College Basketball Talk’s Top 25: Kentucky, Duke a cut above the rest

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While there are still far too many teams playing buy games with overmatched mid-majors funding their athletic departments by getting their tails kicked for profit, we also had what will likely end up being the best week of the season when it comes to high-profile matchups.

No. 2 Duke paid a visit to No. 4 Wisconsin in a battle of the two best big men in the country. No. 5 Gonzaga paid a visit to No. 3 Arizona in a battle of the two best teams on the west coast. And No. 6 Texas took a trip to Lexington for a battle of the two best front lines in the country.

All six of the top six teams in the country played another top six team this week, and all three of the games were terrific. Duke-Wisconsin was the most aesthetic, Arizona-Gonzaga was the most exciting and Kentucky-Texas was the most physical. It may only be in limited doses, but we really are starting to get some great early-season college basketball games.

But those three games are also the reason that the same six teams remain in my top six. If we want teams to test themselves early, than we shouldn’t punish them in the rankings for losing to a top three team.

Anyway, here is the top 25 … :

1. Kentucky (9-0, LW: No. 1): Nothing changes with Kentucky, as they beat Texas in Rupp Arena before easily handling Eastern Kentucky in the same building. Texas is probably going to end up being the best team that the Wildcats play until the tournament given their size, although going into the Yum! Center to take on Louisville will not be easy. Three-point shooting is become a serious issue, however. The Wildcats are hitting just 30.1 percent from beyond the arc on the season, they are 6-for-32 in the last three games and Aaron Harrison, who was supposed to be their sharpshooter, is knocking them down as a 22.2 percent clip.

2. Duke (8-0, LW: No. 3): Duke jumps Wisconsin in our rankings because … they beat Wisconsin. At Wisconsin. Duke’s ability to spread the floor with talented perimeter players around Jahlil Okafor is so tough to defend, and the willingness of veterans to play their roles — Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson, Rasheed Sulaimon — is so important.

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3. Arizona (8-0, LW: No. 4): There is a clear-cut top two right now, and even then, I’d be surprised to see Duke getting any first place votes. Arizona may not be the best of the rest — they beat Gonzaga in overtime at home, which is a win but which also isn’t exactly convincing — but they deserve to be ranked third at this point. Like Kentucky, perimeter shooting is an issue, but the bigger concern right now is probably Stanley Johnson’s decision-making. He needs to be better than he has been, and he’s actually been pretty good.

4. Wisconsin (8-1, LW: No. 2): The Badgers lost to Duke on a night that they actually played pretty well and then picked up a road win against arch-rival Marquette. The biggest concern for them right now? The health of Sam Dekker’s ankle.

5. Gonzaga (7-1, LW: No. 5): Gonzaga should be ticked about the way that they lost against Arizona on Saturday afternoon. Kevin Pangos had two critical turnovers down the stretch and had another ball get stripped out of his hands that turned into a jump-ball. Domas Sabonis got crushed on a would-be tip-in at the buzzer during regulation. Byron Wesley missed three free throws at the very end of overtime. The Zags had their chances to come out of the McKale Center with a statement win over Arizona.

6. Texas (7-1, LW: No. 6): The Longhorns lost to Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Friday night, but they certainly proved to anyone that watched the game that they are for real. Texas’ front line dominated Kentucky’s in the first half, and while the Wildcats made their run early in the second half, things could have been different if Texas had their best shot creator (Isaiah Taylor) healthy.

7. Virginia (9-0, LW: No. 9): The Cavaliers won at Maryland and followed that up by winning at VCU. You may not find a week this season where one team puts together two wins that are that impressive.

8. Louisville (7-0, LW: No. 7): The Cardinals did beat Ohio State in Louisville on Tuesday night. And it was one of the ugliest games we’ll see this season. Louisville will get much better when Chris Jones starts taking fewer shots.

9. Villanova (8-0, LW: No. 8): The Wildcats picked up a pair of Big 5 wins last week, knocking off La Salle and St. Joe’s. They’ll take on Illinois next week in a good gauge game for both teams. Villanova’s wins over Michigan and VCU are looking less and less impressive.

10. Kansas (6-1, LW: No. 12): The Jayhawks are back in the top ten after coming from 18 down to beat Florida at Phog Allen on Friday night. It’s only a matter of time before it starts to click for Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander. Alexander is much closer right now, and it was good to see Wayne Selden finally wake up as well.

11. Wichita State (5-1, LW: No. 11)
12. Iowa State (5-1, LW: No. 14)
13. Oklahoma (5-2, LW: No. 15)
14. Ohio State (6-1, LW: No. 18)
15. Georgetown (5-2, LW: No. 21)
16. Notre Dame (8-1, LW: UR)
17. Washington (7-0, LW: UR)
18. North Carolina (6-2, LW: No. 10)
19. Maryland (8-1, LW: No. 22)
20. Utah (6-1, LW: UR)
21. Butler (7-1, LW: No. 24)
22. Miami (8-1, LW: No. 19)
23. Colorado State (8-0, LW: UR)
24. St. John’s (6-1, LW: UR)
25. Michigan State (5-3, LW: 17)

Dropped Out: No. 13 San Diego State, No. 16 Michigan, No. 20 West Virginia, No. 23 Providence, No. 25 VCU

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.