Weekend Preview: Florida at Arizona highlights a nice weekend slate

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Game of the Weekend: No. 5 Florida at No. 8 Arizona (ESPN)

This choice isn’t all that complicated. There is only one game this weekend featuring two teams that are in the Top 25, and it just so happens that both of those teams are ranked in the top eight nationally. So, yeah, there really isn’t much of an argument against this game being the best of the weekend; it’s one of the best of the season thus far.

But there is so much more to look forward to here than the simplicity of stating that it is two top ten teams doing battle.

Florida has looked like a legitimate national title contender through the first month and change of the season. They worked Wisconsin at home. They worked Marquette at home. They were up 50-19 on Florida State in Tallahassee. They defend extremely well, they are balanced offensively and they win despite the fact that they don’t have a sure-fire first round pick. But that is precisely the question mark with this group: can a team really be legit if they are counting on a pair of shoot-first guards (Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario) and a center without a true low-post game? Will their defense hold up against another elite opponent?

Arizona is, or at least appears to be, elite. Their trio of freshmen big men look better and better as the season progresses while Mark Lyons’ playmaking issues have been offset by his ability to be an efficient scorer and the versatility of Nick Johnson, Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill. But as of now, the Wildcats have not done anything notable this year. Winning at Clemson and Texas Tech? Meh. Beating LBSU? Talk to me when their transfers get eligible. The most impressive thing Arizona has done this season is win a game despite turning the ball over 27 times.

Saturday will be a gauge for both parties. Here’s to hoping they both come to play.

Five more games to watch this weekend

  • Sat. 2:00 p.m.: No. 1 Indiana vs. Butler (CBS): This year’s version of the Crossroads Classic pits Purdue against Notre Dame, which means that the headline show at Conseco Fieldhouse this Saturday will be the Bulldogs taking on the Hoosiers. We all know how good Indiana is this season, but I think that Butler has the make up of a team that can beat them. Andrew Smith is big enough to bang with Cody Zeller on the block, they have athleticism along their front line and a pair of deadly shooters in Kellen Dunham and Rotnei Clarke. My biggest concern: How will Clarke get his open looks? There’s no way he’s beating Yogi Ferrell or Victor Oladipo off the dribble.
  • Sat. 2:30 p.m.: No. 6 Louisville at Memphis (FSN): Since the Tigers got back from the Bahamas, they have finally looked like the team that we all thought had a chance to play their way to the Final Four this season. And it should come as no surprise that it was someone other than Joe Jackson, Tarik Black and Adonis Thomas leading the way, as Geron Johnson appears to have emerged as the Tiger’s most talented player. What, eventually, happens with Memphis will be unclear, but a win over powerhouse Louisville at the FedEx Forum would go a long way for the Tigers.
  • Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Belmont at No. 9 Kansas (ESPNU): Belmont is coming off of an impressive win at home over a good Middle Tennessee State team, but the Blue Raiders aren’t in the same category as the Jayhawks are in Phog Allen. The Bruins have a talented, veteran back court, but both Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark will be giving up quite a bit of size to Kansas’ duo of Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore. Can Belmont find a way to score?
  • Sat. 9:00 p.m.: South Dakota State at Montana: Here’s to hoping that health prevails. Why? Because if everything goes according to plan, this will be a matchup between two of the best mid-major teams in the country, highlighted by a head-to-head battle between two of the best point guards in the country, period. Will Cherry broke his foot a few months back, but he’s expected to be in the lineup on Saturday. As is Nate Wolters, who missed a game at Minnesota last week because of a sprained ankle.
  • Sat. 9:00 p.m.: Kansas State at No. 14 Gonzaga: Gonzaga will be looking to make a statement here against the Wildcats. The Zags are coming off of a fairly embarrassing loss at home to Illinois, where they couldn’t find a way to stop Brandon Paul. K-State has a pretty good scoring guard of their own in Rodney McGruder, but he’s a different kind of player than Paul. McGruder is at his best playing off the ball; Paul did a lot of his damage in pick-and-roll situations. Gonzaga has struggled to defend those all year long. Can Angel Rodriguez be the guy to exploit that weakness?

And the mid-majors?:

  • Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Akron at Detroit
  • Sat. 2:00 p.m. Eastern Michigan at Illinois-Chicago
  • Sat. 7:00 p.m.: La Salle at Bucknell

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

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

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.