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Four Takeaways from No. 21 Xavier’s win over No. 16 Baylor

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Xavier didn’t have the strongest night from senior All-American candidate Trevon Bluiett but the No. 21 Musketeers still had more than enough to race past No. 16 Baylor with a 76-63 win. Here are four takeaways from a very good win for Xavier (6-1) as they handed the Bears (5-1) their first loss of the season.

1. Xavier doesn’t need an A-game from Trevon Bluiett to beat a ranked opponent

Trevon Bluiett is one of the best players in college basketball. This has been documented by three seasons worth of evidence and numerous preseason All-American accolades.

But the most important takeaway from Xavier’s win over Baylor on Tuesday night was that they can still beat ranked opponents when Bluiett isn’t rolling as a scorer. Averaging 21 points per game entering the Baylor game, Bluiett only finished with 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting on Tuesday as he never seemed to get comfortable dealing with Baylor’s length and athleticism on the defensive end.

And for Xavier on this particular night? That turned out to be okay. J.P. Macura was red-hot in the first half (more on him in a minute) and others like Kaiser Gates and freshman Naji Marshall also stepped up in the scoring column to make up for the off-scoring night from Bluiett.

Gates, in particular, made some huge three-pointers, making it tough for Baylor to stick with its gameplan on the defensive end.

That’s a great sign for Xavier since they also feature a number of other role players who can step up on any given night. We’ve seen senior Sean O’Mara step up his post scoring at times and Tyrique Jones has also been a double-figure scorer plenty of times early this season.

Xavier doesn’t need all of its big guns to get going in order to win if their offense continues to be this balanced.

2. Baylor needs more offensive help for Manu Lecomte

While Baylor deserves credit for never giving up and sticking within striking distance for a good chunk of the game, their offense just didn’t have much help for senior guard Manu Lecomte.

Lecomte struggled to a 4-for-13 shooting night and finished with only 11 points as he had a difficult time adjusting to Xavier’s length and activity on the defensive end. Playing against long-armed opposing guards like Quentin Goodin, Lecomte struggled to hunt his own offense and passing over the top of the Musketeer defense also proved to be a difficult task.

And Baylor didn’t have many other answers to get points since Lecomte was struggling. Terry Maston had 15 first-half points for the Bears but he appeared to go down with an injury as he didn’t play for long stretches of the final frame. Xavier also had a solid plan to change looks against Baylor’s post offense, at times collapsing with doubles from unique angles and playing straight-up single coverage during other moments.

If Baylor wants to be one of the Big 12’s elite teams, they’ll need to address some of its offensive issues if Lecomte can’t get going. This won’t be the only game that Lecomte has to face long and athletic guards this season.

3. Xavier’s J.P. Macura seems to be playing to the level of his opponents.

It’s been a bizarre start to the season for Xavier senior guard J.P. Macura. One of the most intense players in the country, Macura has been really good against the Musketeers’ quality early-season opponents (Arizona State and Wisconsin) and really mediocre against lesser competition.

The Baylor game continued this early trend. Macura was clearly feeling it on the offensive end against the Bears, attacking the 2-3 zone from the free-throw line and also pulling up for some NBA-range three-pointers. Macura finished with 19 points and six rebounds.

Macura’s offensive outburst slowed down in the second half but his defensive intensity was still solid. He was a key on post doubles while getting deflections on the perimeter.

The major question becomes if Macura can sustain really good production every single game? Playing with such a fiery intensity can burn out some players within the ebb-and-flow of a long season or even, at times, within the same game. Macura is a senior, so he should have a good grasp on how to deal with his at-times boundless energy. But if Xavier wants to achieve its highest ceiling this season, they need Macura to play like this nearly every night.

If Macura plays like this and Bluiett is at his normal scoring pace then Xavier could be scary.

4. Xavier freshman Naji Marshall looked like he belonged

Xavier brought in another really solid freshman class this season and 6-foot-7 wing Naji Marshall looks like he could a key to the Musketeers’ season. Another long and active player on the defensive end and aggressive attacking the rack on the offensive end, Marshall struggled against Wisconsin two weeks ago. The freshman looked a lot more comfortable playing against Baylor.

Even facing unique defensive matchups like Bears center and rim protector Jo Lual-Acuil, Marshall was assertive, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds off the bench. Getting to the free-throw line six times, Marshall showed why he was a consensus top-75 recruit in his class.

While Marshall is at his best playing in the open floor when he can get a head of steam going to the rim, his versatility also gives Xavier some unique options when he’s in the lineup. Marshall still has to prove he can be consistent but he’s another versatile piece for Xavier. On a night when Xavier needed a little extra, Marshall stepped up as a much-needed additional scorer when Blueitt got off to a sluggish offensive start.

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.