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No. 1 Duke’s loss to No. 7 Kansas cemented their status as title favorite

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NEW YORK — Just give them the damn title.

It sounds weird saying that when the No. 1 team in the country lost, 77-75, on a neutral floor to a team that was already 0-1 on the season, but I just don’t understand how you could have watched Duke erase a double-digit second half deficit to force Frank Mason’s heroics and come away feeling any other way.

Duke was playing without Harry Giles III, who likely won’t be available until ACC play, if at all. They were without Jayson Tatum. They were without Marques Bolden. That’s two of the five most talented players in the country and, in total, three likely lottery picks come June’s NBA Draft.

But there’s more.

Duke played just six guys on Tuesday night in the Garden, and the best player that’s actually able to suit up for the Blue Devils – Grayson Allen, who was the most popular pick for Preseason National Player of the Year – was bad. He finished with 12 points on 4-for-15 shooting and never really seemed to get into the game until the final minutes.

“Grayson had a frustrating game,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “You can’t expect to get fouled. I think he’s going to a point where he makes a move and it’s a good move and he expects a foul.”

“He’s playing hard when he gets the ball, but he needs to play harder when he doesn’t have the ball, which is what he did in the last few minutes.”

And despite all of that, Duke still led Kansas heading into halftime and still managed to scrap back from a 67-57 deficit with less than five minutes left on the clock.

“We’re a good team otherwise we’d get blown out of here tonight,” Coach K said. “But we’re a limited team right now. We’re not who we imagined ourselves to be. That’s not an excuse, it’s just the way it is. We’ll see what happens when we get guys back.”

It is still unclear when that is going to be. Duke is going to be in no hurry to bring Giles back, not when his earning power could disintegrate if he suffered another knee injury this year. Neither Tatum nor Bolden are dealing with serious injuries – Tatum has a sprained foot and Bolden has what Duke terms a “lower leg injury” – but initial reports said both of them should have been available on Tuesday night.

But ironically enough, having those three sidelined for the Champions Classic may have been the best thing for the Blue Devils, because Coach K now knows what he has in Luke Kennard, Frank Jackson and, frankly, Chase Jeter.

Kennard was the best player on the floor for the Blue Devils. He finished with 22 points, five boards and five assists and was responsible for 15 of Duke’s points – three buckets and three threes that he assisted on – in a 20-10 run that tied the game at 75 with 30 seconds left.

“He had a really good game tonight,” Coach K said. “He’s played really well. He’s played well in every practice. He’s a really good player. We expected him to be really good. I wouldn’t say he’s overachieved because he’s a big time player, and big time players show up in these environments.”

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts against the Kansas Jayhawks in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Luke Kennard (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Jackson also stepped up and made two huge shots in the final minutes after what was overall a pretty disappointing game for him. His four-point play with three minutes left kept Duke within one possession of the Jayhawks, and he followed that up by hitting the three that tied the game with 22 seconds left, setting up Mason’s game-winner.

Through the season’s first two games, Jackson was arguably Duke’s best player, averaging 19.5 points off the bench. He looked somewhat overmatched for the first 35 minutes on Tuesday night, but that happens to freshmen playing their first game with this kind of spotlight and pressure. The fact that he stepped up and made two critical shots that gave the Blue Devils a chance to win the game is far more important than the off-night that he had.

The same can be said for Jeter, whose stat-line – seven points, four boards and three blocks but three turnovers, four fouls and a 5-for-10 night from the line after missing a couple layups – isn’t as impressive as the impression he made on Coach K.

“I thought this was a big game for Chase,” he said. “There were a couple times he didn’t finish, but I thought he played hard and well.”

“You learn a lot from being in this level of a game,” Coach K added, and that’s what really matters here.

Assuming Duke finds a way to get back to 100 percent health, Kennard and Jackson will probably end up being Duke’s fifth and sixth scoring options. They’ll likely split minutes and find themselves in a similar position to where Allen found himself as a freshman. And when Allen was a freshman, he spent the majority of the year on the bench before exploding in the Final Four to average 13.5 points and spark the title-game run that eventually won the Blue Devils the 2015 national title.

“I thought overall it was a great experience for us,” Coach K said. “They’re going to be one of the best teams in the country throughout the whole year. To play that way when a couple of our veterans didn’t have a good game tonight? It was good for us.”

After Tuesday night, not only does Coach K know that he has those two weapons in his back pocket, but he knows that both Kennard and Jackson have the confidence to be able to succeed in the biggest moments.

If they can lead a short-handed, struggling Duke team back from 10 points down in MSG against a top five team that some – Hi! – have picked to win the national, then what can’t they be trusted to do?

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

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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.