SEC commissioner Greg Sankey (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

SEC turns to Tranghese to bolster league’s hoops profile

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DESTIN, Fla. (AP) Former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese proved his commitment to the Southeastern Conference with one simple task this week: He boarded a plane.

Tranghese is terrified of flying. It’s one of the reasons he retired as a conference administrator. So making the trip to the SEC’s annual spring meetings was no easy feat for him.

Improving the league’s basketball profile and NCAA Tournament presence could be an even more challenging endeavor.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey hired Tranghese as a “special advisor to the commissioner for men’s basketball.” In short, Tranghese was brought aboard to turn around the SEC’s hoops fortunes. He spoke to coaches and athletic directors for the first time at the league meetings this week and drew praise for his plans to help the league’s 14 basketball teams close the gap on their football counterparts.

The SEC landed just three teams in the 2016 NCAA Tournament for the third time in the last four years. Six conferences received more bids in March, and four of those had seven teams make the field.

“The league is capable of doing so much more than it did this year,” Tranghese said.

Tranghese has some ideas to make it happen. It starts with scheduling games against better competition and winning more of those key, non-conference matchups. But Tranghese also wants coaches to work together to expand the SEC brand.

They are planning to televise a weekly basketball show on the SEC Network, and Tranghese encouraged them to embrace (instead of complain about) late games on television and use football as a recruiting tool.

“You’ve got to use it in your favor,” Tranghese said. “If I’m bringing a recruit in, do I want to bring him in the weekend of the Tennessee-Alabama football game versus somebody who doesn’t have football? You bet your life I do. Because you have the best football league in the country doesn’t mean you can’t be good in basketball. That’s an excuse.

“Get rid of all those negative perceptions. … Because you’re better than they are at football, kids shouldn’t come here? It’s illogical. If fact, I would argue you should come here. It’s something to do on fall weekends, something really good to do on fall weekends.”

Tranghese was former Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt’s right-hand man when the league formed in 1979 and helped make it as much a basketball power as the Big Ten and the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“The Big East was step-children to the Big Ten and the ACC back in the day, and the Big East didn’t take a back seat to anybody,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “And that was sort of the attitude that he brought to the meeting, that the reason he’s taking on this challenge is he believes in our league, he believes in our coaches, he believes in our commissioner and he wants to win.”

Texas A&M, Kentucky and Vanderbilt made the 2016 tournament, but only the Aggies advanced beyond the first weekend.

Tranghese insists the SEC has the foundation for better results. With high-profile coaches Rick Barnes (Tennessee), Ben Howland (Mississippi State) and Avery Johnson (Alabama) entering their second seasons, and Pearl beginning his third, those programs could be on the verge of getting back to national prominence.

Florida and South Carolina might be even closer. Both were considered locks for the tournament in February, but the Gators had a four-game losing streak late in the regular season and the Gamecocks were done in by losing in the first round of the SEC tournament.

“It’s unfortunate that a couple late-season losses wiped some teams out, and it probably shouldn’t have,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.

The Gamecocks could be the poster child for the league’s non-conference scheduling issue. Coach Frank Martin’s team went 12-0 outside the SEC last season, but its non-conference schedule was ranked as low as 271st.

The SEC has since tweaked its non-conference scheduling rules, saying everyone’s opponents must have a three-year RPI average of 175 or better. That number will drop to 150 in the future.

“If you can’t beat decent people, you don’t deserve to be in the tournament anyway,” Tranghese said. “So play them. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Everything.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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.