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Five things we learned this week: The Kansas zone, Luke Kennard and what’s up with the Pac-12?

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1. So how much zone is Bill Self going to play moving forward?: In a year where Bill Self, who has been as wed to two-big lineups as Gregg Popovich, has fully embraced the idea of playing small-ball, the Kansas head coach faces another important decision regarding his team: Just how much zone should they play?

I ask because Self, who loves playing man-to-man more than I love New Haven-style apizza, went into Rupp Arena on Saturday night and knocked off No. 4 Kentucky thanks to the ability of his team to flip-flop between 2-3 zone and a triangle-and-two defenses. Using junk defenses like this isn’t necessarily new for Self – he loves tossing out wrinkles like that – but it’s usually his last-gasp effort to slow an opponent down.

After the win, the question needs to be asked: Should Kansas go zone full-time?

On the one hand, that defense really does have some benefits for the Jayhawks. It saves the legs of Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, as they play close to 40 minutes in big games, and it protects Landen Lucas, who can focus on walling-up at the rim and rebounding in his area instead of having to risk fouls battling for position in the post and trying to defend 1-on-1 on the block; with Udoka Azubuike out, Lucas is really the only big man at Self’s disposal.

It’s also worth noting that, on paper, this is a team with a roster that should work well in a zone. Mason and Graham aren’t going to give up much penetration, and the wings – two of Josh Jackson, LeGerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk – have the length and athleticism to run at perimeter shooters and challenge shots when skip passes are thrown.

On the other hand, it’s important to note that this Kentucky team is not really built to play against a zone. We know how much trouble they have shooting the ball from the perimeter already, which isn’t exactly ideal against a zone, and their front court players aren’t known for their ability to pass the ball. Maybe it was less about the Kansas zone itself and more the result of a team that doesn’t have the pieces to break it down.

Whatever the truth may be, this is something to track moving forward.

2. It’s time to turn this thing over to Luke Kennard: The Luke Kennard conundrum has been solved.

After seeing what the sophomore guard did to Wake Forest in the second half on Saturday – 30 points, 10-for-10 shooting from the floor, a game-winning three – I think it’s time for the Blue Devils to embrace the obvious: Luke Kennard is the best player on their team even if he isn’t the best NBA prospect, and Duke will be at their best if they go ride or die with him leading the way.

Watch the performance here:

https://youtu.be/1vCwZQ4iqhs?t=47s

The big thing to take away from this isn’t just that Kennard went bonkers shooting the ball – that’s obvious – it’s how well he got others involved and how effective he was not only in isolation but in ball-screen actions. He had four assists, but not shown are the open shots he created that were missed or the hockey assists that he had, where his penetration moved the defense and the basket was scored after an extra pass was made.

Duke doesn’t need a point guard.

They need to understand that Kennard is the guy that can get them where they want to go.

3. Shout out to Josh Pastner: Think about this for a second: Memphis paid Josh Pastner to leave.

That’s how bad things got for him in Memphis. The university paid him to take another job.

That other job ended up being Georgia Tech, where Pastner took over for Brian Gregory and has proceeded to put together a team that looks like it will be in the NCAA tournament come Selection Sunday. Seriously. The Yellow Jackets don’t have a perfect résumé by any stretch of the imagination, but after this last week, where they blew out Florida State and beat Notre Dame, they have wins over three of the best teams in the ACC, including North Carolina.

Arizona coach Sean Miller reacts to a foul call during the first half of Arizona's NCAA college basketball game against UCLA, Friday, Feb 12, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Arizona coach Sean Miller (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

4. Arizona is the best team in the Pac-12. Again: In the preseason, we thought that Oregon was the best team in the conference. After UCLA took the nation by storm over the course of the first two months of the season while Oregon struggled with Dillon Brooks’ returning from injury, the Bruins looked like shoe-ins to be the Pac-12 champs. Then UCLA forget how to defend and Brooks turned back into an all-american, meaning that the Ducks were, again, the favorites in the league.

All the while, Arizona was quietly winning, and winning, and winning. They put us on notice last weekend, when Allonzo Trier returned from his absence and they went into Pauley Pavilion and roughed up UCLA, but we got a firm answer regarding the Pac-12 hierarchy this weekend. With Oregon taking a loss at Colorado, who was 0-7 in the Pac-12 entering last week, it looks as if Sean Miller has himself yet another Pac-12 title favorite.

5. Just how good is the Big 12?: We know how good Kansas is. Baylor still has some doubters, but their 20-1 record, and the teams they’ve beaten to get there, speak for themselves. West Virginia has beaten those two teams by a combined 37 points.

So it’s probably safe to assume that all three of those teams are good.

What about the rest of the league? Well, it didn’t fare well in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Kansas State, who has looked like an NCAA tournament team this season, lost by 12 at Tennessee. Iowa State, who some thought would be the fourth-best team in the conference, lost at Vanderbilt. TCU, who is in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid, lost at home to Auburn. Oklahoma, who won at West Virginia, lost by 32 points at home to Florida.

The best win for the Big 12 outside the top three in the league? Oklahoma State, who is 2-6 in the conference whipping Arkansas. Those could end up being costly losses.

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.