UCLA upsets No. 6 Arizona; should we be concerned about the Wildcats?

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Shabazz Muhammad went for 23 points and Jordan Adams added 15 as UCLA went into the McKale Center and knocked off No. 6 Arizona 84-73 on Thursday night.

It was as impressive of a performance as we’ve seen out of this Bruin program since Ben Howland led them to their third straight Final Four in 2008. UCLA jumped out to a 19-3 lead before the second TV timeout and never let the Wildcats get closer than four points the rest of the way.

Thoroughly beating a team like that on the road is impressive on its own. But UCLA did it while Travis Wear, arguably their most important player since Howland turned UCLA into a running team, spent the end of the first half and the entire second half sitting on the bench with a concussion. It also deserves mention that Adams was dealing with what UCLA termed cramps during the second half.

And UCLA still didn’t buckle as Arizona made a second half run in front of a raucous home crowd.

That’s impressive.

Oregon has to be considered not only the favorite to win the Pac-12 this season, but also the best team in the league this year. Not only do they have a two game (or more) lead on everyone in the conference other than UCLA, they’ve already beaten Arizona and UCLA. This win over UCLA came on Saturday in Pauley Pavilion. And the Ducks won’t face either team again this season. It’s their title to lose.

But I don’t think the Bruins are all that far off their pace.

The bigger question mark is with Arizona.

The Wildcats have an impressive computer profile in both the RPI and Kenpom. They have an impressive record and some impressive wins this season. But there are issues when you look past the box score.

For starters, Arizona’s only dominant win over a relevant team came on Saturday at Arizona State. When they beat Long Beach State, the 49ers didn’t have their transfers eligible yet. Florida gave away a win when they decided to commit consecutive turnovers in the back court and miss a front-end in the final minute. Colorado blew a 10 point lead in the final four minutes and had what should have been a game-winning three waved off. Miami was playing just their second game without Reggie Johnson in the lineup. (Arizona made a comeback in the San Diego State game as well, but I thought they played well in that game, so I’m leaving it out of this discussion.)

Those four wins, as a result, are going to look much better on paper than they did to the naked eye.

And well the eye-test is far from a scientific method, it is enough for me to be concerned about the Wildcats.

For starters, Arizona has a number of solid pieces on the offensive end of the floor, but they don’t have that one guy that a coach is forced to game-plan around. There is no Mason Plumlee or Doug McDermott. They don’t have a Trey Burke or a Russ Smith. There isn’t even a guy like a Shabazz Muhammad or a Jordan Adams, someone that will scare opposing coaches.

That’s not a crippling issue, and neither is the fact that the Wildcats are playing this season without a true point guard. I like Mark Lyons. I think he’s a good player and a good scorer. But he’s not a point guard. He’s not a facilitator, creator or leader. He had 16 points tonight, but he also shot 6-17 from the floor and had five turnovers and no assists. On the season, he’s now averaging 15.2 points, 3.2 assists and 3.0 turnovers. Again, that would be fine if the Wildcats had a Draymond Green or a Grant Gibbs on their roster, but they don’t.

Arizona is not a bad basketball team.

They’re good. They have enough talent that finishing outside of the top three in the Pac-12 would be a major disappointment, and they’ve proven that a) they never give up on a game, and b) they have the moxie to fight back late and win a game in crunch.

But their record is deceiving.

Hypothetically speaking, if Kenny Boynton doesn’t choke, Sabatino Chen’s shot counted and Nick Johnson misses the block against Chase Tapley, how would you view the Wildcats?

Because it shouldn’t be all that much different than how you view them now.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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

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
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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.