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Kansas tops West Virginia to win Big 12 tourney title

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Devonte Graham ripped off the shooting sleeve he was wearing and tossed it into the crowd, then took the two-time Big 12 defensive player of the year baseline for a pullup jumper.

Talk about unflappable.

Unstoppable, too.

The league’s player of the year finished with 18 points and 13 assists, most of them during the decisive second half, and Graham led ninth-ranked Kansas to an 81-70 victory over Jevon Carter and No. 18 West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament championship game Saturday night.

Malik Newman added 20 points on his way to tournament MVP, and freshman Silvio De Sousa had 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting in place of injured big man Udoka Azubuike, lifting the Jayhawks (27-7) to their 11th tournament title and a likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It was the second time in three years they’ve beaten West Virginia (24-10) for the championship.

“We just locked on and starting plays and kept competing, and it was just fun. It was fun to be out there,” Graham said with a smile. “It helped that we were able to make shots.”

Modest understatement there. The Jayhawks shot 72 percent from the field in the second half, and 56 percent for the game, while going 15 of 27 from beyond the 3-point arc.

“They have a lot of guys who can make shots,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “Let’s be honest, all of those guys out there, if they’re not McDonald’s All-Americans it’s because they’re from another country. They have good players and their guy can coach, you know?”

Daxter Miles Jr. hit five 3s and had 25 points to lead West Virginia, which has lost the last three Big 12 title games. Sagaba Konate added 18 points while Carter, the best defender in the league, finished with 17 points and nine assists.

West Virginia still has not won a postseason league tournament since the Big East in 2010.

“They just did a real good job of knocking down shots,” Carter said. “Seemed like every shot they put up, it went in. When we went cold, they kept hitting.”

The Mountaineers controlled most of the first half, picking and choosing when to employ their full-court press. And they caught a break when Mykhailiuk and Mitch Lightfoot picked up two fouls apiece, allowing Konate to score nearly at will in the paint.

Then the Mountaineers’ big fella picked up his second foul and took a seat on the bench.

The Jayhawks roared back to briefly tie the game, and trailed 34-33 at the break after De Sousa threw down an alley-oop dunk in transition in the closing seconds of the first half.

One of the hallmarks of Kansas over the years, especially under Bill Self, has been tenacious half-court defense — and the Mountaineers shredded it early in the second half. They scored their first eight possessions, and Miles’ layup gave them their biggest lead at 51-43 with 15:08 left.

From there, the game turned into a back-and-forth prizefight: Kansas scored 10 straight, West Virginia answered with eight in a row and the Jayhawks responded with 10 more.

“They got control of the game. We made a run. They got control in the second half, we made a run,” Self said, “and that was the difference. When they had a chance to distance themselves we got back in it, and we played almost flawless down the stretch.”

The Jayhawks’ last run was part of a larger 17-3 charge to finally take control.

Graham capped it with his fadeaway baseline jumper over Carter — after shedding a bit of clothes — and a 3-pointer from the wing that made it 73-66 with 3:49 to go.

West Virginia got it to 76-70 on Carter’s two free throws moments later, but Miles missed a 3-pointer and Carter missed a circus-style layup, then turned the ball over with a minute left.

That allowed the Jayhawks to seal their latest Big 12 championship from the foul line.

“We had open shots, didn’t make them. They had contested shots, made them,” Huggins said. “If they can do that for three weeks, they could win a national championship.”

MORE ON DOKE

Azubuike will be evaluated again Sunday, and Self expressed hope that he would be ready for the Jayhawks’ NCAA Tournament opener. The 7-foot sophomore hurt a ligament in his left knee during practice Tuesday, but he appeared to be moving well with a brace on before the game.

BIG PICTURE

West Virginia will be happy to play someone other than Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. Not only have the Mountaineers struggled against the Jayhawks in Kansas City, they were swept in the regular season — blowing a big second-half lead during the game in Lawrence.

Kansas got a big lift from De Sousa, who joined the team after graduating from high school in December. The 6-foot-9 forward grew by leaps and bounds during his time at Sprint Center, making the Jayhawks an even scarier proposition in next week’s NCAA Tournament.

UP NEXT

West Virginia and Kansas head home to rest before Selection Sunday. The Big 12 could get anywhere from five to nine teams into the dance, with the Jayhawks a likely No. 1 seed.

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

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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.