What we learned from the second round

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The “second round” is  officially in the books, and there are only 32 teams that still have a chance to cut down the nets in New Orleans. The first two days of the NCAA tournament were not as action-packed as we would have hoped, but the games did provide us with some information that we may have overlooked or not been aware of.

We may have overlooked NC-State just a bit: At-large bids are supposed to be given out based on an entire season of work, strength of schedule and RPI. But sometimes teams with underwhelming records or SoS are given a spot because they are playing well at the right time. That’s what NC-State is doing. They’ve won five of their last six games, and just beat a talented but undersized San Diego State team by playing efficient basketball with a quality team effort. The Wolfpack were the last team mentioned during Selection Sunday, and the win may validate the committee’s decision. With heightened play by C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood, this team has the capability to beat Georgetown in the Round of 32.

Talent is Overrated: Uconn is loaded with talented players brimming with NBA potential. But they lack cohesiveness and effort. Their lack of teamwork showed greatly in their 77-64 loss to Iowa State. In fact, the score doesn’t indicated how truly painful their performance was. But Jeremy Lamb summed it up best when he went in for a one-handed windmill dunk with his team trailing by 13. As the final buzzer sounded, Lamb clanked the ball off the back of the rim, and UConn’s season came to a fitting close.  UNLV also got outworked by a Colorado team with much less talent.  The Buffs led by 11 at the half and by as many as 20 and out-rebounded the Rebels by 13.

Syracuse isn’t playing like a No.1-Seed: Don’t chalk-up Syracuse’s close call to just the absence of Fab Melo. UNC-Asheville didn’t have a starter who checked in at 6-6 or above. This team looked rattled, and was unable to consistently play at a high level. Against Kansas State, Melo’s absence should be more noticeable, but if this team plays like they did against UNC-Asheville, it probably won’t matter.

Referees make mistakes too: At the end of the Syracuse/UNC-Asheville game the referees gave Syracuse the ball following a play in which the ball clearly touched Brandon Triche last. The Bulldogs were down three at the time and would have had a chance to tie the game. Instead, they ended up losing by five. At the end of the Alabama/Creighton game, Trevor Releford launched a three-pointer as the clock expired which would have won the game for the Crimson Tide, but the shot was blocked. Well, after taking a closer look at the play, it appears that Releford was fouled. Alabama was down one and would have gone to the line with a chance to win the game. But while these no-calls seemed to cost teams the game, the players made mistakes that put them in that position to begin with. Everybody makes mistakes.

Georgetown and Vanderbilt finally beat mid-majors in the tournament:
Up until the final buzzer went off, nobody was sure if Georgetown and Vanderbilt would be able to get out of their early tournament funk. Since 2008, the two teams were a combined 1-6 in tournament games, all coming against mid-major competition. But both teams look fairly dominant in their tournament openers on Friday, with Vandebilt defeating Harvard 79-70 and Georgetown defeating Belmont 74-59. Both teams have the potential to make deep runs in the tournament, and now that their biggest hurdles are out of the way, they could be here for a while. If you had these two teams making deep runs in your bracket, you can finally breathe a sigh of relief, for now.

Size was an issue for Missouri:
The one knock on Missouri all year was that they didn’t have any size. All season we worried that size would give Missouri issues, and all season we seemed to be wrong. But Norfolk State had the answer. His name was Kyle O’Quinn. The MEAC Player of the Year had 24 points and 16 rebounds. The Spartans out-rebounded the Tigers 35-23 and had 14 offensive rebounds to the Tigers’ six. For the first time all season, Kim English looked undersized at the power forward position. The Tiger’s didn’t play bad, but the Spartans played better.

A different kind of madness:
We think of the first week of March Madness as the time that produces the best buzzer-beaters. Thursday and Friday are known for the great finishes and unexpected endings. But Thursday provided nothing of great substance. Friday provided no wild finishes or epic buzzer-beaters. But Friday did provide us with history. For the first time in the history of the NCAA tournament, two No.15-seeds defeated two No.2-seeds in the same tournament, let alone the same day. Norfolk State’s victory over Missouri shocked the world, and Lehigh’s victory over Duke rocked it. Oh, and No.13-seed Ohio beat No.4-seed Michigan.


Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.

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

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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.