Big South Conference Tournament Preview

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The race for the Big South’s automatic bid took an unexpected turn last week when High Point freshman forward John Brown went down for the remainder of the season with a broken foot. Senior forward Allan Chaney, whose career nearly ended due to a heart ailment, will have to lead the way for a team that is down to two double-digit scorers (guard Adam Weary being the other). Corey Law scored 14 points in their 63-62 win over Campbell, and he has give High Point consistent offense if the Panthers are to win three straight games.

However a possible quarterfinal matchup with host Coastal Carolina looms, and the two-seed from the South (Gardner-Webb) is also capable of knocking off High Point. South Division champion Charleston Southern, led by point guard Saah Nimley, averaged nearly 75 points per game in Big South play while also leading the league in field goal percentage defense. VMI, as the second place finisher in the North, received the other first-round bye in the top half of the bracket but don’t be surprised if UNC Asheville knocks them off in the quarters. Eddie Biedenbach’s team won ten league games, with one being a 90-79 win at VMI on February 9.

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The Bracket

Where: HTC Center (Conway, South Carolina)

When: March 5, 7, 9-10

Final: March 10, 12:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Gardner-Webb 

The Runnin’ Bulldogs didn’t win their division (Charleston Southern did) but they did sweep the regular season series between the two teams. Chris Holtmann’s team enters the conference tournament in good form as they’ve won ten of their last 11 games, with the lone defeat being a surprising 57-54 loss at Presbyterian.

Guard Tashan Newsome (14.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and wing Donta Harper (12.9 ppg) lead the way offensively, and if Gardner-Webb can control tempo (they average 65.5 possessions/40 minutes, per statsheet.com) the Runnin’ Bulldogs are capable of reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time as a Division I member.

And if they lose? Charleston Southern did win the South, the tougher of two two divisions, and in Saah Nimley they have the league’s best point guard. In total four players average double figures for the Buccaneers, who led the conference in both scoring offense and field goal percentage defense. Jeremy Atkinson and Keith Hornsby lead the way for UNC Asheville, but the Bulldogs enter the conference tournament having lost five of their last six. High Point still has Chaney inside but losing a player of John Brown’s caliber at this point in the season may be tough to overcome.

Sleepers: Look no further than the host team, Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers lost just one conference home game this season, falling by seven (70-63) to Gardner-Webb on February 16. Anthony Raffa is capable of getting hot, and fellow guard Kierre Greenwood’s no slouch either. Another possibility is VMI, which averaged 74.7 points per game in conference play and is led by the league’s best player in senior forward Stan Okoye.

Studs:

– F Stan Okoye (VMI): The Big South Player of the Year, Okoye is averaging 21.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. And Okoye enters the conference tournament hot, as he averaged 33.0 points and 13.5 rebounds per game in wins over Liberty and Longwood.

– F Jeremy Atkinson (UNC Asheville): Atkinson’s only 6-4 but that didn’t stop him from being one of the league’s best front court players, averaging 17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game and earning first team All-Big South honors.

– G Saah Nimley (Charleston Southern): One of two underclassmen (Brown) to earn first team All-Big South honors, Nimley posted averages of 16.0 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. The 5-8 floor general is one reason why Charleston Southern won 12 league games.

Prediction: Nimley and Arlon Harper take over the weekend, leading Charleston Southern past Gardner-Webb in the final.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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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.