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Scouting Final Four teams: How to beat Auburn

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NBC Sports spoke with a dozen coaches in the last two days to put together a scouting report for each of the teams in the Final Four. 

The coaches were granted anonymity in exchange for honesty. 

We started with Virginia. Up next, we have Auburn.

‘THEY WANT TO HOOP’

There may not be a team in the country that looks like they are playing a sloppier brand of basketball than Auburn, but that’s their wheelhouse. They practice that. They want to ugly-it-up because they know they can survive playing that way. 

“Auburn wants to run, defense into offense. We picked our spots with them, and we felt like we could go in transition, but off makes or if it got ragged, slow it down. F— with them. The more it’s like a pickup game for Auburn, the better it is. They thrive in that. Their kids, they just want to hoop.”

“There are three keys to beating Auburn: 1. No live-ball turnovers. 2. Defensive rebound, send four to the glass. 3. Guard the three point guard. The dilemma for us, we’re a good offensive rebounding team. We didn’t send two back all year long, that’s what we do. We take the risk crashing the glass, it was good for us.”

“For the first time all year, we sent two back. That’s because of the respect we had for them spraying that thing shooting it so well. [Jared] Harper and [Bryce] Brown, it’s buddy ball. [Harper] looks for [Brown] every time, and [Brown] is so dangerous catching and shooting in transition.”

“The transition game is lethal. They have multiple guys that can lead the break. Harper, Brown, [Samir] Daughty, [J’Von] McCormick all can lead the break. Anytime you don’t have to rely on one guy to lead the break that’s difficult to defend. They all can pull up in transition, and they are a really good one-pass-into-a-three team in transition.”

“Whoever is guarding Brown, he always needs to get back. Finding him is a big deal, whoever is guarding him, find him as quick as he can. You need to shadow him in transition, because it’s hard to put a shadow on the ball-handler with them because you don’t know who it’s going to be.”

“The key is that you must do is try and meet them early. When they get to halfcourt, be there. Get them to stop their momentum. If you’re just sitting back at the three point line, they’re going to put it on you, driving and forcing one guy to help and start moving it around.”

“They’re so dangerous because they create rotations when there is no rotation to be had. Between McCormick and Harper, they just feel the slightest sense of a defender helping. They know where to make passes, and they’re pinpoint passes, and they get the defense spinning. Once the defense is spinning, boom, boom, they get a three, then it’s a turnover and suddenly they’re on a run and you’re dead.”

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THE ULTIMATE GREEN LIGHT

Part of the reason that Pearl is able to get his guys to play as hard as they do is that they don’t get chewed out for taking bad shots or missing shots.

“Their players play with a great amount of confidence to be able to shoot it. Bruce [Pearl] doesn’t believe in bad shots. Every time they shoot he wants them to feel like they’re going in. He really encourages his guys to shoot, shoot, shoot. Even bad shots, there’s no hesitation, just fire. That puts a great amount of stress on the defense.”

“Anytime there are four or five guys that can shoot, it’s hard to defend. Even Horace Spencer. He’s a non-shooter and he’s shooting threes. At any point, they have five guys that will play with a heavy green-light to shoot the three-ball, and that’s just hard to defend.”

“They’re just so explosive, and they feed off of that energy.”

THE PRESS IS UNIQUE

Auburn actually leads the nation in defensive turnover percentage and steal percentage, and since they press, in your head you’re probably picturing Shaka Smart’s ‘Havoc’ or Bob Huggins’ ‘Press Virginia’, but that’s not what Auburn does.

“They’re known for turning you over, but when you break down the film, I’ve never seen anything like it. The press is a token press. Low risk, high reward. It drains the shot clock, it controls tempo, it gives a different look, but they’re just trying to capitalize on silly mistakes. Don’t be dumb, be organized and you’re fine.”

“But they are so quick, so athletic and have a unique ability to deny quite a few passes in the halfcourt. They can really deny and push you out. Then when the ball is dribbled, they have such quick hands. They scrape the ball when people drive, they really get into those driving lanes and you know they’re going to rake at it.”

“This is when they’re the best in transition. Off turnovers. They’re good off misses, they run off makes, they control tempo because they know when to push, they have multiple handlers, anyone can take the ball out. But when they turn you over? That’s when they make you pay.”

“They do a great job of switching, of playing with active hands and of post defense. They’re not huge, but they do a really good job of keeping posts out of the paint. There was a clip late in the Kentucky game, [Horace] Spencer was fronting P.J. [Washington] and they called a foul on Auburn, but P.J. was posting two-feet inside the three-point line. That’s how far out they push you.”

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LOSING OKEKE IS ENORMOUS

Chuma Okeke tore his ACL late in Auburn’s Sweet 16 win over North Carolina.

“Harper and Brown, that’s as good of a backcourt as you’re going to find in the country, but Okeke is their best player. He is extremely talented and a dominant player. Inside, outside, he was dominating games down the stretch of the season. He could run isos at the elbow. He could play on the wing. He could play in the post.”

“Teams inevitably have to think about switching vs. Auburn because of how they shoot, and Okeke could take advantage of that with post sets. Bruce runs flex motion, and they have plays to get Okeke the ball in the post, and they don’t get that with [Danjel] Purifoy or [Malik] Dunbar. [Austin] Wiley softens the blow a bit inside, but he’s a different player, and you aren’t switching with him or Spencer. [Anfernee] McLemore, he ain’t the same.”

“If I’m playing right now, I’m making Purifoy and Dunbar and McLemore beat me. I’m throwing everything at Harper and Brown and making it as tough as possible with those guys. They’re so cool. Harper is never, ever going to get rattled. He doesn’t have a weakness. He can shoot it, drive both directions, handsy defender. And Brown is such a momentum guy, he’s dancing with the ball and if he makes a couple, you’re dead. They can still beat anyone if they get it going.”

“But now you can focus more on Brown and Harper. Maybe you can take one of them away, face-guarding or whatever. Not as easy to do that when Okeke is out there. The other guys – Dunbar, Doughty, Purifoy – we were begging them to shoot a bunch of threes instead of the guards.”

THE BEST MATCHUP IS? AND THE WORST MATCHUP IS?

“Virginia is the worst. I have so much respect for how Tony plays. I know Texas Tech’s numbers are off the chart defensively, but UVA is so systematic. They’re not going to get wild, they stay true to who they are, to themselves more than anyone will.”

“The thing about Auburn is they make you matchup with them. And they’re so explosive they can beat anyone.”

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.