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Big Ten Offseason Reset: Michigan State, Maryland headline deepest league in America

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The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking Big Ten.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

MICHIGAN STATE’S TITLE PUSH: It’s been discussed seemingly every year how the Big Ten hasn’t won a national championship since 2000.

With Virginia becoming the latest ACC program to take a title as Michigan State fell short in the Final Four once again, it’s only natural to think about what could have been.

Thankfully for the Big Ten’s title hopes, Michigan State is arguably the No. 1 team in the country entering this season. The Spartans have Preseason Player of the Year favorite in Cassius Winston and guard Josh Langford should return to health. Perhaps most importantly, Xavier Tillman looked like a huge threat down the stretch last season as the loss of Nick Ward shouldn’t even hurt the Spartans that much. And keep an eye on Aaron Henry.

Michigan State has everything they need to make it back to the Final Four as they bring experience, talent and an intriguing underclass group to the table. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if this Spartans team broke the Big Ten’s drought by winning it all next season.

JUWAN HOWARD REPLACING JOHN BEILEIN AT MICHIGAN: John Beilein going to the Cleveland Cavaliers in late May was the biggest coaching change of this offseason as a veteran Final Four coach and consistent top-25 presence opted to try his hand overseeing the highest level.

Replacing Beilein will be a proud alum in Juwan Howard, a Fab Five stalwart and 19-year NBA veteran. While it’s easy to be skeptical of an NBA guy taking over a program after recent failures elsewhere, Howard has six seasons of experience as an assistant coach with the Heat as he learned from one of the NBA’s best in Erik Spoelstra.

Juwan Howard (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

But Howard has never been a head coach, worked in the college game or recruited. Howard has been seen this spring at Nike EYBL events as he has a feel for the current recruiting landscape and how things work. It’s also very tough to replace a man who took a program to two Final Fours and had one of the best development programs in the nation.

Losing three key starters (more on that below) and assistant coach and defensive guru Luke Yaklich will also be a hit. There’s also reason to remain optimistic thanks to the return of veteran floor general Zavier Simpson and big man Jon Teske. Isaiah Livers and Eli Brooks also return along with a talented sophomore class. And former Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli joining the staff as an assistant should ease the transition a bit for Howard.

Howard guiding a semi-experienced Michigan team as a first-year head coach will be one of the most fascinating subplots of this season in college basketball.

MARYLAND IS A TOP-10 THREAT: When Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith returned to school it gave the Terrapins one of the most intriguing teams in the country heading into the season.

Losing a double-double machine and elite big man in Bruno Fernando will undoubtedly hurt Maryland. The good news is that most of the rest of the team is back. Cowan is one of the league’s elite point guards as he’s got Smith back on the interior to ease things up for him. Smith’s sophomore classmates Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Ricky Lindo Jr. should also take a leap while junior Darryl Morsell is also returning.

The inside-outside combo of Cowan and Smith should be one of the league’s best and if multiple sophomores take a step up then Maryland could be a major threat for the Big Ten title. Top-35 in offense and defense in KenPom last season, the Terps are balanced, have all-league players at key positions and upside at multiple spots. Alert Scott Van Pelt. It could be a fun season for Maryland.

THE BIG TEN REMAINS INCREDIBLY DEEP: Although the Big Ten didn’t get a national title last March, they were the most impressive league in the NCAA tournament, getting eight teams into the field and going 7-1 in the first round.

This season looks no different for the Big Ten, as top-to-bottom it could be the toughest league in the country. Although some programs are in rebuilding mode, there is a strong case for many of the second and third-tier teams in the league thanks to star power and returning veteran experience. It’s not out of the question that the Big Ten could field double-digit teams in the field if things go as they could.

As long as the league’s teams don’t beat up on each other too badly then the Big Ten should be primed for another memorable season as the league has a lot of quality teams once again.

FRED HOIBERG TAKES OVER NEBRASKA: Juwan Howard isn’t the only new head coach in the league with an NBA background.

Following a failed trip to coach the Bulls, Fred Hoiberg is back in the college game as he takes over at Nebraska for Tim Miles. During a five-year stint at Iowa State in the first half of the decade, Hoiberg made four NCAA tournament appearances and the Round of 32 or better three times as he quickly turned around his sinking alma mater.

With a rabid fan base and great home court advantage in Lincoln, Hoiberg will try to create a turnaround similar to what he oversaw in Ames. Incredibly, Hoiberg has already turned over most of the Nebraska roster. Isaiah Roby leaving means two returning players from last season as he’s already loaded the roster with new players. Hoiberg was at his best taking transfers with the Cyclones, so it’ll be interesting to see his recruiting patterns in his new home.

