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March Madness 2017: SEC Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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SEC Player of the Year: Malik Monk, Kentucky

Malik Monk is hardly a perfect basketball player. He doesn’t rebound well. He’s not a great passer. He’s not a great defender. He’s a streaky shooter. But he’s also the single-scariest scorer in college basketball this season because of his ability to erupt. He had 31 second half points to beat Georgia in overtime and 30 second half points to beat Florida, a win that gave Kentucky the SEC title.

SEC Coach of the Year: Mike White, Florida

The Gators finished the season at 24-7, and it might have been better had their starting center and the anchor of their front line, John Egbunu, not torn his ACL. Florida looks to be in line for a top four seed on Selection Sunday, but they are a top ten team according to KenPom, which was not something that was expected of this group prior to the season. White’s ability to turn this team into a defensive powerhouse has been impressive.

First-Team All-SEC:

  • Malik Monk, Kentucky (POY)
  • De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox might be the bet pro prospect on this list. That said, he hasn’t played his best basketball for a while as he’s dealt with knee, ankle and virus issues.
  • Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell finished the season averaging 21.2 points, and he’s arguably the best on-ball defender in the league.
  • J.J. Frazier, Georgia: I think you can make the argument that Frazier was the best point guard in the SEC this season. He’s been unreal since Maten went down with an injury.
  • Yante Maten, Georgia: Maten was playing sensational basketball before he went down with a knee injury a couple of weeks ago. The Bulldogs need him back.

Second Team All-SEC:

  • Kasey Hill, Florida
  • KeVaughn Allen, Florida
  • Dusty Hannahs, Arkansas
  • Bam Adebayo, Kentucky
  • Sebastian Saiz, Ole Miss

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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The Bracket 

When: March 8-12

Where: Nashville

Final: March 12th, 1:00 p.m.

Favorite: Kentucky Wildcats

Is anyone really surprised that the Wildcats are the pick to win the SEC tournament? Not only are the the most talented team in the SEC, they won the regular season title by two games. The key here, however, is going to end up being De’Aaron Fox, and not just for this tournament. Malik Monk’s ability to take over a game is the reason that Kentucky can make a Final Four, but unless Fox is back to being the guy he was at the start of SEC play, it’s hard to picture Kentucky winning four straight in March.

And if they lose?: Florida Gators

If you subscribe to the idea that KenPom is the best way to measure how good a team is, then Florida would actually be the favorite to win the SEC tournament. I wouldn’t go that far, but I don’t think it was a fluke that the Gators beat Kentucky by 22 points in Gainesville. They are athletic and a nightmare defensively, but the loss of John Egbunu to a knee injury is a brutal blow to their ceiling.

Other Contenders:

  • South Carolina: For my money, the Gamecocks are the third-best team in the SEC, but the drop-off from the top two to them is dramatic. The problem? Frank Martin’s team just cannot score.

Sleeper: Vanderbilt

I actually think the Commodores are dangerous in this event. They’ve won six of their last eight and eight of their last 11 games to get into tournament contention, they swept Florida and they spread the floor and shoot a lot of threes. When those threes are going down, they’re not an easy team to put away.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Vanderbilt: The Commodores are an interesting test case. They’re going to have 15 losses in they don’t win the SEC autobid, but they have two elite wins (Florida sweep), five top 50 wins, ten top 100 wins and played the nation’s most difficult non-conference schedule. As the No. 7 seed, I think they need to win at least two games — Texas A&M and Florida — to get in.

Defining moment of the season: Pick your favorite Malik Monk eruption. Personally, my favorite is the 30 second half points he scored to beat Florida without De’Aaron Fox on the floor:

https://youtu.be/VoTUN2nWspE?t=58s

CBT Prediction: I fully expect Kentucky to get the job done in Nashville.

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.