Sweet 16 Resets: The West Region

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On Thursday evening, the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 play will begin, meaning we’ll be four days away from finding out who the four teams are that will be playing for the national title in Atlanta. And in case you spent the past four days living under a rock or on a really, really long flight that didn’t have WiFi, here’s what you missed in the West Region.

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WHERE: Staples Center, Los Angeles

WHEN: Thursday

WHAT HAPPENED?: Madness. No. 1 Gonzaga lost to No. 9 Wichita State. No. 3 New Mexico lost to No. 14 Harvard. No. 4 Kansas State and No. 5 Wisconsin lost to No. 13 La Salle and No. 12 Ole Miss, respectively. When La Salle beat Ole Miss on Sunday, they became just the fifth No. 13 seed to make the Sweet 16, a fact that has been completely ignored thanks to that team from Dunk City, Florida. No. 2 Ohio State (barely) managed to survive No. 10 Iowa State, and will take on No. 6 Arizona on Thursday.

FAVORITE: Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State, at this point, has to be considered the favorite to win the West Region as every other contender in the region has been knocked off. There hasn’t been a hotter team in the country over the last month and a half, and OSU will be looking to ride that wave all the way to the Final Four. The key? LaQuinton Ross. He’s probably the best NBA prospect on the Buckeye roster, and he’s shown flashes of that ability during the tournament. Can he keep that up?

KEY PLAYER: Mark Lyons, Arizona

Sean Miller made the comparison over the weekend that Lyons is like a running quarterback on a football, and I think that’s a fair opinion. He’s not a standard issue point guard, but he’s talented, he’s gutty and he’s a veteran that has made big plays in big situations throughout his career. Arizona’s offense runs through him, but he’ll have his work cut out for him going up against Aaron Craft in the Sweet 16.

WHY AN UNDERDOG WILL WIN: I think both Wichita State and La Salle have a real chance to win this region, but for very different reasons.

– The Shockers are a relatively new team in that many of the pieces on the roster were either elsewhere last season or weren’t contributors. But thanks to some mid-season injuries to key players Carl Hall and Ron Baker, the Shockers are balanced and they are deep. You can’t go into a game thinking that you’re going to stop Carl Hall and win, because then Cleanthony Early, Baker and Fred VanVleet will light you up.

– La Salle is very talented. Ramon Galloway, Tyrone Garland and Tyreek Duren — their three-headed back court — could all be playing in the ACC or the Big East if they wanted to be. But they are at La Salle, and they give the Explorers an incredibly dangerous lineup because they force you to play their style. La Salle runs four guards out there, and they dare you to try and cover one of them with a big man. It’s risky, but La Salle creates the mismatches. That makes them dangerous, especially on the nights their big three ar playing well.

THE TEAMS:

No. 2 OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
How they got here: Beat No. 15 Iona 95-70 and No. 10 Iowa State 78-75.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2012
Next up: No. 6 Arizona, 7:47 p.m. ET, TBS
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No. 6 ARIZONA WILDCATS
How they got here: Beat No. 11 Belmont 81-64 and No. 14 Harvard 74-51.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 2 Ohio State, 7:47 p.m. ET, TBS
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No. 9 WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS
How they got here: Beat No. 8 Pitt 73-55 and No. 1 Gonzaga 76-70.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2006
Next up: No. 13 La Salle, 10:17 p.m. ET, TBS
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No. 13 LA SALLE EXPLORERS
How they got here: Beat No. 13 Boise State 80-71, No. 4 Kansas State 63-61, and No. 12 Ole Miss 76-74.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 1955
Next up: No. 9 Wichita State, 10:17 p.m. ET, TBS

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

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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.