Rob Dauster, NBC Sports

No. 14 Minnesota nearly loses to No. 25 Alabama, who was reduced to just three players

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BROOKLYN — Saturday afternoon’s game between No. 25 Alabama and No. 14 Minnesota went from being a complete snoozefest to going completely off the rails.

Midway through the second half, after Minnesota’s Nate Mason crossed over Alabama’s Collin Sexton, making him fall before burying a three, the two starting jawing and earned double-technicals. Then Mason was given another technical, along with head coach Richard Pitino.

It was 57-40 at that point.

On the possession after Alabama shot four free throws, a fight broke out under the Alabama basket. Every player on the Alabama bench left the bench, meaning that all five of them — Donta Gall, Alex Reese, Daniel Giddens, Avery Johnson Jr. and Herbert Jones — were ejected. Two possessions later, Dazon Ingram picked up his fifth foul of the game. Two possessions after that, John Petty hurt his right ankle and had to be carried off the floor.

The result?

The Crimson Tide were forced to play the final 10 minutes with just three players:

“By rule, whenever a potential situation occurs on the court, no player may leave the bench area,” read a statement from the referees given to a pool reporter. “If they do leave the bench area and don’t participate in the altercation that’s going on then they are ejected from this contest and there’s no further penalty, which is what happened. They all came onto the court. We went to the monitor and reviewed all of that. Based on the views that were given us it showed all of their players on the bench, came off the bench onto the court. The views we were given we didn’t see anyone from the Minnesota bench come onto the floor.”

The Minnesota bench was directly in front of me, and no one from that team left the bench. One player attempted to and was quickly told by an assistant to, “sit the **** down.”

The referees were also asked what it was like to officiate a game that was played as a 5-on-3, and they declined comment.

But here’s the craziest part: Alabama made a game of it!

Playing against that 1-2 zone, Minnesota went completely passive while Sexton went crazy. He finished with 40 points, 26 of which came after the fight. Sexton scored 19 points in the final 10:41, when the Tide were limited to just three players. Alabama at one point cut Minnesota’s lead to 83-80 and had possession with a chance to tie.

The Gophers would, mercifully, go on to win, 89-84, but I don’t think anyone actually cares about the final score.

“I’ve never ever seen that in my life,” Pitino said. “Never.”

“That was probably one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever been a part of in college basketball,” Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy, who finished with 19 points and 14 boards, said afterwards. “I never had this in AAU. You probably have to take it all the way back to elementary school.”

“We don’t practice much 5-on-3 offense,” Richard Pitino added, and why would he? This is not normal, and the way that Alabama was defending — essentially daring Minnesota to shoot wide open jump shots — took away any aggressiveness that the Gophers had. It was as if they expected Alabama to roll over and die when the Tide were simply hoping that Minnesota missed some shots.

“I was easier when it was 5-on-4,” Pitino said. “I did a very bad job the last 13 minutes, and I have no answers on how I could have done a better job there.”

Odds are good he’ll never have to do it again.

In a game that was played in a pro sports town while both the Alabama and Minnesota football teams were getting smacked around by their arch-rivals, the basketball teams playing a meaningless showcase game that became the wildest story in sports.

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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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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.