Brandon Paul was memorable, but can Illinois build off of it?

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source: AP

Brandon Paul has always had potential.

Wings with his size, athleticism and ability always do. But Paul has never been able to put it all together. Part of the reason was out of Paul’s control. When you spend two seasons sharing the perimeter with Demetri McCamey, there aren’t going to be many shot opportunities to go around.

And while Paul made many a Breakout Player list during the preseason, he hasn’t exactly lived up to those expectations. He came into Tuesday night’s game against Ohio State averaging a career-high 12.1 ppg and 4.5 rpg, but he was shooting a career-low 28.4% from three and just 36.4% from the floor. His efficiency was down from 1.002 PPP to 0.917 PPP.

There really wasn’t much argument against the statement that Paul was having a disappointing season.

And then Tuesday happened, and Paul put together what may just end up being to single most-impressive individual performance this season.

He scored 43 points on 11-15 shooting, something that hasn’t happened in at least 16 years. He was 8-10 from three and 13-15 from the free throw line. He also added eight boards, two assists, two steals and four blocks, each one more impressive than the last. That’s probably enough to make Bruce Weber look past the even turnovers he had, right?

But most importantly, Illinois got a 79-74 win over No. 5 Ohio State at Assembly Hall in Champaign, a win that they desperately needed. Illinois wass on track to be close to the bubble come Selection Sunday, and right now there are not many teams in and around the bubble that have a win like this. If Illinois doesn’t build on this, there’s a chance that, two months from now, we look back to this game and say that it is the reason that Illinois is dancing.

I’ll let other tell you about what the win means, however.

Here, its all Brandon Paul.

The numbers he put up are staggering. His three point shooting percentage climbed to 34.5% on the season, an increase of 6.1%. His field goal percentage went up to 39.2%, moving up 2.8%. He’s now averaging 13.8 ppg on the season. Increases like that don’t happen January. They just don’t.

But what made this performance so impressive isn’t the fact that Paul simply scored 43 of Illinois’ 79 points, its that he did it on just 15 shots attempts. You want to talk efficiency? That’s efficiency. And it seemed like every shot he hit down the stretch was crucial. Every time Ohio State looked like they were getting ready to pull away, Paul would hit a couple of threes to keep Illinois within striking distance. His deep three with 2:02 left on the clock gave Illinois a 69-66 lead. After hitting two free throws, Paul hit a ridiculous three from the corner with Aaron Craft’s hand literally in his face to push the lead to 74-70 with just 43 seconds left.

All told, Paul scored 15 points in the final 2:43 of the game.

Did I mention he also blocked four shots?

The key for Illinois now will be whether or not Paul can build on this performance.

The Achilles’ Heel for the Illini all season long as been their lack of a star. They don’t have a go to player. They don’t have a guy that can be counted on to get a bucket in a key situation. McCamey deserves plenty of criticism for the way he played the last two years of his career, but there were times where all Bruce Weber had to do was isolate him at the top of the key and you knew good things were going to happen.

Can Paul be that guy for Illinois?

And will the rest of the Illini be able to capitalize on the better opportunities they will get if defenses focus on Paul?

Because, frankly, this performance is not necessarily a good sign for Illinois. Paul was absolutely unreal in the second half against Ohio State. He put on, undoubtedly, one of the most impressive shooting displays that I have ever seen. He was, in a word, unhuman.

And Illinois still barely beat Ohio State at home.

He’s not going to be able to put on this kind of performance every night. What happens when he comes back to earth?

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.