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Defense will determine if this Texas season is a success

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AMES, Ia. — It’s the kind of cold that socks you right in the chest, takes your breath away and leaves you disoriented.

There’s no shaking it. There’s no escaping. The kind of cold that hit central Iowa on Monday, with temperatures as low as minus-20 and wind chills dipping below minus-30, is something that makes simply being borderline unbearable.

In a way, it’s the role model for what Texas wants its defense to be.

“Our team is trying to build a constant mindset of every single day,” junior Dylan Osetkowski said, “that we want to be the best defensive team in the nation.”

There were hints of that Monday when the Longhorns found respite from the frigid temperatures inside Hilton Coliseum, where they sent Iowa State shooting percentages plummeting as low as the mercury in a 74-70 overtime victory featuring little in the way of offensive beauty but plenty of defensive mettle.

“It just shows our fight,” point guard Matt Coleman said.“Just keep fighting. Stuff won’t go your way early, just find a way to win.”

It was a return to form for the Longhorns after Kansas gouged them for 92 points – 1.26 points-per-possession – last week in which the Jayhawks connected on 17 of 35 (48.6 percent) of their 3-pointers.

“I thought we were a step off,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said.

Texas’ defense was in lock-step against the Cyclones. Iowa State was never comfortable, never in rhythm and never productive for anything but spurts. The Longhorns held them to 36.8 percent shooting overall and 25.9 percent from 3-point range. These Cyclones don’t possess the high-octane offense of years past, but to keep them to .959 points per possession in their home gym – where Texas hadn’t won in 8 years – is no small feat.

“Did a really good job embracing our ego,” freshman center Mohamed Bamba said. “We knew how tough it was going to be to play here we haven’t won one year since 2010.

“We dominated the process going into it. The outcome is what we got.”

Bamba, a projected top-10 pick in June’s NBA draft, is as integral to Texas’ defensive stalwartness as anything. Even on a night where he struggled to contain Iowa State’s bigs and his coach said “he looked a little sluggish out there at time,” Bamba made an impact defensively, blocking four shots. His eight-foot wingspan has propelled him to a 16.8 block percentage, fifth-best in the nation.

The Longhorns now rank sixth nationally in adjusted defense, according to KenPom.com. Opponents are converting at just a 30.3 percent clip from 3-point range and 42.7 percent inside the arc. The defensive effective field goal percentage of 43.7 is 15th-best in the country.

Every little bit counts defensively for Texas. Largely because the offense is, well, not very good. It’s hard to have an effective and modern offense in 2018 when you’re shooting 29.2 percent from 3-point range as a team, as the Longhorns are. That’s a big reason they’re outside the top-100 in adjusted offense. Osetkowski abused Iowa State’s troubled pick-and-roll defense Monday to hit 7 of 13 from distance which inched his season shooting percentage from 3 just above 30, joining Andrew Jones (46.3) as the only Longhorn members of that club.

Winning ugly is as big a cliche as it is a reality for Texas as long as that shooting percentage stays low. The Longhorns, though, appear built to win games with shooting percentages only marginally less chilly than an Iowa winter.

“To come back and fight and battle after being down a few different times and then overtime, I thought we really followed the process,” Smart said. “We really systematic about following the plan of what we wanted to do. It wasn’t perfect. It’s usually not going to be. There some stuff left on the table that we want to get better at but I thought our guys did a good job down the stretch.

“The guys earned one. Road wins are hard to come by in this league especially when you’re playing in front of a raucous crowd like this this is a very very hard place to come in and win.”

Texas did it with defense, not much in the way of Havoc that ultimately got Smart the job in Austin, but something more conventional, though the Longhorns continue to create more turnovers each year under Smart. They’re probably not a contender to win the Big 12 and end Kansas’ 13-year run atop the conference this season, but Texas’ defense makes them an interesting follow the next few months. Especially if can continue to improve and keep offenses in a deep freeze into the spring.

“On about 60, 70 percent of the plays we were back to defending with the level of aggressiveness and urgency we needed,” Smart said Monday, “and then there was a third or a quarter where we weren’t aggressive enough.

“Obviously you don’t want to be at 60 or 70 percent. You want to be at 100 percent.”

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.