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College Basketball Catchup: College football’s title game is done, so here’s all you need for hoops season

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Now that Clemson has knocked off Alabama to win the 2017 National Title, college football is officially over and college basketball can now take center stage on campuses around the country.

And look, I get it. Football is a big deal, there are only so many free hours we have in a week and, until the bowl games are over and done with, they’ll take center stage. I can forgive you for your trespasses … as long as you’re now turning into college hoops.

I’m not just saying that as a college hoops fan, either. This is the most exciting season of college basketball in a long, long time. Duke is super-talented and a mess at the same time. UCLA is awesome and as entertaining as anyone this side of the Warriors. Kentucky is loaded with the most enjoyable back court I can remember watching. Kansas is loaded but playing in a league where Baylor is the No. 1 team in the country. North Carolina can beat anyone, but the ACC is so good they can also lose at Georgia Tech. Gonzaga hasn’t lost yet. Villanova can repeat. 

There’s so much happening.

To help you get ready for the final three months of the basketball season, we’re here to get you caught up on everything that has happened and prep you for that is about to happen.

So without further ado … :

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Duke Blue Devils drives the ball up the court against the Florida Gators in the second half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WE’VE LEARNED THIS SEASON?

Rob Dauster: Duke is not the team that we thought they were going to be this season. That could change – when completely healthy, I would still argue that this group more talented than the Kentucky team that started the year 38-0 – but through two months, we’ve seen Duke play with all five members of their ideal starting lineup just twice in 17 games while losing Coach K to back surgery and dealing with another tripping incident involving Grayson Allen. Throw in the issues they’ve had defensively and sharing the ball, and this Duke team has had the look of a Ferrari that can’t get out of second gear.

Scott Phillips: There are no clear-cut favorites at this point in the season. Things are really wide open. There are really good veteran teams like Villanova and there are really good freshmen-laden teams like Kentucky. But they are all beatable teams with flaws. I’m excited to see how the rest of the season unfolds.

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Terrence Payne: That is this is an opening act to a March Madness for the ages. How many good games have we seen so far: Duke-Kansas, Kentucky-UCLA, Kentucky-North Carolina, Kansas-Indiana. And those are just the blue bloods. Hell, did you see what Nevada just did?! As Scott mentioned above, there are no clear-cut favorites. Add in a number of talented mid-major programs, and this could make for a memorable NCAA Tournament.

Travis Hines: It may not be the most important thing about this but it is the most important thing from this season: Scott Drew is a good coach. Baylor probably isn’t the best team in the country, but they might be. That’s a testament to Drew, who is the most ridiculed coach in the sport. This season is proving that his prior success was no fluke or the product solely of high-level recruiting.

WACO, TX - DECEMBER 21: Head coach Scott Drew of the Baylor Bears leads the Baylor Bears against the Texas Southern Tigers at Ferrell Center on December 21, 2016 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Scott Drew (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST STORYLINE MOVING FORWARD?

Rob Dauster: It is not going to be the story that gets the most coverage, but the single biggest storyline over the next three months is whether or not Villanova will be able to repeat as National Champions. Through the first two months of the season, they’ve looked the part of a national title contender. Josh Hart has been better than expected, the Wildcats are just as unguardable as they were a year ago and they are still waiting for Phil Booth to be the guy that he was last season. It’s been a decade since anyone has repeated, and it may be another ten years before we see a team that’s able to mount another challenge as serious as this one.

Scott Phillips: How does Duke handle all of the drama and injuries to become the team we all believed we’d see? With the Grayson Allen issues and Coach K’s surgery there are some new twists to a team that was already acclimating freshmen in late because of injuries. Will this team rally together to win a ridiculous ACC and become the national title favorite we all saw before the season?

Terrence Payne: It may not be the biggest storyline, but I feel like it’s getting no attention when, at this point, it should be picking up steam: Can Gonzaga pull off an undefeated regular season? The Zags are 15-0 and are one of the more balanced teams in the nation with guard play led by Nigel Williams-Goss and the frontcourt being anchored by Przemek Karnowski. They have two tough tests against No. 21 Saint Mary’s (the first of two meetings slated for Saturday), and sure, the Bulldogs aren’t safe from having an off night, but outside of a road trip to Moraga they’ll be favored to win the rest of their games this season.

Travis Hines: It’s not ideal but it’s not arguable that Grayson Allen is it. And I don’t mean Duke at large. It’s Allen, and the saga of how his season unfolds after his third tripping incident. It would be better if we could focus on Gonzaga or the other of the sport’s best teams but it’s the drama surrounding Allen.

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 03: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after making a three-point basket against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half of the game at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA defeated Kentucky 97-92. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Lonzo Ball (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE MOST OVER THE NEXT MONTH?

Rob Dauster: Can I say everything? Is that OK? Because more than anything, I’m just fired up for what is going to be an awesome stretch run for college basketball.

But if I had to pick a specific storyline, I’m going with the Baylor Bears and whether or not they can actually mount a challenge to Kansas in the Big 12 regular season title race. The Jayhawks have won 12 straight, but this Baylor team is legit and currently ranked No. 1 in the country.

Scott Phillips: I’m really excited to see the ceiling for Lonzo Ball and UCLA because the way they play can draw a lot of eyeballs in March. If casual fans (and coaches) see how good this uptempo Bruins offense can be then I hope that college basketball will shake some old labels because UCLA is awesome to watch.

Terrence Payne: How the ACC unfolds. We knew going in that this league would be stacked, pegging 12 teams as possible NCAA Tournament at-large bids. But Wake Forest is better than we thought, Georgia Tech and Boston College aren’t pushovers either, and that’s the bottom of the conference. With six ranked teams (Virginia Tech and Clemson both receiving votes in the latest poll) and the uncertainty surrounding heavy preseason favorite Duke, the ACC has an endless amount of outcomes.

Travis Hines: I really am excited to see if Gonzaga can finish the year undefeated. The schedule means they’ll be tested but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility they’ll make it unscathed. How cool would it be if Mark Few’s first Final Four came in an undefeated season?

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Nigel Williams-Goss #5 and Josh Perkins #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs celebrate a victory over the Iowa State Cyclones at HP Field House on November 27, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

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.