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Best Bets: Previewing weekend’s best college hoops action

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I was one of the lucky ones that survived last week’s bloodbath to reach the finals in two of the four fantasy football leagues that I care about.

So while I’ll be spending much of this weekend sweating out titles for Two Gurleys, One Kupp, it will certainly not come at the expense of what is likely the best weekend of college hoops to date.

Three games between ranked teams. Three of the nation’s best mid-majors heading on the road in very winnable games. And four blue-bloods getting tested in wins they absolutely need.

It doesn’t get much better than this. Here is everything you need to know about this weekend in college hoops.

*Saturday’s games include KenPom projections instead of the Vegas lines, as the lines were not available at the time of publication:

No. 19 KENTUCKY vs. No. 9 NORTH CAROLINA, Sat. 5:15 p.m

  • KenPom Line: North Carolina (-4)
  • O/U: 166
  • KenPom Implied Score: North Carolina 85, Kentucky 81

This game has suddenly turned into the most important game of the non-conference season for Kentucky. The Wildcats have played two games outside of Rupp Arena, and they resulted in a 34-point loss at the hands of Duke and an overtime loss to Seton Hall in Madison Square Garden. Kentucky did bounce back, however, landing a knockout blow in a win over Utah last weekend.

North Carolina is actually in a similar position. They have not been all that impressive this season — they lost to Texas and got worked over pretty good by Michigan in Ann Arbor — but bounced back on Saturday with their win over Gonzaga.

The matchup here is going to depend on how well Kentucky is able to cover Coby White. On paper, Ashton Hagans should be able to win that battle. Hagans is an elite defender and White is a freshman that struggled with elite defenders at times this season. With that in mind, I do think I like Kentucky to cover, but that’s not what is going to determine where to bet this game.

Do you believe that Kentucky is back? Do you think that the win over Utah is evidence that John Calipari has figured out what has ailed this team for the first six weeks of the season? Or was that simply a result of an overmatched opponent walking into Rupp Arena after a week where all Kentucky had heard was how they weren’t good enough?

That’s the decision you are going to have to make if and when you bet on this game.

CBT PICK: If I was forced to bet on this game, I would lean towards North Carolina. I am very high on the Tar Heels this season — when Luke Maye gets going, they are going to be dangerous — and I tend to think that Kentucky’s performance against Utah had as much to do with Utah as it did Kentucky. But I am personally going to stay away from this line simply because it feels like nothing more than a guess.

No. 1 KANSAS at No. 18 ARIZONA STATE, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

  • KenPom Line: Kansas (-7)
  • O/U: 151
  • KenPom Implied Score: Kansas 79, Arizona State 72

The Pac-12 desperately needs this win from Arizona State on Saturday evening. To put things into perspective, the league, as a whole, has more losses to sub-200 teams on KenPom (4) than they do wins over top 50 teams (3). That’s a bad, bad sign. There are no elite teams in the league, but there are some terrible programs that are going to hurt computer profiles every time they take the floor.

This is the last chance for the Sun Devils to land something meaningful in non-conference play, and it comes after Arizona State lost on the road to Vanderbilt earlier this week. I fully expect Lu Dort, Zylan Cheatham and Kimani Lawrence. Throw in the fact that Kansas has yet to find their stride this season, will likely be playing without star center Udoka Azubuike and is forced to play their best player, Dedric Lawson, out of position, and all the stars are aligned for Bobby Hurley’s team.

CBT PICKS: It is going to be very interesting to see where the Vegas line lands on this game. I like Arizona State here. I actually think that they will win this game. If the Money Line ends up somewhere around +300 I will be all over it.

No. 14 BUFFALO at No. 20 MARQUETTE, Fri. 8:30 p.m.

