Kris Dunn looks to put injuries behind him as he shoulders heavy load for Providence

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big East.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In three years at Providence, Ed Cooley has been able to get plenty of talent into his program.

But actually getting that talent on the floor has been easier said than done.

Ricky Ledo was never cleared by the NCAA to play. The Providence native, a gifted scorer, was drafted the following June without ever playing a collegiate game. The following season, Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock — both Rivals Top 150 recruits —were set to add depth to the forward positions. And both were suspended prior to the start of the season. Austin is now on his third college in three semesters and Bullock is set to miss his second straight season after tearing his ACL last month.

For Kris Dunn, a five-star recruit and the top point guard in the Class of 2012, it has been a pair of injuries to the same shoulder that has limited to only 29 games through the first two years with the Friars. A redshirt sophomore, the former McDonald’s All-American is looking to put the injuries behind him, and the Friars will need him because their hopes for this season fall squarely on his shoulders.

“We’re excited to have his smile back,” Cooley said hours before Providence’s Late Night Madness on Oct. 17. “He’s a charismatic young man, and could arguably one of the best point guards in the country at the end of the season.”

RELATED: NBCSports.com 2014-2015 Big East Season Preview

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LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn (AP)

Even with Dunn sidelined for the final 28 games of the 2013-14 season, Providence was able to reach its first NCAA tournament in a decade on the back of Bryce Cotton. The all-Big East first team guard embodied toughness and endurance for the Friars. At one point during the year he was averaging 40.2 minutes per game. The injured Dunn treated every game like as a learning experience, the Dunkin Donuts Center his classroom and Cotton the professor.

“When you have a year off and you can just see how things work game-by-game. You understand the pace of the game, and you can see the open areas,” Dunn told NBCSports.com.

Providence took a foreign tour to Italy in August with Dunn still not cleared for full-contact drills. It wasn’t until mid-September when Dunn was allowed to practice without restrictions, which came as a sigh of relief for Cooley and key returnees such as LaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris.

“It’s great having him back,” Henton said. “He makes it easier for guys like me. He’ll find you in transition for easy buckets. He brings a lot of energy to the team. Defensively, he’s a dog. I just love playing with him.”

RELATED: The Big East will be better than their second season

With three starters gone from a season ago, almost all of Providence’s experience will reside in the front court with Henton and Harris, both of whom started all 35 games, as well as Carson Desrosiers, who will move into the starting center spot. With Cotton’s graduation and Josh Fortune’s transfer to Colorado, it will be a new-look perimeter for Cooley, though. Dunn’s year off to fully recover, mixed with the talent that made him the top-rated point guard in 2012, will help the transition as Junior Lomomba, Kyron Cartwright and Jalen Lindsey adapt to the level of play.

“He’s mature,” Cooley added. “The game is slowing down for him. Physically, he’s as gifted a player as I’ve ever coached.”

Being able to better understand the game may be the bright spot in an otherwise difficult two-year stretch. Even before arriving on campus in the fall, Dunn had a banged up shoulder. He had injured it during a USA Basketball Under-18 team tryout, requiring surgery that put him out until the second semester of his freshman season. With Kevin Durant’s withdrawal from the FIBA World Cup and Paul George’s season-ending leg injury, an ongoing discussion this summer has been whether top players should or should not suit up for the national team, risking injuries to represent their country. Two years later, Dunn doesn’t regret his decision.

“Not at all,” Dunn said. “It’s an honor to play for the U.S. It was just an honor to even tryout. Freak accidents happen. You can’t base decisions off that.”

Entering the second year of the Big East relaunch, Villanova, a top-15 team, will be the clear-cut favorite while there is uncertainty among the four other contenders. It might just set the stage for a healthy Dunn to reintroduce himself to college basketball and propel the Friars to another NCAA tournament.

“Just like last year, there are a lot of good teams,” he said. “It’s exciting because you don’t know who could come out of it.”

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

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.