Weekend Preview: Saturday is the best slate of games this season

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 9 Oklahoma State at No. 15 Kansas, 4:00 p.m.

This is going to be a doozy. Let’s start with the obvious: Oklahoma State and Kansas are the two best teams in the Big 12. And while the preseason luster of Marcus Smart vs. Andrew Wiggins (who, at the time, were considered the two favorites to win National Player of the Year) has faded a bit, there is still a bit of animosity there. Marcus Smart called out this year’s freshmen class in the preseason. He also infamously did a back-flip after the Pokes knocked off Kansas in Stillwater last year. Add in the intrigue of Bill Self being a graduate of Oklahoma State and, well, you have your pick of storylines heading into this one.

The basketball should be just as intriguing, although I think that Oklahoma State is going to have some trouble with Kansas for one reason: Joel Embiid. He may actually have the highest ceiling of any prospect in this draft class, and as a 7-footer with a low-post game, he is going to give an Oklahoma State team lacking in post front court depth problems. Travis Ford is really going to feel the loss of Michael Cobbins on Saturday.

 

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 22 Pittsburgh at No. 2 Syracuse, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

Since having one intriguing game on the docket at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday isn’t enough, why don’t we just go ahead and have the two best teams in the ACC square off at the same time as well. That’s right, I said the “two best teams in the ACC”. Pitt and Syracuse, longtime Big East rivals, are now taking over Tobacco Road. Part of me loves this, part of it breaks my Big East-born-and-raised heart, but what I know for certain is that this matchup doesn’t have any shortage of storylines, either.

As far as the actual game is concerned, I think Pitt actually matches up fairly well with the Orange. Lamar Patterson is the prototype for high-post zone busters given his size and skill, James Robinson isn’t going to be flustered by Syracuse’s length and ability to force turnovers, and the Panthers can get to the offensive glass against the zone. But playing without Durand Johnson, one of their better perimeter shooters, is going to hurt.

FIVE  TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • Tennessee at No. 13 Kentucky, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Kentucky isn’t going to have a chance to pick up too many quality wins in the SEC this season, and given their mediocre resume to date and a loss to Arkansas this week, they cannot afford to lose to a Tennessee team that is, quite frankly, desperate.
  • No. 25 Oklahoma at No. 12 Baylor, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Oklahoma has a ton of perimeter talent but they don’t have much front court depth. Baylor has a loaded front line. Neither team plays any defense, and both have a number of highlight reel dunkers. Fundamentals may go out the window, but it will be fun.
  • Indiana State at No. 5 Wichita State, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: If the Shockers are going to lose to anyone in Missouri Valley play, it’s probably going to be Indiana State and Jake Odum, who already own a win at Notre Dame this season.
  • Michigan at No. 3 Wisconsin, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: Wisconsin might be a bit overrated at this point, while Michigan, sans Mitch McGary, looks like they are finally finding their stride.
  • No. 18 Louisville at UConn, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: It’s ironic, really. UConn and Louisville are incredibly similar. They both have an all-american lead guard, a talented-but-enigmatic back court mate, an inconsistent wing forward and a front line that could use some depth. Shabazz Napier vs. Russ Smith is going to be must-see TV.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • N.C. State at No. 23 Duke, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Duke struggles defending quick, penetrating guards. N.C. State has Cat Barber and Tyler Lewis, not to mention one of the best scorers in the country in T.J. Warren.
  • No. 8 Iowa State at Texas, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Iowa State is a team that is notorious for struggling in road games. Texas may not be a tournament team this year, but they are nowhere near as bad as was originally thought.
  • UNLV at No. 10 San Diego State, Sat. 6:05 p.m.: UNLV is talented and desperate for a big win. They have the size to matchup with SDSU, and if DeVille Smith, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Kevin Olekaibe play like they did Wednesday, the Runnin’ Rebels are dangerous.
  • No. 16 UMass at Elon, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Elon is the best team in the SoCon, coming off of a win at Davidson on Thursday. UMass is talented and 15-1, but they’ve had a tendency to start slow and struggle to beat teams they’re better than of late.
  • No. 4 Michigan State at Illinois, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Are the Spartans healthy? Because if they aren’t, they could lose to anyone. And for all of Illinois’ issues this season, they have two talented guards and they can get after it defensively.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) There are going to be three good games on the NBC Sports Network this weekend. There will be a double-header on Saturday, with George Mason heading to Rhode Island (12:30 p.m.) and Fordham visiting No. 24 Saint Louis (2:30 p.m.). On Sunday, there will be a CAA battle as Towson heads to Charleston at 3:30 p.m.

2) The Big Ten is going to churn out awesome matchups on a daily basis this season, and Minnesota at No. 14 Iowa at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday falls into that category. The Gophers looked great beating Ohio State at home. Road trips are a different story.

3) Doug McDermott continues his initiation into the Big East as No. 20 Creighton makes the trip to Providence on Saturday at 8:00 p.m.

4) Florida State heads to Virginia at noon on Saturday in a game that will have some real implications in the ACC standings. Both the ‘Noles and the ‘Hoos are sitting at 3-1 in ACC play..

5) A pair of SEC teams with unblemished league records hit the road on Saturday: Texas A&M at Mississippi State, Sat. 1:30 p.m., and No. 7 Florida at Auburn, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

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.

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.