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No. 1 seed Tar Heels aiming to remain dominant on the boards

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina coach Roy Williams has made it clear to his players for years.

When that ball goes up, the Tar Heels had better put a body on someone to box out or work to get inside position and tap a missed shot back up on the glass. And those wing players, well, they need to run in and chase down rebounds or risk earning a seat alongside their Hall of Fame coach.

That relentless approach made the Tar Heels the nation’s best rebounding team and helped them earn a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament’s South Region. It’s a key reason why they’re still alive, too, after surviving a scare to reach the Sweet 16 and face Butler on Friday in Memphis, Tennessee.

“It’s part of our job,” junior swingman Theo Pinson said. “It’s what we’re taught to do, and we need to do it.”

And no team has been this good at it in years.

North Carolina (29-7) leads the country in rebounding margin at plus-13.1, the highest average by a Division I team since Michigan State outrebounded opponents by more than 15 a game during a Final Four season in 2001. It touches everything the Tar Heels do, from snatching down a miss to secure a defensive stop, to the outlet pass that kickstarts their fast-paced offense and ultimately the work on the offensive boards that gives them extra chances around the rim.

“You’ve heard me say that a prospect came in one time and said, `I didn’t realize there was an 11th commandment: Thou shalt box out,”‘ Williams said in January. “But that’s the way I treat the game.”

This year’s Tar Heels lack the kind of dominant rebounder they had in Associated Press All-American Brice Johnson, who averaged 17.0 points and 10.4 rebounds during the Tar Heels’ run to last year’s NCAA championship game.

Six-foot-10 senior Kennedy Meeks leads UNC at 9.1 rebounds per game, but UNC gets plenty of production through its lineup; 6-9 senior Isaiah Hicks (5.7) and 6-11 freshman Tony Bradley Jr. (5.3) work inside, while the team’s perimeter length shows up with the 6-6 Pinson (4.4) and 6-8 Justin Jackson (4.7).

“I told them, gave them (Louisville coach) Rick Pitino’s old line about `Those guys aren’t walking back in that door,”‘ Williams said of losing Johnson and four-year starter Marcus Paige.

“So we started emphasizing it the first day: we’ve got to get rebounding from five people on the defensive boards. You hear us on the bench if sit close enough, all the time we’re screaming: `You’ve got to get to the boards.”‘

UNC’s work on the offensive glass stands out in particular, with Pitino noting in February that it was “an offense unto itself” and was “probably just as potent as anything they do.”

Consider: the Tar Heels lead the country in KenPom.com’s offensive rebounding percentage – a measure of possible offensive rebounds collected – at 42.2 percent. And that means the Tar Heels get roughly seven more shots per game than their opponents.

The Tar Heels have frustrated Williams at times by repeatedly batting the ball around on the glass – “all those volleyball times,” he called it – but failing to convert around the rim as efficiently as he would like.

Still, the Tar Heels average 17.6 second-chance points per game, roughly nine more than opponents. That includes Sunday, when Meeks tipped in Joel Berry II’s final-minute heave onto the backboard during a 12-0 game-closing run to rally past Arkansas 72-65 after flirting with a stunningly early exit.

“It’s a little different shooting the ball and not really feeling like, `We’re not going to get an offensive rebound,”‘ Jackson said. “But shooting the ball and knowing, `OK, we might have a chance of getting another possession or whatever,’ it gives you a little more confidence whenever you shoot it.

“For us, we have to continue to get on the offensive glass and try to dominate as much as possible in that area.”

No one has to tell Butler coach Chris Holtmann about the importance of slowing the Tar Heels on the boards. His Bulldogs (25-8) were outrebounded in their last three games before the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re going to have to rebound better because they rebound so well,” Holtmann said. “I think they’re the best offensive rebounding team in 10 years.”

 

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.