New NCAA tourney format: shocking development?

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Shocked it is. 

The NCAA has announced the set-up for its 68-team field that will be unveiled on Selection Sunday in March 2011.  By now you know there will be two types of play-in games – dubbed the First Four.  The four lowest ranked teams (S-Curve 65-68) will pair up to play for 16-seeds in two regions.  The last four at-large teams will also be paired with the winners falling on a 10-12 seed line against a pre-determined opponent in the other two regions. 

Is it a good compromise?  Depends on your perspective.  If you want to improve opening-round TV ratings (and the NCAA just renegotiated its deal with CBS and Turner for broadcast rights) then matchups between the final at-large selections makes some sense.   More people would likely watch a Virginia Tech-Illinois game (two teams that just missed last year) than would watch three more pairings of lower-level conference champions.  That said, here’s why I’m shocked by the decision …

1) The NCAA must tell us its final four at-large selections – How many Selection Committee chairs have danced around this very question?  Despite a more open approach to the selection process in recent years, there remains a behind-closed-doors element to actual bracket development.   Only recently have we been privy to the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed and rankings of the other No. 1s.   Same for the final two teams on the S-curve who were paired in the 64-65 game.  Now, us fans will know exactly who the last four at-large teams are.  Didn’t think that would happen.  Will the actual S-curve rankings be next?

2) A team either deserves an at-large bid or it doesn’t – Selecting teams has been – and should be – the NCAA’s most important task.  As former Committee Chair C.M. Newton once noted … a team can play its way out of a bad seed, it can’t play it’s way out of not being selected.  But once a team is deemed worthy of an at-large bid, should that team then be told it’s not yet in the actual bracket?  Congratulations, you received an at-large bid.  All you have to do now is win one more game to play in the main tournament that starts on Thursday.  Of course, you can say the same thing for the automatic qualifiers, but that’s the rub of a 65 or 68-team field. 

Overall, a 68-team field is far better than a 96-team set-up.  And three at-large candidates who would otherwise miss the NCAA Tournament will now be playing in the newly touted First Round.  But the only way to create a bracket based on team rankings (s-curve) is to seed the field 1-68 and pair the lowest eight seeds with winners on the 16-seed line.  Doing that actually creates a stronger bracket because the 16-seeds would be more like 15-seeds – meaning a better chance for upsets and a stronger overall field.   Thought that was the goal.  Then again, when money talks people listen.  Even the NCAA and its member schools – who, by the way, shouldn’t complain if they are one of the at-large opening-round participants, because they could be at home.

Now it’s time to move on … an updated 68-team bracket projection (for fun and practice) on it’s way at Bracketville.  The NCAA Tournament will always be the most exciting three weeks in sports.  Have a different opinion?  Send a rebound.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.