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Important post-July recruiting storylines

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The July live evaluation period is complete as college coaches have been watching prospects over the last three weeks. We’ve learned a lot about some of the recruiting trends and popular players as there are some intriguing storylines to look out or over the next several months.

1. Kentucky or Memphis for James Wiseman?

Elite Class of 2019 center James Wiseman recently came out with his list of top eight schools. But nobody believes that six of those schools even have a chance. Almost everybody believes this one is coming down to two: Kentucky and Memphis.

Wiseman received plenty of attention from both staffs during July as head coach Penny Hardaway has helped make up a lot of recruiting ground for the Tigers these past few months. Kentucky still holds a lot of clout since they own commitments from Ashton Hagans (who’s already part of the program) and Tyrese Maxey — two guards Wiseman said he wanted to play with in college.

While Wiseman didn’t drop any additional hints, or give any kind of indication which way he might be leaning, we’ll have to wait for subtle clues and hints about the next step in this one.

2. How does USC add to its great 2019 start?

Since USC already has four commitments in the Class of 2019, they are in a sweet recruiting position before many schools even hold one pledge. And with one being a five-star and the other three being top-100 prospects, the group already has depth and balance.

While USC likely won’t take that many more players in this current 2019 class, they had a leg up on younger prospects by being able to stick with them during long stretches of the July live evaluation period. That means recruiting talented pieces around Class of 2020 big man Evan Mobley, who many expect will eventually become a Trojan like his brother, Isaiah, and play for their father who’s an assistant on Andy Enfield’s staff.

If USC lands back-to-back talented classes with a Mobley brother in each, it will set a huge foundation for deep postseason runs — even with some potential pro losses early on. Getting that much depth and talent should hopefully translate to success for the Trojans. We’ll see if the early 2019 success pays off down the road with the 2020 returns.

3. Cole Anthony recruiting information

Up until this point, elite Class of 2019 point guard Cole Anthony hasn’t talked very much about recruiting specifics. Anthony played for Kansas head coach Bill Self with the USA Basketball U18 team. So Anthony spoke about his experiences with Self as a coach and person at Peach Jam.

But that’s all we really know about Cole Anthony’s recruitment at this point. Anthony has refused to talk specific schools. It’s hard to get a read on where things stand. Playing in a guard-driven, ball-screen heavy offense is something Anthony has talked about wanting at the college level, so it’ll be interesting to see how much style of play might factor into such a decision.

As my NBC colleague Rob Dauster noted in his tremendous feature on Cole, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams was always present following Anthony during July while Oregon has also been linked quite a bit. At some point, Anthony will begin taking official visits and divulging recruiting information. It’ll be fascinating to clear up all the rumors and get some clarification.

4. Who ends up at No. 1 in 2019? 

Since the Class of 2019 doesn’t have a clear No. 1 prospect, there will still be a lot to play for as the top players enter senior season. With the No. 1 spot having multiple candidates, we could get some marquee battles for the spotlight over the next few months.

James Wiseman, Vernon Carey Jr. and Cole Anthony have long been in the No. 1 conversation. Some national scouts even believe that Jaden McDaniels is the most talented player in the class long-term. But there doesn’t seem to be a consensus player (or order or players) among that group. Others could also sneak into the conversation as well.

It should make for an interesting season with a lot to play for, since some classes have featured near-unanimous No. 1 prospects in years past.

5. How will players handle recruiting with the FBI investigation?

This will be a unique year for recruiting after the FBI investigation into college basketball has uncovered so many allegations over the past year. It’s led to some changes in the coaching ranks. Perceptions of certain programs and coaches might have also been slightly altered.

But we’ll really see the changes in how some programs are handling things with official visits and commitments beginning. Some programs like Auburn and USC haven’t seen any recruiting disadvantages so far. Watching others programs like Arizona and Louisville will be interesting since they’ve typically recruited five-star caliber players in the past. Can they continue to land those kinds of talents?

Players might also be cautious with which schools they visit and when they make a decision. Some recruits specifically cited the uncertainty when they said they were targeting a spring decision — especially with regard to coaching changes. Potential penalties and postseason bans are one thing. Many of these players want assurances that head coaches will remain safe and in place during their time on campus.

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.