Weekend Preview: Baylor-Missouri headlines a weekend with some good hoops

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Game of the Weekend: Sat. 2:00 pm: No. 5 Missouri @ No. 3 Baylor

To know how important this game is, all you need to do is look at the numbers next to the names of these two teams. How often do two top five teams lock horns, especially when the loser of that game drops to two games out of the conference race? Hint: not that often.

But there is more to this matchup than simply have two of the best teams in the country going head to head. The contrast of styles in this game is simply fascinating. There may not be a team in the country with more length and athleticism in the country than Baylor. 6’11” Perry Jones III lines up at the four while either 6’9″ Quincy Miller or 6’10” Anthony Jones plays the three. Missouri, on the other hand, is one of the smallest teams in the country. It should be interesting to see how 6’6″ two-guard Kim English can match up with PJ3 or 6’3″ Marcus Demon handles Jones and/or Miller.

There are a couple of keys to this game. For Baylor, Pierre Jackson is going to be the deciding factor. A dynamic playmaker that has the ability to do some truly amazing things on a basketball court, Jackson has a tendency to try and take games over. He can do it, at times, but Baylor is much better when he embraces the role of being a playmaker. Against Missouri, with the kind of size advantage the Bears are going to have, Baylor is going to need Jackson to ignore the desire to try and out-gun Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon and, instead, focus on pounding the ball inside, allowing Baylor to take advantage of their size advantage.

Its quite obvious that Missouri is going to be firing up plenty of three pointers. The key, however, is going to be what kind of threes this group takes. Baylor plays a lot of zone, which means that the Tigers are going to have plenty of looks from the perimeter. But that zone is also going to open up lanes for penetration. If Missouri is willing to penetrate and kick — taking threes off of the catch instead off of the dribble — the Tigers should get plenty of open looks. If they settle for contested pull-up jumpers early in the shot clock, they could be in trouble.

I know the Tigers are on the road, but I’m buying into this team. I think that Phil Pressey is going to be impossible to keep out of the paint, and I believe both Denmon and English are due for big games.

Seven more games to watch:

Sat. 12:00 pm: Alabama @ No. 2 Kentucky: I saw Kentucky struggle to knock off Old Dominion at Mohegan Sun earlier this season, and I immediately made a mental note to circle this game on the calender. You see, the Monarchs pushed around the Wildcats in the paint, getting to the offensive glass and out-toughing a Kentucky team that looked like they wanted no part of the physical nature of the paint. Since that time, however, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have come a long way while the Crimson Tide have, more or less, fallen off the face of the earth. One thing to keep an eye on: JaMychal Green went out with what looked like a head injury midway through the second half as Vandy smoked Alabama on Thursday night. Will he be ready to go?

Sat. 12:00 pm: Purdue @ No. 9 Michigan State: Want to hear a wild stat? There are currently five teams tied atop the Big Ten with two losses. One of those teams is Michigan State. Another one is Purdue. There may not be a conference race that ends up being as wild as the Big Ten’s, if for no reason other than the fact that its near impossible to win on the road in that league. Michigan State has struggled of late, losing at Northwestern and at Michigan in their last two games. It should be fun to see Robbie Hummel and Draymond Green, two of the nation’s best seniors, go head-to-head.

Sat. 3:00 pm: Cincinnati @ West Virginia: Cincinnati has done two things this season: they’ve established themselves as the second best team in the Big East and they appear to have staked a claim on being the best road team in the country. They have won their past seven road games in Big East play, including their last two, which consists win at Georgetown and at UConn. It doesn’t get any easier for the Bearcats on Saturday as they head to Morgantown to take on the Mountaineers.

Sat. 4:00 pm: Florida State @ No. 4 Duke: This is going to be an interesting matchup for the Blue Devils because Florida State’s strength counteracts Duke’s weaknesses. The ‘Noles are as big and physical in the paint as anyone in the country — just ask North Carolina — and they have a tough defense that doesn’t allow penetration. Duke’s big men are not as big of an issue as many make them out to be, but the Blue Devils definitely have issues when they struggles to get penetration.

Sat. 6:00 pm: Marshall @ Southern Miss: Conference USA has become a four team race, with Marshall, USM, UCF and Memphis breaking away from the pack. You cannot lose your home games against the other top teams in the league if you want to win the conference.

Sat. 6:00 pm: Stanford @ Washington: This matchup was much more intriguing when I was going through the schedule on Thursday night before both of these teams lost. At the time, they were tied with Cal for first in the Pac-12 standings. Now? They’re tied for second. The Pac-12 is going to have a tough time convincing people that the conference deserves at-large bids. Both Stanford and Washington need to win games like this to try and separate themselves from the rest of the league.

Sat. 10:00 pm: New Mexico @ No. 20 UNLV: This may end up being the most important game of the weekend behind the Baylor-Missouri game. San Diego State has already knocked off both of these teams, meaning that the loser of this game is going to drop to two games behind the Aztecs in the Mountain West race. That two game lead becomes an even bigger issue when you consider that BYU’s departure means there are only 14, and not 16, league games this season.

