Your Day One NCAA Tournament Preview

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Alright, you ready for some fun? This is actually about to go down today, so whether you’re on the fence about punting on your contribution to America’s economy and sitting on the couch all day, or just unsure when you must be in front of the TV, I’ve broken down the real day one of the 2011 NCAA Tournament for you.

From Kentucky to Kemba, Commodores to Monarchs, and a pair of Bruins – all you really need to know to schedule your day is below. Enjoy the drama, embrace the madness.

The “Skipping Class, Not Working Today” Session

  • Best Game: #13 Morehead State vs. #4 Louisville (1:40 EST; TBS) – It’s the sport’s most accomplished rebounder against a rugged and active Big East club.  If the Eagles are able to hang with the Cards, Kenneth Faried must exceed his 14.5 rebounds per game, and hope that a good chunk of them come on the offensive end. His team is only a 34 percent three-point shooting team, so it will need those second chance points to keep this close.
  • Lamest Game: #10 Penn State vs. #7 Temple (2:10; TNT) – Sure it’s some sort of Keystone State battle, but expect a low-scoring 40-minute grind. The Nittany Lions Talor Battle does have a flair for the dramatics, so wait to check in this one with just a few minutes remain.
  • Also check out: #9 Old Dominion vs. #8 Butler (12:40; truTV)- A friend told me yesterday that he was 65 percent certain the Monarchs would beat Pitt in round two. I’m not sure what that really means, but I do know that there is a zero percent chance of this happening if they can’t knock off last year’s national runners up. We get a great BracketBuster Weekend game here in mid-March.

The “Ducking Out Early…It’s St. Patrick’s Day!” Session

  • Best Game: #12 Richmond vs. #5 Vanderbilt (4:10 TBS) – Vanderbilt has fallen victim to the 4/5 seed upset for the past two tournaments, but this may be the year they flip the script on us. The Spiders are successful when their backcourt is hitting, but the Commodores John Jenkins is the can’t miss player of this game. He’s made five or more threes nine different times this season, and could single-handedly get his team to the next round.
  • Lamest Game(s): #16 UNC-Asheville vs. #1 Pittsburgh (3:10; truTV); #15 Northern Colorado vs. #2 San Diego State (4:40 TNT) –  Lopsided and non-threatening. Go run out and grab a sixer of your favorite Irish inspired adult beverage, you won’t need to keep tabs on these opening round match-ups.
  • Also check out: #13 Princeton vs. #4 Kentucky (2:45; CBS) – Big Blue Nation travels better than any fan base in the country, so expect as electric an atmosphere that an afternoon first round game can provide.

The “Over a Hungry Man TV Dinner” Session

  • Best Game (of the entire day) – #13 Belmont vs. #4 Wisconsin (7:27; truTV) – The sexiest Cinderella right now is the Bruins, so I’m not quite sure why this game has been relegated to an obscure cable outpost. With so many Belmont players expected to get run (11 average 10 minutes or more a game), head coach Rick Byrd will force the Badgers into a sprint, with quick hits and lots of shot attempts.
  • Lamest Game – #15 UCSB vs. #2 Florida (6:50; TBS) – The Gauchos underwhelmed this regular season, but managed to win the Big West and return to the tournament. Had they had a bit better showing than their 8-8 conference record, they may not have been stuck in this situation.
  • Also Check Out – Jimmer and Kemba  – Shame on the NCAA for scheduling the game’s two most captivating players, Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker, at the same time. Be sure to give a look over to CBS and TNT during this session to get a preview of  what could be the source of some excellent theater heading into the subsequent rounds.

The “Night Cap”

With the most eyes fixated on TVs, the NCAA will treat us to what should be four excellent match-ups, all with upset potential and rapid channel surfing before we either head to bed or head out for the evening.

Many are hoping Michigan State can discover that magic once again, but it could be all for naught if UCLA (9:20; TBS) can control the boards and force the Spartans into bad shots. Meanwhile, another preseason top three team looks to rectify a bumpy season, as Kansas State squares off against Utah State (9:57; truTV). You also get a DJ Kennedy-less St. John’s club against Gonzaga (9:45; CBS) and Missouri – Cincinnati (9:50; TNT), a game where the No. 11 Tigers are only getting a single point from Vegas. Sounds about even to me.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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.