A tougher Duke team is a better Duke team, and tonight proved it

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COLLEGE PARK, MD – Calling Duke’s 80-62 win over Maryland on Wednesday night a statement win would be an exaggeration.

The Blue Devils took control of the game midway through the first half with a 23-7 run, but the final 18 point margin doesn’t give the Terps enough credit for how hard they fought. Duke controlled this game, but they didn’t dominate. Duke is one of the country’s premier teams, and whether the game is at home or in a tough environment on the road, they are supposed to perform like this against programs in the middle of a mediocre ACC.

Duke did, however, show a heck of a lot more toughness and grit than they did against St. John’s.

After Duke’s embarrassing 15 point loss to the Johnnies on Sunday, Mike Krzyzewski essentially said that his team did not show up ready to play.

“It’s not an Xs and Os thing today,” Coach K said on Sunday. “I felt we were not ready to compete, we had blank expressions on our faces and guys weren’t talking and that’s my responsibility. Our program didn’t do well today and that is all our responsibilities.”

He reiterated that point tonight.

“The Sunday game, not to take anything away from St. John’s, sometimes no matter what you do,” Krzyzewski told reporters, “you just don’t do. You’re just a little bit flat. We were a lot flat [on Sunday], [St. John’s] wasn’t.”

“To come on the road three days later is really a huge thing for our kids. I’m proud of our guys.”

Part of the reason that Duke was able to play like this on the road was a change in the line up. Freshman Tyler Thornton got the start over Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, and Miles Plumlee started the second half over Ryan Kelly. It was, Coach K said, an attempt to bring a swagger to his team that he thought they were missing on Sunday.

“Tyler’s been so tough,” Coach K said. “In our first Maryland game, he was the guy, I thought he was the difference maker in that game.”

The issue for Duke when they lose hasn’t necessarily been their talent level. It never is when you can put two senior all-americans on the floor at the same time. The issue has been toughness, both mental and physical. The Blue Devils shot terribly early on against both Florida State and St. John’s. They also were dominated on the inside. The Plumlee brothers, for all the talent and potential that they have, are not exactly known for their strength on the block. That becomes a real concern when you are playing a team with an all-american caliber center like Jordan Williams, especially when that all-american had 23 points and 13 boards in a previous matchup.

The play of the Plumlees has been the knock on Duke all season long. But tonight, the Plumlees, specifically younger brother Mason, played as well as they have in their time in Durham.

“We felt that in order for [Mason] to play Jordan evenly, he needed to know that we had confidence in him,” Coach K said. “So the very first play of the game we went right to him and he ended up scoring. I really think that this was Mason’s best game at Duke.”

The numbers back it up. Mason finished with 12 points and 11 boards (four offensive), including a dunk on the baseline in the second half that put a stop to a Maryland run that had gotten the lead down to five.

“When [the Plumlees] play like that, its huge for us,” Nolan Smith said after the game. “They were rebounding, blocking shots, doing everything we needed from them. A lot of teams try to go inside and exploit them, and they’re really good players.”

“When they play like they did tonight, we’re going to be a very tough team to beat.”

The Plumlees weren’t the only role players to step up tonight. Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry combined to shoot 5-9 from three, including a number of clutch jumpers late in the game. Dawkins, in particular, hit the two biggest shots of the game. On back-to-back possessions after Mason’s run-stopping dunk, Dawkins buried a three. With the lead pushed back to 12 points and less six minutes left on the clock, the game was all but over.

That’s what Duke needs. They can’t rely on the talents of Kyle Singler and Smith alone. Sure, Singler carried the team for a stretch in the second half, scoring 11 straight points on a series of jumpers in the half court. And yes, Smith was once again the closer, making play after play at the end of the shot clock as Duke milked the clock down the stretch.

But without their role players performing, Duke is the team that got run out of Madison Square Garden.

“What would be really good is if all of them had the ego as if they should be a starter,” Krzyzewski said, “and have the attitude that wherever you want me, coming off the bench or starting, would be alright. They took a big step towards that tonight. Tyler started tonight. Andre and Seth have started. Now we have five guys on the perimeter who have started games since Kyrie went out. We started Miles in the second half, and he hasn’t started a half in a while. A lot of this is trying to build up the egos of these kids. They’re young guys.”

“I thought we grew up a lot today. We got tougher today.”

That toughness is what was lacking against St. John’s and Florida State.

And its what could make the difference for this Duke team in March.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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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.