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College Basketball’s Top Backcourts

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The most difficult thing to do when putting together a list of the nation’s best back courts if figuring out who, exactly, belongs listed as a member of the back court. 

Take Brandon Ingram, for example. Last season, he played the four for Duke, typically lining up alongside Marshall Plumlee on the Blue Devil front line. But given his skill-set and his physical tools, he natural position is probably as a three. Then if you actually go back and watch the film, the role he played was essentially as a scoring guard, a two. 

Positionless basketball, by definition, makes identifying positions a nightmare. 

So we worked through a lot of these. Duke’s Jayson Tatum is listed as a guard because we expect him to play the way Ingram did last season. Villanova’s Josh Hart is in our back court rankings because, like Kansas’ Josh Jackson, his ability to rebound doesn’t change the fact that he is true wing. Hart’s teammate, Kris Jenkins, is more of a small-ball four and a mismatch in the front court, which is more or less the same way we view Dillon Brooks.

With that in mind, let’s get to our list of the top 15 back courts in the country.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

1. Duke (Grayson Allen, Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard, Frank Jackson, Matt Jones)

I have concerns about the point guard situation with the Blue Devils. I’ve written about that numerous times. There is no true point guard on the roster, just a bunch of guards that are at their best with the ball in their hands as they look to get their’s; a group of players that are extremely talented but that can struggle handling the ball if pressured. But at some point, you have to simply look at the talent and realize when picking nits is silly to do. Grayson Allen averaged 3.5 assists last season, spent the summer working on becoming a better playmaker and, with more talent around him, won’t have to look to score quite as often. Luke Kennard had twice as many assists as turnovers as a freshman. Frank Jackson was recruited as a point guard, even if he is still in the process of learning the position.

The point is this: Duke has their flaws, but at some point you have to look at the amount of talent on display. The Blue Devils have two potential first-team all-americans in their back court, one of whom was the NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year and the other of whom could be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. No one else can say that.

2. Kansas (Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Josh Jackson, Svi Mykhailiuk, LeGerald Vick)

The Jayhawks slide into the No. 2 spot in these rankings by a fairly significant margin, largely due to the fact that we are considering Josh Jackson as a member of the back court. Jackson is big enough and tough enough that he could see some time at the four in small-ball lineups for Kansas, but considering that his long-term future is as a two-guard and that he is an excellent passer that can operate in pick-and-rolls, we see him as a perimeter weapon.

Jackson is another potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, and when you combine him with the veteran duo of Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, what you’re left with is the best perimeter defensive team in the country. Mason may be the toughest point guard in the country, Graham is a point guard by trade that has taken well to playing off the ball and Jackson is, well, a monster. If Svi Mylhailiuk, a junior who is four months younger than Jackson, reaches his potential, look out.

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots the ball against Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats in the second half during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Frank Mason III and Josh Hart (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

3. Villanova (Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Eric Paschall)

This Villanova perimeter is really exciting because of their versatility. There’s a real possibility that the Wildcats put a lineup on the floor with three 6-foot-7ish wings, Jalen Brunson at the point and Kris Jenkins at the five; the Villanova Death Lineup, if you will. Jay Wright has thrived when he’s had a roster that included a tough, intelligent point guard and a myriad of versatile wings, which includes all-american Josh Hart. Think about it like this: the Wildcats are the most likely team to repeat as champs since Florida did in 2007, and that’s despite the fact their best big man is Darryl Reynolds. That’s how good this back court is.

4. N.C. State (Dennis Smith Jr., Torin Dorn, Terry Henderson, Maverick Rowan, Markell Johnson)

I’ll freely admit that the Wolfpack are here because Dennis Smith Jr. has a chance to be something special this season. He should be better than Cat Barber, who averaged 23.5 points, 4.6 boards and 4.5 assists last year, and he’ll have a better supporting cast. Maverick Rowan, who averaged 12.9 points as a freshman, returns while Terry Henderson is finally healthy and Torin Dorn is eligible after redshirting last season. I have no idea what to make of this Wolfpack team, but if they struggle this season, it will not be because they lacked perimeter weapons.

5. Creighton (Maurice Watson Jr., Marcus Foster, Ronnie Harrell Jr., Davion Mintz, Isaiah Zierdan, Khyri Thomas, Kobe Paras)

I love this Creighton group mainly because I love the duo of Maurice Watson Jr. and Marcus Foster. Watson is a redshirt senior and one of the best point guards in college basketball. Foster? He had a monster freshman season at Kansas State before a disappointing sophomore campaign resulted in him transferring out of the program. He’s had a year to stew while sitting out at Creighton, meaning that he should come back in shape and angry this season.

6. Kentucky (De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe, Dominique Hawkins)

There is no questioning the talent of this group. De’Aaron Fox is probably the best on-ball defender in the country and Malik Monk is one of the most entertaining players you’ll see this year. The issue is going to be perimeter shooting. Monk is inconsistent and something of a gunner. Isaiah Briscoe shot 13 percent from three last season. Dominique Hawkins shot 27 percent. Fox has never been known as a good perimeter shooter.

