2/28 – College Hoops Week in Review: The Pac-10 race just got crazy

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Games of the Week: Wisconsin 53, Michigan 52

The Wolverines were so close to finally picking up a marquee win. With 30 seconds left and the score 52-50, Michigan’s Darius Morris headed to the free throw line. He missed the front end of a one-and-one (one of six straight free throws Michigan missed down the stretch), but the Wolverines still had four fouls to give. So they worked the clock down to 5.4 seconds left, setting up this final play:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Hh_UB-F2WA]

The loss was all the more crushing for Michigan as they continue to chase an NCAA Tournament bid. They are currently sitting right on the cut line with, at best, a shot at a .500 league record. You don’t think a win over the No. 12 team in the country could help?

UNC Asheville 61, Coastal Carolina 58: At first, I felt bad for Coastal Carolina. Their season has gone up in flames. Two of their best players have been suspended. Their starting point guard is done for the season with a knee injury. What seemed like a year with the potential to win a game in the NCAA Tournament has become a disaster. But then I read this. Maybe Matt Dickey was just playing the role of karma:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXNxVFhCJKs]

Player of the Week: Nikola Vucevic, USC

Vucevic is one of the best big men in the country, but I’m willing to bet you’ve never seen him play. Its not necessarily your fault. The Pac-10 has a garbage TV deal that makes it extremely difficult to see any Pac-10 game, let alone ones with a team that was expected to be one of the worst high-majors in the country.

But USC has had a bit of a resurgence of late. They’ve now won four straight games, including a sweep of the Arizona schools this past weekend, and Vucevic has been the best player on the floor. He has six straight double-doubles, including the 25 points and 12 boards he had in the Trojan’s upset of Arizona on Thursday. Making that performance all the more impressive was the eight points that Derrick Williams finished with. All told, Vucevic averaged 22.5 ppg and 11.0 rpg.

All of a sudden, USC looks like a team that could end up stealing a bid. They’ve got wins over Texas, Tennessee, UCLA, and Arizona. Their bad losses came early in the season, before Jio Fontan was on the roster. If they sweep Washington and Washington State on the road to close out the season, they will be tied from third in the Pac-10. That’s stronger than some of the profiles currently on the bubble.

The All-they-were-good-too team:

  • G: Jacob Pullen, Kansas State: Pullen averaged 25.5 ppg for the Wildcats in a 2-0 week as they all but locked up a tournament bid with a win against Missouri on Saturday. All told, in the last four games, Pullen is averaging 29.0 ppg, shooting 48.4% from the floor, 15-23 (65.2%) from three, and 41-47 from the foul line.
  • G: Dwight Hardy, St. John’s: Hardy averaged 27.5 ppg this week, including a career-high 34 point performance in the Johnnie’s win at Villanova. In the past seven games, Hardy has set his career high three times.
  • F: Reeves Nelson, UCLA: The Bruins moved into a first place tie in the Pac-10 this weekend with a 71-49 win over Arizona. Nelson outplayed Derrick Williams, a potential top ten pick, to the tune of 27 points and 16 boards. He also had 12 points and 10 boards in a win over Arizona State.
  • F: John Henson, UNC: Henson has a long way to go before he becomes a legitimate offensive threat, but his performance on the defensive end of the floor and on the glass is a huge reason for the Tar Heel’s resurgence. This week, he had 30 rebounds (nine offensive) and 13 blocks in two wins.
  • C: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue: Johnson had 20 points and nine boards in a win at Indiana, and followed that up with an impressive 20-point, 17-rebound, 7-block performance at Michigan State.
  • Bench: Tu Holloway, Xavier (12 points, 15 assists, nine boards vs. La Salle, 26 points, 6 boards, 5 assists at Dayton); BJ Jenkins, Murray State (21.5 ppg as Racers clinched OVC title); Marshon Brooks, Providence (52 points in loss to Notre Dame); Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame (25.0 ppg, had scored 20 just once in 2011)

Team of the Week: Virginia Tech Hokies

It was really difficult this week to pick a team of the week given the number of quality options there were. I had to go with the Hokies, though. With their win over Duke on Saturday night, Virginia Tech has all but clinched an NCAA Tournament bid barring a collapse down the stretch.

