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Conference USA Preview: Is Middle Tennessee State still the team to beat?

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

Today, we are previewing Conference USA.

Conference USA has been a one-bid league the past few seasons but the league has also been vastly underrated in the national landscape. Case in point: C-USA has three consecutive seasons with a NCAA tournament win, even though all three teams were high double-digit seeds.

Middle Tennessee remains the darling of the league following two straight appearances in the Round of 32. Talented forwards JaCorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw have moved on but C-USA Player of the Year candidate Giddy Potts is back on the perimeter along with promising sophomore point guard Tyrik Dixon. Transfers have been an important part of roster-building for the Blue Raiders and former Alabama wing Nick King will be a valuable wing scorer for this team as well. If Brandon Walters can become a productive piece in the middle then Middle Tennessee should once again be a huge threat in league and postseason play.

With a ferocious perimeter back in the fold, hopes are high that Louisiana Tech can make a leap after last season’s second-place finish. The sophomore backcourt tandem of DaQuan Bracey and Jalen Harris are both back after strong freshman seasons while senior wing Jacobi Boykins is a big-time shooter and Player of the Year threat in the league. If the Bulldogs get a solid contribution from its frontcourt, led by center Joniah White, they could be a major contender.

Old Dominion defended at an elite level last season but they had a tough time with consistent offense. The good news is the Monarchs return some serious talent in point guard Ahmad Caver and brothers Brandon and B.J. Stith. Wake Forest transfer Greg McClinton is an intriguing addition and the freshman class, including redshirt Xavier Green and shooter Micheal Hueitt Jr. could help put up points.

With one of the league’s best frontcourts, UAB will once again be a dangerous team in C-USA. Two-time conference Defensive Player of the Year William Lee returns for his senior season along with double-figure scorer Chris Cokley. If point guard Nick Norton returns to form from a torn ACL, the Blazers should be a threat at the top of the standings. UTEP was the only C-USA to beat Middle Tennessee last season as they went 13-4 to close out the season. Senior guard Omega Harris is a big-time scorer while senior big man Matt Willms returns after leading the conference in field goal percentage.

Things looked really good for Western Kentucky when they had five-star center Mitchell Robinson, but he’s gone and the team lost its most talented player. Rick Stansbury still brings in a ton of transfers as Lamonte Bearden (Buffalo), Darius Thompson (Virginia) and Dwight Coleby (Kansas) are all joining the roster. Conference Player of the Year threat Jon Davis returns at guard for Charlotte but the 49ers need to get more out of an unproven frontcourt. Guard Andrien White and wing Austin Ajukwa also return to form a veteran core.

Marshall is another solid team in an emerging league as they’re coming off of a 20-win season. Player of the Year candidate Jon Elmore is back at guard while athletic guard C.J. Burks is another player to watch. The rest of the scoring on from the Thundering Herd will come from mostly new pieces. Rice was gutted by transfers when former head coach Mike Rhoades left for VCU but junior Connor Cashaw has a chance to emerge as a go-to threat. Senior transfer A.J. Lapray brings perimeter shooting while the freshman class has some talented additions.

UTSA took a gigantic step forward in head coach Steven Henson’s first season and he adds more reinforcements to try to make an additional leap in the second season. The backcourt of sophomores Byron Frohnen and Giovanni De Nicolao could put up a lot of points. Scholarship reductions are starting to get lifted at Southern Miss, meaning the Golden Eagles should have more depth in the coming seasons. Jack-of-all-trades guard Cortez Edwards returns and sophomore big man Tim Rowe should help if he can stay healthy. 

Florida Atlantic lost seven players to transfer as they need to find more consistent help around senior guard Gerdarius Troutman. College of Charleston transfer Payton Hulsey is an intriguing addition who could help. New head coach Grant McCasland leads the charge at North Texas as the Mean Green are hoping the promising backcourt of Ryan Woolridge and A.J. Lawson continues to grow. FIU is hoping to improve on last season’s disappointing campaign but head coach Anthony Evans, who could be coaching for his job, saw most of last year’s roster leave.

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


A senior shooting guard who can create his own shot against most defenses, Potts is a 42 percent career three-point shooter capable of knocking them down from all over the floor. A key piece in the Blue Raiders making it to the Round of 32 the past two seasons, Potts is experienced veteran and a reliable scorer.


  • Jon Elmore, Marshall: Putting up big numbers in D’Antoni’s high-octane offense, Elmore averaged 19.7 points, 5.9 assists and 4.3 rebounds per contest as a sophomore.
  • Jon Davis, Charlotte: An ironman junior who played 35 minutes a game last season, the 6-foot-3 Davis put up 19.6 points, 4.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game.
  • Jacobi Boykins, Louisiana Tech: Making C-USA’s all-defense team while improving his all-around offense, the 6-foot-6 senior averaged 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game last season.
  • William Lee, UAB: Perhaps the league’s best long-term talent, the 6-foot-9 senior is springy enough to block shots and skilled enough to knock down perimeter shots.


1. Middle Tennessee
2. Louisiana Tech
3. Old Dominion
4. UAB
6. Western Kentucky
7. Charlotte
8. Marshall
9. Rice
10. UTSA
11. Southern Miss
12. Florida Atlantic
13. North Texas
14. FIU

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.