How is Villanova going to try and stop Buddy Hield? Not easily.

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HOUSTON — It got lost in the insanity that was the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, but Buddy Hield’s performance in the second round against VCU was as impressive as any performance that I can remember seeing in a game during the Big Dance.

Hield entered halftime with just seven points. With 15 minutes left in the game, he had just 10 points. He finished with 36, scoring 26 of Oklahoma’s final 31 points to hold off a wild VCU run that saw the Rams erase a 13-point second-half lead.

“In the beginning of the game, [we] did a good job arriving on the catch, forcing him to take some tough ones,” VCU’s Melvin Johnson said. “Second half they did the exact same thing, but instead the ball went in.”

In other words, VCU executed their game-plan, it worked for about 25 minutes before Hield went crazy. It’s not usually quite that obvious, but is a pretty good summation of Hield’s season. “Every game I know something crazy’s coming,” Ryan Spangler said. “I just wait for it.”

And therein lies the conundrum when it comes to designing a way to “stop” Buddy Hield.

Because, in the immortal words of Dan Patrick, “You cannot stop him. You can only hope to contain him.”

The most important thing to do if you hope to contain Hield is to accept the fact that Buddy’s going to get his.

We all know it’s true.

You don’t average 25.4 points with shooting splits of 50.4/46.5/88.0 without being able to do things even if an opponent is trying to take them away. And remaining focused and disciplined and locked in defensively even when Hield does the kind of things that can dishearten a defender may be the most important part of slowing him down.

“The biggest key to stopping him is not getting discouraged when he makes difficult shots,” said Ashley Howard, the Villanova assistant coach tasked with scouting these Sooners. “He’s an NBA player. He shoots with NBA range. So you can’t get affected when he makes difficult shots. Keep playing him hard, make all of his shots contested.”

Hield’s best skill on the offensive end of the floor may be his ability to move without the ball. Whether he’s sprinting to the three-point line in transition, drifting to the corner when one of Oklahoma’s guards drives baseline, running off of pin-down screens, moving into space when Oklahoma’s big guys come down with defensive rebounds, whatever.

He has a knack for finding a way to get into a pocket of space on the three-point line, and keeping him from getting clean looks at catch-and-shoot threes is the best way to keep him out of a rhythm.

“They do a really good job of hunting him and finding him,” said VCU head coach Will Wade. “When Spangler and Lattin get those offensive rebounds, they kick it out to the three-point line. They don’t go back up with them all the time. Easy threes. Which is tough.”

“They’ll give up layups to shoot threes. As a team, they get so much confidence from his three-point shots, the more you can eliminate the three the better chance you have.”

If you’re discouraged because Hield hit a challenged 27-footer off the dribble to beat the shot clock and it means you’re a second slow finding him in transition, you’re done. Suddenly, he’s hit three straight threes and you have to find a way to come back against an Oklahoma team that’s now brimming with confidence and holding on to the lead.

So you always need to be aware of where Hield is on the floor at all times.

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The question that is up for debate is how to do that. What Texas A&M tried in the Sweet 16 was to use one of their best defenders, Alex Caruso, to deny Hield touches as soon as he stepped over half court. And that worked, to a point. Hield finished with just 17 points as Caruso did a great job of making it difficult for Hield to get the ball where he wanted it.

“He took advantage a couple of times and got layups and back cuts against us,” Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy said, “but we didn’t want to let him catch it and start dribbling left and get into rhythm because he shoots a high percentage of three doing that.”

The problem?

It’s selling out to stop one guy, which would work if Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins weren’t so good.

“Woodard is a good guard, Cousins is a good guard,” Wade said. “They’ve got other guys that can beat you.”

What happens is that hugging up to Hield creates all kinds of driving lanes and space for Cousins and Woodard to attack. It makes defensive rotations that much more difficult to complete, which allows some of those other three-point shooters on the Sooner roster to get clean looks at the rim.

“Our guards had a hard time. We didn’t match up well with [Cousins and Woodard], but we didn’t anticipate not being able to guard Jordan Woodard like we did,” Kennedy said.

It’s a risk that Kennedy was willing to take because of how good Hield has become with the ball in his hands.

“He can shoot as soon as he gets off of the bus,” Howard said. “It’s a different type of gameplan. Because this guy, he has great range and plays within himself. He’s not going to just jack up threes for the sake of getting shots up. You’ve got to play him intelligently.”

“He loves to drive it left and shoot the little step back, so any time you can force him right into anything that’s not a layup you’re going to win that possession more likely than not,” said Wade. “Anything going left, catch-and-shoot, assisted three, you’re going to lose. So you’ve got to walk a thin line forcing him or influencing him right without giving him the basket.”

“And he plays hard,” Howard added. “Everyone talks about how well he can shoot. He plays the entire game at 100%. He sprints the floor in transition. He sprints in cuts. He runs at the offensive glass.

“After the game I questioned our philosophy on taking him away,” Kennedy said, “but then I saw him get 37 against Oregon and I would do it again. I’ll take our chances.”

Oregon, like VCU, defended Hield with more of a team approach. They didn’t drastically change what they do defensively to accommodate for Hield. Oregon still cycled through their changing defenses — switching man-to-man, matchup zones, etc. — and VCU ran their Half Court Havoc. They paid more attention to the NCAA Tournament’s leading scorer, yes, but having 10 eyes on Hield in transition and going box-and-one are two vastly different things.

“We tried to let them get into their offense,” Wade said. “Then, when he didn’t have the ball, try to deny him everywhere and make it really hard for him to catch it and make those other guys try to beat you.”

And that worked for a stretch for the Rams, as they were able to hold Hield to 10 points through the first 25 minutes of the game. And even when Hield went off in the final 15 minutes, VCU was still able to play their way back into the game and, eventually, take the lead on a number of occasions.

They lost to the No. 2 seed by four points. You can make the argument that their game-plan worked, and it’s a game-plan that will be similar to what you should expect to see out of Villanova on Saturday night. The Wildcats are not going to change what they do defensively. They’re still going to mix up their defenses, you’re still going to see a 1-2-2 press, a matchup zone and multiple different man-to-man looks throughout the evening. You’re going to see different players guarding Hield throughout the night. He’s going to have to beat different defenses on a possession by possession basis.

“We do everything as a team. Transition defense, anybody can be matched up on him. So everybody has to focus and concentrate on our game plan to guard,” Howard said. “We’re in the Final Four. You don’t want to go into a game like that and just completely get away form doing what you do as a team. Then guys aren’t as aggressive and guys are confused.”

Because getting confused when you’re supposed to be locating Buddy Hield is the easiest way to take a loss.

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) goes up for a basket against VCU in the second half during a second-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Oklahoma City, Sunday, March 20, 2016. Oklahoma won 85-81. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

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.