American Athletic Conference releases 2014-15 schedule

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Thursday afternoon the American Athletic Conference became the latest league to release its schedule for the 2014-15 season. And with Cincinnati, UConn, Memphis, SMU and Tulsa all playing each other two times apiece, the league has made sure to match up its projected contenders for the conference title. With Louisville moving on to the ACC, the question for the American is what they can do to follow up on a successful debut season.

UConn won the national title as a seven-seed, and four other programs participated in postseason play with SMU playing deep into the Postseason NIT after just missing out on the NCAA tournament. With Louisville and Rutgers no longer in the fold the American adds East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa with the Golden Hurricane expected to be the team most likely to threaten the four remaining programs who factored into the league race a season ago.

Led by a new head coach in Frank Haith, the Golden Hurricane return the majority of their rotation from last season’s NCAA tournament team with guard James Woodard leading the way. Below are five games that stand out on the conference schedule, with five games on New Year’s Eve kicking things off.

– SMU at Cincinnati, January 3: The Mustangs, even with Emmanuel Mudiay deciding to play professionally, are seen as the favorite to win the American this year. Their first road game will be played against a Cincinnati team that won a share of the regular season title last year, but the Bearcats lost a very important trio of seniors led by Sean Kilpatrick.

– UConn at Tulsa, January 13: Can the Golden Hurricane contend? This game will help answer that question, and for UConn the meeting comes just before their important non-conference game at Stanford.

– Temple at SMU, February 19: The Owls won just four conference games last season, but one of those wins came at the expense of SMU. Fran Dunphy’s team should be deeper, even with the loss of forward Anthony Lee, with Texas transfer Jaylen Bond now eligible to play. Can Temple improve its standing within the American? A win here would undoubtedly help in that mission.

– SMU at UConn, March 1: The Mustangs won both meetings last season, including a win at Gampel Pavilion that was their first road victory over a ranked team in more than a decade. The matchup of Nic Moore and Ryan Boatright at the point won’t lack for entertainment, and both teams have multiple perimeter options capable of stealing the show.

– Memphis at Cincinnati, March 8: The Bearcats won both meetings in comfortable fashion last season, but who really knows what these two teams will look like in the regular season finale for both? Cincinnati’s key losses are noted above, and Memphis lost four seniors from its backcourt. By early March the hope for both teams is that their key contributors will be more comfortable in their new (and larger) roles.

Also of note is the fact that the conference tournament format has been changed. There will be three first round games played on Thursday, March 12, and the event will run from Thursday-Sunday. The XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut will host this year’s conference tournament.

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.