Final Four Previews: How will Kansas handle Deshaun Thomas?

2 Comments

The biggest question for Kansas fans heading into the Final Four isn’t going to be whether or not Tyshawn Taylor can hold on to the ball against Aaron Craft, or which Elijah Johnson shows up, or even how Thomas Robinson is going to fare against a post player just as strong as he is.

No, the biggest concern should be how they are going to contain Deshaun Thomas.

Thomas truly is a gifted scorer. A 6-foot-7 left-hander, Thomas is a threat anywhere he has the ball on the floor. He can hit a three, he can beat you off the bounce and he can score with his back to the basket. As good as he was all season long, Thomas is currently playing his best basketball of the season. Over his last 12 games, Thomas is averaging 20.2 ppg and 7.7 rpg while shooting 54.1% from the floor and 41.8% (23-for-55, more than 4.5 attempts per game) from three. Those numbers increase to 22.3 ppg and 8.5 rpg in four NCAA tournament games.

The problem with Thomas on the floor is that Kansas, when they trot out their best lineup, have a true center in Jeff Withey and a college center in Thomas Robinson on the floor. There is no chance that Withey is going to be able to defend Thomas on the perimeter. Not only would he be completely unable to matchup with him defensively, but Withey also happens to be a perfect defender to put on Jared Sullinger thanks to his length and his ability to block shots.

But if Withey is going to be guarding Sullinger, that means that Robinson will be forced to matchup one-on-one with Thomas. Purdue’s Robbie Hummel is a different player than Thomas, but they are similar enough that we can confidently say Hummel’s 22 point first half against the Jayhawks — when he was being defended by Robinson — in the Round of 32 is an indicator that putting Robinson on Thomas may not be an ideal situation.

If he doesn’t want to try and defend Ohio State that way, Kansas head coach Bill Self does have a couple of options, neither of which are ideal.

The first is that he sits Withey, which is what happened in similar situations in the past for the Jayhawks. Withey played just 15 minutes against Purdue. In the two games against Missouri this season — the Tigers used a four-guard lineup with 6-foot-6 Kim English at the “power forward” spot — Withey played a grand total of 32 minutes. In those three games, he averaged 2.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg and 1.0 bpg, well off the 9.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.5 bpg and 24.4 mpg he averaged for the season.

That means more minutes for Kevin Young, a back-up forward that is more versatile, and Conner Teahan, a former walk-on and back-up shooting guard that would allow one of the Jayhawk’s best defenders — Travis Releford — to play up front and defend Thomas. The downside is that means that Sullinger will have a better matchup in the post against Robinson since Withey will be strapped to the bench.

The other option Bill Self has is to use the triangle-and-two defense that has been such a valuable weapon for Kansas in this tournament. It would allow both Robinson and Withey to be on the floor at the same time, but there is a downside there, as well.

Kansas used that triangle-and-two in the second half against Purdue because the Boilermakers really only had two players that could score: Hummel and Lewis Jackson. North Carolina, however, had much more than two scoring threats. But with Stilman White running the point, it allowed Kansas to matchup man-to-man with Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock or PJ Hairston while sagging Taylor far enough off of White to make an entry pass into the post very difficult.

Aaron Craft may not be Jimmer Fredette, but he is good enough offensively that you cannot dare him to try and score.

The x-factor here will end up being Withey’s production on the offensive end of the floor. Common sense would lead one to believe that Thomas will be forced to guard Withey, as Sullinger will be tasked with trying to defend Robinson. Simply put, Thomas should not be able to stop Withey from finishing around the rim or be able to keep him from getting to the offensive glass.

That same was said about English and Hummel, however.

The key for Kansas will not actually be whether or not they are able to stop Thomas when their best lineup is on the floor. Kansas will have a mismatch of their own offensively. Their best chance at winning will be if they — and by they, I mean Withey — will be able to take advantage of it.

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

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

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
4 Comments

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
1 Comment

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
7 Comments

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

Getty Images
4 Comments

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.