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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

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Villanova is the healthiest college basketball program in America right now.

The Wildcats have won two of the last four national titles. They were on track to be a top three seed in the 2020 NCAA Tournament, putting them in a spot where a third trip to the Final Four in five years was a very real possibility. They are the No. 1 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 despite the fact that their best player, Saddiq Bey, has left the program two years earlier than anyone expected him to.

Villanova’s success in the last half-decade is the result of two things: For starters, Jay Wright and his coaching staff are arguably the most efficient recruiters in the sport. What I mean by that is that the Wildcats identify the players that fit within their culture and their style of play, recruit those players hard and bring them into the program. The other part of it is that they bring in players that have pro potential and spend more than one season on campus.

That’s the recipe for prolonged and sustained success.

And that is the track that Baylor’s basketball program has found themselves on.

The Bears got the news on Wednesday night that MaCio Teague will be withdrawing from the NBA draft and returning to school for his senior season. Teague averaged 13.9 points and shot 36 percent from three for the Bears last year, and he will likely find himself on more than a few all-Big 12 teams during the preseason. Teague will be rejoining Davion Mitchell, Mark Vital, Tristan Clark and Matthew Mayer to make up the core of what should be a very good team heading into the 2020-21 season.

The key, however, is going to be Jared Butler. A rising junior that is coming off of a terrific sophomore season that saw him average a team-high 16.0 points while shooting 38 percent from three. Like Teague, Butler has drawn out his decision-making process when it comes to turning pro, gathering as much information as possible before the NCAA’s August 3rd deadline to withdraw. Even then, Butler will technically have until the NBA’s August 17th deadline to decide on whether or not he will be turning pro. Unlike Teague, however, Butler actually has a chance to hear his name called in this year’s draft. He’s likely a mid-second round pick at best, but his combination of shot-making, handle and the ability to create space off the dribble makes him an intriguing player in a league that prioritizes those things.

Butler’s decision will have a major impact on Baylor this season. With him, Scott Drew will return essentially everyone of note not named Freddie Gillispie from a team that went 26-4 and spent time as the No. 1 in the country last year. With him, Baylor will be a consensus preseason top three team, if not the No. 1 team in the country. With him, they could win a national title.

If he’s gone, the Bears will still be very good, but they will be losing their most dangerous offensive weapon from a team that struggled to score at times a year ago. They’ll still be a top 10-15 team, but being really good and being a title favorite are two different things. Baylor’s been really good before. They’re not often a title favorite.

So Butler’s decision is, rightfully, one of the most anticipated as we head into the final days before the deadline to withdraw.

But at the same time, Butler’s decision will have relatively little impact on the direction that the Baylor basketball program is heading.

Drew’s staff has been as good as anyone in the country at identifying under-the-radar talent and figuring out how to use those pieces effectively. For a program that had a reputation for being great at recruiting, Baylor’s best team in program history did not have a single player on the roster that was a consensus top 75 recruit on the roster. This is notable because Drew has landed commitments from Kendall Brown and Langston Love, a pair of five-star prospects in the class of 2021 that double as the first five-star commits Baylor has landed since Isaiah Austin in 2012.

So while Jared Butler’s decision will tell us what the Bears are going to be this season, the future of Baylor basketball has already been solidified.

The Bears are here to stay for the long haul.

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.