Jon Lopez/Nike

College Basketball’s Impact Freshman

1 Comment

Unfortunately, there will be no Zion Williamson-level star to be found among this year’s freshman class.

Although the Class of 2019 has some exciting future one-and-done players who should contribute in college basketball this season it is hard to image any newcomer captivating the nation like Zion did last season at Duke.

But there are still plenty of names to keep an eye on.

Memphis could have their very own Fab Five this season as head coach Penny Hardaway looks like he is going to start all freshmen. Duke and Kentucky continued their decade-long recruiting war with two more solid classes filled with McDonald’s All-Americans. Others like North Carolina and Washington reloaded with multiple Burger Boys following last season’s NCAA tournament appearances.

Here’s a look at five of the biggest freshmen stars, five potential Trae Youngs (recruits ranked near the 20s who could explode) and five names ranked near the 50s and below who could emerge nationally this season.

RELATEDVirginia’s road to redemption | The evolution of Matt Painter 

THE FIVE NAMES YOU NEED TO KNOW

JAMES WISEMAN, Memphis: On a team that could start five freshman for head coach Penny Hardaway this season Wiseman will be the one to keep tabs on. The 7-foot-1 lefty brings a rare combination of size, length, athleticism and skill. Some recruiting analysts believe Wiseman is the No. 1 prospect in the freshman class coming out of high school. Having previously played for Hardaway at Memphis East during his junior season of high school, Wiseman will be a rare elite recruit to play for a head coach he’s very familiar with.

COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina: Taking over for Coby White after his outstanding freshman season, the 6-foot-3 Anthony could very well be the most productive freshman – if not the most productive player – in college hoops this season. The son of Greg Anthony, Cole’s unique ability to take over a game stems from his Westbrook-like ability to contribute in every facet of a game. A regular triple-double threat in high school, Anthony is bouncy around the basket and skilled as a scorer as his ability to go off the bounce creates offense for himself or others. On a Tar Heel team that needs Anthony to play heavy minutes, but doesn’t need him to do everything it’ll be fascinating to see how quickly Anthony can lead this team with the ball in his hands. Playing fast as Roy Williams like shouldn’t be a problem for Anthony.

ANTHONY EDWARDS, Georgia: When Edwards reclassified from the Class of 2020 and committed to Georgia it was a massive coup for Tom Crean. That’s because Edwards might end up being the best long-term player of the Class of 2019. Athletic and strong at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Edwards is a three-level scorer who easily plays above the rim or well behind the three-point line. Effortless as a scorer at times, Edwards can get it rolling as a shooter and he’s destructive off the bounce thanks to his strength and quick first step. It’ll be fascinating to see how the Bulldogs use Edwards this season. The guard could easily stay positioned on the perimeter or Georgia could opt to use Edwards as a forward in some small-ball scenarios.

ISAIAH STEWART, Washington: An absolute terror in the paint, Washington head coach Mike Hopkins deserves a lot of credit for getting the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Stewart in the door. That’s because Stewart has a chance to be an immediate All-American. A potential double-double machine, Stewart is a throwback type of big man who wants to mix it up and hang inside. Although Stewart has an improving skill level that has some placing him in the top five of mock drafts, his physicality will stand out for a freshman — particularly in a league like the Pac-12. Coupled with another McDonald’s All-American in Jaden McDaniels and the Huskies have very high hopes for the freshman class.

TYRESE MAXEY, Kentucky: Other freshmen might be better pro prospects but the 6-foot-3 Maxey has a chance to be Kentucky’s leading scorer this season. Likely logging heavy minutes next to Ashton Hagans in the Wildcat backcourt, Maxey was one of the elite scorers in the class as he made it look easy at times in the Nike EYBL. Maxey is capable of also handling the ball and running some offense and his intensity on the defensive end is solid for a noted scorer. Kentucky once again has a lot of talent and a deep recruiting class but Maxey will be the one counted on for the most production right away. Maxey was listed as an NBC Sports Preseason All-American.

MORE: NBC Sports Preseason Top 25All-Americans

FIVE POTENTIAL TRAE YOUNGS

TRE MANN, Florida: A scoring guard with deep range and tons of potential, keeping this in-state product home was a big grab for the Gators. The 6-foot-3 Mann should really help Florida from three-point range as they struggled with consistency in that department last season (33 percent as a team). Mann is the type of aggressive heat-check guard who will let them fly. Few in the Class of 2019 could go on scoring runs like he could. With veterans inside like Kerry Blackshear and plenty of long and athletic wings around him, Mann has the ability to make a major impact right away — particularly on the offensive end.

