Thursday’s Pregame Shootaround: Loaded day of conference tournament action

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 18 Memphis vs. No. 21 UConn, 8:00 p.m., ESPNU

This is one heck of a quarterfinal matchup in the inaugural American Athletic Conference Tournament that pits the only matchup of the day between ranked teams. Memphis will have the homecourt advantage playing in its hometown, even though they are the No. 5 seed, and they’ll look to avenge being swept in the regular season by the Huskies. UConn, meanwhile, has struggled on the offensive end down the stretch as they’ve failed to crack 70 points in their last six games. The last time the Huskies cracked 70? An 86-81 overtime win over Memphis on February 15th.

RELATED: Is your team in the field of 68? Check our latest Bracketology

THE OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT: Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Kansas, 3:00 p.m., ESPN2

The Cowboys have won five out of six games — including a 72-65 home win over Kansas — since the return of Marcus Smart and they’ll look to keep that momentum going in this Big 12 quarterfinal matchup. Oklahoma State looks like a different team in these last few weeks after their nearly devastating mid-season swoon, and a win over Kansas would continue to build momentum going into the NCAA Tournament. Kansas, meanwhile, will see how they fare without center Joel Embiid in the lineup once again and it will be interesting to see how Andrew Wiggins plays after his monster performance against West Virginia. Whether Wiggins has a huge game or not, Kansas needs more consistency from its guard-play, as Naadir Tharpe, Frank Mason and company were soundly outplayed on both ends of the floor in the loss to West Virginia last Saturday.

RELATED: Conference Tournament schedules for every league

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? Florida State vs. Maryland, 12:00 p.m., ESPN

This would be an upset only in the sense that Florida State (18-12) is still fighting for a potential at-large bid while Maryland is playing the role of spoiler. The Terps (17-14) are playing some decent ball down the stretch as they’ve beaten Virginia Tech and Virginia and have close losses to Clemson, Duke, Syracuse and Virginia. Maryland also knocked off Florida State the last two times these teams played in February. The Seminoles need all the wins they can muster at this point in the season and they had won three consecutive games before a double-digit loss to Syracuse. It’s tough to get a read on this Florida State team this season and their inconsistent play could come back to bite them in this one.

Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Ohio vs. Akron, 6:30 p.m., ESPN3

A really solid battle in the MAC as Ohio (23-10, 11-7) and Akron (20-11, 12-6 MAC) square off in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. These two teams split in the regular season as Akron has won three straight games while Ohio has won four straight games and is also playing some good ball entering the conference tournament. It’s not very common to see a battle of 20-win teams in a mid-major quarterfinal, but both of these teams could use a win like this to propel them to the tournament title and NCAA Tournament bid. Buffalo, Toledo and Western Michigan might have something to say about that, but the MAC is pretty deep with teams that could win the conference tournament.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) The Big 12 quarterfinals are easily the best top-to-bottom matchups of the day as West Virginia (17-14) takes on Texas (22-9), Baylor (22-10) faces No. 17 Oklahoma (23-8) and Kansas State (20-11) battles with No. 16 Iowa State (23-7) besides the aforementioned Oklahoma State and Kansas showdown.

2) While No. 3 Villanova and No. 14 Creighton should get by Seton Hall and DePaul, respectively, in the Big East quarterfinals, an interesting potential play-in game is brewing as St. John’s (20-11) takes on Providence (20-11) at 2:30 p.m. Both teams sit squarely on the bubble and the loser’s bubble would likely burst. Marquette (17-14) and Xavier (20-11) in the nightcap at MSG is also an enticing matchup.

3) Not to overlook our friends on the West Coast, the Pac-12 quarterfinal slate is also tremendous. Utah (21-10) will be looking for a major boost to its tournament resume with a win over No. 4 Arizona (28-3), UCLA (23-8) and Oregon (23-8) will square off in a great matchup, while bubble implications occur as Arizona State (21-10) takes on Stanford (20-11) and Colorado (22-10) matches up with Cal (19-12).

4) The SEC has some bubble teams playing in the quarterfinals as well as Missouri (21-10) takes on Texas A&M (17-14) and Arkansas (21-10) battles South Carolina (13-19). A win likely doesn’t do much good for either team, but a loss would be potentially devastating to an at-large bid.

5) The Conference-USA quarterfinals will be one to monitor today as Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech still battle for at-large bids while fighting for the automatic birth, as well. Southern Miss (26-5) has a challenging game with UTEP (23-9) while Louisiana Tech (25-6) will take on Charlotte (17-13). It’s worth noting that Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech tied atop the league standings at 13-3 with Middle Tennessee (23-8) and Tulsa (18-12), who also have quarterfinal matchups today.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25:

  • Rutgers vs. No. 5 Louisville, 3:00 p.m.
  • Utah State vs. No. 8 San Diego State, 3:00 p.m.
  • UCF vs. No. 13 Cincinnati, 7:00 p.m.
  • Fresno State vs. No. 20 New Mexico, 9:00 p.m.
  • Purdue vs. No. 24 Ohio State, 2:25 p.m.
  • Houston vs. No. 25 SMU, 1:00 p.m.

NOTABLES:

  • Penn State vs. Minnesota, 6:30 p.m.
  • Northwestern vs. Iowa, 8:30 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

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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.