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Is Duke a great team that’s figuring things out or a bad team that’s been clutch?

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I think it’s time for us to have a conversation about No. 1 Duke.

The Blue Devils are, rightfully, the No. 1 team in the country.

They are undefeated on the season with wins over Michigan State, Florida and Texas as well as Wednesday night’s victory over Indiana in a raucous and rowdy Assembly Hall.

They’re 9-0 on the season, and two of the guys on their roster are going to be in the mix for All-American, if not National Player of the Year, come season’s end.

And yet, if you’ve watched these games, you’ve probably come away feeling a little unsure about this team. After all, they looked like the No. 1 team in the country for all of about 20 minutes during the PK-80, when they erased a 16-point second half deficit against Texas and a 17-point second half deficit against Florida.

They never really looked like a title challenger against Indiana, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, and it took an out-of-body experience from Grayson Allen for the Blue Devils to put away Michigan State.

I was joined by myself on Thursday to talk through everything Duke, from the travel to the defense to how much you can trust a team that seems to only win games late.

ME: In a vacuum, it’s hard to argue against just how impressive Duke’s wins are. Florida is a Final Four team. Michigan State can win a national title. Texas has shown second weekend upside. I don’t care how bad Indiana will be this season, getting a win in that arena and in that atmosphere in the first true road game for a team where eight of the nine rotation players are either freshmen or seldomly-used sophomores is not easy to do.

But the way Duke went about getting those wins is a major red flag. How can you trust a team that consistently digs themselves a hole? How can you trust a team that hasn’t proven they can defend for 40 minutes? It’s great that they’ve been able to flip a switch and turn into their best selves with five minutes left, but why can’t Coach K get them to play like that for 40 minutes instead of five minutes?

ALSO ME: Those are valid concerns, and I’m not sure that there is anyone saying they aren’t. But what you have to remember with this group is that they are young. They are inexperienced. There are some issues with depth that have yet to be addressed. Sometimes it takes freshmen a while to learn how to play at the college level and that’s what we’re seeing with Duke, except that they aren’t losing games while doing, at least not yet. Of course they’re not a finished product three weeks into the season, so I’m more pleased about the fact that they have guys that can find a way to win even when things aren’t going right than I am worried about how freshmen look like freshmen.

ME AGAIN: But have the freshmen really looked like freshmen? The four in the starting lineup are all averaging at least 12.8 points. Marvin Bagley III is putting up 22 and 11. Wendell Carter, the “other” freshman big man, is putting up 13 points, nine boards and 2.3 blocks a night. Trevon Duval is averaging 13 points and six assists despite the fact that he cannot shoot. Even Gary Trent Jr., who has probably had the most underwhelming start of any of the four, has made a habit of making critical, winning plays.

So who actually looks like a freshmen?

HELLO. IT’S ME: All of them, once you get past the counting stats.

BACK TO THE FIRST ME: So Marvin Bagley III, National Player of the Year front runner, is playing like a freshman? Are you off your meds?

ME NO. 2: Yes, but that’s neither here nor there.

Bagley has been dominant, there is no question about that, but acting like he’s played flawless basketball is kind of silly. He gets worn out during games, although some of that has to do with how hard Duke rides him. He was exhausted for long stretches against Indiana and decided that getting back in transition defense was optional. That’s what freshmen do. Veterans either get back or sub themselves out to get a breather.

And he’s not alone there. Duke’s man-to-man defense is a mess. Their zone isn’t all that much better. KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric ranks Duke as the nation’s 46th-best defense, but that isn’t telling the whole story. KenPom’s formula is still using some predictive elements from last season’s team, and if you look at Duke’s raw defensive numbers, they ranks 102nd in points-per-possession allowed. They don’t force turnovers and they don’t get defensive rebounds. That combination is less-than-ideal, and it’s the biggest reason the Blue Devils keep putting together these slow starts.

They can’t get stops. It happens with freshmen-laden teams.

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

ORIGINAL ME: And what is it about the way that Duke has defended over the course of the last four or five seasons that leads you to believe that they are going to be able to figure this thing out by the time March rolls around? Only once since 2011 has Duke finished as a top 25 defense, according to KenPom, and that came the year that they won the national title, when they entered the ACC tournament as a defense ranked outside the top 60.

OTHER ME: That certainly is a concern, but since the season started, tell me when Coach K has actually had a chance to regroup and find a way to fix what ails Duke.

I’ll wait.

They played nine games in 19 days. They’ve traveled to Chicago. They played three games in four days in Portland — including a title game that ended at 1 a.m. ET Monday morning — before heading to Bloomington for a Wednesday tip in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. When have they had the time to get on their practice court and solve their problems? They haven’t.

And that’s to say nothing of the fact that these kids have been run into the ground by now. Bagley played at last 38 minutes in each of the last three games. Allen played all 40 minutes in the last two games and like would have against Texas if he didn’t get into foul trouble. Duval has topped 35 minutes in each of the last four games. Other than Carter, who seems to be physically incapable of staying out of foul trouble, Trent is the starter getting the most rest and he’s still clocked more than 33 minutes a night over the course of the last four games.

I just don’t think you can truly judge them until they’re back onto a relatively normal schedule.

FIRST ME: I get that, but if the issue really was that they were exhausted, wouldn’t that mean that Duke died at the end of these hard-fought, competitive games? If their legs are shot, explain this stat: In the final five minutes (and overtime) of Duke’s last three games, the Blue Devils have held Texas, Florida and Indiana to a combined 5-for-25 shooting and outscored them 56-19.

At the end of games.

At the end of an insane two weeks of travel.

After their best players have played 30-35 minutes already that night.

And you’re going to try and tell me that the reason they start slow is that they are too tired? It’s too early to have started drinking.

(Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

FINAL ME: It’s never too early for that, but no, that’s not what I’m saying.

My point is that the way Duke’s first three weeks have played out makes it difficult to truly get a grasp on who they are. Maybe they are a bad defensive team that has been bailed out by the fact that their front line is utterly unstoppable. Maybe they’re a good defensive team that just has to spent a couple of days at practice tweaking what clearly hasn’t been working to date. We don’t actually have an answer yet.

And we won’t until their schedule normalizes.

But at the end of the day, this is a team with two potential all-americans, five or six potential NBA players and a 9-0 record with four impressive wins that they didn’t necessarily play well enough to get.

If they can overcome adversity while still trying to figure things out, if they’re learning lessons without taking losses, the only thing I keep asking myself is what this team will be if and when they do put it all together?

Scary, that’s what.

ME: Whatever. You’re still an idiot.

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.