Win over Kentucky (finally) makes Tom Crean toast of Indiana

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Mark this date: Dec. 10, 2011 is the day Indiana basketball burst back onto the national scene.

And in style.

In a game that looked good, then bad, then bright, then bleak until the final seconds, a buzzer-beating three-pointer from junior Christian Watford sunk the number one team in the nation, 73-72, on Saturday evening in Bloomington.

“We want to be a team that contends,” said coach Tom Crean after the game, being swarmed by Indiana fans that had stormed the floor. “We want to be a team that is really good. I love these players. This is unbelievable.”

With eight seconds remaining, Victor Oladipo drove from the right wing for Indiana, spun and lost the ball, stolen by Kentucky’s Doron Lamb. Lamb was fouled with six seconds remaining and missed one of two at the free throw line, giving Kentucky a 72-70 lead.

After the in-bounds, Indiana rushed the ball up the floor. Verdell Jones III drove down the left side and kicked it out to Watford, who was open for three on the left wing.

He nailed the shot as the buzzer sounded, igniting pandemonium at Assembly Hall.

Recalling memories of the glory days of the Indiana-Kentucky rivalry, surrounded by a sea of red shirts in the stands, Watford led the way for the Hoosiers with 20 points and five rebounds. Behind 9-of-15 shooting from three-point range, Indiana took down their first number one team since 2002, handing Kentucky their first loss of the season.

The Wildcats, who have made their name so far this year with length and athleticism, were crippled by freshman Anthony Davis’ struggles with foul trouble, which changed the complexion of Kentucky’s team through stretches of the second half. Wildcats star Terrence Jones was ineffective, scoring just four points and grabbing one rebound.

“There are a lot of different ways to lose to Kentucky,” Crean said before the game. “We’ve got to make sure that we try to eliminate as many of those as possible. There are a few things that we have to do. And we’ve got to make sure that we do them.”

Coming into the season, questions were raised about Tom Crean’s job security. With this win, that is about the furthest from the minds of the Indiana faithful.

The Hoosiers move to 9-0 on the year and have all but silenced critics who pointed to Indiana’s weak schedule, so far, as a reason to question whether this team could be a force in the Big 10.

Freshman Cody Zeller, the leading scorer through the Hoosiers’ first eight games, took a back seat to the same three-point shooting barrage that brought Indiana from behind against NC State on Nov. 30. Crean’s squad has shown that they are capable of working the ball inside to Zeller, who had 11 points and seven rebounds on the evening, or using their outside shooting to spur long runs. A 16-2 run in the first half helped Indiana show they could play with Kentucky and a 10-0 second half run put them in control down the stretch.

At such a storied program, Crean’s 28-66 record in his three years at Indiana didn’t sit well, to put it nicely.

With the flood of red that inundated the court at Assembly Hall after Watford’s shot sailed through the rim, it was as if the unrest dissolved, lost in the joy of seeing the number one team in the nation fall.

In combination with the Hoosiers’ 8-0 that they carried into this game, along with the number one-ranked recruiting class, Crean has gone from an uncomfortable subject to the toast of the town.

It will be heard more than once in the bars around Bloomington tonight:

Here’s to Tom Crean.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

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.