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College basketball is back, but does anyone actually care?

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College basketball is BACK, baby!

Starting in just a matter of hours, we are going to be playing the first games of the college basketball season, and at this point, I think the most pressing question that we need answered is … does anyone actually give a ****?

I love college basketball as much as, if not more, than anyone. on the planet, and even I am having trouble getting myself excited for a weekend of are just blah. The most interesting part of the next 72 hours is going to be finding out who is playing and who is being held out because of concerns about the FBI investigation.

Let’s start with this: Of the more than 250 Division I games that are being played this weekend, there are just five games that feature two high-major programs, and just one of those five actually pits two teams that are ranked in the top 25 – No. 25 Texas A&M takes on No. 11 West Virginia at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

In theory, this should be a terrific matchup, as Press Virginia takes on a team with arguably the best front line in college basketball. Potential Big 12 Player of the Year Jevon Carter vs. Potential Lottery Pick Big Bob Williams. But Williams won’t be playing, as he’s suspended for a violation of team rules. Two more starters, Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg, were suspended for two games along with Williams, and that came a month after redshirt freshman point guard J.J. Caldwell, who might have started at the point, was suspended for five games.

In other words, the Aggies will essentially be playing without their starting lineup. That should go well.

It’s worth noting here that A&M is not the only program in that game that will be without a key player. Esa Ahmad, West Virginia’s second-leading returning scorer, is ineligible for the first semester.

So that game is a bust, as is the nightcap between Georgia Tech and No. 21 UCLA in Shanghai.

Josh Pastner is the happiest man in college basketball these days. Not eight hours after a story popped up on CBS Sports containing allegations that Pastner had helped funnel impermissible benefits to two players on his roster that are currently ineligible to play – Josh Okogie, his star guard, and Tadric Jackson, a starter for the Yellow Jackets – LiAngelo Ball and two of his teammates, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, went and got themselves arrested for shoplifting in China.

Pastner went from being the biggest story in college basketball to being a total and complete afterthought in his opening game thanks to the Big Baller Brand’s inability to keep their hands off of Louis Vuitton sunglasses. At this point, the most interesting thing about this game is going to be whether or not LaVar Ball actually says something insane that gets his son sentenced to three years in a Chinese prison.

Maybe bust is the wrong word for that game.

Because I’m certainly going to be staying up until 11:30 p.m. ET to watch it, and it will have nothing to do with the actual basketball being played.

The third-most intriguing game of the weekend might have been Alabama taking on Memphis in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis, but Memphis is a dumpster fire in Tubby Smith’s second season while Alabama is not only missing Braxton Key, last year’s leading scorer who is dealing with a knee injury, but will likely be playing without star point guard Collin Sexton.

Sexton, a top ten freshman and a potential lottery pick, is a casualty of the FBI’s probe into college basketball corruption, which is the story that had dominated college basketball headlines for the last six weeks. No one is going to care about the buy-games that the best teams in the country play this weekend, but everyone is going to be looking to see who sits out for teams like Arizona and USC, and if any other big time programs have unexpected players in street clothes.

The only ranked team that will be playing a true road game this weekend is No. 14 Notre Dame, but they will be paying a visit to DePaul, who has won all of 18 games the last two years. That’s not exactly going to move the needle.

What we’re left with is Iowa State and Missouri squaring off in Columbia.

On paper, this has potential. Iowa State has been one of the best programs in the Big 12 of late and Missouri has a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on their roster in Michael Porter Jr. But the Cyclones are very likely going to be terrible this season after losing everyone and everything to graduation, while Cuonzo Martin is trying to rebuild a program that has been dreadful for three years running.

That’s the most interesting game on college basketball’s opening night.

And this is what’s supposed to distract us from the scandals that have blanketed the sport?

Ay yi yi.

The Champions Classic can’t get here soon enough.

At least there will be a Law & Order marathon on somewhere.

MOST INTERESTING GAMES

1. Iowa State at Missouri, Fri. 9:00 p.m.: Our first glimpse at Michael Porter Jr. at the college level will also be a chance for us to see just how Cuonzo Martin is going to play this year. Big or small?

2. Elon at No. 1 Duke, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: The last time these two teams play, Grayson Allen tripped Steven Santa Ana and the season went absolutely haywire.

3. Georgia Tech vs. No. 21 UCLA, Fri. 11:30 p.m. (Shanghai): If LaVar Ball doesn’t make an appearance on national television explaining why it was OK for his son to go into an authoritarian country and try to shoplift $700 sunglasses then the production team on site isn’t doing their job right.

4. Northern Iowa at No. 9 North Carolina, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: If you;re looking for a major upset this weekend, look here. North Carolina is overrated this early in the season, particularly with the loss of Joel Berry II to a broken hand, and UNI has traditionally been one of the better teams in the Missouri Valley.

5. No. 25 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 West Virginia, Fri. 6:00 p.m. (Germany): Half of the players that should be starting in this game won’t be. But hey, I’m here for Huggy Bear in a track suit.

6. Utah Valley’s opening weekend: The Wolverines open the season playing at Kentucky on Friday night and follow that up with a trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium to play Duke on Saturday night. Good luck with that.

BUYER’S REMORSE

Campbell at Penn State, Fri. 4:00 p.m.

Mercer at UCF, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Louisiana at Ole Miss, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

Yale at Creighton, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

Yale at Wisconsin, Sun. 6:00 p.m.

Princeton at Butler, Sun. 6:00 p.m.

Belmont at Washington, Fri. 10:00 p.m.

Georgia Southern at Wake Forest, Fri. 7:30 p.m.

UNC Asheville at Rhode Island, Fri. 7:30 p.m.

Mount St. Mary’s at Marquette, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

Maryland at Stony Brook, Fri.7:00 p.m.

TITLE CONTENDERS IN ACTION

Elon at No. 1 Duke, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Utah Valley at No. 1 Duke, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

North Florida at No. 2 Michigan State, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

Northern Arizona at No. 3 Arizona, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

UMBC at No. 3 Arizona, Sun. 6:00 p.m.

Tennessee State at No. 4 Kansas, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

Utah Valley at No. 5 Kentucky, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Vermont at No. 5 Kentucky, Sun. 3:30 p.m.

Columbia at No. 6 Villanova, Fri. 8:30 p.m.

UMKC at No. 7 Wichita State, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

Cal St.-Fullerton at No. 10 USC, Fri. 10:00 p.m.

George Mason at No. 16 Louisville, Sun. 2:00 p.m.

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

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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.