Like 2004, UConn is once again the center of college basketball in 2014

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In 2004, Jim Calhoun led the Huskies to their second championship in six seasons with a National Title win over Georgia Tech in San Antonio. More than 500 miles away in New Orleans, the women’s team defeated rival Tennessee to cap off a three-peat for Geno Auriemma’s fifth championship.

A decade later, the men’s and women’s basketball teams have been crowned champions in the same season once again. Thirteen times a UConn basketball team has played for a National Title and thirteen times a UConn basketball team has ended up cutting down the nets.

Their seasons may have finished similarly, but different paths were taken for their respective titles.

On March 15, the men’s team lost to Louisville, the defending national champion, by 33 points. UConn limped into the NCAA tournament as a No.7 seed, and Final Four hopes were almost dashed in the Round of 64 if it weren’t for a come-from-behind overtime win over Saint Joseph’s. After upsetting Villanova in the Round of 32, UConn found itself in a familiar setting, inside Madison Square Garden. The success the Huskies had inside The World’s Most Famous Arena in the past as a member of the Big East was replicated, as they upended Iowa State and Michigan State, a title favorite, to advance to the Final Four.

UConn overcame a slow start against top-ranked Florida to advance to Monday’s final against Kentucky. The Huskies never trailed in the National Title game, but they had to hold off the Wildcats in a wire-to-wire championship victory.

Remarkable considering Kevin Ollie took over a program two years ago with an APR score which barred UConn from postseason play in 2013. But Shabazz Napier, who remained in Storrs when others left for greener pastures, had that loyalty rewarded, winning his second title in four years. One more than the man he struggled to replace, but ultimately out did.

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While the men went on an improbable run this March, the women went on an expected trip back to the Final Four after Auriemma and his Huskies captured their eighth title in 2013.

For the fifth time under Auriemma, the Hall of Fame coach, UConn ran the table, matching the 40-0 mark set by Brittney Griner’s Baylor team in 2012. What made the victory sweeter for Auriemma is that it came at the hands of rival Muffet McGraw, who led her undefeated Fighting Irish into Nashville for the women’s final.

Tuesday night’s final began like the men’s championship game the previous the evening. The UConn offense got out to quick start before the opposition cut into the lead with a late run before heading into the break.

In the second half, the inside presence of Stefanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart began to assert their dominance over the Notre Dame frontline playing without Natalie Achonwa. While it was the UConn front court that proved to be the overwhelming factor for the women’s championship matchup, it was the defensive pressure of the men’s experienced back court that prevailed over the size and strength of Kentucky.

Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright hounded the Aaron and Andrew Harrison, taking away ball screens and forcing the 6-foot-6 duo to 6-of-16 shooting. 

The free three woes played a role in Kentucky’s loss, but it was the limited second-chance opportunities for the Wildcats that kept them from ever taking the lead. The UConn men outrebounded Kentucky by one, not 23 like the women did the next night against their opponent. Though narrowly winning the battle on the boards, UConn held Kentucky to just seven second-chance points from 10 offensive rebounds.

The roads were clearly different, but ended in places both coaches anticipated on reaching.

“Somebody told me we were Cinderellas, and I was like, ‘No, we’re UConn,'” Kevin Ollie said on Monday night. “I mean this is what we do. We are born for this. We’re bred to cut down nets. We’re not chasing championships, championships are chasing us.”

A decade later, Storrs, Conn. has reaffirmed its place as the home of college basketball.

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.