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Saddle Up: Welcome to Miami

1/23/2013

No. 1 Duke at No. 25 Miami, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Thank goodness for basketball, and thank goodness for an inept NCAA.

If I am a Miami basketball partisan, or a player, or coach Jim Larranaga, or -- actually, especially -- former coach Frank Haith, those are the two things you have to be thankful for. You're thankful for basketball, because in the midst of all the Nevin Shapiro investigation/notice of allegations worries you have the games to fall back on, and in Miami's case you have the best team and season in recent memory. You're thankful for the NCAA's ineptitude, because its long-rumored notice of allegations, the one that would reportedly accuse Haith of unethical conduct during his tenure at Miami and would surely have some effect on the Hurricanes' revived basketball program, has been delayed by the most Kafkaesque of developments: The NCAA is investigating itself.

No, seriously. True story:

The NCAA has found what it calls "a very severe case of improper conduct" committed by former members of its own enforcement program during the Miami investigation, and will not deliver the long-awaited notice of allegations against the Hurricanes until an external review is completed.

NCAA president Mark Emmert announced the findings Wednesday. The sports governing body said former enforcement staff members worked with the criminal defense attorney for former Miami booster and convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro "to improperly obtain information ... through a bankruptcy proceeding that did not involve the NCAA."

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

While you wrangle with that one, Haith and everyone at Miami -- both the former regime and the current athletics department, including the basketball staff -- can breathe a rather deep sigh of relief. Imagine if Haith avoids a potential show-cause penalty on a procedural technicality! Insane!

Anyway, all of that could have obscured the basketball game on offer Wednesday night, and it will surely warrant plenty of discussion on the broadcast from Coral Gables. But it would obviously be silly to ignore the game itself, particularly how important it is for Miami. Not that the Hurricanes "need" a big win for NCAA tournament purposes, though it never hurts. Really, though, Miami is good enough to not only get to the NCAA tournament, but to seriously contend at the top of the ACC. Larranaga's team plays top-15 efficiency defense; its .85 points per trip allowed are the lowest in ACC play to date. The Hurricanes guard and rebound well, but avoid fouls (and thus don't force many turnovers). On offense, they take care of the ball, use the versatility of face-up forward Kenny Kadji and guard Durand Scott and, when Reggie Johnson is healthy, pound it down low. Johnson won't be back for another few weeks but the Hurricanes have kept winning without him.* (*Update: Johnson returned Wednesday night.) They can certainly win this game Wednesday night. In their own building, I'm not even sure we could call it an upset.

Whatever Miami's odds are, they are definitely shorter than "NCAA pauses Miami enforcement to investigate its own investigation." Strange days.

Colorado State at No. 15 New Mexico, 8 p.m. ET, CBSSN: We've made a lot about Minnesota's glasswork thus far this season, and for good reason: Since November, the Gophers have been the best offensive rebounding team in the country, and not by a small margin. Guess who's No. 2?

Yep, you guessed right: With 42.7 percent, the Colorado State Rams. What you might not know is the Rams also grab 77.5 percent of available own defensive rebounds, the highest number in the country. In other words, the Rams are the best defensive rebounding team in the country, and the second best on offense. Put that together, and would anyone dispute that Larry Eustachy's team is the best rebounding group in the country? No. No they wouldn't.

Former Minnesota forward Colton Iverson and veteran forward Pierce Hornung have led the way, holding down the middle for a team built to challenge really good programs like New Mexico in their brutal road environments. Shooting can betray you on the road. You might not get the calls. But that's fine: Colorado State doesn't shoot the ball all that well anyway, and it doesn't need to get to the line to score. It can always defend, and always rebound on both ends of the floor, and when you can do that you've got a chance to win no matter where you play. This is an excellent game.

Elsewhere: Many might look at Butler at La Salle and assume the Bulldogs will roll, but that would ignore two things: (A) After Saturday's euphoria, this is a major trap game for Butler no matter the opponent, and (B) La Salle's pretty good, too. … Poor Penn State has to play at Indiana for the second time in three weeks. … Florida goes to Georgia after three days of me screaming from the mountaintops how good the Gators are, which means they'll probably lose. … Minnesota is at Northwestern. … San Diego State is on the road at Nevada, which is definitely worth keeping an eye on. … And don't sleep on George Mason-Towson; the Tigers, who won one game last season, are already 10-10.