It wasn’t pretty, but UNC outlasts Wisconsin

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Its easier to slow a game down than it is to speed a game up.

Remember that. Controlling pace is as much of an equalizer as the three-point shot, particularly for a team playing on the road. You limit the number of possessions, you keep your opponent from getting into a rhythm and, if you’re playing on the road, you keep the crowd from getting into the game.

And that is why it wasn’t until an 18-5 run midway through the second half that North Carolina, who was the No. 1 team in the country prior to their loss to UNLV in Vegas on Saturday, was able to gain control in Wednesday’s 60-57 win over Wisconsin.

No team in the country is able to control the flow of a game like Wisconsin can. Want proof? Wisconsin went into Chapel Hill as the slowest team in the country. Literally. They were averaging just 58.9 possessions per game. North Carolina? They were the fifth-fastest team in the country at 73.9 possessions per game.

And this game? It had 59 possessions. In other words, the ball changed hands once every 20-or-so seconds.

That’s what Wisconsin does. That’s how they win. That’s why Bo Ryan can always put a team on the floor that is going to win 25 games and finish in the top three or four in the Big Ten without the aid of future first-rounders. That’s why every fall, Wisconsin is picked lower in the preseason than where they finish the year.

When the Badgers are playing their best basketball, they are taking 20-25 seconds off the shot clock before they even look at the rim. They then run one of their sets, and if nothing is open, the ball is put into the hands of their all-american point guard Jordan Taylor, and they allow him to make a play. They protect the basketball and avoid turnovers as well as any team in the country, and, more often than not, they end up getting a good look at the rim after forcing you to defend for most of the shot clock.

And on Wednesday, after weathering an early flurry from UNC — the Tar Heels took a 19-10 lead in the first nine minutes of the game and looked to be on the verge and blowing the Badgers out — that is precisely what Wisconsin did. For the next 19 minutes of game-time, the Badgers executed to perfection, taking the air out of the ball and hitting big shot after big shot. The only difference was that the guys making those shots were Ben Brust, Ryan Evans, and Jared Berggren, not Taylor.

At the 11:44 mark of the second half, Wisconsin had turned that 19-10 deficit into a 36-31 lead, using a 26-12 surge over the course of both halves to take complete control of the game.

UNC was on their heels. They were completely out of rhythm offensively and looked lost defensively. The performance was bad enough that it had people asking just how good this team actually is.

But Wisconsin gave the Heels an opening, and Roy Williams’ team struck.

The Badger’s next five shots all came way too early in the shot clock. At the same time, Harrison Barnes hit back-to-back jumpers to get UNC into a bit of a rhythm offensively, and that sparked their 18-5, game-changing run as they were able to open up the floor a little bit. Barnes had 10 of his game-high 20 points in that run, and when Dexter Strickland hit a seventeen-footer from the wing with 5:36 left to put the Heels up 49-41, this game was over for all intents and purposes.

That’s why this is an impressive win for the Heels.

UNC had an off-night against a top ten team — a team that is going to win 25 or 30 games and give Ohio State its stiffest test in the Big Ten — and had allowed that team to take complete control of the game, but their best player made a couple of big shots and the Heels were able to strike when given an opening. Good teams win games even when they don’t play their best, and UNC did just that on Wednesday night.

What we learned:

Wisconsin:

– The Badgers are going to cause a lot of people a lot of problems if they are able to hang with North Carolina on the road while getting a subpar effort out Jordan Taylor and Mike Bruesewitz. Yes, the all-american finished with 18 points, four assists and four rebounds, but he shot 6-20 from the floor and padded his stats with a couple buckets late in the game. Taylor struggled a bit when Dexter Strickland was switched onto him, but he also missed a bunch of open looks that he will knock down the majority of the time.

– Bruesewitz, on the other hand, was a no-show. He was in foul trouble which may have made it difficult for him to get into a rhythm, but off the top of my head, I cannot think of one good thing that he did for the Badgers tonight. That cannot happen, especially when Bruesewitz could have been a matchup problem for UNC’s big men at the offensive end.

– That was the best that I’ve ever seen Ryan Evans play. He was active on the glass, he made some shots and he picked up a couple of blocks.

– Jared Berggren will be able to fill the role of the pick-and-pop center for Bo Ryan. He finished with 14 points and eight boards, which included a couple of triples and two gorgeous drives to the rim from the three point line.

– Ben Brust needs to rein in his shot-selection at times — its a rule of basketball that you can’t take heat-checks on back-to-back possessions if you miss the first — but he’s a talented kid that can shoot the ball and is fun to watch. Badger fans should be confident that they’ll have another talented playmaker to follow in the footsteps of Taylor and Trevon Hughes.

North Carolina

– Dexter Strickland is probably a better defender than I realized. He’s got length, he’s quick laterally, he’s athletic and he looks like he genuinely enjoys defending. His development will be important, because Kendall Marshall — hell, the rest of the Tar Heel perimeter rotation — has trouble defending a stop sign. Strickland’s foul trouble is where you saw Leslie McDonald’s value; the only time Taylor really got it going was at the end of the first half when Kendall Marshall was guarding him.

– I really hope that Harrison Barnes becomes a killer. And not in the Charles Manson sense of the word, in the Tu Holloway sense of the word. His height makes his pull-up jumper unguardable for perimeter defenders at this level. He came up big on Wednesday, hitting the two jumpers that sparked UNC’s run.

– I don’t think struggling is the correct word for North Carolina’s half court execution. Clueless is a better word, as in they look like they’ve never even diagrammed a half court set on the whiteboard, let alone gone over it in practice. They stand around and swing the ball on the perimeter until someone over penetrates or settles for a jumper.

(because…)

– Roy Williams is famous for his secondary break, which is essentially a system to run once the ball has been pushed in transition but no shots have opened up. The beauty of the secondary break is that it can be run off of makes as well as misses. When UNC gets bogged down offensively its the result of a breakdown in their secondary break.

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

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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.