Bubble Banter: Long wait for Saint Mary’s, Middle Tennessee

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It’s going to be a long wait for Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee.  The Gaels lost to Gonzaga for a third time Monday night, and the Blue Raiders fell in the semifinals of the Sun Belt.  Which leaves both in agonizing limbo until the NCAA Selection Show this Sunday.   An already tough job for members of the NCAA Selection Committee in Indianapolis just became that much tougher.

Overall, the bubble remains very fluid with only a few days to go.  At the very least we have five or six spots up for grabs.  Right now, it looks like as many as 11 spots have yet to be confirmed.  Some teams in those spots are better positioned than others.  Conference tournament results are going to matter, probably more than usual.

Pending results in the Pac-12 and Mountain West tournaments are particularly intriguing.  While California and Oregon remains as teams that “Should Be In” today, neither can be considered locks.  Colorado opens with Oregon State, a team that just beat the Buffaloes.  Another loss to the Beavers could make things a bit more interesting.  Not that Colorado won’t make it, but there would certainly be a few anxious moments ahead.  In the Mountain West, Boise State and San Diego State square off in the quarterfinals.  And while it’s probable that both make the Field of 68 regardless, the loser won’t be quite as certain – especially if we have an upset winner or two elsewhere.

By this weekend, the bubble picture will likely become a bit more clear.  Until then, enjoy the Madness.

Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are on the NCAA Bubble, teams that have locked up spot in the Field of 68, and teams that Should Be In but are not “locks” at the time of the update. RPI and SOS data is credited to InsideRPI at ESPN.

RPI data is for games played through Monday, March 11.

Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.

Automatic Bids (31): Liberty (Big South), Harvard (Ivy), Creighton (MVC), Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Belmont (OVC), Davidson (Southern), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), James Madison (Colonial), Gonzaga (West Coast), Iona (MAAC) …

