Catching you up on the Freshman of the Year race

1 Comment

College basketball has a different feel this season than it has in year’s past.

Why?

Because it’s not dominated by freshmen. There is no Anthony Davis or Kyrie Irving this season. The teams that are built around a recruiting class — Kentucky and UCLA, to name a few — are struggling, not overwhelming. The Player of the Year race includes a pair of seniors, two juniors and a sophomore.

But just because we haven’t seen the second-coming of Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony pop-up in the form of a first-year player doesn’t meant that there isn’t some impressive new talent being infused across the country.

Freshman of the Year: Anthony Bennett, UNLV

Bennett has played like a lottery pick through the first two and a half months of the season. He’s a big, strong power forward that’s averaging 18.5 points and 8.8 boards while shooting 56.2% from the field and 40.0% from three. He’s been the Rebel’s most dominant player, but also their best highlight reel; he’s a thunderous dunker in traffic with the handle and quickness to cross a defender over on the perimeter and get to the rim.

The All-Freshman Team:

  • G: Jahii Carson, Arizona State: The lightening quick Carson is the biggest reason why the Sun Devils are relevant in the Pac-12 race this season. East-coasters: he’s worth staying up late to watch. (17.3 ppg, 5.2 apg, 3.3 rpg)
  • G: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Smart’s shooting numbers are slowly starting to improve, but it’s his ability as a floor leader and defender that makes him so valuable. (13.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2.7 spg)
  • F: Ben McLemore, Kansas: McLemore has a chance to go No. 1 in this year’s NBA Draft. He’s supremely athletic a great finisher at the rim and a lights-out three-point shooter. And he’s still realizing just how good he can be. (16.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 44.6% 3PT)
  • F: Anthony Bennett, UNLV
  • C: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: Noel isn’t Anthony Davis, but he’s a long way from being a bust. One of the most dominant defensive forces in the country, Noel’s as athletic as they come and plays the game as hard as anyone. Anyone that calls him a disappointment hasn’t been paying attention. (10.7 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 4.2 bpg, 2.5 spg)

Other Notable Freshmen:

Nik Stauskas, Michigan: An athletic sharpshooter that fits perfectly in with the Wolverine offensive attack. (12.6 ppg, 49.5% 3PT)

Damyeon Dotson, Oregon: The Ducks’ leading scorer is averaging 13.7 points in Pac-12 play. (11.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg)

Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, UCLA: Ben Howland’s trio of freshmen haven’t been quite as dominant as many expected them to be, but they’ve made UCLA a Pac-12 contender. Anderson’s melded nicely into the point-forward role, which Adams and Muhammad have been able to score on the wings.

Siyani Chambers, Harvard: The biggest reason the Crimson haven’t fallen off as an Ivy League contender is the play of their point guard. (12.7 ppg, 6.1 apg, 47.4% 3PT)

Semaj Christon, Xavier: Xavier is in the thick of the Atlantic 10 race despite being in a “down” year thanks to the Christon’s playmaking at the point. (14.9 ppg, 4.9 apg)

Chris Obekpa, St. John’s: Obekpa is blocking shots at the highest level in the country. His 17.1% block rate leads the nation. (4.6 bpg)

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

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
1 Comment

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
7 Comments

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

Getty Images
4 Comments

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
4 Comments

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.