7. Louisville (Donovan Mitchell, Quentin Snider, Deng Adel, Tony Hicks)

This ranking, and Louisville’s spot in our preseason top 25, is a direct result of what we thing two of these kids will turn into. Donovan Mitchell is going to be on everyone’s list of this season’s breakout stars while Deng Adel may actually be the most talented player on the roster.

8. Xavier (Edmond Sumner, Trevon Bluiett, Myles Davis, Quentin Goodin, J.P. Macura)

Edmond Sumner burst onto the scene last season with a tremendous redshirt freshman year. His knee troubles were behind him and he had grown to an explosive, 6-foot-6 lead guard. If he, and J.P. Macura, can both take a step forward, Chris Mack will have all the pieces he needs to make a run at Villanova assuming Trevon Bluiett keeps playing at an all-Big East level.

9. UCLA (Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford, Aaron Holiday, Isaac Hamilton, Prince Ali)

The Bruins fall somewhere in between talent and performance. On paper, their back court belongs in the top three. Lonzo Ball might end up being the second-coming of Jason Kidd while Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton combined for 35 points and nine assists last season, and that’s before you consider Aaron Holiday. On the floor, they struggled to defend and churned out a losing season last year.

Lonzo Ball (UCLA Athletics)
Lonzo Ball (UCLA Athletics)

10. Gonzaga (Nigel Williams-Goss, Josh Perkins, Jordan Mathews, Silas Melson, Zach Norvell Jr.)

Josh Perkins and Silas Melson were the starting back court for the Zags in last year’s run to the Sweet 16. They’ll likely be coming off the bench this season as Nigel Williams-Goss, a former first-team all-Pac 12 point guard, and Jordan Mathews, who averaged 13 points and shot 41 percent from three for Cal the last two years, join the fray.

11. Rhode Island (E.C. Matthews, Jarvis Garrett, Stanford Robinson, Jared Terrell)

This all depends on how well E.C. Matthews recovers from his torn ACL. If he’s back to 100 percent, he’s a potential Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and URI is probably too low on this list. If he goes through the Jamaal Charles recovery process, the Rams are probably not going to be as good as some may expect them to be. The truth, like this ranking, is probably somewhere in the middle.

12. Arizona (Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Kadeem Allen)

The Wildcats have quite a bit of talent in the back court even with Terrence Ferguson’s departure for Australia. Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons are all big time talents. The question is going to be how they fit together on the floor at the same time. Are there enough shots to go around?

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13. North Carolina (Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson, Nate Britt, Kenny Williams, Theo Pinson, Seventh Woods, Brandon Robinson)

Maybe I’m just down on this group because they’re all mostly know commodities. Maybe I’m just not seeing the upside. I don’t know. Unless Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson take major steps forward as juniors, I just don’t see what there is here to get excited about.

14. Iowa State (Monte’ Morris, Naz Long, Matt Thomas, Donovan Jackson, Nick Weiler-Babb)

For my money, Monte’ Morris is one of the two or three best lead guards in all of college basketball. That’s why the Cyclones made this list despite Morris sharing the floor with a bunch of guys that don’t really move the needle. He makes them good enough to be relevant.

15. Maryland (Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Kevin Huerter, Jared Nickens, Anthony Cowan)

Like Morris, I am very high on Melo Trimble. He’s not quite as good as getting other people involved, but he will be on a mission after a disappointing sophomore season. He also has a better supporting cast that some may realize. That includes Anthony Cowan, who will allow Trimble to spend some time playing off the ball.

Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)
Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)

ALSO CONSIDERED

  • Florida State (Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon, Terance Mann, C.J. Walker, Trent Forrest, Patrick Savoy Jr.)
  • Miami (Ja’Quan Newton, Davon Reed, Rashad Muhammad, Bruce Brown, Anthony Lawrence, Dejan Vasiljevic)
  • Oklahoma State (Jawun Evans, Phil Forte III, Davon Dillard, Leyton Hammonds, Tavarius Shine)
  • Oregon (Dylan Ennis, Tyler Dorsey, Payton Pritchard, Casey Benson, Keith Smith)
  • Saint Mary’s (Emmett Naar, Joe Rahon)
  • SDSU (Trey Kell, Montaque Gill-Cesear, Jeremy Helmsley, Max Hoetzel, Matt Shrigley)
  • South Carolina (P.J. Dozier, Sindarius Thornwell, TeMarcus Blanton, Duane Notice, Justin McKie)
  • Syracuse (John Gillon, Andrew White, Franklin Howard, Tyus Battle)
  • UConn (Jalen Adams, Rodney Purvis, Alterique Gilbert, Terry Larrier, Vance Jackson, Christian Vital)
  • USC (Jordan McLaughlin, Shaqquan Aaron, Elijah Stewart, Deanthony Melton, Jonah Mathews)
  • Virginia (London Perrantes, Devon Hall, Darius Thompson, Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, Marial Shayok)
  • Washington (Markelle Fultz, David Crisp, Matisse Thybulle, Dominic Green, Bitumba Baruti)

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

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

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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.