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Player of the Year Power Rankings: Josh Hart No. 1, Caleb Swanigan returns

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1. Josh Hart, Villanova: Here’s a fun stat for you to chew on: The knock on Josh Hart’s game entering the season was his shooting ability. After the first seven weeks of the season, Hart is a member of the 180 club. He’s shooting 56.0 percent from the floor, 43.3 percent from three and 81.0 percent from the free throw line. It’s not 50-40-90, but it’s still a terrific line for a player that isn’t supposed to be able to shoot.

2. Frank Mason III, Kansas: It’s now after Christmas and Mason still has not had a game where he has had less than 18 points and had less than eight assists. His biggest issue at this point is that he best game – the season-opener – and his biggest moment – four days after that – came so long ago that people are forgetting just how good he’s been. That will change, as the Jayhawks have at least three more games against top ten competition.

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Ball had his first “bad” game against Western Michigan last week. In 37 minutes of a 14-point win, Ball had just seven points, five boards, four assists and three blocks. And while he had six double-doubles on the season, he’s still without a triple-double on the season. What a bum, right?

4. Luke Kennard, Duke: Twice last week the Blue Devils played games against overmatched competition, and twice they struggled to put that competition away. They beat Tennessee State by 10 and Elon by 11 despite being favored by a total of 53.5 points in those two games. Their savior once again? Kennard, who averaged 22.5 points and led the team in scoring on both nights.

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5. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox has just been so consistent this season, especially against Kentucky’s best opponents. He had 20 points and nine assists against UCLA and Lonzo Ball. He had 24 points and 10 assists against North Carolina. He went for 21 points against Louisville. He’s averaging 16.3 points, 6.8 assists and 5.0 boards on the season. If only he wasn’t such a liability shooting the ball from the perimeter.

6. Mo Watson, Creighton: The last time we saw Watson take the floor the Bluejays beat Arizona State in Tempe. The diminutive point guard is leading the nation in assists, averaging 9.0 per game, as he runs Creighton’s high-powered offense.

7. Malik Monk, Kentucky: Monk dropped a spot this week after he was stymied by Louisville’s switching defense in a 73-70 loss last week. He finished the evening shooting 6-for-17 from the floor, 3-for-14 on jumpers and 1-for-9 from three. As is the case with all jump-shooters, Monk is tremendous when the shots are going down and not so much when they aren’t.

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8. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: In Berry’s only game last week, he had just 11 points and four assists as North Carolina avenged last year’s loss at Northern Iowa. Berry’s importance was proved the previous week, as UNC struggled to beat Tennessee at home without him and nearly knocked off Kentucky with him.

9. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz has now led Washington to three straight wins in a five-day stretch, including back-to-back blowouts against Cal Poly and Seattle. Fultz is still posting ridiculous numbers – 22.0 points, 6.8 assists, 6.3 boards, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks – but the fact that those numbers are now producing some wins is what really matters. I can’t be the only one hoping that the Huskies turn this thing around and Fultz plays meaningful games at the end of the season.

10. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan had back-to-back 20-20 games last season and, in the process, became the only high-major player not named Blake Griffin to have three 20-20 games in the same season. He also became the first Purdue player to put up a 30-20 game since 1971. He has 10 double-doubles in 13 games this season. What a beast.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Amile Jefferson, Duke
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
T.J. Leaf, UCLA
Yante Maten, Georgia
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Michael Young, Pitt

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.