Weekend Preview: Duke and UNC highlight the best games

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Game of the Weekend: Sat. No. 6 UNC @ No. 4 Duke, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

It doesn’t get much better than this. Last day of the regular season. Duke and North Carolina. An ACC title on the line. A potential No. 1 seed in the balance. And the icing on the cake? The last time these two got together, Duke somehow erased a 10 point deficit in the final two and a half minutes, winning in the Dean Dome when star freshman Austin Rivers did this.

Yeah, this should be fun.

There are really two ways to look at this game. On the one hand, in the first matchup, North Carolina dominated the Blue Devils for 37 minutes. I still find myself asking the question “how in the world to Duke manage to come back?” Duke may have gotten the victory, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone willing to say that the Blue Devils were actually the better team that night.

Having said that, I think that Duke is just starting to hit their stride this year. I think Miles Plumlee, who has recently been moved into Duke’s starting lineup, and Mason Plumlee to be able to hold their own against UNC’s front line, I expect Austin Rivers to have another big game and with a raucous crowd in Cameron for Saturday evening tip, I think Duke completes the sweep.

Sat. No. 11 Georgetown @ No. 8 Marquette, 2 p.m. (ESPN3): To me, this may be an even more interesting game than UNC-Duke because I believe both teams are real Final Four threats. We all know about Marquette by now. They like to press, they like to run and they have a number of versatile players that have really bought into what Buzz Williams is selling. Georgetown, however, is thriving because of their own versatility. The Hoyas are a tremendous defensive team when they want to be. They have three 6’8″ athletes that can defend any position on the court, which makes it so difficult to run offense because they can switch everything. Their zone, when they go to it, is as long as Syracuse’s. The key is going to be Henry Sims. Is he going to be aggressive offensively, attacking the rim and distributing the ball, or will he settle for 15 foot jumpers?

Sat. No. 19 Louisville @ No. 2 Syracuse, 4 p.m. (CBS): Louisville really needs to get this win. As of now, they are 0-6 against the Big East teams currently above them in the standings. That’s concerning. How good of a team are you if you cannot steal a win or two against the teams situated ahead of you? The problem? I just don’t see the Cardinals winning, not with the Syracuse defense and how Louisville has played on the offensive end of the floor of late.

Sat. No. 9 Baylor @ Iowa State, 7 p.m. (ESPN3): As we all know, Baylor has slowly started to fade down the stretch of the season, as they’ve lost all four of their games to Missouri and Kansas and have struggled with the likes of Texas and Oklahoma since then. they did, however, handle the Bears fairly easily about a month ago, which puts even more intrigue into this game. With a win, the Baylor and ISU will have split their season series and will be tied for third place in the Big 12. But since ISU has knocked off Kansas, they would get the three seed in the Big 12 Tournament and avoid Kansas until the title game.

Sat. No. 21 San Diego State @ TCU, 7 p.m. (MTN): TCU is 6-0 at home in Mountain West play. They have already beaten New Mexico and UNLV in their own arena. SDSU, on the other hand, is 3-3 on the road and coming off of a loss at Air Force the last time they played outside of Viejas Arena. He’s the tricky part — a loss for the Aztecs means that New Mexico, should they be able to beat Boise State at home on Saturday, will be the outright winner of the MWC. Wouldn’t that be wild?

Sun. No. 1 Kentucky @ No. 16 Florida, 12 p.m. (CBS): The only thing standing in between Kentucky and a perfect regular season in the SEC is Senior Night at Florida. I’ve been warning folks that losing Will Yeguete had the potential to be disastrous for the Gators, and so far they are 0-2 since he broke his foot. That said, we do have to keep in mind the fact that Florida does have a potent perimeter attack. If Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton and the rest of those guys get into a rhythm, Florida always has a chance. But even if they do, we shouldn’t forget just how badly the Gators were beaten at Rupp. It was bad. And they had Yeguete.

Sun. No. 10 Ohio State @ No. 5 Michigan State, 4 p.m. (CBS): What a perfect way to cap off the regular season in college hoops. Michigan State senior night, not only honoring Draymond Green but bring Delvon Roe back as well. A Big Ten title on the line. The leagues two favorites for player of the year squaring off. Thad Matta vs. Tom Izzo. This should be fun.

The key, in my opinion, is going to be Keith Appling. Aaron Craft is the best on-ball defender in the country and Appling isn’t a natural point guard. If he can avoid being rushed into offense and protect the ball when he is trying to orchestrate offense, the Spartans will have a great shot of winning this game.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

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.