  • Projected Locks (22): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (11): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (28): Teams remaining who are projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
  • Spots Available (13): Estimated number of openings after Automatic Bids, Locks, and Should Be Ins are considered.
  • RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through games completed on Monday, March 11.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Butler, Saint Louis | Should Be In: VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Massachusetts, Xavier
  • La Salle (21-8 | 11-5) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 88 | – The Explorers avoided a miscue down the stretch but lost in somewhat ugly fashion at Saint Louis to close the season. Now they await the winner of Butler and Dayton to open the A10 tournament. Can they beat Butler on a neutral court? La Salle edged BU at home on a last-second layup in January. If it’s Dayton, the Explorers may have to take out top seeded Saint Louis to feel more secure. Besides Butler, La Salle has a victory at VCU and a home win over Villanova. The only blemish is an early loss to Central Connecticut State.
  • Massachusetts (19-10 | 9-7) | RPI: 57 | SOS: 83 | – A bubbly profile took a hit when the Minutemen lost at home to Butler earlier this month. While they have eight Top 100 wins, the only NCAA-level win against a potential at-large team is a victory at La Salle. First up at the A10 tourney is George Washington. Win that and UMass earns a date with Temple. A victory over the Owls would keep the Minutemen in the conversation.
  • Temple (23-8 | 11-5) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 59 | – The Owls took care of business by beating VCU last weekend and are likely a win over UMass or George Washington away ending any lingering doubts. Even with a loss, they appear to be in pretty good shape at this point. An early win over Syracuse continues to help, as do wins over Saint Louis and Villanova. While we can’t quite remove the Owls from the bubble, it would take a bad loss and some odd events for them to miss. The remaining doubts are the result of three bad home losses – most notably Duquesne.
  • Xavier (17-13 | 9-7) | RPI: 79 | SOS: 54 | – While it will take some recovery work in Brooklyn, the Musketeers have a solid top-end profile. Victories include Butler, Temple, Saint Louis and Memphis. The problem? Inconsistent play and five sub-100 RPI losses – the worst of which was Wofford at home. They open with Saint Joseph’s before a date with VCU. Win both of those and the Committee will have to take a closer look at how XU stacks up to other bubble contenders heading into the weekend.
ACC
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: North Carolina, NC State | Bubble: Virginia, Maryland
  • Maryland (20-11 | 8-10) | RPI: 83 | SOS: 116 | – Following Sunday’s loss to Virginia, it looks like the Terrapins probably have to win the ACC tournament. Two solid wins can’t make up for a bad non-conference SOS, a 3-9 mark vs. Top 100 teams, and 16 (of 20) wins against teams below 150 in the RPI.
  • Virginia (21-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 66 | SOS: 132 | – The Cavaliers escaped Maryland and escaped even more trouble on the NCAA bubble. They get the winner of NC State and Virginia Tech in the ACC quarterfinals. After that, it figures to be a matchup with Miami. Opportunity awaits – which is what the Cavs need. Beyond the well-documented bad losses (7 to teams rated 100 or lower in the RPI), UVA also has a non-conference SOS ranked around No. 300.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette, Pittsburgh | Should Be In: Notre Dame | Bubble: Cincinnati, Villanova
  • Cincinnati (21-10 | 9-9) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 26 | The Bearcats managed to avoid a bad loss (with bad timing) against South Florida. Next up is Providence in the early game Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. A loss could create some anxious moments, depending on what happens around them. The good news is that outside the conference, UC has noticeable wins over Iowa State, Alabama, and Oregon. It’s hard to see the Bearcats missing completely, but one more win would certainly make life easier down the stretch.
  • Villanova (18-12 | 10-8) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 18 | – Beating Georgetown may have sealed a bid for the Wildcats. Their list of wins also includes Louisville, Syracuse, and Marquette. If there’s an issue with the Wildcats’ resume it’s that they accomplished very little outside the conference. They also lost to Columbia. It’s hard to know for sure how much emphasis the Committee will place on the pre-conference slate. First up at the Big East tourney is St. John’s. It might be a good idea for ‘Nova to win that one. An 18-13 mark and mid-50’s RPI (with an SJU loss) would hardly qualify for lock status.
BIG 10
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Illinois, Minnesota | Bubble: Iowa
