Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky lead No. 1 Wisconsin to second consecutive Elite Eight

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LOS ANGELES — While No. 1 Wisconsin has been on the receiving end of a lot of attention this season, national Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky has been the focus of many. Thursday night in the first half of a tight Sweet 16 matchup with No. 4 North Carolina, it was junior forward Sam Dekker who took on the starring role.

With Kaminsky off to a slow start in the first half Dekker (ten rebounds) stepped forward, scoring 15 of his game-high 23 points to keep the Badgers within striking distance of the Tar Heels. In the second half Kaminsky (eight rebounds) grabbed the reins, scoring 15 of his 19 points to help lead Wisconsin to the 79-72 victory.

“I just don’t get frustrated,” Kaminsky said when asked about the difference for him in the second half. “Sam had a great first half and really kept us in that game. Without Sam out there getting buckets, he had that tip-in at the end of the first half and that really helped us out. So I just knew coming out in the second half I had to be aggressive and try to open up things for my teammates and I was able to do so.”

As a result Wisconsin will play for a second straight trip to the Final Four on Saturday, with either No. 2 Arizona or No. 6 Xavier being the opposition. Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson scored 15 points apiece to lead the way for North Carolina, with Marcus Paige scoring eight points late to finish with 12 on 4-for-11 shooting thanks to the efforts of Wisconsin senior guard Josh Gasser.

North Carolina shot 8-for-13 from beyond the arc on the night, but that wasn’t enough as Wisconsin managed to find its groove offensively in the second half. As a team the Badgers shot 57.7 percent from the field in the second half, converting 11 of their 15 two-pointers after shooting 8-for-20 from two in the first. Wisconsin’s experience and maturity, which has been a hallmark of Ryan’s teams, kept the team from getting discouraged by the fact that their shots weren’t falling and that mindset paid off in the second half.

“We know how fickle the game can be. These guys have been through a lot,” Ryan said. “They’ve seen the good runs. They’ve seen the bad runs. But this group never gets discouraged to the point where they get down on themselves or their teammates, and that’s what’s fun.

“And I’ve had a lot of teams like that. It’s not like we haven’t coached those kind of guys. But this group right here handles adversity as well as any team I’ve ever coached.”

Wisconsin hasn’t played its best basketball during this NCAA tournament, but they’ve managed to step forward when the moment demanded it. Against North Carolina, that moment came with the Tar Heels leading by seven with 11:11 remaining. With Kaminsky sidelined after taking a shot to the face, Bronson Koenig made a three-pointer to cut the deficit to four with 10:25 remaining.

And once Kaminsky returned to the floor, Wisconsin went on a 9-0 run to wrestle away control from the Tar Heels. From that point forward Wisconsin was able to do enough to hold off North Carolina, making their final eight free throws to close out the game.

“We don’t need to get in each other’s faces. We just know how to stay calm,” Kaminsky noted. “Like I said, we’re a veteran group and we understand situations and we’ve been through a lot as a group. So we know what it takes to win games like that at the end of the game. We were just going out there and having fun and trying to do whatever we could to win.”

The issue for North Carolina wasn’t so much their defense throughout the game, as they were solid on that end of the floor for most of the night. The issue were lapses at inopportune times, and those can be the difference in tight games of this magnitude. Wisconsin rebounded nearly 39 percent of its misses, and while they converted those opportunities into just nine second-chance points those plays added up according to Paige.

“Our defensive pressure is something we talked about coming into this game. We wanted to pressure them and not allow them to be comfortable, and we did that for the most part,” Paige said. “The problem was we couldn’t finish our defense on key possessions. You know, they got a tip-out or offensive rebound and that’s how they made us pay today. They would kick it out and make a three, or run another 35 seconds off the clock.

“So our initial defense was pretty good despite a couple lapses. It was pretty strong, pretty intense the entire game. We just couldn’t get enough finishes in terms of getting rebounds.”

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.