NCAA Tournament Day 4 recap

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Game of the Day: Arizona 70, Texas 69

Arizona was sitting pretty. The Longhorns were playing like garbage, digging themselves a 13 point hole early in the second half, despite the Wildcats getting absolutely nothing from Derrick Williams early on. The all-american sophomore had just three points and two boards in the first half, going 0-6 from the floor.

But in the second half, J’Covan Brown brought Texas back, scoring 21 of his 23 points in the second half and making a short jumper with just over a minute left to give Texas a 69-67 lead. At the other end, Texas forced consecutive misses from Arizona, but on the ensuing inbounds, Cory Joseph was called for five seconds (very questionably), giving the ball back to Arizona. Kyle Fogg ran a pick-and-roll with Derrick Williams, throwing a gorgeous bounce pass to Derrick Williams for a tough, left-handed layup. Jordan Hamilton bailed out on taking a charge, which gave Williams an and-one. At the other end of the floor, both Brown and Gary Johnson missed layups that feasibly could have been called fouls.

Team of the Day: Florida State Seminoles

The Seminoles were one of the last eight to ten teams to get into the tournament, and like Georgetown without Chris Wright, they were clearly not the same team without Chris Singleton. Singleton is back, but he’s only healthy enough to give Leonard Hamilton’s team 26 minutes in two games. That didn’t matter against Notre Dame, as the Seminoles beat down the Big East’s second best team, 71-57.

Florida State is a defensive minded team, but without Singleton there was concern that not only would the Seminoles, a team that struggled to score, be without their best defensive player, but also their best scoring threat. Not so on Sunday night. Florida State went 9-19 from three, shot 45.8% from the floor, and assisted on 15 of their 22 field goals. It was an impressive offensive performance from a team not known for impressive offensive performances.

The other Team of the Day: VCU Rams

The Rams completed a three game winning streak in just five days with a beat down of three seed Purdue, 94-76. And don’t be fooled, this was a beat down. Purdue has the reputation of being one of the best defensive teams in the country, and deservedly so. But the Boilermakers were torched in every aspect of the game. VCU shot 56.5% from the floor, consistently getting open looks in the paint and around the rim. They hit eight threes. They assisted on 26 of their 37 field goals and turned the ball over just four times. VCU scored 1.32 PPP. That’s impressive.

Indelibly, the comparisons between VCU and the 2006 George Mason are going to get made. And rightfully so. Mason was one of the last at-large teams to get into the tournament, as was VCU. Both decisions were relatively controversial. Both teams were 11 seeds. Both knocked off big name programs en route to the Sweet 16. Both had favorable matchups in the Sweet 16, and both were lined up to face the most talented team in the tournament in the Elite 8. Can the Rams put together the same finish that the Patriots did?

Player of the Day: David Lighty, Ohio State

Lighty, in his homecoming to Cleveland and on the day that he graduated from Ohio State, finished with 25 points against George Mason. He was 9-10 from the floor and hit all seven of his threes. Lighty also added four rebounds and three assists. In fact, the only thing that Lighty did wrong in Ohio State’s 98-66 win was miss a pair of free throws and commit a turnover.

In all honesty, any one of a number of Buckeyes could be named player of the day. Jared Sullinger had 18 points and eight boards in just 22 minutes. Jon Diebler and William Buford added 31 points and eight threes. Most impressive, however, was Aaron Craft. The freshman point guard showed no signs of being a freshman, finished with 15 assists (to just two turnovers) and six boards.

UNC 86, Washington 83: We may not have had a more entertaining basketball game this tournament. Its pretty much what you would expect coming from two teams that like to get out in transition. Washington was in the lead for much of the game, but down the stretch, their execution failed them. UNC used a 15-4 run to take a 84-78, the last basket of which came on a steal by Harrison Barnes that led to a Dexter Strickland layup. The Huskies had a shot late, getting a couple of stops and a missed free throw from Kendall Marshall. But a couple of dumb shots from Venoy Overton and a turnover by Justin Holiday did Washington in.

Duke 73, Michigan 71: Nolan Smith took over midway through the second half, leading the Dukies to a 15 point lead and seemingly putting them in control of the game. But Michigan started to get some stops and Tim Hardaway Jr. and Darius Morris led the Wolverines back. After cutting the Duke lead to just one point, Irving hit one of two free throws. Morris went the other way, but he missed a 12 foot runner off the back of the rim, and Duke advanced. Smith led the way with 17 of his 24 points in the second half.

Marquette 66, Syracuse 62: In what turned into a classic Big East battle, the Golden Eagles and the Orange found themselves tied with just over a minute left in the game. But an unfortunate back court violation (which appeared to be the wrong call) on Scoop Jardine gave Marquette the ball back. Darius Johnson-Odom knocked down a three with under a minute left, and after another dumb shot from Jardine with 20 seconds left — a three that bounced off the back board — the Golden Eagles went on to win.

Kansas 73, Illinois 59: The knock on Illinois all season long was their lack of interior strength, and Kansas exploited that. The Jayhawks pounded the ball into the Morrii, who finished with a combined 41 points and 24 boards.  Illinois was within single digits for most of the second half, but the Jayhawks were never seriously threatened by the Illini.

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

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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

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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.