  • Iowa (20-11 | 9-9) | RPI: 76 | SOS: 127 | – The Hawkeyes held serve at home against Illinois and Nebraska. The real issues here are a 2-8 record in true road games and a non-conference SOS ranked at 300-plus. While victories over Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois at home are nice, they don’t hold the same weight as beating the league’s true heavyweights. In fairness, Iowa is probably better than its profile suggests. But it will likely take at least a couple of wins in Chicago to help the two match up. The Hawkeyes probably have to beat Northwestern and Michigan State. Accomplish that, and we’ll see how the landscape looks.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
  • Baylor (17-13 | 9-9) | RPI: 62 | SOS: 21 | – The Bears’ profile would look a lot better had it not been for a couple of last-second losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Ironically, they open Big 12 tournament play against the Cowboys. Win that, and a likely matchup with K-State awaits. Coming off a huge win over Kansas, can Baylor sustain some momentum? There’s no lack of talent on the roster. Inconsistent play has been the issue – as a 5-10 record vs. Top 100 teams suggests. While an early win at Kentucky helps, the rest of Baylor’s non-conference performance was less than ideal – including losses to Charleston and Northwestern at home. There’s also a mounting loss total. Could an 18-14 team earn an at-large bid?
  • Iowa State (21-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 47 | SOS: 64 | – The Cyclones closed out the regular season by beating Oklahoma State at home and avoiding a bad loss at West Virginia. The issues are a 3-7 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a non-conference performance that produced wins over BYU and Florida Gulf Coast. There was also the ugly loss at Texas Tech. A third matchup with Oklahoma awaits to open B12 tournament play. Each team won on its home court. Could the rubber match decide an NCAA berth? Maybe, maybe not. The hard-to-take loss against Kansas could turn out to be huge if the Cyclones exit the B12 tournament early.
  • Oklahoma (20-10 | 11-7) | RPI: 34 | SOS: 17 | – So the Sooners decided to make life more interesting by losing at TCU. Much like the other teams on the B12 bubble, Oklahoma didn’t accomplish a lot outside the conference. What OU does have are victories over Kansas and Oklahoma State – and a split with Iowa State. Despite some strong computer numbers, a sweep of Baylor, and some decent mid-range wins, the Sooners may not be in as good a shape as some might think. They open with the Cyclones at the B12 tourney. As noted above, the loser could have some anxious moments leading up to Selection Sunday.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis | Bubble: Southern Miss
  • Southern Miss (21-8 | 12-4) | RPI: 37 | SOS: 79 | – Other than some decent computer numbers Southern Miss doesn’t have much too offer. They better plan on winning the C-USA tournament.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: Creighton | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Wichita State
  • Wichita State (26-8 | 12-6) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 96 | – While the Shockers are not a lock, they should be in pretty good shape at this point. They reached the MVC title game and split the regular season with Creighton. They also won at VCU and Air Force and beat Iowa on a neutral court outside league play. With eight Top 100 wins, the odds are in their favor.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: New Mexico, UNLV | Should Be In: Colorado State | Bubble: San Diego State, Boise State
  • Boise State (19-9 | 9-7) | RPI: 38 | SOS: 69 | – By winning two of its final three games, the Broncos have put themselves in good position. If you take away the losses to Utah and Nevada, BSU’s resume is very similar to that of San Diego State (but we can’t take those away). Which brings us to the MTW quarterfinals. The Broncos open with the Aztecs. The loser may still be fine, but the winner will certainly feel even more confident come Sunday evening.
  • San Diego State (19-9 | 9-7) | RPI: 31 | SOS: 33 | – The two edges SDSU has on Boise in terms of profile are a win over New Mexico and no sub-100 RPI losses. Of course, the Aztecs don’t have a signature road win (such as Boise’s at Creighton). Which, as noted above, makes the two team’s MWC matchup intriguing. Both will probably make it, but the loser might be a little nervous on Sunday if the bubble is squeezed.
PAC 12
Locks: Arizona, UCLA | Should Be In: Oregon, California | Bubble: Colorado, Stanford
  • Colorado (20-10 | 10-8) | RPI: 35 | SOS: 16 | – Just in time for the P12 tourney, the Buffaloes laid an egg at home against Oregon State. Interestingly enough, Colorado opens conference tourney play against OSU. A second-straight loss to the Beavers might leave an ugly impression, and would give CU three sub-150 RPI losses. Is that going to undo an overall resume that includes non-conference wins over Colorado State, Baylor, and Air Force? Probably not. But it would certainly leave the Buffaloes a bit less secure heading into the weekend.
  • Stanford (18-13 | 9-9) | RPI: 63 | SOS: 40 | – It’s a long shot for the Cardinal but they enter the P12 tourney with an outside chance, so here they are. Wins of note include California (twice), Oregon, and a road victory at Arizona State. Outside the league, there isn’t much – wins over Denver and Northern Iowa. It’ll probably take a run to the title game for any legitimate shot. Stanford opens with Arizona State.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee
