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Spanish defender Gerard Pique compares Spain to 1989 Michigan title team

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You wouldn’t think that Gerard Pique had an encyclopedic knowledge of college basketball, but here we are.

Don’t know who Gerard Pique is?

Beyond being Shakira’s lesser half, he is the longtime starting centerback for Barcelona as well as Spain’s national soccer team, and it’s the latter position that has him being written about on a college basketball website.

For those that are unaware, Thursday marks the beginning of the World Cup. On Friday, the Spanish team is slated to square off with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo in their first match of group play, a critical game if the Spaniards want to avoid being dumped out of football’s most important tournament before the knockout rounds like they did in 2014. On Wednesday, the Spanish national team fired their manager, Julen Lopetegui, replacing him with Fernando Hierro.

The reasons for the firing are complicated and centered around the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid, but the long and short of it is that news leaked out that Lopetegui had accepted the job as Madrid’s manager. The Spanish FA did not want someone coaching their national team that had already taken another job, so they unloaded him.

Where does Pique fall in this mess?

As this drama was unfolding, he tweeted the following:

For those that don’t speak spanish, the tweet reads: “University of Michigan. Basketball. 1989. NCAA Championship. It would not be the first time this has happened. All together, no more than ever before.”

What Pique is referring to is the national title that Steve Fisher won as the head coach of the Wolverines, and it is a fun trip down memory lane that I had totally forgotten about. Hell, it may be a new story for many of you.

In 1989, just two days before the start of the NCAA tournament, Michigan head coach Bill Frieder resigned. Well, technically he was fired. He was told by athletic director that he shouldn’t bother showing up for the tournament after accepting the job as head coach at Arizona State.

“I don’t want someone from Arizona State coaching the Michigan team,” Schembechler said. “A Michigan man is going to coach Michigan.”

Fisher had been an assistant coach on the Michigan staff for seven seasons, and he was named the interim head coach for the 1989 tournament, launching what might be a Hall of Fame coaching career. Fisher would lead Michigan past North Carolina — who had eliminated the Wolverines in the last two tournaments — in the Sweet 16 and coach them to a thrilling win over Illinois in the Final Four before Rumeal Robinson’s free throws in overtime of the title game gave Fisher one of the most improbable national titles in the history of the tournament.

And the rest is history. Fisher would go on to recruit the Fab Five, reach two more national title games and then rebuild a moribund San Diego State program into a west coast power before retiring.

The irony of it all?

Fisher was not the man that Schembechler wanted to hire. He wanted Pete Gillen or Jim Crews or whatever hot name there was on the coaching carousel that spring. But Fisher went out and won the title, making the job and the future of the Michigan program his.

It’s a great story, one that doesn’t get told enough.

And if you are a fan of Spain, you’re hoping that history will repeat itself.

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.