(Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)

Alabama slowed down Trae Young to beat Oklahoma but the Sooners have the higher ceiling

1 Comment

Alabama used a physical defensive effort to hold Player of the Year favorite Trae Young to below his season averages as the Crimson Tide picked up a huge 80-73 win over No. 12 Oklahoma on Saturday afternoon.

Using multiple defenders and face-guarding Young the length of the floor on many possessions, Alabama’s defense wore down the star freshman guard as he finished with 17 points and eight assists — well below his season averages. Looking visibly frustrated at times, Young faced constant double teams and traps from the Crimson Tide defense as the freshman faced a long and athletic defense that made it tough for him to make plays off the dribble. Young didn’t score the first 11 minutes he played. With his team down 10 with over a minute remaining, Young finished the game on the bench.

In a huge matchup of star freshman point guards that drew a sell-out crowd and over 50 NBA scouts in attendance, Alabama’s floor general, Collin Sexton, had a strong outing with 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting to pace the Crimson Tide to the home win. Sexton doesn’t get the hype that Young is getting on a national level this season, but he was stellar at times in this one. Defending Young in some instances, Sexton played a solid overall floor game as he was in total control on offense while helping to limit his counterpart.

That’s the major difference between these two teams. The ceilings of their star freshmen point guards are at entirely different levels. That makes for an entirely different long-term trajectory for these two teams.

Young had an “off” game and still finished with 17 and 8 as his team came up short in a hostile road environment against an NCAA-caliber opponent. Sexton finished with 18 points, while getting more help around him, to lead his team to a hard-fought win at home. When Young is rolling and playing at his best, Oklahoma can knock off any team in the country on any night. When Sexton is playing at his best, Alabama can knock off some teams at home on some nights.

Young might have had the “off” game but he is still far and away the better player and bigger offensive threat this season. Oklahoma can still count on him to be productive in every game he plays. Young has an ability to take over a game that is second to none in college basketball. Sexton is still a big enough question mark with his consistency that the Crimson Tide can’t rely exclusively on him to lead them to victory.

There have been plenty of times this season that Sexton has finished in single digits while showing limited production.¬†Saturday’s game was the second time all season Young was held below 20 points — and his minimum total for a game was the 15 points he had in the season opener.

This is not at all a knock on Sexton — an outstanding player who can erupt for 30 or 40 points on a good night. He has a bright NBA future himself. But Young is putting up historic numbers while beating teams like Wichita State on the road and Kansas in conference play.

Of course, basketball is also a team game and the argument about star point guards is a small part of the overall equation. But the main takeaway is this: Oklahoma has a superstar-caliber threat in Young that makes teams change entire gameplans. Alabama has an all-conference player in Sexton who can lead in stretches if his perimeter jumper is hot.

Regardless of future predictions, this is a huge win for Alabama. They’ve now earned a fourth top-50 win — with the others coming against Rhode Island, Texas A&M and Auburn — as it looks like the Crimson Tide are currently solidly in the Field of 68. Leading for nearly the entire game, Alabama used an impressive 13-0 run in the second half to build a decent lead before running clock and letting its defense do the rest.

But Alabama doesn’t seem like the kind of high-ceiling team that can make a run in the tournament. At least not yet. It took Alabama’s best game in front of a raucous crowd to take down a good team like Oklahoma when Young had an off night. Credit head coach Avery Johnson’s game plan and the Crimson Tide’s other players for also stepping up. Herbert Jones looked like a viable rotation threat with 14 points and strong two-way play while Braxton Key knocked down two important three-pointers to maintain a late lead.

It’s unlikely we see these two teams play again this season. But the Big 12/SEC Challenge gave us a solid non-conference glimpse at two star point guards and two tournament teams and where they might be headed. Alabama might have scored the win in this one, but even in a loss, Oklahoma’s outlook is still looking better thanks to Trae Young’s ceiling.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

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.