Stars returning to school means the ’13-’14 season is shaping up to be unreal

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College basketball fans have become accustomed to the month of April consistently disappointing them.

Over the course of the month, we’ve learned, player after player will announce their intentions to forgo the rest of their collegiate eligibility and enter their name into the NBA Draft. All those hopes and dreams you had about your favorite team building a contender get crushed with one star’s decision to rush off to the NBA.

This April, however, has been quite the opposite.

Instead of watching a mad dash of draft prospects head for the NBA to try and take advantage of a weak draft and a potentially guaranteed contract that comes with being a first round pick, some of the nation’s biggest stars have headed back to school.

And their return has laid the groundwork for what should end up being a thrilling season of hoops.

On Thursday afternoon, the most decorated returnee made his decision, as two-time first-team All-American Doug McDermott announced that he would be coming back to Creighton for his senior season. This sets up all kind of intrigue for Bluejay fans, as they will have arguably the greatest player in school history back to lead the program into a new era. McDermott, who will be chasing down 3,000 career points, is the favorite for the new Big East’s Preseason Player of the Year award, and will have a chance to showcase his skills against the likes of Georgetown, Marquette and Butler and in cities like NYC, DC and Philly. That’s a bit of a difference from the road trips to and from Springfield, MO, and Evansville, IN.

McDermott’s decision came a day after Russ Smith and CJ Fair announced that they will be spending their senior seasons at Louisville and Syracuse, respectively.

(CLICK HERE to follow along with who is turning pro and who is returning to school.)

Smith’s return makes Louisville a legitimate contender to win back-to-back national titles, as he not only was the KenPom National Player of the Year — which should give you a sense of his value to that Louisville team — but also the most entertaining player in the country, both on and off the court. It also sets up just an ideal situation in the Commonwealth. Kentucky and Louisville could end up being the preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, two bitter, intrastate rivals that have accounted for the last two national championships. Oh, and should I mention that Kentucky brought back Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress to join their loaded recruiting class?

Anyone got an extra ticket for their annual matchup?

The irony? Kentucky isn’t a lock to win the SEC, not when Florida brings in a loaded recruiting class and returns Patric Young, giving them arguably the best front line in the country.

While Smith brings the Russdiculousness, Fair may be his polar opposite. Often overlooked, Fair’s return was the single most important part of this offseason for Syracuse. A perfect fit athletically for the Orange’s 2-3 zone, Fair was also their leading scorer and rebounder a season ago, as well as a forward that was able to score on the perimeter. Syracuse will have a ton of length and athleticism once again, but Fair is the only front court player that can help spread the floor.

His return will make the Orange, in all likelihood, a top ten team and a contender in the ACC.

Yup, Syracuse is going to be in the ACC next season. Almost forgot that, didn’t you? That means that the Orange will be battling with Duke, who will be a top five team next season, and North Carolina, who will also be a top ten-ish team, for ACC bragging rights. The reason that UNC is going to be so good next season? Not only did they get James Michael McAdoo back for his junior campaign, leading scorer PJ Hairston made the decision to return to school as well.

That three-way battle for ACC supremacy is going to be quite entertaining even if you don’t like ACC hoops.

Duke-UNC and Louisville-UK won’t be the only rivalries that will continue to flourish in 2013-2014. Michigan may have lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA, but with the announcement that both Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary will be back for their sophomore seasons, the Wolverines will have enough talent to compete for the Big Ten title. The favorite in the league? Michigan State, especially after Gary Harris announced that he’ll be back for his sophomore campaign. And if Adreian Payne returns as well? We may just need to clear some space in the top three for the Spartans.

But easily the biggest surprise when it comes to players returning to school was Marcus Smart. A projected top three pick, Smart announced earlier this month that he simply wasn’t ready to give up being a kid and become a professional. “I know how much money I’m giving up,” he said, which is great news for Oklahoma State fans, as they suddenly jump into the top spot in the preseason Big 12 standings.

Above Kansas.

Who has won at least a share of the last nine Big 12 regular season title.

And that may end up being the most run league race to follow along with this season. Can Oklahoma State, a team coached by Travis Ford, end up being the one that ends the Jayhawk streak?

If that’s not enough, Joe Jackson, Jordan McRae, Sean Kilpatrick and Jahii Carson will all be back next season as well.

And you thought last season was fun.

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

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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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.