BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 16: Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats drives against Elijah Long #55 of the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers in the first half during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KeyBank Center on March 16, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Player Of The Year Power Rankings: What does Jalen Brunson have to do to catch Trae Young?

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1. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma
2. JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova

One of the assumptions that has been made in regards to the Player of the Year race is that there is no race.

Trae Young has had this thing done and dusted since he decided to start leading the nation in both scoring and assists.

And as of today, he is still in the lead. The absurd numbers that he is putting up combined with the incredible performances that he has produced in big games and big moments makes it hard to truly craft an argument that anyone is in the same realm as Young right now.

Which is why I’m going to dedicate today’s Power Rankings to a hypothetical: What does Jalen Brunson, who is my clear-cut No. 2 today, have to do in order to have a real chance at winning the National Player of the Year award.

The big thing that Brunson has to do is to hope that Young continues to come back to earth. The numbers that he has put up this season are absolutely mind-blowing, and if he continues to score and assist at this rate while Oklahoma continues to keep on winning games, it’s hard to imagine that anyone — Marvin Bagley III and Deandre Ayton included — would come close to being able to usurp him.

But there are signs that are pointing to Young slowing down as defenses begin to key entirely on him. Oklahoma has lost three of their last four games and four of their last seven — to be fair, each of those losses came on the road — while Young’s super-human levels of efficiency at his sky-high usage rate have started to look more in line with what we would expect to see. For example: His offensive rating, according to KenPom, is ten points lower in league play than it is over the entire season, and you don’t even need to see the advanced metrics to know that’s the case.

And Brunson?

What he’s doing on the offensive end, the efficiency that he is playing with, is similarly inhuman. It’s literally never been done before, not even close:

I think there may be a more important point to make here as well: Villanova is much better than Oklahoma.

I’d make the argument that Villanova is the best team in college basketball, and part of the reason for that is that Brunson makes full use of the weapons that are around him. Yes, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman and Phil Booth are better than Brady Manek, Christian James and Kristian Doolittle, but being on a team that is led by a point guard that is as good, as smart and as unselfish as Brunson has unquestionably made each of them better.

So let’s take a look into the future.

Young has 10 league games remaining, and five of them are on the road. KenPom currently has them projected to win seven of those ten games, but two of those wins are by one points: West Virginia at home and Baylor on the road. I would personally set the over/under for Oklahoma regular season wins at six, which would put them at 11-7 in the Big 12, which will likely put them in second or third place in the league and somewhere in the 15-20 range in the AP polls. Let’s say Young has as many Alabama games (17 points, eight assists, five turnovers, 6-for-17 shooting, vanishing act down the stretch) as he does TCU games (43 points, 11 boards, seven assists, dominant down the stretch) the rest of the way.

Would that be too much for Brunson to overcome if he keeps up with his production and Villanova wins the Big East outright? As it currently stands, Villanova has a one-game lead on Xavier and a two-game lead on everyone else in the league. Their four toughest games left on the schedule — at Providence, at Xavier, at Creighton, at Seton Hall — come in a five-game stretch over the course of 14 days. I think they’ll win at least two, and probably three, of those games.

And then there is this nugget: Brunson has played his best basketball this season against KenPom’s Tier A opponents, meaning games against top 50 competition, adjusted for home-or-away.

In theory, that would mean that Brunson will be better down the stretch than he has been to date.

So while I still think Young has a commanding lead, this race is far from over.

3. MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke
4. DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona
5. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas
6. JOCK LANDALE, Saint Mary’s
7. KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State
8. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
9. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier
10. KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech

ALSO CONSIDERED: MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova; MILES BRIDGES, Michigan State; KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech; TRA HOLDER, Arizona State; CHANDLER HUTCHISON, Boise State; CALEB MARTIN, Nevada; YANTE MATEN, Georgia; LUKE MAYE, North Carolina; SHAKE MILTON, SMU; ALLONZO TRIER, Arizona

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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.