12/27 – College Hoops Week in Review: I hope everyone had a great holiday

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Game of the Week: Missouri 75, Illinois 64

Missouri is the most exciting team in the country to watch this season. Not just because they play a hectic, up and down style — its called the “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball” for a reason — but because every game they play seems to come down to the wire. This is already this third time this season that we have used a game that the Tiger’s have played in as Game of the Week.

Wednesday night’s matchup was no different. Illinois jumped out to a 10 point lead early in the first half, but a 17-2 run by Mizzou that spanned the two halves gave the tigers a 35-29 lead early in the second half. Illinois answered with a 12-2 run of their own, and it was on. Both teams made big shot after big shot. It was like a boxing match between two fighters with glass jaws but not all that much skill. Illinois and Mizzou were both landing haymaker after haymaker, waiting for the other team to drop.

Eventually, Missouri took a 62-58 lead when Brandon Paul missed two free throws with 48 seconds left. Michael Dixon tracked the ball down, but it was stolen from him in the back court by Mike Davis, setting up an exciting sequence (jump to the 1:30 mark, and don’t mind the music in the back ground):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ehnd_NymN9o&feature=player_embedded]

The intentional foul called on Tisdale may have cost Illinois the game, but it was the correct call. Two handed shoves in the back of a player moving at full speed are dangerous, and they are the precise reason that the intentional foul was added to the rulebook.

That sequence is the perfect example of Missouri basketball. A potentially momentum changing three is made off of a turnover, cutting Mizzou’s lead to one with 44 seconds left. Most teams hold the ball for one shot in that situation. Missouri threw an inbounds pass to Marcus Denmon, who was already heading up the floor. He took one dribble and passed ahead to Laurence Bowers, who was wide open on a wing. Layup, foul, six point possession, game over.

It deserves to be noted: UAB 68, VCU 65

In a battle of anagrams, VCU took a 19 point with just 13 minutes left in the game. UAB was able to whittle that down to nine at one point, but eventually UAB took a 65-53 lead with just 5:08 left in the game. That’s when Jamarr Sanders took over. He hit a three to cut the lead to nine, but neither team scored until Sanders scored four points — one of two free throws and then a three — when he picked up a steal on back-to-back possessions, cutting the lead to 65-60 with 1:30 left. After Aaron Johnson picked up a steal, he hit one of two free throws. UAB grabbed the rebound off of the miss and the ball ended up in Sanders’ hands. He buried another three, and the lead was now just 65-64 with 1:15 left. VCU had possession, but they turned the ball over again, and with just 10 seconds left in the game, Sanders drove, drew a foul, and hit both free throws to take the lead 66-65. Two more Johnson free throws sealed the win.

All told, Sanders had 12 of his 29 points in the final five minutes. UAB had not been closer than nine points since the 14:50 mark of the first half. That’s not quite Jay Williams-vs.-Maryland territory, but Sanders’ performance was quite impressive nonetheless.

Player of the Week: Klay Thompson, Washington State

I know that Washington State was beaten pretty handily by Butler in the final of the Diamond Head Classic, but that does nothing to diminish the week that Thompson had. In the three games in Hawaii, he averaged 26.3 ppg, including 31 in the loss to Butler that kept things close. He was 25-46 from the floor and 13-25 from three. It was, without a doubt, an impressive performance, and Thompson’s play this week is a huge reason why Wazzu’s name is being tossed around as a potential top 25 team and a sleeper in the Pac-10.

What makes this performance by Thompson so impressive is not that he shot the ball well. We’ve known that Thompson was a good shooter. That is no secret. But, like we said after the win over Gonzaga, Thompson has become an all-around player. He’s jumping passing lanes. He’s creating for his teammates. Most importantly, however, he’s been able to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim while handling physical, one-on-one defense much better than last year. Thompson started out the 2009-2010 season on fire, but once Pac-10 play came around his numbers dropped considerably. He likely will not find defense as physical as Butler’s in the Pac-10 this season. He had 31 against Butler and kept the Cougars in the game despite subpar performances from Reggie Moore, DeAngelo Casto, and Faisal Aden.

The All-they-were-good-too team:

  • G: Darius Morris, Michigan: Granted, it came against Bryant, but Morris had 26 points and 12 assists in his only game of the week. It was the fifth time he’s reached double figure assists and his fourth double-double of the season. Morris is now averaging 15.3 ppg and 7.5 apg on the season.
  • G: Jio Fontan, USC: Fontan averaged 17.0 ppg, 4.0 apg, and 3.5 spg while leading the Trojans to a 2-0 week, including a win at Tennessee, to bounce back from a tough loss to Kansas in Fontan’s debut.
  • G: Doron Lamb, Kentucky: Lamb had 32 points on 11-12 shooting (7-8 from three) as he set the Kentucky freshman scoring record, previously held by Jamal Mashburn, in a win over Winthrop.
  • F: Travis Franklin, Colorado State: Franklin led the Rams to a win in the Cancun Governer’s Cup by averaging 22.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and 2.0 spg, including a 25-point, 9-rebound performance against Gary Flowers and Southern Miss in the final.
  • F: Justin Harper, Richmond: Harper averaged 20.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg, leading the Spiders in scoring in both games, as Richmond knocked off UNC-Greensboro and Seton Hall. Harper had 24 points and hit six three against the Hall.
  • Bench: Jimmer Fredette, BYU; Justin Hurtt, Tulsa; Chris Singleton, Florida State; Matt Howard, Butler

Team of the Week: Butler Bulldogs

Butler may have given life to their chances of earning an at-large bid this season with a win in the Diamond Head Classic out in Hawaii. With wins over Florida State and Washington State, as well as Utah, Butler landed themselves two quality victories against teams that will likely be in the tournament come March. Without much in the way of a resume booster from here on out, the Bulldogs are going to want to win the Horizon Tournament to be safe, but the resume is not what was important coming out of this week.

