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Looking Forward: Here’s what the AAC has in store for the 2016-17 season

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the AAC over the next six months. 

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

Tubby at Memphis: Even with a national championship on his resume, Tubby Smith is not a flashy hire. He is, however, a substantive one. Smith looked like he was going out to pasture by taking the Texas Tech job after getting the boot from Minnesota, but instead of cashing paychecks and treading water, Smith won in Lubbock like no one thought he could, getting, franking, a relatively untalented team to the NCAA tournament last year. He’s not going to be flashy at Memphis, but odds are he’s going to win.

SMU coming off postseason ban: The Mustangs won their first 18 games of the 2015-16 season, but of course few cared or paid attention because of the postseason been levied by the NCAA right before the start of the season. It robbed an extremely talented squad the chance to play on the sport’s biggest stage. Larry Brown, though, is back to lead SMU, albeit one without the firepower. It’ll be interesting to see how the Mustangs respond with a chip on their shoulder.

Mike Dunleavy to Tulane: Anytime you can get a 62-year-old who has never coached in college and last roamed a sideline six years ago, you’ve got to do it, right? At least that was Tulane’s thinking when it hired Dunleavy, who hadn’t coached since leaving the Clippers in 2010. He’s certainly accomplished at the pro level, but the transition to a program that hasn’t been to the tournament in 20 years is no doubt going to be a difficult one.

Houston rising?: Year 2 of the Kelvin Sampson era saw the Cougars improve from 13 to 22 wins and flirt with an NCAA tournament berth. Yes, they lose productive big bam Devonta Pollard, but nearly everyone else of consequence is back this season. Plus, Sampson has Houston in the running for in-state five star 6-foot-10 recruit Jarrett Allen. The Cougars will have to beat out the likes of Kansas and Texas to get him, but if Allen heads to Houston, watch out.

Mick Cronin stays put: There was a time this spring when it looked like Mick Cronin was going to part ways with the Bearcats after a decade with the school as he more than flirted with the prospect of leaving for UNLV. In the end he stayed and Cincinnati is better for it, especially as it tries to wedge itself into the Big 12 expansion discussion. Cronin himself might be the biggest recruit the Bearcats got this offseason.

     RELATED: Coaches on the Hot Seat | Coaching Carousel Winners, Losers

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NOTABLE NEWCOMERS

Alterique Gilbert and Juwan Durham, UConn: The headliners of Kevin Ollie’s top-10 recruiting class, Gilbert and Durham are both consensus top-50 recruits. Gilbert is a 5-foot-10 point guard while Durham is a 6-foot-11 forward. They’ll help ease the loss of Daniel Hamilton, Shonn Miller, Sterling Gibbs and, if he remains in the NBA Draft, Amida Brimah.

Ted Kapita, SMU: The one positive of SMU’s getting its postseason ban in place immediately last season is that it allowed Brown and his staff to still accumulate a solid 2016 class. Kapita (6-8), who got suckered in by the AmeriLeague, is heading back to the collegiate ranks.

Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati: The Bearcats will be adding the 6-foot-4 guard to a backcourt that already has Troy Caupain to make for a formidable group.

Christian Kessee, Memphis: The former Coppin State guard joins the Tigers as a graduate transfer coming off a junior season that saw him put up 14.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

Daniel Hamilton, UConn: Hamilton decided early on to hire an agent rather than go through the NBA Draft process without one, but a poor showing at the combine means the already fringe prospect could very well go undrafted.

Adonys Henriquez, UCF: The 6-foot-6 forward averaged over 30 minutes a game in both his seasons for the Knights and was the third-leading scoring on the team last year with 10.1 ppg while shooting 35.8 percent from 3-point range. He ended up at St. Louis.

L.J. Rose, Houston: A foot injury limited Rose to just two games last year, and he elected to move on as a graduate transfer, looking for his third school of his career.

     RELATED: Looking Forward Big 12 | ACC | A-10 | Big East | Big Ten

COACHING CHANGES

  • Tubby Smith, Memphis: As so often goes in coaching changes, Smith is about the opposite of his predecessor, Josh Pastner. Smith is a seasoned head coaching vet, getting first D1 head job 25 years ago, and probably won’t reel in too many five-star recruits, but the guys he’ll get, he’ll coach up. It might not be the most natural of fits, but Smith proved at Texas Tech he’s still got what it takes to win high-stakes basketball.
  • Mike Dunleavy, Tulane: One of the more shocking hires of the silly season, Dunleavy brings with him name recognition and instant credibility after having a lengthy NBA coaching career. Still, there’s more questions than answers here as the 62-year-old has never coached in the college game and hasn’t coached at all in five years. First-year Tulane athletic Troy Dannen took a big swing here, and it’ll be interesting to see where it lands.
  • Johnny Dawkins, UCF: The Knights have won just 15 AAC games in the three seasons since they moved to the league, and turn to Dawkins to try to acclimate the program to the league. He had an eight-season run at Stanford that saw the Cardinal reach the Sweet 16 in 2014, but it was their only tournament appearance during his tenure. It will be be interesting to see how Dawkins recruits, coming back to the east coast for the first time since leaving Mike Krzyzewski and Duke in 2008 and at a school with much less exacting academic standards.
Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin, AP Photo
Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin, AP Photo

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Troy Caupain (Cincinnati): Player of the Year
Dedric Lawson (Memphis)
Gary Clark (Cincinnati)
Daymean Dotson (Houston)
Christian Keese (Memphis)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEETS

  1. Cincinnati: The losses of Octavius Ellis and Farad Cobb hurt, but Troy Caupain and Gary Clark are back, as is Mick Cronin, making the Bearcats a formidable group.
  2. UConn: The Huskies played their way into the NCAA tournament late last year and even with the loss of Daniel Hamilton, they should pick up where they left off with a heralded recruiting class.
  3. Houston: If the Cougars land Allen, this might be selling them short, but even if they don’t, they’ve got a solid core to build from with three returning starters on the perimeter to improve on last year’s 23-win campaign.
  4. SMU: The Mustangs suffered significant losses, namely point guard Nic Moore, but there’s enough coming back to Dallas to think Larry Brown’s group can still hang with the league.
  5. Memphis: The Tigers have plenty of talent with Dedric Lawson and Christian Keese, and you can bet on Tubby Smith getting the most out of them.
  6. Temple: The Owls are the defending league champions, but without Quenton DeCosey, Jaylen Bond and Devin Coleman, they’ll come back to the pack.
  7. Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane made the NCAA tournament last year, but they say goodbye to seven seniors off that team.
  8. East Carolina: B.J. Tyson’s continued development after a season in which he  scored 14.6 ppg on 42.0 percent shooting will be a big factor in where the Pirates land come March.
  9. UCF: Johnny Dawkins may find himself in a difficult position early on in Orlando, but there are some pieces there.
  10. South Florida: Orlando Antigua has managed just 17 wins in two years since taking over the Bulls program, and this year could be a struggle as well.
  11. Tulane: It was an unconventional and outside the box hire by the Green Wave, but expect Mike Dunleavy’s tenure to begin like most do: with losses.

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.