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Four Takeaways from Gonzaga’s win over Duke in Maui title game

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So much for all that undefeated talk.

Maybe now we can put that on Gonzaga?

(They’re not going undefeated, either. So please don’t.)

Rui Hachimura let the world know who he is while Brandon Clarke showed off what makes him such a valuable piece for Gonzaga as the Bulldogs put on a clinic in the first half before hanging on to beat Duke with their defense down the stretch.

It really was a phenomenal basketball game. Here are the four things we can take away from No. 3 Gonzaga’s thrilling, 89-87 win over No. 1 Duke:

1. GONZAGA WON THIS GAME WITH THEIR DEFENSE

It sounds weird that I am saying this after Gonzaga gave up 87 points on 72 possessions, but it’s true.

The Bulldogs literally did every thing they possibly could to give this game away. Their offense totally collapsed down the stretch. They missed four free throws in the final 30 seconds, a handful of layups in the final two minutes and allowed Duke’s ball pressure to create turnovers and bad shots that led to layups at the other end of the floor.

And Duke still couldn’t find a way to win.

A large part of this was due to some of their decision making in the final minute (we’ll get to that, believe me), but the credit must be given where the credit it due: Playing the most difficult team in the country to match up with, the Zags did about as well as you can hope for. Brandon Clarke battled through foul trouble to go be the switchable rim-protector we all knew he could be. Corey Kispert and Zach Norvell Jr. did a terrific job taking Cam Reddish out of this game. Gonzaga, as a team, spent 35 minutes playing really good, really fundamental gapping man-to-man, forcing Duke to settle for jumpers or drive headlong into traffic.

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The Zags are not a great defensive team, not yet anyway. Rui Hachimura has a long way to go as an on-ball defender despite his incredible athleticism. Josh Perkins and Norvell are tough and smart positionally even if they aren’t great individual defenders.

But the key here, for me, is that the Zags got the stops they needed to get, despite the foul trouble and despite some of the questionable individual defense.

Gonzaga’s ball-screen offense is a pleasure to watch. It is the reason that they were up by as many as 16 points on the Blue Devils on Wednesday nigh, and it will be the reason they have a lead like that on a lot of different teams this season.

It sure is comforting for Few, however, to know that he has a team that can gut out critical defensive possessions. They did it five times in a row in the final 90 seconds tonight.

2. RUI HACHIMURA IS WORTH ALL THE HYPE

Man, did he make some big plays on Wednesday.

The blocks in the final minutes. The bucket in the paint with the game tied at 87. The assist to Clarke when Duke cut the lead to 83-81. He finished with 20 points, six boards, five assists and three blocks, but I feel like his impact on this game was so much bigger than what the box score says. He was the one that made the plays that Gonzaga needed the most.

For a kid that is almost too nice, for a player that Gonzaga has repeatedly said does not realize just how good he actually is and can be, it was a big deal that, in the biggest and most high-profile game that he will play this side of March, Hachimura stepped up and took over when his team needed him to.

He needs to work on that jumper and he needs to master the particulars of being a good one-on-one defender, but he showed the kind of (ahem) intestinal fortitude that the best have on Wednesday.

That’s a helluva coming out party.

3. MARQUES BOLDEN CANNOT BE ON THE FLOOR AGAINST TEAMS THAT RUN BALL-SCREEN OFFENSE

Less than 24 hours after reminding everyone that he was, at one point in time, a top 15 prospect, Marques Bolden proceeded to remind us why we all had forgotten that he was once considered a one-and-done difference maker.

Simply put: He cannot be on the floor when Duke is playing a team that is a good ball-screen team. We saw it against Army, and we saw it tonight, as Josh Perkins — who has his flaws but is a terrific operator in ball-screen actions — tore Duke’s defense to shreds in the first 23 minutes of the game. It’s not much of a coincidence, then, that Bolden did not play in the final 17 minutes of this one.

The way that Duke wants to defend ball-screens is fairly straight forward given their personnel: They want to switch everything 1-through-4, but when the five is involved in the action, they want to ice it or drop it, and the five’s role in both of those coverages is the same. His job is to zone up between the dribbler and the screener, making sure the dribbler cannot turn the corner and get a head of steam to the rim while giving the guard defender time to get over the screen and back to his man.

It should look something like this:

That’s Javin DeLaurier at the five, and that’s not often what happens when Bolden is on the floor.

Here is a terrific example from the first half. Bolden ends up too far out on the perimeter and stays with Josh Perkins for far too long, so that when Perkins goes to reverse the ball and Zion Williamson — the help-man, or “tagger” — runs to Brandon Clarke, Filip Petrusev is left unguarded. Perkins finds him with a slick no-look pass as Bolden stands in no man’s land, defending no one:

There is a time and a place for Bolden to be effective. When he’s asked to be a rim-protector and a rebounder that brings energy, he can do that well. We saw it against Auburn.

If he’s going to be asked to defend ball-screen after ball-screen after ball-screen, Duke is not going to be able to play him if they want to get stops.

4. DUKE IS GOING TO RIDE-OR-DIE WITH R.J. BARRETT AS THEIR GO-TO GUY

Four times in the final minute of this game, Duke had possession with a chance to run something to get a shot to tie or take the lead.

Every time, Duke ran an iso for R.J. Barrett, looking to capitalize on a mismatch and get their star player going downhill.

Gonzaga knew this as well, and they made sure to clog the lane with helpers and have their best athlete — Brandon Clarke, who finished with six blocks even though it felt like he had six blocks in the last minute of the game — meet him at the rim.

They are going to ride or die with their star, and on Wednesday, they died with him.

Part of that is simple strategy: Duke’s halfcourt offense is based on finding mismatches and creating isolation situations. It’s not exactly a bad idea, either. How many people are staying in front of Barrett, or Zion, or Tre Jones? But part of it is also betting on your player to make the right play, and this is where the breakdown happened.

Simply put, Barrett did not make the right read. He did not give the ball up when he drew the defense. This is one example. I could have done this for all four of those final possessions:

Barrett wanted, and has probably earned, the chance to be the hero for Duke. With that comes the responsibility to not play hero-ball, and the right to be criticized when a selfish play is made.

If Barrett wants to be a point guard in the NBA, he has to be able to see that pass and make that pass. A DeLaurier dunk forces overtime. Instead, Duke is heading home.

(BONUS TAKEAWAY!) 5. THESE ARE THE NATION’S TWO BEST TEAMS

With all due respect to Virginia, and North Carolina, and Kansas, and whoever else thinks they have a shot at the title, these are the two teams that you are going to have to beat to do it.

Gonzaga should be the No. 1 team in the country on Monday morning. Frankly, I would probably still bet on Duke to win the title today, even with the eventual return of Killian Tillie.

Either way, I would love to see a rematch between these two teams in Minneapolis in April.

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.