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Josh Jackson, No. 3 Kansas outlasts No. 2 Baylor

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Josh Jackson finished with a career-high 23 points and 11 boards and Frank Mason added 17 points and five assists in an off-night as No. 3 Kansas protected their home floor and gave themselves the inside track to winning their 13th straight Big 12 regular season with a 73-68 win over No. 2 Baylor on Wednesday.

Landen Lucas was terrific for the Jayhawks, finishing with 11 boards and two huge baskets over Baylor’s massive front line late in the second half.

Johnathan Motley had 14 of his 16 points in the first half, but Kansas did an excellent job of taking him away down the stretch. Manu Lecomte added 16 points for the Bears, who turned the ball over with 1.3 seconds left in a game that they trailed 71-68.

Here are five things we can take away from this game:

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 01: Manu Lecomte #20 of the Baylor Bearspasses as Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks defends during the game at Allen Fieldhouse on February 1, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

1. Josh Jackson is officially the best player on Kansas: I’m not sure it’s much of an argument anymore, either. He had 23 points, 11 boards and two blocks on Wednesday. He shot 8-for-13 from the floor and hit a pair of threes. He spent much of the game defensively dealing with the much larger Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil, a pair of seven-footers that wanted nothing more than to bully Jackson as much as they could, and he more than held his own. Acuil had just 10 points and eight boards while Motley was totally ineffective in the second half.

What’s more is that the Jayhawks just finished the toughest three-game stretch of their season, and possibly of anyone’s season. They played at West Virginia, at Kentucky and at home to Baylor, going 2-1 in three games against top ten KenPom teams. Jackson, in those three games, averaged 21.7 points, 8.0 boards and 2.7 assists while shooting 57.1 percent from the floor and 61.6 percent from three. The difference on Wednesday was that Jackson was totally locked-in on both ends of the floor. Against West Virginia, he just wasn’t good defensively. That was not the case against Baylor.

At this point, he’s absolutely played himself into the discussion for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and is almost certainly going to end up being a top five pick.

Frank Mason III is still the Kansas MVP. He’s the emotional leader of that group. He’s the guy who makes the important decisions and will get shots on the most important possessions. He’s our leader for National Player of the Year for a reason.

But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s no longer the best player on Kansas.

2. If anyone still doubts Baylor, you should stop: If going into Phog Allen and putting together this kind of a performance doesn’t sell you on the idea that the Bears can get to a Final Four and are the only threat to the Jayhawks in the race for the Big 12 title, nothing well.

You don’t win in Phog Allen. You just don’t. And Baylor had the ball with a chance to tie on their final possession in a game where they were outshot from the free throw line by 21 foul shots. And yes, Kansas has been challenged in that building before. No, it’s not always by a good team. (See: State, Kansas.) But when you combine the fact that A) Baylor has arguably the best résumé in the sport, B) is considered by just about every metric to be one of the nation’s elite teams and C) they put together this kind of a performance in that building, even the most diabolical hater west of the Mississippi will struggle to nitpick them.

So I ask you, in all seriousness, if you don’t believe in this Baylor team by now: What else do you need to see?

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 01: Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. #0 and Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears watch a loose ball during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse on February 1, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

3. The zone is here to stay: For the second straight games against a fellow Final Four contender, Bill Self’s zone defense changed the game in the second half. The Jayhawks didn’t play strictly zone – there were possessions of man-to-man thrown in there as well – but I’m not sure there’s a way to justify not playing it. We’ve been over the reasons why it works for Kansas numerous times by now, but to recap: It protects Landen Lucas, who is essentially the only big man on the roster; it saves the legs of the Jayhawk guards, who are being asked to play crazy amounts of minutes; and, with the length, athleticism and mobility of their wings, it’s actually pretty effective defense, especially if Josh Jackson is going to get double-digit rebounds.

4. Landen Lucas was awesome: He finished with 11 boards, four offensive, and five points, but his numbers don’t do his impact on this game justice. After a first half where Motley gave the Jayhawks 14 points and six boards, Lucas turned in a stalwart performance in the paint. He changed shots at the rim. He cleaned the defensive glass. He got his hands on passes in the lane. What Kansas needs out of him more than anything else is for him to be big, tough and physical in the paint without fouling, and he played that role to perfection Wednesday.

And that wasn’t it. Lucas had two huge baskets down the stretch and, on the final possession, played terrific defense on not one, but two ball-screens, helping to force the game-clinching turnover.

5a. Baylor is still winless in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in program history: They’re 0-14 in the building since joining the then-Big Eight in 1996, but that’s not uncommon. The Jayhawks don’t lose at home, not under Bill Self. He is now 9-0 at home in games against top five teams. Hell, Self has lost nine games in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in his 14-year career as the head coach at Kansas. To put that into perspective, Baylor head coach Scott Drew has now lost 10 games at Phog Allen.

5b. Maybe there’s a reason for that: Kansas shot 27 free throws. Baylor shot six. I guess the Jayhawks just play harder …

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

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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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.