Burning Questions: Who’s poised to surprise (or disappoint) people in the Big Ten?

Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. (AP Photo)

Outside of Wisconsin, the Big Ten is impossible to differentiate. Six teams could finish second and two more could make the tournament. Who in that league shocks us, and who is the biggest disappointment?

MORE: Read through all the Burning Questions here

Rob Dauster: Well, I would have had Iowa as the team that would shock us before they got drubbed by Texas. Now, not so much, so I’m riding with Indiana. I entered the season thinking there’s no way this team makes the tournament. I’ve softened on that opinion, however, as I think that IU’s trio of guards (Ferrell, Blackmon, Johnson) will not only be exciting to watch but will get the Hoosiers enough wins that they end up dancing.

As far as a disappointment is concerned, I’ll take Michigan State. This is a team that was supposed to be a top five seed in the NCAA tournament based on where they were ranked entering the season, but based on what I’ve seen from them, I think that will be tough to do. I’m not sure the Spartans are a Top 25 team.

Raphielle Johnson: For a surprise, I’ll take Minnesota. Andre Hollins and Dre Mathieu are solid leaders on the perimeter, and adding Nate Mason and Carlos Morris to the fold gives Richard Pitino additional depth at the guard spots to work with. And I think think Joey King takes a step forward this season. He averaged just over seven points per game last season, starting 15 of the 37 games in which he played, and with more minutes I think he’ll become a double-digit scorer for this group. Add in their pressure defense and the experience of the Postseason NIT title run, and I think the Golden Gophers are better than where they’ve been picked.

As for a disappointment, I’ll take Iowa. They’re still skilled offensively, with forwards Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff being the guys who stand out in my view. But I’m still not convinced that the Hawkeyes are capable of stringing together stops. They may be able to get away with that in the majority of their non-conference games, but as we saw last year you can’t do that in the Big Ten.

Scott Phillips: I think Illinois has a chance to surprise some people in the Big Ten despite the loss of starting point guard Tracy Abrams before the season. Replacing Abrams at guard are transfers Aaron Cosby and Ahmad Starks, who each have multiple seasons of college experience, a redshirt year and are better perimeter shooters. Illinois is thin in the front court, but they have to like the improved three-point shooting so far during its first two games of the season, which they struggled with last season.

As for a team that could disappoint, I’ll say Michigan. I still believe John Beilein’s team could make the NCAA Tournament, I just don’t believe they’re a Top 25 team like the preseason polls indicated. The freshmen have come along slowly and aren’t playing many minutes right now and Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr.’s production will slow down as the Wolverines play better teams. Their inside play is still a big question mark against experienced big men as well.

Terrence Payne: After last night, I think you have to put some stock into Indiana. It’s not just Tom Crean that has taken the heat, it’s the players themselves, getting called out by former IU greats, and having to publicly apologize to an entire fanbase. It seems like a wakeup call for a lot of those guys in the program, and last night’s win over No. 22 SMU was an impressive way to respond. I’m not sure it’s enough to put them as a top six team in the league, where five teams will battle to finish second behind Wisconsin, but IU is back on the tournament radar.

It seems unwise to go against Tom Izzo, but I don’t see Michigan State will finish second, where the Spartans were slotted in the preseason poll. It’s a long way to go, but I still would have Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan rounding out the top-4 in the Big Ten standings with Wisconsin.

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.