Previewing your College Hoops Weekend

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Game of the Weekend: Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 14 San Diego State @ No. 16 UNLV:

By now you should all know what happened the last time these two teams got together. Playing on a bum ankle, SDSU’s Jamaal Franklin had 22 points and 10 boards, including a tough, driving layup with just 0.3 seconds left on the clock as the Aztecs knocked off league favorite UNLV in Viejas Arena. That was the win that catapulted the Aztecs into the national consciousness and, frankly, to their spot at the top of the MWC standings.

But if you know anything about college basketball, you know that the Rebels are itching to get their shot at redemption in the Thomas and Mack Center on Saturday. UNLV is a different team playing in their own arena, which is a scary proposition considering that the Rebels are already considered arguably the most dangerous team on the west coast. With the taste of a last-second defeat still lingering on their palate and possibly their last shot to keep themselves within reach of a Mountain West regular season title on the line, you better believe that Dave Rice’s club is going to be ready to play.

The matchup alone is juicy enough. UNLV is one of the most entertaining teams in the country to watch. They are loaded with athletes, they love to get up and down the floor, they shoot — and make — quite a few threes and they have one of the country’s best kept secrets in Mike Moser. From a talent perspective, the Rebels should run away with this game. But SDSU is a poor man’s Missouri. They are well coached, they have a crop of talented perimeter players and they win games because their whole is greater than the sum of their parts. Getting a chance to see talents like Anthony Marshall and Franklin share a court is worth tuning in for.

But, as I mentioned, the intensity of this game is going to be ratcheted up by the importance of it. SDSU is currently sitting at 6-1 in the league, with a one game lead on both UNLV and New Mexico. With the MWC having just eight members this season, it means that there are only going to be 14 games played. Falling two games back with just six to play is a huge hole for UNLV to try and dig out of, especially when SDSU has already won both matchups.

My pick: I think UNLV gets it done on their home floor, and I think that the final isn’t going to be as close as the first meeting was.

Seven more you need to watch:

Sat. 1:00 pm: No. 20 Virginia @ No. 5 UNC: As the saying goes, ‘styles make the fight’, and no game this weekend is going to have a more intriguing contrast of styles than this one. Where UNC likes to get out and run the floor at every opportunity, UVA is as deliberate as teams come. They want to pack in their defense and turn this into a half court game. Think Wisconsin. And when UNC played Wisconsin, the Badgers nearly knocked off the Tar Heels despite playing far from their best game. UNC is coming off a dreadfully disappointing loss to Duke on Wednesday night. Unfortunately for the Cavs, they may have caught UNC at the exact wrong time. Of note: it should be interesting, especially for NBA scouts, to see Mike Scott work against the front line of Tyler Zeller and John Henson.

Sat. 1:47 pm: No. 6 Baylor @ No. 4 Missouri: Why the weird start time? Because somehow one of the best games of the season ended up getting stuck in the awkward time slot that the big 12 utilizes on every Saturday. So instead of being able to watch two top ten teams battle — one trying to regain some of the national respect they lost in an embarrassing performance against Kansas on Wednesday and the other trying to prove to the country that they, in fact, deserve to remain in the Big 12 race with Kansas — on that flatscreen HD you have, you better hope and pray that your internet service provider has ESPN3.

Sat. 3:00 pm: Cincinnati @ No. 19 Marquette: Cincinnati is reeling a bit. After picking up road wins against Georgetown and UConn, there was chatter that the Bearcats were actually the second-best team in the Big East. The inability to keep up that kind of play knocked the Bearcats back to the pack, however. Now Marquette is one of the teams that is getting put into that conversation, but they are coming off of a recent loss to Notre Dame. Of note: the Bearcats are one of the best road teams in the Big East, if not the country.

Sat. 6:00 pm: No. 12 Michigan State @ No. 3 Ohio State: The best basketball games always seem to be the ones where the individual matchup involves the coaching staff. With Tom Izzo going up against Thad Matta, there is little doubt in my mind that both teams will end up with perfectly drawn-up scouting reports. On the court, I see three keys to the game: how well Ohio State is able to keep the Spartans off the glass, how Jared Sullinger does against a defense that you know is going to be prepared and how William Buford plays.

