The fantastic four: the most important player for each team

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No need to spin a tale or to try to impress you with my knowledge. Let’s get right to it. There are two games on Saturday featuring four very good teams. And here are the key players for each team.

Kenctucky vs Louisville

Kentucky has the most talent at the Final Four. And they probably have the most talent in college basketball. When national writers routinely debate if Kentucky is better than an NBA team (they aren’t) they you know there’s a deep supply of next-level potential. But the most talent doesn’t make a player the most important for any particular game. On Saturday, it’s Doron Lamb.  The Cardinals put a tremendous amount of pressure on the ball. Marquis Teague will have the ball a lot, but we all know he can go through stretches where he turns the ball over. But Doron Lamb doesn’t. A sophomore on Kentucky is like a senior elsewhere, and Lamb provides that veteran presence. More importantly, his turnover rate is the lowest on the team. If Kentucky is constantly in transition then it won’t matter who the most important player is because the game won’t be close. If they have to score out of half-court sets, then look for Lamb to help out on the perimeter. He can score. He can protect the ball. He can calm things down.

For Louisville, they aren’t going to be able to beat Kentucky with elite defense alone. Sure, they have the best defense in the nation, but Kentucky will be getting it done on both ends. Which means Louisville needs to find some points. Enter Russ Smith. When he’s in the game there are only six players in the nation who take more of their team’s shots (36%). He’s failed to make half his shots in any NCAA tournament game yet, but that doesn’t mean he won’t come out chucking. And for an offensively challenged team, that’s what they need. Cardinals fans just need to pray that they go in.

Kansas vs Ohio State

Thomas Robinson. The end.

Alright, I suppose I should write something. In 36 games Robinson has had 25 double-doubles (the end, part II). And he’s missed another six because he only got 9 rebounds. So far in the tournament he’s averaged 15.8 points and 12.5 rebounds. And he’s turned the ball over once. Kansas needs him to produce on both ends of the floor. On offense, he can exploit the defense due to his size and athleticism. The Buckeyes are big on the wings but don’t have elite size in the middle. Robinson needs to be disruptive, he needs to draw fouls. And on the other end of the floor, Ohio State lives on offensive rebounds. Robinson is the best defensive rebounder in the nation. He needs to show that on Saturday.

For Ohio State the logical choice would be Jared Sullinger. After all, he missed the game the last time these two played, and if the Buckeyes win it will be easy to point to him as the difference maker. Still, I’m going with Lenzelle Smith Jr. In the first 49 games of his career, Smith scored in double figures three times. In the past nine game he’s done it five times. In the past two games he’s set a new career high for minutes. Twice. Ohio State has Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas who can reliably score. They have William Buford and Aaron Craft who cannot. If Lenzelle Smith can step up and be a solid option then the nets could be coming down for Ohio State.

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

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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

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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.