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Top 16 Players of the Sweet 16

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After the mayhem of the opening weekend, the NCAA tournament is down to a sweet 16. We’ve already ranked the remaining teams, and in this space we’re going to rank some of the top players based upon who we’d want on our team.

1. Marvin Bagley III, Duke

Bagley’s in the running for being the top overall pick in this summer’s NBA Draft (should he decide to enter, of course), but there’s still business to attend to in the NCAA tournament. Averaging 21.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game on the season, Bagley shot 75.0 percent from the field and accounted for 22.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in wins over Iona and Rhode Island. With his size and athleticism Bagley’s a tough matchup for opposing defenses, and Syracuse will certainly account for his presence when the two teams meet Friday night.

2. Jalen Brunson, Villanova

Brunson’s opening weekend was a bit of a mixed bag, as foul trouble placed the national player of the year candidate on the bench for a significant portion of the first half in Villanova’s win over Alabama. Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges picked up the slack in that one, but there’s no denying the importance of Brunson. From his skill set, which affords Villanova the ability to play though its point guard in the post, to his intangibles there aren’t many players more valuable than Brunson.

3. Devonte’ Graham, Kansas

The Big 12 Player of the Year didn’t shoot the ball particularly well this past weekend, shooting 32.3 percent from the field and 7-for-19 from three. But Graham still managed to average 7.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game in wins over Penn and Seton Hall. Kansas will need Graham to shoot the ball better this week in Omaha, and he’s more than capable of rebounding in that regard while continuing to put his teammates in spots where they can be most successful.

4. Wendell Carter Jr., Duke

The 6-foot-10 freshman offers up a quality counter to Bagley in the Duke front court, as his presence in the post affords Bagley the freedom to play both inside and out. Last weekend Cater averaged 11.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, making ten of his 15 shots from the field. If there’s one thing Carter will need to change this week it would be getting to the foul line, as he attempted two total in the wins over Iona and Rhode Island.

5. Keenan Evans, Texas Tech

Remember when former North Carolina guard Marcus Paige received the nickname “Second Half Marcus” for his work in the game’s final 20 minutes? For as good as Evans has been throughout the season, his play in the second half of wins over Stephen F. Austin and Florida is a big reason why the Red Raiders are in the Sweet 16. After going off for 19 second-half points in Texas Tech’s win over SFA, Evans followed that up with 14 second-half points against Florida.

6. Mikal Bridges, Villanova

Throughout the course of the season Bridges has shown that he has the potential to be more than the “three and D” guy he’s been projected as at the next level. After putting up a respectable 13 points and six rebounds in the win over Radford, Bridges was even better against Alabama. The 6-foot-7 wing tallied 23 points on Saturday, with the majority of those coming during an early second half run that essentially served as the game’s “knockout blow.”

7. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky

After beginning the season as a reserve, Gilgeous-Alexander has developed into being Kentucky’s most indispensable player. The 6-foot-6 freshman was outstanding in wins over Davidson and Buffalo, averaging 23.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 3.5 steals per game. Gilgeous-Alexander shot 60.0 percent from the field in those games, making the sound decisions with the basketball that Kentucky needs if they’re to continue to advance.

8. Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Admittedly Edwards did not have his best weekend in Detroit, shooting a combined 8-for-29 from the field and 4-for-15 in wins over Cal-State Fullerton and Butler. But if Purdue is to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1980 Edwards will be key, especially with Isaac Haas dealing with a fractured right elbow. It can be argued that Edwards is Purdue’s most dynamic offensive talent, which will be key in the Boilermakers’ matchup with Texas Tech.

9. Jevon Carter, West Virginia

By now Carter’s defensive reputation is well-known, but don’t sleep on his offensive abilities either. In wins over Murray State and Marshall, the senior point guard shot 14-for-27 from the field and averaged 24.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.0 steals and 4.5 rebounds per game.

10. Gabe DeVoe, Clemson

DeVoe is one of the big reasons why Brad Brownell’s team has managed to not only withstand the season-ending injury suffered by Donte Grantham but reach the Sweet 16. DeVoe scored 22 points in both of the Tigers’ wins in San Diego (shooting 18-for-28 from the field), and in the blowout of 4-seed Auburn he also had five rebounds and five assists.

11. Tyler Davis, Texas A&M

Robert Williams may be the Aggies’ most-discussed player from an NBA Draft standpoint, but Davis is the team’s best front court offensive weapon. The 6-foot-10 junior followed up his 14-point, 15-rebound performance against Providence with 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in the win over North Carolina.

12. Caleb Martin, Nevada

Both Martin twins made big plays to ensure the Wolf Pack passage into the Sweet 16, but it’s Caleb who was named the Mountain West’s top newcomer and player of the year. Caleb Martin’s averaging 18.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game on the season, shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three.

13. Kevin Knox, Kentucky

The 6-foot-9 freshman certainly has his moments when instead of using his tools to make things happen offensively he settles, firing up tough shots. But there’s no denying the fact that Knox can put up points, as he did in scoring 25 points in Kentucky’s win over Davidson. With Kansas State’s perimeter attack able to get after opponents defensively, Kentucky will need a big game from Knox Thursday night.

14. Sagaba Konate, West Virginia

Why’s West Virginia able to get after opponents defensively in the open floor? A big reason for that is the presence of Konate, who’s done an exceptional job of protecting the rim. At 6-foot-8 Konate may not have the height that some would expect from an elite shot blocker, but he’s got the strength, timing and instincts to cover for his teammates when they’re beaten on the perimeter.

15. Zach Norvell Jr., Gonzaga

While some inexperienced players can shrink from the spotlight in high-pressure situations, others rise to the occasion. That’s exactly what Norvell did in wins over UNCG and Ohio State, with his three giving the Bulldogs the lead for good against the Spartans in the first round. Two days later Norvell found his groove shooting-wise, making six three pointers and scoring 28 points to go along with 12 rebounds and four assists.

16. Barry Brown, Kansas State

With first team All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade out due to a foot injury, Brown stepped up as Kansas State picked up wins over Creighton and UMBC. Brown scored 18 points in both of those games, and while the field goal percentage (37.0 percent) wasn’t great he did manage to go 15-for-18 from the foul line.

One player from each team not mentioned above: Terence Mann, Florida State; Clayton Custer, Loyola; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan; Tyus Battle, Syracuse.

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.