Quinn Cook is thriving as an off-guard, and No. 4 Duke will reap the benefits

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Quinn Cook is playing the best basketball of his Duke career right now.

In Saturday night’s 70-59 win over Stanford in the finals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center, Cook finished with 16 points and five assists, hitting 4-of-9 from three and committing just a single turnover. That came after averaging 16.8 points, which would be a career-high, and 4.0 assists — not to mention the 50 percent he’s shooting from three or the three turnovers he had in 122 minutes — through the first four games of the season, and while that didn’t exactly come against tough competition, Cook’s best game came in the 81-71 win that the Blue Devils had against No. 19 Michigan State.

On the surface, that’s not all that surprising. Cook is a senior. Duke lost Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood to the NBA, and when two elite scorers head to the professional ranks, someone is going to have to step up to provide the scoring that will be missed.

The difference in Cook’s case is that he’s doing all of this despite playing a position that he’s never played before in his life. “I’ve ever done this before,” he said. “This is my first time.”

Through five games, it’s inarguable: Quinn Cook is thriving as a shooting guard, and he’s doing it in a year where he’s been asked to relinquish his role as Duke’s starting point guard, where he’s changing positions as a senior to make room for a stand out freshman, Tyus Jones. recruited to take his job. That’s not an easy thing to do. There’s a mentality that goes into being a point guard, and those that play the position well wear it like a badge of honor. It’s almost a status symbol. A point guard is the extension of a coach on the floor, a guy that manages the game the same way that a quarterback does.

Cook knew as soon as Jones committed to the program that this would happen, that they would be on the floor at the same time, and that fact was driven home the day that the season started.

“I embraced it the first practice,” Cook said. “We were on the same team. He was the one. There was no fighting it.”

And the fact that he is embracing his new role is one of the major reasons that No. 4 Duke looks like they’ll spend the entire season looking like one of the nation’s national title favorites. He’s still working out some of the kinks, but there’s not questioning that to date, Cook has fully bought-in to the new way that he will be playing.

“Coach wants me the shoot the ball,” Cook said. “He knows I’m one of the best shooters on the team. He gets on me when I pass up shots. When I have space, he wants me to shoot.”

“Quinn’s playing great,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We probably should have gotten him more shots.”

“It’s fun,” Cook added with a laugh.

This was the biggest question mark for the Blue Devils entering the season, and the early returns make any doubts that prognosticators had in the preseason seem foolish. Ask any coach in the country, and they’ll tell you that it’s never a bad thing to have two point guards on the floor at the same time. There were times during this game where Stanford tried to keep Jones from getting the ball in an effort to make it difficult for Duke to initiate their offense, but it didn’t work. It’s easy to forget that Cook is an all-ACC caliber point guard.

But he’s also an excellent scorer and, as he mentioned, one of the best shooters on the team. He’s talented enough that he’s still a threat even when he plays off the ball, when he’s asked to be a guy that scores 16 or 17 points a night, but that unselfishness is there as well. He still makes the right pass if a teammate has a better look. When he puts the ball on the floor and gets into the paint, he can still find open men and collect assists.

And that’s what makes this Duke team so dangerous.

Jahlil Okafor is one of the most powerful offensive forces in the country this season. Stefan Nastic was able to do a pretty effective job against Okafor defensively on Saturday night, but every single time Okafor received an entry pass in the post, you could see the Stanford defense take notice. There needs to be help. There needs to be a defender doubling Okafor or, at the very least, making it known that he won’t be allowed to simply go one-on-one on the block.

That means that there will be opportunities for the Duke guards to attack close outs and to get open shots. They’ll be put in situations that they can take advantage of, and having an off-guard capable of scoring at this level while still having the ability to create for his teammates at an all-conference level is an absolute luxury.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a bit of a work in progress. It will be interesting to see what will happen with Cook as defenses start to build their gameplans around slowing down a guy that has been one of the best scorers in the ACC. Perhaps the biggest issue will be on defense, where neither Cook and Jones have the reputation of being the next Gary Payton. What happens when they run into a team like North Carolina or Arizona, one with big, talented wings that can take advantage of Cook’s lack of size?

Only time will tell.

But with a little more than a week of the season in the review mirror, it looks like Coach K’s club will be able to handle those problems without much stress.

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.