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No. 1 Villanova once again smacks around No. 10 Xavier

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PHILADELPHIA – Phil Booth led the way with 21 points and four assists while Jalen Brunson chipped in with 17 points and five assists and Mikal Bridges added 15 points as No. 1 Villanova pasted No. 10 Xavier, 89-65.

Xavier joined the Big East prior to the 2013-14 season, and in the five trips that the Musketeers have made to Philadelphia, the closest they have managed to keep a game has been 13. They lost by 23 points the first time they played as league foes. They lost by 13 the following year, by 31 points the season in which the Wildcats won the national title and by 25 last season.

Wednesday night was more of the same.

Villanova was up 18-6 just six minutes into the game and never looked back. The Wildcats took a 12-point lead into the break and lead by 20 less than five minutes into the second half.

The only thing the Musketeers had going all night long was Kerem Kanter, who finished with a team-high 16 points.

Here are three things that we can takeaway from this game:

1. IF THERE WAS ANY CONCERN ABOUT VILLANOVA’S DEFENSE, THEY ERASED IT

The last two games that the Wildcats played prior to Wednesday night were somewhat worrying.

The issue was on the defensive end of the floor. The Wildcats gave up 101 points in their only loss of the season at Butler, a game that could somewhat be explained away by the Bulldogs making a ridiculous 15-for-22 from beyond the arc. But just a week later, Villanova gave up 90 points at Marquette, and that doesn’t even include the 85 points that Villanova gave up to DePaul in their Big East opener.

Prior to their blowout win over the Musketeers, Villanova was dead last in defensive efficiency in Big East play, according to KenPom.

Those doubts … well, they are no longer doubts, at least not in the moment. Xavier shot just 42 percent from the floor. They were 3-for-16 from three and turned the ball over 14 times. If you’re into the analytic angle, Xavier scored less than 1.0 points-per-possession, the first time Villanova held an opponent below that mark since Dec. 22nd.

And it’s probably worth noting here that, entering Wednesday, Xavier was ranked 13th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric.

“We’ve been struggling defensively,” head coach Jay Wright said, “and our guys really stepped up.”

The issue, according to Wright, has been complacency. It started on that Dec. 22nd game against Hofstra, and it continued into the start of Big East play. The problem? Villanova didn’t get in the practices they needed to in order to solve the problem. After the Hofstra game it was Christmas. Then they had to travel to Chicago to play DePaul. Next, they made a trip to Indianapolis on Dec. 30th.

“We saw it coming, we just didn’t have the time to practice,” Wright said.

It wasn’t until after the Butler game that they were able to take a week to really iron out some of the kinks, and the Wildcats still struggled with an admittedly awesome Marquette offense.

“We just kind of lost it,” Wright said. “We can’t just say, ‘OK, we’re going to play defense now’ when we haven’t been doing it or three weeks. You have to get back to your habits.”

“The older guys get it, a guy like [Dhamir] Cosby-Rountree or Omari [Spellman], even Donte [DiVincenzo], they’re looking at you like, ‘we scored 100, we’re winning, what’s the big deal?”

And that’s where Villanova’s veterans come in.

They’re the ones that set the tone in practice. Hell, they’re the ones that set the example for the entire program. The term that gets tossed around is “culture”, and the culture at Villanova is one for improvement and hard work even when the Wildcats are winning games.

That’s where Wright started.

“When we weren’t doing well defensively or rebounding, we didn’t focus on Omari or Dada,” he said. “We focused on Jalen, Phil and Mikal. They had to show those young guys how to do it first.”

They did.

And the result was the performance you saw Wednesday.

2. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN XAVIER AND VILLANOVA CAN BE SEEN IN THE SUPPORTING CAST

Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are the stars for Villanova, and while they got their numbers on Wednesday, they weren’t Wednesday’s stars.

Phil Booth was.

He scored 11 of Villanova’s first 18 points. He finished with 21 points and five assists. He was the spark for this team at the start of the game, the guy that led the run that buried Xavier before they were able to work their way into the game. We’ve seen nights where Donte DiVincenzo was that guy for Villanova. Omari Spellman has been that guy. Eric Paschall finished with 14 points on Wednesday and buried a pair of threes.

The blessing for Villanova is that Bridges and Brunson – especially Brunson – are annoyingly consistent. They don’t really have off nights.

Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura do, Xavier doesn’t necessarily have guys that can pick them up on those off-nights. Kerem Kanter was good on Wednesday, but he did most of his damage in the second half, once the lead was too big for Xavier to really have a shot at making a comeback; if Kanter was better defensively Chris Mack might have more confidence in using him when the game is on the line. Naji Marshall had 13 points, but that’s his second-highest scoring output of the season.

3. XAVIER NEEDS TREVON BLUIETT TO GET RIGHT

Bluiett is one of the best players in college basketball, but he has not played like it in the last month. In Xavier’s last eight games, he is shooting 34.2 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from three. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Xavier has lost twice during that span, needed to come back from 22 points down at home against East Tennessee and 16 points down at home against DePaul. They struggled at Northern Iowa, the MVC’s cellar-dweller, and barely held off Marshall at home.

Hell, when Xavier was blown out by Arizona State, Bluiett was 4-for-10 from the floor and finished with 11 points.

When he’s right, Xavier’s right.

And he has not been right for a while.

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.