Everything you need to know to catch up on college basketball post-CFB Playoff

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NO ONE IS GOOD THIS YEAR

College basketball does not have a dominant team this season. For the first time since 1948, there were no undefeated Division I basketball teams on New Year’s Day. With the exception of the American – where neither Cincinnati or Wichita State seem likely to lose unless it is to each other – the preseason favorite in every power conference has already taken at least one loss in league play.

I do not like to use the word parity in college basketball, because the idea that teams from low- and mid-major conferences can compete with the biggest and best programs in the country is ludicrous.

I do, however, think that it is more accurate to say that the gap between the best teams in the country and the rest of the field is as small as I can ever remember it being. For my money, Villanova and Michigan State are the two-best teams in the country and both are flawed. Duke and Arizona are probably the two most-talented teams in the country and neither of them want to defend. Beyond that, we’re talking about, who, the likes of Texas Tech, or Virginia, or Purdue, or West Virginia?

There is a reason that, as of today, 14 top five teams have lost to unranked opponents this season.

Don’t expect that trend to change. (Rob Dauster)

TRAE YOUNG IS MUST-SEE TV

Consider this my official pitch to make Trae Young’s nickname “Unprecedented.”

Oklahoma’s 6-foot-2 freshman point guard is currently averaging 29.4 points and 10.2 assists per game. No one has done that since at least 1992-93, as far back as Sports-Reference’s database goes. His usage rate (39.8) and assist rate (55.6) are the highest-eve in the KenPom era, which dates back to 2004. He leads the country in both points and assists per game. No one’s ever done that.

He’s also been the catalyst of Oklahoma’s rebound season, getting the Sooners to 12-2 after they won just 11 games in all of last season. Young’s done it with flair, too. The Steph Curry comparisons are probably unfair…but they kind of make a lot of sense. Young will shoot from anywhere past halfcourt and plays with creativity and vision that you maybe see once in a generation.

He’s amazing. He’s unreal. He is Unprecedented. (Travis Hines)

DUKE’S DEFENSE IS STILL A DISASTER

This has been the knock on the Blue Devils for the last four or five years. Ever since Coach K fully embraced becoming a one-and-done factory – and ever since college basketball did away with the freedom of movement rules – Duke has yet to find a way to make themselves an elite defensive team.

Outside of a three-week run in March of 2015 when a mediocre Duke defense turned into one of the best defenses we’ve ever seen in the college ranks, it has been a consistent theme with this group.

And this year is no different.

As of today, the Blue Devils rank outside the top 100 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric. They may be the most dominant offensive team in the country, one that can pound the ball in the paint and dominate the offensive glass, but they’ve yet to give up fewer than 89 points in an ACC game this season. Until that changes, Duke can no longer be called a national title contender.

You can’t win six games in March if you cannot stop anyone. (RD)

Jalen Brunson (Elsa/Getty Images)

VILLANOVA DIDN’T MISS A BEAT

It’s really been an amazing few years for VIllanova. The Wildcats have been a top-two seed in the NCAA tournament every year since 2014, won the national title in 2016, won their first 14 games to start last year and have spent time rank as the No. 1 team in the country this year. That’s the kind of consistent excellence that only the top-tier programs can even dream of. Villanova has been living it.

Jay Wright has gotten superlative performances from Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges this season to fuel one of the country’s most potent offenses. The defense isn’t elite, but it’s more than good enough to keep the Wildcats afloat should their offense sputter in small doses. Once again, Villanova is one of the best teams in the country. If Jay Wright gets a second national title, the discussion of his position in the all-time coaches conversation is going to be interesting. (TH)

THE SEC IS REALLY GOOD, AND THE TITLE RACE IS A GLORIOUS DISASTER

The SEC might very well be the best conference in college basketball this season. I’m not sure how many teams are actually going to make the NCAA tournament from the conference this season, but I do think that, two weeks into conference play, there are at least three teams with a losing record that will be dancing: Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas A&M.

The latter is probably the best team in the conference this season, but the Aggies have yet to play a league game with anything close to resembling a full roster. When D.J. Hogg isn’t suspended, Admon Gilder and Duane Wilson are not injured and Robert Williams is playing like a lottery pick, they’re dominant. We haven’t seen that A&M team in a long time.

And that is how the likes of Florida and Auburn have climbed to the top of the league. The Gators are wildly inconsistent and rely far too much on the three ball, while Auburn – like Arkansas and Tennessee – is one of these teams that seems to thrive more on effort than on raw talent, while Alabama has yet to find a way to strike a balance between being a good team offensively and defending the way they defended last year.

Hell, even Georgia and Mississippi State have looked like they might be able to flirt with an at-large bid.

