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Duke wins the ACC tournament, may end up as fourth No. 1 seed

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BROOKLYN — Before Duke’s season began, before the injuries to the three star freshmen and before Grayson Allen tripped his third opponent in a year and before the patriarch of the Duke program missed a month of the season to undergo back surgery, head coach Mike Krzyzewski coined a phrase that would become the motto for this group team: ‘Uncommon Winning.’

He had no way of knowing just how prescient that phrase was.

On Saturday night, Duke became the first team in the history of the ACC tournament to win four games in four days and take home trophy. They did it by erasing an eight-point second half deficit against Notre Dame, winning 75-69, the third-straight night that the Blue Devils turned a loss into a win with a scintillating second half run. Against North Carolina on Friday night, Duke used a 29-9 surge to turn a 13-point deficit into a seven-point lead. On Thursday, in the quarterfinals, Duke erased a 12-point deficit in the final 12 minutes of the game.

Everything about that is uncommon.

Everything about the Duke season has been uncommon.

And yet here they are, less than 24 hours before the bracket is to be released, and Duke is right where we thought they would be: Champions of the ACC and in line to get a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday.

Uncommon Winning indeed.

I know people don’t want to hear it, but the fact of the matter is that Duke is in line for a No. 1 seed.

The Blue Devils have more top 50 wins than any other team in the country with 13, and eight of those 13 wins came away from home. They have eight top 25 wins — six of which came away from home — and four top ten wins — with three of those away from home. They are 26-8 on the season. They have beaten North Carolina, the team that just about everyone thought was a lock to be the No. 1 seed in the South, in two out of the three matchups between the two teams, including in Brooklyn on Friday night.

Does that mean the Blue Devils are a lock for the No. 1 seed?

Of course not.

It’s foolish to speak in absolutes when talking about the Selection Committee and the decisions that they make, especially in a year where there is so much uncertainty on that top seed line. Will Gonzaga, at 32-1, get a No. 1 seed? What about Arizona, the Pac-12 tournament champion and regular season co-champion? North Carolina has a résumé that, in a vacuum, is deserving of a No. 1 seed. When you win a league as tough as the ACC by two full games, you have to get put into that conversation.

And then there’s Duke.

The Blue Devils have an argument that is as valid as anyone, and the fact that they have gotten to this point given where they were midway through ACC play is incredible. Jayson Tatum missed the first six weeks of the season with a foot injury that kept him from being himself until much later in the year than anyone expected. Harry Giles III’s third knee surgery has ensured that he will likely end his college career as a shell of the player he once was and, hopefully, can still be. Coach K missed a month after back surgery, a stretch where the Blue Devils went 4-3 on the season. Grayson Allen has been a shell of himself thanks to foot and ankle injuries and the scorn that comes with being The Villain Of Durham.

“I’ve had a lot of years,” Coach K said. “They’ve been through more than anyone group has been through that I’ve coached.”

“It was not like anything I’ve been through. That’s pretty cool, when I’ve been through more than anybody. And I’ve been lucky to be successful, but for them to take me through a journey that I’ve never been through before, it’s amazing.”

To a man, everyone in that Duke locker room credits Coach K with being able to keep this team together throughout everything that they’ve dealt with. “He is such a good leadership coach,” Allen said. “It’s way more than x’s and o’s. He teaches us how to be together as a group, all that cliché stuff, that, it sounds really cliché, but that’s what we try to do.”

How did he make it work?

Simple, really.

Live in the moment. Instead of worrying about what is going to happen two or three weeks in the future, focus on doing what you have to do to win the next game.

“We live in a world of predictions, expectations and a very shallow analysis of what a player or team does, because it’s instant,” Coach K said. “I just try to stay deep. We’re concentrating on us. Just like this tournament, we didn’t come here to win it, we came here to win the next game. Having that approach throughout the year.”

“‘What’s this next week going to be like? When can we get this kid healthy?’ Instead of looking at the whole thing and saying, ‘Poor us’, it’s, ‘No excuses.'”

“All that stuff brought us together as a team,” Allen said. “I think that’s what’s showing.”

I don’t think he’s wrong.

The incredible part about Duke’s tournament win was how easy it would have been for them to quit. They trailed by 12 points and were getting run off the floor by Louisville, but they made the switch to a zone that they never practice and it changed the game. Duke won. Against North Carolina, the Blue Devils were getting manhandled on the interior, but then Joel Berry II picked up his fourth foul, UNC’s transition game stalled and Duke took advantage, using a 29-9 run to win the game. On Saturday night, it was Amile Jefferson that prompted the change.

He stepped up and slowed down Bonzie Colson, who finished with 29 points. He stepped up and took away the ball-screen action that Notre Dame had been eviscerating the Blue Devils with. He stepped up and scored a series a big buckets in the post in the final 10 minutes.

And in those final ten minutes, Duke didn’t run one single play.

“The last ten minutes, we didn’t call a play, we just said you play, take ownership, and you could see out guys just make plays,” Coach K said. “When you give ownership to a team, they don’t get tired. Because they’re not playing for you.”

“They’re playing for them.”

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.