Markelle Fultz, via UW Athletics

College Basketball’s Impact Freshmen

Leave a comment

The recent trend in college basketball dictates that five-star freshmen are potential one-and-done players who have a chance to be a major impact at the college level right away.

This season will be no different.

In fact, this is one of the deepest freshmen classes in terms of five-star talent over the last 20 years. While there are no LeBron or Kevin Durant megastar type of prospects, this year’s crop of freshmen should be a major boost to college basketball.

Since the class includes so many dynamic lead guards who will be given the ball right away, it will be especially fun to track those dudes this season.

Helpful hint for college basketball fans looking to watch the best freshmen: stay up late for the Pac-12 — or set your DVR — because Duke and Kentucky aren’t the only programs with freshmen to watch this season.

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

Subscribe to the CBT Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or Audioboom

TEN NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW: These are the studs, the best players in the class, the guys that are going to be at the top of draft boards and in the all-american conversation all season long.

1. Markelle Fultz, Washington: No freshman might be asked to do more than this 6-foot-4 guard who will be given the ball for a young Washington team. Fultz went from missing the varsity team at DeMatha as a sophomore to now being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft as he combines an advanced scoring acumen with ridiculous amounts of perimeter skill. With deep range, crafty ball handling, slick passes and a unique style of play, Fultz will have plenty of highlight-reel plays this season.

2. Josh Jackson, Kansas: Stepping into an ideal situation at Kansas is the 6-foot-7 Jackson as he’ll join Frank Mason and Devonte Graham to form one of the country’s best perimeter defenses. An alpha male who isn’t intimidated by the spotlight, Jackson is a ridiculous athlete who can score, rebound, pass and defend. Unlike Andrew Wiggins, who was timid at times during his freshman year, Jackson should be charged up to go right away and his production could be the key to a potential Kansas title team.

3. Dennis Smith, N.C. State: It’s going to be fascinating to see how the 6-foot-2 point guard looks this season after he enrolled early last season to help recover from a torn ACL. If the preseason videos and hype are any indication, Smith could be the most important freshman in the country and he has a lot of weapons at his disposal. An expert in the pick-and-roll or operating in transition, Smith is going to have some huge dunks this season. Some are saying he’s the Pack’s most talented freshman since David Thompson.

LEAGUE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten | SECMid-Majors

Jayson Tatum (photo courtesy Duke Athletics)
Jayson Tatum (photo courtesy Duke Athletics)

4. Jayson Tatum, Duke: Already dealing with an early-season foot injury, that shouldn’t do much to slow down this talented 6-foot-8 St. Louis native. The next big Duke wing who can score and rebound, Tatum has an advanced feel in the mid-range and he excels at getting to the free-throw line and putting up points. A plus athlete who is smooth with the ball, Tatum could have the ball in his hands a lot this season if Duke can’t find consistent options to handle the point.

5. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: An absolute wizard with the ball, the 6-foot-5 Ball is one of the best passers to enter college basketball in years. A triple-double threat who will rifle deep outlet passes and crisp cross-court feeds, Ball makes offense easy for others and the deep range on his jumper help. Although he has a funky-looking release on his jumper, Ball shot it well in high school and it made him nearly unguardable with his passing skills. If Ball can help the Bruins defensively, that would be a huge bonus for a team that needs stops.

6. Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: It comes as no surprise that John Calipari is bringing in freshmen reinforcements and the 6-foot-9 Adebayo is the most physically gifted of the group. A powerful athlete who can finish with authority and rebound in traffic, Adebayo could be Kentucky’s most productive player this season. Since he’s a potential double-double threat and the team’s top rebounder, Adebayo will get a ton of minutes, but it’ll be interesting to see how much he protects the rim and how deep his shooting range extends.

7. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: A potential two-way terror at lead guard, the 6-foot-3 Fox is one of the fastest players in the country and could be unstoppable in transition. Defensively, Fox takes a lot of pride in being a shutdown guy, as his on-the-ball ability could make the Wildcats a tough team to score on. Shooting range and consistency is going to be the big thing with Fox. A streaky shooter, Fox is tough to contain off the dribble because of his quickness and burst, but he has to prove that he can make open jumpers.

