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Coaches on the hot seat

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It’s never fun to put together any sort of “hot seat” list.

In an ideal world, every college basketball coach in America would win enough games, and do enough with their programs, to justify keeping them all around for another season. But there are over 350 head coaching jobs in a highly-competitive, multi-million dollar sport. That’s just not the way things work in sports.

So, every year, we go over some of the big-name head coaches who could be in trouble if they have a bad season. Many years, some of the coaches on this list make us look dumb by having a big season and effectively “saving” their jobs. Other times, we can already see a program trending in the wrong direction, and things just aren’t going to change.

The hot seat doesn’t have nearly as many names on it this year. There isn’t an FBI scandal to keep certain seats warm. And given a lot of the coaching turnover of the past few offseasons, there are still many coaches who are in their first two years on the job.

But here are some coaches to watch for this season as they try to do everything they can to build positive momentum going forward.

DO NOT SIT DOWN

Steve Alford, UCLA: Coming off of another disappointing season in which they barely made the First Four, the pressure is, once again, on Alford to win at UCLA. Other programs would kill to have three Sweet 16 appearances in five seasons. But things are done a bit differently at UCLA. That fanbase expects Final Four runs and national championships. So Alford’s five-year stretch isn’t exactly cutting it. Alford’s 67.2 percent winning percentage is the lowest of any UCLA coach since Walt Hazzard’s 62.1 percent winning percentage in 1948. When you also factor in the off-the-court incident in China, and Alford needs a good season from his talented team.

Ernie Kent, Washington State: In four seasons at the helm, Washington State has never won more than 13 games in a season as the Cougars are only 47-77 and 18-54 in Pac-12 play under Kent. While Kent deserves some slack for having to manage one of the toughest jobs in the country, he’s clearly not the right guy for the job. Recruiting buzz for Washington State is nonexistent. The team doesn’t look like a major competitor in a mediocre Pac-12 either. If Washington State has another abysmal season, it could be time for a change.

Richard Pitino, Minnesota: After building some positive momentum with an NCAA tournament appearance in 2017, Minnesota and Pitino saw all of that come crashing down last season. One of the most disappointing teams in the nation last season, the Golden Gophers finished 15-17 and 4-14 in the Big Ten after returning most of its roster from the year before. Pitino has also seen his fair share of off-the-court incidents during his time at Minnesota. His players faced sexual assault allegations and an arrest for domestic violence. Pitino’s original AD that hired him, Norwood Teague, has also been ousted amid his own sexual harassment scandal. If Minnesota doesn’t have a serious turnaround season then Pitino could find himself looking for another job.

THEY COULD USE A BIG YEAR

Dave Leitao, DePaul: The second time around at DePaul hasn’t been very kind to Leitao. Although Leitao found success with the Blue Demons in the early part of the century when they were in Conference USA, the unforgiving Big East hasn’t been nearly as reasonable. DePaul is 9-45 in Big East play during Leitao’s most recent three-year tenure as they have an abysmal 29-65 overall. A shiny, new downtown arena has helped the Blue Demons recruit reasonably well given their recent basement-dweller status. But Leitao needs to start winning actual games and making some form of postseason in order to turn the corner and take the next step.

Danny Manning, Wake Forest: It’s crazy to think that at this time last year, Manning had the momentum of an NCAA tournament appearance and a first-round draft pick in big man John Collins. This list goes to show that things can change very quickly in one year. After a hugely disappointing 2017-18 that saw them finish 11-20 and 4-14 in the ACC, Manning and the Demon Deacons find themselves near the bottom of the league. Wake Forest does have a very solid recruiting class coming in that could re-energize the program. But Manning only has one tournament appearance while going 20-52 in the ACC over his four-year tenure. The results need to be more consistent for Manning to stay at Wake.

Chris Mullin, St. John’s: St. John’s was hoping that this prized alum could help restore the program’s former glory. That hasn’t been the case. While Mullin and his staff have recruited some talented top-100 talents who have put up some decent individual numbers, the winning hasn’t followed. In three season, St. John’s is only 38-60 and 12-42 in the Big East during Mullin’s time in charge as they’ve been slightly better than DePaul during that stretch. There is no arguing Mullin’s impact on St. John’s as a player. He is probably the greatest player in program history. He just doesn’t look like the right guy to coach his alma mater.

Pat Chambers (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

JUST DON’T BE TERRIBLE, OK?

Pat Chambers, Penn State: The Nittany Lions just finished a solid season in which they won the NIT. It’s also very notable that Chambers is the only high-major head coach that is currently employed despite missing the last seven NCAA tournaments at their current job. With star guard Tony Carr leaving for the pros this offseason, the NCAA tournament might not be realistic for Penn State this season. Is that going to be an issue for Chambers as he was just starting to turn the corner with this group?

Fran McCaffery, Iowa: After eight seasons at the helm, it is going to take a lot for Iowa to move on from McCaffery. He’s a great basketball coach, and he has multiple high-caliber sons who will play for the Hawkeyes in the next few seasons. But last season’s disappointing 4-14 finish in the Big Ten has some fans getting restless. McCaffery only has three NCAA tournament appearances in those eight seasons at Iowa, as the fanbase would love more consistency. McCaffery has a lot of young talent at Iowa. Now is the time to turn that into yearly postseason trips.

Tim Miles, Nebraska: The Cornhuskers were actually one of the biggest surprise teams in college basketball last season, but they managed to come up short of the NCAA tournament. That means Miles has fallen short of the sport’s biggest stage in five of his six seasons as head coach. Nebraska is going to have reasonable expectations once again this season. As long as the Huskers don’t bottom out, and make the postseason, Miles should not feel any legitimate heat.

 

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.