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Mid-Majors to watch come March

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It’s the most charming part of March. The Cinderellas who crash the ball by knocking off the sport’s biggest names on its biggest stage.

Besides being heavy underdogs, what makes these mid-majors so intriguing is how little the public knows about them.

We’ve been hearing about players from Duke, Kentucky and Arizona since they were prep stars. We have no idea who that fifth-year starter from the 13 seed that makes its way to the Sweet 16 is.

But here’s your sneak peak about some teams that we’ll be talking about come tourney time. This list looks at some lesser-known possibilities, that’s what you won’t see a top-25 team like St. Mary’s or a relatively high-profile program like Princeton.

Here are the teams best suited to wear the slipper this spring.

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UAB: The Blazers made noise in 2015 when they eliminated Iowa State in the first round, but after a great regular season last year, they lost their first C-USA tournament game and had to settle for the NIT. Expect to hear from them again this year, though, as they return four starters from last year’s 26-7 team. Jarod Haase has left, but the Blazers’ ability to play spoiler in the NCAA tournament hasn’t. William Lee and Chris Cokley, both of whom are NBA prospects, are back to anchor what should be the best front line in mid-major hoops.

Chattanooga: The Mocs won 29 games last year and return three starters, which make them a threat not only to win the Southern Conference again, but to make some noise in the NCAA tournament. They won games last year at Dayton, at Georgia and at Illinois. Tre’McLean is a proven scorer while Justin Tuoyo anchors the defense. Chattanooga has veterans, talent and NCAA tournament experience, which will make them very dangerous come March. But perhaps the most important thing to mention here is that Chattanooga also returns Casey Jones, who was the best player in the SoCon in 2014-15 before missing last season with injury.

Princeton: The Tigers are like Chattanooga in that they not only bring back everyone from a conference title contender but they also get back one of their best players, Hans Brase, who missed the last season with injury. Harvard gets Siyani Chambers back healthy and Zena Edosomwan back for his senior year, but Princeton should be the favorite to win the Ivy League title. Henry Caruso looks like an Ivy Player of the Year candidate.

UT-Arlington: The Mavericks looked like a potential March darling last year after they offed Ohio State and Memphis in November, but then 18-point-per-game scorer Kevin Hervey tore his ACL in January. Arlington lost four straight and ultimately couldn’t carry the Sun Belt tournament. Now, Hervey, along with four starters, is back and that makes Arlington a team few will know this winter, but one that could become a household name come spring. Perhaps the best news is that Hervey is not yet totally healthy. He should be by the time conference play rolls around, but the Mavericks are going to be forced to learn, again, how to win without their super star playing like a super star.

Valparaiso: The Crusaders are certainly no stranger to college basketball fans, but Valpo once again has the profile to play Cinderella. Alec Peters looked like he may transfer out of the program, but instead returned for his senior season and now may be the best player outside a Power 5 conference and is a potential All-American. The Crusaders lost a significant amount off last year’s 30-win team, but Peters’ presence means they’re going to be a program to contend with at the end of the year.

Texas-Arlington's Kevin Hervey, left, reacts to a 73-68 NCAA college basketball game win as Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate looks on in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Texas-Arlington’s Kevin Hervey (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)


  • Illinois State: Wichita State is the team everyone pays attention to in the Missouri Valley, but the Redbirds are quietly building a program that will sneak up on people. Paris Lee may be the best point guard in the league and MiKyle McIntosh is talented enough to be a difference-maker.
  • Belmont: Rick Byrd is arguably the most successful mid-major coach in the country today, and even though the Bruins lost Craig Bradshaw, Evan Bradds should be good enough to make this group a threat in March to whomever they go up against.
  • Long Beach State: Nick Faust is gone, but Justin Bibbins and Evan Payne should be one of the nation’s best mid-major back courts.
  • UNC-Wilmington: Kevin Keatts has proven that he can win at the mid-major level in his two years in Wilmington, and last year, he nearly knocked off Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament. He returns essentially everyone, including Chris Flemmings, and runs a system similar to VCU.
  • South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits have a new head coach in T.J. Otzelberger, but they also have the best big man in the mid-major ranks on their roster in Mike Daum. How will the team adjust to losing their back court and how will Daum adjust to playing under a new head coach?

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.