Anthony Cowan (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE

  • CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: After becoming a cult hero in the NCAA tournament, Edwards turned pro and got picked in the second round by the Celtics. The Boilermakers will have a tough time replacing his volume scoring.
  • ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin: One of the Big Ten’s most prolific players is finally out of eligibility for the Badgers. It will feel incredibly strange seeing Wisconsin without Happ on the floor.
  • NICK WARD, Michigan State: The bruising junior big man decided to leave the Spartans as he ended up signing with the Hawks. Ward’s minutes declined at the end of the season as Xavier Tillman became the main interior presence.
  • BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland: It’s nearly impossible to replace a double-double per game on 60 percent shooting but the Terps move on without their big man. Fernando was an early-second-round pick who ended up with the Hawks.
  • CHARLES MATTHEWS, IGGY BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan: The three top scorers from the Wolverines all departed for the pros as Howard will have to plug in many new pieces his first season. Not only could the group really score but they were all on the floor for one of the nation’s premier defenses.
  • EUGENE OMORUYI, Rutgers: Unknown compared to many on this list, Omoruyi’s transfer to Oregon gutted a Scarlet Knights team trying to turn the corner. He was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season.
  • AMIR COFFEY, Minnesota: The Golden Gophers might have been intriguing had Coffey returned on the wing but he opted to go pro and landed a two-way deal with the Clippers.
  • ROMEO LANGFORD and JUWAN MORGAN, Indiana: This duo accounted for 32 pointer per game for the Hoosiers last season as Langford went No. 14 to the Celtics.
  • TYLER COOK, Iowa: Leading scorer and rebounder for the Hawkeyes last season, Cook’s departure to the pros hurt a Hawkeyes deep with big tournament aspirations.

WHO’S BACK

  • CASSIUS WINSTON, JOSHUA LANGFORD and XAVIER TILLMAN, Michigan State: There might not be a more talented and experienced returning trio in the sport. Winston is a senior and National Player of the Year threat who controls the entire game for the Spartans. Langford is another senior and double-figure scorer returning from injury while Tillman improved immensely the final weeks of the season.
  • ANTHONY COWAN and JALEN SMITH, Maryland: Besides for Michigan State, this is the top inside-outside duo returning in the Big Ten this season. Cowan returned to school, where he was a huge offensive threat for the Terps last season. Smith is an NBA prospect who should command more touches with Fernando leaving.
  • KALEB WESSON, Ohio State: The Big Ten’s best post scorer is back for another season after flirting with the NBA. The 6-foot-9, 270-pound, highly-skilled big man doesn’t have many peers in college hoops as he’s the key to Ohio State’s offense.
  • AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois: After a promising freshman year, Dosunmu didn’t even entertain the NBA Draft process as he returned to Illinois. A lockdown defender who can score going to the rim, Dosunmu is a consistent jumper away from a potential lottery selection.
  • LAMAR STEVENS, Penn State: With 1,660 career points and an All-Big Ten First Team season already under his belt, this senior forward is one of the nation’s most underrated players. Stevens is a three-pointer away from being a total monster.

WHO’S COMING

  • ROCKET WATTS, Michigan State: One of the best names in college hoops next year doubles as a major second-unit perimeter scoring threat who could wind up playing a big part in a Final Four run. The 6-foot-2 Watts can really fill it up.
  • C.J. WALKER and D.J. CARTON, Ohio State: Ohio State overhauls its perimeter with this duo. Walker transfers from Florida State and provides experience at point while Carton is the best player in a loaded recruiting class, a high-flying guard with big upside.
  • TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS, Indiana: Whenever Mr. Basketball in Indiana ends up a Hoosier its a huge deal. This 6-foot-9 big man will be asked to come in and play right away as his rebounding and athleticism helped make him a near five-star prospect.
  • KOFI COCKBURN, Illinois: Listed a 7-foot-0, 290 pounds on the team’s official roster, this top-50 prospect is going to be a load to handle on the interior. Cockburn’s addition gives Illinois a very talented frontcourt.
  • YVAN OUEDRAOGO, Nebraska: The sweet-shooting 6-foot-9 French big man nearly averaged a double-double at last summer’s FIBA U16 European Championships. It was considered a coup when Hoiberg landed Ouedraogo this spring.
  • JAHAAD PROCTOR, Purdue: Losing Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline means this graduate transfer guard will get a ton of shots. The second-team All-Big South selection put up 19.5 points per game at High Point last season.
  • PAT SPENCER, Northwestern: College basketball’s most interesting transfer this season, Spencer is a former star Division I lacrosse player grad transferring to the Wildcats as a potential rotation guard for his final year of college eligibility.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-BIG TEN TEAM

CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State (BIG TEN PLAYER OF THE YEAR)
JALEN SMITH, Maryland
AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois
KALEB WESSON, Ohio State
LAMAR STEVENS, Penn State

Kaleb Wesson (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. MICHIGAN STATE: It’s title or bust for the Spartans as they look like the possible team to break the Big Ten’s title drought. Winston is an elite college basketball player and a healthy Langford is a lethal secondary scorer. Tillman looked scary by the end of last season while Aaron Henry and Kyle Ahrens are more returning contributors. Michigan State has the experience of making it last year and most of the returning pieces to get there again.

