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Looking Forward: Here’s what the offseason holds in store for the SEC

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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 SEC over the next six months. 


Can anyone in the SEC actually challenge Kentucky?: I’m not talking about challenging them for an SEC title, because that’s more or less off the table in my mind. Assuming the Wildcats stay healthy — and probably even if they don’t — I think you can pretty much write in Kentucky as the 2017 SEC regular season champs, and you can do it in pen.

I wonder if there is another team in this conference that can actually beat Kentucky, period. I don’t think the SEC is “bad” — we’ll get to that in a second — but the gap between Kentucky and whoever you think will finish second in the conference is wider than the gap between that second-place team and the team destined to finish in eighth. Some teams are just young, others lose large numbers of key pieces, and others just don’t have the pedigree or the coaching to realistically threaten a team that can win a national title.

In fact, I think you can make the argument that Kentucky is far more likely to go 40-0 this season than Duke is simply because the schedule they play is much easier.

The SEC balanced at least: And that’s why I hesitate to call the conference bad. The way the league shakes out, there may not be another team capable of getting to the Sweet 16. But there are 10 other teams in the conference that could make the NCAA tournament and I wouldn’t be surprised. There are five or six teams that could finish second in the SEC regular season standings and I wouldn’t be surprised. Kentucky is clearly the best team in the conference and Missouri is, by far, the worst, but I don’t think it’s crazy to think that the other 12 teams in the league could all end up finishing somewhere between 12-6 and 7-11 in the league.

When will the infusion of coaching talent payoff?: Prior to last season, that was the big story line in the conference. The SEC had made it clear that they wanted their member schools to take basketball more seriously. Invest money, schedule better, etc. And after Bruce Pearl was hired in 2014, the 2015 Coaching Carousel saw Ben Howland, Rick Barnes and Avery Johnson join the conference. But here’s the thing: Those four coaches I just mentioned finished 10th-13th in the league.

Howland seems to have things headed in the right direction on the recruiting trail, as does Pearl. Barnes and Johnson actually outperformed expectations last season. But results are what matters, and those four are not getting results yet. How long will we have to wait for them to make their programs relevant nationally?

How is Johnny Jones still employed?: Last season was a disappointing one for the SEC, but no one was more disappointing than Jones and LSU. He took a vaunted recruiting class led by potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and coached them right out of the postseason. Simmons quit by the end of the year, putting in as much effort defensively as I do at paying attention to Milan’s fashion trends, and Jones only further sullied a reputation that wasn’t exactly sparkling to begin with.

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

LSU basketball head coach Johnny Jones speaks during media day, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 in Baton Rouge, La. (Travis Spradling/The Advocate via AP)
LSU basketball head coach Johnny Jones (Travis Spradling/The Advocate via AP)


  • Kentucky’s class: The Wildcats did not get Marques Bolden last week, but that doesn’t change the fact that they, once again, have an absolutely star-studded recruiting class. De’Aaron Fox may be the best point guard in a ridiculous corp of point guards, Malik Monk is one of the most entertaining freshman to enter college hoops in recent memory and Bam Adebayo is a freak athlete and finisher at the rim that Kentucky lacked in their front court last season. Throw in Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones, two more five-star freshmen, and there’s a reason the Wildcats are sitting at No. 2 nationally in our preseason top 25.
  • Mustapha Heron, Auburn: Heron is Bruce Pearl’s first five-star recruit with Auburn, and it signifies a bit of a change within the makeup of his roster. Most of the transfers that Pearl landed as make-shift parts when he took the job are gone. He now has a young group with a good amount of talent to work with. Can Heron be the guy that he builds his team around?
  • Schnider Herard and Mario Kegler, Mississippi State: Herard and Kegler are the big names — and big men — in a class that includes six four-star recruits. Adding them to the talented guards that the Bulldogs return means that Ben Howland has a stable of young talent. It feels like they’re a year away still, but it felt like they were five years away when Howland took over.
  • Cullen Neal, Ole Miss: Neal is a volume shooter and a big time scorer that is eligible immediately and can play the next two seasons. He’ll fill some of the scoring void left by Stefan Moody’s graduation.
  • Canyon Barry, Florida: Berry, who is the final son of Rick Barry to matriculate through the college ranks, heads to the SEC as a grad transfer after averaging nearly 20 points at Charleston. He’ll be an impact offensive weapon, likely off the bench, for the Gators.


