Six scores from Saturday that shook up league races

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source: AP

Some league leaders didn’t fare so well Saturday.

Three suffered their first losses of the season, while three more fell in crucial road games that either dropped them from the top of the standings or created opening for others. Just another packed weekend day in college basketball. You NFL fans just tuning in are gonna love it. (But more on that later.)

How crucial were the defeats? Let’s take stock.

Big 12: Missouri 74, Kansas 71
The day’s biggest game also had one if its most dramatic finishes and clutch performances (Marcus Denmon, take a bow) that gave the Big 12 race some added kick. Denmon scored 29 points, including three 3-pointers in the final 2:05 to rally the Tigers (21-2, 8-2) against their longtime rivals. More impressive? He wanted everyone to act like a win over the Jayhawks (18-5, 8-2) was a normal occurrence and didn’t warrant a court-rush.

Impact: Significant. Missouri, Kansas and Baylor (21-2, 8-2) are packed atop the Big 12 standings. The Jayhawks and Bears both seem bound for another two losses apiece (nasty road games coming up), while the Tigers get Baylor, K-State and Iowa State at home. Only a road game at Kansas looms as a likely loss. This may be the day where Missouri finally got within sight of a Big 12 title.

Atlantic 10: St. Joe’s 70, La Salle 66
Figures a Big 5 game would shake things up a bit. The Explorers (17-7, 6-3) couldn’t must a second-half comeback and lost sole possession of the A-10 lead in the process. Temple’s victory vs. Rhode Island makes it the league’s only two-loss team.

Impact: Crucial. The odds of La Salle running away with the A-10 were zero. But the chances of them staying in the hunt with a win Saturday were pretty good. Now the Explorers face a three-game stretch (at Richmond, vs. St. Louis, at UMasss) that easily could leave them at .500 in conference play. The Owls (17-5, 6-2) aren’t going to cruise to the regular-season crown, but they have a slightly easier path and one less loss.

Missouri Valley: Northern Iowa 65, Creighton 62
It seemed logical that the Blue Jays (21-3, 11-2) would lose another Valley game at some point, but most would’ve bet on Wichita State exacting revenge next weekend. Instead, the Panthers (16-9, 6-7) pulled out a thrilling win thanks to Anthony James’ 3-pointer at the buzzer (after Antoine Young’s 3 4.6 seconds earlier had tied the game). But hey, this kind of thing happens in the Valley.

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Impact: Significant. Next week’s Creighton-WSU game takes on added importance now. The league’s two best teams (no other school is within four games) matchup in Omaha with the winner likely earning the top seed for Arch Madness? That’s some drama, brother. The only thing keeping it from being a high-stress situation is that both teams are likely headed for the NCAA tournament.

Mountain West: Wyoming 68, UNLV 66
Playing at a higher elevation does have its advantages. Unless you’re UNLV. The Rebels (21-4, 5-2) had their chances to avoid the upset, but couldn’t connect in the final seconds and now find themselves a game behind San Diego State. Wyoming (18-5, 4-3) didn’t seem overly worried about UNLV’s preferred up-tempo pace. Maybe that’s because playing at 7,200 feet doesn’t bode well for teams like that.

Impact: Significant. The MWC’s gone from two-team league to a deep, trying conference this season. Any edge is crucial, though UNLV does benefit by playing host to SDSU next weekend. Make up a game there and trips to New Mexico and Colorado State become more manageable.

MAAC: Iona 85, Manhattan 73
Technically not an upset (the Gaels were favored by 2.5 points; Kenpom had them losing by 1), this wasn’t a huge surprise given the talent gaps between the teams. Iona (19-5, 10-2) features three of the conference’s best players in Scott Machado, Michael Glover and Momo Jones. Yes, they’d lost earlier in the season to Manhattan, at home even. But when they opened up a 19-point second-half lead, they weren’t about to blow it – like their 18-point lead earlier this season.

Impact: Crucial. Manhattan (17-8, 10-3) was one of two MAAC teams tied with Iona entering Saturday’s games. The other is Loyola (Md.), which plays host to the Gaels next Saturday. If the newly mature Iona team shows up – it’s all about focus for them – this conference race is over.

Sun Belt: Denver 75, Middle Tennessee 60
Another “non” upset (oddsmakers favored the Pioneers; Kenpom had it as a 1-point Denver loss), it was still Middle Tennessee’s first conference loss. The Blue Raiders’ only loss since Dec. 10 had been to Vandy (last weekend), but also lessening the surprise was their close victory against North Texas on Thursday. Maybe that’s why Denver closed out the final five minutes on a 14-5 run.

Impact: Minimal. The Blue Raiders (21-4, 10-1) are blessed to be in the league’s weaker division, avoiding the likes of Denver, North Texas, Arkansas-Little Rock and Louisiana Lafayette twice in a season. They’ll stil cruise to the division crown.

WAC: Idaho 72, Nevada 68
Forget the marquee teams. This was the stunner of the day. The Wolf Pack hadn’t lost since Nov. 25 (BYU), a stretch of 16 straight wins, including two against Pac-12 schools and their first eight WAC games. Nevada (at home!) was favored by 10.5. Kenpom had its chance of winning at 81 percent. Yet it was the Vandals (12-11, 5-4) who made the late plays and hit the shots for the win.

Impact: Moderate. Nevada (19-4, 8-1) still holds a two-game lead over New Mexico State and has already beaten the Aggies at their place. The Wolf Pack should still win the WAC, but this loss was certainly odd.

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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.