Big 12 tournament preview

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Dates: March 9-12
Location: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
Championship game: Saturday, 5 p.m. on ESPN

Outlook: This tournament revolves around three thing: Big 12 bubble teams, Texas and the Sunflower State.

The league has five teams – Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M, Missouri and Kansas State – that seem to safely be included in the NCAA tournament field. That leaves Colorado and Baylor (sorry Nebraska) a couple of chances to impress the tournament committee. And they can’t mess it up. The Buffs (19-12) have huge wins (over Texas and K-State) and NBA-caliber players in Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, but an awful non-conference schedule could sink Tad Boyle’s team. As for Baylor (18-12), the Bears probably wish they could face Texas A&M after their opening game vs. Oklahoma. They’ve beaten the Aggies twice this year.

Instead, a semifinal against Texas likely awaits. And nobody knows what’ll happen in that game.

The Longhorns (25-6) are far from the team that was 23-3 and eyeing a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance just two weeks ago. They’ve dropped three of their last five and barely escaped at Baylor on Saturday. Don’t be surprised if the Longhorns pull off a narrow victory, but fall to the Texas A&M-Missouri winner.

As for the top half of the bracket? Well, that’s where the teams to beat are. Look in the champions section below.

Players to watch: Jacob Pullen, Kansas State and Jordan Hamilton, Texas

Kansas forward Marcus Morris was the conference player of the year, and rightfully so. He boosted his season averages in points (17.3) and rebounds (7) during league play and also made 60 percent of his field-goal attempts. But Pullen and Hamilton get the nod here, both for different reasons.

Pullen was the catalyst for the Wildcats’ late-season run, pouring in 38 vs. Kansas and seemingly hitting every shot in sight. He’s since cooled, but K-State has not. What could make him heat up again? Playing Kansas in the semifinals.

And Hamilton? He’s the opposite of hot. The Longhorns’ leading scorer is hitting just 31.5 percent of his shots in the last five games, three of which have been Texas losses. Until he finds his form, don’t expect much out of the ‘Horns.

Champion: Kansas

It’s too bad Kansas and Kansas State area headed for a Friday evening semifinal game. It would make for a much better championship (and a packed house). But this’ll do.

The Wildcats (22-9) haven’t lost since thrashing the Jayhawks in Manhattan on Feb. 12, the same day Kansas reached No. 1 in the AP poll. In those six straight wins, K-State’s done pretty much everything pundits expected them at the start of the season: hit the boards, defend and ride Pullen’s shooting to wins.

But that won’t be enough vs. Kansas. The Jayhawks (29-2) haven’t lost to a Big 12 team twice in one season since Bill Self’s debut season in ’04. Since then, they’ve won seven straight regular-season league titles and four Big 12 tournaments (two of which were at the Spring Center).

They have the player of the year, the league’s best offense (by far) and a defense that’s played more like the ’08 version in the last two games. That’s not just bad news for Big 12 opponents, but bad news for NCAA tournament foes.

Complete tournament bracket

Conference standings, stats, more

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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

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

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.