Previewing your college hoops weekend

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UPSET ALERT

Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 4 Pitt @ St. John’s: The Big East is a heaping pile of similarity this season. Pitt has a two-game lead on Notre Dame, who holds a two-game cushion in second place. After that? There are eight — yes, eight! — teams with five or six losses, all fighting to earn the three and four seeds in the Big East Tournament and the subsequent double bye.

One of those eight teams is St. John’s, which is slowly creeping up seed lines in the mock brackets that are coming out. The biggest reason for the Johnnies’ ascent to hoops relevancy has been their ability to defend their home court. Georgetown, Notre Dame, Duke and UConn have fallen at the Garden. On Saturday, the Panthers try their hand at winning in the basketball Mecca.

Now, Pitt isn’t exactly a great matchup for St. John’s. The Panthers are a terrific offensive rebounding team, and their ability to clean up their own misses with second-chance points is why they are such an efficient offensive team. The Johnnies are tough and physical, but they haven’t proven to be a great team on the defensive glass. St. John’s also doesn’t match up that well on the offensive end of the floor. Pitt is not an elite team defensively in terms of efficiency, but a big reason is that the Panthers don’t gamble for a lot of steals. They don’t force turnovers. Instead, they play tough, quarter-court defense, force a tough shot and get the rebound. Offensive execution is key against the Panthers, and St. John’s is not exactly Notre Dame.

That said, the reason that I can see the Johnnies pulling another upset is their press. Steve Lavin has athletes at every position on the floor, and when they are active and aggressive that press can be lethal. Pitt is susceptible to being pressed. Neither Brad Wanamaker or Ashton Gibbs is a great ball handler, and Travon Woodall has the highest turnover percentage on the team.

If the press is effective, it negates Pitt’s advantages — offensive rebounding and a stalwart half court defense. Playing in front of a home crowd that is sure to be fired up, the Johnnies surely will be flying all over the court.

UPSET SPECIAL

Sat. 1:00 pm: No. 7 Notre Dame @ West Virginia: I am not yet convinced that the Irish are a great road team. And I know that Notre Dame beat Pitt on the road. But Notre Dame happens to match up incredibly well with the Panthers, and with their ‘burn’ offense, they continually give the Panthers trouble. West Virginia hasn’t been great this season, but when Denis Kilicli and Casey Mitchell are both playing well and guys like Kevin Jones and John Flowers are getting to the offensive glass, this is a good basketball team.

Sat. 1:45 pm: No. 2 Texas @ Nebraska: Nebraska has been a pesky team this season. They slow the game down, they defend, and they get to the defensive glass. The Huskers have knocked off Texas A&M this season and given Kansas and Missouri all they could handle on the road. No one in the country is playing better than Texas right now — especially on the defensive end of the floor — but I think that the Huskers matchup fairly well with the Longhorns.

Sat. 4:00 pm: Boston College @ No. 19 North Carolina: Two years ago, BC went into Chapel Hill and handed a North Carolina team we all thought had a chance to go undefeated their first loss of the season. This year the situation is quite different, as the 2011 Tar Heels are a far cry from the 2009 team. But Boston College is rated as the seventh best offensive team in the country, headlined by the ACC’s best guard that doesn’t play for Duke in Reggie Jackson. They are also the 256th best defense, which means that North Carolina will probably be able to score at will. The Eagles are fighting for their tournament lives, however, and a win like this on the road would do wonders for their profile. Will they play enough defense to win?

Sat. 6:00 pm: Washington @ No. 13 Arizona: Both Washington and Arizona handled their business of Thursday night, meaning that the Huskies, who are two games behind the Wildcats in the Pac-10 standings, will be playing to keep themselves in the Pac-10 regular season race. Washington’s struggles on the road are not a secret, but this team also has a lot of the same parts as last year’s team, which really came together down the stretch of the season. If they can find that magic again, Washington will be right back in the mix for a Pac-10 title.

Sat. 9:00 pm: No. 17 Texas A&M @ Oklahoma State: I am not a fan of Texas A&M. Don’t get me wrong, they are a solid basketball team, but they are not the 17th best team in the country. Oklahoma State is a team fighting for their tournament life, and they have also beaten everyone on their home court that is not a Longhorn.

BEST MATCHUPS

Fri. 9:00 pm: No. 12 UConn @ No. 16 Louisville: As we mentioned in the discussion of the St. John’s-Pitt game, the second tier of the Big East is as muddled as a mojito. Both the Cardinals and the Huskies are right in the middle of that mess, and both have a very good shot at earning one of the top four seeds in the Big East tournament. Back in January, Peyton Siva torched UConn down the stretch as the Cardinals beat the Huskies in double overtime on the road. But Kemba Walker also struggled a bit in that game, especially down the stretch, when he became a relative non-factor. Expect another game just as exciting.

