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Weekend Preview: Here are the games you need to be ready to watch

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 5 Arizona at No. 13 Oregon, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: First place in the Pac-12 is on the line on Saturday afternoon as Arizona, who currently sits at 10-0 in the league, a game ahead of the Ducks, makes the trek up to Eugene to square off with Oregon. The Wildcats have quietly turned into one of the nation’s best and most dangerous teams. They vaulted their way among the elite when Allonzo Trier returned, which just so happened to coincide with Arizona’s 96-85 win in Pauley Pavilion.

But Trier has turned into the best guard on the Wildcats, which is saying quite a bit considering how well Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins have played at times this season. Coming off the bench, Trier is averaging 14.8 points and 3.8 assists after his 18-point outburst on Thursday night, a season-high, and the key for Sean Miller moving forward is going to be how he manages egos and playing time. Because Trier needs to be on the floor. But Simmons and Alkins have become accustomed to playing 29 minutes a night, and not only is Trier cutting into their minutes but Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who missed time with an ankle injury early in league play, is healthy and playing well, too.

And that’s before you factor in Kadeem Allen, who has turned into the defensive stopper and glue guy this group needed. Throw in Lauri Markannen – who, by the way, is having an all-american season – and Dusan Ristic, and this Arizona team that had depth and experience issues entering the year suddenly has a wealth of weapons.

They’ll pay a visit to an Oregon team that is coming off a strenuous, one-point win over Arizona State. The Sun Devil guards ripped the Ducks apart on Thursday, which isn’t a good sign considering that Arizona’s back court is, well, better. The Wildcats, however, are going to have to figure out a way to deal with Dillon Brooks, who went off for 27 points on Thursday night – including the final 12 for the Ducks – as he continues to prove just how good he is when he’s healthy.

Sitting a game out of first place in the conference, Oregon more or less has to win this if they want a shot at the conference regular season title. There is no return trip to the McKale Center, and not only does Oregon have to make a trip to Pauley Pavilion next week, but the Wildcats get UCLA at home later this year. If Arizona is good enough to win in Eugene, they’re probably good enough that they won’t blow a two-game lead with seven games left.

And if Arizona is able to get this win, the battle for the No. 1 seed in the west with Gonzaga is going to get awful interesting.

  • PREDICTION: I actually think that Arizona will go in and win this outright, so I’ll take Arizona (+2).
Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)
Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)

No. 23 Purdue at No. 17 Maryland, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: There are Big Ten title implications in this game. Maryland sits tied with Wisconsin for first place, a full two games ahead of both Purdue and and Northwestern. If the Boilermakers lose this, any chance they had of winning a Big Ten regular season title is all-but out the window. You don’t make up three games on two teams in the span of a month. It doesn’t work that way.

But the far more interesting angle here is in regard to Maryland. The Terps are 20-2 this season. They’re ranked No. 17 in the country. They’re 8-1 in the Big Ten. And they have yet to play a single team that is currently ranked in the top 25 or that was ranked in the top 25 at the time that they played them. Purdue will be the first.

RELATED: What should we make of Maryland?

It’s that lack of elite competition, and the fact that the Terps seem to play everyone close, regardless of how good they are, that has people wondering whether or not Maryland is the real deal. This will be their chance to prove it.

  • PREDICTION: I expect this game to be close. KenPom expects this game to be close. Melo Trimble, in his career, is 29-6 in games decided by six points or less, including 9-1 this season. If you can get Maryland (+3), take it.

No. 8 Kentucky at No. 24 Florida, Sat. 8:15 p.m.: For those of you that want to see Kentucky lose out on the SEC regular season title, this game could not have come at a more perfect moment in time. The Gators after playing some of their best basketball of the season at the moment while Kentucky is doing exactly the opposite. The Wildcats lost at Tennessee last week and followed that up with a home loss to Kansas over the weekend. On Tuesday night, Malik Monk’s 37-point outburst is the only thing that kept the Wildcats from dropping a game to Georgia at home, and all this is going on while De’Aaron Fox and, seemingly, half the Kentucky roster battles some sort of stomach bug.

The way the SEC standings currently breakdown, Kentucky is tied for first in the conference with South Carolina at 8-1 while Florida sits a game back of them at 7-2. This is Florida’s chance.

  • PREDICTION: KenPom is currently projecting a two-point Florida win, but KenPom’s ratings of Florida might be skewed a little bit because the Gators were unable to play in the O-Dome until Dec. 21st. Still, I think I’d take Florida (-2).

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FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • No. 20 Notre Dame at No. 12 North Carolina, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: The Game of the Weekend in the ACC. The Irish enter this one having lost three straight and four of their last five games. Righting that ship is not going to be an easy thing to do in the Dean Dome. PREDICTION: North Carolina (-9)
  • No. 9 Virginia at Syracuse, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This game is more or less a must-win for a Syracuse team that badly needs marquee wins to make up for some of the horrendous losses they took earlier this season. The Orange have won three straight. PREDICTION: Syracuse (+7)
  • Xavier at No. 22 Creighton, Sat. 3:00 p.m.: Two teams learning to play without their star point guards. Xavier barely survived Seton Hall at home on Wednesday, and now they have to head to play a Creighton team in Omaha coming off of a win at Butler. PREDICTION: Creighton (-6)
  • Illinois State at Wichita State, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: This is Illinois State’s chance to essentially lock up the MVC regular season title; they sit a game in front of the Shockers in the standings. And Illinois State win here and a Wichita State conference tournament title is also probably the only way the MVC will get two bids into the NCAA tournament. PREDICTION: Wichita State (-7)
  • Iowa State at No. 3 Kansas, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: It always seems to be a thriller when these two programs get together, and while the Cyclones seemed destined to spend the next month on the bubble, it is worth noting that the Jayhawks can’t seem to keep themselves out of the headlines for off-the-court stuff. Can Iowa State strike while the iron is … distracted? PREDICTION: Kansas (-10)

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.