Keene may be college basketball’s highest scorer in 20 years

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TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) Marcus Keene attracts a crowd on the court and in the stands.

Central Michigan’s scoring machine, one of college basketball’s most prolific scorers in 20 years, slashes to the basket at will, leaving one defender and drawing one or two who usually make contact. He also overcomes attention on the perimeter, where his array of moves and ability to go either way off the dribble set him up to hoist shots from NBA 3-point range .

The league is taking notice.

Despite being listed as a 5-foot-9 point guard, scouts have been showing up to watch Keene play, especially on the road to avoid a trek to Mount Pleasant, Michigan, in the middle of the state. The Youngstown State transfer, who was born in Germany and raised by his parents in San Antonio, is averaging 29.4 points going into Central Michigan’s final regular season game Friday night at Western Michigan. Keene is averaging five-plus more points per game than the nation’s second-leading scorer, South Dakota State’s Mike Daum, who is a foot taller.

Since Charles Jones averaged 30-plus points a game at Long Island University during the 1996-97 season, Keene has come closest to matching the feat. A 50-point game , the first in Division I hoops since 2013, along with becoming the first with six 40-point games in more than a decade boosted his average enough to put him in select company. Keene, Stephen Curry and Jimmer Fredette are the only players who have averaged at least 28.5 points per game over the last 15 seasons in Division I basketball.

Isaiah Thomas, who like Keene may be shorter than 5-9 in socks, has proven with the Boston Celtics that the shortest player on the court can still be one of the best.

Looking for possibly the next diminutive great, three NBA teams dispatched representatives to evaluate Keene last week at Toledo. Twenty seconds after the tip, he picked up a foul. He went to the bench with 8:13 left in the first half with three fouls, five turnovers and no points in 9 minutes.

It may not have been a big deal for 4,463 fans, but a few scouts let out a collective sigh because the person they came to see was stuck on the bench.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” one scout said, shaking his head.

Next to him, another scout had a suggestion.

“It should be like summer league,” he said, referring to the NBA’s rule that allow for 10 fouls.

Even in a foul-plagued game, Keene showed a knack for scoring in bunches and finished with 27 points in a lopsided loss.

Keene has been in the spotlight during his spectacular season, becoming a story transcendent enough that even “CBS Evening News,” visited him on campus. Keene, though, hasn’t been able to rejoice in it because Central Michigan (16-14, 6-11 Mid-American Conference) has allowed a potentially promising season slip away with six straight losses going into Friday’s matchup with the rival Broncos (14-15, 10-7) on the road.

“I don’t like it at all,” he said. “Of course, the attention is helping me for later on after college basketball. But I want to win games and this is frustrating that we can’t find a way to win.”

The Chippewas will open the MAC Tournament on an opponents’ home court Monday, hoping to advance to the quarterfinals in Cleveland to keep Keene’s dream alive of playing in the NCAA Tournament.

“If we play our game, we can beat everybody ,” he told The Associated Press. “I still feel confident in myself and in my team that we can win.”

Confidence, or the lack of it, has never been a problem for Keene. That was true even when Youngstown State was the only Division I program that really wanted him out of Warren High School in San Antonio , where he was teammates with Atlanta Hawks rookie Taurean Prince.

“Everyone thinks you have to be 6-3 to be a guard in college,” his father, Ivan Keene, said. “He just got overlooked because of his size, but I remember telling him, `It only takes one school to take you, because you can’t play for them all.’ I prayed to God that one school would take a chance on him and one did and we’ll always be thankful for that.”

After averaging 6.5 points as a college freshman, his mother recalled him coming home in the summer with index cards full of tips from his coaches. Instead of going out with his friends at night, he got his rest for busy days that started early.

“We put an alarm system in our bedroom because we had four teenagers in high school at the same time so we could know when someone was going in or out of the door and it would go off at 5:45 a.m. when Marcus would go out and run,” Alberttina Keene-Jones said. “Then he would come back, eat, and go out some more. Then he would take a nap before leaving again to work on his game some more.”

Keene’s hard work paid off as a sophomore when he averaged a team-high 15.6 points a game and scored a then-career high 24 points on Nov. 18, 2014, in a loss to the free-wheeling Chippewas. When Central Michigan coach Keno Davis saw on social media after the season that Keene wanted to transfer and confirmed with Youngstown State’s compliance department, assistant coach Jeff Smith called Keene and was thrilled to find out he was interested in reuniting with a fellow 5-9 Texan, Braylon Rayson. Keene sat out last season as a redshirt, starring for the scout team.

Davis gives Keene the green light to shoot whenever and wherever he wants, helping him break MAC and school season scoring records set by former NBA players Ron Harper at Miami and Dan Majerle at Central Michigan. Davis acknowledged he may coach the once-in-a-generation scorer for only one season.

“He’s going to have opportunities to play at another level,” Davis said. “Your job as a coach is to make sure a student-athlete in his position has all the information he can have to make the best decision. If the thought is to come back, great. If the decision is to leave and play professionally, you support that decision as well.”

Keene insisted he doesn’t know yet if he will stay in college or enter the NBA draft this year.

“There’s a chance I’ll go because what I’m doing probably won’t be done again,” he said in an AP interview. “I just have to see what people say after the season and see how it plays out.”

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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.