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Southern Conference Preview: Chattanooga and East Tennessee State face off

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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 Southern Conference.

The rivalry between Chattanooga and East Tennessee State should be in full force this season as the two intra-state enemies should once again find themselves sitting atop the SoCon standings.

Chattanooga has to be considered the favorites entering the season. The Mocs went 29-6 last season. They won at Georgia, at Illinois and at Dayton. They won the SoCon regular season title at 15-3. They won the SoCon tournament title, beating ETSU in the process. They not only return four starters from last year’s team – including Tre’ McLean and Justin Tuoyo, who were all-league players last year – as well as Casey Jones, who was the 2015 SoCon Player of the Year and the 2016 Preseason SoCon Player of the Year before a dislocated ankle ended his season in December.

Think about that for a second. The Mocs did their majority of their damage last season without the guy the coaches thought would be the best player in the conference. And now he’s back, along with basically everyone else. Matt McCall will likely start his coaching career with two straight league titles.

But Steve Forbes and East Tennessee State won’t roll over easily, you can be sure of that. It wasn’t the least bit surprising that he was able to churn out a 24-12 season and a second-place finish in the league in his first year as head coach, mainly because he was able to stock the roster with high-major talent. This year, he adds former Indiana big man Hanner Mosquera-Perea and former Wichita State big man Tevin Glass to another former Hoosier, 7-footer Peter Jurkin. Throw in the return of all-SoCon guard T.J. Cromer and the addition of a handful of JuCon guards, including two JuCo all-americans, and the Bucs will be loaded as well.

Furman lost league Player of the Year Stephen Croome, but the Palladins return four starters from a team that won 11 league games. Niko Medved’s team should be in the mix to finish top four. Mercer lost a trio of starters from a team that finished 8-10 and dealt with the murder of a player in the middle of the season. It isn’t wise to bet against Bob Hoffman, especially when he adds the kind of JuCo talent he’s bringing in this year, but the death of a teammate is not easy to overcome.

Mike Young is one of the best coaches at the mid-major level, but after consecutive years of losing strong senior classes, it’s caught up to hi at Wofford. Fletcher MaGee is the Terrier to keep an eye on. Wes Miller has continually lost talented transfers, but this seems to be the year where UNC Greensboro has some stability. They bring back four starters from a team that won 10 games in the league.

Samford is the team to keep an eye on in the league. Christen Cunningham returns to provide a veteran scoring presence while Scott Padgett adds quite a bit of high-major talent: three high-major transfers will be eligible to play this year. Throw in a talented freshman class, and the Bulldogs have some potential.

Western Carolina graduated a four-man senior class that averaged a combined 52 points last season. The Citadel scores a ton of points but allowed an average of 92.6 points per game last season. Butler put 144 points on them. VMI struggled to adjust to new head coach Dan Earl, who replaced Duggar Baucom (who took over at The Citadel), but Q.J. Peterson might be the best scorer in the league.

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

 

PRESEASON SOCON PLAYER OF THE YEAR: T.J. Cromer, East Tennessee State

Chattanooga has three players on their roster capable of winning the SoCon Player of the Year award. So assuming they cancel each other out, we’re going to go with Cromer, who should be the best player on an ETSU team that can push for the SoCon title.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SOCON TEAM:

  • Justin Tuoyo, Chattanooga: He’s the best defensive presence around the rim in the league.
  • Casey Jones, Chattanooga: The 2015 SoCon Player of the Year. Is he healthy?
  • Tre’ McClean, Chattanooga: He was the best player for the Mocs last season.
  • Q.J. Peterson, VMI: VMI should be better. Peterson will probably still average 20 point.s

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Chattanooga
2. East Tennessee State
3. UNC Greensboro
4. Mercer
5. Samford
6. Furman
7. Wofford
8. VMI
9. Western Carolina
10. The Citadel

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.