Weekend Preview: Saturday will be the season’s best day of games

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source: AP
The Utes fell in Tucson, but they’ll get their shot at revenge (AP Photo)

GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 7 Arizona at No. 13 Utah, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

When these two teams met in Tucson earlier this season, the Wildcats embarrassed the Utes and their all-american, Delon Wright. Don’t think, for a second, that Utah has forgotten about that. With their Pac 12 title hopes on the line and the league’s power coming into their building, Utah will be ready for this one. It helps that they’ve been playing some of their best basketball of the season of late, as their defense as been embarrassingly good. As in, they embarrass people. Ask Arizona State, who was down 41-9 at halftime on Thursday night.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 10 Northern Iowa at No. 11 Wichita State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

Big games in the Missouri Valley are always going to be entertaining to watch, and this matchup will be no different. Both the Shockers and the Panthers are exceedingly well-coached defensive powerhouses that execute well offensively and count the three best players in the conference — Seth Tuttle, Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet — on their rosters. Oh, and should I mention that this is the Missouri Valley championship game? Both teams are currently tied at 16-1 in the league.

With all due respect to Utah, Kentucky and Kansas, you will not find a better environment for a basketball game on Saturday than in Koch Arena.

FIVE OTHER GAMES TO WATCH

  • No. 18 Arkansas at No. 1 Kentucky, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: This will be the first time that Kentucky has faced a ranked team this year. Literally. The last time was in December, when they won at Louisville. This is not a great matchup for the Razorbacks, but their pressure might rattle Kentucky’s back court.
  • Texas at No. 8 Kansas, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: The Longhorns are on the verge of playing themselves out of the NCAA tournament, while the Jayhawks were on the verge of playing themselves out of the Big 12 title race before Iowa State lost.
  • Michigan State at No. 5 Wisconsin, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: The Spartans entered Thursday as one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten. They will now enter the weekend having lost to Minnesota at home.
  • No. 20 West Virginia at No. 19 Baylor, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Can we just call this the battle for Big 12 Coach of the Year?
  • Boise State as No. 24 San Diego State, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: The two best teams in the Mountain West Conference this season? Boise State needs this win to get onto the right side of the bubble, and with Derrick Marks playing like an all-american in league play, they might have a shot to do that.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 6 Villanova at Xavier, Sat. 2:00 p.m.

The Wildcats are far and away the best team in the Big East this season, which says more about Villanova than it does the rest of the conference. Xavier is one of those teams in the next team, in the conversation with Georgetown, Providence and Butler as the second-best team in the league. The Wildcats can clinch the outright Big East title with a win, but the Musketeers are playing for the chance to avoid sweating out Selection Sunday.

UPSET WATCH

  • No. 17 Louisville at Florida State, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Will Louisville struggle after a week full of Chris Jones drama, or will ridding themselves of that burden help them?
  • No. 12 Iowa State at Kansas State, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Kansas State can beat anyone in the Big 12 — ask Oklahoma and Kansas — but the Cyclones are coming off of a home loss to Baylor. Will they be looking to make a statement?
  • No. 15 North Carolina at Miami, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Miami desperately needs this win if they are going to get an at-large bid, and the Tar Heels have had some issues this season. Which Angel Rodriguez will show up on Saturday?
  • Dayton at No. 22 VCU, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: This isn’t an ideal matchup for the Flyers, as they don’t have much depth at all, which is a difficult thing to deal with against Havoc. But the Flyers are tied for first in the conference despite playing with just six scholarship players.
  • BYU at No. 3 Gonzaga, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: Gonzaga isn’t playing for much — NCAA tournament seeding, that’s it — while BYU is essentially playing for their at-large life.

FIVE MORE STORY LINES

1. There is one games on NBCSN and Live Extra this weekend: Rhode Island at La Salle, Sat. 12:30 p.m.

2. Games with Bubble Implications

  • Cincinnati at Tulane, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Missouri at Georgia, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • Georgetown at St. John’s, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • N.C. State at Boston College, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • Ole Miss at LSU, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • Iowa at Penn State, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
  • George Washington at Davidson, Sat. 7:00 p.m.
  • Northwestern at Illinois, Sat. 7:00 p.m.
  • Tulsa at Memphis, Sat. 8:00 p.m.
  • Auburn at Texas A&M, Sat. 8:30 p.m.
  • Pitt at Wake Forest, Sun. 6:30 p.m.
  • Oregon at Stanford, Sun. 7:00 p.m.
  • Purdue at Ohio State, Sun. 7:30 p.m.
  • Washington State at UCLA, Sun. 9:30 p.m.

3. Wild regular season finishes: The CAA, the Big South and the Horizon all have at least four teams that can win a share of the regular season title, depending on how the games this weekend play out.

4. Syracuse at No. 4 Duke, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: The last time these two played in Cameron Indoor Stadium, this happened.

5. Manhattan at Iona, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: The nation’s most underrated rivalry.

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.