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Monday Overreactions: Should we be worried about San Diego State and Gonzaga?

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Udoka Azubuike, Kansas

Azubuike put together one of the most dominant performances I can ever remember seeing on Saturday against Baylor. He finished with 23 points points on 11-for-13 shooting, 19 boards and three blocks, but that really doesn’t entirely reflect the impact that he had on the game.

Offensively, it was obvious. The first time that Kansas and Baylor faced off, the Jayhawks were smothered by Baylor’s defense, as the Bears completely took away Doke by, essentially, double-teaming him before a pass was even made into the post. Kansas answered on Saturday by putting Doke in ball-screen after ball-screen after ball-screen, and his ability to be a vertical spacer was something that the Bears had no answer for.

But he was just as impactful defensively. Part of the reason that Baylor’s guards struggled as much as they did was because Doke has turned into maybe the best defensive five in the game. His ability to zone up against ball-screens — keeping the ball-handler from getting past him to the rim while being enough of a deterrent to defend against a pass to the roll man — neutered Baylor’s offense and allowed Kansas to keep control over this game for 40 minutes.

I’m not sure it will be enough to truly get Azubuike put into the conversation for National Player of the Yea —  or even for first-team All-American, not with Devon Dotson on his team — but it was certainly a statement.

Azubuike is as improved as anyone in college basketball even if the numbers don’t entirely show it, and Saturday was the day that the national finally realized it.

Dave Ommen’s latest bracketology can be found here. Rob Dauster’s Bubble Watch can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Ohio State Buckeyes

The Buckeyes are back!

On Sunday, Ohio State picked up what is probably their best win of the Big Ten season when they knocked off No. 7 Maryland in Columbus, 79-72. Ohio State is now 18-9 on the season and have won three of their last four and six of their last eight games. They are starting to look like the team that everyone thought was the best team in the country back in December.

We’ll see how long this lasts or if this is just a function of the Buckeyes getting a couple of games in a row at home, but if there was ever a time for a team to hit their stride, the last week of February would be it.

MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. SAN DIEGO STATE IS GOING TO BE JUST FINE

I’m not worried about San Diego State after the Aztecs lost to UNLV on Saturday.

I’m disappointed. In a season where the most interesting storyline seems to whether or not Kansas can win a national title with the FBI investigating, the NCAA bearing down and Snoop Dogg shooting fake money at dancers on stripper poles, I desperately wanted San Diego State to get into the NCAA tournament undefeated, blow through some East Coast juggernaut in Madison Square Garden and get to Atlanta with a shot at becoming the first team in 44 years to have a perfect season.

It would have been awesome.

But now that dream is dead, and T.J. Otzelberger killed it.

So that sucks.

But that doesn’t mean I’m worried about the Aztecs. This team is just as good now as they were before losing to the Rebels. UNLV has been one of the most improved teams in college basketball since conference play started. They caught fire early on a night where San Diego State, one of the best shooting teams in the country, didn’t actually start making shots until there were six minutes left in the game. They came out fired up and ready to make a statement on a night where the Aztecs, who have all-but locked up a No. 1 seed, celebrated their Mountain West regular season title by hanging a banner.

If anything, this was a pretty good wake-up call for the Aztecs. They got caught slipping, and while it cost them a chance at a perfect season, it might be just what they needed to actually win a national title.

And if you’re going to take a loss, it’s better to take it now than in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Ask Wichita State.

2. GONZAGA? THEY’RE GOING TO BE JUST FINE, TOO

Gonzaga also lost on Saturday, and while I’m not concerned about San Diego State, I’m even less worried about Gonzaga.

The Bulldogs went into the Marriott Center on Saturday, in front of 20,000 screaming fans and lost to a team that is quietly putting together the kind of a season that can get them into the five-seed conversation. We’ve conditioned ourselves to think that anytime the Zags lose, it’s a disaster because the WCC is the WCC, but this BYU team? …

3. BYU IS A TEAM THAT YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE IN MARCH

… This BYU team is different.

They are one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams. They have a pair of guards in T.J. Haws and Jake Toolson that have to be guarded out to 30 feet but are also capable of exploiting defenses that sell out to stop them with their passing ability. Mark Pope is one of the more underrated coaches in the country, and watching his team run offenses is so much fun, especially when they are playing in their own building.

And should I mention that Yoeli Childs is an absolute monster?

I’m not sure there is a better fit at the five for BYU than an athletic and strong 6-foot-10 center that can catch lobs, dominate defenders in the post 1-on-1 and even step out and knock down a three. There are definitely reasons to be concerned about this team making a run in the tournament — defense, mainly — but if they happen to have one of those nights, they can beat literally anyone in college basketball.

4. I HOPE YOU DIDN’T FORGET ABOUT PAYTON PRITCHARD

The Ducks fell out of the top spot in the Pac-12 this week thanks to a loss at Arizona State, and it feels somewhat like Payton Pritchard has fallen out of the national consciousness a little bit.

And that’s too bad.

Because he is an absolute killer that can take over a game in ways that 6-foot point guards shouldn’t be able to. On Saturday, he had 38 points and four assists in a 73-72 overtime win at Arizona. He was awesome. Again.

I don’t think I’d have him as the National Player of the Year at this point, but I do think that he is deserving of being in the conversation. And if there is one guy that can pull a Kemba or a Shabazz and lead a team to a national title out of nowhere, it’s him.

5. UCLA AND PROVIDENCE ARE GOING TO GET INTO THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

These are the two weirdest teams in the country.

UCLA lost to Hofstra and Fullerton at home before New Years, was sitting at 8-9 overall after starting Pac-12 play 1-3 and, as of today, is one game out of first place in the league title race. The Bruins swept the Mountain road trip and have now won nine of their last 11 games. They swept Colorado. They won at Arizona. And if they win out, they are guaranteed to win at least a share of the Pac-12 regular season title.

That’s wild.

Almost as wild as the fact that Providence might actually be able to get into the NCAA tournament after taking four Quad 3 and 4 losses during the non-conference season. They started out the year 11-10 overall, but after winning five of their last seven games, the Friars now have seven Quad 1 wins. In the last three weeks, they have won at Butler and at Marquette and beaten Creighton and Seton Hall at home.

I would expect nothing less from this roller coaster college basketball season than for these two programs to end up in the Sweet 16. I, for one, am here for it.

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.