Pregame Shootaround 2.15.13: Cincinnati looks to bolster NCAA tournament resume

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Game of the Night: No. 15 Georgetown at Cincinnati (9:00 p.m.; ESPN) 

Mick Cronin’s Bearcats are in good shape to return to the NCAA tournament, but a win over the visiting Hoyas would not only add to their resume but also keep Cincinnati in the Big East title race. Georgetown arrives in Cincinnati with an opportunity to move into sole possession of first place, something that few people would have expected when conference play began.

Otto Porter Jr. is one of the nation’s best wings but guard Markel Starks will be just as important given the strength of Cincinnati’s backcourt. Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright lead the way offensively for Cincinnati with the steady Jaquon Parker being a solid third option on the wing. Keep an eye on Cincinnati’s offensive rebound total, as the Bearcats manage to rebound nearly 40% of their missed shots.

Who’s Getting Upset? Iona (-2.5) at Manhattan (7:00 p.m.; ESPNU) 

After a loss at Siena dropped the Jaspers to 4-7 in MAAC play, Steve Masiello’s team has won three straight and have a legitimate chance of avoiding finishing in the bottom four of the conference standings (those teams have to play in the first round of the MAAC tournament). Manhattan’s had to change how they play due to injuries, most notably losing leading scorer George Beamon for the year back in December, so while they will pressure defensively don’t look for the Jaspers to actively try to play at a high tempo.

The opposite can be said for Iona, who looks to run at every opportunity with guards Sean Armand and Lamont Jones leading the way and David Laury controlling things inside. If Manhattan can control the tempo, look for them to upset their rival at Draddy Gymnasium.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: Vermont at Stony Brook (7:00 p.m.; ESPN3) 

Stony Brook (9-2) leads Vermont (9-3) by a half-game in the America East standings, but given the fact that the Catamounts won the first meeting the Seawolves need this one for tiebreaker purposes. Clancy Rugg was outstanding for Vermont in their 81-73 victory on January 18, scoring 19 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. That helped make up for an off night from Brian Voelkel, who accounted for five points, six assists and four rebounds before fouling out. Stony Brook will counter with veterans Tommy Brenton and David Coley, and freshman forward Jameel Warney is one of the best freshmen in the conference.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Harvard hosts Princeton on Saturday night in a game that will go a long way towards determining the Ivy League champion. Both have business to attend to tonight, with the Crimson taking on Penn and Princeton visiting Dartmouth.

2) The middle of the Atlantic Sun standings could get a lot tighter tonight if North Florida wins at Jacksonville. The Dolphins need a win to move into a tie for third with Stetson at 8-6, but a loss would drop them into a three-way tie for fourth.

3) Green Bay finds itself in a situation similar to that of Jacksonville, as a win would move the Phoenix into a tie for third in the Horizon League and keep them from dropping into the middle of the pack. Green Bay visits Cleveland State, who has struggled offensively for much of the season due to the season-ending injury suffered by Anton Grady.

4) Niagara looks to remain atop the MAAC standings as they visit Marist, but this game could be trickier than it looks to be on paper. Chuck Martin’s team beat both Iona and Loyola (MD) last week, and they’re capable of doing the same to the Purple Eagles.

5) Which team has the best shot of catching Harvard and Princeton in the Ivy League race? The chances are minuscule for both Cornell and Yale but the winner of their meeting in New Haven will give the winner a sliver of hope.

Other Notable Games 

7:00 p.m. Penn at Harvard

7:00 p.m. Princeton at Dartmouth

8:00 p.m. Niagara at Marist (ESPN3)

9:00 p.m. Green Bay at Cleveland St. (ESPN3)

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

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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.