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Best Bets: Previewing Michigan-Louisville and Michigan State-Duke


No. 4 MICHIGAN at No. 1 LOUISVILLE, 7:30 p.m. ET

  • SPREAD: Louisville (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 140
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Louisville 72.75, Michigan 67.25
  • KENPOM: Louisville 72, Michigan 64
  • TICKETS: Click here

Before we get into the actual basketball, we have to tackle the narratives.

Because there are quite a few.

For starters, this is a battle of top five teams in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but we all expected the top five show down to be the game that is being played later. So that’s fun, almost as fun as the new No. 1 team in the country – Louisville – taking on the team that was the trendy pick to receive that honor after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis – Michigan. And that is before you get into the stuff that doesn’t involve both teams: Like Chris Mack getting Louisville back to a No. 1 ranking in a year and a half, or Juwan Howard coaching the biggest game of his Wolverine tenure less than a month in.

This is what sports talk radio dreams of.

And then there is the actual matchup itself, which is even more interesting.

For me, the guy that nerds out about this stuff, the key to this game is going to come down to two things, and both involve Zavier Simpson.

Let’s start with the offensive side of the ball for Michigan, where Howard has really not changed all that much in terms of what Michigan does. He’s added some of his own wrinkles and flavor into the Michigan offense, but the truth is that the Wolverines are still one of the most ball-screen reliant teams in college basketball, and they are still running quite a few of the same sets that Beilein brought with him to Ann Arbor.

And they are great at this. I’ve mentioned it over and over again in the last week. Simpson and Jon Teske are both really good at what they are asked to do in ball-screens, and when you surround them with guys that are making 50 percent of their threes … good luck.

Where this gets interesting is that Chris Mack is, along with Tony Bennett and Sean Miller, one of the foremost proponents of the Pack-Line Defense in college basketball, and one of the tenets of the Pack-Line is hedging ball-screens hard. This is, in theory, the exact opposite of the way you want to defend someone like Simpson, whose shooting is not exactly a strength but who is an exceptional passer. We’ll see how that plays out.

On the other side of the ball, the biggest question mark for the Cardinals this season is and always has been the point guard spot. Freshman David Johnson is back, but he’s playing limited minutes, which means that it is still Darius Perry leading the way with Fresh Kimble working as his primary backup. None of that is ideal when going up against an on-ball defender like Simpson, especially when Michigan is one of the teams in the country that can match up with both Louisville’s size and athleticism.

Another key: The matchup at the four. Isaiah Livers is bigger, strong and more athletic than Jordan Nwora, but Nwora has beaten guys that are bigger, stronger and more athletic before.

But to be frank, at this point in the year, I think that a lot of that matchup stuff can be thrown out the window. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in college basketball and he has a staff that can tweak what they do to tailer it to a specific game-plan.

And while I think Michigan is the best team in the country, they did play three games in three days over the Thanksgiving holiday, and after flying home from the Bahamas have to turn around and fly into Louisville. That’s strenuous.

PICK: This line opened at Michigan (+7) and is already down to Michigan (+5.5) as of this writing. It will be interesting to see where it ends up closing. I would probably lean Michigan (+5.5).

No. 10 DUKE at No. 11 MICHIGAN STATE, 9:30 p.m. ET

  • SPREAD: Michigan State (-6)
  • TOTAL: 146.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 76.25, Duke 70.25
  • KENPOM: Michigan State 75, Duke 70
  • TICKETS: Click here

I think that Michigan State should be able to win pretty easily here, and there are a couple of reasons for that.

Michigan State runs a ton of ball-screens, and Duke has struggled to defend those actions this year, especially against Stephen F. Austin. Michigan State has the size inside to deal with Vernon Carey. Duke does not have the shooting to spread them out the way that Virginia Tech did.

But the biggest concern for Michigan State here is not how they matchup with Duke, it’s whether or not Tom Izzo will buy into the way they need to play if they want to be at their best. Duke is, at the very least, going to try and spread them out, and if Izzo insists on playing Thomas Kithier, Julian Marble and Marcus Bingham at the four, I think he’ll be playing a suboptimal lineup. For my money, Michigan State’s best five will have Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry on the floor with two of Rocket Watts, Kyle Ahrens and Gabe Brown.

We’ll see how often we see that group.

PICK: Michigan State has already gone from (-5) to (-6). Get it as quick as possible.

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.