Recapping Saturday’s wild upsets, memorable finishes

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The 4:00 pm games: On paper, it didn’t seem like this Saturday’s game were going to be incredibly interesting after the top five battle that took place in Waco, Texas, but those people (me included) ate their words after three games involving teams ranked in the top 11 came down to the final possession in the span of no more than two minutes.

The biggest game was obviously Florida State’s 76-73 upset of Duke. The Seminoles withstood a second half surge by the Blue Devils, one that saw Duke open up a 58-50 lead, but Florida State used a 26-15 surge to close the game that was capped by Michael Snaer’s three-point buzzer-beater that answered a game-tying runner from Austin Rivers with 4.9 seconds left:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34s-le4vbx8%5D

I don’t think that we can say that the Seminoles are the favorite to win the ACC right now. Frankly, I’m not convinced that they are a better basketball team that either Duke or UNC. That’s what happens with you lose by 20 to Clemson and drop two games to the Ivy League (Harvard and Princeton). That said, Florida State is in an ideal position to make a run at the league title. They don’t have to play the Tar Heels again, they get Duke at home and those two teams still have to play two games against each other.

It’s going to come down to offense for the ‘Noles. They are 117th in the country nationally, scoring 1.039 PPP. The past three games (wins over UNC, Maryland and Duke), however, FSU is scoring 1.196 PPP. The biggest difference? They shoot 32.0 percent from three on the season, but the past three games they are knocking them down at a 46.3 percent clip. Can it last?

At the same time, UConn was in the midst of a furious comeback at Tennessee. The Huskies dug themselves a ten point hole with three minutes left, but Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb hit a flurry of threes late which was aided by a few missed free throws from the Vols. Napier missed a half court prayer at the buzzer that would have forced overtime, but instead lost 60-57 in Knoxville. There are two problems with UConn right now. The biggest issue is that their offense is absolutely atrocious. Regardless of what Jim Calhoun tries to run (if anything), it devolves into Napier or Lamb trying to go 1-on-1. Tennessee was playing tough defense, which meant that the Huskies were forced into taking contested jumper.

The other issue is the play of their big men. After getting embarrassed by Yancy Gates on Wednesday, freshman Jarnell Stokes — who was playing his third game after finishing high school in December and enrolling at UT early — gave Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi 16 points and 12 boards while fouling out Oriakhi. Much of the blame for the performance of those two has to fall on their shoulders as they continue to play without toughness or desire, but UConn also does not look to get them touches in the post.

The final game of that trio was No. 7 Kansas surviving a furious comeback from the Longhorns to win 69-66 in Austin. The Jayhawks were up big for much of the first half and early in the second half, but Texas made a run late in the game. They finally took the lead with five minutes left, erasing what had been a 15 point deficit, before eventually pushing the lead to four points with three minutes remaining. But Kansas had an answer, taking their final lead on a layup by Jeff Withey.

If you are going to take anything out of this game, its the performance of TyShawn Taylor. His continued his hot streak, finishing with 22 points, five boards and four assists, but his most important stat was a zero in the box score. Turnovers have been Taylor’s issue all season — he’s averaged more than four per game — but he didn’t turn it over a single time against UT.

The top five battle: There are two reasons that people knock Missouri: they can’t win on the road and they are too small to handle bigger teams. We can throw that “on the road” thing out the window now. Coming off of a road win over an improved Iowa State team, the Tigers went into Waco and handled Baylor, beating them much more soundly than the 89-88 final score will make you believe.

I’m not ready to say that they can handle a bigger team, however, because everyone on Baylor’s front court plays like they’re 6-6. Frankly, I think Missouri’s performance against Kansas State’s front court is much more telling And while Ricardo Ratliffe’s line was unreal — 27 points and eight boards (six offensive) on 11-14 shooting — the majority of his shot opportunities are simply catch-and-dunk situations. He thrives because he doesn’t miss around the rim, and playing with guys like Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon means that he will forever be getting open opportunities.

