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Player of the Year Power Rankings: Zion Williamson is the nation’s best

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1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

I can’t believe some of the things that came out of my mouth last week.

Like, for example, how I said, over and over again, that Tre Jones was the most important player on the Duke roster. Yes, Jones does things that no one else on this Duke team can do. Yes, he is an elite on-ball defender that allows R.J. Barrett to slide into a role that is more suited for him offensively. Yes, he provides leadership and takes pressure off of their halfcourt offense with the transition opportunities that he creates.

All of that is true.

But the idea that I said, and actually believed, that anyone other than Zion Williamson — and, to a lesser extent, R.J. Barrett — is the most important player on this Duke team is just laughably absurd.

This is how I know I need better friends.

Because anyone that truly cared about me as a human being would never, ever, let me say what I said last week with such conviction.

If you need me, I’ll be taking an L.

2. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

I’ve made this point over and over this season, but it bears repeating after the performance that Dedric Lawson had on Monday night: We fawn over the Kansas star because of his size, his efficiency, his passing ability and the way he can space the floor with his shot. Here are their numbers, side by side:

Should I mention that Tennessee is currently the No. 1 team in the AP Poll as well?

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

Howard the best shooter in the country. He the second-leading scorer in the high-major ranks and the nation’s fifth-leading scorer overall. There no high-major player in college hoops that has been more efficient with a higher usage rate. All of those things are true and wildly impressive for a player that is six months younger than Trae Young, but we also need to consider this: Howard’s assist rate is on par with the likes of Ty Jerome, Jarrett Culver and Justin Robinson. He’s been unbelievable this year.

4. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

It has been a weird two games for Lawson. On Saturday, in the loss at West Virginia, Lawson was unable to get a touch in a dangerous spot in the last 2:30 of the game as the Jayhawks stumbled through four ugly possessions while blowing a six-point lead. On Monday, Lawson finished with 29 points and 15 boards on 13-for-17 shooting, coming up with a huge block and an ever bigger three in the final minute to help seal the win. He carried Kansas for long stretches early in the game as the rest of Bill Self’s roster found a rhythm. He was nothing short of sensational.

I’m sure Kansas fans are hoping that, over the course of the final three months of the season, we see more of that Lawson and less o the player that couldn’t get a big bucket when they needed it in Morgan town.

5. JA MORANT, Murray State

I know it was only SIU-Edwardsville, but Ja Morant went for 40 points and 11 assists on Saturday. He was 21-for-21 from the foul line and, in his last two games, is now shooting 7-for-14 from three. He’s not a great shooter yet, but he’s getting there. Top five picks.

6. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

After a sterling start to the season, Texas Tech is starting to get figured out. This is what happens when your offense is, essentially, the Jarrett Culver Show. He hasn’t been good enough to carry the Red Raiders in their last two games, a home loss to Iowa State and a loss at Baylor. He was 7-for-21 from the floor against the Cyclones and had seven turnovers in the loss at Baylor.

7. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

We were all up in arms about Barrett’s performance in the loss to Syracuse, finishing with just 23 points on 8-for-30 shooting, he turned around and put up 30 points on an efficient 11-for-19 shooting against Virginia, one of the nation’s very best defensive units.

8. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

No one in college basketball deserves more and is getting less All-American hype than Michigan State’s star point guard Cassius Winston. What he is able to do in transition is a difference-maker for a team that likes to run far more than anyone realizes. He’s been better defensive as well, and in the absence of Josh Langford, he’s picked up the scoring slack when needed. He had 29 points and six assists at Nebraska. He had 23 points and five assists against Purdue. He had 25 points and five assists at Ohio State.

Sparty won all of those games, and after soundly knocking off Maryland on Monday night, they have now won 11 in a row and sit all alone in first place in the Big Ten. Michigan State is dangerous, and Winston is the reason why.

9. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin

Happ had one of the most dominating performances of the season on Saturday, as he posted 26 points, 10 boards, seven assists and two steals as the Badgers handed Michigan — one of the top five defensive teams in the sport — their first loss of the season. Wisconsin has struggled of late, and Happ’s inconsistency from the free throw line is going to cost the Badgers a big game at some point, but what he did on Saturday was special.

10. SOMEONE, Virginia or Gonzaga

These two teams play drastically different styles — Gonzaga is one of the fastest teams in the country while Virginia is the slowest team — but the one thing that they have in common is that there is no clear-cut “best” player on either roster. De’Andre Hunter is the best pro prospect for Virginia, but Ty Jerome might actually be their best player this year while Kyle Guy is the team’s leading scorer. We can say the same thing with the Zags, who are infinitely better thanks to the defense that gets played by Brandon Clarke but who run their offense through their Japanese star Rui Hachimura.

IN THE MIX: Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Virginia Tech), Jordan Caroline (Nevada), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Charles Matthews (Michigan), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s)

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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.