Sat. 9:00 pm: Xavier @ Temple: Its a shame this game didn’t happen back in November, because in the events since then, neither team has been quite like themselves. Xavier is still reeling from the brawl, unable to get back into the kind of rhythm they had earlier in the season. Temple, on the other hand, seems to finally be hitting their stride with Michale Eric back in the lineup. I don’t care what the standings say, I still think these are the two best teams in the Atlantic 10.

Who’s getting upset?: Sat. 9:00 pm: No. 1 Kentucky @ Vanderbilt

Here’s my theory: the way that you beat Kentucky is by getting physical with their big guys. The Wildcats don’t have much depth up front and the big men that they do have (Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones) can get pushed around by bigger opponents. Enter Festus Ezeli. Ezeli is a big, strong, first-round pick that is going to do nothing if not try to get Davis into foul trouble. If he succeeds in using his physicality inside — and John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor get into a rhythm shooting the ball, Vandy has a shot to win this game at home.

Three more teams who should be on upset watch:

Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 23 Louisville @ West Virginia: The Mountaineers are heading into what many would probably terms a must-win. WVU has now lost four of their last five games, which assuredly is making West Virginia fans fret. They are getting dangerously close to being back towards the wrong side of the bubble. But with league player of the year favorite Kevin Jones anchoring their lineup and a mad Bob Huggins, this is the kind of game that is primed for the picking.

Sat. 1:00 pm: Miami @ No. 17 Florida State: I thought that I was convinced by Florida State after they won against UNC and knocked off Duke in Cameron. And then FSU had to go and lose to Boston College. I officially have no idea what to make of that team, but I do believe that Miami is going to be one of the nation’s late-risers. With an upset of Duke in Cameron already under their belt as well and a roster with a ton of firepower — including matchup nightmare Kenny Kadji — the Canes just may have the pieces to beat the Noles.

Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 21 Harvard @ Princeton: Princeton is down a bit this season. Heading into the weekend, the Tigers are sitting at 2-3 in conference play. But with Harvard coming to town, you know that team is going to be ready to play.

Mid-major matchup of the weekend: Sat. 5:00 pm: Wichita State @ No. 15 Creighton

Well, this was pretty obvious, wasn’t it? Do I even need to set the stage? Creighton went into Wichita and knocked off the Shockers a month ago, but that win and public sentiment made it difficult to convince people that the Shockers may actually be the best team in the Missouri Valley. They don’t have the same kind of high-powered that the Bluejays do, but they have a much better defense. WSU has a slew of talented perimeter players, but no one in the Valley — hell, very few players across the country — have been playing as well as Garrett Stutz over the last three weeks. The question is whether or not WSU will have an answer to Doug McDermott.

Five more mid-major matchups worth keeping an eye on:

Fri. 7:00 pm: No. 21 Harvard @ Penn: If it wasn’t for Creighton-Wichita State, I would have put this game up at the top of the evidence. In this one, you will get a chance to see one of the best point guars in the country — Scott Machado.

Fri. 7:00 pm: Iona @ Loyola (MD): First place in the MAAC is on the line. With how many points Iona is capable of putting up, why wouldn’t you check in for this game.

Sat. 1:00 pm: Arkansas-Little Rock @ Middle Tennessee State: The Sun Belt’s division leaders square off. If you have still not seen MTSU play, this may be a good game to sneak in on them. The Blue Raiders may not have the profile to earn themselves an at-large big, but this is certainly a group that can win in the tournament if need be.

Sat. 2:00 pm: VCU @ Old Dominion: Both VCU and ODU are down, which could actually be better news for this. The CAA is wide-open, with four teams all within a game of that first.

Sun. 12:00 pm: Vermont @ Stony Brook: First place in the America East is on the line.

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
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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.