Time to give Wichita State some more national attention

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Love me some Doug McDermott and Creighton. Been on the Bluejays’ bandwagon before the season started and neither McDermott (23.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 50.7 from deep) or Creighton (19-2) have disappointed.

But that adulation has overshadowed another Missouri Valley team deserving of equal praise – Wichita State.

The Shockers might even be the better team.

An 86-74 win against Evansville Wednesday night kept them tied with Creighton atop the conference (both are 9-1) and on target for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2006. WSU has won 16 of its last 17 – including an impressive 89-70 win over UNLV – with its lone loss coming to … Creighton. (One reason why the Jays get more national attention.)

But chew on this: The Shockers (18-3) are one of seven teams whose offense and defense rank among the Top 20 in adjusted efficiency on kenpom.com. The other six? Syracuse, Kentucky, Michigan State, Kansas, Ohio State and North Carolina.

That’s some impressive company.

Much of the credit goes to coach Gregg Marshall, who took over from Mark Turgeon in 2008 and has watched his team improve every season. That’s not just empty praise, either. They’ve gone from 11-20 to 29-8 last season and could hit 30 wins this year. As Matt Norlander notes, the Shockers’ offensive and defensive efficiency has improved every season, a testament to his coaching and his players’ dedication.

From his story:

“When we got here, it was a little bare,” Marshall said. “Mark Turgeon had done a wonderful job. They were eighth-ranked in the country in Christmas of ’06, and then lost 14 out of 22, and it just fell apart. There were transfers, and when l arrived April 14, 2007, we had seven scholarships to give.”

The first year wasn’t good, but it remains the only time Marshall’s coached a team under .500. Since then, the real mark of his work as a coach is shown in the chart below. Every year since his arrival in Wichita, his teams have noticeably, incrementally gotten better in scoring more points per possession and allowing few points per possession, save the minor dip (103.8 to 102.2) on offense from year one to two. It’s incredibly tough to get your team to improve like this year each over the course of five seasons. He’s approaching a ceiling, which is a good thing — there isn’t much room left to climb!

Marshall attributes the ever-rising rankings to his change in strategy. Up until two years ago his teams jogged the ball up the floor after a made basket, always running a methodical set play. Now it’s pushing more frequently, evidenced by the 66. 8 possessions per game, also an all-time high for Marshall at Wichita State.

“Maybe I’ve just gotten smarter,” Marshall joked. “Maybe I’m playing more to the strengths of my group than I was earlier in my career. And as for our rebounding, we always say the defensive is possession is not over when the shot is taken. It is only over when you have the ball secure and are now on offense.”

(Also be sure to check the story for a couple of nifty graphs that help explain what WSU’s done.)

Three big dates remain on Wichita State’s schedule: A Feb. 1 game at Missouri State, a BracketBuster game (opponent TBD) and a Feb. 11 rematch against Creighton in Omaha.

If WSU wins that game, expect a little more national attention to comes its way. But you can say you knew that was due.

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You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

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.