Sat. 2:00 pm: Georgia @ Tennessee: Georgia is on the tournament ropes right now. They are 6-5 in the SEC with a number of close losses, including one that came on a Brian Williams buzzer beater in Athens last month. With road trips to Florida and Alabama left, the Bulldogs are legitimately looking at a situation where they could end up at 8-8 in the SEC. Tennessee is in a similar boat. They’ve been unable to close out close games all season long, and it resulted in some ugly losses during the non-conference season. The Vols have less breathing room than Georgia as result. This may be the most important bubble matchup of the day.

Sat. 5:00 pm: Vermont @ Charleston: In one of the more intriguing games of the BracketBusters weekend, the Catamounts, who have already clinched the America East title, head down to South Carolina to take of the Cougars, who currently have a comfortable two game cushion in the SoCon. Andrew Goudelock and Evan Fjeld are going to get the publicity heading into this one, but keep an eye on statsheet stuffer Brian Voelkel. A poor man’s Draymond Green, the 6’6″ freshman is averaging 6.6 ppg and a team high 9.9 rpg and 4.8 apg.

Sat. 7:00 pm: UNLV @ Colorado State: Right now, the MWC looks like a league that is only going to get two bids to the NCAA Tournament barring an upset in the conference tourney. But if someone is going to steal an at-large bid, in all likelihood it will be the winner of this game. UNLV has been a bit of a disappointment this season, as they are a team with a number of talented players that have not been able to put the pieces together. Colorado State may actually be exceeding expectations right now. The Rams have an excellent front court duo in Travis Franklin and Andy Ogide, who will be a tough matchup for the Rebels.

Sat. 9:00 pm: No. 24 Utah State @ No. 23 St. Mary’s: This is, by far, the most important game of BracketBusters weekend. Its also the only BracketBusters game that may actually have an effect on the NCAA Tournament field. Both the Aggies and the Gaels have impressive records, but neither of them have done it against quality competition. Utah State has only played two teams rated higher than 123rd in the RPI, losing to both Georgetown and BYU, while also losing to Idaho in a game that seriously damaged their at-large hopes. St. Mary’s has beaten St. John’s and Gonzaga, but their loss to San Diego on Wednesday night made this a must-win. This is an eliminator game — the loser is going to have to win their conference tournament to get in.

Sat. 9:00 pm: Illinois @ Michigan State: I doubt that anyone would have believed you if you said in the preseason that the loser of this game would be in serious danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State has looked better in their last two games, smoking Penn State at home before putting up a good fight in a loss at Ohio State. Illinois, on the other hand, has struggled through Big Ten play. Demetri McCamey looks like he is mailing in this season, and no one else on the team has been able to pick up the slack. Is it too early to call this an eliminator game as well?

Sun. 1:00 pm: No. 3 Ohio State @ No. 11 Purdue: Ohio State embarrassed Purdue in Columbus earlier this season, beating the Boilermakers by 23 points. But as we all know, home court is everything in college hoops, and Mackey Arena is as tough a place to play as you will find in the Big Ten. Purdue already avenged one loss this week, as they took care of business against Wisconsin on Tuesday. If they are to do the same against the Buckeyes, its going to fall on JaJuan Johnson’s shoulders. Can he defend Jared Sullinger in the post? Can he take advantage of the mismatch he will have at the other end of the floor?

BEST STORYLINES

Friday

  • 7:00 pm: VCU @ Wichita State: Both these teams have probably cost themselves a real shot at an at-large bid, but both the Rams and the Shockers are more than quality basketball teams, they are quality programs.

