Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

No. 5 Florida snaps losing streak, beats No. 17 Cincinnati

Leave a comment

NEWARK — Calling Florida desperate was probably too strong.

The Gators, who entered the week ranked No. 5 in the country, had lost three straight prior to their date with No. 17 Cincinnati in the Never Forget Classic. They had blown a 17-point lead in the final 10 minutes against then-No. 1 Duke. Then they lost by 17 points at home to arch-rival Florida State two days before they handed Loyola-Chicago their best win of the year – decade? – by allowing the Ramblers to waltz into the O-Dome and leave with a win.

Florida was on the verge of a crisis that was nipped in the bud on Saturday. The Gators got 21 points from Egor Koulechov while Chris Chiozza added 15 points and six assists, including the final six points of the game, as the Gators knocked off No. 17 Cincinnati, 66-60.

“We grew up a little bit tonight,” head coach Mike White said. “That’s the most amount of toughness we’ve shown.”

Toughness.

That was a common theme in Florida’s press conference. That’s what the Gators attributed their recent run of bad form. Toughness, or a lack of it, and not just the physical variety. Yes, they struggled to get the stops they needed to get on the defensive side of the ball, but they also struggled to run their offense the way it’s supposed to be run. They struggled to make shots they typically make. They settled for difficult shots instead of making the right pass for an easier look.

Most importantly, they failed to let the past be the past. Having a short memory is a gift for an athlete, and the Gators didn’t have the mental toughness to forget.

Or so they say.

“To be honest, a part of our shooting struggles has been overthinking,” White said. Florida entered Monday night’s matchup with the Seminoles shooting 46 percent from three while attempting 25 threes a night. In their two losses this week, Florida was 8-for-44 (18 percent) from three, including a horrid 2-for-19 performance against Loyola.

On Saturday, the Gators knocked down 6-of-15 threes they shot, and only attempted a single three in the first 10 minutes of the game.

“We just have so many people on the offensive end that can put the ball in the basket,” Chiozza said, and the majority of those players are at their best when they can operate in isolation. Koulechov, Jalen Hudson, KeVaughn Allen. Those guys are tough-shot makers, but the problem with being a tough-shot maker is that, by definition, tough-shots are not easy to make. Particularly when you’re struggling. “We talked about trying to get a good shot every possession. We have guys that can make tough shots, but we don’t want to have to rely on that. We really focused on not taking anything tough tonight, get the ball flowing around again. Moving the ball, getting great shots.”

“I thought tonight was more of a happy medium,” White added, and the benefits of that was that the Gators woke up on the defensive end.

The fact of the matter is that this is never going to be a great defensive team. They play four guards and they lack elite individual defenders at certain positions. This isn’t like last year’s Florida team, which was the second-best defense in the country, according to KenPom. They don’t have to be great, however, not with how explosive they can be offensively.

They just need to be active.

Intense.

Tough.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do defensively,” White said, but that wasn’t the story on Saturday. Florida tried a few different looks, doubling Cincinnati’s bigs – Gary Clark and Kyle Washington were both held to just eight field goals attempts – and trying to fluster Cincinnati, and it worked. Florida forced 21 turnovers on a night where Cincinnati had just four assists.

“I thought we were really scrappy, flying around,” White said. “I thought our rotations were really good, we got our hands on a bunch of passes.”

And that may be more promising than the improved three-point shooting.

As the saying goes, live by the three, die by the three, and Florida, at two different times this past week, died by the three. On Saturday, they beat the No. 17 team in the country, but for a team that averaged 11.5 made threes for the season’s first six games, they didn’t have to live by them.

Florida got enough good shots. They got enough rebounds. They got enough stops. They were tough enough, and that is a great sign moving forward.

This is not a top five team. They’re probably not a top ten team. But they are a team that can beat anyone in the country on their night, and they proved on Saturday that it doesn’t necessarily have to be their night for them to play with one of the best.

“It’s been a tough week for us, that’s not secret,” Koulechov said. “I thought we were really soft this past week, but we took a step forward today with that against a tough team.”

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

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
4 Comments

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
1 Comment

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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
7 Comments

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

Getty Images
4 Comments

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.