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CAA Season Preview: UNC Wilmington looks to defend their crown

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

Today, we are previewing the CAA.

Here’s a fun stat for you to think about: Kevin Keatts has been a collegiate head coach for just two years, both coming at UNC Wilmington. And in both years, he was named the CAA Coach of the Year. What he’s done to turn the Seahawk program around has been terrific to watch, and if it wasn’t for the scandal currently looming over the Louisville basketball program, where Keatts was an assistant to Rick Pitino, he may not be in Wilmington anymore.

Keatts has the Seahawks playing a style similar to that of Shaka Smart when he was at VCU. They press, they trap, they run, they get up threes. They’re fun, they’re intense, and they return their best player, Chris Flemmings, a Division II transfer that was a walk-on last season. Senior point guard Denzel Ingram is back as well, as is C.J. Bryce, a wing that averaged 10.1 points and 4.2 boards as a freshman last season. With the way that Keatts’ teams play, however, the names aren’t as important as the waves. They’re deep, they’re in incredible shape and they’re going to keep coming at you. Ask Duke, who trailed the Seahawks at halftime and needed more than 38 minutes to finally put UNCW away in the NCAA tournament last season.

Hofstra will be the home of the most impactful player in the conference in Rokas Gustys. A hoss on the block, Gustys averaged 13.1 points and 13.0 boards last season, at one point recording back-to-back 20-point, 20-rebound games. The Pride will be running their offense through him as much as possible because Gustys, along with sharpshooter Brian Bernardi, are the only two returning starters. Hofstra loses a lot of talent and three players that started every game last year. Joe Mihalich has some players on his roster that can fill the void, but they are young, inexperienced or unproven at the CAA level.

Because of that, UNCW’s biggest challenger to CAA supremacy could end up being Towson. Pat Skerry may have his best team since arriving in Maryland, as Arnaud William Adala Moto, Mike Morsell and John Davis are all capable of carrying the team on a given night. All three could end up being all-CAA performers. They’ll have to replace point guard Byron Hawkins, but Eddie Keith II and Brian Starr should be able to fill the void. The issue with the Tigers last season was consistency and perimeter shooting. Some nights Adala Moto looked like he belonged back in the ACC, and others he looked like he was over his head in the CAA. Some nights Towson could beat UNCW by 16, some nights they struggled to crack 40 points.

Another team to keep an eye on is College of Charleston. The Cougars had a weird year in 2015-16, as they were ravaged by injuries while still managing to churn out an 8-10 finish in league play. Canyon Berry, the team’s most dangerous scorer, graduated and transferred to Florida, but Earl Grant returns plenty of perimeter weapons. Sophomore Jarrell Brantley and Marquise Pointer and juniors Joe Chealey and Cameron Johnson are back, while redshirt freshman Grant Riller is now healthy. There are question marks in the front court, which was young last season and will be young again this season, but there is a promising core available. Charleston’s best days may be a year away, but they should be competitive enough to make a push at a league title anyway.

William & Mary will have to replace leader Terry Tarpey, but with potential CAA Player of the Year Omar Prewitt back in the fold and Daniel Dixon and David Cohn returning to a team that won 11 league games, the Tribe should be right back in the mix for the top four. Their issue will be defensively, where the Tribe struggled and where Tarpey excelled.

Betting against Bill Coen and Northeastern is usually foolish, but replacing two guys as good as Quincy Ford (who signed a three-year deal with the Utah Jazz) and David Walker (who will play in Spain’s Liga ACB) is not easy at this level. James Madison‘s first-year head coach Louis Rowe will return four starters and eight rotations guys, but he lost all-CAA point guard Ronald Curry. Elon is entertaining to watch because of their style and they’re dangerous because of their ability to make threes, but they aren’t consistently good enough to win games in the CAA.

Delaware went two months between firing Monte’ Ross and hiring Martin Inglesby, and while they were crushed in the media and lost a number of key pieces to transfer, the good news is that Inglesby was able to convince enough players to return that the Blue Hens should still be better than Drexel.

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

 

PRESEASON CAA PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Chris Flemmings, UNC Wilmington

Flemmings was the best player on UNCW last season, and I see no reason that will change this year. He may not put up the best statistics in the league this year, but with the Seahawks looking like the clear favorite to win the league, he deserves this award.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-CAA TEAM:

  • Rokas Gustys, Hofstra: There may not be a better mid-major big man in the country. The key for Gustys this year? Make better than 43 percent of his free throws. Hack-a-Rokas is a real possibility.
  • Omar Prewitt, William & Mary: Prewitt averaged more than 17 points for the Tribe last season.
  • Arnaud William Adala Moto, Towson: He may be the most talented player in the league, but he doesn’t always play like it on a night-to-night basis.
  • Jarrell Brantley, Charleston: He has a chance to have a breakout sophomore season the same way that Charleston has a chance to sneak into the CAA’s top three.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @CAABasketball

PREDICTED FINISH

1. UNC Wilmington
2. Towson
3. College of Charleston
4. William & Mary
5. Hofstra
6. James Madison
7. Northeastern
8. Elon
9. Delaware
10. Drexel

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.