Championship Week recap: Day 7’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: Vermont 77, Hartford 75 2OT
In a game that featured 11 ties and 26 lead changes, the No.2-seed Vermont Catamounts were able to outlast the No.6-seed Hartford Hawks in a thrilling America East semifinal match-up. Sandro Carissimo scored a career-high 18 points, and sent the game into double overtime when he hit a tough runner with four seconds remaining in the first overtime. Andres Torres led the Hawks with 8 points, but fouled out of the game early in overtime. Genesis Maciael tried to pick up the slack, hitting a big 3-pointer in the second overtime to put the Hawks up two. But when Hartford scored, Vermont always answered, and a Matt Glass 3-pointer at the other end put the Catamounts ahead. They hit their free throws and survived.

– They were good too: Creighton 83, Illinois State 79 OT
Fueled by Doug McDermott’s 33 points, and a career-high 20 points from Grant Gibbs, the Creighton Bluejays punched their ticket to the Big Dance by defeating upset-minded Illinois State in the MVC finals. Creighton led by as many as 11 in the first half, but the Redbirds mounted a feverish comeback to take a one point lead at halftime. In the second half the teams traded leads, and Nic Moore scored a lay-up with 20 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. In the extra period, Antoine Young took over. He went 6-of-8 from the foul line and finished with eight of the Bluejays 17 points in overtime. Moore led the Redbirds with 20 points, and added four rebounds and five assists. Jackie Carmichael had 17 points and 9 rebounds.

Player of the Night: Doug McDermott, Creighton
The Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year had one of his best games of the season, scoring 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting, as the Bluejays won the MVC tournament championship. McDermott’s best games of the season have come when his team needed it most, and the Bluejays certainly needed it on Sunday. He faught through constant double-teams, and physical pressure, but couldn’t be stopped, only slightly contained.

– He was good too: Dallis Joyner, Stony Brook
The senior forward kept his collegiate career alive by scoring a buzzer-beating, game-winning tip-in as time expired, to propel the Seawolves over Albany in the America East semifinals. Joyner finished with 14 points and jumped in for the putback on a jumper by Dave Coley as the clock expired. Joyner also provided eight rebounds, two blocks and one steal.

Team of the Night: Fairfield Stags
Coming in to the season, the Stags were picked as the only MAAC team to be able to threaten Iona for the conference title. After losing both regular season meetings, they played their best game of the season, and slowed down a versatile, high scoring Iona offense. Fairfield shot 60 percent from the field (31-of-52), and while the Gaels also shot well, making 51 percent (26 of 51) of their shots, the Stags outrebounded them 32-20. Boston College-transfer Rakim Sanders led the Stags with 26 points and 12 rebounds.

They were good too: Arkansas State Red Wolves
Middle Tennessee was far and away the best Sun Belt team this season, but thanks to a gritty effort from the No.9-seed Red Wolves, the Blue Raiders will not be dancing. Trey Finn led Arkansas State with 16 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. During last year’s tournament, when ASU was the No.1-seed, Finn blew out his knee, and his team was upset by Arkansas-Little Rock, the eventual tournament champions. This time around, it was Finn’s team to spring the upset.

Sunday Results:

America East Semifinals
#2 Vermont 77, #6 Hartford 73
#1 Stony Brook 57, #4 Albany 55

Colonial Athletic Association Semifinals
#2 Virginia Commonwealth 74, #3 George Mason 64
#1 Drexel 68, #4 Old Dominion 51

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Semifinals
#4 Fairfield 85, #1 Iona 75
#2 Loyola (Md.) 70, #6 Siena 60

Missouri Valley Conference Finals
#2 Creighton 83, #4 Illinois State 79 OT

Northeast Conference Semifinals
#3 Robert Morris 71, #2 Wagner 64
#1 Long Island 78, #5 Quinnipiac 7

Southern Conference Semifinals
#3N Western Carolina 82 #1N UNC-Greensboro 77
#1S Davidson 83, #2N Elon 67

Summit League Semifinals
#6 Southern Utah 84, #3 Oakland 82
#4 Western Illinois 58, #5 North Dakota State 53

Sun Belt Quarterfinals
#9 Arkansas State 64, #1 Middle Tennessee 61
#7 Western Kentucky 66, #2 Arkansas-Little Rock 63
#5 North Texas 65, #4 Louisiana-Lafayette 62
#3 Denver 61, #6 South Alabama 50

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
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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

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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

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.