Who will Ohio State hire to replace Thad Matta?

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On Monday afternoon, in a hastily called together press conference, Thad Matta and his athletic director, Gene Smith, announced that they had come an agreement that the former would no longer be the head coach at Ohio State.

The decision came, according to Smith, after Matta’s program had started to fall apart. It’s been four years since the team finished better than fifth in the Big Ten standings. The Buckeyes went two just two NCAA tournaments in that span, winning just a single game, and finished last season with a 17-15 record. Throw in JaQuan Lyle’s transfer, Trevor Thompson’s decision to go pro and a decommitment from a four-star prospect in the Class of 2018, and the two had decided enough was enough.

Matta wasn’t going to get this thing turned around any time soon, and with the constant health issues he’s had regarding his back and his foot, it was time.

That means that, as of June 5th, one of college basketball’s 15 best jobs is now on the market, which is a shame for Buckeye fans. It was one of the worst kept secrets in college basketball circles that Archie Miller, the new Indiana head coach and former Dayton head man, wanted the Buckeye job, and by waiting until June 5th to part ways with Matta — instead of, say, in mid-March, when he issued Matta a vote of confidence — Smith cost himself a shot at Archie.

Is that something that he will come to regret in the next five-to-ten years?

And who, now, will Ohio State hire as a replacement for Matta?

Chris Jent, Ohio State assistant coach: The big question now is whether or not the Buckeyes are going to hire an interim head coach for the 2017-18 season and take their time trying to find a coach to hire or jumping head-first into a June coaching search. If it’s the latter, it’s hard to imagine Jent, a well-respected and longtime assistant for Matta, will be able to beat out some of the names that you’ll see listed below.

Ohio State is a great job, one that some will tell you is the best in the Big Ten. They have money, they have facilities, they have a recruiting base, they have a winning tradition and they don’t have the pressure that comes with being a ‘basketball school’.

But if the Buckeyes do opt to go with an interim coach, Jent is the guy that would be expected to earn the chance to audition his way into the job a la Greg Gard at Wisconsin. For what it’s worth, Smith made it sound awful unlikely that this would be the direction he would be willing to go in.

A current NBA head coach?: Billy Donovan’s name is already being bandied about. The like of Fred Hoiberg and potentially even Brad Stevens, former college coaches that are now running NBA organizations, will also be mentioned. It seems unlikely that any of the three would actively make the decision to return to the collegiate ranks.

Sean Miller (Arizona), Archie Miller (Indiana), Tony Bennett (Virginia), Jay Wright (Villanova): Don’t hold your breath, although that likely would have been different had this change happened in April, before Archie accepted the Indiana job.

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State: You cannot have a coaching search at a high-major program without mentioning Marshall’s name. It makes sense. Marshall is one of the top ten coaches in college basketball and may very well be the best coach currently outside of the Power 5 conferences. That said, he gets paid mountains of money — more than $3 million annually — at a school that will never fire him and that just jumped from the Missouri Valley into the AAC for the 2017-18 season. With the Koch Brothers providing the funding for the Shocker program and a top ten program for the upcoming season, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Marshall makes the leap. But Smith needs to make Marshall say no. This is the kind of job that he would take.

Shaka Smart, Texas: Smart is a native of the midwest that began his coaching career in Ohio. After a tough first two seasons with the Longhorns, there was some speculation that Smart was unsettled in Austin and was considering heading to Georgetown. But that was before Mo Bamba committed and Andrew Jones returned to school, giving the Longhorns a tournament caliber team. Ohio State checks the boxes for Smart — winning basketball program at a football school — but it doesn’t seem like the job he leaves for.

Chris Mack, Xavier: This is where is starts to get interesting. Mack is a Cincinnati native and a Xavier graduate that has spent the last eight years steering the Musketeers to the point that they are routinely getting ranked in the preseason top 20. He’s also just 47 years old and one of the nation’s best coaches, and there is always going to be speculation that he’s looking to move on to bigger and better things. Mack would be a good fit — he clearly knows how to recruit Ohio and the Midwest, and the Big Ten is a step up from the Big East — the question is whether or not this is the job he would want to leave home for.

Mick Cronin, Cincinnati: Cronin, like Mack, has spent a long time coaching in the state of Ohio, having spent the last 11 seasons building Cincinnati back into a top 25 program in the sport. But there also is something of a ceiling with the Bearcats — they’re arguably the best program in the AAC, but Cronin has only been out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament once, back in 2012. Cronin can recruit the area, and flirted with leaving Cincinnati for UNLV after Dave Rice was fired.

Chris Holtmann, Butler: Holtmann is one of the hottest names in coaching after the year that he had with Butler in 2016-17. He took a Bulldog team that was projected to finish in the bottom half of the Big East and turned them into a top 15 team in the country. In three seasons as Butler’s head coach, he’s never finished worse than fourth in the Big East — he finished second in the league twice — and has won a game in all three NCAA tournaments, including getting to the Sweet 16 this past season. That was enough to earn him a raise and an extension with a handful of high-major programs sniffing around back in April, but is it enough to keep Holtmann at home if the Buckeyes come knocking?

Ed Cooley, Providence: Cooley, like Mack, would have to be convinced to leave his hometown program, but he’s also one of the most underrated coaches in the country. He’s led the Friars to four straight top four finishes in the Big East and four straight NCAA tournaments, and the expectation is that that streak will continue in 2018. If he can do all that while recruiting to Providence, what can he do when he is able to recruit to a program like Ohio State?

Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech: Buzz would be an expensive hire, and given his Texas and Oklahoma roots, the assumption has been that his next move will send him to the Big 12; if Oklahoma State wasn’t pinching pennies after the Travis Ford debacle, he may have been hired by the Pokes in either of the last two springs. That said, Williams built Marquette into a Big East power and took Virginia Tech to the NCAA tournament last season. It would be interesting to see what he could do in a place like Ohio State.

Tom Crean: How ironic would it be if the man Indiana fired to hire Archie Miller was the guy Ohio State hired at the end of the day? That might be enough to keep it from happening, to say nothing of the fact that Ohio State and Indiana are Big Ten rivals, but Crean is probably the best coach currently out of work.

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.