What’s important is that Butler looked like the Butler we expected to see all season long. Matt Howard has really grown as a player in his four season with the Bulldogs. He’s now knocking down threes, he’s putting the ball on the floor and hitting mid-range shots and fadeaways. He’s still a terrific rebounder. He averaged 18.7 ppg and 8.7 rpg this week, upping his averages to 18.1 ppg and 8.2 rpg on the season. Shelvin Mack broke out of his slump this week, scoring 17 points on FSU and 20 on WSU. Andrew Smith looks like he is going to be a force on the block in the Horizon this year. Chase Stigall and Zack Hahn are both knocking down jumpers now. Ronald Nored and Shawn Vanzant are just as pesky and athletic as they were last season. I’m not usually a big believer in the eye test, but this team passed with flying colors this week.

A disappointing week: I don’t have an explanation for it.

The only reason I can think of is that teams that aren’t as good as they think they are were distracted by the end of the finals and the start of the holiday season.

Regardless, it seemed like every time I looked at the college basketball scoreboard this week, another team had a disappointing performance.

We’ll start with the obvious — Renardo Sidney, Elgin Bailey, and Mississippi State. What else is there to say? These two embarrassed their team and their program and managed to get themselves sent home early from a Christmas trip to Hawaii for fighting in the stands. The Bulldogs are a mess this season.

Then there was Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly, who managed to get themselves suspended for accepting discounts on clothing from a department store. The act itself isn’t all that terrible — the fact that these two are NCAA athletes is the only reason anyone is frowning upon them taking advantage of a hook-up — but it is just another example of the lack of leadership within the Kansas State program. The Wildcats lost to UNLV on Tuesday due to a lack of talent. It wasn’t, however, a lack of effort, as Kansas State, for the first time all season, looked like the Kansas State I expected — scrappy defense, aggressive to the offensive glass, win with floor burns. Now can they do the same with Pullen in the lineup?

Tennessee may have had their season saved with a jumper from Scotty Hopson against Belmont. Tennessee had lost to USC by one point earlier in the week, their third straight loss, before the Bruins came back to take a late lead on the Vols. Hopson hit a runner with 5.7 seconds left, however, and gave the Vols a win. Right now, the Vol’s problem is execution in close games. Their last three games have been decided by one point. Two of them are losses, and both of those games Tennessee had a shot to win the game late. The Vols have three games — against Tennessee-Martin, the College of Charleston, and Memphis — to get this thing figured out before Bruce Pearl’s eight game suspension kicks in.

How about Virginia Tech’s season? They have struggled all year long to find the rhythm many of us expected them to have, and over the holiday break news leaked that Dorenzo Hudson will miss the rest of the season with an injury to his foot. Seton Hall is in the exact same boat, as Jeremy Hazell — who may be out for the season with a wrist injury — was shot in an attempted robbery over the holiday break.

All told, 18 teams from the BCS conferences lost to team from outside the BCS conferences. Eight of those upsets occurred on Wednesday night. Don’t forget, this was a week when there were essentially no games played on Saturday and Sunday. Usually, there are upwards of 175 games played on the weekend. And those struggles? They don’t even count games like UCLA beating UC Irvine by one, or Arizona State losing to North Carolina A&T by 11 in the second half, or Minnesota struggling to knock off South Dakota State.

Matchups of the Week:

  • 12/27 – 8:30 pm: UConn @ Pitt
  • 12/28 – 7:00 pm: Minnesota @ Wisconsin
  • 12/29 – 7:00 pm: Georgetown @ Notre Dame
  • 12/29 – 7:00 pm: George Mason @ Dayton
  • 12/29 – 7:00 pm: Wofford @ VCU
  • 12/29 – 9:00 pm: Marquette @ Vanderbilt
  • 12/29 – 11:00 pm: Washington @ USC
  • 12/29 – 11:00 pm: Washington State @ UCLA
  • 12/30 – 7:00 pm: Temple @ Villanova
  • 12/30 – 8:00 pm: Old Dominion @ Missouri
  • 12/31 – 12:00 pm: Louisville @ Kentucky
  • 12/31 – 12:00 pm: Northwestern @ Purdue
  • 12/31 – 4:00 pm: Minnesota @ Michigan State
  • 12/31 – 4:00 pm: Xavier @ Florida
  • 12/31 – 10:00 pm: Oklahoma State @ Gonzaga
  • 1/1 – 11:00 am: West Virginia @ Marquette
  • 1/1 – 2:00 pm: New Mexico @ Dayton
  • 1/2 – 6:00 pm: Wisconsin @ Illinois
  • 1/1 – 3:30 pm: Notre Dame @ Syracuse

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.