The transfers get attention, but win over VCU solidified Mike Lonergan’s foundation at George Washington

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — George Washington has been the face of all that is good — and bad — when it comes to transfers in college basketball. They lost two rising seniors as graduate transfers during the offseason, bringing in Indiana castoff Maurice Creek to join former Villanova Wildcat Isaiah Armwood as the face of a team hoping to draw some of the city’s attention down in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

It worked.

Isaiah Armwood’s photo is plastered on the walls of the metro stop on campus. Creek entered Tuesday night averaging a team-high 14.8 points, which included a 25-point performance and a game-winning shot as the Colonials knocked off Maryland at the Verizon Center — the home of the Washington Wizards — back in December.

But on Tuesday night, when the Smith Center hosted its most important Atlantic 10 game in recent memory, it wasn’t head coach Mike Lonergan’s pair of senior transfers that played the role of hero. It was Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino, two sophomores that Lonergan recruited from Denmark and Argentina, respectively, that shined the brightest. Larsen scored 17 of his career-high 22 points in the first half while Garino finished with 25 points, seven boards and three steals off the bench as the Colonials knocked off Atlantic 10 favorite VCU, 76-66.

VCU’s known for their pressure defensively, and the Colonials won despite turning the ball over 21 times. That’s what happens when you score 1.41 PPP when you actually get a shot off.

“I told them before the game, some coaching friends of mine always say, ‘Next play, next play,'” Lonergan said. “I’m not really good at that. I told them they’re going to have to block me out. I’ll be going crazy that they turned the ball over and they’re going to have to just move on.”

It was the second straight game that Larsen dominated on the block, as he set a career-high against Rhode Island with 17 points on Saturday, but it’s the emergence of Garino that could end up being the difference-maker for GW this season. An athletic, 6-foot-6 wing, Garino was changed the game in the second half, scoring 18 points and notching all three of his steals in the final 20 minutes. He was able to get behind VCU’s press for a number of easy buckets, helping take the pressure off of a GW back court that got dangerously close to being overwhelmed by VCU’s ‘Havoc’ defense.

As good as he was in the open floor, Garino’s bigger impact came on the defensive end. “He was an absolute sparkplug,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said after the game, and that term could not encapsulate his effect on the game any better. GW likes to switch defenses, and one of the tricks that Lonergan keeps in his back pocket is a 1-3-1 zone where he plays Garino at the top. His length and athleticism was so disruptive for VCU as he created a handful of turnovers and bad possessions simply by being a presence on the floor.

“He’s great defensively,” Lonergan said, but Garino seemed to have a sense of the moment on Tuesday night. When GW needed a play made, he made it. When they needed points, he found a way to score. Timing doesn’t show up in a box score, but Garino had plenty of it on Tuesday. “He’s a good shooter we’re trying to make a great shooter,” Lonergan said. “He broke his finger and has had some setbacks, so it was really special to see him hit some threes when we needed threes.”

“I’ve always felt that when he gets that jumper going, he can be a pro.”

Perhaps what is most impressive about GW’s 14-3 record this season is that Garino has been in and out of the lineup as he dealt with the finger injury, one that was aggravated during a practice on the team’s trip to California for the Wooden Legacy. It was a blessing in disguise, however, as it allowed Kethan Savage a chance to emerge into the player that he is today. If we’re talking about GW’s sophomore class, he may the most important name to mention.

Savage has emerged as GW’s second-leading scorer this season, averaging 13.8 points in 26.8 minutes a season after averaging just 3.1 points in a limited role off the bench. Garino’s absence hurt the Colonials in the short term, but it may have actually been a blessing in disguise.

“Kethan has been able to play through a lot of mistakes,” Lonergan said. “He worked hard in the offseaosn, improved his game. He’s playing to his strengths, and his strengths are slashing and getting to the rim. He’s really difficult to guard.”

This is what Mike Lonergan envisioned when he made the decision to take over a struggling George Washington program back in the spring of 2011.

The Smith Center packed with 4,874 fans with a national television audience tuning in to watch the Colonials knock off a league power and a national name in convincing fashion.

GW still has plenty of work to do — like, for example, winning a game on the road — but with neutral court wins over Creighton and Maryland already on their resume, GW has played their way into contention for an at-large bid.

Lonergan isn’t looking that far ahead, however.

“We’re trying to earn respect,” he said.

Well, they got it.

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.