The 10 first-round NCAA tournament games you can’t miss


There are 32 games on Thursday and Friday. It’s been impossible to watch them all in the past, but the new staggered TV times makes it possible.

Still, not everyone can watch everything. So here are the 10 games you can’t miss.

10. (2) Kansas vs. (15) Detroit: With Ray McCallum Jr. at the point the Titans have the floor general needed to author an upset, but they’ve also got multiple options inside to help deal with Thomas Robinson. Eli Holman and LaMarcus Lowe are both experienced big men who will offer up challenges to the Jayhawks, especially if Jeff Withey struggles. The Titans are experienced and they’re talented as well, and unlike most high-major teams in a position like Kansas’ the Jayhawks don’t enjoy a huge edge in the depth department.

9. (7) Gonzaga vs. (10) West Virginia: Gonzaga makes the trek east for their NCAA tournament games, taking on the Mountaineers in Pittsburgh. The Steel City may be 90 miles away from Morgantown but given the “Backyard Brawl” it’s tough to figure out how much of an advantage Bob Huggins’ team will enjoy with regards to the crowd. A bigger concern for the Bulldogs is defending Kevin Jones, who led the Big East in both scoring and rebounding. Elias Harris and Robert Sacre’ counter Jones and Deniz Kilicli, and in Kevin Pangos the Bulldogs have one of the best freshman guards in the country. WVU will need smart decisions from Truck Bryant if they’re to advance.

8. (3) Georgetown vs. (14) Belmont: This Midwest Region battle in Columbus has the potential to result in an upset due to the caliber of the underdog. Rick Byrd’s Bruins go eight deep and are led by guard Kerron Johnson, one of the top players in the Atlantic Sun. Belmont also has two big men in Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders capable of defending Henry Sims, and from a style standpoint this match-up could be a better fit for them than last year’s game against Wisconsin. Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson have played well for the Hoyas and freshman Otto Porter has improved as the season’s progressed, but this has the look of a game that could go down to the wire.

7. (4) Wisconsin vs. (13) Montana: This East Region battle will feature some very good guards, and while most of the country will know of the Badgers’ Jordan Taylor the Grizzlies have a pair of very good guards as well. Junior Will Cherry and sophomore Kareem Jamar are integral parts of the Montana attack, with Cherry the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and Jamar the conference tournament MVP. Wisconsin relies heavily on the three-point shot but the Grizzlies were the best in the Big Sky when it came to defending the three. Bo Ryan’s system is tough to attack if unfamiliar with it, but Montana does have the ability to pull off the upset.

6. (4) Louisville vs. (13) Davidson: With this West Regional match-up taking place in Portland, from a crowd standpoint things could turn on the Big East tournament champions from the start. But there’s also the question of which Louisville team shows up at the Rose Garden: the one that won four games in New York or the one that struggled with consistency for much of the season. Davidson, who beat Kansas in Kansas City earlier this season, has three players who can compete with anyone in De’Mon Brooks, Jake Cohen and J.P. Kuhlman. If Peyton Siva, who played well last week, struggles with decision-making a Davidson win is more than possible.

5. (8) Memphis vs. (9) Saint Louis: On one side there’s an immensely talented team that’s playing its best basketball of the season at just the right time in Memphis. On the other side is a Saint Louis team that’s played better than expected back in October coached by one of the game’s best in Rick Majerus. That will offer up a contrast that shouldn’t fail to entertain viewers, with Memphis looking to pressure defensively while SLU will do more in the half court. Will Barton’s played at an All-America level this season for the Tigers, and while undersized Brian Conklin has been one of the leaders inside for Saint Louis.

4. (5) New Mexico vs. (12) Long Beach State: Two of the top teams in the western United State face off in Portland, and the tenor of the game will likely be determined by the health of Long Beach State wing Larry Anderson. He sat out the Big West tournament with a sprained knee, and while he’s expected back it remains to be seen if there’s any rust. The Beach will need to find an answer to the question of defending Drew Gordon, but they do have the conference’s all-time leading rebounder in T.J. Robinson. UNM is talented on the perimeter and was one of the best defensive teams in the Mountain West. Casper Ware (LBSU) and Kendall Williams (UNM) are two other players to watch in this one.

3. (7) Notre Dame vs. (10) Xavier: Xavier isn’t a “run and gun” team by any stretch of the imagination but they will be tested from a discipline standpoint as they attempt to deal with Notre Dame’s “burn” offense. Mike Brey’s Irish will look to limit the number of possessions within a game, and young guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant have done a good job of that this season. Of course the Musketeers can counter with Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, but neither may be their most important player in this battle. That would be Kenny Frease, who has to hold his own with Jack Cooley if Xavier is to win.

2. (8) Iowa State vs. (9) Connecticut: The winner gets Kentucky, and while many have assumed that it will be the Huskies who advance, don’t eliminate the possibility of Fred Hoiberg’s team winning. The Cyclones use 6’9″ Royce White as their point guard, and his ability to work on the perimeter makes him a tough match-up. Can Roscoe Smith guard him on the perimeter? Yes, but he’ll also need to be strong enough to deal with White inside as well. ISU also has capable perimeter shooters, which could pose a problem for Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Jeremy Lamb. The Huskies haven’t lived up to the preseason expectations while the Cyclones have surpassed theirs, and both are capable of advancing.

1. (5) Wichita State vs. (12) VCU: The team that made the run to the Final Four last season matches up with one of the trendy picks to do so this season. Shaka Smart’s Rams believe in “havoc”, a style of play that brings about a frenzied level of play within each possession. In Wichita State they’ll have to deal with a team that’s got good guards (led by Joe Ragland) and takes care of the basketball. Gregg Marshall also has a seven-footer in Garrett Stutz, who was a First Team All-MVC selection. D.J. Haley and Juvonte Reddic will need to play well inside if the Rams are to win, and the battle to control the tempo will be a game within the game.

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

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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.