Conference Catch-ups: The Big East

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Favorite: Syracuse

There is a reason that the Orange are currently sitting at the top of both national polls right now. Heading into Big East play, this group is still undefeated and has as deep of a roster as we have seen in Upstate NY in a long time. Their back court is absolutely lethal with Dion Waiters coming off the bench behind Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche. Their front court is loaded with size and versatility. If this team can stay focused with everything surrounding the allegations against Bernie Fine, Jim Boeheim has a group capable of winning a national title.

And-1: Its tough not to like the UConn Huskies here. They may have the best back court in the country in Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb and Ryan Boatright. Andre Drummond is finally starting to some into his own and make folks forget about the struggles of Alex Oriakhi. UConn’s role players embrace their roles. The biggest issue for UConn? Focus. The Huskies have a tendency to build a big lead against an overmatched opponent and allow them back into the game.

Biggest Surprise: Georgetown

The Hoyas were not expected to do much of anything in the Big East this season, but here they are sitting at 10-1 as they get ready to start league play. Much of that credit must go to Henry Sims, Georgetown’s senior center that has exploded to become one of the best all-around big men in the Big East. But he’s not alone by any stretch of the imagination. Jason Clark has become a lethal three-point shooter and a guy that you don’t want to get a clean look in a crucial situation. The same can be said for Hollis Thompson, who has looked like a first-round pick the way he has played early in the year. Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Hoyas this season has been their defense. They are a young team with length and athleticism for days, and its showing as John Thompson III is utilizing his team’s gifts by playing what has been a very effective 2-3 zone.

And-1: You have to love what is going on at Seton Hall this year. The Pirates are sitting at 11-1 with trip to Syracuse looming on Wednesday. Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope have been arguably the best one-two punch in the conference. Perhaps more impressive than those two is that Seton Hall’s schedule is far from fluff — they’ve beaten VCU, St. Joe’s and Dayton already this season.

Biggest Disappointment: Villanova

Maybe I just expected too much out of this team, but they have not been good early this season. The Wildcats have one notable win (La Salle) and have struggled against every other relevant team that they have played this season. It starts with the play of Maalik Wayns and Mouphtaou Yarou, neither of whom have become the kind of star that many had speculated was possible back in October, but it continues with their role players. Dominic Cheek and James Bell have been inconsistent, JayVaughn Pinkston is not yet ready to be an impact player at this level, and the rest of the Villanova roster is young.

And-1: So much for the Panthers being a contender in this league. Pitt has now lost twice this season in non-conference games at the Peterson Events Center, which doubles the number of non-conference games they lost at home … ever. Pitt’s always been an above-average defense team that doesn’t turn the ball over but forces you into tough shots. Well, this season they are one of the worst teams in the country at forcing turnovers and allowing teams to shoot lights out. Not a good combination.

Something left to prove: Louisville

I like this team. I really do. I think they have so many weapons and play a style that is very difficult to prepare for; no team in the country is as comfortable playing a game that is completely out of control than Louisville. They force turnovers, they push tempo and they turn it into, more or less, a pick-up basketball game. You know about all the big names on this team already, but the two guys that I love are point guard Russ Smith and defensive force Gorgui Dieng. That said, the Cardinals have not looked overpowering early in the year. As good as Ohio and Charleston are this season, struggling to beat them at home does not exactly make a team look like a title contender.

And-1: Cincinnati has been playing some terrific basketball of late, winning four straight since the brawl and scoring more than 95 points in three of those games. Here’s the thing: the competition they have done that against is terrible, and it remains to be seen what happens when Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj are inserted back into the lineup.

Who’s dancing?: Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Pitt, Georgetown, Marquette, Seton Hall, West Virginia

Wrong side of the bubble?: Cincinnati, Villanova.

Player of the Year: Kevin Jones, West Virginia

Jones is currently averaging 21.0 ppg and 11.9 rpg. That’s impressive all by itself. Now think about this — he had 30 points and 12 boards in a double-overtime win against Kansas State. He went for 28 points and 17 boards while completely out-playing Perry Jones III as West Virginia rallied from a double-digit deficit to force overtime against Baylor. This is the KJ we all expected to see last season.

All-conference team:

POY: Kevin Jones, West Virginia
G: Dion Waiters, Syracuse
G: Jeremy Lamb, UConn
F: Jae Crowder, Marquette
F: Herb Pope, Seton Hall
C: Henry Sims, Georgetown

Power Rankings:

1. Syracuse
2. UConn
3. Louisville
4. Georgetown
5. Marquette
6. West Virginia
7. Pitt
8. Seton Hall
9. Cincinnati
10. Villanova
11. Notre Dame
12. Providence
13. Rutgers
14. DePaul
15. South Florida
16. St. John’s

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

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

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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

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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.