ACC Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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The ACC turned into one of the best conferences in college basketball this season, as five different teams have held top ten rankings during the season. As it stands, two of the top five seeds have a real chance to finish the month in the Final Four, while three more could very well find themselves in the second weekend of the Big Dance.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

Duke and Virginia look like they’ll end up being No. 1 seeds by the time that the brackets are released on Selection Sunday, although that’s far from a given at this point. Louisville, North Carolina, Notre Dame and N.C. State are all playing for seeding at this point, while Miami and, potentially, Pitt have a chance to earn an at-large bid by the time it’s all said and done.

Bracket

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MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

When: March 10-14

Where: Greensboro, N.C.

Final: March 14, 8:30 p.m.

Favorite: Virginia

The Cavaliers rolled through the ACC, winning their second straight outright league title while playing for nearly a month without Justin Anderson, their all-american caliber wing. There’s no guarantee that Anderson will be back in the lineup this week, however, but even if he’s not, UVA has still proven to be the best defensive team in the country.

And if they lose?: Duke

There isn’t a team in the country who has as many players that can completely take over a game as the Blue Devils. We all know about Jahlil Okafor, but Tyus Jones was the star in both wins over North Carolina, Quinn Cook was the hero in their blowout win against Notre Dame and Justise Winslow can be nearly unstoppable when he’s allowed to get out in transition. Duke has depth and defensive issues, but when their offense is clicking, they can beat anyone.

Other Contenders

  • North Carolina: We all know how good Marcus Paige can be when he’s playing well, and while he’s dealt with some nagging injuries this season, he was at his best in the season-ending loss to Duke. With Paige and a front line that can be overpowering, the Tar Heels are a dangerous team this month.
  • Notre Dame: The Irish have the ACC’s most dangerous offensive attack, as Jerian Grant’s all-american season has made the Irish a nightmare to defend. They can struggle to get stops, but with Bonzie Colson emerging as a legitimate backup to Zach Auguste, Notre Dame can beat anyone.

Sleeper: Louisville

I know that they are playing without Chris Jones, but the Cardinals are coming off of a win over Virginia on Saturday. Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier are a terrific 1-2 punch, and when Wayne Blackshear, Quentin Snider and company are hitting their threes, this team is dangerous.

Deeper Sleeper: N.C. State

The Wolfpack have been annoyingly inconsistent this season, but they have beaten Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Syracuse — all four coached by Hall of Famers – this season.

ACC Player of the Year: Jahlil Okafor, Duke

There is a ton of talent in the ACC this season, but Okafor is the easy pick for Player of the Year. No one else in the league is as unstoppable as he is, and while he does have some issues — his free throw shooting and defense, for example — I don’t think there is any question who the best player was.

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ACC Coach of the Year: Tony Bennett, Virginia

Virginia doesn’t have a consensus top 50 recruit on their roster and Justin Anderson is their only potential NBA Draft pick. Yet the Cavs only lost twice this season — once on a flurry of threes from Duke, once on a jumper from Mangok Mathiang of all people — despite playing without Anderson for more than a month. The only reason he’s not the National Coach of the Year is a man by the name of John Calipari.

First-Team All-ACC:

  • Okafor
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: If anyone had an argument to be slotted above Okafor, it’s Grant, who was the engine driving Notre Dame’s offense this season. He’s better at making his teammates better than anyone in the country.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: The Orange won’t be playing in the ACC tournament, but that doesn’t mean that Christmas wasn’t terrific this season. He’s the nation’s most improved player.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Harrell isn’t the most talented big man in the league, but he’s the hardest worker, the best athlete and arguably the best defender.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: Anderson was Virginia’s best player this season, but Brogdon was terrific in ACC play, particularly once Anderson went down with his hand injury.

Second Team All-ACC:

  • Justin Anderson, Virginia
  • Terry Rozier, Louisville
  • Olivier Hanlan, Boston College
  • Quinn Cook, Duke
  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina

Defining moment of the season: Duke’s comeback at Virginia

CBT Prediction: Duke upsets Virginia in an epic, two-overtime title game.

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.