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Weekend Preview: Kansas-Baylor rematch highlights weekend’s top games

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 3 Kansas at No. 4 Baylor, Sat. 1:00 p.m. (CBS): The biggest game of the weekend will be in Waco, as Kansas and Baylor get back together after the Jayhawks took down the Bears two weeks ago in Lawrence.

Since then, the two teams have been on different paths. The Jayhawks are sitting two games up on Baylor in the Big 12 standings with five games remaining. A win on Saturday for Kansas would all but lock up their 13th straight Big 12 regular season title.

It would also be the fourth loss in the last six games for the Bears, who have looked most of the season like they’re primed to be one of the four No. 1 seeds on Selection Sunday. But with teams like Duke, North Carolina and Louisville continuing to win in the ACC, and the Pac-12 placing three teams at the top of their conference, nothing is guaranteed for Scott Drew’s club.

The key to this game is going to be in the paint. That’s where Baylor’s strength lies, with All-American candidate Johnathan Motley flanked by Jo Lual-Acuil. That’s also where Kansas struggles, as Landen Lucas is the only big guy on their roster that has had any real impact in the paint this season. Carlton Bragg Jr. is being asked to play out of position, Mitch Lightfoot isn’t ready, Dwight Coleby is not healthy yet and Udoka Azubuike has a wrist injury. If Motley can get Lucas into foul trouble early, Baylor will be in a great spot.

On the other end of the floor, however, the Bears are going to have to figure out a way to deal with Kansas playing small-ball. The Jayhawks will likely face plenty of that 1-1-3 zone that Drew employs, but with their ability to shoot and drive from every spot on the perimeter, they have the pieces to be able to attack it.

However it shakes out, I have a feeling that this will end up being a close, thrilling game down the stretch.

  • PREDICTION: Kansas has been squeaking by teams they should blow out for too long. It’s going to catch up to them on Saturday, their toughest road trip of the season. Baylor (-4)

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No. 14 Virginia at No. 10 North Carolina, Sat. 8:15 p.m. (ESPN): First place in the ACC is on the line on Saturday night as the Cavaliers head down to Chapel Hill to square off with the Tar Heels. UNC is currently sitting all alone in first place in the ACC with three teams – Florida State, Louisville and Duke – sitting a game out of first place. Virginia and Notre Dame are tied two games out of the race.

Virginia badly needs this win after falling at home to Duke on Wednesday night, their fourth loss in six games, but I’m not sure that they have the horses to outrun UNC. The Tar Heels are a team that is not getting quite enough attention at this point in the season, and with the combination of Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson, a long with a massive and healthy front line, UVA is going to have their work cut out for them.

The key to this game will be UNC defensively. Duke held the Wahoos to 44 points in the first 38 minutes of Wednesday’s game, which is why they were able to win despite the fact that Virginia locked down everyone not named Jayson Tatum. Can UNC, whose defense ranks 42nd nationally, do the same?

  • PREDICTION: Right now, KenPom has the line at North Carolina (-1). If you can get that, take it.
HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 04: Joel Berry II #2 of the North Carolina Tar Heels shoots the ball in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship game at NRG Stadium on April 4, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Joel Berry II (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • No. 2 Villanova at Seton Hall, Sat. 12:30 p.m. (FOX): Seton Hall should be back at full strength for this game, a game they really need for their NCAA tournament profile. When the Pirates are at their best, you won’t find a tougher team in college basketball. PREDICTION: Seton Hall (+7)
  • No. 23 Maryland at No. 11 Wisconsin, Sun. 1:00 p.m. (CBS): Will Bronson Koenig be back for the Badgers on Sunday afternoon? He missed Thursday night’s loss at Michigan, and a loss here for the Badgers would drop them a game out of first place in the Big Ten standings. PREDICTION: Maryland (+8)
  • Michigan State at No. 16 Purdue, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN): The Terps and the Badgers aren’t the only teams currently tied for first place in the Big Ten. Purdue is, too, meaning that if the Boilermakers can hold serve at home against Tom Izzo and Sparty, they’ll be in just a two-way tie for the lead in the league. PREDICTION: Purdue (-12)
  • No. 22 Saint Mary’s at BYU, Sat. 10:00 p.m. (ESPN2): One of the biggest reasons you should watch this game is the fact that both teams are offensively inclined. There should be quite a few points scored. But there are also some larger implications. If the Gaels lose this game it may be time for us to start ask ourselves just what they’ve accomplished and who they’ve beaten this season. PREDICTION: BYU (+6)
  • USC at No. 6 UCLA, Sat. 10:00 p.m. (Pac-12): The battle for supremacy in La-La land. The Trojans have won the last four games between these two programs, including a three-game sweep last season. Both teams love to run, neither team plays all that much defense and more threes will be fired up in this game than in the three-point shooting contest that night. PREDICTION: UCLA (-12)

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.