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2018 NCAA Tournament: Guards you need to know

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Regardless of the year, guard play tends to be one of the biggest factors in determining a national champion.

Whether it’s a lead guard who properly balances getting his with putting his teammates in spots where they can success, or an off-guard capable of going off on a moment’s notice, if a team doesn’t have good guards they’ll be heading home early.

Below are a few of the guards destined to become household names before the 2018 NCAA tournament comes to an end.

And since we know you’ll ask, we’ll answer first.

There already are some guards that are household names.

We’re staying away from the players such as Jalen Brunson, Devonte’ Graham, Joel Berry II and Trae Young because, quite frankly, those guys are already well-known.

1. Rob Gray, Houston: Long known as one of the best players in the American, it’s about time the nation get to know Rob Gray. The senior guard has helped lead Houston to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010, averaging 18.5 points, 4.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. Gray’s the focal point of the Houston offense, with Kelvin Sampson entrusting him with the task of either making a play for himself or setting up a teammate. The casuals will likely be drawn in by Gray’s hairstyle; they’ll stick around once they watch him go to work.

2. Zach Lofton, New Mexico State: If you’re looking for a “12 over 5” upset to pick, the WAC champion Aggies are worth taking a look at and Lofton is why. In his first season on the court for New Mexico State, the Texas Southern transfer is averaging 19.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from beyond the arc. While the matchup with Clemson’s deep and experienced perimeter attack will be a tough one, Lofton is more than capable of making some things happen.

3. Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies are back in the NCAA tournament and Adams, who shared Atlantic 10 Player of the Year honors with Davidson’s Peyton Aldridge, is a big reason why. The senior point guard is averaging 19.8 points, 5.4 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game, shooting 45.4 percent from the field, 45.7 percent from three and 85.6 percent from the foul line. It should be noted that teammate Matt Mobley is outstanding himself, but the pick here is Adams since he runs the show. And that First Four matchup between the Bonnies and UCLA: must-see TV, due in large part to the matchup between Adams and Aaron Holiday.

4. Kellan Grady, Davidson: The Atlantic 10 tournament champions drew a tough matchup in Kentucky, but in Grady they’ve got a talented freshman guard who’s only going to become more popular nationally as his career progresses. The 6-foot-5 Grady is averaging 18.0 points per game, and he’s doing so on 50.8 percent shooting from the field and 37.7 percent shooting from three. The Atlantic 10’s best freshman, Grady has the tools needed to make life difficult for Kentucky’s talented guards.

Kellan Grady (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

5. Jon Elmore, Marshall: Dan D’Antoni’s offensive system gives his players a lot of freedom on that end of the floor, and Elmore (along with fellow West Virginia native C.J. Burks) has taken full advantage. The 6-foot-3 Elmore is averaging 22.8 points, 6.9 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game, and he’s averaging 7.6 three-point attempts per game. Against a Wichita State team that’s had trouble defending the three this season, Elmore (and Burks, who’s averaging 20.5 ppg) could end up captivating the country if he gets hot.

6. D’Marcus Simonds, Georgia State: The 6-foot-3 sophomore has been outstanding for Ron Hunter’s team, leading the Panthers to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2015 (whey they knocked off Baylor). Averaging 21.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, Simonds has what it takes skill-wise to put the Panthers on his back. That being said, the matchup with Cincinnati is a difficult one.

7. Grant Riller, College of Charleston: Riller’s teammate, senior Joe Chealey, would also fit here. But the pick is Riller, as the efficient sophomore is averaging 18.7 points per game and has done so by shooting 55.0 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from three. In the Cougars’ overtime win over Northeastern in the CAA title game, Riller supplemented Chealey’s 32-point effort (16-for-16 FT) with 20 of his own.

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.