The NCAA Tournament’s Top 12 Closers

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source: AP

You’re a coach. You’re down by two with 15 seconds left in the game. You can have anyone in the country. You do you run a play for? Here are my top 12 closers in the NCAA tournament.

(Note: I wanted to make this list shorter. I really did. But you tell me why any of these 12 guys deserves to be dropped. It’s hard, right?)

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Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky has the rare honor of being not only the best player in college basketball this season, but also the most difficult matchup in the sport. And if you think he’s afraid to take and make big shots, you must not have watched much Big Ten basketball this season. Might I remind you of last year’s Elite 8? The best part is that he makes the right decision as well, meaning he’ll freely make a pass if his teammate will get a better look than him.

Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble is the best closer in college basketball this season. Maryland is 11-0 in games decided by six points or less this season, and while there may be some luck involved in that — Hi Northwestern! — there’s also a lot of Trimble involved. Mark Turgeon force-feeds his freshman the ball down the stretch, and Trimble has delivered countless big shots and even more big free throws.

Karl Towns, Kentucky: I can already hear it: ‘Karl Towns over Andrew Harrison????’ Yes. 1,000 times, yes. Towns has become Kentucky’s go-to guy in close games. He’s their best offensive weapon. Let me ask you this: You’re Coach Cal and you’re down by one with 12 seconds left. Who are you running a play for, Aaron Harrison or Karl Towns?

Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: Mike Brey told me during the preseason that Jerian Grant is his closer. He’s the guy that he wants with the ball in his hands in a big moment because, as we’ve seen so many times this season, he’s not only great at creating his own shot, but he gets his teammates great looks as well.

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Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State: Is there anyone in the country that has been involved in more pressure-packed games than Fred Van Vleet? The kid is coming off seasons where he was part of a team that made the Final Four and the star point guard of a team that was 34-0 entering the NCAA tournament. No moment is too big for him.

Darrun Hilliard, Villanova: Hilliard is more of a spot-up shooter than he is a natural playmaker, but over the course of the season, it has felt like at least half of the shots that he has made came in big moments. None was bigger than the game-winner that he hit on the road against Butler.

Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Paige has had a bit of an up and down season, but he earned quite the reputation last season for his explosive second half performances. He’s not afraid to take or make a big shot in crunch time.

Georges Niang, Iowa State: I know that Monte’ Morris just hit that game-winner for the Cyclones in the Big 12 tournament, but Niang is still the guy I give the ball to on that team. He’s such a matchup problem, and a terrific passer to boot.

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T.J. McConnell, Arizona: There’s no way to actually quantify this stat, but I feel pretty comfortable saying that McConnell is the best decision-maker in the country. There’s a reason he’s the most valuable player on a team that went 31-3, won dual-Pac 12 titles and is a favorite to get to the Final Four.

Delon Wright, Utah: The one downside to Wright’s game is that he’s not a great perimeter shooter.

But that’s it. He can get to the rim — and finish there — as well as anyone, and he’s adept at drawing fouls, hitting big free throws and finding open men when he draws the defense. Those are the guys you want with the ball and the game on the line.

D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: It will be interesting to see how well Russell handles the pressure of the NCAA tournament, but I will say this: There isn’t a more dynamic 1-on-1 guard in the country, and that alone is worth inclusion on this list.

Derrick Marks, Boise State: Marks may be the best big shot maker in college basketball this season, as he put the Broncos on his back and carried them to a Mountain West regular season title despite the fact that they lost their second-best player to injury in December. The shame? He’ll square off with Dayton in Dayton in the First Four.

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.