Kentucky-commit Jamal Murray scores 20 to headline Wednesday’s Pan-Am Games

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The biggest story from Wednesday’s Pan-Am Games was Jamal Murray.

The Kentucky-bound Canadian came off the bench and absolutely caught fire, scoring 15 points in the span of about six minutes in the first and second quarters. He hit four tough jumpers, including three threes, in isolation situations, finished a drive at the rim around a bigger defender and drew a foul after he was freed up by a devastating screen in the back court.

There’s no question it was an impressive performance for an 18-year old kid playing in his first senior national tournament, and it sent Kentucky fans into a tizzy.

Murray finished the game with 20 points on just 6-for-15 shooting, the only field goal he made after that initial burst coming when he banked in a prayer to beat the shot clock in the fourth quarter. He struggled beating his man off the dribble and didn’t show off the kind of vertical explosiveness that would make one believe he can finish at the rim at the highest level, going just 2-for-8 inside the arc. He also finished with just one assist and three turnovers despite playing the majority of his 27 minutes as a primary ball-handler.

Outside of that initial burst, I’d argue Murray actually played a fairly poor game.

But we can’t just pretend that an 18-year old Murray didn’t light up a team full of professionals.

All of this drives home the point I made about him when he committed to Kentucky last month. Murray understands that his somewhat limited athleticism and relatively small stature — when compared to NBA two-guards — means that his best long-term position is as a big point guard, a position he’s still adjusting to. He’s a natural scorer, one that operates at his best with the ball in his hands. He’s also one of three elite guards on Kentucky’s roster that operate at their best with the ball in their hands. Murray will score, but will he make the other players on the Kentucky roster better?

In other words, I’ve thought that Jamal Murray’s impact this season will be closer to Andrew Harrison than D’Angelo Russell, and that 20-point performance didn’t exactly dissuade me.

Other Pan-Am Games notables:

  • While discussing Murray, it’s also important to note that the other two collegians on Canada’s roster — All-America candidate Kyle Wiltjer and All-Pac 12 candidate Dillon Brooks — didn’t play a single second.
  • That said, Argentina also lost to Mexico, who got blown out by a Dominican Republic team that doesn’t have Karl-Anthony Towns on their roster. This isn’t Manu Ginobili’s Argetina. George Washington’s Patricio Garino played 26 minutes and had just two points in the loss.
  • The Americans blew out Rick Pitino’s Puerto Rico team, using a 36-10 second quarter to put the game out of reach. Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine had 15 points and four boards, Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski finished with seven points and seven boards and Baylor’s Taurean Waller-Prince added 10 points. None of the other four college kids on the roster had a major impact.
  • Four college players are on the roster for the Dominican Republic, although none of the four played all that well on Wednesday. Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado managed just three minutes after posting 15 points on Tuesday. South Florida’s Nehemias Morillo didn’t play and USF commit Andres Feliz had just five points in 16 minutes. Morehead State’s Miguel Dicent played just two minutes.

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.