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2016-17 Season Preview: Programs on the Rise, Decline

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Beginning in September and running up until November 11th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Almost every program in the country begins the season with optimism and an idea of how the season might break their way, but the reality is that only some schools are destined to meet or exceed expectations and others are fated to fail to reach their goals.

Here’s a look at where we see 10 programs headed in the future, five that are on the rise and five that may never reach their peak again.

MORE: All-Americans | Expert Picks | A Different Grayson Allen?

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams celebrates in the final moments of the Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech NCAA basketball game in Blacksburg, Va., Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Virginia Tech won 65-63.  (AP Photo / The Roanoke Times, Matt Gentry)    LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; SALEM TIMES REGISTER OUT; FINCASTLE HERALD OUT;  CHRISTIANBURG NEWS MESSENGER OUT; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL OUT; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL OUT
Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams (AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Matt Gentry)

PROGRAMS ON THE RISE

Virginia Tech: It hasn’t been the smoothest transition for Buzz Williams in Blacksburg, but it looks as though the Hokies are now ready to take the next step forward. They’re returning the bulk of last year’s team — namely Seth Allen and Zach LeDay — that went 10-8 in the ACC, won its last five regular-season games and knocked off Florida State in the conference tournament. They also picked off a pair of top ten teams during the year in Miami and North Carolina. No one can motivate a group of players that feel disrespected for being overlooked the way that Buzz can, and that’s what he has this year.

Memphis: I don’t think anyone is expecting Tubby Smith to add to his national championship count with the Tigers, but Smith proved at Texas Tech that he’s still capable of winning more than 40 years into his career. He got the Red Raiders into the NCAA tournament, and the job in Lubbock is significantly more difficult than it is in Memphis, albeit with lower expectations. Still, expect Smith to consistently get the Tigers into the Dance and out of the malaise of the last few years of the Josh Pastner era. His public reputation is negative — part of the fallout from his split with Kentucky a decade ago — but Smith has outperformed expectations at every job that he has had throughout his career.

TCU: The Horned Frogs are dumping money into hoops to climb out of the Big 12 cellar, and early returns suggest its working. They upgraded their facilities in a big way with a $72-million arena renovation and, more importantly, went and got alum Jamie Dixon to leave a stagnant – yet successful – situation at Pitt. Dixon is a proven winner and already is pulling in four-star recruits. The dividends may not be paid in full this season, but the Frogs are on the come up in a big way.

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers have had plenty of success in their history, but it appears that first-year coach Rick Stansbury is setting things up for a major upgrade. First, he brought one-time Texas A&M Class of 2017 five-star commit Mitchell Robinson over with him and then added top-60, four-star guard Josh Anderson. There’s not a program in C-USA that can even come close to matching that kind of talent. And while the future is incredibly bright, he’s also added a number of transfers — including Providence’s Junior Lomomba and Washington State’s Que Johnson, both of whom are eligible this season — to bolster the roster this season.

Rhode Island: Last year was supposed to be a breakthrough for the Rams, but the torn ACL of E.C. Matthews derailed those dreams and stuck Rhode Island in mediocrity. Given Matthews’ talent and an almost bonus year of experience from the rest of the roster, things seem to be coalescing for Rhode Island to have a memorable – if not better – season under Dan Hurley. Their back court (Matthews, Jarvis Garrett, Jared Terrell, Stanford Robinson) is one of the best in the country.

PROGRAMS ON THE DECLINE

UNLV: It’s not like the Runnin’ Rebels were exactly killing it under Dave Rice, but they were recruiting at a level new coach Marvin Menzies isn’t likely to match. Also, the process for replacing Rice shined a light on how coaches see the UNLV job and the situation at the school. The Rick Pitino rumors never materialized and then they couldn’t pry Mick Cronin from Cincinnati before agreeing to terms with first-year Arkansas-Little Rock coach Chris Beard, whose contract wasn’t approved until two weeks later after a contentious Board of Regents vote. Then Beard bounced for Texas Tech just a couple weeks later, leaving the Rebs with Menzies and a roster that had just two scholarship players on it. The rebuild won’t be impossible, but it will take some time.

Georgetown: After four-straight seasons of being at least a top-six seed in the NCAA tournament, the Hoyas have missed the dance in two of the last three years, finishing below .500 last season for the first time since a 13-15 mark got Craig Esherick fired in 2004. The Hoyas aren’t developing their talent like we’ve seen in the past, and they’re likely to finish in the middle of the Big East pack this season, a couple of red flags that the program isn’t exactly trending upward.

Missouri: This may not even be an accurate spot for the Tigers given they’ve had just 19 wins overall and six in the SEC during Kim Anderson’s first two years in Columbia, but considering Anderson’s 2016 recruiting class didn’t feature a player ranked in the top-200 of 247Sports’ composite rankings and only one returner averaged double-digit scoring last year, rock bottom may still be looming for Missouri.

Stephen F. Austin: This one is almost just by default given the success the Lumberjacks have enjoyed in recent years. Brad Underwood is at Oklahoma State and Thomas Walkup is in the pros, and Stephen F. Austin really can’t improve one what those two accomplished together. One league loss in three years and two Southland Player of the Year awards is basically impossible to match, let alone top. New coach Kyle Keller has a great resume and tons of experience recruiting Texas, but some sort of step back seems inevitable given the heights Underwood brought to the program.

Nebraska: Tim Miles arrived with a lot of enthusiasm four years ago and Nebraska opened a $180-million arena in 2013, but the Huskers have just one NCAA tournament appearance and three losing seasons to show for it. The late grad transfer of Andrew White is a major blow, and Nebraska simply doesn’t have a ton of talent or experience on the roster, nor do they appear to be making any major gains on the recruiting trail. Simply put, Miles is finding out what all his predecessors have – it’s very hard to win in Lincoln.

Georgetown coach John Thompson III speaks before practice for an NCAA college basketball second round game in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, March 18, 2015. Georgetown plays Eastern Washington on Thursday. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Georgetown coach John Thompson III (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.