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UCLA-Oregon, Louisville-Virginia headline busy night

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No. 2 UCLA at No. 21 Oregon, 9:00 p.m., ESPN 2

Two months can make a world of difference in sports. Just ask the Oregon Ducks. When this season’s preseason polls were released in October and November, Oregon was a consensus top five team, the overwhelming favorite to win the Pac-12 and one of a handful of teams that us “experts” thought had a chance to poach the national title from Duke.

Fast forward to today and the Ducks have posted a 3-2 record against power conference foes, losing by 17 at Baylor and to a mediocre Georgetown team before struggling to put away NIT hopefuls Tennessee, Alabama and UConn. It hasn’t been pretty, but Oregon also hasn’t been truly healthy all season long. Dillon Brooks, a first-team NBC Sports preseason all-american, missed the first three games of the season coming back from foot surgery. He didn’t actually start a game until Oregon played UNLV two weeks ago, which just so happened to be the first game that Chris Boucher missed with an ankle injury.

Dana Altman has been coy publicly about his status, but Boucher is expected to play tonight, meaning that tonight should be the first time all season long that we’ve seen the Oregon team that we expected to see this season.

And what better time for that team to show up than their Pac-12 opener, a home game against the league’s resident powerhouse, UCLA. The Bruins have been steam-rolling everyone this season, including a trip to Rupp Arena where they beat then-No. 1 Kentucky in their only true road game to date.

Here’s another morsel to chew on: Assuming that the now-100 percent Oregon team plays at close to the level that we thought Oregon would play at in October, this is probably the toughest test that the Bruins will face in the conference this season. If UCLA wins this game, just how long will their undefeated run last?

  • Prediction: I hate betting on road favorites, but given the uncertain nature of Oregon’s health, I think UCLA (-2.5) is probably the safer bet. That said, the bet I like more is taking the over, which is set at 160 points.

RESETS: ACC | Big Ten | Big East | Pac-12 | SEC | Big 12

No. 12 Virginia at No. 6 Louisville, 7:00 p.m., ESPN 2

This is not going to be a pretty basketball game to watch.

At all.

Let’s start with the obvious: these are the two best defensive teams in the country, according to KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, and when you toss in the fact that Virginia plays at the slowest tempo in all of college basketball, there is not going to be much running-and-gunning on in the Yum! Center tonight.

And that’s before you get into the x’s-and-o’s of those defenses. Let’s start with Virginia, whose Pack-Line defense is designed to bait opponents into shooting contested jumpers while clearing the defensive glass. Louisville is 222nd nationally in three-point shooting, but they are 11th in offensive rebounding percentage. In other words, the things that Louisville does well are precisely the things that Tony Bennett has his team takeaway, and where the Cardinals struggle is what UVA goads opponents into trying to do.

But let’s look at this from the other side of things. The Cardinals run the most confusing defense in the country, an amalgam of different pressure, man-to-man and zone looks that they execute equally well and use to confuse opposing offenses. And while Virginia brought back London Perrantes, they really don’t have anyone else on the roster that has been in a primary role playing against a defense like this in an environment like this. If Louisville can shut down Malik Monk, what are they going to do to Kyle Guy?

That’s a long-winded way of saying that I fully expect this game to be a grind-it-out affair, one where every bucket is earned.

  • Prediction: I like Louisville (-3.5) in this game, mainly because I’m of the mindset that Virginia is somewhat overrated because of what they lack on the offensive end of the floor. I also like the under, which has climbed to 121.5 points at the time of this posting.

THE REST OF WEDNESDAY’S INTERESTING GAMES

Seton Hall at No. 10 Creighton, 8:00 p.m., FS2: This will be a good test for Creighton, a team that lights it up offensively but can have some issues when it comes to toughness, particularly in the paint. Seton Hall? They might be the toughest team in the country. Prediction: I like Seton Hall (+6.5), but the line opened at (+9), so get those bets in soon.

Providence at No. 17 Xavier, 7:00 p.m.: The Friars have a guady, 11-2 record on the season, but they have done much to justify that record to date beyond a win over a Rhode Island team that has not lived up to expectation. Xavier, on the other hand, has struggled a bit themselves this season, as their offense has looked limited without Myles Davis on the floor. Prediction: This is the game where Providence gets exposed. Xavier (-10).

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

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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.