I still think Baylor is a national title contender, but there are serious issues with this team that need to be addressed. Scott Drew needs to find some way to get his team tougher. Perry Jones III disappears far too often for someone with his ability, and that is a microcosm of the fact that the Bears cannot handle getting “punched in the mouth”. If I’m Scott Drew, I take a page out of Eddie Sutton’s book and start practicing with football pads on.

No. 1 goes down: Playing without Fab Melo (academic issues, he will miss Monday’s game at Cincinnati as well), Syracuse went into South Bend and got absolutely crushed by the Irish, losing 67-58 because the Orange made a run late in the game when the outcome was all but decided. We shouldn’t overreact to this loss. Based on tweets that went out last night and earlier today, the team — and Melo — had no idea that Melo wasn’t going to be traveling with them until the 11th hour.

That distraction — plus the fact that Notre Dame is always a tough place to play — can easily be blamed for this hiccup. That said, don’t underrate what Melo’s absence meant. He’s an anchor in the middle of that zone. He blocks shots, he takes charges and he just makes things difficult for opponents. Most expect Melo to rejoin the team at some point, which is obviously a good thing for Syracuse. But this loss should show you the importance of Melo staying out of foul trouble on the court.

But No. 10 survived: Murray State got 21 points from Isaiah Canaan as they knocked off SIU-Edwardsville to remain undefeated, the last team in the country without a loss. I sincerely hope that, for the remainder of the season, we can all enjoy the run that Murray State is on. Its no secret they’ve played an easier schedule than quite a few teams; they are an Ohio Valley team after all. Let’s save the talk about their seeding for Selection Sunday and just enjoy one of the best storylines of the season, mmk?

So who is the second best team in the SEC?: Add the SEC into the leagues that make absolutely no sense. With Festus Ezeli back in the fold and coming off of a dominating win at Alabama, it looked like the Commodores had staked a claim as the most likely team to challenge Kentucky.

Not so fast. Mississippi State got a layup from Dee Bost with 57 seconds left for a 78-77 win in overtime, surviving fairly open looks for the Dores at the end of regulation and overtime. Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney combined for 45 points and 19 boards, outplaying Ezeli, who finished with 12 points, 14 boards and five blocks.

Alabama made a statement of their own on Saturday. They lost to Kentucky 77-71, but the Crimson Tide, who tend to struggle on the road, gave the Wildcats all they could handle, keeping the game within three or four points for most of the second half. JaMychal Green finished with 22 points and 12 boards despite going up against the best defender in the country in Anthony Davis.

The team everyone is forgetting about? Florida. The Gators, playing with a limited Patric Young (tendinitis in his ankle) knocked off LSU 76-64, getting a team-high 15 points out of Erik Murphy. It also should be noted that the most exciting game of the day in the SEC was the 66-64 upset that Arkansas pulled off against Michigan. The Razorbacks opened up a 20 point lead in the first half, but Michigan slowly chipped away. They never got the game tied, but Trey Burke got a decent look at a step-back three at the buzzer that rimmed out.

What do we make of UNLV and New Mexico?: The Runnin’ Rebels absolutely put the smackdown on New Mexico, beating them by 17 points in Vegas. It was a win that UNLV really needed, considering that after they lost to San Diego State in the MWC opener they couldn’t afford to fall two games behind the Aztes in the standings. UNLV’s ability to force turnovers and get out in transition was impressive, but it also lent worry to the Lobos. For the second time this week, UNM looked completely outclassed in league play, having gotten dropped at home by SDSU on Wednesday. Maybe its just as simple as New Mexico is not a good as we thought they were; they are sitting two games behind SDSU and there is a fairly large gap between them and the MWC’s top two teams.

The Pac-12 stays weird, which makes it all the more awesome: There is simply no way to predict what is going to happen in the wide-open Pac-12 conference. As of today, there are four teams tied atop the conference with two losses. There are another two that sit just a game back in the loss column. None of those six teams go by the name UCLA or Oregon State.

