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No. 21 North Carolina defeats No. 9 Duke in Chapel Hill

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Joel Berry II is going to get the headlines. He finished with 21 points, six assists and four boards.

Kenny Williams might, too. He busted out of a shooting slump with 20 points and six threes, four of which came in the first six minutes. Hell, even Luke Maye managed to find a way not to get outscored by any of Duke far more talented front court pieces.

But the real reason that No. 21 North Carolina handed No. 9 Duke their second straight loss, 82-78, on Thursday night, the real reason that the Tar Heels can ahead into Saturday’s date in Raleigh against the team that isn’t an actual rival, is Cameron Johnson.

The talk heading into the first matchup between the Tobacco Road rivals is something that I’ve been mentioning since November: The roles had reversed for these two programs. More than just about any other coach in the country, Roy Williams has stayed as far away from the small-ball revolution as possible. He wants two bigs on the floor. He wants to pound the offensive glass. He wants to play high-low basketball and throw the ball into the post. He wants Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks to carry him to a national title. He wants Brice Johnson to be his all-american.

This year?

He just doesn’t have the roster to do that. Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman. They all have a chance to be somewhere between good and really good in the ACC, but they’re all three- and four-star freshmen. Asking them to step in from day one and dominate just isn’t going to happen. The result is that UNC has been playing Theo Pinson and Johnson, natural threes, at their forward spot with Luke Maye, who is probably at his best as a stretch-four, as their starting center.

That is the epitome of small-ball, which has been the bread-and-butter for the Blue Devils since Coach K fully-embraced the one-and-done roster construct. This season, however, with a front line that consists of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Duke has pounded the ball into the paint more than anyone. They’re leading the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. They physically overpower anyone that gets in their way.

And that’s what they were planning on doing to UNC, but it didn’t work.

Johnson was the foil. The 6-foot-8 junior, a transfer from Pitt, finished with 18 points and 13 boards. He not only hit four of North Carolina’s 11 threes, effectively taking advantage of the reluctance of Duke’s bigs to step away from the rim, but he also grabbed six of their 20 offensive rebounds. Frankly, UNC won the battle in the paint. They grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and held Duke to a 31.4 offensive rebounding percentage; on the season, Duke collected more than 41 percent of their misses. They held Bagley in check — keeping him to 15 points and 16 boards is a win — and kept Carter from really having much impact on the game; he finished with just 10 points and five boards.

More importantly, they made Duke a jump-shooting team. In my mind, this is the stat that defines the game, that epitomizes North Carolina’s win and, frankly, paints a nice picture for some of the issues going on with this Duke team right now: In the final 11:35 of the game, Duke attempted just two two-point field goals and 12 three-pointers. One of those two-pointers was a jumper from Bagley. The other was a dunk from Bagley with 34 seconds left after he grabbed an offensive rebound on a possession where Duke had already missed two three-pointers.

Duke, who has now lost three of their last four games to fall four games out of first place in the ACC, is far more talented than UNC.

But North Carolina is the team that knows themselves, and even if just for a night, played in a way that proved they understand their roles and how they fit within the roster.

And that, often times, trumps raw talent.

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

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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.