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No. 18 West Virginia lands upset win over No. 2 Kansas

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No. 18 West Virginia got a career-high 27 points from Esa Ahmad as they landed their second massive home win of the season, picking off No. 2 Kansas, 85-69, to snap a two-game losing streak.

The Jayhawks had won 18 straight games following a season-opening overtime loss to Indiana in Hawai’i. Two weeks ago, the Mountaineers handed then-No. 1 and then-undefeated Baylor their first loss of the season.

West Virginia, who is known as Press Virginia because of their ability to force turnovers at obscene rates, only caused 12 Kansas turnovers, but their harassing defense kept Player of the Year favorite Frank Mason III in check. He had 12 points and two assists while shooting 5-for-15 from the floor.

The Mountaineers closed the game on a 27-10 run after Kansas took their first lead of the second half at 59-58.

Josh Jackson led the Jayhawks with 22 points, four boards and four assists, but it was his inability to effectively guard Ahmad that eventually cost Kansas. Jackson fouled out with less than two minutes left.

This was the first loss in Big 12 play for Kansas, dropping them into a tie for first place in the league standings. West Virginia sits two games behind Kansas and Baylor.

Here are five things we learned in this game:

1. West Virginia doesn’t have to force a ton of turnovers to win games: One of the concerns for West Virginia of late has been the inability of their pressure to force turnovers. Tuesday night was the first time in four games that the Mountaineers had forced more turnovers than they had committed, and even then, they forced 13 with a turnover rate of 18.8%; their season-long turnover rate was 31.1% entering Tuesday, even with the last three games factored in.

Part of that is because the turnovers that Kansas did force were costly. Nine of the 13 were live-ball turnovers, which led to 19 points off of turnovers. But the other part of it is that West Virginia was able simply able to wear down a Kansas team that just doesn’t have the depth needed to deal with that kind of harassment for 40 minutes. They did a particularly good job on Frank Mason, a National Player of the Year favorite, who finished with just 12 points on 5-for-15 shooting.

2. West Virginia’s résumé looks awful impressive right now: The Mountaineers beat Kansas at home by 16 points. They beat Baylor at home by 21 points. They have a win at No. 12 Virginia. There aren’t going to be many teams that can match those top three wins. The issue is the losses they have incurred. Temple beat them by four points, and Temple isn’t very good. Oklahoma beat them in overtime in Morgantown, and Oklahoma isn’t very good. That is a bit of a black mark on their tournament profile, but those wins should put the rest of the country on alert: when Bob Huggins’ club shows up ready to play, they can beat just about anyone, anywhere.

3. The Mountaineers needed Ahmad to get it going: In the last three games – a two-point win at Texas, a loss at home to Oklahoma, a loss at Kansas State – Ahmad, who is the second-leading scorer on the year for the Mountaineers, had a total of just 13 points. On Tuesday, he finished with 27, the majority of them coming when he was able to lose Josh Jackson in West Virginia’s half court sets. He’s one of the best offensive weapons for the Mountaineers in the half court, and his scoring against a set Kansas defense is one of the reasons the Mountaineers were able to win despite their inability to force turnovers at their usual rate.

4. It’s time for us to start being concerned about the defensive issues Kansas has: The Jayhawks have some flaws on the defensive end of the floor. They have fully embraced this small-ball lineup with Josh Jackson at the four, but it had cost them on the defensive glass. They foul too much. They don’t create near the number of turnovers that you would expect from a team with the individual defenders that they have available – Mason, Devonte’ Graham, Jackson, LeGerald Vick.

Tuesday was glaring. Jackson, in particular, was exposed, as he struggled mightily to slow down Ahmad. He’s a very good on-ball defender. West Virginia took advantage of his penchant for struggling to chase players around screens and his lack of attention off the ball. Things got bad enough for the Jayhawks that Bill Self was forced to play zone for just the second time this season. Self is not a man that is prove to going zone.

One of the reasons for this is that both Mason and Graham play a ton of minutes, and it’s not easy on their legs to play that level of defense for 36 minutes a night in league play, not when they have to carry the load they carry offensively.

The biggest problem, however, is …

5. … the Jayhawks seriously lack front court depth: The loss of Udoka Azubuike really showed up on Tuesday night. Landen Lucas with 10 boards, but he hasn’t provided much offensive lift and spent much of Tuesday night in foul trouble. The only other big man on the Kansas roster is Carlton Bragg Jr., and he just isn’t ready physically to play the five against a team like West Virginia. The result? The Mountaineers got 34 points in the paint and grabbed 40.6 percent of the available offensive rebounds, a number that is far too high.

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

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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.