There are some things that seem normal — like Cal being tied for first or Washington sitting a game in the win column behind them — and some things that would get you called crazy if they were brought up in November — like Oregon being tied for first or Colorado being tied with Washington.

So what happened on Saturday?:

– Washington State beat Cal 77-75 behind 24 points from Faisal Aden. Cal had a chance to tie late, but Jorge Gutierrez missed a shot at the buzzer.

– Carlon Brown scored 19 points to lead the Buffs, but Arizona’s Kevin Parrom missed a three at the buzzer as Colorado held on to win at home 64-63.

– Washington finally put it all together, getting 39 combined points out of Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten as they used a 20-3 run in the second half to put away Stanford.

– EJ Singler had 26 points and Garrett Sim added 16 as Oregon improved to 2-0 on the weekend as they overcame a 13 point halftime deficit in a 75-68 win over UCLA.

Tempers flare in East Lansing: Michigan State won 83-58 and Robbie Hummel went 0-11 from the field, the first 0-fer of his collegiate career, but that’s not what anyone was talking about after the game. Matt Painter got into it with a fan in the Izzone, MSU’s student section, for yelling at Robbie Hummel “I hope you tear your acl again”. That wasn’t it for Painter, either. He had an exchange with Brandon Dawsen, a player he recruited out of Indiana, after Dawsen said something after hitting a three in front of the Purdue bench.

Cincinnati’s road streak comes to a close: The Bearcats had their streak of seven straight road wins in the Big East — the last two of which came against Georgetown and UConn — in a 77-74 loss in overtime at West Virginia. Kevin Jones led the way with 26 points and freshman Gary Browne hit a three that forced the overtime period.

Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown win: Louisville took a step in the right direction with a 73-62 win over Pitt at Pitt. Kyle Kuric, who was questionable to even play in this game, had 22 points. Georgetown survived Rutgers 52-50 despite hitting just 12 shots from the field as Otto Porter hit two free throws with 8.5 seconds left. And Marquette overcame a feisty Providence team 79-72 on the road.

I guess we don’t know who the best team in the A-10 is: Xavier is the most talented team in the Atlantic 10, but after going into Dayton and losing, the flyers now own sole possession of first place in the conference. It wasn’t just the fact that they lost, because that rivalry is one of the more heated in the A-10, its the fact that Dayton scored 87 points and dominated the game after the first 10 minutes. Matt Kavanaugh, starting because Josh Benson is done for the year, finished with 20 points and nine boards.

Ditto for Conference USA: Marshall went into Hattiesburg, MS, and lost to Southern Miss 67-63. Neil Watson had 18 points and five assists and hit a big three with 18.5 seconds left on the clock. With Memphis and Central Florida also winning, there is now a four-way tie between the four teams at the top of the league. All four have one loss.

Notes:

– LIU knocked off Wagner 73-66 to improve to 7-0 in the NEC and take a one game lead on Wagner.

– South Dakota State got 28 points in a 91-88 OT win over North Dakota State as they stayed within a game of Oral Roberts in league play. ORU is 10-0 in the league after Warren Niles scored 27 points in a 92-83 win over Oakland.

– With a 72-60 win over Towson, George Mason took sole possession of first place in the CAA at 7-1 thanks to VCU’s 61-48 win over ODU. VCU and ODU are both 6-2 in league play

– St. Joe’s lost to Penn 84-80, their third straight loss and fifth in seven games.

– Tony Mitchell had 30 points and 17 boards, including a buzzer-beating tip-in, to beat Denver 75-74 in overtime. They moved into a three-way tie with UALR at 5-2 in the Sun Belt’s Western Division.

– USC-Upstate overcame a 16 point halftime deficit to knock off Belmont 79-78 on a tip-in at the buzzer.

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.