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No. 12 North Carolina runs past No. 4 Gonzaga, 103-90

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No. 12 North Carolina used a late first half run to open up a 53-39 lead at the break before cruising to a 103-90 win over No. 4 Gonzaga in the Dean Dome on Saturday evening.

It was a dominant performance from the Tar Heels for 40 minutes, the kind of performance that we have been waiting to see from this group from much of the season. Their transition game was firing all night long, they were able to attack the offensive glass and the shooters on this roster made the shots that they are supposed to make.

Through the first month of the season, North Carolina has put up impressive advanced numbers, but that hasn’t led to the kind of wins you would expect out of a group like this. They lost to Texas on a neutral. They were worked over by Michigan in Ann Arbor. And with Kentucky being the only elite non-conference opponent remaining on their schedule, this was a win that the Tar Heels needed, especially considering this game was in Chapel Hill.

The Zags, on the other hand, were playing with house money here. They already have that win over Duke, and anyone that saw them lose to Tennessee on a three in the final 30 seconds knows that they very easily could have won that game. This is the kind of road loss that can be stomached.

Here are the three things we learned from this game:

1. CAMERON JOHNSON IS WHY NASSIR LITTLE’S MINUTES HAVE BEEN LIMITED

Much has been made this season about why Nassir Little, a top five prospect in the Class of 2018 and a potential top five pick in the NBA draft, hasn’t been playing a ton of minutes despite the fact that he has been productive in the minutes he’s seen.

Some have said he’s yet to truly pick up the defense Roy Williams wants to run. Some have said it’s a shot selection thing, he settles for too many tough jumpers. Some have even ascribed the blame to Williams trying to keep Little on campus for two years, as if giving the ball to Coby White and telling him he can do whatever he wants is a surefire way to avoid losing the point guard to the NBA.

The latter is silly. There probably is some truth to the first two ideas. But mostly, Little has struggled to get playing time because the guys that play his position are really, really good.

We all know about Luke Maye at this point. He was an all-american last season and entered this season on the short list for Preseason National Player of the Year. He’s had a slow start this year, but Williams isn’t going to bench him for that, not when he’s capable of going for 20 points and 16 boards against a top five team while he’s in a slump. Cam Johnson has arguably been better this year. Prior to Saturday’s win, Johnson was averaging 15.7 points and shooting 51.5 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from three. On Saturday, he had 25 points and went 6-for-8 from three.

Both Maye and Johnson are seniors, too, and since Williams has a proven track record of wanting to play two bigs on the floor together, Little is only going to see limited minutes on the floor at the same time as those two; Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley have to play, too.

And that’s really all it comes down to.

Little hasn’t done anything we don’t expect freshmen to do. He just found himself stuck on a depth chart with two potential all-americans in front of him.

Seventh Woods (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

2. MIXTAPE SEVENTH!!!

Seventh Woods came into North Carolina with a ton of hype thanks to a mixtape that was published after his freshman season in high school, but has never lived up to that hype as a Tar Heel.

On Saturday night, we saw the best Woods we’ve seen in Chapel Hill. He finished with a career-high 14 points, including the final eight points of the first half as the Tar Heels pushed the lead out to 14 points.

This is hardly the most important development for the Tar Heels, but it does matter. Woods is UNC’s back-up point guard, and we’ve already seen White miss time with injury. White is also a freshman that can run hot and cold. Having another point guard on your bench that isn’t a total liability is a bit of a security blanket for Roy Williams.

3. GONZAGA’S DEFENSE IS A PROBLEM

For the first time since Jan. 3rd, 2007, Gonzaga gave up more than 100 points in a basketball game. (Ironically enough, the last time they did it came again Virginia.) This was on the heels of the Zags giving up 76 points in 68 possessions again Tennessee, 79 points in 67 possessions against Washington, 90 points against Creighton.

Their defense is a major, major issue. As of today, they rank 62nd in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. That still includes some data from last season, when Gonzaga was a top 20 defense nationally, which means that they might actually be a sub-75 defensive team. That is roughly where Duke was ranked last season when we were so concerned about them on the defensive side of the ball.

That does not usually result in NCAA tournament success. There have been just two teams since 2002 entered the tournament ranked outside the top 40 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric and reached the national title game: Butler in 2011, the year they beat No. 11 seed VCU in the Final Four, and Trey Burke’s Michigan team in 2013. North Carolina in 2009 was the worst defensive team to win a title, and they entered the tournament ranked 39th.

The good news?

Both 2009 North Carolina and 2013 Michigan were top two nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, and Gonzaga leads the nation on that end of the floor as of today.

The question, then, is whether or not the Zags can get better defensively, and I do think the answer is yes. We have yet to see Killian Tillie play this season, and I do think his presence will help. The problem is that both of Gonzaga’s starting guards, Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell Jr., are average defenders, while Rui Hachimura, as athletic as he is, is a matchup that can be exploited. Down the stretch of the win over Duke, the Blue Devils looked to isolate whoever Hachimura was guarding.

It is too early to start freaking out about this. Remember, we had this same conversation about Duke last season, and they ended up as a top ten defense after switching to zone. We also had this conversation about Duke in 2015, the year they won the title.

But this is something we will need to track all season long.

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.