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College Basketball Bid Thieves: What teams could steal a spot in the tournament from the bubble?

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What defines a bid thief?

It’s pretty simple, really: A team that has no chance at earning an at-large bid winning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in a conference where there is an at-large team. If, say, neither Gonzaga nor Saint Mary’s wins the WCC tournament’s automatic bid, then that means that the WCC will receive three bids, or two at-large bids and one automatic bid.

That means there is one less spot in the at-large pool for the teams in the middle of the SEC, the Big 12 and the ACC.

Hence the term big thief.

Where are this year’s potential bid thieves coming from? Who should the teams on the bubble be wary of?

PAC-12

The Pac-12 is weird this year. Not only are there only two teams that can be considered a lock for the NCAA tournament at this point in the season, both of those teams — who were, at one point, ranked in the top five nationally this year — have fallen off a cliff. Arizona lost Allonzo Trier to a failed PED test and they may have lost their head coach in Sean Miller. Arizona State, on the other hand, has just lost. They’re 7-9 in Pac-12 play and seem to be headed for the 8-9 game in the Pac-12 tournament. That would mean that they would face-off with Arizona in the quarterfinals, assuming that Arizona can get a split at home against Stanford and Cal this weekend.

Put another way, it’s going to be much easier for a sleeper to make a run in the Pac-12 tournament than it will be in any other major conference tournament.

So who are the potential bid thieves here?

At this point, I think USC is going to be on the right side of the bubble. UCLA and Washington might be able to play their way into a bid without having to win the automatic bid. Leaving them out, I think OREGON and UTAH have both played well of late, while STANFORD has proven they have the ability to get hot and reel off four wins in a row. Frankly, I think you pencil the Pac-12 in for five bids and figure out who those five bids are on Selection Sunday.

AMERICAN

The American has three teams at the top of the league — Cincinnati, Wichita State and Houston — that are locks for the Dance. They also don’t really have much in the way of a bubble team, unless you Temple is going to be able to make a run to the tournament.

What they do have, however, is SMU. Prior to Shake Milton suffering a broken hand and Jarrey Foster tearing his ACL, the Mustangs looked like a team that might be able to earn a tournament bid. Two weeks before Milton’s injury, he had 34 points in a win at Wichita State. They have not been the same team since, but Milton is the type of talent that could spark a run in a conference tournament. It’s also probably worth mentioning that TULSA, who looks like they will finish fourth in the league, had won six in a row prior to Sunday’s loss at Cincinnati. They haven’t lost a game that wasn’t a roadie against Wichita State or Cincinnati since Jan. 17th.

ATLANTIC 10

The Atlantic 10 may have just opened up that much more. Rhode Island, who looked like far and away the best team in the league, went out and lost by 30 points to St. Joe’s on Tuesday night at home.

Spoiler alert: St. Joe’s is not all that good this season.

At this point, I really only think that one of three teams can win the Atlantic 10 tournament this season — URI, St. Bonaventure and Davidson have been far and away the best teams in the conference during league play — but both URI and the Bonnies seem like they should be in come Selection Sunday.

That leaves DAVIDSON, who shook off a slow start to the season to really play some good basketball for the last month. The Wildcats have won seven of their last nine games, and those two losses came at URI and at St. Bonaventure in triple-overtime on Tuesday night. They are, as usual, an offensive juggernaut with talents like Peyton Aldridge and Kellan Grady on the roster, but what’s promising is that, in A10 play, they’ve been the league’s fourth-best defensive team; they were the second-best defensive team in league play prior to giving up 117 points to the Bonnies last night.

Bob McKillop’s club could end up making the Atlantic 10 a three-bid conference.

WCC

We know who the two best teams in the WCC are: Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga. That isn’t much of a secret at this point. And barring some kind of disastrous loss for the Gaels, both of them are locks for the NCAA tournament. They will also be on opposite sides of the bracket, meaning that there will be some opportunities for opponents to pick them off before the final.

The team to watch out for here is BYU. San Diego would have been a threat before their coach was arrested for domestic violence and San Francisco does have a win over the Gaels, but BYU is the only team in the league that is close to par with the Zags and the Gaels from a talent perspective.

MOUNTAIN WEST

As of now, the only team in the Mountain West that has any chance at an at-large bid is Nevada. BOISE STATE is on the fringes, but they missed their chance to add an elite win when they lost at home to the Wolf Pack, and since they are locked into theNo. 2 seed, they only way they’ll be able to do that in the MWC tournament is in the beat Nevada in the title game … and earn the automatic bid.

And that probably makes the Broncos the ultimate big thief. They’re a borderline top 50 team on KenPom with the best player in the conference — sorry Caleb Martin — on their roster in Chandler Hutchison.

But if you wanted to bet on where the bubble is going to lose a bid, the Mountain West is probably the safest best. The league doesn’t have the profile to actually carry more than one at-large team, but they do have some talent in the conference and teams that are unquestionably good enough to pick on Eric Musselman’s club. Let’s start with UNLV, who has quite a bit of talent — including future first round pick Brandon McCoy — and will be playing home games throughout the league tournament. They also won at Nevada (albeit while Nevada was injured) this month. WYOMING has one of the best one-two punches in the conference with Justin James and Hayden Dalton and they beat a full-strength Nevada team in Laramie earlier this year.

FRESNO STATE has some talent on their roster this year. SAN DIEGO STATE got Malik Pope back after he sat out for one game and they seem to have figured out that Jalen McDaniels might actually be their best player. Even NEW MEXICO has won some games this year.

The MWC tournament is going to be wild this year.

Chandler Hutchison (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

CONFERENCE USA

The big question here is whether or not you believe that Middle Tennessee State is actually an NCAA tournament team. They are 26th in the RPI, they have three Quadrant 1 wins this season while playing in a league that isn’t exactly loaded with talent and their one “bad” loss this season came at home against Belmont, who is 77th in the RPI; the cutoff for that being a Quadrant 2 loss is 75th in the RPI.

So let’s assume that the Blue Raiders are going to be dancing as long as they don’t lose to one of the dumpster fires that currently exist in CUSA. That leaves two legitimate bid thief candidates: OLD DOMINION and WESTERN KENTUCKY. WKU is loaded with high-major cast-offs like Darius Thompson (Virginia), Lamonte Bearden (Buffalo), Moustapha Diagne (Syracuse) and Dwight Coleby (Kansas and Ole Miss), while ODU is more balanced and better defensively. The Monarchs, however, have lost all three games they’ve played against WKU and MTSU this season.

MISSOURI VALLEY

Is Loyola-Chicago is deserving of an at-large bid? According to Bracket Matrix, they are the second highest-rated mid-major program. They also have a win at Florida and a top 35 RPI. But a 3-3 mark against the top two Quadrants and a pair of losses to teams outside the top two Quadrants is not ideal, particularly when you consider that they could end up taking another one if they don’t lose to either ILLINOIS STATE or BRADLEY.

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.