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PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: No. 20 Duke visits No. 5 North Carolina

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 20 Duke at No. 5 North Carolina, 9:00 p.m.

This choice is a simple one, with one of the best rivalries in all of sports taking place. Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils have won four straight games, with their defensive improvements being a key reason why (our Rob Dauster has more on that here). Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram have led the way offensively for Duke, but getting stops will be key for them not just tonight but in March as well. How well Duke fares on the defensive glass against the bigger Tar Heels will be a key, but UNC has its own questions to address.

The biggest: how engaged will Justin Jackson and Brice Johnson be? Johnson made his way into the ACC POY conversation and Jackson saved the Heels at Boston College, but both have to bring consistent effort for Roy Williams’ team to reach its full potential.¬†North Carolina played well in its win over Pittsburgh Sunday, but can they build on that momentum?

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 15 Dayton at Saint Joseph’s, 6:00 p.m.

There are two big games in Philadelphia tonight (more on the other one below), and this one will have a major impact not only on the Atlantic 10 race but on NCAA tournament profiles as well. Archie Miller’s Flyers are well positioned to land a good seed next month, and a win here would keep Dayton (who’s won nine straight) alone atop the A-10 standings. Dyshawn Pierre’s return has been key, but the contributions of Charles Cooke III and Scoochie Smith should not be overlooked either. Saint Joseph’s will counter with the incredibly versatile DeAndre Bembry and the A-10’s most improved player in forward Isaiah Miles, who’s been a key option in the front court for Phil Martelli’s Hawks.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. No. 1 Villanova will step outside of Big East play as they visit Big 5 rival Temple (7:00 p.m.) in a critical game for the home team. Fran Dunphy’s Owls sit atop the American, and a win here would (barring a collapse) in all likelihood sew up an NCAA tournament bid. Villanova, on the other hand, is once again in the mix for a one-seed and can wrap up the outright Big 5 title with a win.

2. Unless Villanova falters down the stretch, No. 8 Xavier is the only team capable of chasing down the Wildcats in the Big East standings. The Musketeers, two games back, will need to avoid any losses if they’re to accomplish that beginning with their game against No. 23 Providence tonight (7:00 p.m.). The Friars lean upon the tandem of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, but they’ll need more against the deeper Musketeers.

3. One team that may not be receiving as much “bubble” chatter as they deserve is Alabama, which has won four straight including wins over Texas A&M and Florida. The Crimson Tide visit LSU tonight (9:00 p.m.), with both teams in a position where another quality win would help their cause. LSU won the first meeting by two points in Tuscaloosa, with Ben Simmons going for 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

4. After getting swept last weekend USC looks to get back on the right track with a win over Colorado (11:00 p.m.) in Los Angeles. Andy Enfield’s Trojans have yet to lose at home this season, and their offensive balance (six players averaging double figures) is one reason why. Colorado, which is also well positioned to reach the NCAA tournament, did not have Josh Scott (ankle) last week and his status for tonight has yet to be determined. That’s a key for the Buffs, given how good USC’s front court with the likes of Nikola Jovanovic, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu has been this year.

5. Texas Tech, which beat two ranked teams in Iowa State and Baylor last week, has another opportunity to get a marquee win as they host No. 3 Oklahoma. Keenan Evans is averaging more than 17 points per game over the last three for Tubby Smith’s Red Raiders, who can also call upon Devauntagh Williams and Toddrick Gotcher on the perimeter. Buddy Hield and company are looking to rebound from their loss to No. 2 Kansas, but that won’t be easy to do in Lubbock.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 4 Iowa at Penn State, 6:30 p.m.
  • Virginia Tech at No. 11 Miami, 9:00 p.m.
  • Arizona State at No. 12 Arizona, 9:00 p.m.
  • Syracuse at No. 18 Louisville, 7:00 p.m.
  • Nebraska at No. 22 Indiana, 8:30 p.m.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Stony Brook at Albany, 7:00 p.m.
  • George Washington at Duquesne, 7:00 p.m.
  • Seton Hall at Georgetown, 9:00 p.m.
  • Boise State at New Mexico, 10:00 p.m.

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.