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2016-17 NEC Season Preview: Is Fairleigh Dickinson for real?

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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 college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the NEC.

The way that last season played out in the NEC was a bit of a stunner. Fairleigh Dickinson – who was coming off of a 3-15 season in the NEC, who started four sophomores and a freshman on a team with just one upperclassmen, who was picked 9th in the league’s preseason poll over hapless CCSU – went 11-7 in league play and won the NEC tournament. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more unlikely turnaround anywhere in college basketball last season, and the run shouldn’t stop there.


Because essentially everyone from that team returns. Juniors Earl Potts, Darian Anderson and Stephan Liggetts are all back, as is sophomore Mike Holloway, and those four will be the crux of the FDU attack, which was the best in the NEC offensively. Their issue was on the defensive end of the floor, where they were one of the worst teams in the country in defensive efficiency and defensive rebounding. An uptempo style of play plus an infusion of talent earned FDU a tourney bid. If they learn how to get stops as the players become veterans, the Knights might have a chance to actually win a game in March.

If FDU is the favorite to win the league, Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner shouldn’t be all that far behind. The Mount was the pick to win the league in 2015-16, but they struggled down the stretch of the season and finished in 5th play in NEC play. 5-foot-5 Junior Robinson is back, but with three of the top four scorers from last season gone, Jamion Christian’s club has some holes that will need to be filled.

Wagner, on the other hand, returns just about everyone: Michael Carey and Corey Henson both made all-NEC teams. Ramone Saunders and Mike Aaman return as well. Head coach Bashir Mason, who won his first NEC Coach of the Year award as the Seahawks won the league’s regular season title last year, added a class full of athletes to fill roles alongside their veteran core. This team has the horses to win the league again.

Bryant was expected to have a bit of a down season as they graduated three of the best players in program history the last two years, but I’m not sure anyone predicted the Bulldogs finishing ninth in the league last year. The good news is that Tim O’Shea has found his cornerstones in sophomores Nisre Zouzoua and Marcel Petteway. The bad news? They’ll likely be starting a true freshman at the point. Sacred Heart took a massive blow when Cane Broome, the NEC Player of the Year that averaged 23.1 points as a sophomore, decided to transfer to Cincinnati. With two more double-figures scorers graduation, the Pioneers will have to rely on sophomore Quincy McKnight.

LIU Brooklyn would have been considered a title contender if they hadn’t lost their starting back court, one to transfer and one to the professional ranks. Glenn Braica is a two-time NEC Coach of the Year for a reason, but with nearly two-thirds of his scoring from last season graduating, the St. Francis (NY) will have his work cut out for him. St. Francis (PA) was atop the conference at 9-4 at one point last season but lost their last six games and graduated three key seniors.

Robert Morris had a disappointing year in 2015-16 and lost their two best players to transfer. Donyell Marshall is a legend in the state, but he’ll have his work cut out for him turning around a once-proud Central Connecticut State program.

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


PRESEASON NEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Earl Potts, Fairleigh Dickinson

Potts was the leading scorer for the Knight as a sophomore last season, and not much should change this year. With the amount of talent that FDU has coming back, this could be the year that we actually predict the NEC champs correctly. If so, Potts will be their best player.


  • Michael Carey, Wager: The second-leading scorer and leading rebounder on last year’s regular season champs.
  • Corey Henson, Wagner: Likewise, Henson is the leading returning scorer on last year’s team.
  • Jerome Frink, LIU-Brooklyn: The big man averaged 16.6 points and 8.9 boards a year ago. If only the Blackbirds brought back their back court.
  • Nisre Zouzoua, Bryant: The NEC breakout star?



1. Fairleigh Dickinson
2. Wagner
3. Bryant
4. Mount St. Mary’s
5. LIU-Brooklyn
6. Sacred Heart
7. St. Francis (NY)
8. St. Francis (PA)
9. Robert Morris
10. CCSU

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.