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Michigan wins second-straight Big Ten tournament title

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NEW YORK — John Beilein did it again.

For the second time in as many season, a Beilein-coached Michigan team went from early-season afterthought to late-season contender as they rolled through the Big Ten tournament and to their second straight title.

On Sunday afternoon, as thousands of Michigan fans turned Madison Square Garden turned into Crisler Center East, the Wolverines rode Mo Wagner’s hot hand to a 75-66 win over Purdue, their first win against the Boilermakers in three games this season. Wagner scored 10 of his 17 points during an early second half surge that pushed a five-point halftime lead as high as 15 points.

Jon Teske scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half, but the star of this game for Michigan was, in truth, Zavier Simpson. He was tasked with doing the heavy-lifting against Purdue star Carsen Edwards, who finished with just 12 points on 4-for-17 shooting. But more important was Simpson’s work running Michigan’s ball-screen offense. Purdue struggles defending ball-screens as it is, and Simpsons ability to get downhill and create off the bounce in those actions is why the Wolverines were able to take control of this one early on. His stat-line — ten points, five boards and five assists — does not do justice to his importance in this game.

This is the second straight season where Beilein has turned Michigan from a team with major question marks throughout the season into one of college basketball’s hottest teams and a legitimate threat to make a run deep into the NCAA tournament. Last year, after losing six of their first ten Big 10 games and finishing the regular season squarely on the bubble with a 20-11 record and a 10-8 mark in the league, Michigan won the Big Ten tournament, upset No. 2 Louisville in the second round of the NCAA tournament and came within a missed-Derrick Walton jumper of upsetting No. 3 seed Oregon and getting a shot at No. 1 seed Kansas for the right to go to the Final Four.

That run hinged on the growth of Walton from a maddeningly-inconsistent talent into one of the best point guards in the country over the final two months of the season.

The turning point in this season for the Wolverines was when Simpson took over the starting point guard role, which was not something that ever appeared to be a guarantee. The point is the most important position in Beilein’s offense, and there were some very real questions about whether or not there was anyone on this roster that was capable of playing the role in the way that Michigan needed.

Beilein recruited grad transfer Jaaron Simmons from Ohio to take over that role as Simpson went through his growing pains, but Simmons could not win the job. He’s taken a DNP-CD in eight games this year. Freshman Eli Brooks briefly took over the starting role during the team’s trip to the Maui Invitational, but but that didn’t last, either. Eventually, Simpson took that starting spot over, starting right after the Wolverines blew a 20-point lead to nemesis Ohio State in a loss in early December.

Michigan has also grown into one of college basketball’s best defensive teams. As it currently stands, they are ranked sixth in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which is a far cry from what we usually expect out of Beilein’s teams. Even his Final Four team in 2013 was ranked outside the top 60 in defensive efficiency prior to the start of the NCAA tournament.

With the way this group is defending, and with a point guard in place this season, Michigan once again is poised to be a trendy pick to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

And with a coach who has consistently proven to be one of college basketball’s best in tournament settings, there’s no reason they can’t get to San Antonio for the season’s final weekend.

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.