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Josh Jackson, Frank Mason III lead No. 2 Kansas past No. 4 Kentucky

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Josh Jackson finished 20 points, 10 boards, three assists and two steals – including a layup after an offensive rebound with a minute left to put the Jayhawks up 73-66 – and Frank Mason III added 21 points and four assists as No. 2 Kansas shook off a blowout loss at West Virginia by going into Rupp Arena and knocking off No. 4 Kentucky, 79-73.

The Jayhawks were beaten up for much of the first half, trailing 29-19 at one point and finishing the first 20 minutes without hitting a three-pointer, but Josh Jackson sparked a run early in the second half that gave Kansas the lead.

Derek Willis was Kentucky’s leading scorer, finishing with 18 points, five boards and two blocks and hitting 5-of-6 from three. Malik Monk hit his first five shots of the game, scoring 12 points in the first nine minutes as it looked like he was getting ready to have another monster game, but he would miss his next six shots and didn’t score against until there were three minutes left. Combined, Fox and Monk finished with just 28 points and four assists – the average better than 37 per game – while turning the ball over seven times.

The loss is Kentucky’s second this week, as they fell at Tennessee on Tuesday night.

Here are four things we learned on Saturday afternoon:

1. The Kansas back court gets the attention, but Josh Jackson might be their best player: Look, I love Frank Mason more than just about anyone. I’m on the chairman of the ‘#BIFM for Player of the Year’ committee, but after seeing the way that Jackson played this week, I’m having a hard time convincing myself that Jackson isn’t the best player on Kansas.

He was certainly the best player on the floor for the Jayhawks on Saturday. He kept them close in the first half, as Kansas struggled to find any kind of consistency on the offensive end. He hit a pair of threes – both of which, it should be noted, came off of assists from Mason – early in the second half that put Kansas in the lead. He was the matchup nightmare at the four that he needs to be for this Kansas team to be great, and when the Jayhawks went to a zone in the middle of the first half, he was active and meddlesome there as well. And, perhaps most importantly, he grabbed a critical offensive rebound and scored a second-chance bucket with 1:05 left that put Kansas ahead 71-66. That was the back-breaker.

You won’t find a better leader or a better point guard anywhere in the country than Mason, which is why, when Jackson plays like he did tonight, Kansas is so scary.

#TheNightcap is back. Come chat college hoops as we talk Duke Men's Basketball's come back, Kansas Men's Basketball's win over the Kentucky Wildcats and the rest of a wild Saturday and I enjoy a cold Firestone Walker Brewing Co. Union Jack.

Posted by Rob Dauster on Saturday, January 28, 2017

2. Kansas won this game by playing zone: It’s weird, I know, but it’s true. And it might end up being their best defense this season. Bill Self went to a zone early in the second half as his team was struggling with fouls and with their one-on-one matchups, and it changed the course of the game. Kentucky struggled to break down the defense, whether it was failing to hit their open threes or making poor passes against the zone.

It leads me into my next point …

3. … Landen Lucas outplayed Bam Adebayo: The key matchup in this game was Landen Lucas vs. Bam Adebayo, and, in an upset, Lucas won that battle. Adebayo had ten points and eight boards, but he was just 3-for-7 from the floor (and 4-for-10 from the line) and turned the ball over four times; Lucas had 11 of his 13 points in the second half and, more importantly, played 27 minutes before fouling out with 38.7 seconds left.

Lucas provided a major boost offensively, which was not exactly expected, but it was far from a one-man job on the defensive end of the floor, as the Kansas zone took away Adebayo’s presence in the paint. Kentucky struggled to find ways to get him the ball in places where he could be effective, and when they did, the Jayhawks would swarm him. Adebayo is all power, but that power can be negated by a defense that sends two or three guys at him.

Oddly enough, I think that 2-3 zone may end up being the best defense that the Jayhawks will play this season. Think about it: when they play four guards, they have two terrific at the top in Mason and Devonte’ Graham, and the wins in that zone will be two of Svi Mykhailiuk, LaGerald Vick and Jackson. Those three and more than enough length and athleticism to contest three-point shooters and compete on the glass. Not only that, but the zone should help save some of the wear-and-tear on the legs of their guards and protect Lucas from getting into foul trouble when he’s isolated on the block.

I don’t, in any way, expect Self to go to it as his primary defense.

But as a change of pace? As something to throw a team like Kentucky off-balance? It’s a great weapon to have in his arsenal.

4. This is why we’ve been talking about the lack of half-court offense for the Wildcats: Kentucky looked like they were ready to blow the doors off of Kansas in the first 10 minutes of this game. They were getting out and running in transition. Monk was hitting everything. They were clicking.

And then Kansas was able to force them into a possession by possession game. With five minutes left in the first half, the Wildcats were up 29-19. They were outscored 56-37 over the next 25 minutes of gametime, and it’s not a coincidence the Kansas run came at a time when Fox and Monk struggled to find ways to score.

Granted, this is Kansas. There’s a reason they entered this game ranked No. 2 in the country. That said, all we’ve done for the last four days is trash the Jayhawk defense. They were 39th nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, entering Saturday while Kentucky had the nation’s second-best offense. If the Jayhawks couldn’t win that battle, how are they going to do it against the rest of the nation’s elite teams?

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.