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Big Ten basketball makes itself at home on East Coast

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WASHINGTON — The Big Ten Conference displayed its broader footprint Thursday with a landmark visit to the nation’s capital.

All the league’s men’s basketball coaches and many of the best players gathered for the first Big Ten Media Day held on the East Coast. Even more significant: The conference tournament will take place in Washington from March 8-12.

The addition of Maryland and Rutgers has enabled the Big Ten widen its scope. Although the conference has maintained its deep roots in the Midwest, the league has an office in New York and its annual tournament is on the move. In addition to setting up shop in at Verizon Center next March, the Big Ten will decide its 2018 champion at Madison Square Garden.

“It really is an example of a traditional conference that continues to change,” Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said. “Our actions are aligned with our plans. This is a very important part of the country for us.”

The league’s basketball coaches seemed enthused about the shift in the conference landscape.

“It’s great for us to branch out,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “We recruit in this area. Our alums are in this area, and we’re just excited about this new opportunity that we have to play and to be here today in D.C.”

Michigan coach John Beilein said: “It really is something really unique, to be able to do this. I think it’s a fantastic idea. When I walk out on these streets in Washington and in New York, the amount of `Go Blues’ I hear is incredible.”

Some things to know about the upcoming basketball season:

THE FAVORITE

Wisconsin has the bulk of its roster back, including Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Nigel Hayes, which makes it the team to beat.

“Each team has lost some key people, whether it be an Indiana or even a Purdue,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Wisconsin has lost the least. So I think everybody has picked them to win it, and rightfully so.”

This was the first media day for Badgers coach Greg Gard, who took over last December after Bo Ryan announced his retirement.

REPLACING YOGI

Defending Big Ten champion Indiana will need to find a replacement for Yogi Ferrell, a four-year starter at point guard and the school’s career assists leader. Unfortunately, the heir apparent is still recovering from knee surgery.

“If there was one guy that was going to be that guy, it would probably be Collin Hartman because of his experience,” coach Tom Crean said. “But he has to do that from the sideline now, so what we have to get is responsibility for one another.”

FEELING MELO

Maryland’s best returning player is guard Melo Trimble, who opted to stay for his junior season rather than enter the NBA draft.

“He is at great peace,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “I think all along Melo wanted to stay. He knew it was the best thing for him, and he’s been very happy since he made that decision.”

Trimble is the lone returning starter from a team that reached the Sweet 16 last season. He led the Terrapins in scoring and assists.

BRING IT ON

Purdue has an ambitious non-conference schedule that includes games against defending NCAA champion Villanova, Notre Dame and Louisville. Coach Matt Painter hopes those matchups – and a preseason scrimmage with ball-hawking West Virginia – will help his team overcome its most glaring weakness of last season.

“We struggled after getting leads in late games and taking care of the basketball,” he said.

THE ROOKIE

Rutgers first-year coach Steve Pikiell knows he’s got quite a task trying to rebuild the program. Rutgers finished 1-17 in league play and is an overwhelming pick to come in last again.

“I’ve talked about this from the first day I got the job, about embracing the challenge,” he said. “We’re trying to change the culture here.”

BEST OF THE BUNCH

Hayes was also a unanimous selection to the preseason All-Big Ten team by media that cover the league. He is joined on the team by Badgers teammates Ethan Happ and Bronson Koenig, Trimble, Illinois’ Malcolm Hill, Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. and Thomas Bryant, Iowa’s Peter Jok, Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan.

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.