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WEEKEND PREVIEW: A battle for ACC supremacy headlines a sensational weekend

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 7 North Carolina at No. 3 Virginia, Sat. 6:30 p.m.

This matchup has all the storylines.

Let’s start with North Carolina. The Tar Heels are currently sitting all alone in first place in the ACC, but with this visit to Charlottesville and a trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium still on their schedule, there’s certainly no guarantee that they are going to even hold on to a share of the regular season title. And that’s before you consider everything that’s going on within that team. Why isn’t Marcus Paige any good anymore? Why don’t Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks fit well together these days? Will the Tar Heels ever figure out a way to consistently shoot from beyond the arc?

Oh, and then there is the whole issue of whether or not the Tar Heels can handle the pressure of a big moment in a big game. They couldn’t down the stretch against Duke, and while they steamrolled Miami last Saturday, they never had any game pressure on them in that one. If there is anything that Virginia does well, it’s that they ensure they won’t get blown out. UNC is going to be in a dogfight on the road on Saturday. How will they respond?

As far as Virginia is concerned, this game is their last chance to remain in the race for a share of the ACC regular season title. They’re currently two games off the pace, but there is a very realistic scenario where there is a five-way tie for first place in the conference. If the Tar Heels lost at Virginia and at Duke and Miami gets picked off by Louisville in Coral Gables before the Cardinals fall at Virginia, assuming the contenders avoid any dumb losses elsewhere on their schedule, all five of the teams I mentioned will finish with five losses on the season.

And I do think that Virginia has a very real chance to win this game.

There are a couple of things that the ‘Hoos do very well defensively: They clear the defensive glass and they force their opponents into taking jump shots. The Tar Heels really struggle shooting the ball from the perimeter and their biggest strength is their front court, particularly the ability of their big men to get to the offensive glass.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 9 Arizona at No. 22 Utah, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

This matchup lost a little bit of its luster on Wednesday night when the Wildcats lost to Colorado, this is still a battle of two of the Pac-12’s best teams this season. The winner will claim sole possession of second place in the league standings, sitting just a game behind Oregon, who still has two road games left to play in addition to a game against Washington this weekend. This game is also critically important for an Arizona team that doesn’t exactly have many elite wins to their name. The Wildcats aren’t missing the NCAA tournament, not with how soft the bubble is, but with just two top 50 wins to their name, Arizona could find themselves seeded significantly lower than you would expect for a team ranked in the top ten.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 25 Texas, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Oklahoma looked like the best team in college basketball earlier this season, but as their consistency shooting the ball from beyond the arc waned, so did their wins. The Sooners lost three out of four during one stretch, and they’ll get another tough matchup this weekend as they head to Austin to take on a Texas team that is probably better than they get credit for.

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  1. The two teams currently sitting one game out of first place in the ACC will square off on Saturday afternoon, as No. 11 Louisville makes the trip to Coral Gables to face No. 12 Miami on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. The Hurricanes were able to land a nice bounce-back win on Monday after a demoralizing loss at North Carolina last weekend, but the Cardinals have consistently shown that winning a regular season title is their sole priority this season.
  2. Here are the last three games that No. 10 Maryland has played: 13 point home loss to Wisconsin, loss at Minnesota, four point home win over a Caris LeVert-less Michigan. On Saturday, they’re at No. 20 Purdue in a 4:00 p.m. tip. In theory, the Terps should be able to matchup favorably with Purdue, but that this point, it’s impossible to really have a feel for what Maryland is going to bring night in and night out.
  3. Vanderbilt looks like they night actually be figuring things out late in the year. They’ve won four of their last five games, and their only loss came on the road and at the buzzer. Kevin Stallings’ club might have already dug themselves too deep of a whole, but that could change this weekend. On Saturday at 4:00 p.m., the Commodores will be hosting No. 16 Kentucky in what is a must-win game for them.
  4. Pitt has yet to completely lock up an at-large bid, but they can do that on Sunday when they take on a No. 15 Duke team that is still waiting to get totally healthy. That tip will be on Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
  5. USC and Cal will end the weekend on Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. in Haas Pavilion. The Trojans are one of the nation’s most entertaining teams, and while they peaked earlier this season, they are still a dangerous ball-club with a number of weapons at their disposal. Cal, on the other hand, may have the nation’s most talented starting five and are starting to play their best basketball of the season.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 5 Xavier at Seton Hall, Sun. 12:30 p.m.

I love the makeup of this Xavier team, but I do think that they can run into some trouble against teams that have talented guards. And Seton Hall has a talented guard by the name of Isaiah Whitehead. He’s inconsistent, but when he gets going he can put up some bid numbers. Throw in the fact that the Musketeers are coming off of their biggest win since becoming a member of the Big East — when they beat No. 1 Villanova on Wednesday — and that Seton Hall still has an at-large bid on the line, and this has all the warnings signs of a letdown game.

WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT ON MONDAY: The court-storming debate kicked off again on Wednesday of this week, and with the number of highly-ranked teams that are heading on the road this weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it kick off again.

But I think what’s more interesting is the conversation that should stem from the shot that Oregon State’s Stevie Thompson hit to beat Washington on Wednesday.

It’s the third time in the last three weeks that we have definitive visual evidence that the referees made the wrong call on a buzzer-beating shot. The one that made the most noise was Grayson Allen’s bucket at Virginia, when you can see that he lands before getting the game-winning shot off, but that went viral because Allen has catapulted his way up the list of most hated Duke players. The call itself wasn’t as bad as the shot that James Webb III of Boise State — that was, eventually, incorrectly waived off —  which ended up costing the Broncos a win at Colorado State.

I’m not particularly interested in rehashing the argument about whether or not the shots should have counted. You can do so in the links posted above if that’s your thing. I’m more interested in whether or not the NCAA will ever implement a rule that allows officials to change the outcome of a game if they discover that the final play was ruled incorrectly.

That negates Allen’s shot from this discussion. There was time left on the clock when he traveled. It would have taken a miracle, but there’s a way Duke could have won even if the travel was called. But with Boise State, it’s different. His shot was the last play of the game, it was ruled correctly on the floor and then incorrectly waived off when the equipment that the referees used to measure how long the ball was in his hands was calibrated incorrectly. Knowing that, what’s wrong with going back and righting a wrong? No one is disputing that Boise State won that game … except the record book.

The same can be said for Oregon State’s win. Not only did Thompson travel right before he took the shot, there appears to be a discrepancy between when Thompson touched the ball and when the clock actually started. Given that he released the shot with just 0.5 seconds left, a delay in when the clock was started might have cost Washington a win, and Washington is a team that is currently on the wrong side of the bubble. A win on the road over a top 35 team could literally change their season, and all it would take is going back and timing how long Thompson had the ball in his hands.

But that’s never going to happen.

The NCAA is never going to change the outcome of a game, even if the game-deciding play was unquestionably ruled incorrectly. I don’t even know if they should make that change, but it’s a conversation that I do believe is worth having.

All that said, at this rate, we’re probably just going to be talk about Grayson Allen again, because he just can’t seem to find a way to stay out of the headlines.

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.