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Duke’s loss to Virginia Tech proves they have more issues than just Grayson Allen

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Losing was inevitable.

In a league where Virginia can win at Louisville three days before losing at home to Florida State, in a league where a bottom-feeder like Georgia Tech can pick off a top ten team like North Carolina, in a league where it wouldn’t be crazy to see ten teams get to the NCAA tournament, we knew that Duke was going to get picked off a time or two – or three, or four – before March got mad.

It was always going to happen.

Conference road trips are the most miserable place to be in college basketball, and Duke was never going to get through nine of them unscathed.

We all could see that coming.

But did you see this coming?

A trip to Blacksburg ending with an 89-75 drubbing, a game where the final score doesn’t do justice to the control that Buzz Williams’ club had on the game? (Before I continue this, a disclaimer: Virginia Tech is very good. They are top 25 good. They are Sweet 16 good. The Hokies won this game, and may have done so even if Duke played well.)

In the first game of Grayson Allen’s suspension stemming from his third tripping incident in 2016, No. 5 Duke went scoreless or the first four minutes, dug themselves a double-digit hole before the second TV timeout and spent 40 minutes getting totally and completely outplayed by Virginia Tech. If it wasn’t for a 34-point effort from Luke Kennard, who was the only Blue Devil that decided to show up on New Year’s Eve, the final score would have looked much worse.

Duke missed Allen.

But this loss had nothing to do with the absence of Allen and everything to do with the fact that this Duke team is not what the sums of its parts says it should be. That doesn’t mean that they can’t get there, it doesn’t mean that they can’t win a national title this season, but it does mean that, as of today, Duke is not a very good basketball team.

What’s wrong with them?

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 28:  Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after losing 76-62 to the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Petersen Events Center on February 28, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Luke Kennard (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Let’s start with their defense, which was awful against Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils gave up 1.235 points-per-possession to Virginia Tech. The Hokies were able to penetrate at will on Saturday, and the rim protection that was supposed to be provided by the health of Harry Giles III and Marques Bolden simply wasn’t there. That side of the ball has been an issue with recent Duke teams, including 2014-15, when Duke’s defense during the NCAA tournament covered up the fact that it was a mess for most of the regular season.

It wasn’t just half court defense on Saturday, either; the Hokies got layup-after-layup in transition.

They also have plenty of issues on the offensive end of the floor, where Duke’s possessions would eventually devolve into one of their guards trying to beat a Hokie defender one-on-one. Much of that credit has to be given to Virginia Tech, who proved themselves a top 25-caliber team that will be a factor in the ACC this season, but it’s certainly worrisome that a team with this kind of talent had that kind of trouble against anyone.

Because youth can no longer be an excuse for Duke. Yes, it took a while for them to get Giles, Bolden and Jayson Tatum healthy, but the latter two have been back in the mix for a month while it’s been three weeks since Giles missed a game. Duke has played just twice since they beat Florida, 84-74, in the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 10th. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to get the newcomers up to speed.

So what is it?

Leadership? There isn’t an alpha-dog on this roster, and when the junior captain (well, ex-captain) is continuously tripping people and having on-bench meltdowns, it’s fair to wonder just who is the voice in the locker room that holds teammates accountable, the voice that the freshmen listen to.

Because that seems to be a problem as well. After the Elon game, Luke Kennard told reports that “I just don’t think we’re a very unselfish team right now.” It’s hard to convince players that expect to be one-and-done stars to play into a role, especially when that role is limited. Just because John Calipari makes it look easy doesn’t mean it is.

But that’s all speculative.

It’s also fixable, or at least it should be.

Because Duke’s ceiling is higher than anyone else’s ceiling.

But it’s time to start being concerned about whether or not they will ever actually get there.

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.