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Iowa State upsets No. 15 West Virginia as the Mountaineers could be in serious trouble

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Iowa State picked up a blowout win over No. 15 West Virginia on Wednesday night as the Cyclones used some “Hilton Magic” to earn a 93-77 Big 12 home win.

While Iowa State (12-9, 3-6) had a balanced scoring effort to earn its biggest win of the season — getting huge outings from guards Donovan Jackson (25 points) and Lindell Wigginton (22 points) — the real story in this one is the continued freefall of West Virginia after a promising start to the 2017-2018 season.

Ranked as the No. 2 team in the country three weeks ago, the Mountaineers started the season at 15-1 with a 4-0 mark in the Big 12. After another meltdown against the Cyclones on Wednesday, West Virginia (16-6, 5-4) has lost five of its last six games while playing in the nation’s deepest conference.

So what happened to West Virginia to cause its sudden reversal? Opponents are figuring out the vaunted press that head coach Bob Huggins has used so successfully over the past few years.

After scoring only 45 points total in an ugly home loss to Tennessee over the weekend, Iowa State put up 53 points on the Mountaineers in the first half after West Virginia struggled to force turnovers. Giving up eye-opening point totals during a 20-minute stretch has been a common trend for the Mountaineers during this recent skid.

West Virginia has blown three second-half, double-digit leads during that span. The second half of games, overall, has been abysmal for the Mountaineers in recent weeks. They allowed 50 points in the second half to Kentucky, 47 points to TCU and 43 points to Kansas — all of them losses. And keep in mind that this team was ranked No. 16 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, entering Wednesday night’s game. Defense and forcing turnovers is West Virginia’s identity.

The Iowa State first-half blitz is the outlier of that recent stretch, but it also shows that if a team is prepared to face West Virginia’s press then the Mountaineers are in serious trouble. The losses to Kentucky, TCU and Kansas all signified teams who made halftime adjustments and were able to put up serious points in a hurry once they figured out West Virginia’s first wave of defenders.

Iowa State didn’t even need a halftime break to beat the brakes off of West Virginia. The Cyclone backcourt of Jackson and Wigginton tore up the press and was good to go from the start.

That could be the main issue for West Virginia.

Now that we’re in the heart of conference play, teams in the Big 12 aren’t intimidated by “Press Virginia.” All of the Big 12’s coaches and players have faced the Mountaineers two-to-three times each season over the last few years. They know what to expect.

If a Big 12 team has strong guard play, and limits turnovers, like Iowa State did with only eight turnovers on Wednesday, then West Virginia is forced to create offense in the half court. That’s never been a strength for this group. As NBC colleague Rob Dauster noted, Mountaineer leading scorer Jevon Carter puts up more ridiculous shots than perhaps any All-American candidate in the country because West Virginia is so desperate for consistent half-court offense.

West Virginia is also still trying to effectively integrate Esa Ahmad back into the rotation since his return to the team. The second leading scorer and rebounder for the Mountaineers last season, Ahmad has looked visibly rusty since his return, as he went scoreless playing a combined 36 minutes in the losses to TCU and Kentucky.

A team that once looked like a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is now desperately trying to prevent themselves from falling out of the top 25 all in the course of a month. And it doesn’t get any easier for West Virginia from here. The four teams that beat the Mountaineers in the Big 12 all get another crack at West Virginia. Shaky on the road during some recent games, the Mountaineers also have plenty of games away from Morgantown.

Once regarded as one of the best teams in college hoops, West Virginia should still be safely in the Field of 68. But they certainly don’t look like the darkhorse Final Four team that some predicted.

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.