Saturday

  • 11:00 am: Hofstra @ Wright State: Charles Jenkins isn’t really a storyline, but he may be the best player in the country you’ve never watched. This game is on ESPN U. Change that.
  • 12:00 pm: No. 14 Villanova @ DePaul: The Wildcats will once again be without Corey Stokes, who is battling a turf toe injury.
  • 12:00 pm: Duquesne @ Dayton: The Flyers are talented enough to be a spoiler for Duquesne, who is second in the Atlantic 10 right now. But the Flyers are talented enough to win the league, and that hasn’t worked out.
  • 1:00 pm: Florida State @ Wake Forest: The Seminoles will be playing their first game without Chris Singleton. At least they get a chance to ease into it against Wake Forest.
  • 1:00 pm: Virginia Tech @ Virginia: The Hokies have won 13 of their last 16 games and Malcolm Delaney has started playing like last year’s Malcolm Delaney. If the Hokies don’t choke (which isn’t a guarantee) they should be dancing.
  • 1:45 pm: No. 21 Missouri @ Iowa State: Iowa State has a star in Diante Garrett and Missouri struggles on the road, but it will take some luck and hot shooting for the Cyclones to pull off this upset.
  • 2:00 pm: Colorado @ No. 1 Kansas: Kansas is coming off of an embarrassing, 84-68 loss to Kansas State where the red flags — maturity, leadership — of this team were exposed. It will be interesting to see how the Jayhawks bounce back.
  • 2:00 pm: No. 6 San Diego State @ Air Force: The Falcons have already outperformed expectations coming into the season. A win against SDSU would be an exclamation point.
  • 3:00 pm: Iona @ Liberty: Mike Glover vs. Eric Gordon’s brother?
  • 3:00 pm: Tulsa @ SMU: Who would have thought that in late February, these two teams would be one game out of the lead in Conference USA?
  • 4:00 pm: No. 18 Vanderbilt @ Auburn: Vandy might be the hottest team in the SEC, and I don’t think that the Tigers are going to be able to change that.
  • 4:00 pm: Rutgers @ No. 20 Syracuse: The Scarlet Knights are one of the toughest teams in the Big East. Unfortunately, they are lacking in the talent department. I’m not sure they have enough perimeter shooting to pull off this upset.
  • 4:00 pm: South Carolina @ No. 22 Kentucky: The Wildcats are as talented as any team in the country, and they play like it when they play at Rupp.
  • 4:00 pm: Oklahoma @ Kansas State: The Wildcat’s performance against Kansas on Monday was great, but they need to build on it going forward. It will be interesting to see what they can do against the Sooners.
  • 4:30 pm: No. 8 BYU @ TCU: TCU is reeling and playing without Ronnie Moss. Can the Horned Frogs contain The Jimmer?
  • 4:30 pm: Northwestern State @ McNeese State: First place in the Eastern division of the Southland Conference is on the line in this one.
  • 5:00 pm: Missouri State @ Valpo: Missouri State is currently tied for first in the MVC while Valpo is a half game behind Cleveland State in the Horizon. Neither will be getting an at-large bid, but both are capable of winning a game in the tournament.
  • 6:00 pm: UCF @ UAB: The Blazers are just a game behind Memphis in the C-USA standing, but they are without Cameron Moore the rest of the season. UCF snapped an eight game losing streak by winning two in a row. Can they stay hot?
  • 6:30 pm: Bethune-Cookman @ Hampton: First place in the MEAC is on the line.
  • 7:00 pm: No. 9 Georgetown @ South Florida: Last year, the Bulls went into the Verizon Center and knocked off the Hoyas. This year, there is no Dominique Jones.
  • 7:00 pm: George Mason @ Northern Iowa: The Panther haven’t been the same team since Lucas O’Rear got injured, but this game is worth the watch (ESPN2) simply because GMU is a legitimate contender to win a game in the tournament.
  • 8:00 pm: Texas Tech @ Baylor: The Bears are still trying to work their way into the NCAA Tournament field despite the fact that freshman Perry Jones may have played his way into the first pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
  • 9:00 pm: San Francisco @ Gonzaga: Thanks to St. Mary’s loss at San Diego, this game has all kinds of importance to the WCC race, as it will be for sole possession of second place in the league.
  • 9:00 pm: Seton Hall @ Marquette: The Golden Eagles have damn near played their way out of the NCAA Tournament. There is still time to turn it around, however.
  • 11:00 pm: Montana @ Long Beach State: Its cliche to say this, but since both of these teams are currently leading their conference, this could be a chance to watch two tournament teams. What else would you be doing this late on a Saturday night?

Sunday

  • 1:00 pm: Cleveland State @ Old Dominion: Old Dominion probably won’t gain that much by beating Cleveland State, but a loss at home to the Horizon leaders would end any chance of getting an at-large bid. As far as the Vikings are concerned, they have Norris Cole, who is worth watching for his play as much as his hi-top fade.
  • 2:00 pm: St. Joe’s @ No. 25 Temple: The A-10 was more fun when this rivalry game actually mattered.
  • 3:00 pm: St. Bonaventure @ Richmond: The Spiders have to win the A-10 tournament if they want to be dancing come Selection Sunday.
  • 3:30 pm: Clemson @ Miami FL: I don’t think that Clemson is going to be able to climb back into the bubble picture after losing to NC State on Thursday night.
  • 5:30 pm: NC State @ Maryland: The Terps may have also played their way out of the NCAA Tournament picture.
  • 6:00 pm: Penn State @ No. 10 Wisconsin: Penn State has a chance to play their way onto the bubble in the weak middle of the Big Ten, but doing so at Wisconsin is a tough task.

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.