2. MARYLAND: Expectations are sky-high for the Terps as more than a few feel they’re top-10 worthy. Since they only lost Bruno Fernando from a promising team, Maryland has a lot to like. Anthony Cowan is the league’s best point guard besides Cassius Winston and Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala and Darryl Morsell all return. There’s a ton of talent in place to make a national statement this season.

3. OHIO STATE: A year ahead of schedule making the Round of 32 last season, Kaleb Wesson’s return gives the Buckeyes a ton of threats. Wesson is the league’s premier interior scoring talent and he’s surrounded by returning experience and a top-flight recruiting class with multiple top-50 prospects. The Buckeyes getting consistent guard play from new pieces and sophomores Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad

4. MICHIGAN: Things will be drastically different in Ann Arbor as only Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske are back in the starting lineup. The Wolverines still have decent upper class talent with Isaiah Livers and Eli Brooks while the four-man sophomore class needs to take a step up this season with the depleted recruiting class. Landing Franz Wagner, Mo’s little brother, would also be a monster move at this point in the offseason.

5. PURDUE: One of the league’s deepest frontcourts makes up for the loss of Edwards and Cline. Matt Haarms, Trevion Williams, Evan Boudreaux and Aaron Wheeler all proved themselves last season. Nojel Eastern is one of the league’s best defenders as he also returns. Proctor should help with the scoring but the Boilermakers need to find points to replace a volume-shooting backcourt.

6. IOWA: Returning three noted scorers in center Luka Garza and guards Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp will help the Hawkeyes as they should still put up points in bunches. Ryan Kreiner and Connon McCaffery also have plenty of experience while Patrick McCaffery, a four-star forward, also joins the roster this season. Getting stops will be key to Iowa’s season as an improved defense saw them make the Round of 32 last season.

7. ILLINOIS: The top four scorers all return as Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Giorgi Bezhanishvili were all credible double-figure scorers last season. Guard Andres Feliz is another player who can contribute points and center Kofi Cockburn’s addition gives the Illini a much-needed interior force. This team has massive upside but hasn’t tasted real success.

8. WISCONSIN: If Wisconsin can improve its inconsistent scoring and shooting then they should be a dangerous team. A thin frontcourt that returns only Nathan Reuvers and Aleem Ford is a concern but the perimeter of D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison is talented. Kobe King or Brevin Pritzl making a leap would help while the Badgers have a big group of inexperienced bigs to try out.

9. INDIANA: Losing Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan is going to be tough to overcome as the Hoosiers lack a clear go-to option. A team full of former role guys like Devonte Green, Al Durham and Justin Smith will have to step up. The Hoosiers have depth. Archie Miller has developed good teams in the past. Can this group improve enough to make a major leap this season?

10. PENN STATE: The Nittany Lions have experienced pieces in Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins while grad transfer Curtis Jones helps with guard depth following the loss of Rasir Bolton to transfer. Myles Dread is also back but the Nittany Lions will be playing a lot of unproven pieces. How far can Stevens carry this team?

11. RUTGERS: Finding a go-to player will be key now that Omoruyi is gone as the Scarlet Knights still return three starters and gain some solid transfers. The promising perimeter of Geo Baker, Montez Mathis and Ron Harper Jr. still have room to get better. Sophomore big man Myles Johnson came on strong the end of last season. But where does star power and scoring come from?

12. MINNESOTA: The loss of Amir Coffey stings but there’s a very intriguing sophomore core in place. Double-figure scorers Gabe Kalscheur and Daniel Oturu both return while Pitt transfer Marcus Carr and Vanderbilt transfer Peyton Willis enters the backcourt after redshirt years. Finding production outside of those the starting lineup could be the key to Minnesota’s season.

13. NORTHWESTERN: The last-place team loses its top three scorers while likely relying on a very young frontcourt and unstable point guard situation. The Wildcats really need young pieces to step up like freshmen center Jared Jones and forward Robbie Beran while senior A.J. Turner has to become a go-to presence.

14. NEBRASKA: First-year head coach Fred Hoiberg has already turned over much of the Nebraska roster. It’s a clear rebuilding year. Hoiberg was always at his best at Iowa State with an experienced roster, so the Huskers are still likely a few years away.

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

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The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

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Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.