Weekend Preview: Can Virginia win the ACC outright?

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 4 Syracuse at No. 12 Virginia, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

All of a sudden, this looks like the biggest game in the ACC this season. Believe it or not, Virginia currently holds a one game lead over the Orange in the ACC standings, and a win would clinch the ‘Hoos the outright regular season title. But Virginia has not beaten one of the other top four teams in the conference since January 20th and they only play Duke, North Carolina and the Orange once each. It’s weird when you think about it, but there’s a possibility that the ACC champ could end up being the fourth-highest seed from the ACC once the bracket is announced.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 7 Louisville at No. 21 Memphis, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Louisville added a bit of credibility to their resume when they knocked off Cincinnati in Cincinnati last weekend. They’ll head to Memphis this weekend to try and exact revenge for a whipping that the Tigers put on the Cardinals at the Yum! Center earlier this season. Russ Smith vs. Joe Jackson will be a battle between two of the most under-appreciated guards in college basketball.

THE OTHER, OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 10 Saint Louis at VCU, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

This will be fun. VCU game the Billikens all that they could handle in Saint Louis two weeks ago, but Richmond is one of the tougher places to play in the country. The Rams have lost a couple games in recent weeks and really struggle to score the ball when they are forced into a half-court game — and that won’t likely change against a team as good defensively as Saint Louis is — but if VCU can force some turnovers and turn up the Havoc, they’ll have a chance.

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH:

  • No. 11 Cincinnati at UConn, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This will be one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend. Cincinnati is a big, physical team that loves to pound the offense glass. UConn? They don’t have much size up front and they rely heavily on Shabazz Napier to generate offense for them.
  • No. 9 Creighton at Xavier, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: Xavier needs wins to keep themselves on the right side of the bubble, but this will be a tough one to get. As good as Semaj Christon is, I just can’t see this group being able matchup with Creighton’s front court. Matt Stainbrook isn’t chasing Doug McDermott or Ethan Wragge around.
  • Minnesota at No. 16 Michigan, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: Michigan nearly lost to Purdue in West Lafayette on Wednesday night while Minnesota is coming off of a big win over Iowa at home. The Gophers are going to have to find a way to slow down Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert.
  • No. 5 Kansas at Oklahoma State, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: Three months ago, this looked like the best game of the season. There is still plenty of intrigue heading into the game, but Kansas has already clinched the conference and Oklahoma State is 6-9 in league play. That said, the Pokes really, really need a win.
  • Stanford at No. 3 Arizona, Sun. 8:00 p.m.: Stanford is in good enough position to earn themselves a tournament bid as of today, but if Arizona continues to play like they have the last two games, the Wildcats aren’t getting beaten by anyone.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?:

  • No. 15 Iowa State at Kansas State, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Kansas State is in a tough position right now given some of their struggles on the road. They’ve been terrific in the Octagon of Doom, however, and should give the Cyclones a fight.
  • No. 24 Texas at Oklahoma, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: The key to this game for Oklahoma will be taking advantage of the mismatches that will be created with their perimeter. Texas has a big, powerful front line but smaller, quicker guards. The Sooners basically play four guards, all of whom are bigger and more athletic that Texas’ perimeter.
  • No. 13 San Diego State at Fresno State, Sat. 10:05 p.m.: Fresno State is playing some good basketball of late. They can really score, and if the Bulldogs find a way to slow down Xavier Thames, they have the horses to pull off this upset.
  • No. 14 Wisconsin at Penn State, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: The Nittany Lions are a tough club that have pulled off a couple upsets this year. They have penetrating guards, which is something that has given Wisconsin issues.
  • No. 25 New Mexico at Nevada, Sun. 6:00 p.m.: New Mexico is playing as well as anyone in the country right now, but they will be paying a visit to a scrappy Nevada team that has one of the nation’s most underrated players in Deonte Burton.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1) No. 2 Wichita State’s bid for a perfect regular season will come to an end one way or another on Saturday. They host Missouri State in their last game before the MVC tournament begins.

2) There will be a pair of Atlantic 10 battles on the NBC Sports Network this weekend. George Mason will play at George Washington on Sunday 1:00 p.m. while Saint Joseph’s visits St. Bonaventure on Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

3) Illinois heads to East Lansing to take on No. 18 Michigan State in what will likely be Branden Dawson’s first game back from a broken hand.

4) Marquette desperately needs a marquee win to keep their bubble hopes alive. They’ll have a chance to land one at No. 8 Villanova on Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

5) This weekend’s Bubble Games:

  • UMass at Dayton, Sat. 11:00 a.m.
  • Vanderbilt at Tennessee, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • TCU at West Virginia, Sat, 1:30 p.m.
  • Texas Tech at Baylor, Sat. 1:30 p.m.
  • Mississippi State at Missouri, Sat. 1:30 p.m.
  • Pitt at Notre Dame, Sat. 2:00 p.m. ; Colorado at Utah, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Richmond at Rhode Island, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Georgia at Arkansas, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • BYU at San Diego, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Northwestern at Nebraska, Sat. 5:00 p.m.
  • Cal at Arizona State, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

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

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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.