The double bye was a non-factor today

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The early session of the Big East Tournament’s quarterfinals were nothing short of epic.

In the opener, UConn beat Pitt when Kemba Walker amputated Gary McGhee’s ankles before drilling a seventeen-foot buzzer beater. In the second game, St. John’s lost a nail biter to Syracuse in front of the best crowd we have seen at the tournament to date. It was thrilling, it was tense, it was was everything you expect the Big East Tournament to be.

In the evening session, however, we weren’t quite as lucky. Louisville ran Marquette off the court just hours after Notre Dame embarrassed Cincinnati.

One of the biggest points of contention coming into this season in the Big East was the structure of the conference tournament. The way it is currently set up, the top four teams get a double-bye, a free pass into the quarterfinals. In the previous two Big East tournaments played with this format, however, only three of the eight teams that received the double bye advanced.

Its part of the reason that the coaches tried to vote it away this offseason. And while that proposal was eventually shot down by the higher-ups in the Big East, it didn’t seem to have much of an effect the outcomes this season despite the Big East being as balanced No. 1-No. 11 as it has ever been. Three of the top four seeds advanced, with Pitt’s loss to UConn being the only blemish.

But that doesn’t mean that the coaches are happy about it.

“I’ve said for two years now when you sit around till Thursday it’s not good,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said after his team’s 79-73 win over St. John’s. “I think it’s difficult for the top seeds to do that. I’m glad we won so that everybody doesn’t think I’m crying but it’s — I don’t think it’s a good way to do it.”

Rick Pitino concurred, saying he “worries about the double bye sometimes, just not being prepared.”

“I just like to play a little bit, rather than sit them.”

Its counter-intuitive, when you think about it.

Instead of being given the gift of the quarterfinals in exchange for performing well during conference play, the Big East coaches voted that the top four teams should have to earn their way into the quarters. Their argument is that it is more of an advantage to get a tune-up against a bottom four team in the conference, to wet your feet in the waters of Madison Square Garden, than it is to sit for two days and play a team already in the flow of the tournament, tired legs be damned.

The argument does hold some validity. We are talking about 18-21 year olds in peak physical condition that came up through an AAU system where they played as many as four games in a day. Physical exhaustion is less of a worry than the distractions that come with staying in New York City.

There are way to battle it, however.

Mike Brey took his players to see Jersey Boys and played knock out at practices and shootarounds to keep the mood lightened.

“I think it’s a matter of how you prepare and I think this group has prepared tremendously all year,” Ben Hansbrough, the Big East player of the year, said after the game. “You can look at it either one or two ways, a bunch of young guys would look at it that maybe we don’t prepare the best but we prepared ourselves mentally and take our mental preparation to the next level and we did that through practice.”

Rick Pitino, on the other hand, treated this trip to New York like any other road trip.

“I think we did an intelligent thing, we didn’t come until late Wednesday,” Pitino said. “So we treated it just like a road game. We didn’t need to rest.”

The coaches may not like it, but the double bye isn’t going anywhere, at least not in the near future. Its just another obstacle to deal with in what is the toughest conference tournament in the country.

Hell, there is an argument to be made that the double bye had zero influence on today’s quarterfinal games. Even the team that lost jumped out to an early, double-digit lead.

“I’ve never been a favor of sitting out two days,” UConn head coach Jim Calhoun said, “but I don’t think it affected [Pitt] because they came out and shot really good. Given our league, they came out early, so I don’t know that that was a factor.”

The factor that the coaches are ignoring is that, at the end of the day, the conference tournament title is relatively meaningless. Fans love it when their team happens to win, but forget about the title a day or two later when the selection committee.

And playing four games in four days, which the champion and runner-up would then have to do, could put more strain on the teams and risks more injury that you have already.

Eventually, a change to the format is going to need to be made with TCU joining the Big East.

But until then, coaches, no more whining about the double bye.

Today proved that it is relatively meaningless.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

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

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.