Patrick Smith/Getty Images

2018 NCAA Tournament: Upset Specials!

3 Comments

FIRST ROUND

No. 12 DAVIDSON over No. 5 KENTUCKY: The biggest reason that I like this upset to happen is that Davidson runs an offense that is a nightmare to prepare for. If you talk to coaches in the Atlantic 10, that’s what they’ll tell you. And this Kentucky team, made up of all freshmen and sophomores that have never experienced an offense like this, are going to be asked to slow it down after learning about it for three days? We’ll see.

But the other side of this is that Davidson also has some talent. Peyton Aldridge is probably the best player — currently, as of today — that is going to be on the floor in this game while Kellan Grady is a freshman with NBA potential in his own right. This will be a fun game.

No. 12 SOUTH DAKOTA STATE over No. 5 OHIO STATE: There are four things that South Dakota State has going for them when it comes to picking upsets:

  1. They lead the nation in turnover percentage.
  2. They are top 20 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.
  3. They are top 30 nationally in three-point shooting percentage.
  4. They have Mike Daum, who is a matchup nightmare for the Buckeyes.

All the dots connect on this one.

No. 11 LOYOLA-CHICAGO over No. 6 MIAMI and No. 3 TENNESSEE: The Ramblers ended up with a pretty perfect draw for a team looking to make a run. They are a good defensive team going up against Miami in the first round while Miami will be without their best player. They can cut off penetration, and if you do that, you cut off Miami’s offense. Then they draw Tennessee, who is good but is certainly not unbeatable this season. They may be the best matchup for Loyola when it comes to a No. 3 seed. If there is going to be a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16, I think it will be the Ramblers.

No. 13 MARSHALL over No. 4 WICHITA STATE: This pick is relatively simple for me: Marshall run one of the wildest, most up-tempo offensive systems you’ll ever see. Wichita State really struggles to guard people. This is the kind of game that could end up getting played in the 80s or 90s, and if that is the case Marshall can absolutely win that.

SECOND ROUND

No. 9 ALABAMA over No. 1 VILLANOVA: The dots on this one connect. There are, essentially, two things that need to be done in order to beat this Villanova team: You have to be able to run them off of the three-point line and you need to have a dynamic playmaker at the lead guard spot to take advantage of some of their defensive deficiencies. The Crimson Tide are 13th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. They’re top 20 nationally in defensive three-point percentage. And they have this guy named Collin Sexton, who is pretty good.

Now, remember, Alabama still has to beat Virginia Tech first. And they are a team with 15 losses this season that didn’t play well away from home until those two games in the SEC tournament. But strictly from a strength-on-strength perspective, I think this matchup makes some sense.

No. 10 PROVIDENCE over No. 2 NORTH CAROLINA: Where North Carolina has a tendency to struggle is with ball-screen defense, and one of the things that Ed Cooley loves to do more than just about any other coach in the country is to … run ball-screens. Cooley’s proven his coaching chops over the years, and there aren’t many coaches out there who are better when it comes being able to scheme a way to get his playmakers in a position to, you know, make plays. Kyron Cartwright is that guy this year, and if the Friars can get past Texas A&M, this may be the matchup to look at when it comes to a No. 2 seed losing.

Keep in mind, in each of the last eight NCAA tournament, a No. 2 seed has failed to make it out of the first weekend of the tournament. Will North Carolina be this year’s victim?

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.