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Villanova eviscerates Oklahoma, advances to the title game with 44-point win

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HOUSTON — It started exactly the way you would have expected it to.

It started with Buddy Hield, by far the biggest attraction in a Final Four that isn’t exactly brimming with star power, doing exactly the thing that Villanova had spent the last five days telling their guys not to let him do.

It started with Hield isolated top of the key. It started with two hard dribbles to his left. It started with a step-back jumper, a rhythm three, a bucket and a 3-0 lead for the Sooners.

“I could have killed Ryan,” Villanova assistant coach Ashley Howard said, chuckling, of star guard Ryan Arcidiacono. “When you get out there in the game you’ve got to get a feel for him. He adjusted. All our guys adjusted.”

That would be the last time that Hield, one of just four players in the last 40 years to enter the Final Four averaging more than 25 points, would look comfortable on the NRG Stadium court, as Villanova put on the single-most dominating Final Four performance in the history of the sport.

They won 95-51, the 44-point margin the largest in the history of the Final Four. Those 95 points are the most anyone’s scored in the Final Four in 13 years. They shot 71.4 percent from the floor, as Villanova became just the second team in Final Four history to shoot better than 70 percent from the floor, although their 35-for-49 performance paled in comparison to the 22-for-28 shooting (78.6%) that the 1985 iteration of the Wildcats posted in their title game win over Georgetown. As a team, Villanova shot 11-for-18 from three. They scored 1.484 points-per-possession. Oklahoma’s last lead was at 17-16. Villanova went on a 12-0 run then, pushed their lead to 16 points in the first half and, after Oklahoma got to within 54-41 early in the second half, used a 25-0 run to push their lead to 38 points. In total, the Sooners were outscored 68-27 over a 26-minute stretch.

Man, what?

Is this real life?

A performance like that is impressive when the top teams in the country are squaring off with their buy game opponents. In a game like this? In the Final Four? Against a top ten team that rosters the nation’s best scorer? That’s quite literally never happened before, and it very well may never happen again.

It was the totality of the beatdown that was striking, and not just because it was the exact opposite of what happened in Hawai’i back in December, when Oklahoma beat the Wildcats by 23 points.

Villanova ripped Oklahoma’s soul out of their chest, chewed it up and spit it out in a bag that they put on Old Man Clemons porch and lit on fire. They broke Oklahoma. The Sooners were done midway through the second half.

“With 12 minutes left, Coach told us to quit looking at the score and keep playing,” Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler said. “That’s not a good sign right there.”

I’m sure someone is going to criticize Oklahoma for that, but can you really blame them? It was quite evident at that point that Villanova wasn’t going to be blowing that lead. Hield, Spangler, Isaiah Cousins. Those three guys are seniors. They knew their career was over, that this was the last time that they’d be playing with this group of guys, that their final college basketball memory would be playing out the clock of a humiliating mollywhopping in what may be the biggest game that they’ll ever play in.

You can only fight but so hard for a lost cause.

“I feel bad for Oklahoma,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We’ve all had those nights.”

Josh Hart led six players in double-figures for the Wildcats, finishing with 23 points, eight boards and four assists. He was 10-for-12 from the floor and had a series of back-breaking buckets early in the second half that helped to put the game away. Kris Jenkins chipped in with 18 points while Ryan Arcidiacono added 15 points and three assists.

The most impressive part of the win, however, was the work that Villanova did against Hield. He finished the night shooting 4-for-12 from the floor and 1-for-8 from three, scoring nine points. Before the first TV timeout, four different Villanova defenders had been matched up with Hield. By the 13-minute mark, Kris Jenkins and Phil Booth had gotten their shot as well.

Villanova was constantly changing looks defensively, and not just with the guys they had guarding Hield. Villanova cycled through all of their different defensive looks at least twice in the first half, using everything from a 2-3 matchup zone and a 1-2-2 zone press to a switching man-to-man and a straight man-to-man with a guard denying Hield the ball.

“Just credit to them, what they was doing,” Hield said. “Made it tough on me. Throwing a bunch of bodies at me. Just couldn’t get it going.”

It wasn’t all on Hield, either. Combined, Hield, Cousins and Jordan Woodard scored 36 points — fewer than Hield had on his own in the Elite 8 — on 10-for-36 shooting while hitting just 5-for-22 from three. Villanova’s team defense was just too much for the Sooners guards to handle. Cousins couldn’t get any penetration, Woodard didn’t get any clean looks outside of a four-minute stretch early in the second half.

We’ve said it all season long: Oklahoma doesn’t have a way to win games when their guards aren’t hitting shots, and while the severity of the loss is striking, the fact that it played out the way that it did shouldn’t be overly surprising.

“They just dictated on both ends of the floor,” Lon Kruger said. ‘They were great. We didn’t respond very well to it.”

“We got whipped in every way.”

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

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.