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SEC banking on some veteran stars – even Kentucky

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Kentucky’s PJ Washington says coach John Calipari has “chilled out” at practice leading up to the season.

It doesn’t take as much yelling from coaches when you have a little seasoning and maturity on the roster, qualities that the Wildcats and other top Southeastern Conference teams are banking on to match — or even better — the league’s strong 2017-18 season. Calipari says he hasn’t had to raise his voice yet in practice.

“Last year it was pretty much every day but this year he’s kind of chilled out a little bit,” Washington said Wednesday at SEC media day. “We have experience obviously.”

Seriously? No yelling?

“I’m shocked, too,” Washington said. “He’s usually screaming every five seconds. Now, he’s just stopping practice and trying to teach young guys what to do.”

It helps when they’re not all young guys. Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis , a two-time All-Pac-12 performer, brought a wealth of experience to the lineup.

There are plenty of highly touted freshmen in Lexington and around the league, of course. But a number of standouts returned, too, including reigning SEC player of the year Grant Williams at Tennessee, Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford, Auburn’s Jared Harper, Florida’s Jalen Hudson and LSU’s Tremont Waters.

The SEC proved its back as a basketball power last season, sending a record eight teams to the NCAA Tournament. Optimism abounds again going into this season, with coaches not being shy about trumpeting the league’s strength.

“The league top to bottom has probably never been stronger,” Calipari said. “Top-heavy, too. Crazy.”

Added Mississippi State’s Ben Howland: “I can’t say enough about our league. This league is going to be so good this year. As good as it was last year, this year’s group is going to be even better.”

LSU coach Will Wade said last year there were a number of good teams, and now there are some that can be “elite.”

Plenty of players explored entering the NBA draft after last season but opted to return.

Tennessee and Auburn shared the SEC regular season title and return most of their top players. The Volunteers return all five starters and are led by Williams and senior Admiral Schofield. That experience prompts Howland to proclaim: “There’s no doubt they’re the team to beat in our conference.”

Auburn lost leading scorer Mustapha Heron, who transferred to St. John’s. Harper and Bryce Brown returned while center Austin Wiley and forward Danjel Purifoy are back after being ineligible last season.

“Austin is as big, as strong, as fast and as mobile as any big guy in the country,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, whose team is no longer undersized.

Wiley is recovering from a foot injury that could sideline him early in the season. Purifoy is still ineligible for the first nine games.

The Tigers snapped a 15-year NCAA Tournament drought last season.

Then there’s Kentucky. Washington, Quade Green and Nick Richards are among the returnees.

Travis is the Wildcats’ only preseason first-team All-SEC pick.

The Wildcats are the preseason league favorites — as usual. But teams like Tennessee and Auburn are potential preseason top 10 teams, too.

For all the returning veterans, there’s also a strong wave of incoming talent.

Kentucky brought in the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class with four five-star recruits, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

LSU was ranked No. 4, led by five-star forwards Nazreon Reid and Emmitt Williams, and teams like Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Florida also had highly rated classes. The Gators (Andrew Nembhard) and Commodores (Darius Garland) both signed five-star point guards.

“I think we have some really good incoming freshmen and I think we have some terrific veterans that have had a big impact on the league,” Calipari said. “The teams that won the league last year have most of their players back.

“We finally have a couple of returning players. It’s been awhile.”

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.