‘Chaos’ has yet to take hold, but it hasn’t stopped Will Wade from winning at Chattanooga

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Frank Mattia/GoMocs.com

When Will Wade was hired at Chattanooga in May, he had a vision for the program that he wanted to build.

Just 31 years young, Wade had spent the last four years as an assistant on Shaka Smart’s staff at VCU, watching the way that the basketball-mad community of Richmond embraced ‘Havoc’. It originated as a style of play. It’s turned into VCU’s brand, the culture of a program that has since been embraced by the school and the students and the city at-large.

Chattanooga sits in what Wade calls a “melting pot of SEC schools”, close enough to places like Knoxville and Athens and Tuscaloosa that the city is loaded with various alumni but far enough way that they don’t get swept up in the furor over one school or one team. In other words, the folks that wind up in Chattanooga will have different allegiances when it comes to “FOOTBAWL”.

But when it comes to college hoops, they’re Chattanooga fans.

When Wade interviewed for the job, that was part of his pitch. As he called it, ‘Chaos’.

“When you’re a mid-major, you need a brand or a calling card,” Wade, the third-youngest head coach in Division I, told NBCSports.com in a phone interview. “I knew that’s how I wanted to play when I was fortunate enough to get a head job.”

“We needed a name for it, and when I interviewed for the Chattanooga job, Chaos kind of came to mind. It has a ‘C’ in it, we have a ‘C’ as our logo. It just kind of fit.”

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‘Chaos’ has a defined set of goals that aren’t all that different from what you would expect from a typical VCU team. Relentless full-court pressure, live-ball turnovers leading to layups, offensive rebounds, three-pointers. As much as anything, however, the biggest objective in a system like this is conditioning. Be in better shape, wear your opponents down, and eventually that pressure is going to get to them.

Two-thirds of the way through his first seasons with the Mocs, Wade’s finally got his team winning games. Ronrico White’s return has coincided with a 10-game winning streak, one that has them sitting at 8-0 in league play as they head into a key conference showdown with SoCon stalwart Davidson on Thursday night.

It’s an impressive turnaround for a team that went 4-8 in non-conference play, especially when you consider the fact that ‘Chaos’ really hasn’t been all that chaotic to date.

“We’re not where we need to be defensively,” Wade said, and Chattanooga’s ranking as the 271st-best defense, according to KenPom, would back that statement up. At this point, the Mocs are playing a style that closer to that of Louisville or Villanova than VCU. They run a zone-pressure designed more to control tempo than to force turnovers, dropping back into a matchup zone. For a coach that swears by extended, man-to-man pressure, the fact that his team is playing a different style successfully has even surprised him.

“Defensively, we stumbled upon this matchup zone,” Wade said. “We’re not getting a ton of steals or anything like that.”

“Offensively, we’re pretty close to where I’d like to be. I’d like to shoot a little bit better from three, but our identity is pretty close to what we want. … We play very, very fast. We lead the league in scoring, get up and down the court.”

The star of this Chattanooga team is Z Mason, a 6-foot-6 forward that’s averaging 18.5 points, 9.5 boards and could very well end up being the SoCon Player of the Year. But according to Wade, their most important piece is White. “He’s a high-IQ player,” Wade said, but it’s more than simply understanding the game or understanding reads. White, a 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard, is terrific in the pick-and-roll, and Chattanooga runs a ball-screen heavy offense. During this 10 game winning streak, he’s averaging 15.3 points with 23 assists and just nine turnovers.

“When he was hurt, we had a freshman point guard [Greg Pryor] who ended up playing 25 or 30 minutes a game, and it was almost a perfect start for us,” Wade said. “He was our only option, and he played a ton so he has a lot of miles on him. He’s game ready.”

At this point, ‘Chaos’ is not where Wade envisions it being a couple of years down the road, but that’s what tends to happen when a coach takes over a new program. He inherited the players this team, he didn’t necessarily recruit them. There’s a fairly distinct skill-set — and mindset — needed to be able to thrive in that style of play.

It’s not for everyone.

“There’s a big adjustment in terms of [the players] trusting me and us and what we do, and us as a staff of trusting them,” Wade said. “To their credit, they figured it out. The buy-in’s been there, but it went up ten-fold once we started winning. There was a lot of blind faith.”

Wade even admitted that he was surprised by how quickly they’ve found success. “I couldn’t have envisioned that we would come together this quickly or this early. We’re probably a little bit ahead of schedule.”

Regardless of what schedule the team is on, the city has taken notice. They drew 6,648 fans on Saturday, the most since Steph Curry’s Davidson team came through town back in 2009. The 11,310 fans they drew in two games last week eclipsed the season total for five other teams in the conference.

“A fan told me the other day, ‘I haven’t seen this many people where Chattanooga basketball stuff since the Sweet 16,'” Wade said. ‘That was in 1997.”

“That’s the vision for what we’re trying to build here.”

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.