Previewing your college hoops weekend

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Game of the Weekend: Sat. 1:30 pm: No. 16 Mississippi State @ No. 13 Florida

At the end of the day, the SEC is Kentucky and every body else. That’s not an insult directed at the rest of the league, the Wildcats are just that good. The battle for second place is where the intrigue is going to come into play and, at times, there have been four teams that have looked like they deserved that title. Mississippi State are two of them.

This is an interesting game for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, Florida is at their best when they play inside-out, getting Patric Young touches and allowing him to create opportunities for his talented perimeter players by drawing attention from the defense. But Young is playing on a bad ankle, one that has forced him to come off of the bench, and Mississippi State has one of the best front lines in the country. Arnett Moultrie has a legitimate shot to win SEC player of the year and Wendell Lewis and Renardo Sidney are both capable of posting double-doubles.

But the Gators will have the advantage in the back court. If they go four guards, they should be able to neutralize that size advantage by forcing MSU’s bigs — who aren’t the best defenders to begin with — to come out of defend on the perimeter. Dee Bost has been terrific defensively this year, but can Rodney Hood stay in front of a Mike Rosario or a Kenny Boynton?

I think that Florida pulls this game out. Mississippi State is inconsistent and will be playing on the road and I just think the mismatches end up benefitting Florida more than they do the Bulldogs.

Sat. 1:00 pm: West Virginia @ No. 4 Syracuse: I’m not sure anyone knows who the second best team in the Big East is. Some days, it looks like Georgetown. Others, it looks like UConn or Cincinnati. At one point, the Mountaineers looked like they were that team. And, at times, they probably still can be. But right now, the only place they are getting consistency from is Kevin Jones, who is probably the Big East’s player of the year at this point. Truck Bryant alternates between great and bad, Deniz Kilicli looks like he has the basketball IQ of a river otter and the rest of that team are freshmen. Which ‘Eers team shows up? Perhaps the bigger question, however, is whether or not Fab Melo plays.

Sat. 1:00 pm: Texas @ No. 7 Baylor: Baylor headed into last week with an undefeated record and a chance to solidify themselves, but that backfired. They got drilled by Kansas in the Phog and lost to Missouri at home. Texas is in the midst of that stretch right now, as they have Baylor and Missouri back to back. The Longhorns have dug themselves a bit of a hole, as they have lost four of their first seven Big 12 games. This is the kind of game they have to get if they want a shot at making the NCAA Tournament come Selection Sunday.

Sat. 2:00 pm: Middle Tennessee State @ Vanderbilt: There may not be a team in the country flying as far under the radar as Middle Tennessee State is right now. They are currently sitting at 20-2 overall with wins over Ole Miss, Belmont and UCLA. The Blue Raiders can play. But Vanderbilt has slowly turned into the team that they have the potential to be. The biggest change? On the defensive end, where the addition of Festus Ezeli has and completely changed the complexion of this group. But if they overlook MTSU, they will get upset.

Sat. 7:00 pm: Washington @ Arizona: Washington is starting to look like a team that could take control of the Pac-12. They certainly have the talent to. The issue with Washington has been consistency this season, especially on the road. Will they show up for this game? You’d think with the way that these two programs have performed over the last decade or so would make this into a bit of a rivalry game, one that the Huskies will be motivated for.

Sat. 8:00 pm: No. 21 Virginia @ North Carolina State: Florida State may have struggled early in the season, but after a blowout win over North Carolina and a win at Duke, its pretty safe to say that they are the third best team in the ACC. After that? The answer may like in the winner of this game. NC State, who currently sits at 4-2 in the league, got embarrassed by UNC on Thursday night and could really use a win. But UVA could as well. They needed a late run at home to knock off BC and bounce back from a loss at Virginia Tech.

Sat. 9:00 pm: No. 20 St. Mary’s @ BYU: St. Mary’s looks like they are ready to take control of the WCC regular season race. They are now more than halfway through league play and own a 9-0 record, winning the first matchup with both Gonzaga and BYU. But both of those games took place in Moraga, and while they were fairly dominating victories, its tough to put too much stock in them until the Gaels prove their ability on the road. They made a bit of a statement on Thursday night at Loyola, but the nation will take notice with a win over BYU.

