Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Five takeaways from Kentucky’s 103-100 win over North Carolina

2 Comments

No. 6 Kentucky beat No. 7 North Carolina 103-100 in what was one of the best college basketball games that you’ll see.

Malik Monk went bananas. Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II had (almost) enough answers. And the result was a thriller that came down to the final seconds. 

Here are the five things we learned from that game:

1. So that Malik Monk guy is pretty good: Can you think of a more impressive performance than the one that Malik Monk had on Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas?

Buddy Hield’s 46 points in Oklahoma’s loss at Kansas, the No. 1 vs. No. 1 game from last January, comes to mind, but Buddy did that in three overtimes. Denzel Valentine’s 29-12-12 game in last year’s Champions Classic. Jeremy Morgan had 38 points in one half for Northern Iowa last weekend. All terrific, but I’m not sure any of them are in the same class as what Monk did on Saturday.

Forgetting, for a second, that Monk scored 47 points on 28 shots – the majority of which were jumpers, he only got to the foul line five times – in a 40-minute game against the No. 7 team in the country, Monk buried contested threes twice in the last two minutes to answer a North Carolina baskets. The first came after Justin Jackson gave the Tar Heels their first lead of the game at 98-95. The second came with 15 seconds left with Kentucky down 100-98.

He carried the Wildcat’s offense for 38 minutes.

Then he made the two shots he had to make to ensure that this team wouldn’t lose.

Unreal.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

2. Should we be concerned about Kentucky’s supporting cast?: While he wasn’t quite as good as Monk was, De’Aaron Fox probably would have been considered the Player of the Day on any other day, finishing with 23 points and 10 assists. Combined, Fox and Monk took 49 of Kentucky’s 74 shots and 12 of their 21 free throws. They scored 70 of Kentucky’s 103 points.

It was dominant.

But what happens when Monk isn’t incapable of missing, or if Fox goes up against a defender that’s able to keep him out of the paint? In other words, when the Wildcats are playing against competition like this, are they going to have to rely on those two playing like this to win?

There are two reasons I bring this up:

  1. Kentucky didn’t really have a third option avail himself. Bam Adebayo played much better in the second half than he did in the first, but outside of about a five-minute stretch in the second half, he was mostly anonymous. Bam finished with 13 points and seven boards before fouling out. Briscoe added 10 points, seven boards and four assists, but his best role on this team is as a glue-guy largely due to the fact that he’s always going to struggle to score against this level of competition. Does Kentucky have a third option they can count on? Do they even need one?
  2. Suddenly that vaunted Kentucky defense doesn’t seem so scary. The Wildcats gave up 97 points on 83 possessions to UCLA in Rupp Arena. They gave up 100 points on 79 possessions against UNC. Their perimeter is supposed to be the strength of the defense, but they let Justin Jackson go for 34 points and were torched by Joel Berry II, who had 23 points and seven assists, in ball-screen actions. Put another way, it looks like they’re going to have to be able to score in the 90s if they want to beat elite teams. Can they do that if either Monk or Fox has an off-night or gets into foul trouble?

3. What a difference a Berry makes: Without Joel Berry II on the floor, North Carolina struggled to put away Davidson and then nearly got upset by Tennessee, both games that happened in the Dean Dome. Against Tennessee, Justin Jackson finished shooting 3-for-15 from the floor and 0-for-6 from three.

Fast forward six days and the Tar Heels traveled across the country and not only survived the raining hellfire that was Malik Monk’s shooting but came back on them and took the lead in the final minute. Jackson? He finished with 34 points in what was without a doubt the best performance of his career as Berry went for 23 points and seven assists, carving up Kentucky’s ball-screen defense.

Berry is not only UNC’s second-leading scorer, but he is the guy who creates better looks for everyone else on the floor. If the last two games wasn’t enough to prove it to you, Saturday was. And if you still don’t believe it, you cannot be helped.

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17: Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels drives to the basket against De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kentucky won 103-100. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Justin Jackson (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

4. Just how good are North Carolina’s big men?: First things first: North Carolina is really, really good. I’m not sure they’re ‘Steal The ACC Title From Duke’ good, but they’re definitely good enough that a Final Four isn’t unlikely; if they finish second in the ACC I think they’re probably looking at a No. 2 seed at worst. Berry and Jackson can quite clearly hold their own with any 1-2 punch in college hoops, and the Heels are still waiting to get Theo Pinson back.

But there is a concern with this team: Their front court. Do they have a shot-blocker? Do they have a low-post scoring threat that is, truly, a threat? Kennedy Meeks is a land-warrior that always seems to be in foul trouble. Isaiah Hicks is a freak athlete that has never capitalized on his gifts. Tony Bradley is a freshman that is still learning just how good he can be.

The million-dollar question is if it will matter. Think about it like this: Of the top six teams in the country – Duke, Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA – no one has a front line that is overpowering. Gonzaga and Baylor do, but I’m not convinced they’re on the same level. In fact, there aren’t many teams anywhere in the country that have a front line that will strike fear in UNC’s hearts.

5. This win was enormous for Kentucky’s chances at a No. 1 seed: Kentucky has as many marquee non-conference games as anyone. They got Michigan State in the Champions Classic. They played Arizona State and Hofstra in nationally-televised neutral site games. They beat UNC today and still have Louisville in the Yum! Center next week and Kansas in Rupp Arena next month.

But they lost to UCLA. Beating the trio of Michigan State, Arizona State and Hofstra isn’t all that notable. The SEC doesn’t have another elite team in the league. If Kentucky had lost this game, they probably would have had to beat both Louisville and Kansas for any shot at getting a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. They probably still need to win both of those games to feel comfortable, but at least with this win they know they have one elite win in the bank.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

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
4 Comments

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
1 Comment

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
7 Comments

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

Getty Images
4 Comments

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.