  • Malik Newman, Mississippi State: Newman has yet to sign with an agent and still may return to the Bulldogs. He’s deciding between being a potential second round pick and a sophomore in college. The biggest reason I’m including him here is because I wanted to write a bit more about MSU. Newman wasn’t the best freshman guard on the Bulldogs last season. Quinndary Weatherspoon was. And while Howland’s club loses Craig Sword and Gavin Ware, they bring back senior point guard I.J. Ready, Weatherspoon and, potentially, Newman, combining them with a slew of talented freshmen and sophomore big men. I like where Howland has this program headed.

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


Bryce Drew, Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt finally cut ties with Kevin Stallings after 17 seasons, as the former ‘Dores coach took over for Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh earlier this spring. This opened the door for Drew, the younger brother of Baylor’s Scott Drew and the hero of this infamous March moment, to finally make the jump to the high-major ranks after a terrific five-year run at Valparaiso. He won four Horizon League regular season titles and reached two NCAA tournaments in five seasons. He’s long been considered one of the best young coaches in the mid-major ranks, and Vandy should consider themselves lucky to have landed him.

Arkansas' Moses Kingsley (33) shoots a basket over South Carolina's Laimonas Chatkevicius (14) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, March 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Sarah Bentham)
Arkansas’ Moses Kingsley (AP Photo/Sarah Bentham)


De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky (Player of the Year)
Malik Monk, Kentucky
KeVaughn Allen, Florida
Yante’ Maten, Georgia
Moses Kingsley, Arkansas


1. Kentucky: The Wildcats are so far ahead of the rest of the conference it’s absurd. The toughest decision was figuring out with player should be POY.

2. Georgia: J.J. Frazier and Yante’ Maten will be the best 1-2 punch in the SEC this side of Lexington. Is this the year for Mark Fox makes a statement?

3. Florida: Mike White returns a young, talented core that’s a perfect fit for his style of play. How much of a leap will Allen and Robinson make?

4. Texas A&M: I love the young talent on Billy Kennedy’s roster, but it feels like they’re a year away after losing House, Caruso, Jones and Collins.

5. South Carolina: Martin loses his front line, but Thornwell returns and he has some solid young pieces. How much of a sophomore leap does Dozier make?

6. Mississippi State: This might be a stretch, but if Newman returns, I think Howland can coach up his young talent by the time league play comes around.

7. Ole Miss: Kennedy restocks his roster with some transfers, but I’m not sure people really appreciated just how good Moody was. Front line an issue.

8. Arkansas: Mike Anderson has talent on his roster. I do not trust Mike Anderson to be able to win with talent on his roster. Top four team on paper.

9. LSU: Slotting LSU behind Arkansas should tell you how I feel about Johnny Jones. Antonio Blakeney should put up big numbers as a sophomore.

10. Vanderbilt: Losing Baldwin and Jones would be tough for any coach to overcome. Drew will make Vandy competitive in time.

11. Auburn: Pearl is starting to amass some high-end talent, but they’re young and there isn’t much depth on the roster. A year or two away.

12. Tennessee: Rick Barnes had his guys playing hard despite being severely undersized last season. Losing Kevin Punter (22 ppg) certainly doesn’t help.

13. Alabama: Losing Obasohan hurts. Losing Terrence Ferguson’s commitment may hurt more. Tide closer to top half of league than Missouri.

14. Missouri: It should tell you something that in a league as mediocre as the SEC, the easiest decision to make was putting Missouri in last place.

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.