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Louisville’s self-imposed ban is despicable, but the NCAA is to blame for letting it happen

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In roughly 48 hours, the final football game of the season will kick off, meaning we are just one weekend away from basketball becoming the focus of every sports fan in the country.

We are just 37 days from Selection Sunday. In less than six weeks, the NCAA tournament will kick off.

And it was today that Louisville decided to tell their players that they will not be allowed to participate in the postseason.

No ACC tournament for you, Damion Lee. No NCAA tournament for you, Trey Lewis.

Lee and Lewis are the two grad transfers that the Cardinals added during the offseason, the two fifth-year seniors that made the decision to enroll at Louisville because they wanted an opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament, an opportunity that they were never guaranteed to get at Drexel and Cleveland State, respectively.

And because of allegations and evidence that a former Louisville staffer named Andre McGee solicited prostitutes for recruits, beginning before Lee and Lewis were even college students, that opportunity is being ripped away from them.

After Louisville fans packed the Yum! Center for the last two and a half months to support a fun, likeable and top 20 basketball team. A team that, at 18-4, is currently sitting in second place in the ACC and, until this morning, was eyeing a deep run into March.

It’s despicable, just like it was despicable for SMU to be banned from the postseason three days before the season started and just like it was despicable for Syracuse to implement a self-imposed postseason ban exactly one year ago today.

But I’m not sure the full weight of the blame can be put on Louisville here, either.

Tom Jurich is in charge of the Louisville basketball program. James Ramsey is in charge of the entire university, and the decision that Ramsey made to withdraw from this year’s postseason is unequivocally in the best interest of the Louisville basketball program and, as a result, the school as a whole. Their job isn’t to care about the feelings of a couple of redshirt seniors. Their job is to make sure that he minimizes the financial hit that the program takes. Their job is to limit how sullied the Louisville brand will be.

They are, quite literally, doing their job.

The issue is that the NCAA allows this to happen. Hell, they impose the bans themselves. That postseason ban that SMU got? It came from the NCAA.

That’s what needs to change here.

The NCAA has to put an end to enforcing postseason bans if the ruling comes at a time where the players — the ones who get hit the hardest for, quite often, something they had nothing to do with — are not able to leave without consequence. When UConn was banned from the 2012 postseason, the players on the team were made aware well in advance. Alex Oriakhi was able to transfer to Missouri without sitting out a season. Roscoe Smith took off for UNLV. The guys that stayed behind, the recruits that joined the program, did so knowing that they would not be playing in the postseason.

SMU got their ruling when it was too late for the players on that roster to transfer, for the freshman that joined the program to do so knowing they would not be tourney-bound their first season.

The entire point of the NCAA handing down sanctions is to punish the program for allowing these violations to be committed. But by accepting a self-imposed postseason ban in February, by imposing a postseason ban as late as the end of September, they are unquestionably minimizing the impact that the programs feel.

And I don’t care about the accusations that have been levied against the Cardinals, at least not in the context of this conversation. So please, don’t try and tell me why what Louisville did was wrong.

I agree.

Want me to say it?

Here: What Louisville did was wrong. What McGee did was wrong. Pitino may not have had any direct association with what was happening in Billy Minardi Hall, but by the letter of the NCAA rulebook, ignorance is not an excuse. Pitino was in the wrong.

But the issue isn’t what Louisville was doing. The issue is whether it should be allowed for them to force a group of players that had nothing to do with the violations to bear the brunt of the punishment so that the university can minimize the damage themselves.

Louisville will never have to recruit a player that knows he will be sitting out at least one postseason. When you’re good enough to get a scholarship to Louisville, you’re good enough to get a scholarship at another top 25 program that won’t force you to watch your first March Madness from the couch. That’s an indisputable benefit to imposing the ban this season.

So is the NCAA is letting Louisville protect their brand, next season’s ticket sales and the athletic department’s bottom-line, and doing so at the expense of the unpaid laborers that the 22,090 people that fill the Yum! Center on a nightly basis pay to watch.

Pitino, Jurich and Ramsey reportedly make nearly $10 million combined.

Damion Lee? Trey Lewis?

Their reimbursement for this season is a year of grad school paid in full and one opportunity for glory in March, one chance to play in the NCAA tournament, one shot at seeing themselves on One Shining Moment.

