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No. 8 Virginia takes down No. 12 North Carolina

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Virginia continued its hot week by running past No. 12 North Carolina for a 61-49 ACC home win on Saturday. The No. 8 Cavaliers earned their sixth straight win and fifth consecutive home win against the Tar Heels with the win — which is easily their biggest of the season.

Senior guard Devon Hall paced Virginia with 16 points while DeAndre Hunter added 10 points as the Cavalier defense held North Carolina to under 50 points in back-to-back seasons.

Joel Berry II led North Carolina with 17 points as the Tar Heels never seemed to get going in dropping their second consecutive ACC games.

Here are three takeaways from this one

1. Virginia proved they’re a potential top-tier team after this week’s solid play

Entering the 2017-18 season, NBCSports.com ranked West Virginia in our preseason top 25. Virginia Tech just missed our cut.

We had Virginia picked to finish No. 6 in the ACC. With multiple top-five teams like Arizona State and Xavier losing this week, there’s a very real chance Virginia will be ranked No. 6 in the country next week.

I don’t normally feel inclined to speak on behalf of my colleagues. I’ll say it for all of us: we really screwed up in our projection of Virginia.  The Cavaliers have proven themselves to be pretty good. This week has been their biggest stretch of the season.

After blowing out in-state rival Virginia Tech on the road earlier this week, Virginia soundly outplayed North Carolina on Saturday, leading most of the game and dictating the methodical tempo that suits them so well. Helpless against Virginia’s No. 1-ranked defense (on KenPom), North Carolina’s offense looked out of sync.

Offensively, the Cavaliers created enough buckets off of turnovers — including two crowd-pleasing breakaway dunks off of steals in the first half — and had a balanced effort to still thoroughly beat the Tar Heels with only two double-figure scorers.

Before this week, Virginia had beaten Wisconsin, Vanderbilt and Boston College. Now, after convincing wins against back-to-back solid opponents, it’s time to take Virginia more seriously.

2. North Carolina will be fine despite back-to-back losses

Things have been a bit concerning in Chapel Hill recently. Not only has North Carolina dropped back-to-back ACC road games, but the Tar Heels also had to claw back to get past Wake Forest the game before that.

We’ve expressed a few times in the past that North Carolina is still trying to find its identity in the wake of last season’s national championship team. Senior point guard Joel Berry II is still the team’s heart-and-soul but junior Luke Maye (six points on 2-for-10 shooting) has cooled off a bit recently and a consistent third scorer still needs to emerge.

Thankfully for North Carolina, they have some time to figure this out. Only playing No. 25 Clemson as a ranked opponent until a game against Duke on Feb. 8, the Tar Heels don’t have a lot of top-flight competition to face over the next week weeks.

On the road, they get Bonzie Colson-less Notre Dame, Clemson and Virginia Tech. At home, North Carolina has Georgia Tech, Clemson, N.C. State, Pitt and Boston College. That’s a winnable group of games (while allowing for tweaks in the rotation) before a home stretch that includes two against Duke, Miami and road games at Louisville and Syracuse.

Things don’t look great for North Carolina right now. They also have to integrate Cameron Johnson more into the lineup after only five games so this team still has plenty of room to get better.

North Carolina doesn’t look like a great team right now. It also wouldn’t be smart to count them out.

3. Virginia has to improve on offense to be among the elites but there’s still time

One of the intriguing things about Virginia is how much this team can grow by the end of the season. Since so many of the members of this rotation are in new roles, there has been an adjustment period on the offensive end at times this season.

Sophomore Kyle Guy is living up to his former McDonald’s All-American status by leading the Cavaliers in scoring but he can still get better as the season goes on — particularly if others also step up and alleviate the attention that defenses are giving him.

Other players in the rotation like point guard Ty Jerome, wing De’Andre Hunter and big man Mamadi Diakite are also still in their first years of college basketball with room to grow. Senior Nigel Johnson is another new piece as a grad transfer still figuring out his role.

Already with the No. 1 defense in the country, if Virginia continues to get better on offense then their ceiling continues to expand. A high-floor team with the potential to get knocked out of a tournament-style setting on a cold-shooting day, Virginia enhances their chances of advancing deep into March with a more developed offensive attack.

I mean, have you seen Duke’s offense? At some point, the Cavaliers are going to have to score points. They’re also as effective as any team in the country at keeping games slow and at their tempo. But their offense still has to get better for the Cavaliers to be an elite team.

There’s still a few months left before March and a lot of time to get better. It’ll be fascinating to see if Virginia can improve its offense to hang with some of the big boys.

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.