With the Division I Council expected to vote every Wednesday, the light is finally at the end of the tunnel for the off season of the sport. It’s been an uncertain six months for the sport since the cancellation of the NCAA tournament. In particular, disruptions in the recruitment calendar and changes in off-season training forced coaches to deviate from their routines. Players considering leaving for the NBA Draft also faced an incoherent preparation process that diminished their ability to receive quality feedback from NBA teams.
There are still many questions about what the upcoming season will be like, but with college football underway and progress on COVID-19 testing coming, it now seems certain that there is a college basketball season coming. Barring disaster, there should be some non-conference action before the calendar jumps to 2021 as well.
So as we get closer to the return of college basketball, let’s think about the winners and losers of the off-season.
Winner: Florida Statekeeps momentum underway
Leonard Hamilton takes advantage of his program’s ACC season title by putting together an impressive recruiting course. It won’t end this way, but the Seminoles are currently at the top of the recruitment rankings for the Class of 2021, according to 247Sports. With five-star security guard Jalen Warley and a trio of four-star players, FSU is on track for what the program could rival 2016 class as the best in school history. That class of 2016 included final lottery pick Jonathan Isaac and finished at national level No. 4. The 2021 class is getting deeper and could become a top five class too when all is said and done.
FSU will also be back in the spotlight off-season at NBA Draft night – whenever that happens – like the SeminolesPatrick Williams and Devin Vassell were selected in the first round. FSU is really a basketball school now, isn’t it?
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Loser: Memphis, Kansas, and NC State are still waiting
Visitors to the website for the new Independent accountability process for NCAA rules, violators are greeted by a large red box with a message. It states that the timeline, including the “release of decisions,” remains intact, even though hearings and arguments will take place virtually wherever possible.
That is amazing. The only problem for Memphis, Kansas, and NC State is that there doesn’t seem to be much clarity about what that timeline is. The Memphis case, believed to revolve around the recruitment of former No. 1 general prospect James Wiseman, became the first to enter the IARP trial in March. The NC State case went to trial in May, and the Kansas case went to trial on July 1.
If these schools face post-season bans, they may want to know before the season starts. There is no appeal process for IARP decisions, so the committee’s decisions are final. While it may be some relief that the decision is theoretically in the hands of an independent body and not the NCAA, these three programs serve as guinea pigs of a retrial that is still quite mysterious. In an already uncertain time for college basketball, that certainly creates some extra anxiety for the programs involved.
Winner: Villanova and Michigan prevented disaster
In a year full of disasters, there is something to be said to avoid the next year. Michigan and Villanova each avoided a doomsday scenario when their coaches released statements clarifying that they would not be pursuing NBA jobs. Given the financial constraints of the pandemic and the timing of the NBA’s coaching carousel, it would have been extremely undesirable for either program to seek coaching now.
Perhaps the Wolverines could have tried to cheaply lure John Beilein back after his failed stint as coach of the Cavaliers. But given the timing, an inside promotion may have been the move for both programs. Both programs are much better off because their coaches stay put.
Loser: The ACC’s all-inclusive NCAA tournament proposal
The ACC basketball coaches made headlines and got people talking about college basketball with their bold proposal of an all-inclusive NCAA tournament. That seems to be all they have achieved. The NCAA was clear that it has no plans to expand the field of entry for the 2021 tournament. Ultimately, the ACC coaches’ bizarre proposal seems like a lot of wasted breath.
It also served to illustrate how disconnected the various leadership structures in the sport remain. If the ACC coaches really wanted to push for an all-inclusive tournament, it would have been smart to get some of the other power conference coaches on board. But this required foresight, planning and organization. This year has shown time and again that these attributes are lacking in the current structure of school sports.
Winner: The Big Ten gets good news
The decisions of Marcus Carr (Minnesota), Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois), Kofi Cockburn (Illinois), Aaron Henry (Michigan State), Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana), Isaiah Livers (Michigan) and Luka Garza (Iowa) to visits to college confirmed the status of the Big Ten as the deepest league in the country. Ten teams from the conference were destined to make it to the 2020 NCAA tournament, and that total could rise even higher this season. Carr’s decision to return to Minnesota and the Golden Gophers’ immediate eligibility for the Liam Robbins transfer can help push them to the right side of the bubble.
If Purdue can have a bounce-back season and Penn State finds a way to get into the middle class of the league after top scorer Lamar Stevens’ graduation, it’s conceivable the league could put 11 teams in the Big Dance. That wouldn’t have been possible without so many players choosing this off-season to return to college.
Loser: The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee
The NCAA selection committee always faces a monumental task. But limiting the field to 68 teams is normally somewhat formal with specific, nuanced criteria leading the way. This year it could get messy. Unless NCAA leaders find a change of mind and decide to embrace the all-encompassing proposal, they may end up using the eye test more often than they would like.
It remains uncertain exactly how the non-conference schedule will work out, which is an important assessment tool for the selection committee. And how does the selection committee deal with cases in which the tracing of contacts affects the outcome of a match? If Eastern Illinois beats Kansas, but the Jayhawks missed three startups living in an apartment with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, would it still count as a loss in Quadrant 4? What if an AAC program that relies on non-conference games to build its NCAA Tournament resume experiences a breakout and can’t participate in a multi-team event? It will be difficult to judge their postseason dignity based solely on the conference schedule and whatever regional non-conference games can play together.
Bracketology appears to be a particularly imprecise science this season, and that will make the job of the selection committee more difficult than it already is.
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