Could the Big Ten place nine teams in the Big Dance?

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source: AP

Kentucky and Syracuse remain No. 1 and No. 2 on the s-curve in this week’s bracket.  That scenario may not change when the actual Field of 68 is announced on Selection Sunday.  Wildcat fans can start making plans to watch their team in nearby Louisville during Rounds 2 and 3 of March Madness.

It would take a mighty February fall for UK to leave the Commonwealth.  Syracuse is most likely headed to Pittsburgh as the top seed in the East Region. Ohio State remains entrenched as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest.

Which leads us West, where the race includes five teams: Baylor, Kansas, Duke, Missouri, and North Carolina.  Those are the teams ranked 4 to 8 on the s-curve today.  Baylor gains the edge with its seven (7) Top 50 RPI wins and 8-1 record away from home (road + neutral).  By comparison, Kansas has six (6) Top 50 wins and Missouri four (4).  Kansas is 6-3 away from home and Missouri is 7-2.  Duke has five (5) Top 50 wins and is 8-2 away from home.  Baylor has lost only to Kansas (road) and Missouri (home).  If you prefer a different order, that’s fine.

Could we have a surprise No. 1 seed?  It would take a team like Vanderbilt, Florida, or Michigan State winning a regular-season and/or conference tournament title.  The Mountain West and Missouri Valley are strong leagues, but neither UNLV or Creighton is in position to reach the top line.  There simply aren’t enough power victories on their schedules.

How many bids for the Big 10?  With the No. 1. RPI rating and no teams ranked below 150, the Big Ten could easily garner bids from teams that finish 9-9 in conference play.  Even an 8-10 finish wouldn’t eliminate a team – depending on the eight wins.

If in doubt, look at the resumes of the current bubble teams.  Because of the Big Ten’s overall strength, quality wins are more available.  Think back to the 11 bids captured by Big East teams in 2011.  The scenario is similar.  That doesn’t mean Big Ten teams will dominate the tournament, but the odds of seven to nine teams making the final bracket is pretty good.

Cincinnati is this week’s ultimate test case (again).  Riding a three-game losing streak, the Bearcats have fallen to No. 101 in the RPI (at collegerpi.com). That would be a very dangerous place to be on Selection Sunday.  Looking past the RPI number, we find UC with a 2-3 record against Top 50 teams (good wins at Georgetown and Connecticut).  They are 6-4 vs. the Top 100 and have a 5-3 mark in true road games.  UC has losses to teams ranked 135, 148, and 229 in the current RPI.  Then there’s the albatross of a non-conference SOS ranked No. 330.  Now, let’s look at Colorado’s numbers from 2011 … four Top 25 RPI wins (beat K-State three times), five Top 50 wins and losses to RPI teams ranked 120, 126, and 138.  The Buffaloes also had a non-conference SOS over 300.  The Selection Committee chose not to invite Colorado with those numbers – despite its quality wins.  The Bearcats are one of the final teams IN today.  But the odds won’t be in UC’s favor if the current trend continues.

Enjoy another week of hoops.  After Super Bowl Sunday, we being updating the bracket twice a week.  Bubble Banter returns soon.

