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Kentucky’s non-conference schedule has highlights, lacks depth

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Kentucky announced their non-conference schedule on Monday afternoon, and there are four — maybe five — games that are going to have the potential to be instant classics.

The Wildcats get Michigan State in New York for the Champions Classic on the fourth day of the season, which is typically the best night of basketball during the first two months of the season. Then, in December, the Wildcats play UNC in Las Vegas, Louisville in the Yum! Center and Kansas in Rupp Arena.

That’s four teams right there that will enter the season as consensus top 15 teams, and that’s before you factor in a home date with UCLA. The Bruins with 15-17 last season, but they have the talent and the potential to finish the year as a top ten team. (They could also end up being a complete disaster, but that’s another topic for another day.)

So on the surface, this schedule looks better than the one that Duke released last week. We criticized Duke’s schedule, but if we’re being honest here, the only real difference between Duke’s schedule and Kentucky’s schedule is that the Blue Devils had the bad luck of drawing Florida as they’re reloading in the post-Billy Donovan years and scheduling UNLV one year after that program self-destructed.

To their credit, Kentucky schedules home-and-homes. Their rivalry with Louisville is played annually and takes place in either Rupp Arena or the Yum! Center every year. The Wildcats also have a home-and-home with UCLA, which is at home this year after Kentucky took an L at Pauley Pavilion last season, and have played similar series against programs like North Carolina and Indiana during John Calipari’s tenure. Technically speaking, the game against Kansas is also a home-and-home, although they cannot get full credit for that since it is part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

But the major issues with college basketball scheduling is still evident here. Every Kentucky fan in the world is going to watch all 13 of these games — that’s how BBN does — but there are just five games that Kentucky will play during the first two months of the season that are truly worth watching.

Yes, Stephen F. Austin, Hofstra and Valparaiso are quality mid-major programs, and yes, Arizona State is a Pac-12 program with hopes of getting to the NCAA tournament, but those are games that a Kentucky team picked by many to be the best non-Duke team in the country should be able to roll through.

There’s a reason that this happens (I detailed it in this column) and it’s not entirely Kentucky’s fault.

But it is a problem for the sport when a schedule like this is going to get lauded.

Because as good as the good games are going to be, Kentucky will be favored by at least double figures — if not 25 points — in eight of the 13 games.

Anyway, here is the full schedule:

Nov. 11: Stephen F. Austin

Nov. 13: Canisius

Nov. 15 vs. Michigan State (New York, Champions Classic)

Nov. 20: Duquesne

Nov. 23: Cleveland State

Nov. 25: UT Martin

Nov. 28: vs. Arizona State (Bahamas)

Dec. 1: vs. Hofstra (Brooklyn)

Dec. 3: UCLA

Dec. 7: Valparaiso

Dec. 17: vs. North Carolina (Las Vegas, CBS Sports Classic)

Dec. 21: at Louisville

Jan. 28: Kansas (Big 12/SEC Challenge)

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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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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.