Wisconsin mixes business with pleasure during quest to win a national title

source: AP

INDIANAPOLIS — Wisconsin joins Duke and Kentucky as No. 1 seeds in the 2015 Final Four, but there is minimal talk of the future surrounding the Badgers. Senior center Frank Kaminsky and junior forward Sam Dekker get asked their fair share of NBA-related questions, but they pale in comparison to the pro questions that the Wildcats and Blue Devils receive.

Wisconsin has a roster full of players they’ve developed over multiple seasons; Kentucky and Duke are filled with McDonald’s All-Americans and guys who litter NBA mock drafts as seniors in high school. While one reporter asked Duke’s Jahlil Okafor for an autograph on Friday; reporters in the Wisconsin locker room were asking about the team’s intense love of playing video games.

Instead of getting caught up in the talk of the future, the Badgers are remaining as loose as any NCAA tournament team in recent memory. Their basketball futures can wait; they’d rather focus on the present. And the present includes being college kids who fixate on spirited games of FIFA and Super Smash Brothers, messing with NCAA stenographers and partaking in a half-court shooting contest during a public Final Four practice.

Dekker was asked about the NBA on Friday and gave about as nonchalant an answer as you’ll ever hear about potentially making millions of dollars and living out a lifelong dream. He’s happy being a college kid and being with his teammates.

“I’ve been asked about the NBA for two years, I’m kind of used to the question. I know when the time comes, I’ll make the right decision on what to do,” Dekker said. “It doesn’t really bother me because I’ve had a lot of weird questions since I’ve started being interviewed. I don’t get too caught up in that stuff. It’s fine. You guys (the media) can ask whatever you want to ask and I’m not going to get mad at you.”

Wisconsin prefers to laugh things off and throw around jokes during press conferences. Sophomore forward Nigel Hayes has become a star on the microphone during the NCAA tournament for his propensity to challenge press-conference stenographers with large words.

Hayes, and his affinity for wordplay, was on display again on Friday when he threw out a joke to the media that he hadn’t used on his head coach, Bo Ryan, in practice yet. Hayes even gave a hard sell on his silly joke like a veteran stand-up comic working a crowd after a joke.

“Here it goes: why can you not hear a pterodactyl go to the bathroom? Because the ‘p’ is silent,” Hayes said to some laughter from reporters. “It’s okay — you guys can laugh. We’re all just having a good time here.”

Let the good times roll for Wisconsin.

The pressure of the Final Four doesn’t seem to be fazing the Badgers, in part because they’ve already been through the throng of media at last year’s Final Four in Dallas. They also faced the season-long pressure of being one of the best teams in the country and the best team in the Big Ten. Wisconsin went from a team that nobody expected to become a powerhouse in a two-year span. Now they’re media-savvy veterans who choose to have fun with reporters rather than answer the same questions with the same answers.

“We’re pretty much used to all of the media and all of the distractions now,” sophomore guard Bronson Koenig said. “I  think this year we’re more well-equipped handling everything and we’re more focused on the task at hand.”

Laughter and joking aside, Wisconsin gets very serious when it comes to basketball. Kentucky faces the immense pressure of being the heavy favorite and a potential perfect season looms in the balance. The Badgers realize most of the external pressure will fall on the Wildcats, so they’re taking the spotlight in stride.

Even though Wisconsin’s tournament seeding is on-par with the Wildcats, they’ll worry about potential legacies after the games have played out.

As Ryan and his starting five left the NCAA media gathering in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday, all five (oversized) Wisconsin players fit onto one extended golf cart while Ryan rode with a Wisconsin staffer and the driver of the second cart.

The gesture wasn’t symbolic of a distaste for Ryan from the players, but rather, the group’s preference to hang out and joke around together as much as possible.

Hayes chanted, “we’re rolling deep!” as the cart zipped off to the Wisconsin locker room.

Wisconsin is focused on staying together, and playing together, for as long as they can. They’re enjoying the moment while it lasts. The entire Badger roster showed up to see Kaminsky accept his Player of the Year awards on Friday — something one NCAA spokesman said had never been done before.

Rolling deep into the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year has Wisconsin confident that they can take down Kentucky and make it to Monday night.

If all goes according to plan, Wisconsin’s whole roster can celebrate one more trophy together.

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.