8. Miles Bridges, Michigan State: Tom Izzo is going to need a lot from the powerful 6-foot-6 Bridges as this versatile forward could be a matchup nightmare. At 225 pounds, Bridges is more physically developed than a lot of freshmen wing forwards and that enables him to score around the rim and rebound at a high level. If Bridges shows that he’s capable of hitting three-pointers, he’s going to be tough to defend as a small-ball four, since the Spartans are so depleted in the front court.

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

9. Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: Florida State had plenty of offensive firepower last season but the 6-foot-10 Isaac is probably a better fit with this roster’s personnel. Since Isaac is a good rebounder with a face-up, perimeter-oriented skill set, he should give the Seminoles some tough lineups this season since he’s more of a natural fit with players like Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Dwayne Bacon. It’ll be interesting to see how Isaac finds his offense, since Rathan-Mayes and Bacon can dominate the ball so much.

10. Harry Giles, Duke: The wildcard on this list because of his knee injuries, the 6-foot-10 Giles is a potentially special player if he’s fully healthy and ready to go. With a high skill level, a history of winning (two gold medals with USA Basketball) and some elite skills like rebounding, Giles could be the Blue Devils’ most talented NBA prospect, but he doesn’t have to have huge success right away because of the team’s frontcourt depth. Don’t be surprised if the nation is buzzing about a healthy Giles come March.

FIVE POTENTIAL D’ANGELO RUSSELLS: Here are five players ranked outside the top ten that might play their way onto an all-american team or into the NBA Draft lottery.

1. Jarrett Allen, Texas: Shaka Smart was able to convince the McDonald’s All-American to stay in-state as Allen gives the Longhorns a valuable two-way center. Allen should be the key Texas frontcourt player on a team that will be smaller and athletic around him.

2. Marques Bolden, Duke: The center chose Duke over Kentucky and his ability in the post gives the Blue Devils an extra insurance policy for Harry Giles. Bolden has soft touch, a 7-foot-9 wingspan and should command a lot of defensive attention.

3. Malik Monk, Kentucky: A freak athlete at guard, Monk was a streaky scorer in high school with an ability to play well above the rim. During his freshman season, don’t be surprised if Monk has some huge scoring nights but consistency has been an issue. If Monk improves his perimeter jumper, he could be the Wildcats’ most productive freshman in the scoring column.

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players | Preseason Top 25

Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Athletics
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona Athletics

4. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Arizona has a glut of guards who will command the ball, but this 6-foot-11 forward from Finland can really shoot and he could give the Wildcats a ton of unique lineups and spacing this season.

5. Mustapha Heron, Auburn: Snubbed from many of the big-name spring all-star games, Heron is the most important recruit Bruce Pearl has brought in. The 6-foot-4 wing is physically gifted and athlete and should be an impact on both ends of the floor.

FIVE MORE NAMES THAT WILL HAVE AN IMPACT IN MARCH: They may not be the superstars, but these guys will be relevant in the tournament.

1. Cassius Winston, Michigan State: The point guard should split minutes with Tum Tum Nairn early in the year, but if Winston is able to make jumpers with more consistency he could see more time and close games.

2. Alterique Gilbert, UConn: A McDonald’s All-American who is explosive despite his 5-foot-11 size, Gilbert could earn quality minutes if the Huskies play two-guard lineups that allow Gilbert to be a playmaker.

3. Kyle Guy, Virginia: The Cavaliers haven’t had a lot of freshman scorers like Guy and the McDonald’s All-American could be a key rotation player and spark plug off the bench. Guy has to fight through a crowded backcourt to earn minutes.

4. Payton Pritchard, Oregon: The Ducks return a lot of talent and experience at guard but don’t be surprised if this point guard challenges for more minutes. The 6-foot-1 Pritchard is a good long-range shooter and ball handler.

5. Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati: We know the Bearcats can get stops, but the 6-foot-5 Cumberland can really score as he’s comfortable taking jumpers from all over the floor. If Cincinnati needs scoring they might turn to the four-star wing.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

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
4 Comments

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
1 Comment

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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
7 Comments

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

Getty Images
4 Comments

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.