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No. 16 Kentucky lands largest win over Louisville since Pitino’s first season with Cards

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It was over before the first TV timeout of the second half.

Kentucky used a 36-16 surge to close the first half and opened the second half on a 26-9 run, opening up a lead that climbed as high as 32 points as the No. 16 Wildcats cruised to their most impressive win of the season, humiliating a beaten-down Louisville team with a 90-61 win.

The last time the Wildcats won by more than 20 points in this rivalry came back in 2001, exactly 16 years ago to the day, when the Cardinals lost 82-62 to No. 6 Kentucky in Rick Pitino’s first season as Louisville head coach and his first trip back to Rupp Arena since leaving Kentucky for the Boston Celtics.

Here are four things we can take away from that beatdown:

1. SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER PLAYED HIS BEST GAME TO DATE

I’ve been as hard on SGA this season as anyone for one, relatively simple reason: For a team that can struggle on the offensive end of the floor, he can be a limiting factor. He wasn’t on Friday afternoon, finishing with a career-high 24 points to go along with five boards, four assists and three steals off the bench. It wasn’t just in transition, either, which is where a lot of his offense has come from this year. He was beating Louisville defenders off the dribble. He showed an ability to navigate taller defenders in the paint. He was more than just a straight-line driver. He was terrific. I’m not sure how much more there is to add.

And that’s significant because he already is an excellent presence on the defensive end of the floor given his 6-foot-6 size, length and athleticism. We know what he provides on that end. It’s why he’s in the conversation as a potential first round pick whenever he does end up heading to the professional ranks. But to see him provide this kind of spark offensively? I think this raises the ceiling of what Kentucky can be for one, simple reason: Before today, I didn’t know if it was possible to close the gap between Kentucky’s best offensive five and their best defensive five.

Well … they did.

2. KENTUCKY’S DEFENSE WAS TERRIFIC

Prior to the start of the season, the big concern that everyone had with this Kentucky roster was on the offensive end of the floor. Would they be able to score efficiently enough and shoot consistently enough to be a Final Four contender? We had that concern because the general consensus was that, with the size and athleticism that John Calipari had at his disposal, he would find a way to make the Wildcats one of the nation’s best defensive teams.

That was not the case for the first six months of the season. While the Wildcats were good enough offensively – they entered Friday with the 27th-best offensive, according to KenPom, while shooting 36 percent from three and grabbing 37 percent of their own misses, all numbers that, in a vacuum, should be enough – they struggled on the defensive end of the floor. Virginia Tech put up 86 on them. UCLA put up 83. Even Vermont’s guards were able to torch the Wildcats in a game earlier this year, and it’s not like they overwhelmed the likes of Harvard, or Troy, or East Tennessee State.

On Friday, Kentucky’s defense looked like the defense we thought the Wildcats would be capable of playing this year. The Cards shot 34.8 percent from the floor, 3-for-25 from three and scored all of 0.91 points-per-possession, which included a flurry of offense once the game was decidedly in hand. Some of that, however, might have been due to Louisville being #notgood, but we’ll get to that in a second.

3. WILL LOUISVILLE MAKE THE NCAA TOURNAMENT?

This is a legitimate question that needs to be asked at this point. The Cardinals finished non-conference play at 10-3, and none of their losses are all that bad – at Purdue, at Kentucky, Seton Hall at home. All three of those teams have legitimate Final Four upside.

It is concerning that their best win in the non-conference came against a six-loss Indiana team that has been beaten at home by a combined 41 points by Fort Wayne and Indiana State, but what’s more concerning is that this Louisville team just does not look like they are good enough to collect the wins that they need to collect in order to put together a profile strong enough to get a tournament bid in the ACC.

Yes, this is recency bias rearing up, but you tell me, Louisville fans: Are you confident in your team’s ability to nick a win off of, say, Duke, or North Carolina, or Miami? What about Notre Dame? Or even someone like an 11-1 Clemson team?

4. ALL THIS SHOULD GO TO SHOW YOU JUST HOW GOOD OF A COACH RICK PITINO IS

Here’s something crazy that I remembered today: In the first iteration of the 2017-18 Preseason Top 25, the one that we released on the night of the national title game, when Donovan Mitchell was returning to school, Miles Bridges seemed like a one-and-done player and Marvin Bagley III was thinking about junior prom, the Cardinals were No. 1.

Let me repeat: Nine months ago, I thought Louisville would be the best team in college basketball this season.

Yes, losing a potential Rookie of the Year in the NBA changes a lot of things, but the Cardinals were still the No. 16 team in the preseason AP Poll even after everything they’ve gone through in the last two months. They still have players like Quentin Snider, Deng Adel, Anas Mahmoud, Ray Spalding and V.J. King, guys that were expected to play a major role regardless of who was their head coach.

Padgett was put into an impossible position and has performed about as well as you could have asked him to.

So maybe that should shed some light on why we keep referring to Pitino as one of the best to ever coach the game of basketball.

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.