One last post on the unlikeliest of Final Fours

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OK, last post on how unlikely this Final Four is. Promise.

It’s just … it’s hard to wrap one’s head around this, you know? A Final Four without any 1 or 2 seeds? With an 8 and an 11, and the 11 had to win five games just to get here? That’s absurd. People have been trying to put that into context for the past 48 hours. Here are three of the best I’ve read.

From Jason Lisk at the Big Lead:

So, just how crazy is this meeting of Butler and VCU in the Final Four? I looked at the simple rating system ratings at college basketball reference, going back to 1985. The simple rating system is what it says, simple–it looks at two things, margin of victory and strength of schedule to rank teams. Looking at those rankings for all 108 Final Four teams, Butler and VCU come in at #107 and #108. That’s right, the two lowest rated teams in a Final Four in the last 27 years, in the same season. These weren’t teams that, based on their regular seasons, were tragically underseeded because they came from non-power conferences that did not appreciate their brilliance against a weak schedule. Butler is 52nd in the simple rating system rankings this year; VCU is down at 70th, even including the tournament results.

Compared to other long shots like George Mason (35th in SRS) and Butler 2010 (28th in SRS), that’s a jaw dropper for how they compare to those other teams.

As to the odds of VCU and Butler getting there, well, that’s something much, much smarter people than I can compute.

From Nate Silver at the N.Y. Times:

Virginia Commonwealth, in fact, might be the basketball equivalent of Susan Boyle. In a competition famous for its upsets, the Rams having made it to Houston may be the most unlikely occurrence in the history of the tournament.

Before the tournament began, we had Virginia Commonwealth with just a 12-in-10,000 chance of reaching the Final Four, making the Rams 820-to-1 underdogs. The reason for the extremely long odds were twofold.

Silver also used SRS to slot in other 11 seeds that made the Final Four like George Mason, LSU to compare their odds to VCU’s. George Mason would’ve had 70:1 odds against. LSU was 69:1. 8 seeds like Villanova (’85) and Butler this season were 50:1 and 37:1, respectively. The only team close to matching VCU’s long odds? Penn in 1979. The Quakers were 420:1 to reach the Final Four.

(For what it’s worth, Silver estimates, but doesn’t officially calculate, that Villanova winning it all in 1985 had odds of 800:1.)

Finally, Eammon Brennan traded emails with Ken Pomeroy for his pre-tournament odds on Butler and VCU both reaching the Final Four. The exchange:

“If you take my probabilities literally (nobody does that, do they?) this combo had a 1-in-300 million chance of happening,” Ken Pomeroy, whose influential KenPom.com tracks team efficiency rankings throughout the season, wrote in an email.

Pomeroy noted that his system “overstates” those odds, because his tournament projections “don’t account for the idea that if VCU won its first two or three games, it could be assumed they were underrated and would have a better chance to win successive games than my system would imply.”

Bottom line: Any way you rate it, the odds of this happening were far more than unlikely. They’re simply inconceivable. Maybe that’s why the NCAA tournament is so freaking awesome.

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.