Kentucky’s John Calipari is the National Coach of the Year, and it’s not close

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Virginia head coach Tony Bennett was named the USBWA Coach of the Year on Monday.

The Cavaliers had a terrific season, going 29-2 in the regular season before bowing out to North Carolina in the ACC tournament and, on Sunday, No. 7 Michigan State in the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.

Now, if we’re going to be fair — which a lot of people haven’t been — the Cavaliers lost their All-American wing and best three-point shooter, Justin Anderson, to both a fractured finger and an appendectomy in February. With him, they were arguably the best non-Kentucky team in the country. Without him, they were still good, but their offensive droughts eventually did the Cavaliers in.

That’s not Bennett’s fault, unless you blame him for an ill-timed case of appendicitis, but it was his doing turning a team that did not include one top 50 recruit into a legitimate national title contender.

There’s no question that he did a terrific coaching job this year, but that doesn’t change the fact that John Calipari deserved the National Coach of the Year award. (Fun fact: He was named National Coach of the Year.)

I know, I know. This Kentucky team was supposed to go 40-0. It was supposed to be the best team in the country. The Wildcats have a roster full of McDonald’s All-Americans and future NBA Draft picks. They have as much talent on one roster as we’ve seen in a long, long time. But if you’re telling me that’s an argument against Coach Cal being named National Coach of the Year, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

For starters, doing so ignores the fact that Calipari was actually able to amass all that talent in one program. You realize how difficult that is to do? There are some terrific coaches and recruiters out there whose careers are made by landing one top 20 recruit every two or three years. Cal has nine on his roster — none of whom are seniors — and that doesn’t include first-team All-American Willie Cauley-Stein, who was “just” a top 40 recruit.

It also ignores just how difficult it is to win when your roster is loaded with that much talent. Bill Self hasn’t been able to get to the Sweet 16 the past two seasons despite having players like Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden, Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander coming through his Kansas program, and Self is widely regarded — and rightfully so — as one of college basketball’s best coaches.

But that’s not what’s most impressive about this Kentucky team.

Calipari has managed to convince each and every one of the players on his roster to buy into the idea that the sum is greater than the individual parts. Every single player in his rotation has his eye on the NBA, and yet every single one has sacrificed minutes and shots in order to play a role on what could be the first team to ever go 40-0 in a season.

Think about it like this: Karl Towns, who may end up being the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, isn’t going to show up on many All-American teams this spring. But if he had gone somewhere else, somewhere that would have featured him offensively and allowed to play 30-35 minutes a night, he might be in the same conversation as Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor when it comes to naming the National Player of the Year. He’s that talented.

Devin Booker? Imagine the season that he could have had if he had ended up at, say, Michigan or Florida. Marcus Lee would have been the missing piece on California’s front line had he ended up a Golden Bear. I could keep going.

The bottom line is this: In a day and age where elite basketball prospects get ridiculed for being selfish, uncoachable and solely concerned about getting theirs — their money, their shots, their individual glory, all at the cost of their winning percentage — Coach Cal has this Kentucky team, loaded with those elite prospects, playing unselfish, team-oriented, defense-first basketball.

Coach of the Year always ends up being about who out-performs expectations, but when your expectations are 40-0, simply living up to them is damn impressive.

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.