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Duke’s stunning loss on Sunday proved one thing: The Blue Devils were flawed all along

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After everything that Duke had been through this season, between the injuries and the trips and the back surgeries, what did the Blue Devils in, what sent them back to Durham after the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, were the issues we all knew they had back in October.

And we all should have seen it coming.

Sunday’s second round loss wasn’t the result of an internal power struggle over whose team this is. It wasn’t the result of a lack of leadership. It wasn’t due to slow starts or missed time or freshmen inexperience.

Duke lost, quite simply, because their roster is — was — flawed, and the individual talent amongst their ranks was not enough to overcome it.

Duke didn’t get the stops that they needed to get, and the lack of a natural point guard on their roster was never more evident than when facing the athleticism, physicality and pressure provided by South Carolina, one of the nation’s elite defensive teams. The No. 7 seed Gamecocks scored 65 second half points and second-seeded Duke committed 18 turnovers in an 88-81 loss in Greenville in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The lack of a true point guard on the roster is not something that really had hurt Duke all that often the season, and it reached the point where that issue no longer seemed like a talking point with this team. There were times where their offense would get bogged down, like in each of the final three ACC tournament games that they played, but eventually Duke’s talent would take over. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski, at times, would opt for the ‘Do Him!’ offense: Instead of calling a set play, he’d get the ball into Jayson Tatum’s hands, or Luke Kennard’s hands, or Grayson Allen’s hands, and just let them go.

When there are three guys on your roster that can create a good shot out of nothing, sometimes the best thing a coach can do is to get out of their way and let them work.

That’s how Duke made all those crazy second half comebacks last week.

But that didn’t work against South Carolina. For the first time all season, Duke ran into a team whose perimeter players were good enough defensively that this ‘offense’ was never going to be effective. Allen finished with 20 points, but he was 5-for-13 from the floor and, playing as the primary ball-handler, finished with two assists and three turnovers. Tatum had 15 points and shot 6-for-12 from the field, but he had five turnovers and never looked comfortable going one-on-one, where he may be the best isolation scorer in the country. Kennard made one shot before fouling out.

“[South Carolina] played a heck of a game,” Krzyzewski said after the game. “That was the toughest defense we’ve played all year. Very physical.”

And without the presence of a true point guard on the roster, Duke didn’t really have another option, because whether they were facing South Carolina’s man-to-man or their matchup zone, running sets wasn’t working.

The bigger issue, however, was probably on the defensive end of the floor, where South Carolina scored 65 second half points, a higher total than the Gamecocks managed in nine games this season. They shot 71.4 percent from the floor in the second half, hitting 4-for-5 from three and 21-for-23 from the foul line. They made 18 of their first 24 shots in the second half.

Duke’s defense, which has been much maligned all year long, lived up to the precedent.

It didn’t hurt, either, that South Carolina was playing in front of a raucous, partisan crowd. The game was in Greenville, S.C., meaning that there wasn’t a shortage of Gamecock fans in the building. Once it became clear that South Carolina was in this thing, the fans wearing Garnet and Black were joined by those in Carolina Blue in rooting for the Blue Devils to bow out early.

And once the tide started to turn, once the crowd in Greenville started to get behind South Carolina, everyone watching on TV could see them start to feed off of that energy.

If Krzyzewski wasn’t happy about the NCAA’s decision to move the first round out of North Carolina before the weekend, I can’t imagine the angry phone voice mails Dan Gavitt is going to get from him tonight.

But I digress.

This weekend was, in a way, a perfectly fitting ending for Duke’s season. Every time we thought they were back, they’d go and lose to N.C. State or Syracuse. When we thought it was time to pull the plug on the hype train, they’d find a way to win games they didn’t have any business winning.

And when we all thought the East Region opened up for Duke after No. 1 overall seed Villanova got dropped by Wisconsin, the Blue Devils got steamrolled by a team that lost six of their last nine games before the start of the tournament. They gave up 88 points to a team that scored 86 points in a four-overtime home loss in February. They gave up 65 second half points to a team that scored fewer than that in ten games this season, winning five of them.

They couldn’t get stops when they needed to get stops.

They couldn’t run offense when they needed to run offense.

So while the legacy this team is going to leave is one of ‘What could have been?’, that’s probably wrong, because this team was less of an enigma than we realized.

They were super-talented, but Coach K had himself a flawed roster, one that lacked a defensive backbone and a true point guard.

Because of that, they were a team that we — I — overrated all along.

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

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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.