College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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What do we make of this Arizona team?: The Wildcats are 14-0 this season. They jumped out to a 2-0 start in league play with wins over Colorado and Utah this weekend. They have beaten Florida, San Diego State and Miami in non-conference play. They are currently ranked No. 3 in the country. And they are likely to continue to get better as their trio of freshmen big men continue to adjust to playing basketball at the collegiate level.

But when you take some of those wins into context, the picture gets a bit murkier. Florida, quite literally, gave the game away when they visited the McKale Center last month. After allowing an 8-0 spurt to end the first half, the Gators committed two turnovers and missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to blow a six-point lead in the final minute of regulation. Against Colorado, the refs stole a victory from the Buffaloes after Colorado blew a 10 point lead in the final four minutes of regulation. San Diego State was up double-figures in the second half and had their upset bid thwarted by a sensational defensive play by Nick Johnson. And Miami didn’t have Reggie Johnson when they played ‘Zona.

From a ranking standpoint, the only thing that matters is wins and losses. Arizona has won all their games. That’s significant. But there is plenty of room to analyze just how good the Wildcats truly are. I’ll slide on over to Kenpom, who ranks Arizona as the 14th best team in the country. And frankly, that sounds about right to me. Five of Arizona’s next seven games are Pac-12 road games. Let’s see where they stand in three week.

Big Ten road wins: The road is not a friendly place to be in league play, regardless of what conference you reside in. But for teams in the Big Ten, traveling is going to be especially difficult given just how many really good teams populate the top of the league standings. So when you get excited about things like Minnesota beating Michigan State at home or Illinois losing to Purdue on the road and beating Ohio State at home, keep in mind: that is what’s supposed to happen. Good teams defend their home court against conference rivals. There are a lot of good teams in the Big Ten, which means that a lot of good teams are going to be losing games on the road in the Big Ten.

The only time an outcome should truly get you excited is when the game isn’t close (like, for example, the mollywhopping Illinois put on Ohio State) or when someone wins on the road.

CJ McCollum’s injury: If Lehigh proved anything to us on Saturday, it’s that they are still going to be competitive in the Patriot League without CJ McCollum, who will miss about two months after breaking his foot. The Mountainhawks not only erased a 10 point deficit with McCollum on the bench with crutches, they played with the Rams the entire second half and nearly knocked them off.

The Patriot League should serve notice. This team can still finish second in the conference. The shame in McCollum’s injury, however, is that the most exciting part about the conference was going to be their league race with Bucknell, who nearly knocked off Missouri in Columbia on Saturday. That would have been a terrific race. Hopefully, if the basketball gods are looking out for us, McCollum will be back healthy by the time the league tournament begins.

Referee blunders: There were two critical mistakes that changed the outcome of games this week. Refs at the Marquette-UConn game blew a call that should have given the Huskies a bucket in overtime. And the refs in Colorado-Arizona were a complete embarrassment during the final two minutes. I don’t know how to fix this problem. But how often we talk about major officiating blunders that change the outcome of games is an embarrassment and a stain on college hoops.

D’angelo Harrison: The 6-foot-3 St. John’s sophomore may be the nation’s best kept secret. He’s averaging 21.4 points for the Johnnies after this week, when he went for 36 in an overtime loss at Villanova and followed that up with 15 points — including two huge baskets, one of which was the game-winner, down the stretch — as St. John’s went into Cincinnati and knocked off the Bearcats.

You can find Rob 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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.