Which Final Four coach do you want? We state our cases

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Any coach who reaches the Final Four qualifies as a pretty good coach. Yes, even Rick Barnes.

But some of the coaches whose teams play in the NCAA tournament’s final weekend are a cut above their peers. They’re the best recruiters, Xs-and-Os guys, savvy managers of egos and smart enough to surround themselves to help them along the way.

That applies to the four guys in New Orleans: Kansas’ Bill Self, Kentucky’s John Calipari, Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Ohio State’s Thad Matta.

But which one would you want coaching your team for one game? We state our cases for each one.

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John Calipari

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You want John Calipari. He’s got the highest career win percentage of the four coaches, and while he may not have a national title to his credit like Rick Pitino or Bill Self it’s only a matter of time before he does. Of his 13 NCAA tournament teams ten have reached at least the Sweet 16, and that’s not something that happens solely because of the ability to recruit (I don’t worry about vacated records because that’s one of the dumbest punishments in all of sports).

He’s been able to get an immensely talented team to play together with no signs of ego taking over, and more times than not Kentucky ends up in a good position to be successful. The other three coaches may receive more praise for their work with a clipboard, but the judgment of Calipari in that regard seems to be more about perception than reality.

— Raphielle Johnson

*NCAA records. Does not include 42 wins, 2 losses, 2 league titles and 2 tourney titles that were vacated.

Thad Matta

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The youngest coach among the four, Matta’s also probably the most underrated. He’s been a head coach 12 years and won his conference title nine times, including five in the Big Ten, routinely one of the game’s three best leagues. He won an NCAA tournament game with Butler, took Xavier to the Elite Eight and was in the national title game in just his third year at Ohio State. That’s a career for most guys, not just the start of one.

Yet Matta’s proven himself to be an outstanding recruiter, developer of talent and has a flair for preparation and in-game tactics, too. His Buckeyes were more than ready for Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone last weekend, shredding it with interior passing. He’s made a football school into one of college basketball’s elite programs. That’s no accident. That’s a testament to how good he is and how his players respond to that excellence.

— Mike Miller

Rick Pitino

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Would it surprise you to hear that, after a 29-point loss to Providence earlier this season, Cardinals fans were more likely to discuss the chances that their team missed the NCAA tournament entirely than that the possibility of winning the Big East tournament and reaching the Final Four? That’s the turnaround that Pitino has orchestrated, and he has done it while dealing with myriad of injuries to key players.

There’s more: Pitino has also proven to have a feel for this team, making in-game adjustments — like switching to a man-to-man defense against Florida — that have helped to spark this run. Most importantly, he has no pressure on him or his team. They are supposed to lose to heavily favored — and heated rival — Kentucky. John Calipari is the one with the pressure. Can you imagine the embarrassment of the best team he’s had getting upset by a rival coached by his personal rival? They always say the most dangerous person is the one with nothing to lose.

— Rob Dauster

Bill Self

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Bill Self and the Jayhawks did it again in 2011-12, despite losing the Morris twins and two more of his top five scorers from last season. They lost two top recruits, Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, to eligibility problems. They didn’t have a clear-cut star or go-to guy to begin the season.

He made long-term player development investments, notably Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, which finally paid off this season. In the short-term, as Pat Forde of Yahoo! points out, Self outdueled Roy Williams in Kansas’ Elite Eight win over North Carolina.

So, for reasons of consistency and the ability to build in both the short-term and long-term, Bill Self is the best coach in the Final Four.

— Daniel Martin

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

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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.