2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: Must-watch first round games

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East region

4. Florida vs. 13 East Tennessee State (Thursday, 3:15 p.m., truTV): The Buccaneers are going to be a trendy upset pick under the direction of coach Steve Forbes, whose team has won nine of its last time, while the Gators have dropped three of four. Florida could make its dent on the defensive end, where it excels at forcing turnovers. ETSU, on the other hand, is one of the country’s worst at taking care of the ball. If that can’t get settled, it’s hard to imagine an upset occurring. The formula for the Bucs is likely to contain a heaping of TJ Cromer. The 6-foot-3 guard averages nearly 20 points per game can lets it fly from 3. He’s one of the biggest mid-major breakout candidates of the tournament, and maybe the biggest reason you shouldn’t miss this game.

7. South Carolina vs. 10. Marquette (Friday, 9:50 p.m., TBS): No team benefitted from the rash of Big East injuries quite like Marquette, which surged in the second half of the conference season to earn a bid. While the Golden Eagles may have gotten some help getting in, now that they’re here, you don’t want to miss them. They shoot a ton of 3s and they shoot them well, at 43 percent, best in the country. They’ve also got experience in seniors JaJuan Johnson, Katin Reinhardt and Luke Fischer, the 6-foot-11 center who can be a problem inside. On the other side, Sindarius Thornwell is a force to be reckoned with, and really the only thing the Gamecocks have going on offense. South Carolina’s defense, well, it has plenty going for it as one of the stingiest in the country. This is a classic strength vs. strength matchup, with Marquette’s offense and South Carolina’s defense fighting to see which gives first.

West region

3. Florida State vs. 14. Florida Gulf Coast (Thursday, 9:15 p.m., TNT): Dunk City in the tourney is must-watch on its own, isn’t it? This year’s edition is just as dunk-prone as the 2013 outfit that made the Sweet 16. Hell, they even broke a shot clock because of it. Taking this game to another level, though, is the talent and athleticism of the Seminoles. Those dudes can dunk, too. Jonathan Isaac and Dwayne Bacon will be appointment viewing from NBA draft junkies, and they should have ample opportunity to showcase themselves against the Eagles, who give up a ton of buckets inside.

RELATED: Power Rankings 1-68 | Duke deserved a No. 1 seed | Committee got bubble right

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

Midwest region

5. Iowa State vs. 12. Nevada (Thursday, 10 p.m., truTV): Offense will be flowing more smoothly than Miller Lite out of a Milwaukee tavern tap in this one at the Bradley Center. Both the Cyclones and Wolfpack make their bones on that end of the floor, specifically at the 3-point line. Iowa State converts at a 40.2 percent clip while Nevada clocks in at 38.5. Both feature high-caliber point guards in Monte Morris and Marcus Marshall with their scoring or distributing, and highly talented frontcourt players in Deonte Burton and Cameron Oliver. Neither team plays at a blistering tempo, but this one could quickly turn into a track meet if neither squad can keep the other from putting the ball in the basket. This game has been one circled by many as a possible upset, but it’s worth watching just for all the buckets that are sure to be had.

7. Michigan vs. 10. Oklahoma State (Friday, 12:15 p.m., CBS): The Midwest is full of offense-heavy showdowns, and this matchup is no difference, with the Wolverines (5) and Oklahoma State (1) both high in the KenPom offense rankings. Michigan certainly seems to have captured some mojo after its dodging disaster with its airplane skidding off the runway before the Wolverines ultimately embarked on a Big Ten tournament championship run. The Wolverines play slow, but they make shots as consistently as nearly any team in the country with a balanced attack. The Cowboys are more dependent on its top-three players of Phil Forte, Jeffrey Carroll and, especially, point guard Jawun Evans. Oklahoma State takes and makes a lot of 3s and hits the offensive glass with abandon.

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South region

5. Minnesota vs. 12. Middle Tennessee State (Thursday, 4 p.m., TNT): Here’s another trendy 12 over 5 pick. Steve Forbes’ Blue Raiders have won 20 of their past 21 games. JaCorey Williams (17.3 ppg) could be a problem for the Gophers, as could Giddy Potts, whose name outdoes his game but not by much as he’s averaging 15.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Minnesota, though, might have the counter to MTSU’s interior-heavy offense as the Gophers, specifically Reggie Lynch, block a ton of shots and make life very difficult for opponents in the paint. If the Blue Raiders want to pull off the upset, they may need to get hot from the arc.

7. Dayton vs. 10. Wichita State (Friday, 7:10 p.m., CBS): You can’t miss this game. You just can’t. The Shockers are going to come out all sorts of ornery after the committee gave them a worse seed than their national KenPom ranking (8), and this could be the start of their scorched Earth campaign to prove a point. The poor recipients of that wrath will be the Flyers, who didn’t deserve to start their tournament against a team as highly regarded as Wichita State. Still, while Las Vegas likes the Shockers, Dayton is no slouch. Coach Archie Miller will have no trouble playing the disrespect card here, and the Flyers have senior scorers in Charles Cooke, Kendall Pollard and Scoochie Smith that could be disruptive of the Shockers’ defense. Whether it’s to see the wrath that Gregg Marshall’s bunch comes out with or to see how one of the most ascendant coaches in the game handles an odd situation, this is appointment viewing.

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Posted by Rob Dauster on Monday, March 13, 2017

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.