And Louisville just took that away from them.

Less than six weeks before the tournament is scheduled to start.

Because they’ve got to make sure that they sell enough tickets to turn a profit next November when they pay six figures to beat down a bunch of low-major programs trading blowouts for a way to fund their athletic department.

It’s time for a change.

Thursday’s Three Things To Know: Drexel’s historic comeback, Arizona survives, Houston doesn’t

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1. DREXEL COMPLETED THE BIGGEST COMEBACK IN DIVISION I HISTORY

Drexel trailed Delaware 53-19 late in the first half on Thursday night.

They won 85-83.

Both of those things are 100 percent true and 100 percent happened.

2. ARIZONA WON WITHOUT ALLONZO TRIER … BARELY

No. 14 Arizona was forced to play without Allonzo Trier on Thursday night at Oregon State after Trier tested positive for a banned substance again. The Wildcats led by 12 points in the first half, but Wayne Tinkle’s club slowly but surely chipped away at the lead. They were ahead with less than a minute left with OSU missed two wide-open threes on the same possession before a pair of Rawle Alkins free throws forced overtime.

Alkins — who finished with 16 points on the night — took over in the extra frame, but if there is anything that we learned in the 45 minutes that Arizona played without Trier available on Thursday, it’s that they are going to struggle to win games if they do not have their second-leading scorer available.

3. TUBBY SMITH FINALLY BEAT A RANKED TEAM

Tubby Smith has been crushed throughout his tenure with Memphis, and deservedly so. The Tigers are not selling tickets and are not competing at a level that is expected of that program in the post-John Calipari era. That said, they aren’t terrible. On Thursday night, Memphis beat No. 23 Houston in FedEd Forum — Smith’s first win over a ranked opponent since he took over the job — to alleviate some of the heat that has been directed his way this season.

Houston, on the other hand, is probably pretty safe when it comes to inclusion into the NCAA tournament at this point, but they sure have had a weird seven days. It started with a win over Cincinnati, then turned into a 21-point win at Temple and concluded with a loss to Memphis. Such is life in the AAC, I guess.

Ford leads No. 22 Saint Mary’s past Pepperdine, 75-61

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MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — Jordan Ford had 18 points and a career-high 10 rebounds, and No. 22 Saint Mary’s rolled to a 75-61 victory over Pepperdine on Thursday night.

Calvin Hermanson scored 14 points and Tanner Krebs added 12 for the Gaels (26-4, 15-2 West Coast Conference). Jock Landale scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds.

Ford shot 7 for 11 from the field and 4 for 6 from 3-point range and fell two points short of tying his career scoring high.

Saint Mary’s remained one game behind Gonzaga (26-4, 16-1), a 77-72 winner at San Diego, in the WCC with one regular-season game to play. The Gaels can earn a share of the WCC regular-season title with a victory at home against Santa Clara and a Gonzaga loss at BYU on Saturday.

Saint Mary’s point guard Emmett Naar, who injured his left ankle late in the first half against Portland on Saturday, started and had three points and six assists in 14 minutes, most of those in the first half.

Trae Berhow and Knox Hellums each scored 13 points for Pepperdine (4-25, 1-16).

Ford had 14 points and six rebounds in the first half, when Saint Mary’s built a 46-26 lead.

Pepperdine guard Eric Cooper Jr., who averages 13.2 points, did not make the trip because of a shoulder injury. Udenyi Amadi started in his place.

BIG PICTURE

Pepperdine: The Waves lost their eighth straight game and are locked into sole possession of last place in the WCC. Pepperdine will be the No. 10 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels won their second straight after losing back-to-back games to Gonzaga on Feb. 10 and San Francisco on Feb. 15. Saint Mary’s had won a school-record 19 straight games before falling to Gonzaga.

UP NEXT

Pepperdine hosts Portland on Saturday in its WCC regular-season finale. The Waves fell 85-76 in overtime at Portland on Feb. 1.

Saint Mary’s hosts Santa Clara on Saturday in its final WCC regular-season game. The Gaels beat the Broncos 81-57 on Jan. 11 at Santa Clara.

Thornton, Rivers lead Memphis past No. 23 Houston

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Jimario Rivers and Raynere Thornton each scored 21 points, helping Memphis beat No. 23 Houston 91-85 on Thursday night.

