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No. 7 Kansas beat No. 1 Duke thanks to Frank Mason’s game-winner

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NEW YORK — Kansas was my pick to win the national title in September.

They were my pick to win the national title when the season started last Friday.

They were my pick to win it all even when they lost to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic, and they would have been my pick to win the national title had they lost to Duke in the Champions Classic on Tuesday night.

They did not lose to the Blue Devils.

The No. 7 Jayhawks left their troubles in Hawai’i, getting 21 points, five assists and the game-winning bucket from Frank Mason in a 77-75 win over a depleted No. 1 Duke in Madison Square Garden.

As Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski told Mason after the game, it was a “big time shot by a big time player.”

The Blue Devils were without Harry Giles III, as he is still recovering from a knee scope he had in September, while Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden both sat out as they are working their way back from a foot and “lower leg” injury, respectively.

Mason was the story, however. He was, once again, incredible, but I’ll get to that in a second.

The bigger story is that Kansas needed this win more than you probably realize.

It’s hard to call any game a must-win five days into the season, particularly when that win involves a team like Kansas, who is probably going to win the Big 12 title and who will undoubtedly end up in the NCAA tournament barring a Duke-esque run of injuries.

But Kansas is in a unique situation this season. This was the last chance for the Jayhawks to get a marquee win on their résumé until a January 30th visit to No. 2 Kentucky. The rest of their non-conference schedule is headlined with programs that are better in theory than they will be on the floor. Stanford is a middle-of-the-road Pac-12 team. The same can be said about Nebraska in the Big Ten and Georgia, should Kansas get the Bulldogs in the CBE Classic, in the SEC. Davidson? They’re OK. UNLV? Gross.

Then there is the Big 12, which isn’t nearly as good as it has been in past seasons. There may not be another top 25 team in the league this year – that depends on how you view a Baylor team that beat No. 4 Oregon without Dillon Brooks at home – but the bottom-line is that it doesn’t look like there are going to be many chances for the Jayhawks to land the kind of victories they would need in league play to earn a No. 1 seed.

Which is what makes this win so important. On Selection Sunday, we may all remember that Duke was without three of their top four players, but that won’t factor into where they get bracketed. Injuries matter for who was missing when you lose. They are not considered when discussing teams that you’ve beaten, and if tonight taught us anything, it’s that Duke is going to be scary-good if and when they finally get healthy.

Come March, this win is going to look sensational, and Kansas is not going to have too many more chances to get wins that look that way this season.

Back to Mason, were just five days into the season, but he is undoubtedly the front runner for National Player of the Year despite the fact that he is playing on a team that is just 1-1. After two games against top ten teams, Mason is averaged 25.5 points, 7.0 assists and 5.0 boards while getting to the line 22 times and, ya know, hitting a game-winner in MSG.

Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that he totally took over both games down the stretch. That’s who he is for the Kansas team, and considering that the Jayhawks are dealing with some of the growing pains that come with building a roster entirely around freshmen, it’s a luxury that other programs aren’t necessarily afforded.

“Frank made some plays tonight that were … ,” head coach Bill Self said, trailing off as he did the real-life version of ‘SMH’, as if he couldn’t believe how lucky he was that a kid that a kid that originally committed to Towson was torching the No. 1 team in the country for him.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15: Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks puts up a layup over Amile Jefferson #21 of the Duke Blue Devils 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)
Devonte’ Graham (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

And the scary part?

Self isn’t doing anything more than giving Mason the rock and letting him do what he can do. It’s what we like to call the ‘Do Him’ offense.

“The last three minutes we were just wasting time and putting him in pick and roll situations,” Graham said.

“Quite a play we called,” Self added with a laugh. “‘Get out of [Mason’s] way and he’ll shoot it.’ He’s made a lot of big plays for us. He’s a stud.”

There isn’t a player in the country that is better in a big moment than Mason, and what should be comforting for Kansas fans is that he’s not alone in that back court.

“I’m really big on strong faces and leadership,” Coach K said of Mason, whose stoic demeanor makes him appear incapable of emoting during a game. “He gives the face of a great leader all the time. Big time guard. Big time winner.”

Devonte’ Graham, who originally committed to Appalachian State, was just as impressive for the Jayhawks before he started cramping up. He finished with an impressive 13-point performance, buoying Kansas early as the Jayhawks struggled to gain a foothold in the first half.

“[Graham] could’ve made the same play,” Mason said of his his game-winner.

“Those guys are both pitbulls,” Self added. “They have an assassin mentality. They bring our team as much toughness as anybody does. We don’t always play pretty, but [with them] we can compete.”

Freshman Josh Jackson, who was rated as a first-team preseason all-american by NBC Sports, was on the verge of a sensational game, finishing with 15 points in 18 minutes. But he fouled out thanks, in part, to a technical foul he earned in the first half when he slapped the ball out of a Duke player’s hands after a foul was called. Udoka Azubuike also provided critical minutes, grabbing 12 rebounds and adding six points in just 15 minutes off the bench.

But it was the play of Mason and Graham, a pair of guards that were rated as mid-major prospects in high school, that led the Jayhawks to this win. It was the play of Mason and Graham that forced overtime in Kansas’ loss to Indiana.

And it will be the play of Mason and Graham, who make up the best back court in college basketball, that will be the reason the Jayhawks will compete for a national title this season.

“[They don’t] fit the eye test with length and height but [they’ve] got some things you can’t teach,” Self said. “Intangibles that are as good as anybody in america possess.”

“There isn’t much they can’t 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

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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.