The comeback was thrilling, but Ohio State’s offense remains concerning

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Plenty of people had questions about No. 3 Ohio State entering their game with No. 5 Michigan State at the Breslin Center on Tuesday night.

Can a team with such issues on the offensive end of the floor really be the third-best team in the country? Does winning at sputtering Marquette, or beating a depleted Maryland, or a miracle comeback against a thoroughly average Notre Dame team really justify their lofty standing nationally? Did they enter this game undefeated because they’re that good or because their schedule, well, wasn’t?

Tuesday was going to tell us all we needed to know.

Michigan State has played like they are the best team in the country when healthy, and on Tuesday, they weren’t even healthy. Travis Trice didn’t play. Adreian Payne, who has been dealing with plantar fasciitis, also sprained his foot. Matt Costello still found himself playing limited minutes. And yet, the Spartans were still able to stretch a 28-21 halftime lead to 55-38 with just over seven minutes left in the game.

That’s when Ohio State took over.

The Buckeyes are one of the best teams in the country on the defensive end of the floor, and there may not be a better defensive back court anywhere than the pairing of Shannon Scott and Aaron Craft. That defense was on display over the course of those final seven minutes, as the Buckeyes went on a thrilling, 20-3 run to tie the game and force overtime. Hell, they almost won it in regulation. If it wasn’t for an unbelievable defensively play from Keith Appling on a fast break layup for Scott, Sparty would be heading back into the frozen tundra of East Lansing with a loss.

Ohio State ended up losing in overtime, 72-68, but that doesn’t take away from just how impressive that comeback was.

What happened was simple, really.

Michigan State got a bit lackadaisical offensively, thinking they would be coasting in for an easy win. Ohio State took advantage, cranking the screws defensively and making Michigan State look like a men’s league team that was 10 minutes past being gassed. During that 20-3 run, the Buckeyes forced nine turnovers, which led to nine points and put them in complete control of the game.

But here’s the thing: we didn’t learn anything new about Ohio State.

Yeah, they are going to defend you. Yes, they can force turnovers. Obviously, when those turnovers come in bunches they can create massive comebacks. Notre Dame will tell you that.

But this is also still a team that really struggles on the offensive end of the floor. Their only go-to guy is LaQuinton Ross, an inconsistent talent who just-so-happened to have an off-night on Tuesday. He finished the night 1-for-7 with just five points and was benched for freshman Marc Loving down the stretch. Neither Craft or Scott can break down a defense off the dribble. Neither of them are a real threat in the pick-and-roll. Amir Williams, Sam Thompson, Lenzelle Smith. These aren’t guys that need to be game-planned around for opponents.

Those issues were quite evident outside of the seven minutes at the end of regulation.

Ohio State is going to have a lot of nights like this, especially when LaQuinton Ross isn’t shooting the ball all that well. 

But with that defense, there aren’t going to be many nights where they’re ever out of a game.

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.