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2017-18 Season Preview: Programs on the Rise, Decline

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Beginning in September and running up until November 10th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

College basketball is a zero sum game. For every winner, there’s a loser. For every ascendent program, there’s a descending one. Here, you’ll find five programs on their way up, and five headed the other way.

PROGRAMS ON THE RISE

Wichita State: At first glance, it wouldn’t appear that there’s a lot of room to move up for the Shockers given all they’ve accomplished over the last five years (five NCAA tournaments, an undefeated regular season and a Final Four being the highlights), but Wichita State remains on the come-up. The move from the Missouri Valley Conference, which after the defection of Creighton became destined for one-bid league status, to the American isn’t a radical move, but it’s an important one. It keeps the Shockers insulated against a bad conference tournament showing by upping their chances for quality RPI wins and will keep them in the national conversation throughout the winter months – rather than just as Selection Sunday approaches. Plus, every spring that passes with Marshall still in south central Kansas is further evidence that he’s not leaving unless the best of jobs comes along. Oh, and he’s got a top-10 team this year. The Shockers are solidifying themselves among the nation’s elite.

Alabama: The Tide have been pretty mediocre in Avery Johnson’s first two seasons as a college coach, going 37-30 overall and 18-18 in SEC play. This year, though, Alabama looks like a top-25 team after Johnson reeled in a top-10 recruiting class, headlined by potential lottery pick Collin Sexton along with top-100 prospects John Petty and Alex Reese. Alabama looks like it’s becoming a player on the national recruiting stage, and it’s setting up to make Tuscaloosa an interesting place for hoops.

Texas: The Longhorns shouldn’t be on a list like this given the money that their athletic department operates with and the fertile recruiting grounds within driving distance of Austin, but after things languished in the final years of Rick Barnes’ tenure and then cratered with an 11-22 season in Shaka Smart’s second year, it’s exactly where Texas is. Things are looking up, though, as Smart looks to be gaining a footing in the program, recruiting the likes Mohamed Bamba, Matt Coleman and the rest of a five-man 2017 recruiting class made up of top-100 players. Texas is back on its way to being Texas, which is to say a national power.

Northwestern: After going 0-for-program history, the Wildcats finally broke through with an NCAA tournament appearance last year, even winning a game before bowing out to Gonzaga on the Bulldogs’ way to the national championship game. They’re even in better position this year to make a run with nearly everyone from last year’s team returning, plus coach Chris Collins looks to be setting the program up for success in the future, having already secured commitments from two four-star recruits in 2018. Northwestern, much like their north side Chicago baseball neighbors, are finally selling something more than hope.

Ohio State: As much success as Thad Matta had in Columbus, it’s inarguable that the Buckeyes ran into tough times in the last few years, missing back-to-back NCAA tournaments and seeing a heralded recruiting class all transfer out of town. Matta’s one of the game’s best, but a move to Chris Holtmann helps secure the future for Ohio State. Holtmann helped Butler transition from the A-10 to the Big East without the Bulldogs ceding any ground. He’s an excellent fit from just about every perspective, and makes Ohio State’s return to the top of the Big Ten seem likely.

PROGRAMS ON THE DECLINE

Louisville: This one’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Tuesday’s federal charges that apparently claimed that the Cardinals landed five-star prospect Brian Bowen courtesy of $100,000 payable to his family from adidas would make this “on the decline” designation fit by itself. Coupled with the fact Louisville hasn’t even made it yet through the NCAA appeals process for its prostitution scandal, yeah, this ain’t going in the right direction for the Cardinals. It’s hard to see how legendary coach Rick Pitino makes it through this with a job, and how the athletic department as a whole makes it through well enough to keep the basketball program among the country’s elite without a significant – and lengthy – hit.

Syracuse: Yeah, the Orange made the Final Four in 2016, but they did it after sneaking into the field after a 9-9 ACC season. On the years sandwiching that Final Four, Syracuse missed the tournament. Jim Boeheim’s 2017 recruiting class didn’t have a top-100 player in it and the Orange only have two of their top-seven scorers back from last year. Syracuse does have a top-25 commit in 2018, but there’s a lot of work to do in upstate New York.

Oklahoma State: There’s a lot to this one. Let’s start with the fact that Lamont Evans was one of the four assistants charged Tuesday as part of the FBI corruption investigation. Evans was hired in 2016 by Brad Underwood and then promoted to associate head coach by current head man Mike Boynton, Jr. this spring. So that’s not good. In more traditional trouble, the Cowboys have developed a reputation for being cheap on hoops. While mega-donor T.Boone Pickens lavishes the Oklahoma State football program, hoops is languishing. Underwood left reportedly due to feeling unappreciated financially (he was making about $1 million), and instead of going out and making a statement hire, they just elevated Boynton from assistant to head coach for the same annual salary as Underwood. So just a year after a universally praised move of hiring Underwood, Oklahoma State finds itself with an unproven coach, a damaging reputation for hoops prioritization and a part of perhaps the biggest scandal in college basketball in a generation or two. Not great.

Connecticut: Since winning the 2014 national championship, Kevin Ollie’s program has missed the NCAA tournament twice in three years. Last year, the Huskies lost the last four games of the regular season to end things with a thud. Their 2017 recruiting class didn’t feature a top-150 recruit, and it’s not a foregone conclusion that they’ll finish in the top-half of the American this year. Things are not trending in the right direction in Storrs.

Cal: The Bears opted for continuity when they elevated Wyking Jones from assistant to head coach after Cuonzo Martin skedaddled to Missouri. What’s continuing, though, isn’t all that pretty. Cal made just one NCAA tournament in three years under Martin, and this year it looks as though the Bears may finish in the cellar of the Pac-12. They do already have two top-100 recruits in the fold for 2018, but the immediate future looks difficult in Berkeley.

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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.