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Player of the Year Power Rankings: Zion Williamson’s reign still remains, but for how long?

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1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

I spent a good portion of the mock draft that I published last week discussing what makes Zion Williamson so effective on the defensive end of the floor.

We saw all of that play out in Duke’s loss to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last Tuesday. Without Williamson, the Hokies spread the court with shooters and put Kerry Blackshear in ball-screen after ball-screen. Marques Bolden is notoriously bad defending ball-screens, which created opportunities for Blackshear to be able to attack off the dribble in pick-and-pop actions while he was able to bury Javin DeLaurier in the paint on the possessions where Bolden was off the floor:

It should not come as a surprise, then, that this was easily the worst defensive performance of the season for the Blue Devils, giving up 1.222 points-per-possession. Williamson’s presence would have helped immensely, as this was the perfect scenario for the Blue Devils to trot out their lineup that features Williamson at the five.

It appears as if Williamson is just about ready to return to the lineup for Duke. Assuming he does, he has National Player of the Year locked up.

2. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

Monday night’s win at Syracuse summed up everything that makes De’Andre Hunter so good. He finished with 21 points, six boards, four assists and three blocks while shooting 5-for-7 from the floor, and he did the heavy-lifting on Tyus Battle defensively. How many players can be a go-to scorer and can be a shutdown defender on players at four different positions?

I broke down his defensively versatility last week:

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

It was a disappointing week for Marquette, as they blew two late leads and lost to both Villanova and Creighton. That cost them a two-game lead over the Wildcats in the Big East standings, meaning that an outright Big East title is no longer in their control. Howard, in those two games, had 13 turnovers.

4. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

Duke has gone just 2-2 in the four games that Zion Williamson hasn’t played, so it’s pretty clear who the best player on that team his. That said, it is worth noting that Barrett has been much more efficient scoring the ball and a much more willing distributor in his absence.

5. JA MORANT, Murray State

Murray State’s regular season ended last week, and we now wait for the kick off of the OVC tournament to find out if the Racers are going to end up with an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. I don’t think that they have done enough to earn an at-large bid, so we will need them to roll through to an automatic bid to have a shot at seeing Morant try and put 50 on some unsuspecting No. 4 seed.

6. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

Culver is the engine that makes Texas Tech run, and the Red Raiders are one win at Iowa State away from ending Kansas’ 14 year run atop the Big 12

7. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga

Clarke’s PER as of today is 37.4. That is the best PER that any college player not named Zion Williamson has posted in the last decade. I’m not sure there is a more underrated player in college basketball than Clarke.

8. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

I think the biggest knock on Winston this season is that he gets worn out by the end of games, but that’s understandable. He’s playing 38-40 minutes a night in competitive games while having an entire offense built around him. Perhaps the most impressive part about his junior season has been that the added workload has not really impacted how well he protects the ball.

9. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

Williams reclaimed his hold on the SEC Player of the Year award after a couple of dominant performances this week. He had 21 points, six boards, four assists, three steals and two blocks in a win at Ole Miss before putting up 24 points and seven boards as Tennessee mollywhopped Kentucky in Knoxville.

10. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

Kansas has struggled with injuries and Lawson has one of the youngest supporting casts in all of college hoops, but he has still managed to find a way to roll out of bed and put up 20 and 10 on a nightly basis. He has his flaws, but he’s been a rock for Bill Self to build around.

ALSO CONSIDERED: Phil Booth (Villanova), Jordan Carolina (Nevada), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga), Ethan Happ (Wisconsin), Ty Jerome (Virginia), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s), P.J. Washington (Kentucky), Coby White (North Carolina)

 

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.