Who’s getting upset?: Sat. 7:00 pm: No. 15 Mississippi State @ Vanderbilt

If anyone can give me any kind of read on either of these two teams, I’d love it. Because I got nothing. Mississippi State may just be the second most talented team in the conference behind Kentucky, but for whatever reason — Renardo Sidney’s inability to dominate, Dee Bost’s inconsistency, the youth on the roster, Rick Stansbury — the Bulldogs just have not been able to figure it out in league play. They lost fairly handily at Arkansas. They lost at Ole Miss, who is playing without Dundrecous Nelson. And now they travel to Vanderbilt.

Vandy is just as confusing. Without Festus Ezeli, the Commodores looked downright bad. They were losing to teams like Indiana State and Cleveland State and dropped all the way out of the top 25 despite having three first round picks on their roster. But with Ezeli, they are winning games and doing it in impressive fashion, blowing out both Alabama and Marquette on the road. Can they defend their home court against a good team in the league? Does this even qualify as an upset?

Three more teams on upset watch:

Sat. 2:00 pm: No. 19 Michigan @ Arkansas: I don’t know if Arkansas is going to win this game, but I do know this: there isn’t going to be a more intriguing matchup stylistically this season. Michigan likes to control pace, running complicated Princeton-esque sets and settling into a 1-3-1 zone at times. Arkansas? They have Mike Anderson as a head coach, meaning the Wolverines are going to be getting 40 Minutes of Hell.

Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 7 Kansas @ Texas: Winning on the road in league play is never an easy thing to do, and with the performance that the Jayhawks are coming off of against Baylor, its almost impossible to think that they won’t have a letdown during this game. This has been a pretty good rivalry ever since TJ Ford wore burnt orange, so you know the ‘Horns will be ready to play.

Sun. 2:00 pm: Wisconsin @ No. 25 Illinois: Winning on the road in the Big Ten has been a very difficult thing to do this season, but I’m just not ready to fully buy into Illinois yet. And that was before their loss at Penn State on Thursday. The only reason that they knocked off Ohio State was because Brandon Paul played one of the more ridiculous games I’ve ever seen. They lost to Penn State despite getting 35 points from Paul and Meyers Leonard. Not buying it.

Mid Major matchup of the weekend: Sat. 1:00 Xavier @ Dayton

Spare me, Xavier fans. I know you’re program isn’t a mid-major. But I like balance, and by putting this game down here, I can do eight, four and eight. Its pretty. Its balanced. It makes sense. Right? Right.

Anyway, this is a huge game in the Atlantic 10 race. The Musketeers have now won four straight games and look like they have finally refound whatever it was they lost in the brawl with Cincinnati. But Dayton is one of the best teams in this conference as well and play in one of the tougher venues to steal a win. They also have a talented back court star of their own in Kevin Dillard.

The key to this game is going to be Xavier’s ability to get the ball into the paint. The Muskies have the biggest front line in the conference and Dayton lost their best big man in Josh Benson. If they pound the ball inside and avoid getting into a shootout with Dillard, they should win this game.

Seven more games to keep an eye on:

Sat. 7:00 pm: St. Joe’s @ Penn: Big 5 games are always going to be fun, but the matchups in this game make it all the more interesting. Zack Rosen, Penn’s point guard, is one of the most underrated in the country, but the Hawks have a talented back court of their own with Carl Jones and Langston Galloway. That will be fun.

Sat. 8:00 pm: Old Dominion @ VCU: VCU managed to hang on against William & Mary meaning they are still right in the thick of a crowded CAA race. Old Dominion is leading the conference right now. VCU is a game behind. As an added bonus, Kent Bazemore and Brad Burgess may be the two best players in the conference.

Sat. 8:00 pm: South Dakota State @ North Dakota State: This is a huge game for SDSU. NDSU is 6-2 in Summit League play, sitting a game behind the Jackrabbits. But the Jackrabbits are sitting a game behind undefeated Oral Roberts. Losing this game would put them in a big hole in the Summit race.

Sat. 8:30 pm: Denver @ North Texas: Tony Mitchell getting eligible has changed the Mean Green’s team, but Denver runs a difficult system to prepare and has been as impressive as anyone in that conference. A loss for UNT drops them two back from the Sun Belt West pace.

Sat. 11:00 pm: LBSU @ UCSB: What isn’t there to like about this matchup? The two best teams in the Big West. The two best players in the Big West in Casper Ware and Orlando Johnson. I’d be willing to be there will be a large contingent of NBA scouts in attendance for this game.

Sun. 2:00 pm: Milwaukee @ Cleveland State: These are the two best teams in the Horizon. Cleveland State is my pick to win the league, mainly because I think their athleticism and pressure will end up being too much for the rest of the league to overcome. But the Panthers are a tough defensive team that really make it difficult for opponents to score.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

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

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

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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.