The Hokies had a nice record coming into the game, but they didn’t have the power at the top that you need to make the NCAA Tournament. With how weak the bubble is this year, snagging a win over the No. 1 team in the country is almost enough to carry you from the wrong side of the bubble to the right side. Tech still has some work to do — they play both Boston College and Clemson, two other ACC bubble teams, down the stretch — but as long as they can avoid being swept, Seth Greenberg should finally be taking his team to the NCAA Tournament.

Teams deserving a shout out:

Marquette: Have the Golden Eagles finally made their patented late season run? Needing a win on Thursday to keep their tournament hopes alive, Marquette went into Hartford and knocked off the UConn Huskies in overtime. They followed it up with a win over Providence. With two games (Cincinnati, at Seton Hall) left, Marquette should feel like they are in solid position to earn a bid.

Louisville: The Cardinals also picked up two big wins this week, winning at Rutgers before taking care of Pitt at home. With the win over Pitt, Louisville moved into a third place tie with St. John’s in the Big East standings. If they win out, the Cardinals will receive one of the double byes in the conference tournament.

UCLA: UCLA wiped the floor with both Arizona State and Arizona in Pauley Pavilion this weekend, the latter thanks to Reeves Nelson’s 27 points and 16 boards. The Bruins have now moved into a first place tie in the Pac-10 with the Wildcats. They’ll have their work cut out for them this weekend, having to travel to the Washington schools, but a sweep would give the Bruins a share of the Pac-10 title. Who saw that coming?

Kansas State: Is there a team in the country playing better basketball than the Wildcats right now? Jacob Pullen has been on fire, his supporting cast has been playing with purpose and passion, and K-State earned their fourth straight win against Missouri on Saturday, which should be enough to get the Wildcats into the NCAA Tournament so long as they avoid a late season collapse.

Colorado: All of a sudden, the Buffaloes look like they may actually be capable of earning themselves an NCAA Tournament bid after they won at Texas Tech and then came from 22 points down to knock off Texas. They’ll have their work cut out for them — winning out in league play may not be enough — but its possible.

Syracuse: The Orange continued to prove that they are a better team away from home this season, going into Philly and Washington DC and coming away with hard-fought wins over Villanova and Georgetown. There is a silver lining, however. Villanova has struggled mightily down the stretch in Big East play, while the Hoyas were playing without Chris Wright.

USC: As we detailed earlier, the Trojans are now in a position that they can make a claim for deserving an at-large bid. They knocked off Arizona and Arizona State this week, they have four quality wins, and their bad losses all came before Jio Fontan was eligible to play. If they win out at the Washington schools this week, USC will be an interesting case on Selection Sunday.

Gonzaga: The Zags knocked off St. Mary’s on the road in overtime on Thursday, meaning that their win over San Diego on Saturday night gave them a share of the WCC regular season title. They also managed to get themselves back into the thick of the bubble conversation, although they’ve lost enough games that anything short of an automatic bid will leave them sweating when the brackets are announced.

MATCHUPS OF THE WEEK

  • 2/28 – 7:00 pm: Villanova @ Notre Dame
  • 2/28 – 9:00 pm: Kansas State @ Texas
  • 3/1 – 7:00 pm: Illinois @ Purdue
  • 3/1 – 7:00 pm: Alabama @ Florida
  • 3/1 – 9:00 pm: Vanderbilt @ Kentucky
  • 3/1 – 9:00 pm: Boston College @ Virginia Tech
  • 3/2 – 8:00 pm: Cincinnati @ Marquette
  • 3/2 – 9:00 pm: UCLA @ Washington
  • 3/2 – 9:00 pm: Texas A&M @ Kansas State
  • 3/4 – 12:00 pm: Kansas @ Missouri
  • 3/4 – 2:00 pm: Notre Dame @ UConn
  • 3/4 – 4:00 pm: Villanova @ Pitt
  • 3/4 – 6:00 pm: Florida @ Vanderbilt
  • 3/4 – 8:00 pm: Duke @ UNC
  • 3/4 – 9:00 pm: Texas @ Baylor
  • 3/5 – 12:00 pm: Wisconsin @ Ohio State
  • 3/5 – 4:00 pm: Kentucky @ Tennessee

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.