  • Line: Marquette (-3.5)
  • O/U: 157
  • Vegas Implied Score: Marquette 80.25, Buffalo 76.75
  • KenPom Projection: Marquette 78, Buffalo 76

In what could very well end up being the most entertaining game of the weekend, Nate Oats will take his Buffalo team up to Milwaukee for their toughest test of the non-conference season. Winning at West Virginia mattered, but the Mountaineers might be the worst team in the Big 12. Winning at Syracuse was a statement on national television, but it came three days after Old Dominion pulled off the same feat.

Marquette is the best team Buffalo will have faced. They might be the best team in the Big East. They are led by a star lead guard in Markus Howard who, like Buffalo star C.J. Massinburg, is capable of putting up 40 on any given night. The floor will be spread, the shots will be aplenty and the entertainment factor will be off the charts. I’m fired up for this one.

CBT PICK: The line is already moving quite a bit in this game. It’s gone from Marquette (-2) to (-3.5), and the total has moved from 153.5 to 157 in some places. I’m always somewhat hesitant to bet too heavily on any game involving Marquette because I never know when Howard is going to turn into Stephen Curry, but I don’t think tonight will be one of those nights. Buffalo has good on-ball defenders, they can match up with Marquette’s downsized lineups and they run teams off of the three-point line. Taking Buffalo money line is really interesting, although I would probably lean towards taking the points and betting the under.

No. 24 FURMAN at LSU, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

  • Line: LSU (-8.5)
  • O/U: 148.5
  • Vegas Implied Score: LSU 78.5, Furman 70
  • KenPom Projection: LSU 78, Furman 71

I love the Furman story, a team from the SoCon going out and winning games over two teams coming off of last year’s Final Four. But I’m also realistic about what Furman is: a team that has one good win — at Villanova — and 11 other wins that do not really resonate. Winning at Loyola is nice, but their other ten games came against teams ranked either outside the top 180 on KenPom or outside the Division I ranks.

This is where the undefeated run dies.

CBT PICK: I think LSU waltzes to a cover in Baton Rouge.

UCLA vs. No. 15 OHIO STATE, Sat. 3:00 p.m.

  • KenPom Line: Ohio State (-5)
  • O/U: 143
  • KenPom Implied Score: Ohio State 74, UCLA 69

Desperation time for UCLA. Like Arizona State, this is a team that is in desperate need of a win to try and help boost their resume as we barrel on towards league play. The Bruins, who were embarrassed by Cincinnati, losing by 29 points, need this win to avoid dropping to 7-5 on the season.

That Cincinnati team that UCLA lost to? They lost at home to Ohio State in the season-opener.

CBT PICK: Chris Holtmann is going to be ready on Saturday. Give me the Buckeyes to cover.

MURRAY STATE at No. 7 AUBURN, Sat. 4:30 p.m.

  • KenPom Line: Auburn (-11)
  • O/U: 137
  • KenPom Implied Score: Auburn 74, Murray State 63

This game is going to get a ton of hype because it is the final chance, barring a run to the NCAA tournament, for NBA teams to see potential lottery pick Ja Morant go up against some high-major competition, but I do think this ends up being a statement game for an Auburn team that hasn’t looked right in recent weeks. The Tigers struggled with Dayton, they were taken to overtime by UAB and they lost at North Carolina State on Wednesday. This is Auburn’s get-right game, and it will happen with everyone tuning in to see the kid they’re playing again.

CBT PICK: Give me the over on how many points Morant scores, but I’ll take Auburn to cover.

UCONN vs. VILLANOVA, Sat. 12:30 p.m.

  • KenPom Line: Villanova (-7)
  • O/U: 147
  • KenPom Implied Score: Villanova 77, UConn 70

This will be a trickier matchup that I think people realize for Villanova. The Huskies are going to be able to match them small for small, and Alterique Gilbert is the kind of point guard that can hound Collin Gillespie, Jahvon Quinerly or whoever is handling the ball for the Wildcats.

CBT PICK: Playing in Madison Square Garden in front of what should be a UConn-dominated crowd, give me the Huskies and the points.

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.