Pregame Shootaround 12.28.12: UCLA has a point to prove as No. 7 Missouri visits

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Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will lay out a preview for the slate of games that night. We’ll take a look at some key match-ups and important games, as well as make some predictions and point out what you need to watch for. Take a look below at today’s edition:

Note: The weekend editions of Pregame Shootaround will be published half an hour prior to tip-off of the day’s first game.

Game of the Day: No. 7 Missouri at UCLA (10 PM)

The Bruins have won four straight games since losing to San Diego State on December 1, with three of those wins being by double digits. But there are still questions as to whether or not Ben Howland’s team can be the national contender many expected them to be during the offseason. UCLA has an opportunity to change some minds tonight, as they host No. 7 Missouri at Pauley Pavilion. The key for UCLA: keeping the Tigers off the offensive glass, as Missouri is rebounding 44.4% of its misses according to statsheet.com. In their 82-73 win over Illinois on Saturday Missouri tallied 22 offensive rebounds, with Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi accounting for 12 of those boards.

There’s also the matter of defending Missouri point guard Phil Pressey, who is one of the nation’s best at the position. Don’t worry about his field goal percentage, because its the way in which he runs the team that makes Missouri a title contender. The Bruins will need freshmen Jordan Adams and Shabazz Muhammad to be at their best tonight, and Muhammad scored an average of 24.3 points over the last three games. UCLA may be 9-3 but their resume lacks a “marquee” victory. Tonight is their chance.

Who’s Getting Upset?: Seton Hall (vs. Stony Brook; 7 PM) 

The Pirates, whose front court rotation has taken a major hit due to injuries to three players (Patrik Auda, Aaron Geramipoor and Kevin Johnson), should be on upset alert against a solid Stony Brook team. On the season Steve Pikiell’s team is averaging 13.1 offensive rebounds per game, and with Seton Hall’s lack of front court depth that could become an issue if Gene Teague and/or Brandon Mobley get into early foul trouble. Who will make things difficult on Stony Brook: Fuquan Edwin, who has quietly evolved into one of the Big East’s most versatile players. Seven of Stony Brook’s eight wins have come over teams ranked 201 or worse in the RPI (Canisius being the exception), but Anthony Jackson and company are capable of pulling off the upset tonight.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Bucknell at Loyola (MD) (7:30 PM) 

Next season this will be a conference game as the Greyhounds will join the Patriot League. This season it’s a matchup of two programs expected to contend for their respective league titles, meaning that a win for either team would look nice on their resume should they grab an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Both teams have been very good defensively this season, with the Bison limiting opponents to 37.1% shooting from the field and Loyola not too far off at 38.8% (field goal percentage defense). The individual battle between Bucknell’s Mike Muscala (18.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and Loyola’s Erik Etherly (15.7, 7.4) will be worth the price of admission, and with guards Bryson Johnson (Bucknell) and Dylon Cormier (Loyola) also on display this game will not disappoint.

Five Things to Watch 

1) Baylor visits No. 13 Gonzaga, and if the Bears are to win they’ll need to get it done on the defensive end. The Bulldogs are shooting 52% from the field this season, and their offensive work is aided by the fact that they’re grabbing nearly 39% of their own misses. If Pierre Jackson and company can force the Gonzaga guards to have to make plays off the dribble, Baylor can win.

2) Just one afternoon game on the slate, as Rider makes the short drive from Lawrenceville to play Rutgers. David Cox will coach his second game in place of the suspended Mike Rice, and it helps matters that Myles Mack has been on fire of late. Mack has failed to shoot 50% or better from the field in just one game: Rutgers’ season opening loss to Saint Peter’s. Over the last four games the 5-9 guard is shooting 24-of-37 from the field.

3) Another team that needs to wary of a post-Christmas hangover is Memphis, who hosts an Oral Roberts team that’s better than its 5-6 record would indicate. Warren Niles (21.3 ppg) leads the way for Scott Sutton’s Golden Eagles, who have four players averaging at least ten points per game. Memphis can sleepwalk through games on occasion, and that can be a risky proposition.

4) Saint Louis point guard Kwamain Mitchell will play for the first time this season as the Billikens host SIU-Edwardsville. How much Mitchell plays remains to be seen, due to both stamina and the fact that SLU hosts New Mexico on New Year’s Eve.

5) Will he play or won’t he? That’s the question Providence fans have in regards to senior point guard Vincent Council, who hasn’t played since injuring his hamstring against NJIT in the season opener. The Friars will visit Brown (7 PM, NBC Sports Network) for the first time since the 1982 season.

Top  25 Games

Jacksonville at No. 5 Indiana (8 PM)

No. 7 Missouri at UCLA (10 PM)

Baylor at No. 13 Gonzaga (8 PM)

Other Notable Games 

Rider at Rutgers (3 PM)

Providence at Brown (7 PM; NBC Sports Network)

Iona at Saint Joseph’s (7 PM)

Southern Miss at Morehead State (7:30 PM)

Oral Roberts at Memphis (8 PM)

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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

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.