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College Basketball’s Best Backcourts

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Guards win in March.

That’s why having the best guards in the country makes you such a good basketball team.

And that’s what makes this list of college basketball’s best backcourts so important.

These are the teams that are positioned to make a run in March.

1. KENTUCKY (Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, Kahlil Whitney, Johnny Juzang)

It’s hard to top a perimeter group that boasts four five-star prospects and multiple McDonald’s All-Americans, but it’s become practically the norm at Kentucky.

Ashton Hagans proved himself capable of running an offense and being a lockdown defender last season. The sophomore is hoping to expand his offensive game this season as perimeter shooting will be something to monitor. Tyrese Maxey is one of the most college-ready scorers in the freshman class as he’s also capable of playing with the ball in his hands.

The duo of Hagans and Maxey could also compliment each other nicely with Hagans as a lockdown guy and Maxey focused on bucket-getting. There might not be a better third guard in the country than former McDonald’s All-American Immanuel Quickley as he can help on both ends of the floor. Freshman Kahlil Whitney could get heavy minutes on the wing as he’s a run-and-jump athlete with more skill than advertised.

2. MICHIGAN STATE (Cassius Winston, Josh Langford, Aaron Henry, Rocket Watts, Foster Loyer)

Having the Preseason Player of the Year in college basketball certainly helps the Spartans this season as Cassius Winston is the sport’s top returning player this season. With Winston maintaining his responsibilities at point guard, Michigan State is a big favorite to win the Big Ten as they try to capture a national title.

Although injured, Joshua Langford is a potent scorer and solid defender when he’s in the lineup. Langford’s health could ultimately be the key to unlocking the Spartans’ ceiling this season. Aaron Henry has a chance to make major strides as a sophomore as he showed plenty of promise late in the season. The addition of freshman Rocket Watts should give a nice boost to the Michigan State second unit as he could be looked upon to help score while the starters get rest.

3. FLORIDA (Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, Tre Mann, Scottie Lewis)

Expectations are high at Florida this season as a young-but-talented perimeter group could ultimately determine the Gators’ ceiling. The return of point guard Andrew Nembhard and shooter Noah Locke was big for Florida as both players produced solid freshman campaigns. Nembhard will be asked to do even more this season as one of the team’s few returning rotation players. Locke needs to be more consistent after a sluggish end to the season but he’s a capable shooter who limits turnovers.

The Gators are very excited by the addition of two McDonald’s All-Americans in athletic wing Scottie Lewis and in-state scoring guard Tre Mann. Lewis fits perfectly with this Florida outfit because he doesn’t have to score a lot to be a major factor. Lewis has outstanding defensive upside and can also help handle the ball in a pinch if needed. Mann’s ability to put up points in bunches will greatly benefit the Gators as his role in this perimeter group will be fascinating to watch.

4. NORTH CAROLINA (Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson, Leaky Black, Christian Keeling, Andrew Platek, Anthony Harris)

There will be some question marks in the North Carolina backcourt this season with the loss of talented players like Coby White, Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson. Having freshman Cole Anthony should alleviate a lot of those Tar Heel perimeter concerns. Anthony has a chance to be the most productive freshman in college hoops this season with his Westbrook-like impact on the game. Capable of the triple-double on any night, Anthony has to push North Carolina’s offense if the Tar Heels want to be great.

Senior Brandon Robinson and grad transfer Christian Keeling (Charleston Southern) should help provide floor spacing for Anthony. North Carolina fans have patiently waited for sophomore Leaky Black to unleash his vast potential. If Black figures out how to play with more aggression then he has the talent to be an impact ACC player. Freshman Anthony Harris could earn rotation minutes if he’s healthy enough following a torn ACL last December.

5. DUKE (Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Wendell Moore, Cassius Stanley, Jordan Goldwire)

The return of Tre Jones at point guard was gigantic for the Blue Devils as the sophomore has a chance to be one of the nation’s top players. A standout running the offense and defending on the perimeter, Jones has to improve an inconsistent perimeter jumper that became a liability at times last season. Even if Jones isn’t knocking down shots, he still makes everyone around him better and he’ll be the unquestioned leader of Duke’s defense.

