CBT Roundtable: Sweet 16 surprises

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Connecticut v Louisville

Yesterday, we took you through what we believed to be the biggest surprise heading into the Sweet 16. Today, our stable of writers makes a prediction: What will be the most surprising thing that happens over the course of these next eight games?:

RELATEDSweet 16 Power Rankings | Top 16 Players | Eight Critical Individual Matchups

Rob Dauster: There will be no teams left from the state of Michigan and three schools left from the SEC by the time Saturday rolls around. It goes against everything that I picked in my bracket and everything that I’ve predicted in typing out the Sweet 16 previews, but the matchups all seem to lean in that direction. Tennessee’s playing their best basketball of Cuonzo Martin’s tenure and has the size and strength up front to overwhelm the Wolverines. The same can be said about Kentucky, assuming the Wildcats can find a way to slow down Russ Smith. And Michigan State’s Keith Appling still isn’t 100%, which will be a major problem against Virginia’s staunch half court defense. In other words, my bracket — which actually looks pretty good right now — will be one hot, steaming pile of garbage by the time the Sweet 16 is done and overwith.

Scott Phillips: I had Baylor getting past Creighton and into the Sweet 16 because I believed the Bears had the length and the athleticism to get past the Bluejays, but Baylor is playing great ball right now and looks like a team that isn’t done winning. The Bears have that aforementioned length and the athleticism to matchup well with Wisconsin and they won’t be concerned about the Badgers’ ability to space the floor as long as they can hit some shots of their own. Scott Drew’s team is playing with a lot of confidence down the stretch and Wisconsin isn’t playing in their home state anymore. I think Baylor gets by Wisconsin and gives a heck of a game against Arizona for the right to get to the Final Four.

SWEET 16 PREVIEWSDayton-Stanford | Wisconsin-Baylor | Florida-UCLA | Arizona-SDSU

Raphielle Johnson: These two teams have a lot in common with regards to their respective skill sets and athletic ability, as evidenced by the game they played in November that was closer than the nine-point margin. But here’s one difference now that wasn’t the case then: Dwayne Polee II is giving them quality minutes off the bench. That wasn’t the case in November, and while Arizona is different without Brandon Ashley they’re well-adjusted to not having him. If Polee can give SDSU quality bench minutes as he has the last few weeks, an upset is well within reach for the Aztecs.

Matt Giles: Florida has faced just one team this season with an offense as efficient as UCLA’s: the Gators allowed Wisconsin to score nearly one point per possession in the loss. It is worth noting that Scottie Wilbekin, UF’s best on-ball defender, was suspended and missed that game, and his presence drastically changes the team’s defense, but stopping Kyle Anderson & Company will still pose a challenge for Florida. There are so many potential mismatches — who guards Anderson? Will Travis Wear draw Patric Young away from the interior, or will Will Yeguete draw that assignment? — that Thursday night’s contest could result in an top-seed upset for the Bruins.

Terrence Payne: Biggest surprise of this week will be Tennessee continuing its run through the NCAA tournament to the Elite 8. The consensus was on Selection Sunday, that the Midwest Region was going to be the most difficult part of the bracket. Despite being loaded with top teams, I believe the Volunteers will punch one of the region’s two tickets to the Elite 8. Jeronne Maymon and especially Jarnell Stokes have been a handful on the boards, which is something Michigan could have trouble with in the Sweet 16. Add in Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson, who is averaging 19.3 points per game in the tournament, and it looks like Tennessee is poised for its fourth tournament win. We’ve seen it before with First Four teams causing chaos in the tournament, whether it’s VCU or La Salle. I think Tennessee can continue that trend on Friday night.

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.