D’Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor among the nation’s ten most entertaining players

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D’Angelo Russell (AP Photo)

Now that the Super Bowl is in the past and football is in our rearview mirrors, let’s get you caught up to speed on the college basketball season.

Here are the ten players that you’ll want to make sure you watch when they’re on TV:

1. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: Over the course of the last month, Russell has played his way from being a somewhat-overlooked freshman into a potential top five, a first-team all-american and a kid with a fighting chance at upending Jahlil Okafor’s National Player of the Year campaign. Russell is a combo-guard that shoots 45.4 percent from three, averages just a shade under 20 points and probably has the best vision of any player in college basketball.

Just watch this highlight package and tell me you’re not entertained:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/Z8nqVtfJdiI?t=1m34s]

While I’m here, I’d be remiss not to mention Russell’s running mate, Sam Thompson. Nicknamed ‘Slam I Am’, Thompson is a freakishly athletic 6-foot-8 wing that is good for at least one ridiculous dunk a night.

2. Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon, Indiana: The Hoosiers have no size inside, meaning that in order for them to win they have to spread the floor and allow their guards to make plays off the dribble. Ferrell and Blackmon are the two most talented perimeter players on the roster.

3. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: Okafor is the most dominant low-post player that we’ve seen come through the college ranks in a long time. His footwork, his post moves, his passing ability, the way he reads double-teams. He’s a throwback, and while the things he does don’t involve high-flying acrobatics or ankle-breaking crossovers, even the most surly basketball fans will be able to appreciate big men with moves like this:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/03T4HYI_BGY?t=2m50s]

Should I mention that he’s destined to be the No. 1 pick in the draft and a franchise-changing center?

4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: Grant is unbelievably productive and such a vital cog in Notre Dame’s offensive attack, which is one of the most efficient in the country. He make big plays and big shots in close games, as he is the ‘closer’ that Notre Dame desperately missed last season. Oh, and have you seen what he did against Georgia Tech?:

5. Kris Dunn, Providence: If you’re not a fan of the Big East, you may not know the name Kris Dunn, but he’s been as productive as any point guard in the country over the last month. He had a triple-double — 27 points, 13 boards, 11 assists — in a win over DePaul.

6. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: Pangos has taken over more of a point guard role this season, allowing his talented front court to do the heavy lifting this season, but Pangos still has the ability to ratchet things up from deep. When he gets on a roll, he can reel off four or five threes in a row.

7. Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming: The son of a dunk champion, it should come as no surprise that Nance is a high-flier. But he’s more than just the dunks, as he has three-point range and is one of the best defensive power forwards in the country. He’s one of the biggest reasons that Wyoming is calling themselves the new Dunk City.

8. Michael Qualls, Arkansas: Qualls is the best dunker in the country and plays in a system at Arkansas where his team presses for 40 minutes and gives him ample opportunity to get out in transition and showcase his athleticism.

9. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky is a seven-foot center with the perimeter skills of a point guard. He can hit threes, he can beat you off the dribble and he’s an excellent passer. If you try to put a smaller defender on him, he can overpower them in the post.

10. Keifer Sykes, Green Bay: The lone mid-major player on this list, Sykes is as entertaining as anyone. He’s a dynamic, 5-foot-10 point guard that can go for 30 on any given night and has the hops to do this:

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.