Sat. 9:00 pm: Marshall @ Memphis: Memphis caught a break on Thursday. During an incident in the Tiger’s win over Rice on Wednesday, both Will Barton and Tarik Black left the bench and were subsequently tossed from the game. There was some speculation that they would get suspended for this game, but Marshall had no such luck. They also didn’t have any luck this week, as they lost at home to UAB and followed that up by booting Justin Coleman, a former top 50 recruit, off of the team. The Thundering Herd are currently sitting at 4-2 in the league, a game behind Memphis. Falling two games off the pace would be a tough thing to recover from.

Sun. 1:00 pm: No. 22 Michigan @ No. 3 Ohio State: This is the second best game of the weekend, and it also happens to be the most interesting matchup. For starters, the Wolverines are going to have to figure out a way to deal with Jared Sullinger. As good as Michigan is, they aren’t exactly loaded in their front court, particularly if Jon Horford doesn’t play. That’s not the only interesting matchup, however. Trey Burke has been arguably the biggest surprise freshman in the country, but he will be going up against one of the best on-ball defenders in the country in Aaron Craft. Throw in Michigan’s complicated and unique offensive attack and the quality of Ohio State’s defense (the best in the country), and this has all the making of a classic. Or a blowout.

Sun. 8:30 pm: Stanford @ Cal: The top of the Pac-12 is a disaster. Four teams are tied for first place at 6-2, including Cal, who many believe is the favorite to win the league. Stanford is currently sitting tied for second place at 5-3, but they’ve lost two in a row, both of which came on the road. With the way that the Pac-12 is starting to stack up, every game is going to matter if these teams end up wanting a shot at a league title or an at-large bid.

Who’s getting upset?: Sat. 2:00 pm: No. 5 Kansas @ Iowa State

Call me crazy. Go ahead. Do it. You might be right. Thomas Robinson is the best player in the country. Tyshawn Taylor is in the midst of one of those stretches that make Kansas fans believe he can be one of the best point guards in the country. Jeff Withey is blocking everything in sight. And in the process, the Jayhawks have not only climbed to the top of the Big 12 (a two game lead over both Baylor and Missouri), but to the top five of the national rankings. They are rightfully considered one of the best teams in the country.

But Iowa State has plenty of talent on their roster. As much of a matchup problem as Robinson is going to be for the Cyclones, Royce White is going to cause just as many problems for the Jayhawks. At 6’8″, 270 lb, he leads Fred Hoiberg’s team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks and can play power forward and the point. The key, however, isn’t going to be White. Its going to be Chris Babb, Chris Allen and Scott Christopherson. If they are hitting their threes, the Cyclones have a real chance.

Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 18 Marquette @ Villanova: The struggles of the Wildcats have been well documented, but they have been playing much better of late. They hung tough at Cincinnati and at Louisville. They knocked off Seton Hall and St. John’s as well. Over the last four games, Maalik Wayns has turned into exactly the kind of player we expected him to be when he enrolled. The Golden Eagles have gotten back on track after a rough patch in the middle of the season, but they also have a tendency to get off to slow starts. We all know how tough it is to win on the road in league play.

Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 1 Kentucky @ LSU: Yeah, I know. This is a stretch. But Kentucky has a habit of starting slow on the road. LSU, on the other hand, is a tough team to beat at home. They knocked off Marquette. They beat Ole Miss by 26. They beat Auburn (I know) in overtime (trust me, I know). The Tigers are a tough, gritty defensive team with a talented big man in Justin Hamilton. If the Wildcats come out half asleep again, the Tigers might be able to steal one.

Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 10 Georgetown @ Pitt: Pitt has had a very, very bad start to Big East play. That’s not a secret. But what also isn’t a secret is that they had been playing without Tray Woodall. Well, guess who is back? After struggling in his first game back against Louisville, Woodall had 17 points, nine assists, went 4-4 from three and committed just one turnover in Pitt’s first win in the league against Providence. Is that what the Panthers needed to jump start their season?

Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 12 San Diego State @ Colorado State: San Diego State is the best team in the Mountain West. They have a loaded perimeter attack and enough interior presence to hold their own. But Colorado State is a tough team. Where the Rams struggle, however, is on the road. At home, they have been tough. With the amount of travel that the Aztecs have logged this week, might those tired legs and hotel stays be catching up to them?

Mid-major matchup of the Weekend: Fri. 9:00 pm: Boston U. @ Stony Brook

The America East may be way on the national radar, but that doesn’t mean that a game between the two teams tied for first place is irrelevant. After dropping their opener to Vermont, BU has won seven straight games, including a 61-55 win over the Seawolves at home two weeks ago. The loss to BU is the only one that Stony Brook has suffered in league play, however. Keep an eye on Darryl Partin, who is averaging 19.8 ppg.

Fri. 7:00 pm: Fairfield @ Iona: Coming into the season, Fairfield and Iona were the two overwhelming favorites in the MAAC, but their seasons have gone in completely different directions. After a disappointing non-conference schedule, the Stags lost three straight games to start out league play. Iona? If they were capable of protecting an 18 point lead, they would be sitting at 9-0 in the conference with a two game lead on the pack. The truth of the matter is that these two teams have the most talent in the conference, which means that this should be quite an entertaining game.

Fri. 7:00 pm: No. 23 Harvard @ Yale: This game features one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend. Yale big man Greg Mangano has NBA aspirations and put up 26 points and 15 boards against Patric Young of Florida. But Harvard may have the best front line in the Ivy League with Keith Wright and Kyle Casey. Yale came into this season with a chip on their shoulder with everyone talking about Harvard and Princeton. Now is a chance to prove the doubters wrong.

Sat. 11:00 am: Ohio @ Ball State: If anyone can figure out what is going on in the MAC, feel free to share it with me. After starting the season out on fire, Ohio lost three of four in the middle of the year. They’ve bounced back with three straight wins, but still sit a game behind Akron in the eastern division. They happen to have the same record as Ball State, who is tied for first in the west.

Sat. 2:00 pm: Valparaiso @ Milwaukee: There are four teams sitting within a game at the top of the Horizon League, and these are two of them. The Panthers are at the end of the toughest portion of their schedule, going 1-2 against Youngstown State, Cleveland State and Butler. Valpo, on the other hand, lost their last game at Green Bay, dropping them a game off the pace. Depending on what happens in the Cleveland State game, the loser of this game could end up two games behind first place in the league standings.

Sat. 4:00 pm: VCU @ Georgia State: Georgia State started off league play strong, but they have trailed off of late, losing three of their last four games. VCU came into the season as one of the league favorites, and they have performed that way, sitting at 8-2 in conference play and just one game of the pace set by George Mason. One of those losses came to Georgia State in Richmond. Revenge?

Sat. 4:30 pm: Campbell @ UNC-Asheville: If you haven’t had a chance to see UNC-Asheville play, its worth it. With JP Primm and Matt Dickey, they have one of the most dynamic back courts at the mid-major level. Those two have carried the Bulldogs to first place in the Big South, but Campbell is in the mix. They are led by 6’4″ guard Darren White, a James Madison transfer that is averaging 18.6 ppg, but the guy you have to tune in to see is Eric Griffin, a high-flying, 6’8″ forward capable of some spectacular things on a basketball court.

Sat. 7:05 pm: Cleveland State @ Youngstown State: The Horizon is as muddled as any league in the country. How muddled? Cleveland State is currently sitting in first place in the league. Youngstown State is a game behind them and all alone in fourth place. The Vikings, who are my pick to win the league, won the first matchup between these two at Youngstown State. Will the Penguins get their revenge?

Sat. 8:00 pm: Denver @ Arkansas-Little Rock: Middle Tennessee State has a stranglehold on the eastern division of the Sun Belt, but the western division is wide open. Four of the six teams are within a game of first place. And who is in first place? Denver and UALR. The Pioneers had a strong non-conference schedule, including a win over St. Mary’s, while the Trojans struggled through the early part of the season. That all can be erased, however, with a strong showing in league play.

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
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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

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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.