Ten BracketBuster teams casual fans need to know more about

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BracketBuster Week is finally here, and while many mid-majors have already sealed their post-season fates, some still have high hopes for the near-future.

Most of the participants won’t receive at-large bids, but this is as good a time as any to get to know some of the teams we will see during the first week of March Madness. By now, even the casual fan should know about teams like Creighton, Iona, and Murray State. But there are a host of mid-majors that could pose a threat come tournament time.

You can view the entire schedule here

No. 10 – South Dakota State (20-7, 12-3 Summit)
BB Opponent: 2/18 vs. Buffalo, 1 p.m. on ESPNU

The Jackrabbits are led by Nate Wolters, one of the most prolific scorers in the country. The junior guard averages 21.5ppg and has logged four 30-point performances this season. Four players on the team average double-figures, and what they lack in size, they make up for in offensive fire-power.

No. 9 – UNC-Asheville (19-8, 14-2 Big South)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Ohio, 7 p.m. on ESPN3

The Bulldogs were the first team this season to clinch a regular season championship, and are therefore guaranteed a birth in the N.I.T. at the very minimum. Led by the Big South’s top two guards – Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm – the Bulldogs are statistically a top-10 team in points-per-game, assists-per-game and field goal percentage. Asheville defeat Arkansas-Little Rock last year in the Opening Round of the NCAA Tournament before falling to Pittsburgh in the First Round.

No. 8 – UT-Arlington (19-5, 11-0 Southland)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Weber State, 8 p.m. on ESPN3

The Mavericks are in their final season as members of the Southland Conference, and look to leave with a bang. They are currently riding a 15-game unbeaten streak and are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. Led by guard LaMarcus Reed and his 16.7ppg, the Mavericks will have have their hands full with Weber State and the Wildcats superstar scoring machine Damian Lillard.

No. 7 – Weber State (20-4, 12-1 Big Sky)
BB Opponent: 2/18 vs. UT-Arlington, 8 p.m. on ESPN3

Weber State is home to Damian Lillard, the nation’s top scorer. The junior guard averages 25.1ppg and is capable of taking over a game at any time. But he is not alone. Scott Bamforth, Lillard’s backcourt mate, averages 15.3ppg and is one of the top free-throw shooters in the country. The Wildcats have represented the Big Sky Conference in the NCAA Tournament twice since 2002 and are the favorites in the conference to return to the Big Dance.

No. 6 – Akron (18-7, 10-1 MAC)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Oral Roberts, 2 p.m. on ESPN or ESPN2

The Zips started the season off with a huge road-win at Mississippi State, and while they were only 8-6 in non-conference play, they suffered only one loss to a team with non post-season aspirations (81-76 loss vs. Duquesne). But in Conference-play, the Zips have been down-right impressive, and are led by Zeke Marshall, one of the most unappreciated big-men in the country. They are one of the top-75 teams in the country when it comes to scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage. They face a talented Oral Roberts team in search of a resume-boosting win.

No. 5 – Valparaiso (19-9, 12-4 Horizon)
BB Opponent: 2/17 @ Loyola-Marymount, 9  p.m. on ESPNU

The Crusaders are coached by Valpo legend Bryce Drew, famous for his March Madness-defining buzzer-beater against Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA Tournament. The 2012 Crusaders are atop the Horizon League standings, but may have to finish the season without their best player, Kevin Van Wijk, who suffered a knee injury earlier in the month. But Australian import Kevin Broekhoff anchors an experienced bunch looking to win the school’s first Horizon League title.

No. 4 – Drexel (22-5, 14-2 CAA)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Cleveland State, 11 a.m. on ESPNU

You know about the other two top teams in the CAA, George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth. But what about Drexel? Did you know this team was the pre-season favorite to win the conference? Did you know that the Dragons have won 14-straight, including wins over both GMU and VCU? Did you know that they have only given up 60-points twice since the New Year? You really should brush up on your Drexel knowledge. They could be around for awhile.

No. 3 – Nevada (22-4, 10-1 WAC)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Iona, 4 p.m. on ESPN or ESPN2

Nevada has lost just once since the beginning of December, and the Wolfpack seemingly get better as the season progresses. While they might be out of at-large contention, this team has the talent and size to pick up a win or two in the tournament. They have four All-Conference-caliber players in Deonte Burton, Malik Story, Olek Czyz and Dario Hunt, and will match-up very well with Iona’s “Big-3” of Scott Machado, MoMo Jones and Michael Glover.

No. 2 – Long Beach State (19-6, 12-0 Big West)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Creighton, 10 p.m. on ESPN2

If you aren’t familiar with this team, shame on you. The 49ers played one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country, which included a road-win against Pittsburgh. They are led by Casper Ware and Larry Anderson, both of whom could walk away with the Big West PoY award. Dan Monson’s squad has rolled through conference play, winning be an average of 13.3ppg. But the 49ers need this win to bolster their at-large status. They faltered in the Big West tournament last season after a similar conference season and don’t want to suffer the same fate.

No. 1 – Wichita State (22-4, 13-2 MVC)
BB Opponent: 2/18 @ Davidson, Noon on ESPN or ESPN2

The Shockers enter BracketBusters Week surging, having just beaten Creighton on the road by 21. They hold non-conference wins over Colorado and UNLV, and have lost just once since the New Year. A win against Davidson won’t do much to help their at-large hopes, but it will help to continue their momentum heading into “Arch Madness”. Big-man Garrett Stutz is coming on strong and this team is starting to peak at the right time.

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

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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.