UConn’s length was difference maker vs. Butler

5 Comments

HOUSTON – UConn’s 53-41 win over Butler on Monday night will go down as one of the ugliest national title games in the history of the sport. For the first time in 50 years, a team failed to break the 50 point barrier in the championship game.

It’s easy to figure out why.

Butler shot 12-64 from the floor. For the game. That’s 18.8 percent. They were 9-33 from beyond the arc, which was actually a marked improvement from the 3-31 that the Bulldogs shot from inside the arc. Throw in the 8-14 that the Bulldogs shot from the foul line, and its pretty evident that what cost the Bulldogs tonight was their inability to put the ball in the basket. We can use all the advance statistics and tempo-free analysis to break down what happened in a game, but at the end of the day the team that wins is the one that scores more points.

And if you ain’t scoring, you ain’t winning.

“Without question, you know, 41 points, 12 of 64 is not good enough to win any game, let alone the national championship game,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said after the game.

“I thought we got decent looks in the second half. We just missed quite a few. Credit UConn for defending the way they do because I thought they challenged shots better than any team we’ve played all year.”

That was the difference.

Butler actually did not execute terribly on the offensive end of the floor. They were getting shots in and around the rim. They were getting pretty good looks from the perimeter. They turned the ball over just six times. They managed to corral 20 of their misses.

So why were the Bulldogs missing?

Some of it was mental. It isn’t humanly possible for a college kid on a stage this big to miss a couple of shots and not have it the pressure creep into the back of his head. And its tough to fault them for that.

But much of the blame — or credit — falls on UConn. The Huskies were, simply, longer and more athletic than Butler. They blocked 10 shots and changed countless other. I’d be willing to bet that Butler missed more layups than the number of field goals they made (12). Matt Howard finished the game 1-13 from the floor, and that one was a three pointer. Andrew Smith was just 2-9 from the field. As a team, Butler managed just two points in the paint, and those came on a layup from Andrew Smith off of an offensive rebound with 6:43 left in the game.

“I definitely think our length bothered them a lot,” Alex Oriakhi told reporters after the game. “Roscoe [Smith], myself and Charles [Okwandu] are pretty good shot blockers. Anytime they was able to drive into the lane, we tried to alter a shot or block it. I definitely think we was able to do that. That affected them throughout the whole game.”

But it was more than just changing shots around the rim.

What made UConn’s defense so difficult to score against is how well they recovered on the perimeter.

It may have been difficult to see on television, but the Huskies were able to challenge seemingly every jumper that Butler had on the perimeter. Guys like Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb, and Kemba were terrific closing out on shooters.

Lamb, in particular, deserves praise for the performance he had against Shelvin Mack. The lanky, 6’5″ freshman isn’t exactly known as defensive stopper. Yes, he uses his length, quickness, and anticipation to make plays in the passing lanes. But when you are talking about one-on-one, on the ball defense, Napier is generally the best on the UConn team, with Kemba falling close behind.

But it was Lamb that got the ball against Mack. And it was Lamb that delivered. Mack finished the game with just 13 points on 4-15 shooting. All four of those field goals came from beyond the arc. Two of those threes — the first field goal that Mack had with 4:00 left in the first half and the second field goal he hit, at the halftime buzzer — came when Donnell Beverly was guarding Mack because Lamb was on the bench in foul trouble.

That was the difference tonight.

Butler never got comfortable on the offensive end of the floor due to UConn’s length.

And it won UConn the national title.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

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
1 Comment

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
7 Comments

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

Getty Images
4 Comments

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
4 Comments

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.