Maybe, just maybe, Calhoun’s leave could be UConn’s turning point

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For what feels like the 10th straight season, UConn head coach Jim Calhoun’s health will force him to miss time. Calhoun, who is 70 years old, has a painful condition known as spinal stenosis that was aggravated on UConn’s loss at Georgetown this week. This isn’t something new, either. Calhoun strongly considered getting surgery when he was suspended for three games at the start of Big East play.

UConn made the announcement on Friday afternoon, and the overwhelming sentiment was that this could end up being the beginning of the end of Calhoun’s career. He’s 70. His health has been less than ideal over the last decade. And, after a disastrous performance against Georgetown extended UConn’s losing streak to four games and dropped them to 4-5 in Big East play, Calhoun looks like he may finally be regretting returning to coach again instead of riding off into the sunset as a national champion after last season.

If that wasn’t bad enough, every analyst in the country seemed to be throwing in the towel on the UConn season.

The Huskies are a team with a chronic lack of leadership, a group that simply does not appear to hold each other accountable for their mistakes. Should we really expect the Huskies to become less dysfunctional when their fiery head coach, who couldn’t get anyone on this team to replace Kemba Walker’s leadership in the first place, has to leave the team?

But despite having their coach watching the game couch side and even with Andre Drummond buried on the bench early with two fouls, UConn easily handled a short-handed Seton Hall team 69-46. Beating the Pirates, who have now lost six straight games, without Herb Pope is already an impressive achievement, but it does allow us to question whether Calhoun’s leave could end up being a good thing for UConn.

The biggest of UConn’s problems are fixable — they aren’t playing with any effort or urgency, seeming to be more worried about how much time they spend on the being (Alex Oriakhi) and how they are shooting the basketball (Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb). Talent isn’t the problem for UConn; as Calhoun said after the loss to Georgetown, its “their will and their want”. And what better way to convince the defending national champions to play hard and play for each other than to present them with the very real possibility of missing the NCAA Tournament.

Oriakhi is the elder statesmen on this team, but he’s spent too much time this season sulking about his playing time; UConn’s best lineup is when Andre Drummond is the center and either Tyler Olander or Roscoe Smith joins him in the front court. Oriakhi has had a tough time going from arguably the most valuable non-Kemba UConn player last season to a role player and the second-best option at his position.

But against Seton Hall, Oriakhi had 10 points and eight boards, making some impressive post moves — one of the first times he showed aggression this season — and playing as well as he has all year long. This came a day after he called a player’s only meeting to let his team know just how much it hurts to miss the NCAA Tournament. “I told guys if I’m not playing I’ll be biggest cheerleader. I just want to win,” Oriakhi said on Saturday. UConn also got 19 points, five assists and four steals from the dynamic Ryan Boatright, who looked like a much more dangerous playmaker than he did in his first game back from a second suspension this season.

Some of UConn’s issues were still quite evident on Saturday. They turned the ball over 16 times. They shot 2-13 from three. Jeremy Lamb was just 3-10 from the floor and Shabazz Napier, while snapping an 0-18 shooting slump, was just 1-6 from the field.

The answer clearly isn’t known yet, but the question has to be asked: can Calhoun’s leave be the turning point for the UConn season?

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.