Sweet 16 Previews: Why Yancy Gates needs to play like Josh Harrellson

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Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com contributed to this post.

I don’t know if I’m the first to say this, but I believe it with all of my heart: No. 6 Cincinnati is going to have a very, very good chance of beating No. 2 Ohio State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night in Boston for the same reason that Kentucky beat Ohio State last season in the Sweet 16. (I had that upset in my bracket, no big deal.)

The Wildcats had a big-bodied center to deal with Jared Sullinger in Josh Harrellson. Cincinnati does as well in Yancy Gates.

What makes Sullinger so effective in the post is his ability to use his ample back side to gain position. He has nice footwork and a soft touch around the basket, which, when combined with his solid array of post moves, makes him arguably the most dangerous low-post threat in the country. That said, it is all set up by the fact he is almost immovable once he gets to where he wants to be on the court.

The problem against Kentucky last season was that the Wildcats had their own immovable object in the paint in Harrellson. Sullinger still got his — he finished with 21 points and 16 boards (eight offensive) — but he had to work as hard as he had all season long to get those numbers. And Harrellson certainly didn’t get dominated, finishing with 17 points, 10 boards and three blocks.


Jared Sullinger could have been a top five pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, but he opted to return to Columbus to try and win a national title. Back in November, the Buckeyes were a popular pick to do just that. But everyone overlooked just how much Ohio State lost in Jon Diebler and David Lighty.

A major reason that Sullinger was as dominant as he was as a freshman was that it was nearly impossible to double-team him. The majority of the time, Thad Matta played four guards around Sullinger in the post — Diebler, Lighty, Aaron Craft and William Buford, with Diebler being the guy that fed Sullinger the ball in the post the majority of the time. So pick your poison — either allow the big fella to go one-on-one in the post or try and double-team him and hope your defensive rotations were quick enough to avoid giving one of those four sharp-shooter an open look.

This season, however, the shooters that Sullinger has surrounding him are no where near as dangerous. You want stats to back it up? I got stats to back it up. In 2010-2011, Ohio State shot 42.3% from three (which led the country) and took threes on 32.7% of their possessions. This season? The Buckeyes are shooting 32.8% from three and taking threes on just 26.5% of their possessions. It’s not difficult to figure out why: instead of Diebler (1.405 points-per-possession, or PPP, in spot-up situations) and Lighty (1.000 PPP) on the perimeter, defenses have to deal with Lenzelle Smith (1.038 PPP) and Deshaun Thomas (0.956 PPP). At the same time, both Buford (1.045 PPP to 0.962 PPP) and Craft (1.165 PPP to 1.034 PPP) have seen a decrease in their effectiveness as spot-up shooters.

Simply put: Ohio State is easier to defend this season because defenses don’t have to worry as much about getting burned from the perimeter. It can be summed up in one, easy-to-read stat — in the loss the Kentucky last season, Diebler and Lighty were a combined 10-22 from the floor while Buford and Craft shot 2-21.


It is easy to criticize Jared Sullinger for not being the same player he was last season. But in my mind, he’s had a more impressive year. His numbers haven’t dropped off — 0.933 PPP in post-up situations last season as compared to 0.950 PPP this season — despite facing more defensive attention this year while dealing with plantar fasciitis and a bad back.

But that also means that Sullinger is that much more important to his team’s success this season. Case-in-point: Ohio State went 6-4 in the last seven games of the regular season and three games in the Big Ten tournament. In the six wins, Sullinger averaged 20.7 ppg and 10.0 rpg while shooting 54.3% from the floor. In the four losses, he averaged 14.3 ppg and 9.8 rpg while shooting 37.9% from the floor. The best game he had in a loss — 17 points and 16 boards against Michigan State — he also committed 10 turnovers.

Cincinnati has their own Josh Harrellson in the gargantuan Yancy Gates. Sullinger is not going to be able to move Gates off the block, which means that his points and his post touches are going to be that much more difficult to come by. In other words, Buckeye fans better hope that their perimeter attack comes to play, because they may not be able to rely on Sullinger to carry them.

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.