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College Basketball’s Most Impressive Mid-Major Teams

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Before anyone asks, no, Wichita State, Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga were not eligible for this list. 


Middle Tennessee State: The Blue Raiders made a name for themselves last season when, as a No. 15 seed, they ruined everyone’s bracket by knocking off one of the heavy national title favorites in Michigan State in the first round of the tournament. But you probably already should have known about Kermit Davis’ team, as MTSU has long been one of the best and most consistent mid-major programs in the country.

And the scary part is that this group might actually be better than last year’s team. They lost a couple of key pieces off of last season’s team but they’ve more than made up for their absence with the addition of JaCorey Williams, a former Arkansas forward that has been tearing it up through the first month of the season. Throw in the improvements made by Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts, and this team has a very, very good top three. Ask Ole Miss, who lost by 15 points to them at home in a game they trailed 48-19 at halftime. Or Vanderbilt, who lost by 23 points.

The only loss MTSU has taken this season? Tennessee State, who you’ll read about below.

Valparaiso: Valpo has one of the biggest stars in college hoops this season in Alec Peters, who opted to returned to the Crusaders despite the fact that he was eligible to be a grad transfer and his former head coach, Bryce Drew, had left to take over at Vanderbilt. Valpo has put themselves into a good position to earn an at-large bid this season with wins over Alabama, BYU and Rhode Island. Their only losses have come on the road against Kentucky and Oregon.

Monmouth: While their bench isn’t making as many headlines as they did last season, this is more or less still the same Hawks team that seemingly beat every high-major in college basketball during non-conference play last season. Justin Robinson is back, playing as well as ever, to lead a team with a back court loaded with talent. Sophomore Micah Seaborn and Oklahoma transfer Je’Lon Hornbeak make this group dangerous and difficult to guard. They’ve beaten Memphis on the road this season and fell at South Carolina in overtime on a buzzer-beater.

Fort Wayne: The Mastadons made headlines earlier this season when they picked off then-No. 3 Indiana in a thriller, 71-68. And while they caught a break in that game, getting a chance to square off with the Hoosiers on one of their home floors, it wasn’t a fluke. Mo Evans, Purdue transfer Bryson Scott and John Konchar give Jon Coffman’s club staying power, and they should enter league play as the favorite to win the Summit League.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 31: Tyler Cavanaugh #34 of the George Washington Colonials guards Alec Peters #25 of the Valparaiso Crusaders during their NIT Championship game at Madison Square Garden on March 31, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Alec Peters (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)


UT Arlington: The Mavericks lost three games early in the season, but part of the reason they took those losses is that their star forward, Kevin Hervey, is still working his way back to 100 percent after tearing his ACL last year. Having returned essentially everyone from last season, Scott Cross made a statement when he took his program to Moraga and manhandled a very good Saint Mary’s squad.

Grand Canyon: The Antelopes have one of the nation’s best guards that you’ve never heard of in DeWayne Russell, who put 42 points on Louisville in a 79-70 loss earlier this season. Russell didn’t play in losses at Duke or Penn State earlier this season, and he was instrumental in GCU’s win over San Diego State.

Central Michigan: College basketball’s leading scorer plays for the Chippewas. Marcus Keene, a 5-foot-8 transfer from Youngstown State, is averaging 30.8 points and 5.1 assists on the season. CMU is going to need to win the MAC’s at-large bid to get to the Big Dance, but if they make it there, Keene will get his chance to prove his mettle against one of the best teams in the country.


UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks won the CAA’s automatic bid last year and brought back essentially the same team this season. Led by Denzel Ingram and Chris Flemmings, they play a style similar to that of Shaka Smart’s best VCU teams and gave Duke a run for their money in the first round last season. Their only loss this season was to Middle Tennessee State.

Arkansas State: Don’t believe me? Ask Georgetown, who lost at home to the Red Wolves. Arkansas State has also beaten both Lehigh and Chattanooga this year, two teams that are expected to win their respective leagues.

Oakland: The Golden Grizzlies lost Kahlil Felder to the NBA this offseason, but that hasn’t stopped Greg Kampe’s club from putting up points and winning games. They’re currently sitting at 9-1 on the season on the strength of high-major transfers Martez Walker (Texas), Sherron Dorsey-Walker (Iowa State) and Stevie Clark (Oklahoma State).

Chattanooga and East Tennessee State: Chattanooga beat Tennessee in the season-opener. These are the two best teams in the SoCon, and they happen to have a pretty healthy rivalry. When they square off in league play it will be some of the best mid-major basketball you’ll be able to watch this season.

Loyola (IL): The Ramblers have found a gem in JuCo transer Aundre Jackson while Big 12 transfers Milton Doyle (Kansas) and Clayton Custer (Iowa State) have played like guys that were recruited to Big 12 programs. Loyola picked off San Diego State this season.

Tennessee State: Dana Ford, the youngest coach in Division I*, has himself a solid team this season. They took N.C. State to overtime in Raliegh and handed Middle Tennessee State their only loss of the season. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a member of Gregg Marshall’s coaching tree is having success early in his career.

*(EDITOR’S NOTE: George Washington interim head coach Maurice Joseph is a year younger than Ford.)

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.