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Four Takeaways as Oregon’s Dillon Brooks hits three to beat No. 2 UCLA

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Dillon Brooks went for 23 points, nine boards and four assists, including this three to give No. 21 Oregon a much-needed, 89-87 win over No. 2 UCLA:

Here are five things we learned from this game:

1. This was the first time that we saw the real Oregon: Dillon Brooks didn’t play for the first three games of the season as he was still recovering from a foot injury he suffered over the summer. He had only started two games before Wednesday night’s showdown with the Bruins. The two games that Brooks started happened to coincide with the two games that Chris Boucher missed as he battled an ankle injury that he suffered before Christmas. Boucher is Oregon’s starting center that averages 14.1 points, 7.8 boards and 3.2 blocks.

In other words, in every game that Oregon played before this, the Ducks were either without or playing with a limited Brooks, who would have been a consensus preseason first-team all-american if he didn’t have those injury issues hanging over his head, or without Boucher, who will likely get picked in this June’s NBA Draft.

Hell, on Wednesday Boucher still didn’t look quite like himself; he came off the bench.

I say all that to say this: Oregon was a preseason top five team in very large part due to the presence of those two players. Tyler Dorsey is a talented scorer. Jordan Bell is a big, strong physical athlete in the paint. Dylan Ennis is a veteran guard that can do a lot of the same things that Payton Pritchard, a talented freshman, can do.

But those guys are all good role players. In other words, Oregon can win the Pac-12 and get to a Final Four with them. They aren’t getting there riding them. Brooks and Boucher are the horses that are going to lead this program, particularly Brooks. Oregon is a totally different team now that he’s back and playing at the level he played at tonight.

That’s stating the obvious, I know, but it’s still a point worth making: Wednesday was the first time all season long that we got a glimpse of the Oregon team that was mentioned with Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Villanova as the real title favorites two months ago.

EUGENE, OR - DECEMBER 28: Chris Boucher #25 of the Oregon Ducks dunks the ball on Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins during the first half of the game at Matthew Knight Arena on December 28, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Chris Boucher (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

2. Tonight aside, Oregon’s shooting is still a concern: Entering Wednesday night, the Ducks were shooting a dismal 31.0 percent from three on the season, good for 292nd out of 351 teams nationally. That’s terrible, but you wouldn’t have known it had you watched the first half against the Bruins. Oregon hit six of their first 11 threes and seven total in the first half before going ice cold. They were 1-for-10 from deep to start the second half and 2-for-14 from beyond the arc before Boucher and Brooks hit threes in the final minute.

Oregon fell in love with the three-ball early in the second half, which is what allowed UCLA to make their run. There’s a reason that coaches refer to three-pointers as ‘Fool’s Gold’, and Oregon pretty much proved it on Wednesday. But they also drove home something that should be a major concern for Duck fans: No team has ever won a national title shooting that poorly from three. UConn won in 2011 shooting 32.9 percent from three when Kemba Walker was Kemba-ing all over March Madness. Kansas won in 1988, three years after the three-pointer was invented, while shooting 31.4 percent from three in a season where Danny Manning and Larry Brown teamed up to cut down the nets as a No. 6 seed.

In other words, Oregon needs to hope that tonight’s 11-for-30 performance from deep wasn’t fool’s gold as much as it is a sign of things to come.

3. These are the two best teams in the Pac-12: This isn’t really debatable, is it?

USC is still undefeated so we need to keep them in the conversation for now, but the Trojans are you and are still without Bennie Boatwright, who is dealing with an MCL injury. And while Arizona has been impressive, they’re grinding out wins while dealing with an impossible number of injuries and suspensions.

For me, these are clearly the two best teams in the conference, and while tonight proved it in spectacularly entertaining fashion, it was disappointing in the sense that we’ve already burned through one of their regular season matchups and it’s not even Christmas yet.

EUGENE, OR - DECEMBER 28: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins tries to get around Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks late in the game at Matthew Knight Arena on December 28, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Lonzo Ball (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

4. UCLA is still the favorite to win the league: Oregon, a team that shoots 31.0 percent from beyond the arc on the season, made 11 threes on a Wednesday night where UCLA didn’t start playing well until midway through the second half. One of those threes was a buzzer-beater from Dillon Brooks over the outstretched arms of 6-foot-6 Lonzo Ball, who played about as good of defense as you can play on Brooks on that possession. That buzzer-beater was a game-winner because Bryce Alford, who entered the night shooting 87 percent from the line with the reputation for being one of the most clutch player in college hoops, missed the front end of a one-and-one.

And all this happened on Oregon’s home court.

This is a great win for the Ducks, one they desperately needed for A) their tournament résumé and B) their chances of taking home an outright Pac-12 regular season title. They’re back to being a Final Four-caliber team.

But UCLA is still the Pac-12’s best team.

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.