Pregame Shootaround: Some enticing tournaments and non-conference match-ups headline the day

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 14 VCU at Old Dominion (2:00 p.m.)

This will be the first true road game of the season for Shaka Smart’s group and they’ll face a tough test in former CAA rival Old Dominion. VCU rebounded after the loss to Villanova with a strong win over Oregon while the Monarchs are coming off of a third-place finish in the Paradise Jam. The Rams will obviously be the favorites here, but keep an eye on Old Dominion junior guard Trey Freeman. The Campbell transfer is having a great year, averaging 19.8 points per game, and he bumped that number up to 21 per game in the three games at Paradise Jam.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE NIGHT: Mississippi State vs. TCU (7:00 p.m.)

While not the most outwardly appealing Saturday matchup, this is actually a game of two power conference programs off to a combined 11-0 start. The Bulldogs have a strong trio in juniors Gavin Ware and Fred Thomas and senior Roquez Thomas while TCU has senior guard Kyan Anderson, one of the more underrated performers in the Big 12. These two teams probably aren’t making major waves on the way to a NCAA Tournament berth this season, but a strong win here could build more confidence heading into conference play. Who knows: maybe one of these teams surprises us and goes on to have a great season?

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR: 

  • The Barclays Center Classic will be broadcast on NBCSN on Saturday night. No. 8 Virginia and Rutgers lock horns in the battle of winners from Friday night at 9:30 p.m. while Vanderbilt and La Salle will meet before that matchup at 7:00 p.m. The Cavaliers will be the heavy favorite against a Rutgers team with a bad home loss to Saint Peter’s and the Scarlet Knights could use a strong performance here to boost their confidence going forward.
  • After losing its opening game of the season to Charleston Southern at home, Ole Miss has won four straight games, including a win on Friday night over No. 23 Creighton. Saturday should be another stiff test for the Rebels as head coach Andy Kennedy faces his former team in Cincinnati, who is off to a 5-0 start. This should also work as a measuring stick for the Bearcats, since they haven’t faced any kind of major threat so far this season.
  • UMass and Harvard is a fun regional rivalry of non-conference foes and it will be intriguing to see how the other team reacts to each other’s star players. Wesley Saunders is off to a tremendous start and he’s one of the favorites for Player of the Year honors in the Ivy League, while Harvard won’t face many big men as talented as Minutemen center Cady Lalanne.
  • Wichita State hosts a team with some talent as Tulsa comes into town. While the No. 9 Shockers will be the heavy favorite in this one, senior guard Tekele Cotton missed Wichita State’s most recent victory with a finger injury and it will be worth monitoring to see how he does against a legitimate team here.
  • Seton Hall and George Washington has a chance to be a close non-conference clash. Pirate guard Sterling Gibbs is off to a blistering start, as he already owns one 40-point performance on the year while the Colonials feature a steady balance of double-figure scorers.

THE TOP 25:

  • Nicholls State at No. 19 Michigan, 4:00 p.m., Big Ten Network
  • College of Charleston at No. 21 West Virginia, 7:30 p.m.
  • Middle Tennessee vs. No. 23 Creighton, 6:00 p.m.

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

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.

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.