Junior Alex O’Connell has carved out a role the past two seasons as a shooter off the bench as the Blue Devils hope he can become more well-rounded as an upperclassman. Two stud freshmen enter the mix as well in Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley. Moore is a winning player capable of contributing in multiple ways. The freshman doesn’t need to score to make an impact. Stanley is a big-time athlete who can slash and flourish in the open floor. Perimeter shooting as a whole is going to be the major storyline to follow with this Duke backcourt.

6. KANSAS (Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, Marcus Garrett, Isaiah Moss)

Plenty of talented perimeter pieces return to Kansas as the Jayhawks should have more stability there than a year ago. Devon Dotson pulling his name out of the NBA Draft and returning for his sophomore season was huge for Kansas. The downhill guard can create offense in an instant and he’s one of the toughest guards to slow down in the country.

After burning his redshirt in the middle of last season, Ochai Agbaji made a major splash as he was starting and contributing by the end of the year. Agbaji has big upside and seeing what he can do during a full season should be fun to watch. Junior Marcus Garrett returns as a lockdown defender and solid rotation piece. Grad transfer Isaiah Moss comes from Iowa ready to produce as an off-ball scorer as he gives the Jayhawks a perimeter threat that they needed for this roster.

7. MARYLAND (Anthony Cowan, Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins, Serrel Smith)

Following last season’s Round of 32 run, the Terps return their entire perimeter group after only losing big man Bruno Fernando this offseason. Anthony Cowan would receive far more attention at lead guard if he wasn’t in the same league as Cassius Winston as the senior is the team’s leading scorer and distributor. If Cowan can become a little more consistent then he could push for All-American honors.

It helps Maryland that Cowan has plenty of weapons around him as sophomores Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins and Serrel Smith all return. All three produced as freshmen last season. Wiggins, the team’s sixth man last season, could make a major leap with more minutes while Ayala and Morsell are established starters who fit nicely with Cowan. Smith gives Maryland a wealth of perimeter options as he would play more minutes on most teams.

8. OREGON (Payton Pritchard, Will Richardson, Anthony Mathis, Chris Duarte)

Not many backcourts in college hoops have a Final Four participant as the Ducks are led by veteran floor general Payton Pritchard. Helping Oregon reach multiple Sweet 16s the past three years, Pritchard is tough as nails and makes plays all over the floor. Pritchard will have weapons around him this season. Transferring in from New Mexico, senior shooter Anthony Mathis is reunited with Pritchard, his former high school teammate. Sophomore Will Richardson will both be asked to score more this season after being role player a year ago. The wild card in the group could be highly-touted JUCO guard Chris Duarte who some considered the best JUCO prospect in the country. As long as Pritchard gets scoring help from one of his four perimeter options, the Ducks should be fine.

9. SETON HALL (Myles Powell, Quincy McKnight, Myles Cale, Anthony Nelson, Shavar Reynolds Jr.)

A veteran backcourt with a potential All-American in Myles Powell, Seton Hall has a lot to look forward to from its perimeter. Powell is one of America’s premier players as he’ll have a chance to earn All-American honors if he plays like he did last season. Although Powell is a rugged scorer and solid two-way player, if he limits turnovers then he’ll be even tougher to stop. McKnight isn’t reliable as a perimeter shooter but the senior fills in a lot of gaps for the group as he can attack the basket, handle the ball and really defend. Junior Myles Cale adds an additional scoring punch that prevents defenses from overloading too much on Powell. Depth is a question mark for this group, although reserves like Anthony Nelson and Shavar Reynolds Jr. have been solid in limited minutes.

