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Four things we learned from No. 3 Kansas knocking off No. 7 Kentucky

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CHICAGO — The second game of the Champions Classic wasn’t quite as “artistic” (using Bill Self’s words for the first game) as Duke’s statement win over Michigan State but the clash between college basketball bluebloods still showed us a few things about two intriguing top-ten teams.

1. Kansas needs more help for Devonte’ Graham when it comes to creating offense

One of the major issues for Kansas on Tuesday night was creating effective offense in the half court. Last season the Jayhawks could rely on Frank Mason, Devonte’ Graham, and to a lesser extent Josh Jackson, to create offense. This current Kansas group is lacking players who can create their own shot in the half court.

The numbers that Kansas put up on the offensive end on Tuesday indicated the struggle. The Jayhawks finished shooting 35 percent (24-for-68) from the floor while their three-point percentage (28 percent on 8-for-28) was even worse.

The length, athleticism and depth of Kentucky’s defense wearing down a team that effectively played only six players definitely had something to do with it. But Kansas looked like they really needed some help for Graham out there. There are only so many times that the preseason All-American floor general can run pick-and-roll with Udoka Azubuike. Especially since Azubuike seemed to be at his best when he could seal and score on post touches.

Malik Newman (4-for-14 shooting for 12 points) struggled to score over length at the rim as he was often trying to do too much on the offensive end. Newman is still a potentially lethal three-point shooter, if he gets hot, but he doesn’t look like a shot creator for himself or others in the half court at this current juncture. Newman really struggled scoring over length at the rim against Kentucky.

Svi Mykhailiuk (17 points) hit some momentum-shifting shots from the perimeter, but he also had an average night on the offensive end creating for himself as catch-and-shoot jumpers remain his most consistent mode of offense. Lagerald Vick might actually be the second best shot-creator for the Jayhawks at the moment. That’s not really saying much. Vick also struggled to a 4-for-13 night from the field.

It will certainly help the Kansas offense to get Arizona State transfer guard Sam Cunliffe at the semester break. Freshman forward Billy Preston is also a noted offensive threat, but Kansas has a long way to go if they’re going to be an effective offensive team. Let’s just keep it simple: Graham needs more help.

2. Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox looks like the real deal

We’ve grown to expect Kentucky freshmen to immediately contribute and become key players since John Calipari has masterfully worked the one-and-done recruiting landscape over the last decade.

There were also some serious questions as to whether freshman wing Kevin Knox, rated by some services as the best Kentucky freshman, could be an effective and potential go-to guy for the Wildcats. The 6-foot-7 Knox answered many of the those questions with his stellar play on Tuesday night. Knox buried three first-half three-pointers as he finished with a game-high 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting.

Consistent perimeter shooting was always a major question mark for Knox throughout his high school career. But a hot hand early for Kentucky was a pleasant surprise. Looking like he was ready to play in a huge spotlight game while other Kentucky freshmen struggled, Knox carried the Kentucky offense at times despite not getting nearly enough shot attempts until late in the game.

When Kentucky found themselves down by two points with 33 seconds left, they put the ball in Knox’s hands, letting him go to work as his tough runner along the baseline rimmed out. Even though Knox missed a tough and contested look, just the fact that he looked comfortable the ball in his hands in a critical spot is an important development for a young Kentucky team that needs a takeover guy.

While Knox’s perimeter shooting could ebb-and-flow at times this season, he certainly seems ready to play during big moments. The development of Knox as a potential go-to bucket-getter this season will be fascinating to watch.

Kevin Knox (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

3. Udoka Azubuike needs more post touches for a struggling Kansas offense

Kansas was completely overmatched on the interior in terms of sheer bodies on Tuesday night. That didn’t prevent sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike from having a very solid night for the Jayhawks.

Facing four or five different Kentucky big men, many of them former McDonald’s All-Americans, Azubuike finished with 13 points and eight rebounds on 5-for-5 shooting, severely outplaying his Wildcat counterparts.

Looking slimmer and more mobile than last season, the power-based Azubuike is still at his best when he can manhandle lesser opponents in the paint. Besides for the interior buckets, Azubuike was also effective as a screener while doing a great job of walling up on the defensive end without getting into severe foul trouble. This game would have been very ugly if Azubuike got in foul trouble. Thankfully, Azubuike did an admirable job of defending without fouling as the Jayhawks didn’t have a lot of size without Preston in the lineup.

For as good as Azubuike was, one of the big problems for Kansas was getting him enough effective opportunities to make plays in the post. It seemed like only Devonte’ Graham was doing a good job of working the ball inside for post touches as the other players on the floor for Kansas often hunted their own offense while basically ignoring their lone post target.

Azubuike is never going to be a major scorer commanding double teams based on his post skill. But his power post game is a major asset for a Kansas team that needs all the easy buckets they can get at this point in the season. If Kansas is struggling on offense like they did tonight, they need to get Azubuike more touches to put pressure on opposing defenses.

4. Kentucky’s depth will still create issues and keep them in games

Kansas wasn’t the only team to struggle on the offensive end on Tuesday.

Kentucky’s offense looked just as ugly as they shot 41 percent (23-for-55) from the field and 23 percent (3-for-13) from three-point range. Point-guard play was also an issue for Kentucky as they turned the ball over 18 times — including six alone from freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Despite all of the offensive issues and only one player on the roster, Kevin Knox, making a three-pointer, Kentucky still found themselves with a chance to tie or take the lead with under 30 seconds left against a top-five opponent.

It’s a testament to how Kentucky can still wear opponents down by throwing body-after-body at them in all facets of the game. The Wildcats were able to stay in this game in the second half by hitting the offensive glass hard and scoring whenever they could in transition.

Even with freshman big men Nick Richards and P.J. Washington combining for only one field goal and 11 combined rebounds in 37 total minutes, Kentucky was able to throw talented depth like Sacha Killeya-Jones and Wenyen Gabriel on the floor to give another look.

Killeya-Jones, who spent most of his freshman season stuck on the bench, was particularly solid for Kentucky as his length and perimeter shooting helped the Wildcats. Finishing with eight points and nine rebounds, while blocking three shots, Killeya-Jones looked like another intriguing development for Kentucky to come out of this game.

It’s part of what makes Kentucky so dangerous. It’s a collective group with a lot of promise and potential that is still figuring everything out, and yet, they’re still staying close against a top-five team like Kansas. Like many Calipari one-and-done operations, we probably won’t understand Kentucky’s identity or personnel until the calendar rolls over into the new year.

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.