C.J. WALKER, Oregon: Bouncy, shot-blocking forwards have thrived for the Ducks in recent seasons as they hope the 6-foot-8 Walker can follow in the footsteps of players like Jordan Bell and Kenny Wooten. Walker is more of a wing than those two but he still provides rim protection and ability to defend multiple spots on the floor. With an improving jumper, Walker is particularly intriguing because of a high motor and a willingness to do the little things. If Walker can show more on offense than activity plays around the basket then he could have a big impact right away.

ISAAC OKORO, AUBURN: After making a run to last season’s title game, the Tigers are looking to the 6-foot-6 Okoro to earn some key minutes right away. A multi-position athlete who could make a huge impact on the defensive end, Okoro is the type of shutdown defender who can capably lock down four spots. Auburn’s trapping scheme should help Okoro make a lot of plays in transition as he’s one of the best open-floor players in the class as well. Although Okoro isn’t as polished offensively as some on this list, he has a chance to make a huge impact if he shows a steady perimeter jumper.

JAHMIUS RAMSEY, Texas Tech: Guards at Texas Tech have been known to make giant leaps the past few seasons thanks to Zaire Smith and Jarrett Culver both getting picked in the first round. The Red Raiders are hoping the 6-foot-4 Ramsey can be the next in line to make an immediate impact. Staying in Texas for school, Ramsey has a chance to make an impact at both guard spots right away. More inclined to score at the high school level, Ramsey can also set up others as he’s at his best attacking the basket. On a team that will need some newcomers to step up, Ramsey should have the ball in his hands quite a bit as he’ll be asked to do a lot.

DE’VION HARMON, Oklahoma: The Sooners don’t have much experience returning in the backcourt from last season, paving the way for the 6-foot-1 Harmon to come in and play right away. One of the toughest perimeter defenders in the class, the lefty also make an impact on offense where he can run a halfcourt offense or score on his own. With a massive wingspan, Harmon is problematic on the perimeter as he’s drawn favorable comparisons to a recent Big 12 legend in Jevon Carter.

MORE: The 33 best non-con games | Who is the next Texas Tech?

FIVE NAMES THAT WILL HAVE AN IMPACT NATIONALLY

JALEN WILSON, Kansas: Wilson isn’t the typical five-star prospect that Kansas has grown accustomed to over Bill Self’s tenure. But there’s still a big need for the 6-foot-8 wing to potentially join a thin Jayhawk rotation this season as they try to get back on top of the Big 12. A former Michigan recruit who flipped his commitment following John Beilein’s NBA departure, Wilson gives Kansas some floor spacing as his perimeter jumper and ability to score is his calling card. Wilson doesn’t need to have a huge freshmen season for Kansas to be a contender but his emergence could make them that much more dangerous.

CASEY MORSELL, Virginia: It isn’t typical for freshmen to log heavy minutes for Virginia but Tony Bennett might not have a better choice after losing Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy early. The 6-foot-3 Morsell comes with typical prerequisites that are required of a successful Cavaliers guard. Morsell is competitive, tough and willing to defend as the D.C. native is one of the top two-way guards in the class. Although Morsell isn’t going to do anything flashy he can be a steady presence for a Virginia lineup desperately seeking a new identity this season.

KOFI COCKBURN, Illinois: At 7-feet tall and nearly 300 pounds, Cockburn is the highest-ranked Illinois center since Meyers Leonard. Impossible to move out of the paint, Cockburn isn’t the most athletic big man, but his bruising style and soft touch should fit in well in the Big Ten. Cockburn’s addition to the Illini rotation also allows for promising sophomore big man Giorgi Bezhanishvili to play at the four, giving Illinois a premier post offense if the duo shares the floor. Defensively, Cockburn should also help with some rim protection as he’s solid as a positional post defender.

TRE MITCHELL, UMass: A rare top-100 recruit for the Atlantic 10, the 6-foot-9 Mitchell should be one of the league’s better post players as head coach Matt McCall looks to get the program back on track. A gifted offensive weapon who can score in the post or also face up with the jumper, Mitchell will be a major piece for the Minutemen to build with this season. A potential four-year player, Mitchell isn’t an elite athlete. But he should command some double teams and give UMass an immediate credible threat in the post.

ROMEO WEEMS, DePaul: One of the highest-ranked DePaul recruits of the last decade, the 6-foot-7 Weems will have a huge impact on the Blue Demons. A versatile wing forward who can do a bit of everything, Weems should fit in nicely with a DePaul frontcourt that features an underrated talent in Paul Reed. Weems is skilled enough to handle the ball and initiate some offense while remaining rugged enough to defend multiple spots and rebound.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
7 Comments

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

Getty Images
4 Comments

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.