Creighton/Saint Mary’s headlines Ramada Bracketbusters event

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The Ramada Bracketbusters event is one that’s had its fair share of detractors in recent years, and this will be the final season of the event. While the event did help mid-major programs from a scheduling standpoint there was also the feeling that Bracketbusters became a bit too bloated, and the games tended to serve more as an elimination game than anything.

But regardless of how fans may feel about the event there are some very important games on the slate. Here are the five most important games on the Ramada Bracketbusters schedule.

1) Creighton at Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 6:00 p.m. on ESPN) 

Without a doubt this is the marquee game of the event, with both teams in position to greatly benefit from a victory. Creighton is probably a safe bet to get to the NCAA tournament as an at-large barring collapse, but one can never be too sure. Doug McDermott gets the national attention but the Bluejays don’t lack for weapons on the offensive end of the floor.

As for Saint Mary’s, with their best non-conference victory coming at the expense of Harvard the Gaels need this one. Matthew Dellavedova and company may get a third shot at Gonzaga in the WCC tournament title game, and between now and that possible March 11 date this is the best opportunity for Saint Mary’s to improve their resume.

2) North Dakota State at Akron (Friday, 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2) 

North Dakota State isn’t in the running for an at-large berth, ans with Taylor Braun out with a broken foot the goal for the Bison is to have him back in time for the Summit League tournament. As for Akron, Keith Dambrot’s team has won 17 straight games and they’ve got realistic hopes of receiving an at-large bid should they not win the MAC tournament.

Zeke Marshall is one of the best front court players in the event, and overall the Zips have the depth and experience needed to make waves in the NCAA tournament. This is a big five-day stretch for Akron, who visits Ohio on Wednesday night in a critical MAC battle, and they can help themselves from a seeding standpoint with two wins.

3) Detroit at Wichita State (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. on ESPN2) 

Currently leading the Missouri Valley race Wichita State is in good position to grab an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament should they need one. Detroit on the other hand will need to win the Horizon League’s automatic bid, as they did last season, if they’re to reach the Big Dance. Ray McCallum Jr. leads the way for a Detroit attack that’s both experienced and explosive, with multiple players capable of going off for 30+ points on any given night. Gregg Marshall’s Shockers will need to defend at the level that they have for much of the season, and they don’t lack for experience either. It will be interesting to see how Detroit deals with one of the loudest environments in college basketball.

4) Ohio at Belmont (Saturday, 10:00 p.m. on ESPN2) 

The best point guard matchup in Bracketbusters may be the one between South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, but this one isn’t too shabby either. Ohio’s D.J. Cooper takes on Belmont’s Kerron Johnson, with both players being just as good when it comes to scoring as they are setting up their teammates.

Both the Bobcats and Bruins have multiple offensive weapons, and both have been very good defensively when it comes to forcing turnovers. A win for either team would be a valuable Top 100 victory, which can only help from a seeding standpoint should either (or both) reach the NCAA tournament.

5) Stephen F. Austin at Long Beach State (Friday, 9:00 p.m. on ESPNU)  

While the Southland-leading Lumberjacks do have an impressive 22-3 record it’s important to note two things: four of those wins came over non-Division I opponents (which makes them 18-3 for selection committee evaluation purposes) and they have an overall strength of schedule that ranks 313th according to warrennolan.com. With that in mind, Danny Kaspar’s team can definitely use a win at Long Beach State to help their seeding prospects.

The 49ers played a brutal non-conference schedule without key transfers Tony Freeland and Keala King, and the combination of those two with Mike Caffey and James Ennis will make things difficult for a Stephen F. Austin team allowing just 49.7 points per game.

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.