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WEEKLY AWARDS: Utah is legit, Johnathan Motley’s big week

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Johnathan Motley, Baylor

The Bears entered one of their most important weeks of the regular season with Rico Gathers limited due to an illness and they managed to land a win over Iowa State and a blowout victory at Texas.

And it was Johnathan Motley that was the star.

The sophomore center thrived without Gathers clogging up the paint, averaging 25.5 points and 7.0 boards in the wins while shooting 73.3 percent from the floor. And while I don’t exactly buy the argument that the Bears are better without Gathers on the floor, it’s good to know that they can survive without him. This is not a team that entered the season with a ton of depth in their front court, and to see Motley — and Terry Maston — play this well is assuring.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Utah became the first team in the Pac-12 to sweep two road weekends in league play with wins at USC and UCLA, and Poeltl was the star. Against USC on Sunday, he had 29 points, 13 boards, four assists and four steals.
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: The Spartans picked up wins over Indiana and Wisconsin by a combined 31 points since last Sunday, and Valentine averaged 27.0 points, 11.5 assists and 6.0 boards in those two wins. Remember when I said Valentine is still in the Player of the Year race?
  • Brice Johnson, North Carolina: The Tar Heels lost to Duke at home on Wednesday, but it wasn’t Brice Johnson’s doing; he had 29 points and 19 boards. He also followed that up with 16 points and 15 boards in a blowout win over Miami.
  • Troy Williams, Indiana: Indiana played just one game this week, but it was an impressive win over Purdue at home where Williams finished with 19 points.
  • Josh Adams, Wyoming: Adams put together one of the best individual performances we’ve seen this season on Saturday. He had 37 points, eight assists, seven boards, four steals and two blocks while hitting nine threes in a blowout road win.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Utah

The Utes profile just continues to get stronger and stronger, and I’m not sure if people realize just how high this team is going to be seeded in the NCAA tournament. They’ve aided by the fact that some of their early-season wins — Duke, Texas Tech, Cal, IPFW — look better now than they did at the time, but that shouldn’t take away from their body of work.

Utah is now sitting one game out of first place in the Pac-12 in the loss column with all three of their remaining games coming at home. They’ve lost just one game at home this season, and of their seven losses on the year, Stanford is the only team that sits outside the top 50. They have three top 25 wins, six top 50 wins and 14 top 100 wins.

They also just became the first team to have two road sweeps in league this season. They’re really, really good.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Indiana: The Hoosiers moved into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with their Saturday night win over Purdue, a win that, until the final five minutes, was their most impressive performance of the season. The Hoosiers out-toughed the Boilermakers and gave up just four offensive rebounds to one of the nation’s biggest and most physical front lines.
  • Louisville: I’m not going to lie: I was half expecting the Cardinals to roll over and die after getting the news of their post season ban. An 0-2 week two weeks ago didn’t help matters. But credit to this group: They haven’t quit. After beating Syracuse on Wednesday, they landed an impressive come-from-behind win over the Blue Devils on Saturday.
  • Cal: The Golden Bears have now won five straight games and look to be peaking at the right time. Most important here: Their two wins this week both came on the road, which doubled the number of wins they had away from Haas Pavilion on the season.
  • Texas Tech: The win over Oklahoma on Wednesday is the reason that the Red Raiders are on this list. Believe it or not, Tubby Smith has Tech in line for an NCAA tournament bid. He’s doing a terrific job at a place where it is really difficult to win.
  • Texas A&M: The Aggies bounced back from a really tough stretch in the SEC by beating Mississippi and Kentucky this week, even if the latter came under questionable circumstances.

SET YOUR DVR

No. 7 Virginia at No. 11 Miami, Mon. 7:00 p.m.
No. 13 Iowa State at No. 10 West Virginia, Mon. 9:00 p.m.
No. 2 Kansas at No. 25 Baylor, Tue. 8:00 p.m.
No. 1 Villanova at No. 8 Xavier, Wed. 7:00 p.m.
No. 18 Louisville at No. 11 Miami, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 12 Arizona at Utah, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 6 Maryland at No. 17 Purdue, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 5 North Carolina at No. 7 Virginia, Sat. 6:30 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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.