10. ARIZONA (Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Max Hazzard, Dylan Smith, Devonaire Doutrive)

The Wildcats are hoping for a return to the national spotlight this season thanks to the addition of two McDonald’s All-American guards in Nico Mannion and Josh Green. Both freshmen should receive big minutes right away. Mannion is a competitor on both ends who should be able to run Arizona’s offense while also providing some scoring pop on his own. Green is a smooth wing athlete who can slash and attack the basket. If Green can improve his shaky perimeter jumper than he’ll be tough to defend. Veterans Dylan Smith and Devonaire Doutrive both return and will be counted on to help Arizona’s perimeter defense. The addition of UC Irvine grad transfer Max Hazzard should help as the senior was a big reason why the Anteaters made a splash in the NCAA tournament.

11. MARQUETTE (Markus Howard, Sacar Anim, Koby McEwen, Greg Elliott)

This group’s ranking gets a boost thanks to the return of Markus Howard for his senior season. One of the most dynamic scorers in the country, Howard is one of the only players in college hoops capable of going for 50-plus points on any night. Howard should have help this season in the form of senior Sacar Anim and Utah State transfer Koby McEwen. Anim has earned steady minutes in the Marquette rotation while McEwen is a former all-conference selection in the Mountain West who should alleviate some of the scoring burden placed on Howard. Sophomore Greg Elliott is a bit of a forgotten man in this group after redshirting last season with a thumb injury but he could give a nice addition to the unit — particularly on defense.

12. DAVIDSON (Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Kellan Grady, Luke Frampton, Carter Collins)

Not many backcourt units boast two all-league players returning  in the same unit. With Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Jon Axel Gudmundsson and first-team all-conference selection Kellan Grady back in the fold, Davidson has one of the most dangerous backcourts in the country. Gudmundsson is one of America’s most underrated floor leaders. The senior is a do-it-all guard capable of pushing for a triple-double any game. Grady (17.3 ppg) is the lethal scorer and former highly-touted prospect among the group as the junior can get rolling. And Luke Frampton made the most three-pointers in the A-10 last season as he rounds out a very tough trio of starters.

13. PROVIDENCE (Alpha Diallo, David Duke, Luwane Pipkins, A.J. Reeves, Maliek White)

The Big East has more perimeter star power on teams like Seton Hall and Marquette but you could make a solid argument that Providence has the deepest unit in the league. Diallo’s return to school gave the Friars a ton of hope this season as the second-team All-Big East selection is the productive leader of this group. From there, the Friars could get a leap from sophomores A.J. Reeves and David Duke as both former top-100 prospects nearly averaged double-figures last season. Point guard play will be the group’s biggest question but Providence was wise to add UMass grad transfer Luwane Pipkins and his scoring prowess to the lineup this offseason. If Pipkins struggles to consistently run the offense then senior Mallek White is one of the Big East’s better reserve guards.

14. LSU (Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor, Parker Edwards)

Losing Tremont Waters will certainly hurt. The good news for LSU is that Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays and Marlon Taylor all pulled their name out of the NBA Draft and returned to school. Playing more off the ball last season with Waters at point, Smart will get a chance to be the primary playmaker as a sophomore. While Smart’s perimeter shooting remains a question mark, he is undoubtedly strong when it comes to attacking the rim and making plays. Mays didn’t shoot particularly well from the perimeter last season but still produced a great season. The senior is an All-SEC caliber player who isn’t afraid to step up in big moments. Taylor didn’t get heavy minutes last season but he’s a mega athlete capable of playing above the rim and helping defensively. LSU’s perimeter doesn’t have a lot of depth but Southeastern Louisiana transfer Parker Edwards could carve out a useful role as a perimeter shooter.

15. CREIGHTON (Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Marcus Zegarowski, Davion Mintz)

The Bluejays have plenty of perimeter pieces to rely on this season thanks to the return of numerous veterans. Davion Mintz is a three-year starter capable of playing multiple guard spots but he’s at his best setting up the numerous weapons he has around him. Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitchell Ballock are two junior bombers who can really knock down perimeter shots. Alexander is the more well-rounded scorer while Ballock might be more capable of a one-night explosion as evidenced by his NCAA-record 11 threes against DePaul last season. Marcus Zegarowski is the intriguing sophomore of the group as he joined the starting lineup midway through last season and made a major impact scoring and distributing.

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.