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Weekend Preview: This may be the best weekend of hoops yet this season

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 7 OKLAHOMA at No. 6 WEST VIRGINIA (-4), Sat. 7:15 p.m.

This is quite possibly the best individual matchup that we are going to see all season long: Trae Young, the nation’s best player and the leading candidate for Player of the Year, going up against senior point guard Jevon Carter, one of the best on-ball defenders in all of college basketball, and Press Virginia. If Young does what he has done through the first two months of the season on the road against this West Virginia team, then maybe we should just send him to the NBA now.

  • PREDICTION: I actually think this is the game where Young’s legs start to show. WVU wears down ball-handlers. West Virginia (-4)

No. 12 NORTH CAROLINA at No. 8 VIRGINIA (-7), Sat. 1:00 p.m.

Virginia has won four of the last five regular season meetings with North Carolina, including all three of the games that these two teams have played at John Paul Jones Arena. That’s because the way that the Tar Heels have played is what Virginia’s Pack-Line defense is designed to stop. They double the post, they clean the glass, they don’t allow transition and they force you to make jump shots. The way that Roy Williams wants to play is by scoring in transition, pounding the ball into the paint and attacking the offensive glass. It’s a bad matchup.

  • PREDICTION: UNC is playing differently this season, but that has a lot to do with their bigs being young. I think Virginia’s defense totally flummoxes the Tar Heels. Virginia (-7)

No. 17 KENTUCKY at No. 23 TENNESSEE (-2), Sat. 9:00 p.m.

Kentucky always seems to struggle at Tennessee, and this is a pretty important game for the Vols. Lose here, and they’re 0-3 in the SEC with a pair of home losses to their name. Tennessee has played very, very well against good teams this season … and blown two or three big leads they should have held onto. I don’t expect Kentucky to be getting points when the line comes out in Vegas.

  • PREDICTION: If Kentucky is getting points, then I’m taking them, especially with the way Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been playing. Kentucky (+2)

No. 10 KANSAS (-1) at No. 16 TCU, Sat. 9:15 p.m.

With all the criticism surrounding Kansas this week and what I’m sure was a miserable set of practices to attend, I think this is the bounce back spot for the Jayhawks. Their loss to Texas Tech, to me, has so much to do with how the Red Raiders defend. They run you off the three point line and force turnovers, which is precisely the kind of defense that gives the Jayhawks trouble. I don’t think TCU can execute in that way.

  • PREDICTION: Svi catches fire, Kansas makes 15 threes and they win. Kansas (-1)

SUNDAY’S SLATE IS GOOD, TOO

No. 24 FLORIDA STATE at No. 15 MIAMI (-4), Sun. 6:00 p.m.

This is a critical game for a Miami team that I was very high on entering the season. They’ve lost two of their last four, including a game at Georgia Tech on Wednesday. The Hurricanes can really defend, they’re just waiting for their offense to catchup. I think this is the game that happens.

  • PREDICTION: The Hurricanes bounce-back. Miami (-4)

SMU at No. 19 CINCINNATI (-6), Sun. 6:00 p.m.

This game was a whole lot more intriguing before SMU went and lost at Tulane on Thursday night. The Mustangs should matchup fairly well with Cincinnati, who landed a last-second win a Temple.

  • PREDICTION: The Mustangs small-ball isn’t going to work against a team that has Gary Clark at the four. Cincinnati (-6)

WHAT ELSE IS WORTH WATCHING?

  • No. 5 XAVIER (-4) at PROVIDENCE, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Is Rodney Bullock going to play? If he doesn’t, I love Xavier (-4). If he does … I still like Xavier.
  • No. 2 DUKE (-12) at N.C. STATE, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: N.C. State just gave up 88 points to a Notre Dame team that didn’t have Bonzie Colson and that lost Matt Farrell to a sprained ankle. Let’s see what they do against the nation’s most efficient offense.
  • MARQUETTE at No. 3 VILLANOVA (-15), Sat. 8:00 p.m.: Marquette beat Villanova in Milwaukee last year, and if Markus Howard goes for 52 points again, they’ll beat them in Philly this year.
  • KANSAS STATE at No. 18 TEXAS TECH (-10), Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Will there be a hangover for the Red Raiders? I don’t think so. The Wildcats are going to run into a buzzsaw.
  • No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE (-7) at OHIO STATE, Sun. 4:30 p.m.: As good as I think Chris Holtmann is, Michigan State is the best team in the country right now and playing some of their best basketball of the season.

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.

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.