Wisconsin vs. Kentucky: The Final Four rematch we deserved to see

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What happened in Saturday night’s Elite 8 action is not going to be easily topped by any of the three remaining nights of NCAA tournament action.

Wisconsin scored 55 second-half points on Arizona, hitting 10-for-12 from beyond the arc in the final 20 minutes as the Badgers pulled away from an Arizona team that, for the second time in two years, couldn’t get to the NCAA tournament’s final weekend.

It was as good as a basketball game can be when one team has control for much of the second half, as Wisconsin did, and yet, it couldn’t hold a candle to what we got in the nightcap.

Notre Dame gave still-undefeated Kentucky everything they could handle in Cleveland, spreading the floor with shooters and letting Jerian Grant, Zach Auguste and company take advantage of all the space that created in the paint. The Irish had 20 dunks and layups despite having just one player taller than Kentucky’s starting back court.

The difference ended up being two defensive plays by the Wildcats in the final minutes. Notre Dame’s offense is built around ball-screen actions, and twice in the final 1:26, Grant, a first-team all-american, had a big man switch onto him, something that he routinely took advantage of during the regular season. But neither Trey Lyles nor Willie Cauley-Stein allowed Grant to beat them off the dribble, forcing him into a pair of step-back threes, as Kentucky scored the final four points of the game to win.

You couldn’t have asked for anymore from those two games.

But here’s the best part: It sets up a rematch from last year’s Final Four, as Wisconsin and Kentucky will square off next Saturday with the right to play for the national title on the line.

It’s a dream matchup. The NBCSports.com National Player of the Year, Frank Kaminsky, against the best front line that we’ve seen at the college level in more than a decade. The nation’s most efficient offense squaring off with the nation’s best defensive team. Two coaches that have mastered their craft, with John Calipari cornering the market on churning out wins with one-and-done prospects and Bo Ryan proving that building a program, one that survives on player development over the course of four or five years, is still possible.

And while Notre Dame diagrammed and executed to perfection a game-plan to beat Kentucky, falling just short, there is no team in the country that is better-suited to ending the Wildcats’ bid for a perfect season than Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is one of the few teams in the country that has the size to matchup with the Wildcats. Kaminsky is a 7-footer. Sam Dekker is 6-foot-9. Nigel Hayes is 6-foot-8. Duje Dukan, their first player off the bench, is 6-foot-8. And if that’s not enough, Wisconsin is also one of the best teams in the country on the defensive glass, giving up offensive rebounds on just 23.9 percent of an opponents’ missed shots. Kentucky will still be bigger than the Badgers — they’re bigger than most NBA teams — but you won’t be seeing Kentucky simply dump the ball into their posts on every possession the way they did against Notre Dame. Karl-Anthony Towns is going to have to work harder if he wants to get those 25 points.

But there’s more.

Each of those Wisconsin front court players are incredibly versatile. Kaminsky is a guard that just happened to sprout into a 7-foot, 235-pound matchup nightmare. Hayes can hit threes, can beat slower defenders off the dribble and can overpower small forwards asked to guard him on the block. And Dekker? He’s an immensely talented, 6-foot-9 combo-forward who has played the best basketball of his life during the regional in Los Angeles.


He set a career-high with 23 points in Thursday’s win over North Carolina, and then set a new career-high with 27 points on Saturday.

Just like Notre Dame did, Wisconsin will be able to spread the floor, pulling Kentucky’s big men away from the rim and putting them into situations they aren’t used to defending. Their offense isn’t as ball-screen heavy as Notre Dame’s, but they can run pick-and-rolls.

And they can isolate any of their five players against a mismatch, including their bigs on the wing and their guards in the post, a tactic known as “inverting the offense”, which Wisconsin does better than anyone.

They can also execute their offensive sets as well as anyone in the country, whether it’s Bo Ryan’s patented Swing Offense or a simple screen-the-screener action to get an open three or a post duck-in.

Wisconsin is not only the second-best team left in the tournament, but they are the team that is the best-suited to beating the Wildcats this year.

And while this game probably deserves to be played in the final, seeing them square off in the Final Four, on the sport’s biggest stage, isn’t a bad consolation price.

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.