Player of the Year debate: Jimmer or Nolan?

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It’s one of those years where the tired cliché applies: There are so many guys worthy of Player of the Year, it’s a shame there’ll only be one.

So we figured, why not have more than one?

Ken Davis already argued the candidacy of Connecticut superhero Kemba Walker, while Rob Dauster proclaimed Duke’s Nolan Smith his top player. Me? I go with the no-brainer in Jimmer Fredette. But what fun would it be if we merely proclaimed our winners? Why not argue about it?

Mike: I love me some Nolan Smith. He’s probably the best all-around player this season, but how can you go against Jimmer Fredette? BYU’s senior guard not only leads the nation in scoring, but jaw-dropping shots, plays and expectations. The guy’s a force of nature. And if there’s anything I learned this winter, it’s that you can’t fight nature. It always wins.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqX_b_Bu4hI]

Rob: Jimmer has been incredible. I’m not arguing that. There isn’t a more exciting player in the country to watch. Ankle breaking cross-overs into 30 foot pull up threes? Yes, please.

The issue I have with Jimmer is that he not only doesn’t play any defense, he doesn’t even try. The next time BYU plays, watch him on the defensive end of the floor. He’ll stand in the same spot for entire possessions.

Mike: He stands in the same spot because every team has some chump he usually doesn’t have to pay that much attention to. And it’s not like he’s a chump. He averages more steals a game (1.4 to 1.3) than Smith. Plus, the Cougars often throw a zone to there to give Jimmer some breathing room. And now that Brandon Davies won’t be playing anymore, expect BYU to use even more zone, thus minimizing Jimmer’s biggest deficiency.

And besides, Jimmer’s doing even more on offense lately. Nine assists vs. SDSU? Seven vs. UNLV? Guy is unstoppable even when he’s not shooting. Smith can’t control a game like that.

Rob: I disagree. I think Smith absolutely can control a game like that, and he does. He just doesn’t need too put up the numbers Jimmer does with the weapons that he has on the floor with him. That’s not to say he doesn’t put up numbers — he’s 0.1 rpg away from joining Tu Holloway and Norris Cole as the only players that average 20 ppg, 5 rpg, and 5 apg.

When Duke is at their best, Nolan Smith is the guy making all of the plays. And down the stretch, he’s just about the only guy on the Duke roster that touches the ball. What I think is the most impressive about Smith is that he is having this much success playing a role that he wasn’t supposed to coming into the season.

Mike: But it’s a roll he’s played before. It’s impressive to see how far Smith’s come as a creator. As a sophomore, he was the starting point guard, then got demoted. During the NCAA tournament run last year, Smith was the one creating with the ball.

But I think it’s far easier to create when you’ve got guys like Kyle Singler, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins to pass to. Jackson Emery and Charles Abouo are nice players, but they rely on Fredette creating their open looks at the basket. If the Cougars make the Final Four, it’ll be because of Fredette. If Duke makes it, it’s not all on Smith.  

Rob: If BYU is all Fredette, then they aren’t going to make the Final Four. The Cougars went into Viejas Arena and beat SDSU by 13, and while Jimmer had 25 points and 9 assists, they won because the other guys, namely Charles Abouo, played very well. I also don’t think it is fair to detract from a player based on how good his teammates are.

The best player in the country isn’t necessarily the most valuable or the most important player. If that were the case, then shouldn’t we also include Charles Jenkins or Tu Holloway or Norris Cole in the conversation?

Mike: The best player is all of those things. He’s the most important, most valuable and the best player on the court. That’s Fredette. I mean, the guy is a phenomenon college hoops is lucky enough to see every few years.

The biggest test might not even be how the Cougars play without Davies. It’ll be if Fredette has enough juice left in his legs. The guy’s been playing at such a high level all season, I worry he’s gassed just when most of the country will be watching. And that’s a shame.

Rob: I agree with everything in that last paragraph. He is the single most exciting player in the country to watch. Its an event when he plays. He’s a show man with a flair for the dramatic, usually in the form of contested 30 foot leaners off the dribble. But entertainment value does not make you the player of the year.

Is Blake Griffin now the NBA MVP? Smith is a better defender. He’s a better leader. Since Kyrie Irving went down, he’s boosted his average to 23.5 ppg. Let’s see what Jimmer does without Davies.

Mike: If one game’s any indication, he’ll have to do more than ever. BYU got manhandled by New Mexico Wednesday night for just their third loss of the season (and second against the Lobos). Fredette’s shot wasn’t falling early, but his teammates were worse. Consider BYU’s next few games the ultimate test of his Player of the Year worthiness. If Fredette can’t get them at least two NCAA tournament wins, maybe he’s not worthy of this.

But I’ll take my chances. You don’t bet against the Jimmer.

You also can follow me 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

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.