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Big West Conference Preview: Who will replace Hawai’i atop the standings?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big West Conference.

Hawaii landed the Big West an NCAA Tournament win back in March when the Rainbow Warriors knocked off short-staffed Cal in the first round. Hawaii’s run ended two days later with a 73-60 loss to Maryland. The Rainbow Warriors are facing NCAA sanctions, which resulted in key pieces like Stefan Jankovic to declare for the NBA Draft, and potential returnees like Stefan Jovanovic – yup, that’s a different person – and Isaac Fleming transferring. Hawaii needs to replace the entire starting five, which likely means a new team will top the Big West standings in 2016-17.

Long Beach State was one win-shy from advancing to its first tournament since 2012. The 49ers should be in good position to end the short drought in 2016-17. Long Beach State has the best backcourt in the league. The 49ers return Justin Bibbins, the conference’s top point guard. They replace the production of conference first-teamer Nick Faust with the addition of transfer Evan Payne, who averaged 18.0 points per game at Loyola Marymount as a sophomore during the 2014-15 season. He rejoins ex-Lion Gabe Levin, who lacked the impact many expected following his transfer, but he is still someone who can be an all-conference forward. In a guard-heavy league, the 49ers have proven, veteran pieces, and the solid frontcourt presence, that makes them the favorites in the Big West.

Mamadou N’Diaye declared for the NBA Draft, but remember, UC Irvine once boasted the biggest starting lineup ever. The Anteaters’ roster includes the aguable best player in Luke Nelson. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 13.7 points, 3.9 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game. Nelson headlines a perimeter that includes Jaron Martin and Brandon Smith, but the frontline is dominated by 7-foot-2 Iannis Dimakopoulos and Jonathan Galloway. UC Irvine has the best balance in the league, which makes the Anteaters the toughest competition for the 49ers.

UC Santa Barbara has been a familiar name atop the Big West standings. The Gauchos should content for the top spot behind Gabe Vincent, the 6-foot-3 swingman who averaged 14.1 points per game and shot better than 41 percent from three this past season. He’ll be joined in the backcourt by Eric Childress, a senior who has established himself as a three-point threat.

In a guard-happy league CSUN bolsters the top frontline. Outside of Kendall Smith, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 15.3 points per game, the Matadors add transfers Rakim Lubin and Dylan Johnson. The duo should help replace the team’s top rebounders. CSUN returns its top five scorers from a season ago, making the Matadors a trendy pick for sleeper in the Big West.

Cal-State Fullerton will have no shortage of perimeter options. Tre’ Coggins, the Air Force transfer, will be one of the top scorers in the league again this season. Khalid Ahmad also scored in double figures a season ago. But the Titans need to see solid performance from point guard Lionheart Leslie. Darius Graham and Arell Hennings lead a backcourt for UC Davis, but like the majority of the conference, the frontline serves as a question. J.T. Adenrele, who will anchor the frontcourt, will be the name to watch for the Aggies.

Without Jaylen Bland and Taylor Johns, defenses will focus on Secean Johnson for UC Riverside. The 6-foot-3 swingman, who averaged 12.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game in 2015-16, could be a breakout player in the conference. However, the development of Alex Larsson and Menno Dijkstra could determine where the Highlanders are contenders or not.

Cal Poly has to replace four of its top five scorers, while Hawaii is depending on a host of newcomers to remain competitive during a season of NCAA sanctions.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 20: Luke Nelson #10 of the UC Irvine Anteaters dribbles against the Louisville Cardinals during the second round of the 2015 Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Key Arena on March 20, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

PRESEASON BIG WEST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Luke Nelson, UC Irvine

The lone returning member of the all-Big West all first team, Nelson averaged 13.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and  1.3 steals per game for the Anteaters during the 2015-16 season. The 6-foot-3 guard scored in double figures 28 times during his junior season.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON BIG WEST TEAM:

  • Justin Bibbins, Long Beach State: The diminutive point guard is the league’s top returning assist man.
  • Tre’ Coggins, Cal State Fullerton: The Air Force transfer is the conference’s leading scorer for the Titans at 15.6 points per game.
  • Secean Johnson, UC Riverside: Jaylen Brand and Taylor Johns are gone, which means Secean Johnson will be the focal point of the UC Riverside offense after averaging double figures as a sophomore.
  • Gabe Vincent, UC Santa Barbara: As a sophomore, the 6-foot-3 junior enters the 2016-17 season as one of the league’s top scorers. He posted 14.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game for the Gauchos this past season.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @BigWestMBB

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Long Beach State
2. UC Irvine
3. UC Santa Barbara
4. CSUN
5. Cal State Fullerton
6. UC Davis
7. UC Riverside
8. Hawaii
9. Cal Poly

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.