Weekend Preview: Three great matchups, headlined by two top ten battles

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 9 Gonzaga at No. 3 Arizona, Sat. 5:15 p.m.

There may not be five games this season that are more intriguing than seeing the two best teams on the west coast square off. Kevin Pangos has been the best guard in the country this season — I’m not sure it’s all that close — but he will be forced to square off against a tough, veteran defender in T.J. McConnell. Up front is where it gets even more interesting, as Arizona’s massive front line will be forced to deal with the versatility that Mark Few has at his disposal.

The game is at the McKale Center in Tucson, which means that the Wildcats will enter the game as the favorites. But they are going to have to find a way to score, because Gonzaga is one of the toughest teams to matchup with in the country. The key may end up being how the Zags deal with the size of Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on the wing.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 6 Texas at No. 1 Kentucky, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

As good as this game is on paper, I’m not sure that it will end up being all that close come 9:00 p.m. on Friday night. There are two reasons for that: 1. The game is being played at Rupp, and with the way that Kentucky is playing right now, I’m not sure anyone can beat them in Rupp; and 2. Texas will be without guard Isaiah Taylor, the lightning quick penetrator that would help them negate the size advantage the Harrisons have in the back court. The good news for Texas? They won’t get pushed around inside. The Longhorns have just as many bigs that are just as, well, big as Kentucky’s front line.

THE OTHER, OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 7 Virginia at VCU, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

You won’t find a better matchup of styles all season long. Virginia likes to grind it out, controlling tempo and clock and running their sets until they get a good look, even if it takes 30 seconds to do so. VCU? They’re ‘Havoc’. They’re flying all over the court, trying to force turnovers and make the game as choppy as possible. What wins out?

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FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH:

  • Florida at No. 11 Kansas, Fri. 9:00 p.m.: Fair to say that these have been the two most disappointing preseason top ten teams? Kansas looks like they’ve turned a corner. Florida? Not so much.
  • No. 2 Wisconsin at Marquette, Sat. 12:30 p.m.: Rivalries don’t get much more heated than this. The problem? Marquette is rebuilding and Wisconsin is pissed they just lose to Duke.
  • Boise State at Saint Mary’s, Sat. 11:30 p.m.: Saint Mary’s is probably better than they are getting credit for right now, and Boise State should matchup well with them.
  • Creighton at Nebraska, Sun. 7:00 p.m.: Wisconsin-Marquette isn’t the only in-state rivalry game being played. This game becomes that much better now that both programs are good.
  • St. Joseph’s at No. 10 Villanova, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: There’s a reason this is called ‘the Holy War’.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 13 San Diego State at Washington, Sun. 9:00 p.m.

Washington is better than anyone is giving them credit for this season, although I’m not sure that actually means all that much. They won the Wooden Legacy last month and have one of the nation’s most underrated point guards in Nigel Williams-Goss running the show. SDSU is good — really good — but a road game late on a Sunday night is never an easy one to play.

UPSET WATCH:

  • Yale at UConn, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: Yale is the second-best team in the Ivy, they have a powerful front line and UConn’s all kinds of banged up right now.
  • Green Bay at No. 15 Miami, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: The Phoenix may not pull this off, but Angel Rodriguez vs. Keifer Sykes will make watching them try worth the time.
  • Towson at Georgetown, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: A local battle, as the Tigers are from right up I-95 in Baltimore. Should we call this the Annual Jerelle Benimon Classic
  • FGCU at UMass, Sun. 2:00 p.m.: UMass is in a bit of a rebuilding mode this season. FGCU? They have as good of a back court as you will find at the mid-major level. They’re not #DunkCity, but they can play.
  • No. 18 Arkansas at Clemson, Sun. 5:00 p.m.: The Razorbacks are not very good on the road, at least not historically. Clemson isn’t all that good either, but Arkansas has a tendency to lose games like that upon occasion.

FIVE STORY LINES

1. Saint Louis at No. 8 Wichita State, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: The Shockers are coming off of their first loss in the regular in 35 games. How will they bounce back?

2. St. John’s at Syracuse, Sat. 5:15 p.m.: Two only Big East rivals square off.

3. Eastern Kentucky at No. 1 Kentucky, Sun. 6:00 p.m.: The nation’s best team will be in action for the second time this weekend.

4. Wyoming at SMU, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: SMU desperately needs a marquee win, and believe it or not, Wyoming is actually a pretty good win. They are one of the best teams in the MWC and already own a 23-point win over Colorado.

5. Ole Miss at Oregon, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: Ole Miss had a rough start to the year, but they’ve turned things around in recent weeks. Can Oregon, who lost to Michigan and VCU last week, do the same?

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.