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Bubble Banter: No. 15 Saint Mary’s has worrisome profile after loss to San Francisco

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Thursday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

HOUSTON (RPI: 21, KenPom: 23, NBC seed: 11): After beating Cincinnati on their home floor on Thursday night, the Cougars are pretty close to a lock. They have now won four in a row and six of their last seven, including Wichita State and the Bearcats at home. They are 4-2 against Quadrant 1 opponents with a 20-5 mark on the season, more than enough to get the committee to overlook the fact that they have a loss to Drexel at home and Tulane on the road on their résumé. 

PENN STATE (RPI: 73, KenPom: 28, NBC seed: Out): Suddenly, the Nittany Lions are interesting. Sitting at 18-9 overall and 8-6 in the Big Ten, Penn State has now won four in a row and six of their last seven games, a stretch that is bookended by their only two Quadrant 1 wins of the season — at Ohio State and, on Thursday, a blowout win over Ohio State at home. With two Quadrant 1 games and a Quadrant 2 game left on their schedule, the Nittany Lions are suddenly in the conversation, although a pair of Quadrant 3 losses certainly doesn’t help their case. 

UCLA (RPI: 52, KenPom: 49, NBC seed: Play-in game): There are two things that can break your back in the Pac-12: losing at home to Cal and losing at home to Oregon State. UCLA avoided the latter on Thursday night, knocking off the Beavers in Pauley Pavilion. UCLA’s bid is going to be earned in their last three games, which are all Quadrant 1 opponents: at Utah, at Colorado, at USC. With just two Quadrant 1 wins and a Quadrant 3 loss, I think UCLA needs to go 2-1 in that stretch. 

USC (RPI: 42, KenPom: 50, NBC seed: First four out): The Trojans snapped a three-game losing streak by knocking off Oregon at home. Like UCLA, USC’s tournament hopes are pinned on the trip to the Mountain Schools next weekend. Right now, Andy Enfield’s club has just two Quadrant 1 wins, a 6-8 mark against the top two Quadrants and a Quadrant 4 loss at home to Princeton. It’s not pretty. 

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (RPI: 27, KenPom: 47, NBC seed: 12): The only way I can see Middle Tennessee State getting an at-large bid to the tournament is if they win out and lose to Western Kentucky in the CUSA tournament title game. Otherwise, they’re just another mid-major team with one Quadrant 1 win and more than one Quadrant 3 loss. 

LOSERS

SAINT MARY’S  (RPI: 28, KenPom: 17, NBC seed: 6): Saint Mary’s suddenly has one of the most interesting NCAA tournament profiles in the country. As it stands, the Gaels have played just a sincere Quadrant 1 game: at Gonzaga. They won that game. But they also lost to Gonzaga at home in a blowout to go along with a pair of Quadrant 3 losses — at San Francisco and Washington State on a neutral. The committee taught us something when the top 16 seeds of the bracket was revealed last weekend: They value winning. They prioritize quality wins over just about anything. That’s why Kansas was the No. 6 overall seed. That’s why Oklahoma was a No. 4 seed. It’s why Xavier has come close to lock status for the top seed line. Wins against quality teams are important, and Saint Mary’s has just one of them. They’re just 4-2 against the top two Quadrants. For my money, the Gaels are still a tournament team, but I’m not going to sit here and pretend that their profile is strong enough to take a loss in the WCC tournament — particularly to someone not named Gonzaga — and still be at-large worthy. 

TEMPLE (RPI: 38, KenPom: 82, NBC seed: Next four out): Temple had a chance to give themselves the boost they needed to get onto the right side of the bubble. But they blew a 14-point lead at Wichita State, losing what will go down as a bad loss only because it didn’t have to be a loss. The Owls do have three Quadrant 1 wins, but they also have four Quadrant 3 losses. I think they have to beat Houston at home this weekend to have a real chance. 

WASHINGTON  (RPI: 53, KenPom: 103, NBC seed: 10): The Huskies really did look like they were in line to make a run to the NCAA tournament after beating Arizona and Arizona State at home. But after losing to Utah at home on Thursday night, they’ve now dropped three in a row, none of which were Quadrant 1 games. Those four Quadrant 1 wins are going to help them out, but they need to start winning again, and soon. 

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

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.

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.