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No. 7 Florida outlasts No. 17 Gonzaga in double OT thriller

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Who said no one cared about college basketball in November?

Jalen Hudson scored 35 points and Chris Chiozza added 26 points, 10 assists and eight boards as No. 7 Florida outlasted No. 17 Gonzaga, 111-105, to take home a double-overtime win in the semifinals of the PK80 Motion bracket.

The Gators will advance to face No. 1 Duke in the finals on Sunday.

But before we get into Sunday’s action, we need to wrap up what could end up being the best game that we see in college basketball this season.

I honestly don’t know where to start, because this thing was back and forth for the entirety of the 50 minutes. Gonzaga jumped out to a 36-29 lead at the break, but the Gators caught fire in the second half, as Hudson, Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen hit a series of ridiculous threes in the second half and overtime.

But seemingly every one of those threes was answered by Gonzaga. It started with Johnathan Williams III, who looked like an all-american. He finished with 39 points, 12 boards and three assists, scoring every time he touched the ball in the second half. Josh Perkins added 17 points, seven boards and seven assists before fouling out, while Killian Tillie had 17 points of his own.

The game was won early in the second overtime, when Florida used a 9-2 run — a three from Hudson, a three from Chiozza, another three from Hudson — to break a deadlock and open a lead Gonzaga would not be able to fight back from.

It was unbelievably entertaining to watch on TV, and even better live, where the arena was packed with Gonzaga fans.

Here are the three things we can take away from that game:

1. I severely underestimated Florida coming into the season: My thought process was correct. Losing Kasey Hill, Devin Robinson and Justin Leon hurt this group defensively, and for a team that was built around their defense a year ago, that would be tough to recover from.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that Egor Koulechov and Jalen Hudson were going to take turns mimicking Klay Thompson’s stat lines while Chiozza finished his development into the best point guard in the SEC. Mike White has embraced a gun-slinger’s style of play. Florida gets out and runs, they push the ball in transition, they fire up threes and they have no conscience when it comes to bad shots.

Why?

Because White knows that he has guys on his roster that can make those shots, even when they’re bad shots. And while there will be nights where Koulechov goes 1-for-9 from the floor and Allen shoots 5-for-16 — as they did on Friday — they can be picked up by the other two players on that perimeter. White has veterans up and down his lineup. He may have the toughest point guard in the country in Chiozza. And his team still isn’t whole, as they’re waiting for John Egbunu to return from his torn ACL.

Veteran guards that can go for 30 on a given night combined with big, physical posts and a team that puts up triple-digits on the regular is the kind of team that can get to a Final Four.

I thought they were overrated as a top ten team entering the season. They may actually be underrated at No. 7.

2. The same thing can be said for Gonzaga: Did see this coming from Johnathan Williams III?

I can honestly say that I expected him to contend for the WCC Player of the Year award. We had him ranked as a top 100 player entering the year and I figured that he would end up being the leading scorer for this Gonzaga team.

But what we saw on Friday night?

An unstoppable force in the paint and around the rim?

A guy that can go for 39 points on 16-for-22 shooting?

That I did not see coming, and I can’t say that I expected Josh Perkins to be as good as he has been in Portland, either. If that duo can play anywhere near the level that they’ve played this week for the rest of the season, Gonzaga will have one of the best 1-2 punches on the west coast. Throw in a veteran roll players (Silas Melson), a couple of intriguing foreigners (Tillie, Rui Hachimura) and a freshmen class with some promising kids (Corey Kispert, Zach Norvell) and … well you pretty much have the kind of Gonzaga team that we’ve become accustomed to seeing.

They’re the favorite in the WCC once again.

How silly of us to think otherwise.

3. Mike White is a helluva coach: We knew this already, didn’t we?

That’s why he got the job that was vacated by Billy Donovan?

But what really impresses me with this group is just how different they are from last year’s team. As I said earlier, last year’s group was No. 2 nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, but they could struggle to run offense and score the ball at times. This team? Well, they’ve failed to crack 100 points just once this season, are must-see TV every time they play and run their offensive differently than they did last year. White is playing to the strength of his roster, and it’s paying dividends.

4. Gonzaga fans are criminally underrated: At a Final Four last year that included North Carolina and Oregon, Gonzaga was the most impressive fan base. They traveled to Arizona en masse, partied all weekend and showed up — sunburnt, but there — in incredibly loud fashion during the games.

The same can be said for the PK80 tournament. And every home game the Zags play. They’re loud, they know their stuff and they’re annoying on twitter.

That’s the fan base trifecta.

And they should get credit for it.

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.