Thrilling finishes aside, just how good is UConn?

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You’re going to see the highlight of Shabazz Napier’s game-winning, 15-foot jumper on repeat over the course of the night and tomorrow morning.

No, it’s not on the level of Auburn’s miracle touchdown in their win over Alabama on Saturday night, but it’s the most exciting play of the college basketball season to date. It may be the wildest buzzer-beater we see this season given the amount that the ball bounced all over the place over the course of the last five seconds.

It was nuts. The UConn fans, and the UConn team, rightfully went nuts.

But, at the end of the day, the shot that Napier hit was basically a free throw.

The more impressive shot that he made was the contested 25-footer he hit on UConn’s previous possession, the one where he drew a foul and rolled his ankle on the same play. He shook off the injury long enough to hit the free throw and, 30 seconds later hit the game-winner.

(MORE: Florida lost, but that team will be good)

Napier finished the night with 26 points in the 65-64 win over No. 15 Florida. He was 9-for-15 from the floor and 5-for-8 from three, but more importantly, he was the guy that was up for the challenge every single time that UConn needed a big shot. When the Gators went on a run, he was the guy that would step up to answer the bell. He, at the very least, feigned interest in getting the rest of his team involved throughout the game.

But everyone in the building and everyone on TV knew exactly who was going to be getting the ball at the end of the game, which is why, on both of the final two possessions, you can see Florida actively trying to get the ball out of Shabazz’s hands.

This UConn team has some shades of the 2011 UConn team that won the national title on the shoulders of Kemba Walker. They’re led by a dynamic lead guard with a penchant for performing in the clutch. They have a couple of talented perimeter players to surround him with. Their 6-foot-9 power forward likes shooting threes more than he does posting up. Their big men have more promise and potential than they do ability at this point.

That doesn’t change the fact that this UConn team is tough to get a feel for. Yes, their 8-0 record is pretty and obviously those wins over Maryland, Boston College, Indiana and Florida are impressive. But those wins came by a grand total five points. I’m not one of these guys that is going to sit here and tell you that being “clutch” doesn’t exist, but I will say that the law of averages will tell you that, eventually, those game-winning shots are going to even themselves out. The comparison that I’ll make here is Butler from the 2012-2013 season. They were ranked in the top ten after beating Gonzaga on that fluky game-winner last season. It was their third buzzer-beating win of the season. They ended up being a No. 6 seed that, fittingly, lost in a fluky finish to No. 3 seed Marquette on the Round of 32.

That’s where I am on UConn right now.

Is this team really on the verge of being in the top ten? Are they really a Final Four contender with a shot at winning the national title?

Or is this a good team that has just so happened to make a few crucial plays in the final minutes?

If they have to rely on this kind of a performance from Napier every time out, it might be the latter.

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

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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.