Rivers also grabbed nine rebounds and Thornton made four 3-pointers as Memphis (17-11, 8-7 American Athletic Conference) earned its third straight victory.

Rob Gray had 30 points and seven assists for Houston (21-6, 11-4), which entered the Top 25 this week for the first time this season. Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis Jr. each scored 15 points.

The Cougars led 43-37 at halftime, but they shot 32.3 percent from the field in the second half. The Tigers made 54 percent of their shots while rallying for the victory.

Memphis went ahead to stay with a 22-8 surge that made it 76-68 on Mike Parks Jr.’s basket with 6:28 remaining. The Tigers closed it out at the line, making 29 of 36 attempts for the game.

Houston had won five in a row. It went 18 of 20 at the line.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: The Cougars, one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the conference, went 4 for 15 from beyond the arc in the second half. They also surrendered their most points this season.

Memphis: Leading scorer Jeremiah Martin left in the first half with a lower body injury. Thornton picked up the scoring after the break, scoring 19 points in the second half.

UP NEXT

Houston: Entertains East Carolina on Sunday.

Memphis: Travels to UConn on Sunday

No. 6 Gonzaga rallies to beat San Diego, 77-72

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Killian Tillie scored 17 points, Rui Hachimura added 16 and No. 6 Gonzaga beat San Diego 77-72 on Thursday night to clinch at least a share of the West Coast Conference title.

The Bulldogs (26-4, 16-1 WCC) defeated the Toreros (17-12, 8-9) for the eighth straight game and for the 19th time in their last 20 meetings.

Olin Cater III led San Diego with 21 points.

After trailing at halftime and falling behind by eight points in the second half, the Bulldogs didn’t seize the lead until midway through the second half, when Tillie’s 3-pointer made it 52-51.

It was a back-and-forth affair from there, with the Toreros relying on their stingy defense to slow the up-tempo Bulldogs. But Gonzaga had too much firepower and was helped by four straight free throws from Hachimura when taking the lead for good with four minutes remaining.

Gonzaga demolished San Diego in last year’s visit by 58 points. The Bulldogs built an early six-point lead in this one but San Diego bounced back, tying the score at 27 with five minutes left on the first of three straight 3-point baskets by Carter. When he hit his second one, San Diego had a three-point advantage, its first edge since the game’s opening bucket.

Tyler Williams’ mid-range jumper gave San Diego a 35-30 lead and it was 37-34 at halftime. San Diego finished the first 20 minutes by converting 4 of 7 3-point shots.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: When Gonzaga fell behind early in the game, it was the first time it had trailed in four games. … The Bulldogs have earned at least a share of the WCC title in 17 of the past 18 seasons and 18 of the last 20. … Gonzaga is the only team in the nation with seven players to score at least 20 points in a game this season.

University of San Diego: The highest-ranked team the Toreros have beaten is No. 14 UCLA in the 2002-03 season. … Forward Cameron Neubauer was honored before the game on senior night.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga is at BYU on Saturday night.

San Diego is at San Francisco on Saturday night.

Carsen Edwards scores 40 points, No. 9 Purdue beats Illinois 93-86

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Carsen Edwards scored career-high 40 points and Dakota Mathias added 18 to help No. 9 Purdue outlast Illinois in a 93-86 victory on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers were without their second-leading scorer Vincent Edwards but had no problem scoring.

Purdue shot 58.3 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Edwards and Mathias each had four from behind the arc.

There were eight lead changes in the first half, highlighted by two big runs. With just under 10 minutes left Edwards stole the ball and went down for a huge dunk to spark a 17-6 run for the Boilermakers. The Illini responded with a 10-3 run to close out the half trailing 43-38.

Illinois stayed within striking distance the rest of the game, but ultimately Purdue’s size and Edwards scoring were too much. The sophomore scored 25 of his points in the second half, including a monstrous dunk on Trent Frazier with just under seven minutes to play.

The Boilermakers also outrebounded the Illini 33-20.

Leron Black led Illinois with 28 points, notching his fourth-consecutive 20-point game.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois continues to struggle in close games. The Illini have now lost 10 games this season by single digits.

After losing three straight games, Purdue has reestablished itself in the Big Ten with two close victories over Penn State and Illinois. The Boilermakers are one win away from tying the second most victories in school history.