015, the Jayhawks lost in the second round as a No. 2 seed. This past season, they reached the Elite 8, where they lost to No. 2 seed — and eventual champion — Villanova as the No. 1 seed.

Bill Self has only made it to the Final Four twice in his career, and neither team had anything remotely close to a one-and-done player on it. When he won the title in 2008, his roster was so deep and so veteran-laden that future All-American Sherron Collins was the seventh man and future lottery pick Cole Aldrich couldn’t get off the bench. The 2012 team that reached the national title game was nowhere near as deep, but the only player on that roster that left school with eligibility remaining was junior and National Player of the Year runner-up Thomas Robinson.

Even the team that he had this past season, the one that lost in the Elite 8, was built entirely around veterans. There may not have been a first round pick on the roster, and the two marquee freshmen that he brought into the program — Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg Jr. — were somewhere between a bust and a bigger project that some expected.

Bragg was in a tough spot. He was never really thought of as a one-and-done caliber player and was stuck playing behind Perry Ellis, who may be the most under-appreciated player in the history of the Big 12 Conference. Diallo will look like a bust on paper, but his shortcomings were something that we probably should have seen coming. He doesn’t have a great feel for the game or a high basketball IQ — even I could pick out when he would forget what play Kansas was running or when he missed a defensive rotation. His success in high school came because he had a terrific motor and was bigger and more athletic than most of the kids he was playing against. As a slender, 6-foot-8 power forward with no discernible offensive skill set and a habit of forgetting what he was supposed to be doing, should we really be surprised that he struggled to get minutes?

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In and of itself, that’s not a big deal. The problem is that this year just added to the perception that Self doesn’t know how to coach one-and-done kids. Cliff Alexander was a top five recruit that turned out to be a massive bust. He finished the season ineligible and can currently be seen in street clothes behind the Portland Trailblazer bench during playoff games. Kelly Oubre, Xavier Henry and Andrew Wiggins — and, to a point, Wayne Selden — all had solid-to-really good careers at Kansas, even if they didn’t play out quite like many Jayhawk fans were hoping. Wiggins, in particular, was a victim of his hype and a guy whose legacy in college will forever be tarnished by the fact that Joel Embiid couldn’t stay healthy.

And who can forget about Josh Selby, who was Rivals’ No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2010 that missed the first nine games of his college career, averaging 7.9 points as a freshman and, after declaring for the draft, managed a whopping 38 games in the NBA before he was forced to find work overseas. He’s now a 25-year-old playing in Turkey while guys he was ranked in front of — Kyrie Irving, Harrison Barnes, Enes Kanter — are playing critical roles on teams that have a shot to win the NBA title.

That’s why Self has the reputation that he does. That’s why there are people in recruiting circles that will tell you that Kansas doesn’t pick the kids that they want as much as they chase the highest-ranked and most talented players that Duke and Kentucky pass on.

And that’s why we have to ask the question: Is Bill Self the right man to coach Josh Jackson?

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Josh Jackson. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

And to me, the answer is yes.

The player that Jackson is inevitably going to get compared to is Wiggins. They’re both Jayhawks. They were both ranked No. 1 in their class. They’re both big, athletic wings with otherworldly physical tools and a skill-set that is both very-much developing while still being advanced enough to allow them to play as a natural wing.

But here’s the thing that you may not realize: They’ll both play with Frank Mason as their point guard, and it’s Mason that will ultimately be the difference.

The team that Wiggins played on was an example of why relying on a new youth movement every season is risky. That team’s starting lineup included three highly-touted freshmen (Wiggins, Embiid and Selden), a talented-but-promising sophomore in Ellis and a junior point guard named Naadir Tharpe, who was no where near the veteran leader or steadying point guard presence that a roster like that needed in order to succeed. In other words, that Kansas team needed Wiggins to step in and be “The Guy” and, if his career has proven anything to this point, it’s that he’s not exactly wired to be “The Guy”.

Jackson is. He’s competitive as hell, he relishes the big moment, he wants the ball in his hands. He has all of those intangibles that coaches always rave about. There are many that believe that he can be a leader at the college level in his one-and-done season, but the reason we are so bullish on Kansas is that he’s not going to have to be.

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This is going to be Frank Mason’s team. He’s the senior point guard. He’s the bulldog. He’s the guy that sets the tone for that locker room. And if he doesn’t, than Landen Lucas or Devonte’ Graham will. Svi Mykhailiuk is back. Bragg is back. Hell, even Diallo may end up coming back.

In other words, Jackson may be the best player that Kansas has on their roster. He may better Wiggins’ 17.1 points and he may be a better perimeter defender as well. Hell, he’s probably going to end up being named to a number of Preseason All-American teams, and it’s not a stretch to think he could be the Preseason Player of the Year in the Big 12.

The expectation is going to be there.

But not only is Jackson more prepared to handle those kind of expectations, the burden that comes with them is nowhere near as heavy when you’re not being asked to lead the team, the be the alpha dog, from day one as well.

And in the end, that is what is going to be the difference for Jackson.

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.