The name you didn’t hear yet, however, is Kentucky.

Which leads me to my next point … (RD)

KENTUCKY IS STILL TRYING TO FIT THEIR PIECES TOGETHER

There are flashes where Kentucky looks like a team that has the horses to make a run at a national title.

Beating Louisville by 29 points was one of those times. Their win over Virginia Tech was one of those times. There were flashes against LSU, and Georgia, and Tennessee, but for the most part, those moments are just flashes.

The issue isn’t necessarily on the offensive end, either. The Wildcats have done a pretty good job on that end. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is turning into a go-to scorer, Quade Green has opened things up with his ability to impact a game and Hamidou Diallo and Wenyen Gabriel are actually making threes at a pretty good clip.

The problem actually seems to be defensively, where Kentucky isn’t elite. They’re good, 17th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, but 17th nationally isn’t good enough for a team that has some limitations on the other end.

Kentucky needs to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams and they have the athletes to do so. What they don’t always have, however, is elite toughness and the kind of defensive instincts you want them to have.

Kentucky is growing and learning and improving. You can see it. But they still have a ways to go before we can start talking about them as a title contender. (RD)

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

KANSAS IS NOT THE BIG 12 FAVORITE

Kansas has won 13 Big 12 titles in a row, so they’re probably the betting favorite right now, but when you look at the resumes, it’s hard not to surmise that Texas Tech is the team to beat in the conference. The Red Raiders’ only loss came to Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden, and now they already own a win over the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse and beatdowns over Baylor and Kansas State.

The computers love Texas Tech – KenPom has the Raiders ranked fourth – and the eye test gives the same impression. In Lawrence, Chris Beard’s team was the tougher, more disciplined and more cohesive group on the court for basically the full 40 minutes. That almost never happens in Allen Fieldhouse.

Texas Tech is elite defensively, pretty darn good offensively and have a star in Keenan Evans. They’ve got a ton of experience and plenty of talent, too. The Red Raiders are legit. And the best team in the Big 12.

But they’re not alone atop the league. West Virginia has been terrific, became the first team to truly slow down Trae Young and are still waiting on getting Esa Ahmad back. Oklahoma … well they have Trae Young. Even TCU looks like a team that will make some noise in the title race. (TH)

VIRGINIA IS RECESSION-PROOF, AND THE BEST TEAM IN THE ACC

Virginia has suffered a lot of losses in the last couple years. Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes all moved on. A drawback from this recent run of success wouldn’t be all that surprising. But the Cavaliers look to be as strong as ever.

Obviously, it’s the defense. Tony Bennett’s team ranks No. 1 in adjusted defense on KenPom thanks to opponent effective field goal percentage of 42.4, a 23 percent turnover rate and strong defensive rebounding.

At Virginia, the system is the star. The pack-line defense has excelled year after year under Bennett. The Cavs control pace – they rank outside the top-300 in both offensive and defensive length of possession – and dictate nearly every aspect of the game. The roster may turn over, the All-Americans may graduate and their games may be boring, but Virginia is proving they’re just going to keep winning regardless. With a 14-1 overall record and a 3-0 mark in the ACC, Virginia is just doing Virginia’s thing.

THE PAC-12 IS NOT GOOD

Arizona has been an unqualified disappointment. Arizona State has lost some shine. UCLA is fine. USC, Oregon and Utah are whatever. And those are the highlights this season for the Pac 12.

The league is really stinking up the joint this year.

Six Pac 12 teams (Washington, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington State, Colorado and Cal) are ranked outside the KenPom top-100. Of the other power conferences, only the ACC has multiple teams fitting that distinction with two. The Big East and SEC – the SEC! – have none. And Pac 12 has six. Six.

It’s really been a rough run for the league since its last high point of late in the last decade. Last year, Oregon was the league’s first Final Four participant since UCLA in 2008. Maybe the Wildcats or Sun Devils get back there in a few months, but anything short of that is going to keep the conversation very much about what’s wrong with the Pac 12. (TH)

THERE MAY NOT BE AN AT-LARGE BID FROM OUTSIDE THE POWER CONFERENCES

The way that it looks right now, the Atlantic 10, the Mountain West, the WCC and the Missouri Valley could all end up being one-bid leagues this season. Rhode Island and Gonzaga will probably be worthy of at-large bids if they don’t end up getting the automatic bid from their conference. Nevada and Saint Mary’s will be in the mix.

But what if URI and Gonzaga both win their league tournaments? What if Saint Mary’s doesn’t pick up a win over Gonzaga this season? What if Nevada doesn’t put together a résumé worthy of an at-large?

All of those things are pretty likely to happen.

And if they do, every one of the available at-large bids will end up in the hands of power conference teams.

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

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

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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.