Weekend Preview: Saturday is the year’s best day of college hoops to date

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Delon Wright (AP Photo)

GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 8 Utah at No. 10 Arizona, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

The title of Pac-12 favorite will be on the line on Saturday evening in Tucson as the upstart Utes make their trip to the McKale Center to take on Arizona. Utah has been one of the most pleasantly surprising teams in the country this season, having steamrolled through the first three games in league play after putting together an impressive showing in the non-conference. And Arizona? They’re coming off of a loss at Oregon State on Sunday, putting a seed of doubt in the minds of people trying to figure out just how the power structure of the Pac-12 shakes out.

Everything about this matchup is tantalizing, from watching all-american candidate Delon Wright square off with the more highly-touted Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson to the battle between the two big, physical front lines. Winning in Arizona is not an easy thing to do, which is why it will be quite a statement by the Utes if they’re able to pull it off.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 4 Duke at No. 6 Louisville, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

Duke is reeling right now. The Blue Devils are coming off of back-to-back poor performances on the defensive end in losses to N.C. State and Miami, and the way that Louisville plays — pick-and-roll heavy offensive schemes — matches up perfectly with the weaknesses in the Blue Devil defense. That said, Duke still has nine McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster and one of the best coaches in the history of the game, not to mention Jahlil Okafor, which means that a third straight Duke loss here is anything but a given.

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • No. 9 Kansas at No. 11 Iowa State, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: Our first Gameday of the season. Kansas once again looks like the class of the Big 12, but there’s a reason that Iowa State’s home court has a reputation for creating Hilton Magic. Expect a raucous atmosphere in Ames on Saturday night.
  • No. 16 West Virginia at No. 20 Texas, Sat. 6:15 p.m.: Texas has had a rough start to their Big 12 season and, if they’re going to have a chance at winning the league this year, they’ll need to defend their home court. It won’t be easy, however, as Bob Huggins has a feisty group that presses as hard as anyone in the country.
  • No. 24 Oklahoma State at No. 18 Oklahoma, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Bedlam! As you can see, based on the first three games listed here, the Big 12 is going to be nuts this year.
  • Michigan State at No. 14 Maryland, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Maryland’s first Big Ten game ever was a double-overtime win in East Lansing. The Spartans get their shot at revenge on Saturday.
  • No. 1 Kentucky at Alabama, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Another road trip for the Wildcats, this time to an Alabama team that has proven to be tougher than advertised this season.
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Johnathan Motley (AP Photo)

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 22 Baylor at Kansas State, Sat. 3:00 p.m.

This is how competitive the Big 12 is this season: One of these two teams is the eighth-best team in the conference. Baylor took a major step in the right direction on Wednesday night when they knocked off Iowa State in Waco, while Kansas State has won three in a row after an ugly Big 12 opener left them at 7-7 on the season. If the Wildcats are going to make the tournament this season, they absolutely cannot afford to lose to anyone at home.

UPSET WATCH

  • Miami at No. 12 Notre Dame, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Miami is coming off of an upset win at Duke on Tuesday night. Notre Dame beat Georgia Tech on Wednesday, but they barely hung on while playing undermanned and undersized; Zach Auguste is not expected to be available for the Irish. Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson vs. Angel Rodriguez and Manu Lecomte will be fun.
  • No. 13 Wichita State at Evansville, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: The Shockers still appear to be the class of the Missouri Valley, but Evansville has already beaten Northern Iowa at home this season and as one of the nation’s best mid-major scorers in D.J. Balentine.
  • No. 25 Wyoming at Fresno State, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: Fresno State is 4-1 in the Mountain West. So is Wyoming, although the Pokes just lost to San Diego State at home on Wednesday night.
  • UNLV at San Diego State, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: UNLV currently has more potential first round picks on their roster than they do wins in the Mountain West. They’re talented, but winning at SDSU is not an easy thing to do.
  • Ohio State at Iowa, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Ohio State is probably the better of these two teams, but Iowa is 3-1 in the Big Ten.

FIVE STORY LINES

1. There will be five games on NBCSN this weekend:

  • Saint Louis at Dayton, Sat. 12:30 p.m.
  • Rhode Island at UMass, Sat. 2:30 p.m.
  • George Mason at George Washington, Sat. 4:30 p.m.
  • St. Joseph’s at St. Bonaventure, Sun. 2:30 p.m.

2. UConn at Stanford, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: UConn desperately needs a non-conference win for their tournament resume, while Stanford is in a position where they really can’t afford a loss to a bubble team.

3. Butler at Georgetown, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: Two potential tournament teams from the Big East square off in the battle of the adorable mascots.

4. BYU at Saint Mary’s, Sat. 11:00 p.m.: Gonzaga is the best team in the WCC, but if the conference has any chance of getting a second at-large bid, they’ll likely need St. Mary’s to win all their non-Gonzaga games.

5. Florida at Georgia, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Georgia is a tougher team than they have gotten credit for this season, especially at home. Florida has struggled all year long, but it looks like Billy Donovan’s crew is finally putting things together.

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.