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Kentucky-Louisville Preview: Four things to watch for in Wednesday’s showdown

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The 50th installation of the rivalry that doubles as a blood feud in the commonwealth will take place on Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. ET, as No. 6 Kentucky makes the 80-mile trek west on I-64 to take on No. 10 Louisville in the KFC Yum! Center.

Kentucky has won the last four meetings and eight of the last nine, and while they’ll enter Wednesday night’s showdown as two point underdogs, the line Vegas sets and the general perception of what this matchup will be differs. After that thrilling, 103-100 win over North Carolina on Saturday, the Louisville Courier-Journal polled 82 media members on who they think will win; 64 of them picked the Wildcats

Why does Vegas differ so much from the people paid to talk about this sport? And what are the three things that will determine the outcome of this game? Let’s get into it:

1. Will Louisville be able to score enough points to win?: Kentucky can put up points as well as anyone in college basketball. We all know that. They reached the century mark four times in 11 games this season, including on Saturday against North Carolina, who has the 14th-best defense in the country, according to KenPom. Only once this year have they failed to crack 87 points.

Louisville? According to Synergy’s logs, they ranked in the 44th percentile in offensive efficiency at 0.897 points-per-possession. They’re 227th nationally in effective field goal percentage and 244th in three-point percentage. Their three best perimeter players – Donovan Mitchell, Quentin Snider and Deng Adel – all shoot under 37.5 percent from the floor and below 33.3 percent from three; Adel and Mitchell both check in at 29 percent from beyond the arc.

The key to slowing this Kentucky team down is limiting their transition opportunities. Avoiding live-ball turnovers and bad shots that lead to run-outs is one way to do that, but the best way to slow a team down is, simply, to score. Make them take the ball out of the net while you get back on defense.

Which leads me to the biggest question of the day: How is Louisville going to score against a team whose defense can be as suffocating as Kentucky’s?

To me, there are two ways to do to this:

  1. Capitalize on your own transition chances. Louisville has, according to KenPom, the best defense in college basketball. Part of the reason for that is that they force turnovers on 23 percent of their defensive possessions. Turning those into easy buckets before the Kentucky defense can get set will be critical, as will Louisville’s awareness when it comes to what is and what isn’t a good transition opportunity.
  2. Get to the offensive glass. Kentucky is 238th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. Louisville is eighth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. There are going to be times where Louisville’s best offense will be a missed shot that turns into a tip-in.

Kentucky is going to get their’s, and I think it’s safe to say that Louisville is going to have to score more than 75 points if they want to win this game. If Rick Pitino can find a way to generate points – or if Mitchell and Adel finally find a way to play the way we all thought they would play this season – the Cardinals will have a shot.

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 10:  Rick Pitino the head coach of the Louisville Cardinals watches the action during the game against the Texas Southern Tigers at KFC YUM! Center on December 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Rick Pitino (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

2. Louisville has to find a way to slow-down Malik Monk: Monk is the most dangerous scorer in college basketball. Louisville has the nation’s best defense. Strength on strength is always fun.

What made Monk’s performance against North Carolina wasn’t so much that he was able to pop off for 47 points and carry his team – if you paid any attention in the preseason, you would have known that it was going to happen at some point – it was that he provided a way for Kentucky to score in half court settings. That’s the biggest concern with the Wildcats. Given their lack of perimeter shooting and some of the offensive question marks that they have in key positions on the offensive end of the floor, what happens when De’Aaron Fox, Isaiah Briscoe and Monk aren’t able to get layups and dunks on the break?

The answer, on Saturday at least, was Monk. John Calipari spoke after the game about how he put in plays similar to what he ran for Jamal Murray last season, plays designed specifically to get Monk an open shot or an opportunity to go one-on-one against a defender. I would be shocked if we didn’t see that out of Kentucky again, and I think that Louisville is better equipped to handle it than North Carolina was.

For starters, the Cards have so much length. Mitchell, who I expect will get plenty of chances to go up against Monk, is long and athletic. Adel and V.J. King are 6-foot-7 athletes with plus-wingspans. Those three are also athletic enough that they should be able to at least make things difficult for Monk, which is about all you can ask against a guy who is unguardable when he’s running hot.

But the more interesting part of this is that Pitino has developed one of the more complicated defenses to play against. They have so many different looks they can give. Sometimes they press full-court in man-to-man. Sometimes it’s a 2-2-1 press. Sometimes they drop back into a man-to-man. Sometimes it’s a 2-3 zone. Many times, that half court defense is some combination of the two, where they’re playing man on half of the court and zone on the other half or changing defenses midway through a possession.

One former Louisville player described it to me as a gameplan of “organized chaos”, and it can be a nightmare to breakdown.

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3. Who steps up for Kentucky?: As good as the Wildcats were on Saturday, it was somewhat concerning that so much of their offense came from Fox and Monk. Those two finished with 71 points and 12 assists, combining to contribute 87 of Kentucky’s 103 points.

That’s not something that is sustainable, meaning that Kentucky will need to find another source of scoring. I don’t think it will be Isaiah Briscoe, who has turned into one of the best glue-guys in college basketball. Derek Willis was a difference-maker last season, but his issues defensively mean that he splits time with Wenyen Gabriel, who is very much a work in progress on the offensive end.

To me, the answer is Bam Adebayo, who has been good in stretches this season but has struggled to stay on the floor. He battled foul trouble throughout against North Carolina and still managed to finish with 13 points and seven boards. Louisville’s front line is as deep as they are long and athletic, and Adebayo’s ability to deal with the likes of Jaylen Johnson, Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud and Mangok Mathiang without picking up fouls is going to be critical.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11:  (L-R) Isaiah Briscoe #13, Edrice Adebayo #3 and De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrate on the bench against the Hofstra Pride in the second half of the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center on December 11, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

4. This is Kentucky’s first true road test: Here’s a stat for you, courtesy of ESPN’s John Gasaway: In the Calipari-era, Kentucky is just 2-5 in their first true road games of the season. In 2008, they won at Indiana in Tom Crean’s second season with the Hoosiers, a year where Indiana finished 194th in KenPom’s rankings. In 2014, they won at Louisville the season that they started 38-0. The other five years? They’ve lost at North Carolina twice, they lost at Indiana thanks to Christian Watford, they lost at Notre Dame in Nerlens Noel’s one season on campus and they lost at UCLA last season.

Home court advantage in college basketball is massive. It’s worth anywhere between five and ten points, depending on the teams involved and the pace of play. Just one example, from the projections on KenPom: Louisville is picked to win by one point against Virginia at home. They’re projected to lost by five to the Cavaliers on the road.

And that’s before you factor in that so many of Kentucky’s most important players will be playing their first true road game in a rivalry as heated as Kentucky-Louisville in an environment that can be as hostile as the Yum! Center.

That’s a massive advantage to have in a game like this and has as much to do with where Vegas set their opening line than anything else happening in this game.

 

 

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.