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College basketball’s most influential remaining NBA draft decisions

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Now that R.J. Hampton has officially decided that he will not be attending college next season, here are the 16 most influential decisions left to be made.

1. WILL THEY STAY OR WILL THEY … TRANSFER?

The biggest name on this list is Kerry Blackshear Jr. The 6-foot-10, 250 pound Blackshear averaged 14.9 points, 7.5 boards and 2.4 assists for a Virginia Tech team that played at one of the slowest paces in college basketball last season. He’s a bully in the paint, he has the ability to step out on the perimeter and beat players off the dribble and he was a 33 percent three-point shooter this past season. He has not yet committed anywhere, but he has declared for the NBA draft. If he opts to return to school, he’ll likely end up being a preseason All-American, wherever he ends up.

The other interesting name here is Rayjon Tucker. He’s a grad transfer from Arkansas-Little Rock that has already committed to Memphis, but he is also a legitimate NBA prospect given his size (6-foot-5), ridiculous athleticism and ability to shoot (41% from three) and score (20.3 ppg). He is incredibly important to Memphis because, as much talent as Penny Hardaway has amassed, he does not have any experience on his roster to speak of. Tucker won’t be the best prospect on that Memphis team, but even with James Wiseman in the fold, there’s an argument to be made that he could end up being the team’s best player next season.

There are also a few other grad transfers that need to be monitored. For starters, former USC point guard Derryck Thornton Jr. — who was, at one time, a five-star prospect and a Duke player — is visiting Gonzaga this week and could fill the hole they have at the lead guard spot, while UNLV big man Shakur Juiston will be an impact player wherever he ends up.

2. DEVON DOTSON and QUENTIN GRIMES, Kansas

With the news that Hampton will not be enrolling at Kansas, Bill Self’s season may not hinge on whether or not he gets last year’s two five-star freshmen back. Neither seem likely to be first round picks this year, and without the competition for lead guard minutes that Hampton would have provided, Dotson seems the more likely of the two to return. Grimes never found his footing with the Jayhawks last season, and there has been some speculation that if he withdraws from the draft he could also end up transferring out of the program.

3. ANTHONY COWAN JR., Maryland

The Terps have a chance to be a preseason top ten team next season. Their sophomore class is absolutely loaded, and the return of Jalen Smith will give them one of the most talented big men in the Big Ten. But Cowan is the straw that stirs their drink, and if he keeps his name in the draft, Mark Turgeon will have a roster full of talent that is missing their leader and star point guard.

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4. MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

The Pirates return essentially everyone from a team that made the NCAA tournament last season, and they have a chance to compete with Villanova and Xavier for a Big East title next season if they get Powell — who averaged 23.1 points and is one of the most explosive scorers in the country — back.

5. JORDAN NWORA and STEVE ENOCH, Louisville

Nwora is a bigger deal here than Enoch. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team, and perhaps top five. He plays a very important role in Chris Mack’s offense.

6. E.J. MONTGOMERY and NICK RICHARDS, Kentucky

John Calipari not only brought in Bucknell grad transfer Nate Sestina to help shore up his frontcourt, but most believe that Kentucky is the leader to land Blackshear if he does opt to return to college. That should tell you how comfortable he feels about his frontcourt, and if he loses Montgomery and/or Richards — neither or whom are expected to be a first or even an early second round pick — then the Wildcats will be looking at having a small and thin front line.

7. JARED HARPER, Auburn

Auburn already has lost Chuma Okeke, who will be keeping his name in the NBA draft, and there seems to be a very real chance that they lose Harper as well. He was impressive at the G League Elite Camp and earned himself an invite to the NBA combine. Like Cowan, he is the head of the snake for the Tigers, and would arguably be the best point guard in the SEC if he opted to return to school.

8. MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

Diakite is not going to be a name that pops for a lot of people, but he is such an important piece for Virginia next season. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

9. KALEB WESSON, Ohio State

The Buckeyes look like they are going to end up being a top 20 team next season, but that is assuming that Wesson makes the decision to return to Columbus. He’s the anchor that Chris Holtmann would run his offense around, and the 6-foot-9, 270 pound sophomore has a chance to be a first-team All-Big Ten player next year.

10. JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

Bone will be one of the best point guards in college basketball if he opts to return to school, and with Grant Williams following Admiral Schofield out the door, the Vols need all the experience that they can get. That said, with Lamonte Turner in the fold, there is some backcourt experience for Rick Barnes to rely on if Bone opts to make the jump.

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11. KILLIAN TILLIE, Gonzaga

The Zags desperately need Tillie back. Not only have they lost Josh Perkins to graduation, but Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Zach Norvell Jr. are all keeping their names in the draft. If Tillie returns, he will be a focal point offensively and likely the best player on a Gonzaga team that should start the season in the top 15.

12. PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon

The Ducks are going to take a major hit with Kenny Wooten and Louis King staying in the draft. It could end up being full-on rebuilding mode in Eugene if Payton Pritchard follows them out the door.

13. NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

The Aggies are likely going to be one of the best teams in the country outside of the top seven leagues whether or not the 6-foot-11 Queta returns for his sophomore season, but if they want to build on last year’s Mountain West title and tournament trip, it will certainly help getting their defensive anchor back.

14. NIC CLAXTON, Georgia

Claxton is quietly one of the more talented players in the SEC, and if he opts to return for his sophomore season, he’ll join top five recruit Anthony Edwards in giving Tom Crean one of the better 1-2 punches in the SEC.

15. REGGIE PERRY, Mississippi State

Perry was a five-star freshman this past season that showed flashes of being really, really promising. If he returns to Starkville, he’ll he an anchor for Ben Howland and give the Bulldogs a real shot at remaining a top 25 team.

16. AMIR COFFEY, Minnesota

The Golden Gophers lose Jordan Murphy, but with a talented freshman class returning and Marcus Carr getting eligible, Minnesota has a chance to sneak up on some people next season if Coffey — a 6-foot-6 wing that was forced to play plenty of minutes at the point as a junior — comes back.

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.