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Best Bets: Kentucky-Auburn, Texas Tech-Kansas and a weekend preview

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Saturday’s line have not yet been put out by the fine folks running sportsbooks. Until they are, we will be using projections from KenPom, Torvik and Haslametrics to analyze Saturday’s games.

No. 13 KENTUCKY at No. 17 AUBURN, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Auburn 72, Kentucky 69
  • TORVIK: Auburn 72, Kentucky 69
  • HASLAM: Auburn 74, Kentucky 69

For my money, there are two guys that are talented enough to be able to takeover a game for the Wildcats: Nick Richards and Tyrese Maxey. Auburn has guys at both of those spots — Austin Wiley and Isaac Okoro — that will be able to slow them down.

Combine that with the fact that Auburn has been a much better team at home this season, and that makes me believe that the Tigers can win this won by multiple possessions.

BEST BET: I like Auburn up to (-4.5).

*SATURDAY UPDATE: The line opened at Auburn (-2.5) and is not at Auburn (-3). I’ll be on the Tigers.

TEXAS TECH at No. 3 KANSAS, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kansas 70, Texas Tech 58
  • TORVIK: Kansas 71, Texas Tech 59
  • HASLAM: Kansas 70, Texas Tech 55

I don’t think that I’ve gotten one Texas Tech game right this season, but we’re going right back to the well this weekend.

And if I’m going to be forced to bet a side here, I’m going to be on The Red Raiders, especially if that line opens above the (+12) that KenPom and Torvik are projecting. The reason for that has everything to do with the way that I expect the Red Raiders to defend. When Baylor beat Kansas in the Phog earlier this year, what they did was switch everything, slough off of weakside shooters, front the post and essentially double-team Udoka Azubuike before he even got a chance to touch the ball. Much of what Scott Drew did that day was taken from the Texas Tech playbook, and I don’t know if there is a coach in the country that is better at building a game-plan defensively than Chris Beard and his staff.

That said, I also think that Kansas is going to be able to slow the Red Raiders down. I don’t expect them to make 11 of their first 15 threes again, as they did against West Virginia because of what Kansas has been on the defensive side of the ball this season. They’ve been at their best playing small, switching 1-4, icing ball-screens and using Azubuike to zone up around the rim.

BEST BET: So I’m going to be back on the under here assuming the total opens above 127.5.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: This line is currently sitting at Kansas (-8.5), which seems too low. I like the Jayhawks here. The total is all the way up at 131.5, which means that the under is still my favorite play.

No. 14 MICHIGAN STATE at WISCONSIN, Sat. 1:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 66, Wisconsin 65
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 65, Wisconsin 63
  • HASLAM: Michigan State 66, Wisconsin 61

I’m really going to be fascinated to see where this line opens up. The projections that I trust the most — KenPom and Torvik — both have Michigan State as small favorites. Haslam has Michigan State (-5), and given the narrative surrounding the Wisconsin program this week, I think that the public will likely be fading the Badgers here.

Michigan State won their most recent road game. Wisconsin has lost three of their last four, with the only win coming at home against Nebraska. The Badgers will be down two starters. And I think it’s worth noting that the Badgers have lost seven straight games to the Spartans; their last win came on Jan. 17, 2016, when Denzel Valentine was in the middle of his Player of the Year season.

BEST BET: I get why everyone will be on the Spartans. If the line opens at Michigan State (-2), I’ll be on them as well. But I have a feeling this is going to be closer to Michigan State (-6) or so, and I’ll feel much less comfortable betting them at that number.

I can’t see myself betting Wisconsin at any reasonable number here, but I probably will stay away from the Spartans at anything (-5.5) and above.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: The line is currently at Michigan State (-5.5). If forced to pick, I would bet on Michigan State, but I will not be betting on this game, personally.

UTAH STATE at No. 4 SAN DIEGO STATE, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: San Diego State 70, Utah State 59
  • TORVIK: San Diego State 69, Utah State 59
  • HASLAM: San Diego State 68, Utah State 56

The Aggies have been playing much better basketball of late. They’ve won three in a row and four of their last five, and the one loss during that stretch came in a game where they blew an 18 point lead in four minutes on the road.

Sam Merrill looks healthier. Neemias Queta is back at 100 percent. They look much more like the top 25 team that they were in the preseason, and at this point, this is a must-win game if the Aggies want a shot at getting an at-large bid. This is their last chance at an elite win this season.

BEST BET: I’ll be on the Aggies here, particularly if the line gets as high as (+12). I like them all the way down to (+10).

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Oddly enough, Utah State is only getting (+7.5). At this point, I think the value is probably on San Diego State, but I still like the Utah State side. That means it’s a stay-away for me.

No. 21 HOUSTON at CINCINNATI, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Cincinnati 69, Houston 68
  • TORVIK: Cincinnati 69, Houston 67
  • HASLAM: Cincinnati 67, Houston 65

Cincinnati has won three in a row and five of their last six games to move within a game of first place in the American. In those six games, Jarron Cumberland is averaging 18.3 points and 5.7 assists. With losses to Bowling Green, Colgate and Tulane on their resume, the Bearcats have a major hole to dig out of to get an at-large bid.

BEST BET: Here’s to hoping we can get Cincinnati at a pick-em. I like the Bearcats up to (-2.5).

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Cincinnati is at (-3) right now. If forced to pick, I’d take the Bearcats at home in a must-win scenario, but I will not be betting it myself.

No. 23 WICHITA STATE at TULSA, Sat. 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Tulsa 65, Wichita State 64
  • TORVIK: Wichita State 64, Tulsa 63
  • HASLAM: Wichita State 65, Tulsa 64

Wichita State has righted the ship after losing two straight earlier this month, but the key point to make here for me is that they have had a week off to prep for this game. The reason that Tulsa is so difficult to play against is because Frank Haith is running a 1-2-2 matchup zone that is difficult to run offense against and is unlike what you’re going to see most teams do.

Gregg Marshall and the Shockers have had a full week off to prep for this game. I trust that he’ll be able to figure something out for them.

BEST BET: I like Wichita State here. If they’re getting points I’ll be on the ML. If they’re giving points, I’ll bet them up to (-2.5).

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Wichita State is (-2), so I’ll be on the Shockers.

No. 19 ILLINOIS at No. 18 IOWA, Sun. 1:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Iowa 76, Illinois 71
  • TORVIK: Iowa 76, Illinois 71
  • HASLAM: Iowa 75, Illinois 70

The big question with this game is going to be whether or not you think Kofi Cockburn is going to be able to stay out of foul trouble. Luka Garza has drawn nearly seven fouls per 40 minutes this season — a number that jumps up to 8.0 in Big Ten play — and Cockburn has had some issues with fouling this season. But where he really struggles is when he is asked to defend away from the basket, whether it is against big men that are quicker than him or offenses that like to run ball-screens. That’s not really the case in this matchup.

If Cockburn can stay out of foul trouble, than it means that the one player that is bigger, stronger and more physical than Garza in the Big Ten will stay on the floor. It also means that the third-best offensive rebounder in the Big Ten will be able to attack the glass against a team that has played quite a bit of zone of late.

BEST BET: Assuming the line opens up at Iowa (-5), I think I lean the Hawkeyes. They are coming off of a road loss to Maryland and have not lost at home since Nov. 11th. Illinois has won seven in a row — five of which have been by single digits, and four by four points or less — and while they have won three straight road games, they do get Maryland and Michigan State at home next week.

So yes, I’ll buy low on the Hawkeyes playing in a potential lookahead spot for Illinois in a game where so much of it could hinge on whether or not the Big Ten Player of the Year gets a favorable whistle at home.

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.