Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Xavier’s struggled as star Trevon Bluiett deals with prolonged shooting slump

1 Comment

PHILADELPHIA — Trevon Bluiett is one of the very best scorers in college basketball, an all-american candidate that entered this season on the short list of National Player of the Year contenders.

But for more than a month now, the Xavier star has found himself mired in a slump.

Last night, in a blowout loss at No. 1 Villanova, Bluiett shot 4-for-12 from the floor and 2-for-7 from three, finishing with just 11 points, the majority of which came after the Wildcats had taken full control. In Big East play, he’s shooting 34.8 percent from the floor and 29 percent from three, averaging just 16.6 points. Expand that out through the past month, and Bluiett has not shot the ball at nearly the level that he is capable of since a Dec. 9th win over Colorado.

According to head coach Chris Mack, the issue is as simple as confidence. Bluiett is struggling with it right now.

“I think he’s healthy,” Mack said on Wednesday. “He’s been beat up a little bit, but I don’t feel like health is a concern. It’s just between the ears. He’s gotta know his coaching staff, his head coach and his teammates have unbelievable confidence in him. He’ll get it going. He will.”

Bluiett has been streaky throughout his career. As a junior, he had a five-game stretch where he shot 25.5 percent from the floor and 17 percent from three while averaging 10.6 points. Xavier went 2-3 during that stretch, with the only two wins coming against Georgetown and St. John’s. Bluiett scored at least 20 points in five of the next six games, including a win at Creighton, and the Musketeers went 5-1 during that stretch; their lone loss came at Cincinnati, when Bluiett had 40 points on 12-for-15 shooting.

I can keep going.

Bluiett was arguably the best player through the first three games of the NCAA tournament last season, averaging 25 points to lead No. 11 seed Xavier past Maryland, Florida State and Arizona to the Elite 8. He was then 3-for-14 against Gonzaga in a 24-point loss.

In the least surprising news you’ll hear today, Xavier tends to struggle on the nights when Bluiett isn’t making shots – most teams will struggle when their all-american isn’t playing like an all-american – and this has borne itself out over the last eight games. The Musketeers have lost two straight. They needed to come from 16 points down in the second half to beat DePaul at home and erased a 22-point deficit in the final 15 minutes to avoid getting upset by East Tennessee State. Northern Iowa, the MVC’s cellar-dwellers, gave Xavier a fight in Cedar Falls while Marshall nearly picked them off in Cincinnati.

It’s not a coincidence, then, that Bluiett’s two best games in the past month came in wins over Butler and at Marquette.

The question, then, is how can Xavier get Bluiett into a rhythm and out of this slump. I asked Mack that very question last night.

“I have to do a better job of creating some looks for him, some easy baskets so he sees the ball go in early,” Mack said.

Through 18 games this season, Bluiett has had 10 games where he made his first shot and eight games where he missed his first shot. When he makes his first shot, he’s averaging 20.6 points vs. 16.8 points when he misses his first shot. He’s shooting better from the floor and from three. His offensive rating is three points higher. Perhaps most importantly, Xavier is 9-1 when Bluiett makes his first shot and 6-2 when he misses.

Part of what makes Bluiett so streaky is that he relies heavily on his jump shot to be effective. He doesn’t do all that much damage in the post. He’s not enough of an athlete to be able to slash to the rim. He’s not a playmaker. He’s a streaky shotmaker that can get in his own head when he starts missing, and when those shots stop going in, there isn’t all that much that he does at an elite level.

For the last month, Bluiett has been in his own head.

And until he turns this thing around, Xavier is going to be rather beatable.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

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
1 Comment

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
7 Comments

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

Getty Images
4 Comments

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
4 Comments

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.