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No. 3 Xavier beats Providence 84-74 for 1st Big East title

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CINCINNATI — Trevon Bluiett grabbed the scissors in his right hand, climbed the stepladder and started hacking at the net, grimacing as the threads refused to cut.

Finally, he had everything well in hand , just as he had so many times during his four-year career and Xavier’s breakthrough season.

The senior guard scored 23 points in his final game at the Cintas Center, and No. 3 Xavier never trailed while beating Providence 84-74 on Wednesday night to clinch at least a share of its first Big East championship.

The Musketeers (26-4, 14-3) can win it outright by beating DePaul on Saturday and end Villanova’s run of four straight regular season titles.

“It just shows that despite maybe from game to game we’re not at our absolute best, but we are the most consistent team,” coach Chris Mack said.

Bluiett will leave Xavier as its second all-time scorer. He made the game’s first basket on a driving layup, and finished off the Friars with a dunk and a pair of free throws in the final minute.

“We came out aggressively, especially Tre,” senior forward Sean O’Mara said.

The Musketeers sensed the enormity of the game at the outset, missing eight of their first 10 shots from beyond the arc, many of them uncontested. But they made the plays in the big moments, one of their traits as they’ve won a lot of close games and, now, a title.

“Being that it was one of our goals at the beginning of the season and now actually achieving our goal, it’s kind of unreal,” said Quentin Goodin, who added 18 points, one shy of his career high.

The league title was another major step in a record-setting season for Xavier. The Musketeers moved up to No. 3 for the first time this week. Their latest win matched the school record for victories in the regular season. And they got the best of one of only three teams to beat them this season.

Providence (18-12, 9-8) won 81-77 on Jan. 6 but couldn’t pull off the sweep after getting off to a slow start and getting into foul trouble. Top scorer Rodney Bullock fouled out with 4:42 left after managing only six points. Maliek White led with 15 points.

Xavier opened with a 21-8 run, but wasted chances to build on the fast start. Providence made 12 of its last 14 shots in the half, cutting the deficit to 40-37. Xavier found its touch to start the second half and made eight of its first 10, rebuilding the lead to 12 points. Providence never got closer than six the rest of the way.

The Friars had 17 turnovers that set up 22 of Xavier’s points.

“Those guys are playing for a No. 1 overall seed and a conference championship,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “You don’t have to play perfect, but you have to play well enough to have a chance to beat them.”

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars have a pair of wins over Top 5 teams this season for only the second time in their history, but couldn’t get a third. The Musketeers were No. 5 when they beat them in January. They also knocked off No. 3 Villanova 76-71 at Providence on Feb. 14. The Friars are 2-4 against ranked teams this season.

“I’d be excited to play them again, if we’re fortunate enough,” Cooley said.

Xavier: The Musketeers’ last conference title was 2011 in the Atlantic 10, where it won or shared nine regular season titles. When the buzzer sounded, the team gathered around a championship trophy at midcourt as confetti and streamers were shot off from the rafters. They then cut down the net in front of their bench.

SMILE

Xavier coach Chris Mack took a selfie with the fan-filled court behind him before cutting down the rest of the net.

SENIOR GOODBYES

Xavier honored seniors Bluiett, J.P. Macura, O’Mara, Kerem Kanter and Matt Singleton pregame.

T’d OFF

Providence’s Alpha Diallo got a foul for shoving Macura to the ground. They both got technicals when Macura got up and got in Diallo’s face and they exchanged words.

FOUL TROUBLE

Providence’s Kyron Cartwright picked up his third and fourth fouls 18 seconds apart with 15:22 left. Bullock got his fourth with 12:40 left, limiting two of the Friars’ top threats.

UP NEXT

Providence: Friars host St. John’s on Saturday. They opened Big East play by beating the Red Storm 94-72 on Dec. 28. The Friars will honor seniors Cartwright, Bullock, Jalen Lindsey and Tom Planek.

Xavier: Musketeers play at DePaul on Saturday. They beat the Blue Demons 77-72 at the Cintas Center on Dec. 30, Xavier’s seventh straight win in the series.

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.