  • Tennessee (19-11 | 11-7) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 38 | – Depending on who you ask, the Volunteers are ahead or behind Kentucky in terms of the SEC power curve. While UT is far from secure, they have nine Top 100 wins (9-9 overall) – which includes victories over Florida and Missouri in SEC, and Wichita State, Massachusetts, and Xavier outside league play. Granted, losing two games to Georgia doesn’t help, but most other bubble teams have similar issues. There are also some road concerns, as most of their quality wins (other than UMass – neutral court) came in Knoxville. The Vols get the winner of South Carolina/Mississippi State to open the SEC tourney. After that, they would matchup with fellow bubble-dweller Alabama.
  • Alabama (19-11 | 12-6) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 91 | – Other than a pile of SEC wins, the Crimson Tide’s profile lacks much punch. They have a home wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, and a non-conference victory over Villanova. While solid, none of those wins is a headliner. They are also saddled with three suspect losses – Mercer and Tulane at home and Auburn on the road. Most likely, the Tide will face Tennessee in the SEC tourney opener. That’s a must win. Then, it should be Florida. Beating the Gators might be what ‘Bama needs.
  • Arkansas (19-12 | 10-8) | RPI: 78 | SOS: 82 | – There’s no real surprise here: the Razorbacks are pretty good at home and not very good elsewhere. We can’t just discount victories over Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri and Kentucky, but the 1-9 mark in road games is definitely an eyesore. The Razorbacks open with Vandy. A win puts them up against Kentucky. Win those two and we’ll see how the final field is unfolding.
  • Kentucky (21-10 | 12-6) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 65 | – The current Wildcat roster features wins over Missouri and Florida, and a drubbing at Tennessee. None of us know exactly how Selection Committee members will view the Cats’ profile. Which means their work isn’t finished. Normally, a 12-win SEC season would be enough, but this isn’t a normal year. UK gets the Arkansas-Vandy winner on Friday. That could be a must-win. Then, it would be Ole Miss or Missouri. In many ways, the bracket sets up well for the Wildcats. Reaching the SEC title game would probably lock it up.
  • Mississippi (23-8 | 12-6) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 153 | – No team suffered more damaging losses down the stretch than Ole Miss (South Carolina and Mississippi State). The Rebels re-grouped to beat Alabama and LSU, and a road win always helps. Ole Miss lacks swept Tennessee and beat Missouri at home. Neither of which qualifies as a signature win. Given a weak non-conference SOS (No. 290), it takes some extra work within the league. Ole Miss opens the SEC tourney Friday – most likely against Missouri. That figures to be a must-win. Then it would be Kentucky. Depending on how things break, that could be a decisive matchup for both schools.
WEST COAST
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s
  • Saint Mary’s (26-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 33 | SOS: 104 | – Let’s just say its’ going to be a long, agonizing wait until the NCAA Selection Show. The Gaels lost for a third time to Gonzaga Monday night – and the game was never in doubt. Which basically leaves SMC with one win against an NCAA team – Creighton at home. Other than that, the Gaels’ only non-conference wins are Utah State and Harvard. Within the WCC, the Gaels swept BYU. Since this will be a topic of discussion for Middle Tennessee State, it’s worth noting 17 of SMC’s wins came against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: Belmont | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech
  • Akron (23-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 141 | – It’s been a bad two weeks for the Zips. They lost games to Ohio and Kent State and had a starter suspended due to off-the-court issues. So the Zips have to be re-evaluated. The result: it’s probably a MAC title or bust.
  • Bucknell (26-5 | 12-2) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 223 | – The Bison can win the Patriot League title tonight and end the debate. That’s probably a good idea. It’s hard to imagine them being ahead of Middle Tennessee or Saint Mary’s – should all three end up in the at-large pool. What the Bison do offer are wins over La Salle, New Mexico State, and Purdue.
  • Louisiana Tech (25-5 | 16-2) | RPI: 49 | SOS: 214 | – Nothing like closing the season with back-to-back (and largely non-competitive) losses at New Mexico State and Denver. You have to think an at-large bid at this point is remote. But we’ll see if they can reach the WAC title game.
  • Middle Tennessee (28-5 | 19-1) | RPI: 29 | SOS: 135 | – A solid RPI and strong non-conference SOS ranked No. 8 in the nation are the real highlights for the Blue Raiders. Credit MTSU for a good effort. But … in its “up” games, MTSU went 2-3 (and we’re considering Vanderbilt and “up” game). They beat Ole Miss, but lost handily to Florida and Belmont. The loss at Akron was close – no shame there. Can one notable win (Ole Miss) carry the Blue Raiders? They have looked the part. At the same time, 21 of their wins came against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI.

Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

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