UPDATED: Monday, January 30

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (UTEP, BYU, etc). Records are for games against Division I teams only.  Bracket is based on games through Sunday, January 29.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Cincinnati (15-7) vs. Massachusetts (16-5) | Midwest Region
  • St. Louis (15-5) vs. Mississippi (14-7) | South Region
  • MISS VALLEY ST (9-11) vs. STONY BROOK (12-7) | East Region
  • NC-ASHEVILLE (113-7) vs. UT-ARLINGTON (14-5) | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EASTBoston SOUTHAtlanta                                  
Pittsburgh Louisville
1) SYRACUSE (22-1) 1) KENTUCKY (21-1)
16) STONY BROOK / MS VALLEY ST 16) LONG ISLAND (15-7)
8) Wichita State (17-4) 8) Minnesota (16-6)
9) TEMPLE (15-5) 9) Notre Dame (14-8)
Portland Louisville
5) Mississippi State (17-5) 5) Virginia (17-3)
12) Iowa State (15-6) 12) St. Louis / Mississippi
4) Wisconsin (16-5) 4) Georgetown (15-4)
13) ORAL ROBERTS (20-4) 13) CLEVELAND STATE (17-4)
Columbus Columbus
6) Kansas State (15-5) 6) Florida State (14-6)
11) New Mexico (16-4) 11) CALIFORNIA (17-5)
3) Michigan State (16-4) 3) Marquette (18-4)
14) IONA (17-5) 14) GEORGE MASON (18-5)
Greensboro Omaha
7) West Virginia (15-7) 7) ST. MARY’S (19-2)
10) Memphis (15-6) 10) Purdue (15-7)
2) North Carolina (18-3) 2) Missouri (19-2)
15) AKRON (13-7) 15) BELMONT (14-7)
MIDWEST – St. Louis WEST – Phoenix
Pittsburgh Omaha
1) OHIO STATE (19-3) 1) Baylor (18-2)
16) NC-ASHEVILLE / UT-ARLINGTON 16) NORFOLK STATE (15-5)
8) Gonzaga (17-3) 8) Connecticut (14-6)
9) HARVARD (17-2) 9) SO. MISSISSIPPI (17-3)
Nashville Nashville
5) MURRAY STATE (18-0) 5) Michigan (15-6)
12) Massachusetts / Cincinnati 12) Dayton (14-7)
4) Vanderbilt (16-5) 4) Florida (17-4)
13) DAVIDSON (14-5) 13) MID TENNESSEE ST (19-3)
Portland Albuquerque
6) San Diego State (16-3) 6) Indiana (17-5)
11) Xavier (14-7) 11) Washington (14-7)
3) CREIGHTON (20-2) 3) UNLV (18-3)
14) LONG BEACH (14-6) 14) NEVADA (16-3)
Omaha Greensboro
7) Illinois (15-6) 7) Louisville (17-5)
10) Seton Hall (15-6) 10) Alabama (14-7)
2) KANSAS (17-4) 2) DUKE (18-3)
15) WEBER STATE (14-4) 15) BUCKNELL (16-6)

NOTES on the BRACKET: Kentucky is the No. 1 overall seed followed by Syracuse, Ohio State, and Baylor. Next in line are Kansas, Duke, Missouri, and North Carolina.

Last Five teams in (at large): Iowa State, Massachusetts, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Mississippi

First Five teams out (at large): Colorado State, BYU, Arkansas, NC State, UCF

Next Five teams out (at large): Marshall, La Salle, Oregon, Oklahoma, Wyoming

Bracket adjustments: Several adjustments in seed lines 7-10 to accommodate bracketing principles: Illinois and Wichita State switch; Notre Dame and Purdue switch. Illinois is a true 8 seed. Notre Dame is a true 10 seed. Wichita State is a true 7 seed; Purdue is a true 9 seed.

Here is the team breakdown by Conference …

Big East (9): Syracuse, Georgetown, Louisville, Connecticut, Marquette, West Virginia, Seton Hall, Cincinnati, Notre Dame

Big Ten (8): Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota

SEC (6): Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Mississippi

Big 12 (5): Baylor, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State

Atlantic 10 (5): Xavier, St. Louis, Dayton, Temple, Massachusetts

ACC (4): North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Florida State

Mountain West (3): UNLV, San Diego State, New Mexico

Conference USA (2): Memphis, Southern Mississippi

West Coast (2): Gonzaga, St. Mary’s

Pac 12 (2): California, Washington

Missouri Valley (2): Creighton, Wichita State

Sun Belt (1): Middle Tennessee State

Conference leaders/champions … Cleveland State (Horizon), Akron (MAC), George Mason (CAA), Nevada (WAC), Murray State (OVC), Iona (MAAC), Weber State (Big Sky), Davidson (Southern), Oral Roberts (Summit), Long Beach State (Big West), Long Island (NEC), Belmont (Atlantic Sun), Harvard (Ivy), NC-Asheville (Big South), Norfolk State (MEAC), Bucknell (Patriot), Stony Brook (America East), UT-Arlington(Southland), Mississippi Valley State (SWAC)

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

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.