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Underclassmen help Louisville string together wins


LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville’s title prospects appeared shaky 11 days ago following a third consecutive loss and a left ankle injury that sidelined leading scorer Deng Adel.

But the Cardinals (18-8, 8-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) are back in the race with consecutive blowouts of Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh after some lineup changes and impressive contributions from their underclassmen. Their goal now is maintaining that momentum over the final five regular season games that will determine seeding for next month’s conference tournament in Brooklyn, New York.

“Our confidence is high, it always has been,” said Louisville junior forward Ray Spalding, who has nursed a sprained ankle as well. “But now it’s more about paying attention to little things when it comes down to stretches of the basketball game that we didn’t pay attention to before. We’re doing a better job. We’re just staying after it.”

Louisville interim coach David Padgett said Friday that barring further setbacks, Adel “should be ready to go a little bit” on Saturday night against No. 14 North Carolina (20-7, 9-5). The junior forward/guard still leads the Cardinals with a per-game average of 15.5 points, but freshmen — including guard Darius Perry and forward Jordan Nwora and sophomore guard Ryan McMahon — have filled the void with some of their best performances this season.

“They’re always ready to come off the bench when their number is called,” Spalding said.

Nwora has 29 points the past two games behind 6-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. The 6-foot-2 Perry had a team-high seven assists in Sunday’s 94-60 rout of Pitt and has developed backcourt chemistry with senior Quentin Snider. Every contribution has been helpful as the Cardinals sought to regroup from their recent slump.

“It was a collective effort from a lot of guys to step up when we needed to and it helped us get two very good wins,” Padgett added.

That has been evident in Louisville’s tall, lengthy frontcourt, which has developed a strong inside presence with many combinations.

Senior 7-footer Anas Mahmoud has averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds in three starts after coming off the bench the previous 10 contests. Freshman Malik Williams, 6-11, has improved on defense. Despite being injured in a close loss to FSU, Spalding (11.4 points, 8.8 rebounds) has been one of the Cardinals’ most consistent performers on both ends of the floor.

Though Louisville’s wins have come against teams that are a combined 4-23 in league play, the Cardinals will take anything they can get after three defeats by 19 total points. Padgett is especially glad his team quickly regrouped to respectively limit the Yellow Jackets and Panthers to 36 percent and 35 percent shooting while forcing 33 combined turnovers.

“The most impressive thing I saw these last two games with Deng being out is nobody tried to do everything themselves in the absence of one of your better players,” the coach said.

“Guys came in and did what they did. Nobody tried to do anything that they can’t do, nobody tried to do anything that they shouldn’t do. They just played their roles.”

Louisville hopes its depth will help the Cardinals down the stretch, starting with the high-scoring Tar Heels.

Sandwiched between road games next week at No. 12 Duke and Virginia Tech and the regular season finale at North Carolina State the following weekend is a March 1 rematch with top-ranked Virginia, which is 6-1 against the Cardinals since they entered the ACC. A huge hurdle for sure, but one the Cardinals believe they can clear if everyone is involved.

“It’s five very difficult games, there’s no beating around the bush on that,” Padgett said, “but it’s five opportunities to give us a chance to get some really good wins.”

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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.