How Andrew Harrison helped preserve Kentucky’s legacy now that they’re 38-and-Done

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INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Harrison’s postgame comments regarding Frank Kaminsky, while simultaneously being incredibly stupid and not at all a big deal, may end up going down in history as the moment that saved this Kentucky team’s legacy.

Since that press conference, twitter and sports talk radio and the blogs have all been dominated with #hottake after #hottake regarding those now infamous three words, meaning that we avoided having to listen to the “experts” that swoop in every March explain how this is yet another example of John Calipari’s lack of coaching prowess. Or how Kentucky’s loss somehow damages what they did accomplish this season. Or that this year was a waste without a Wildcat title.

Because all of that nonsense is ridiculous.

You want to know why Kentucky lost to the Badgers on Saturday night, two wins short of the first 40-0 season in the history of the sport?

It’s because an extremely good Wisconsin team that matches up perfectly with the Wildcats played a damn-near perfect game. It’s because the Badgers were able to keep the ball from getting pounded into Karl Anthony-Towns in the final seven or eight minutes, turning Kentucky’s offense into isolations for the Harrison twins. It’s because Sam Dekker and Bronson Koenig made a number of big shots. It’s because Kaminsky is special. It’s because Wisconsin gave up offensive rebounds on just four of Kentucky’s 58 possessions on Saturday night and just a single offensive rebound to someone not named Towns.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that, given how well the Badgers played, the fact that Kentucky had control of the game with five minutes left and possession with a chance to tie the game with 30 seconds on the clock as evidence of just how good this team truly is.

They’re one of the best teams that we’ve ever seen in college basketball, and a loss in the Final Four doesn’t change that. And while it’s not an ideal list to be on, UK will forever be linked to 1999 Duke and 1991 UNLV and the like as the best teams not to win a national title.

That should be disappointing. They should be crushed. This team never said it publicly, but it’s impossible for them not to know they were three days away from making history. That’s hard for anyone to take. I’ve been in a lot of losing locker rooms, and that was one of the toughest to deal with. Tyler Ulis was slumped in his locker, hood up as tears glistened in the corner of his eye. Devin Booker couldn’t take his eyes off the floor. Aaron Harrison spoke so softly it was barely audible. One player, whose name I’ll keep to myself, was sobbing inconsolably.

Those tears should tell you just how competitive this team was, and it should let you know just how much perfection meant to them.

“It’s like a movie,” Willie Cauley-Stein said. “The main character dies, and you’re like, ‘What?! Why did the main character die?’ And you’re just, like, super-hurt over the main character dying or the good guy, the guy you never suspect is going to die ends up dying. No cliffhangers, no nothing. That’s the way it feels.”

“I wanted to hold a trophy off the bus, off the plane, and just hear everybody go crazy,” he added. “Because Lord knows there would be 10,000 people at our airport. They’re still going to be there, but it’s just going to be a different feeling.”

But while Kentucky didn’t get to their 40-0 goal and didn’t get their national title, what they did do was something that we’ve never seen before. They won the first 38 games of the season, a number that may never be matched. They rolled through the SEC, winning the regular season and tournament titles in impressive fashion. And they did it all while pooling together eight McDonalds All-Americans and as many as nine future NBA players who didn’t care about minutes or shots as much as they did wins.

And perhaps most impressive of all? They made the big, bad Kentucky Wildcats and their overlord, John Calipari, quite likable.

This was a special team that gave us one hell of a ride all season long.

And anyone that tries to spin this differently is doing them a disservice.

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

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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.