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Oregon-UCLA Preview: Bruins looking for validation, Ducks seeking case for No. 1

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On the other side of the country, one of the oldest and most storied college basketball rivalries will likely dominate the evening. When Duke and North Carolina get together, it grabs eyeballs and sucks a lot of oxygen out of the room.

Don’t forget about tonight’s nightcap, though.

UCLA and Oregon may not have the rivalry bonafides of their Tobacco Road counterparts, but they do lay claim to one of the best games of this season. The rematch tonight in Pauley Pavilion promises to be just as intriguing.

It wasn’t so long ago the Bruins were the darlings of college basketball, with Lonzo Ball’s play at point guard reinvigorating the program thanks to an offensive style that’s both beautiful and devastating as they won their first 13 games of the season.

That loss to the Ducks to end December didn’t do much to take the shine off, especially after UCLA ripped off six-straight wins after it, but back-to-back losses to Arizona and USC at the end of January pushed the Bruins’ fatal flaw to the forefront.

They can’t defend.

Oregon doesn’t bring an intimidating offense to the table, but with a defense that borders on elite, it’s an easier issue to hide. UCLA has to be brilliant on offense to beat good teams. The Ducks just have to do their thing on defense and keep things from breaking down on the other end.

The hardest cover for UCLA is, of course, Dillon Brooks. The junior had 23 points and four assists and a game-winning 3-pointer in the first matchup of the season, and, since an injury scare last month, has looked as solid as ever. He’s 16 of 24 combined in the last two games in which he’s averaged 22.5 points.

This is a game in which really UCLA has anything to prove.

Any doubts about the Ducks after they got pounded by Colorado went away when they thrashed Arizona last weekend. Oregon is exactly as good as we think they are, which is to say very, very good.

The Bruins, though? We know they can fill it up. We know Ball and T.J. Leath are dynamic freshmen and that the rest of the roster has a ton of talented offensive players. We don’t know how well the one-sided formula can work against top-tier teams, however.

UCLA has two options going forward. Either its offense has to operate at the extreme high level of its capability, with its output at capacity every night, or it has to find a way to defend a little. They don’t have to be great. Being average when your offense is awesome can be good enough.

Of course, the Pac-12 race is going to be greatly impacted by tonight’s result. If UCLA wants any chance of sticking in the thick of things, it’s a must-win. The Bruins are already two games back of the Ducks and Wildcats, and can’t fall another game back and expect to make it up before the Pac-12 tournament.

It’s paramount for Oregon, too, as it still has trips to USC and Cal on the docket while Arizona has a much more forgiving schedule. Its most difficult road game is at Arizona State to finish the regular season and the Wildcats get UCLA at home.

Gonzaga has the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the west, but Oregon could lay claim to No. 1 elsewhere if things break right throughout the rest of the country. To those ends, a win in Westwood would be a nice addition to the resume. For UCLA, though, a win over Oregon could be a signal that, despite their deficiencies, the game’s about getting buckets and there’s few who get them like the Bruins.

Prediction: Other than the blip in Boulder, Oregon has spent the last two-plus months playing really good basketball. The fact that they can do that on both ends of the floor means they’re the pick here (+4.5).

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

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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.