A college hoops primer for those just now tuning in

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I usually don’t advise this, but regular readers of this blog can probably skip this post. It’s not intended for fellow hoopheads.

It’s for the roughly 150 million people who fill out an NCAA tournament bracket but rarely watch college basketball until the first Duke-North Carolina game. You know, after you turn off the Super Bowl?

Well, take notes. Here are the crucial storylines from the 2010-11 season. (If you’re looking for the best players, try Rob Dauster’s post here.)

Kyrie’s toe
It’s not some Emo band, but the injured appendage of Duke’s freshman point guard, Kyrie Irving. This is now roughly the 246,763th item written on Irving’s toe in the last three months, making it the most-talked about thing this season.

Irving hasn’t played since hurting a ligament in the toe against Butler on Dec. 4 when he was averaging a team-high 17.1 points and 5.1 assists a game. Without Irving, the reigning champs are still a Final Four contender – they’re 13-2 since the injury, 21-2 overall – but aren’t nearly as dangerous in transition and haven’t gotten consistent production from their post players.

Irving no longer has a cast on his right foot and will start rehab soon, but Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski maintains the point guard is “a long way from playing.” And if he does return, it’s doubtful he’ll be nearly as effective as he was in December.

This isn’t football, it just looks like atop the polls
Ohio State’s unanimous at No. 1, while Texas has streaked to No. 3. Throw in Notre Dame (No. 8), Wisconsin (No. 13), Florida (No. 17) and Texas A&M (No. 22) and you’d be forgiven for wondering why it’s not still fall. (Especially with all that snow on the ground.) But it’s no fluke, especially when it comes to the Buckeyes because …

We’re going streaking!
The Buckeyes are 24-0 and the lone unbeaten men’s team left in D-I. It’s the longest anyone opened a season without a loss since Memphis started 26-0 in 2008, which means it probably could’ve been the No. 1 item on this list. (I finished Kyrie first. Sue me.)

Name a trait you want in a team and Ohio State has it. Talent? Check. Experience? Check. Depth, balance, versatility, shooting, defense, rebounding? Yep, it all there. The centerpiece is freshman center Jared Sullinger, who’s doing his best Kevin Love (circa 2008) impersonation, but has plenty of talent around him in Jon Diebler (sharpshooter), William Buford (dynamite scorer), Aaron Craft (underrated point guard), Dallas Lauderdale (rebounding machine) and David Lighty, a guy who does a little bit of everything and does everything well.

And Saturday looms as Ohio State’s Rubicon. If the Buckeyes win at Wisconsin – the Badgers win 94 percent of their home games – they’ll have cleared a massive hurdle to an unbeaten season. That happens, there’s no going back to talking about anything else.

OK, who can win besides Ohio State and Duke?
The shortlist includes Kansas (22-1), Pitt (21-2) and Texas (20-3) a team that’s perhaps playing better than anyone else thanks to its ferocious defense and the divine scoring ability of Jordan Hamilton. Those are the elite.

The next tier includes the likes of Kentucky, Villanova, Purdue, Wisconsin and Syracuse, though I’m rooting for one of the Mountain West’s two dynamite teams – BYU and San Diego State – to make a March run.

These guys? Not so much
Michigan State is floundering. Same with Gonzaga, Kansas State, Baylor, Memphis and Butler, all of whom began the season in the AP Top 25. None of ‘em can even sniff the rankings now. The usual factors are involved (inexperience, injuries), but mostly it’s just poor play.

The Spartans – ranked No. 2 behind Duke to start the year – are the best example. They’ve played the nation’s toughest schedule and simply aren’t up to their competition. At this point, the NIT seems likely for a team that reached the last two Final Fours.

Who’s this year’s Butler?
It’s not the Bulldogs, who probably need to win the Horizon League tournament to return to the Big Dance. But if you’re looking for a mid-major to make noise during March (BYU and SDSU excepted), try the team that charmed America before Butler – George Mason.

The Patriots have won nine straight and are a lot like that 2006 Final Four team. They’re a but undersized, but tough on defense and sneaky good on offense.

Also worth a second look in your bracket: Utah State, Duquesne, St. Mary’s and Belmont. Coastal Carolina’s won 20 in a row, but just making the tournament is gonna be enough for Cliff Ellis’ group.

Big East is a beast (again)
It’s not like it was in 2009 when the conference landed three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, but it’s still nasty – and looks even better given the issues some of the would-be contenders in the Big Ten and Big 12 have had. Pitt’s the league’s best team, but ‘Nova, Notre Dame, Louisville, Syracuse, Georgetown, UConn and West Virginia are all contenders.

Then there’s St. John’s, which is tied with Marquette and Cincinnati for ninth. A week ago, it beat Duke by 16. Good luck emerging unscathed in that league.

Jimmer or Kemba?
Kemba Walker’s turned UConn into one of the season’s surprise teams thanks to his scoring efforts and late-game heroics. Jimmer Fredette is the one-man scoring show out west, helping BYU to a Top 10 ranking with shots that defy conventional shooting range. Jimmer leads the nation in scoring, while Kemba’s sixth.

Who’s better is largely a matter of taste right now, but it seems as if Jimmer’s about to pass Kemba in the eyes of hoops observers. Mostly, it’s been a blast to watch these two play.

There hasn’t been a really fun Player of the Year debate since J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison in 2006, who also happened to be two guys who could fill it up.

So who wins? That might depend on Jared Sullinger.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

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

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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.