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No. 20 Virginia Tech knocks off No. 3 Duke as Blue Devil defense struggles without Zion

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Virginia Tech scored an impressive victory over No. 3 Duke on Tuesday night as the No. 20 Hokies held off a late charge for a 77-72 ACC home win. The win for Virginia Tech is a massive one for its NCAA tournament profile while the loss for the Blue Devils means they’re no longer tied with Virginia and North Carolina atop the ACC standings.

The loss hurts Duke from an ACC perspective, but the nation has been mostly focused on the health and status of Blue Devil freshman star Zion Williamson — who missed Tuesday’s game with the knee sprain suffered last week against North Carolina.

Without Williamson for, essentially, the third straight game, Duke has been forced to make adjustments on both ends of the floor. The offensive adjustments have been well-documented. Fellow freshmen R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish are now carrying a gigantic offensive workload without Zion in the lineup. Duke’s other role players have struggled to step up and hit shots. That even prompted the Blue Devils to burn freshman Joey Baker’s redshirt to see if he could help against the Syracuse zone on Saturday.

But while the offense has needed to make adjustments without Williamson, it’s been Duke’s defense that has arguably suffered more without the frontrunner for National Player of the Year.

On Tuesday, Duke had its worst defensive performance of the season, as they gave up 77 points on 63 possessions — which amounts to 1.222 points per possession. For perspective, Duke’s previous worst defensive game of the season came against Gonzaga (on the softest of rims on the planet) at the Maui Invitational — and that game was at 1.208 points per possession.

And Virginia Tech hasn’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut without senior point guard Justin Robinson. The Hokies are a very respectable No. 13 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom. But they’ve also had to scrap and claw without Robinson as backup floor general Wabissa Bede is more of a defensive-minded player. A team that plays dreadfully slow put up 77 points on Duke — a number Virginia Tech hasn’t reached since Robinson went down with injury on Jan. 30.

Without Williamson’s defensive presence on the floor, Duke has particularly struggled to force steals — which they were doing at a nation-leading 13.7 percent before the North Carolina game. Against Syracuse, the Blue Devils only mustered two steals. In the loss to Virginia Tech, that number dropped to only one. For a team averaging over 10 steals per game entering Tuesday, that’s a gigantic drop, and it’s added even more pressure on Duke’s half-court offense to perform without Williamson.

The unique shot-blocking presence of Williamson has also been sorely missed. Virginia Tech big man Kerry Blackshear Jr. — one of the ACC’s hottest players who the Hokies should be playing through on every possession — dominated the Blue Devil bigs. As Blackshear (23 points, 10 rebounds, 7-for-11 shooting) was able to take his time and establish post position, Duke bigs had no chance of stopping him one-on-one.

Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier both did a respectable job of trying to establish position to contain Blackshear one-on-one. But the missing threat of Williamson’s weakside shot-blocking was noticeable in this one. Duke’s double-teams were slow to react and Blackshear was able to take long periods of time establishing position and going to work.¬†Bolden becomes Duke’s only rim protector without Williamson in the lineup, and he can only do so much on his own if a player like Blackshear can continually get that comfortable.

The freakish athleticism of Williamson allows him to play as a sort of free safety when Duke is on defense, as he can cover ground and swallow up shots as well as anyone in the country. Just ask De’Andre Hunter. But without Williamson in the lineup, Duke’s turnover-producing defense hasn’t shown an ability to generate the takeaways that lead to easy buckets.

If Duke wants to be in the national title picture, they desperately need a healthy Williamson to re-enter the lineup so that they can get back to previous levels on both ends of the floor. Everyone loves to focus on the dunks and the offensive highlights, but Williamson’s impact is felt all over the floor for Duke when he’s out.

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.