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The New Napiers: Who will be able to replicate Shabazz Napier’s 2014 title run?

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Shabazz Napier became an immortal figure in college basketball.

The former UConn point guard led the Huskies to a 2014 national title as a No. 7 seed.

And now that we know Kevin Ollie isn’t a very good coach, Napier’s heroics look even more impressive over time.

The All-American was a known player with an established track record entering the 2014 tournament.

His six-game stretch through March turned him a superstar who will likely be forever recognized.

He’s the standard-bearer for a lead guard who took over and won a tournament.

Even LeBron wanted to play with Napier after that run.

In our quest to find a new Napier, we only considered teams below No. 2 seeds — since Napier’s run wasn’t from a major title favorite. That means some talented guards like Joel Berry, Jalen Brunson, Devonte’ Graham and Carsen Edwards were left off this list. These New Napiers also need to be high-scoring, high-usage guards who consistently have the ball in their hands. Napier had four games of at least 22 points during his ridiculous six-game stretch. That means some great guards on balanced rosters were also left off this list.

The 2018 NCAA Tournament has plenty of potential Shabazz Napiers lurking in the shadows. Can any of them match the incredible run of 2014? Here are some schools with potentially new Napiers to keep an eye on.

Shabazz Napier (AP Photo)

KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: Before suffering a turf toe injury late in the regular seasons, Evans was looking like a potential first-team All-American for the Red Raiders. Although the injury slowed him down a little bit, Evans had a knack for making big plays and big shots during the regular season. He was the clutch player Texas Tech needed on many nights. A second-team NBCSports.com All-American, the senior had two big scoring outings in his last three games. That could be a sign that Evans is healthier and ready to go for the Big Dance.

JEVON CARTER, West Virginia: The engine that makes West Virginia go, Carter is the top defensive player on this list while also being a credible threat on offense. The NABC national Defensive Player of the Year last year, Carter has improved his offensive consistency during his senior season. Putting up 17.0 points, 6.6 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 steals per game, Carter was a third-team NBCSports.com All-American this season.

ROB GRAY, Houston: If Shea Serrano hops on the bandwagon, you’re probably doing something right. The Houston senior actually saw his scoring numbers dip this season but it was mostly because Gray became a more well-rounded perimeter threat. Still capable of dropping 30-point games on elite teams — Gray had 33 in an AAC semifinal win over Wichita State last week — Gray is a hard-nosed competitor on both ends of the floor. Don’t be fooled by the man bun. Gray will defend the length of the floor and knock down cold-blooded perimeter jumpers with a hand in his face.

COLLIN SEXTON, Alabama: We already saw Sexton put together a major run during the SEC Tournament. So we already know that he’s capable of carrying a team to victory over quality competition. Although the Crimson Tide fell short in the semifinals, Sexton’s scoring outbursts and ability to create for teammates was a huge storyline in St. Louis. Sexton might have single-handedly put Alabama into the tournament with two quality wins when they were squarely on the bubble to begin the week. Does Sexton have another ridiculous run in him these next few weeks? Enjoy watching this hyperactive freshman while you can before he becomes a lottery pick in June.

MARCUS FOSTER, Creighton: There aren’t many badder dudes on this list to begin with. And then you also factor that Foster and Creighton are facing Foster’s former school (and head coach that dismissed him) in the first round? Foster against Kansas State and Bruce Weber is a huge revenge game for the senior as he’ll get a chance at redemption after a promising start to his career in Manhattan. This season, Foster is putting up 20.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game during another great campaign. It will be fascinating to see if Foster and Creighton can win the first game against the Wildcats and use it as a springboard into the second round against No. 1 seed Virginia.

JAYLEN ADAMS (and Matt Mobley), St. Bonaventure: The First Four features a lot of dangerous guards who can take over and win a game. Since these teams are also in the First Four, they are flawed groups who likely need big performances from these guards to advance. Adams and Mobley, a pair of seniors, have the goods to deliver some wins. Both averaged over 37 minutes per game this season and both fill it up from all over the floor. The duo combines to average 38.3 points per game. Adams is the more likely to explode for a 40-point game thanks to his ridiculous 45 percent three-point shooting.

JAYLEN BARFORD (and Daryl Macon), Arkansas: Similar to St. Bonaventure, but locked in at a No. 7 seed, the Razorbacks are going to be relying a lot on this senior duo to make plays. Barford and Macon don’t need to play as many minutes or take as many shots as the St. Bonaventure duo, but they combine to put up 34.9 points per game while both of them shoot over 42 percent from three-point range. Since this duo also has an emerging big man in Daniel Gafford and another veteran guard in Anton Beard, they might not have to do as much by themselves as some others on this list.

KHADEEN CARRINGTON, Seton Hall: The Seton Hall senior is getting hot at just the right time. Carrington is already having a very good senior season. But over his last five games, he’s averaging 22.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game for the Pirates. That stretch included games against four NCAA tournament teams. Carrington is also an 83 percent free-throw shooter who would be among the Tournament’s more reliable closers. On a veteran team, Carrington could be a dangerous catalyst.

TRA HOLDER (and Shannon Evans), Arizona State: The first few weeks of the season were dominated by Arizona State and this senior backcourt duo. While the Sun Devils cooled off to the point of playing in the First Four and barely making the field — these two guards still have the potential to be lethal. Evans and Holder both fire up insane amounts of three-pointers, and if one, or both, get hot then it spells trouble for an opponent. The duo has also been through some cold stretches over the final months of the season, so they could just as easily help shoot Arizona State right out of the tournament.

AARON HOLIDAY, UCLA: The younger brother of Justin and Jrue Holiday feels like the most underrated All-American in the country — which is very odd considering he plays at UCLA and has NBA bloodlines. After being the nation’s best sixth man last year, Holiday has taken control from Lonzo Ball and put together a great year, averaging 20.3 points, 5.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game while shooting 43 percent from three. Holiday faces the St. Bonaventure duo of Adams and Mobley in a First Four game that you need to make a priority in your viewing schedule.

TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma: Probably the most obvious name on this list, Young took the basketball world by storm with his deep shooting range and monster numbers to open the year. Oklahoma was a top-ten team and looked like a potential top seed. Then teams started throwing crazy traps and schemes at Young and Oklahoma during Big 12 play.

The Sooners (and in some games, Young) responded poorly and faltered enough to barely get into this tournament as a No. 10 seed. But Young still led the nation in points and assists (as a freshman!) and he has the type of range nobody can match in this event. If he gets supernova-level hot, then who knows?

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.