Saturday’s Bubble Winners

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Big Winners

Alabama: The Crimson Tide is rolling, as it looks like Anthony Grant has finally made it known: you do things my way, or you play somewhere else. With Tony Mitchell no longer on the team and JaMychal Green finally returning to the lineup, Alabama cruised to a 67-50 win over Mississippi State, solidifying their standing as fourth in the SEC pecking order and putting themselves in terrific position come Selection Sunday. With games left against Auburn and Ole Miss, all the Crimson Tide has to do is win the games they are supposed to win. They’ve now won three in a row and six of their last eight while wins over Purdue and Wichita State look better by the day.

Purdue: The Boilermakers all but punched their ticket today as they went into Ann Arbor and knocked off No. 11 Michigan, 75-61. Terone Johnson went for 22 points and Robbie Hummel added 17 as Purdue picked up the marquee victory they so desperately needed. Coming in, Michigan was 15-0 at home and they had just beaten Ohio State in Crisler Arena. So yeah, this is a good win, their first against the top of the conference.

St. Joseph’s: The Hawks still have some work to get done, but after beating No. 22 Temple on Saturday evening, Phil Martelli’s club is that much closer to completing the task. St. Joe’s needed a quality win desperately to help fill out their resume, and they got it, beating the Owls 82-72. They still have to go up to St. Bonaventure this week, a game that the Hawks probably should win if they want an at-large bid, because as of right now, St. Joe’s is right on the cut-line.

Memphis: Two games ago, the Tigers lost to UTEP at home while blowing a 13 point lead. Josh Pastner made the decision to take the names off the backs of their jerseys, and that decision has worked. Memphis beat East Carolina by 23 points and followed it up on Saturday with a 20 point win at Marshall, a team that still had some slim hopes alive for making a run. Memphis should be in good shape, but its also Memphis; this team isn’t exactly known for their consistency.

Iowa State: The Cyclones personified life on the bubble. Prior to Saturday’s game at Kansas State, there was discussion that, with losses to the Wildcats, Baylor and Missouri in their final three games, ISU could miss the NCAA Tournament. After beating K-State 65-61 on the road, not only are the Cyclones in excellent position for a bid, there is talk that a win in their last two games could vault them up to a six seed.

They helped themselves by not losing

Drexel and VCU: The Dragons and the Rams both have slim hopes of actually getting an at-large bid. But with wins over Old Dominion and George Mason, respectively, both teams can keep hope alive that a trip to the CAA title game will be enough.

Washington: The Huskies had to rally from an 11 point second half deficit to beat Washington State on the road, but the only thing that matters is that they won. A loss would have been disastrous.

Xavier and Dayton: The Musketeers hung on to beat Richmond while Dayton blew out UMass at home. Xavier is probably barely on the right side of the bubble right now while Dayton still has some work to do. But hey, its better to be in the discussion than simply playing for seeding in your league tournament.

Arizona: The Wildcats still have some hope alive for an at-large bid. They probably cannot afford another loss and may need to make a run in the NCAA Tournament if they want a bid.

Texas: Texas avoided a disastrous loss by winning at Texas Tech. The Longhorns are still sitting right on that cut line.

BYU: The Cougars are still in the picture, but they are going to probably have to beat Gonzaga or St. Mary’s in the WCC tournament to get an at-large bid.

Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles have been puttering along down the stretch, and a close win over Rice doesn’t change that. But USM should feel pretty confident about their chances if they win out.

Northwestern: The Wildcats have absolutely no margin for error, but as it stands right now, they are probably sitting on the right side of the bubble. Barely. And while a one point win — one that may have been helped by a friendly whistle down the stretch that gave John Shurna two FT’s for the win — at Penn State doesn’t say much for the team, Northwestern is still alive.

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.