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WEEKEND PREVIEW: UNC-Duke, the SEC and Pac-12 titles, and thoughts on Wichita State

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 8 North Carolina at No. 17 Duke, Sat. 6:30 p.m.

Do I really need to explain this one?

I shouldn’t have to. But I will. Because I’m a nice guy and all.

For starters, it’s Duke-Carolina, which is never not must-see TV. It’s the best rivalry in college basketball. When it’s on, you watch it. Especially when there is an ACC title on the line, which is the case for UNC on Saturday. The Heels are currently tied for first in the conference with Miami, who also happens to be playing on the road on Saturday.

But all that is before you consider what happened last month in Chapel Hill. Duke, playing without Amile Jefferson and, for the most part, Matt Jones, went into the Dean Dome and beat the Tar Heels, erasing a late deficit as the defense-deficient Blue Devils held UNC’s guards to 1-for-14 shooting in the final 11 minutes. They also managed to keep Brice Johnson, who had 27 points and 17 boards in the first 29 minutes, to just two points and two rebounds down the stretch.

It was those 11 minutes that made the media at-large hop off of the North Carolina bandwagon. Words like “physically soft” and “no mental toughness” were mentioned and questions were being asked about whether or not this was truly a team that could be considered the most talented in the country. So in addition to the incentive of trying to win a title, the Tar Heels will be looking to get revenge by making a statement on Duke’s home court.

And doing that to a team with Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram in Cameron Indoor is not going to be an easy thing to do.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 11 Louisville at No. 4 Virginia, Sat. 8:30 p.m.

The two best teams in the ACC squaring off isn’t normally must-see TV, but considering that A) Louisville was utterly humiliated by Virginia earlier this season, B) it’s the last game of Louisville’s season thanks to that postseason ban and C) that the winner of this game can win a share of the ACC regular season title if Miami and UNC lose on the road, and what you’re going to see is a battle between two veteran, well-coached teams.

THE OTHER, OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 21 Iowa State at No. 1 Kansas, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

In October, we circled this game on the calendar as one that could potentially have decided whether or not the Jayhawks would win their 12th straight regular season title. Obviously, that is no longer the case, but it will be the last time that we see this Cyclone team play a Big 12 regular season game. It’s something of the end of an era, as Georges Niang will be facing off with Perry Ellis for the last time in their illustrious, 17-year careers.

FOUR MORE THINGS TO WATCH

  1. The SEC regular season title is going to come down to the final day of the regular season, and depending on how it shakes out, there could very easily be a four-way tie atop the conference. No. 22 Kentucky and No. 20 Texas A&M are tied for first place in the league with Vandy and LSU sitting one game behind them. Vanderbilt plays at Texas A&M at noon on Saturday while LSU plays at Kentucky at 2:00 p.m.
  2. The Pac-12 regular season title is going to come down to the final day of the regular season as well. No. 9 Oregon, who is currently sitting all alone in first place, plays at USC on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. while Colorado will pay a visit to No. 13 Utah, who is one game out of first place, at 9:30 p.m. Oh, and should I mention Josh Scott vs. Jakob Poeltl will be awesome for anyone that loves a good throwback battle of the big men?
  3. Indiana has already clinched the outright Big Ten regular season title, but what will be interesting on Sunday is whether or not No. 12 Indiana will cut down the nets if they lost to No. 14 Maryland. That tip is at 4:30 p.m., while Wisconsin will play at No. 15 Purdue at 7:30 p.m. with the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament on the line.
  4. No. 10 West Virginia will pay a visit to No. 19 Baylor on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. which should be an entertaining game to watch as the Mountaineers look to maintain their grip on the No. 2 spot in the Big 12.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 7 Miami at Virginia Tech, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

I know I’ve said a lot about how good Miami has been and how good Larrañaga is and how special it would be for the Hurricanes, twice in the span of four seasons, to win an outright ACC regular season title. But that doesn’t change the fact that Miami will be playing on the road tonight, and they’ll be playing against a Virginia Tech team that Buzz Williams has turned into a real threat in Blacksburg. The Hokies haven’t finished above .500 in the ACC since 2011, and they can do that with a win on Saturday. In fact, Va. Tech has already won more games in ACC play this season (nine) than they did in the previous three seasons combined (eight). The ‘Canes better come ready to play.

WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT ON MONDAY: Wichita State.

The Shockers will have their chance to lock up their NCAA tournament bid this weekend as the No. 1 seed in Arch Madness. The event kicks off on Friday night, and by Sunday, we’ll know whether or not Gregg Marshall’s club is going to be sweating out Selection Sunday.

If they do win the tournament — Which they should. Are you betting against Fred VanVleet when he’s backed into a corner? I’m not. — they’re going to be a trendy pick to make it out of the first weekend, and perhaps further. This is a team with a back court that has been through some wars, has a veteran front line and a talented group of youngsters on the perimeter. This team has been to a Final Four, went 35-0 and then beat Kansas the last three years. Wichita State wins big games, flat out.

But what happens if they don’t?

Meaning, what happens if they have to wait out Selection Sunday, hoping to land an at-large bid like every other mediocre team in the country?

Simply put, they’re probably going to be on the outside looking in. They do not have a tournament résumé. They have one top 85 win — over Utah, but still, one — and, after losing to someone in the MVC, four losses to teams between 63 and 105 in the RPI. If this was any team other than Wichita State, we wouldn’t even be discussing them as an at-large candidate.

But this is Wichita State.

And they were without Fred VanVleet for three of their seven losses, but that fact matters less than this: The Shockers are currently eighth in KenPom. Eighth. EIGHTH!!!!

So while the Shockers unequivocally have a résumé worthy of a trip to the NIT, the data says that this team is about as good as any Wichita State team that Gregg Marshall has had. The committee has slowly begun to use other metrics beyond just the RPI, but that doesn’t change the fact that their seeding system relies on what you’ve accomplished during the season, not what a predictive metric says about how good you are.

But I can’t help but wonder if this team in this situation with that high of a rank on KenPom will be the first.

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.