Wednesday’s Shootaround: Kentucky rolls, Ohio State struggles, Creighton loses

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No. 3 Ohio State 87, Purdue 84: William Buford snapped out of what felt like a season long slump to score 21 of his 29 points in the second half — including seven straight to put OSU up 80-73 with two minutes left — as the Buckeyes avoided getting upset at home. Buford’s second half was all the more important considering that Purdue was shooting the lights out and both Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft were dealing with foul trouble.

Its tough to call a loss on the road against the No. 3 team in the country a costly loss, but it is certainly fair to say that Purdue missed a major opportunity for a marquee victory on Tuesday night. If it wasn’t a couple of late defensive lapses and questionable offensive decisions — including Matt Painter’s decision to leave DJ Byrd, who finished with a career-high 24 points on 7-9 shooting from three, on the bench down the stretch — Purdue would have escaped Columbus with this win. For a team that appears to be squarely on the bubble with a shell of Robbie Hummel leading them, that’s huge.

The good news for the Boilermakers is that they were able to stay this close without Hummel playing well. In addition to Byrd’s performance, Kelsey Barlow played as well as he has in his collegiate career, finishing with 14 points, three assists and a trio of highlight reel dunks. If those two can play near that level the rest of the season, Purdue won’t have to worry about getting an at-large bid.

No. 1 Kentucky 78, No. 7 Florida: When Kentucky is playing their best, they are just about unbeatable. When Marquis Teague is distributing and knocking down perimeter jumpers, when Terrence Jones is bought in to a team concept and when Doron Lamb and Darius Miller are shooting the ball well, Kentucky simply has more weapons that anyone else in the country.

This is not a secret, however. I’ve been saying for about a month that I would wager my money on the Wildcats winning the national title. Think about it like this: Kentucky appears to finally be hitting their stride as a basketball team and they are currently one Christian Watford buzzer-beater away from being undefeated. If Kentucky was actually able to give their foul in the final seconds against the Hoosiers, than John Calipari’s group would, in all likelihood, be heading into the stretch run undefeated.

And this team still isn’t playing their best basketball.

That’s scary.

But beating Florida by 20 points at home isn’t the defining win that should vault UK into lock-status for the Final Four.

Look, I know that the Gators are ranked in the top ten and I know that the consensus is that this group is the second-best team in the SEC. But the gap between the first and the second teams in that league is fairly large, and the gap between where Florida truly ranked and the No. 7 spot is just as big. The Gators are a streaky team that stinks on the road, where they have lost to Rutgers and Tennessee already this season. Handling the Gators in Rupp should have been expected.

Kentucky fans will likely misinterpret that as a shot at their team, and it isn’t. I still think the Wildcats are the best team in the country. I just don’t think this performance is the proof that many believe it is.

Evansville 65, No. 13 Creighton 57: This is what happens when you have on off-night on the road in the Valley. The Bluejays shot just 4-22 from three and turned the ball over 16 times, which, when combined with the 13-1 run the Purple Aces put on Creighton to close the game, was enough to send the Bluejays to their second consecutive loss. This could end up looming very large for Creighton. Not only does this loss drop them to a half-game behind Wichita State in the MVC standings — the Shockers play UNI Wednesday night — but it makes Saturday’s matchup between the two teams all the more important. Simply put, Creighton is not going to win the Valley regular season title if they fall two games behind WSU. And if they don’t turn this losing streak around soon, might they play their way out of a guaranteed at-large bid?

Oklahoma State 69, Iowa State 67: I’ve been saying it all season long — the issue for Oklahoma State this season is less talent and more effort. They don’t care enough or play hard enough on a consistent basis to win games. After nearly upsetting Baylor on Saturday afternoon, the Pokes knocked off Iowa State, who is probably the fourth best team in the Big East, on the strength of 19 points from Markel Brown. LeBryan Nash added 18 points on 6-10 shooting, but more importantly he hit an impressive step-back jumper to give OSU the lead with 4.6 seconds left and then blocked Chris Allen’s attempt to tie the game at the buzzer.

Villanova 74, Providence 72: Providence jumped out to a big first half lead, extending it to as much as 19 in the second half. Throw in the fact that Maalik Wayns was battling a knee injury, and the Wildcats seemed like the longest of long shots to come back and win that game. But thanks to 27 points from Jayvaughn Pinkston, who looked like an all-Big East player, the Wildcats came all the way back. It was a driving layup from Pinkston in the final minute that ended up being the decisive bucket.

Campbell 81, Coastal Carolina 75: Campbell stayed within striking distance in the Big South thanks to Eric Griffin, who had 25 points, 10 boards, three assists, two steals and two blocks as the Camels overcame an 11 point second half deficit.

Other notable scores:

– Maryland 64, Clemson 62
– Kansas State 65, Texas Tech 46

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
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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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.