Pregame Shootaround: No. 2 Duke, No. 11 Notre Dame meet for third time, No. 1 Kentucky makes SEC tournament debut

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 11 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Duke, 9:30 p.m. (ACC Network/ESPN)

These two teams have met twice this season, and the games could not have been any more different. Notre Dame won the first meeting, with Jerian Grant taking control of the game down the stretch in South Bend. The Blue Devils took the rematch in dominant fashion, winning by 30 at Cameron. Jahlil Okafor scored 20 points and grabbed ten rebounds and Justise Winslow contributed 19 and 11 in that win, and the Blue Devils limited the Fighting Irish to 39.7 percent shooting. A win for Notre Dame can give them a boost when it comes to NCAA tournament seeding, and in order to do so they’ll need to do a better job defensively than they did in the second meeting (Duke shot nearly 61 percent).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 15 Oklahoma vs. No. 13 Iowa State, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

The Sooners and Cyclones have played two highly entertaining games this season, with the home team taking both contests. Of course the second meeting featured a wild comeback, as Iowa State trailed by as much as 21 before coming back to win 77-70. The key for Fred Hoiberg’s team is to keep the offensive flow that can make them so difficult to defend. That was an issue for most of the first half against Texas, and it was also a problem in the comeback win noted above. As for Oklahoma, Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield and fellow guard Isaiah Cousins can attack the Iowa State defense from the perimeter, but they’re going to need more from TaShawn Thomas than the six points he scored in Ames.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?: No. 3 Virginia (vs. No. 19 North Carolina, 7:00 p.m. ACC Network/ESPN)

Virginia won the lone regular season meeting between the two, beating the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill back in early February thanks to a balanced offensive attack and some solid defense in the second half. The Cavaliers were able to prevent North Carolina from getting out in transition, and that will likely be the case tonight. While it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect UNC to match Virginia stop for stop, they’ve held each of their two ACC tournament opponents below 40 percent shooting. A similar effort against the Cavaliers will give the Tar Heels a shot at the win.

SIX THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. There are some bubble teams in search of another big win to add to their resume and one of them is UCLA, which takes on No. 5 Arizona (9:00 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. The question for the Bruins is whether or not Kevon Looney, who left yesterday’s win over USC with a facial injury, can go. Shot selection will also be key for UCLA, and they’ll have a tougher time finding quality looks than they did against the Trojans.

2. No. 1 Kentucky takes the floor for the first time at this year’s SEC tournament, and they’ll take on Florida in Nashville (1:00 p.m., SEC Network). John Calipari’s Wildcats are three wins away from duplicating Florida’s feat of a season ago, running the table in the SEC regular season and conference tournament.

3. Also making its conference tournament debut is No. 6 Wisconsin, and the Badgers will face a Michigan (Noon, ESPN) team brimming with confidence following their whipping of Illinois. Zak Irvin scored 14 points and dished out six assists, and freshmen Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman combined for 33 points against the Fighting Illini.

4. An NCAA tournament bid will be decided tonight, and it won’t even occur in a tournament final. Texas Southern takes on Prairie View A&M (9:30 p.m.) in a SWAC semifinal, and the winner gets the automatic bid. Why? The other semifinal matchup pits two teams ineligible for postseason play in Southern and Alabama State.

5. No. 9 Kansas looks to pick up its first-ever Big 12 tournament win over No. 16 Baylor (7:00 p.m., ESPN2), as the Bears have won both prior meetings. Kansas won both regular season meetings but that was with Perry Ellis on the floor; his status for tonight’s game has yet to be determined. Whether or not Ellis plays, the Jayhawks will need to keep Rico Gathers Sr. and his teammates off the offensive glass.

6. No. 4 Villanova looks to keep rolling after their decisive win over Marquette, as they take on Providence in the Big East semis. The Friars, after a slow start, rolled past St. John’s on Thursday and a win over the Wildcats would help improve their NCAA tournament seeding. And the two players picked for Big East Co-Player of the Year, Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono and Providence’s Kris Dunn, will be on the court along with two others (Nova’s Darrun Hilliard and Providence’s LaDontae Henton) who had solid arguments themselves.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE

ACC Semis: No. 19 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Virginia, No. 11 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Duke

American Quarters: No. 20 SMU vs. East Carolina, Temple vs. Memphis, Tulsa vs. Houston, Cincinnati vs. UConn

Atlantic 10 Quarters (on NBCSN): No. 24 Davidson vs. La Salle, Richmond vs. VCU, Dayton vs. St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island vs. George Washington

Big 12 Semis: No. 9 Kansas vs. No. 16 Baylor, No. 13 Iowa State vs. No. 15 Oklahoma

Big East Semis: No. 4 Villanova vs. Providence, Georgetown vs. Xavier

Big Sky Semis: Eastern Washington vs. Sacramento State, Northern Arizona at Montana

Big Ten Quarters: No. 6 Wisconsin vs. Michigan, Purdue vs. Penn State, No. 8 Maryland vs. Indiana, Michigan State vs. Ohio State

Big West Semis: UC Davis vs. Hawaii, UCSB vs. UC Irvine

Conference USA Semis: UTEP vs. Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech vs. UAB

MEAC Semis: North Carolina Central vs. Delaware State, Norfolk State vs. Hampton

MAC Semis: Central Michigan vs. Toledo, Buffalo vs. Akron

Mountain West Semis: No. 25 Boise State vs. Wyoming, San Diego State vs. Colorado State

Pac-12 Semis: No. 5 Arizona vs. UCLA, No. 17 Utah vs. Oregon

SEC Quarters: No. 1 Kentucky vs. Florida, LSU vs. Auburn, No. 21 Arkansas vs. Tennessee, Georgia vs. South Carolina

Southland Semis: Stephen F. Austin vs. Northwestern State, Sam Houston State vs. Texas A&M Corpus-Christi

Sun Belt Quarters: Louisiana vs. Texas State, ULM vs. South Alabama

SWAC Semis: Alabama State vs. Southern, Texas Southern vs. Prairie View A&M

WAC Semis: New Mexico State vs. Bakersfield, Kansas City vs. Seattle

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.