Championship Week: Day 6’s best game, top player

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Over the next 13 days, the brackets will start to take shape. Teams with no at-large aspirations will make one final push at the post-season. Teams on the bubble will look to assert themselves as worthy members of “The Big Dance”, and contenders will start priming their engines for a national Championship run. While “March Madness” officially begins following Selection Sunday, the real madness starts now.

Until Sunday, March 11,  this will be your home for Championship Week recaps and previews. The players and teams are starting to prepare for March Madness, so you should too.

Game of the Night: Murray State 54, Tennessee State 52
Tennessee State was just a Robert Covington 3-pointer away from handing Murray State their second loss of the season. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the shot caromed off the rim, and the Racers were able to hold on. Jewaun Long hit a tough baseline lay-up with 4.4 seconds left to give Murray State the lead and the Tigers could not answer at the other end. Tennessee State led by as many as seven in the second half, but Covington, the team’s leading scorer, sat for a long period of time due to foul trouble, and Murray State mounted their comeback. The game featured ten ties and eleven lead changes.

– They Were Good Too: George Mason 61, Georgia State 59
A Bryon Allen lay-up with 3.4 seconds remaining broke a 59-5 tie and won the game for the George Mason Patriots in Richmond last night. Georgia State led by as many as 11 points, but the experienced Patriots rallied behind Mike Morrison and Sherrod Wright, who scored all 11 of his points during a four-minute stretch in the second half. The victory of the Panthers sets up a classic rubber-match against VCU.

Player of the Night: Ryan Broekoff, Valparaiso
The Horizon League Player of the Year scored 19 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the Crusaders 65-46 victory over Butler in the Horizon League semifinals. The last time these two teams met, a week ago Friday, Broekoff scored just six points and shot 22 percent (2-of-9) from the field and was 0-of-4 from the foul line. But on Saturday, he shot 67 percent (6-of-9) from the field and 83 percent (5-of-6) from the foul line. The Butler Bulldogs will not be making a third consecutive trip to the National Championship game, and Broekoff is one of the reasons why.

– He Was Good Too: Michael Glover, Iona
The senior forward scored 29 points, and provided seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals in the Gael’s 87-63 win over Marist in the MAAC semifinals. Glover was 11-of-18 from the field and 7-of-10 from the charity stripe. This was the eleventh game of the season in which he has scored 20 or more points.

Team of the Night: Hartford Hawks
The No.6-seed Hawks provided the upset of the night, defeating the No.3-seed Boston Terriers 53-49 in the America East quarterfinals. The Hawks snapped a two-game losing streak, which included a 64-55 loss in the season finale to the Terriers. Nate Sikma scored 16 points, Andres Torres chipped in with 12 points and Mark Nwakamma provided 13 points and 16 rebounds. Despite being the lower-seed, the Hawks benefited from being the host team, and after the victory, received a court-storming from the fans.

– They Were Good Too: Illinois State Redbirds
The No.4-seed Redbirds trailed for much of the game, and were down by eight at the half, but put together a furious second half comeback in order to knock off No.1-seed Wichita State in the MVC semifinals. Tyler Brown led all scorers with 25 points and Jackie Carmichael chipped in with 12 points and 11 rebounds. During the final six minutes of play, Illinois State held Wichita State to just four points. The Redbirds will meet the Bluejays of Creighton in the finals of “Arch Madness”.

Saturday Results:

America East Quarterfinals
#6 Hartford 53, #3 Boston 49
#4 Albany 63, #5 New Hampshire 45
#2 Vermont 50, #7 Maine 40
#1 Stony Brook 78, #9 Binghamton 69

Atlantic Sun Finals
#1 Belmont 83, #6 Florida Gulf Coast 69

Big Sky Quarterfinals
#4 Eastern Washington 81, #5 Idaho State 75
#3 Portland State 75, #6 Montana State 53

Big South Finals
#1 UNC-Asheville 80, #7 VMI 64

Colonial Athletic Association Quarterfinals
#4 Old Dominion 88, #5 Delaware 74
#3 George Mason 61, #6 Georgia State 59
#2 Virginia Commonwealth 75, #7 Northeastern 65
#1 Drexel 59, #9 UNC-Wilmington 47

Horizon League Semifinals
#3 Detroit 63, #2 Cleveland State 58
#1 Valparaiso 65, #5 Butler 46

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Quarterfinals
#6 Siena 84, #3 Manhattan 82
#4 Fairfield 65, #5 Rider 63
#2 Loyola (Md.) 86, #7 Niagara 73
#1 Iona 87, #8 Marist 63

Missouri Valley Conference Semifinals
#4 Illinois State 65, #1 Wichita State 64
#2 Creighton 99, #3 Evansville 71

Ohio Valley Conference Finals
#1 Murray State 54, #2 Tennessee State 52

Patriot League Semifinals
#2 Lehigh 85, #3 American 66
#1 Bucknell 79, #5 Lafayette 52

Southern Conference Quarterfinals
#3N Western Carolina 82, #2S Wofford 59
#2N Elon 65, #3S Georgia Southern 58
#1N UNC-Greensboro 65, #5N Appalachian State 55
#1S Davidson 73, #5S Furman 54

Summit League Quarterfinals
#2 South Dakota State 77, #7 IUPUI 56
#1 Oral Roberts 71, #8 IPFW 67

Sun Belt Conference First Round
#9 Arkansas State 70, #8 Florida Atlantic 55
#7 Western Kentucky 67, #10 Florida International 63
#6 South Alabama 87, #11 Troy 81

West Coast Conference Semifinals
#1 Saint Mary’s 83, #5 San Francisco 78
#2 Gonzaga 77, #3 BYU 58

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

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.