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ACC tournament preview and postseason awards

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POSTSEASON AWARDS

ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: De’Andre Hunter, Virginia

I know, I know, I know. I have Zion Williamson as the National Player of the Year and Hunter as the ACC Player of the Year. The reason why is simple: I think that the ACC Player of the Year award should be given to the guy that was the best during ACC play, and to be the best that requires actually being on the court. Williamson essentially missed a third of conference play, which is too much when you consider that Duke lost three of the six games he missed. He played more than 80 percent of the season as a whole.

Either way, the point isn’t to argue about this. The point is that Hunter has been absolutely phenomenal this season. I think there’s an argument to be made that he is the best defender in college basketball given the way he can switch from defending the best guards to the best bigs and back, often in the same game. He’s also the most talented player on Virginia and the guy that has been the one to takeover in games when Virginia is struggling.

His numbers aren’t eye-popping, which is a direct result of the pace Virginia plays and the fact that they have three stars, but he is easily the first ACC player not named Zion Williamson that I could pick if I was starting a college basketball team.

ACC COACH OF THE YEAR: Tony Bennett, Virginia

Coming off of a season in which the Wahoos not only lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament — the only time that has happened to a No. 1 seed, I don’t know if you heard about that — and then graduated their second-leading scorer and best frontcourt defender, Virginia entered the 2018-19 season picked to finish third in a conference that had more than half of their members in the preseason top 25. By the time the dust settled, Virginia finished the season sitting at 28-2 overall and with a share of the ACC regular season title for the fourth time in the last six seasons. Their only two losses this season came against Duke.

FIRST TEAM ALL-ACC

  • DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia (POY)
  • TY JEROME, Virginia
  • CAM JOHNSON, North Carolina
  • R.J. BARRETT, Duke
  • ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

SECOND TEAM ALL-ACC

  • COBY WHITE, North Carolina
  • MARCQUISE REED, Clemson
  • NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech
  • MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State
  • KERRY BLACKSHEAR, Virginia Tech

ACC TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

WHEN: March 12-16
WHERE: Charlotte
FINAL: March 16, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

(All odds courtesy DraftKings Sportsbook.)

FAVORITE: Duke (+175)

Virginia (+150) is the odds-on favorite to win the ACC tournament, but I think that line has a lot to do with the fact that the Wahoos are the No. 1 seed, meaning they will avoid Duke and North Carolina until the title game. It’s hardly a bad bet — Virginia is the reigning ACC tournament champ, they have won two ACC tournaments in the last five years and this is one of the three best teams in college basketball — but I still think Duke is the best team in the conference. They have lost just once this season when they have been at full strength (against Gonzaga) and they swept Virginia despite playing without Tre Jones for a game.

The bigger news is that it appears that Zion Williamson will be back for the ACC tournament. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters after Saturday’s loss at North Carolina that he expects the big fella to play. For what it’s worth, I like the value that comes with Virginia more than Duke or North Carolina (+200) simply because the Tobacco Road Rivals are on a crash course in the semifinals.

(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

SLEEPER: Virginia Tech (+1700)

I think we have to look at the top of the bracket here to avoid a situation where we’re picking a team to be Duke, North Carolina and Virginia on three straight nights. Florida State is the No. 4 seed, meaning that they, too, get the double-bye into quarterfinals where they seemed like to end up playing a Virginia Tech team they beat in overtime in Tallahassee just six days ago. The Seminoles have also won 12 of their last 13 games since starting ACC play 1-4.

That said, there are some books that have the Hokies getting better odds than Florida State, and in that situation I think that they are worth a look as well. Virginia Tech actually matches up better with Virginia than Florida State does. Virginia does not turn the ball over, they do not get sped up and they are not going to give up points in the paint, either via penetration or second chance points. Florida State probably has more talent that VT with Justin Robinson expected to miss the tournament, but Virginia Tech can really, really shoot the ball and Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kerry Blackshear work well ball-screen actions together.

BEST VALUE: Florida State (+2000)

If you can get 20:1 odds on Florida State it’s certainly a better bet because they have to win just three games instead of four, but otherwise I do like the Hokies more.

BUBBLE DWELLERS

CLEMSON (NET: 35, SOS: 32)
N.C. STATE (NET: 32, SOS: 211): Right off the bat, we get what probably will amount to a play-out game, as the 8-9 game in the ACC tournament will feature bubbly Clemson vs. bubbly N.C. State. As far as I’m concerned, but programs need to not only win on Wednesday but then go on to beat No. 1 seed Virginia on Thursday afternoon to deserve an at-large bid. We detailed why Clemson should not be considered to be on or near the bubble right now, while N.C. State played the worst non-conference schedule in all of Division I basketball this season.

SYRACUSE (NET: 46, SOS: 12): I think the Orange are probably safe regardless of what happens on Wednesday, but if they end getting blown out by No. 14 seed Pitt after losing their last two, four of their last five and seven of their last ten regular season games, then there is a chance that they could drop below the cut-line if college basketball’s Bid Thieves go bonkers this week.

I do not expect that to happen, and besides, the Selection Committee has proven in recent years that they have no interest in leaving Syracuse out of the tournament even when Syracuse actually should be left out of the tournament.

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE LINE?

Virginia has more or less locked up a spot on the No. 1 seed line at this point, but there is still a possibility that, should they lose to the Clemson-N.C. State winner, they can be bumped off the top line or out of the East Region and Washington D.C. Duke and North Carolina, on the other hand, are still playing for a shot at the ACC’s second No. 1 seed. Should Duke beat Virginia in the ACC tournament title game, there’s a world where all three of Duke, UNC and UVA get No. 1 seeds.

On the job front, it seems like this will likely be the end of the forgettable Danny Manning era at Wake Forest. The other ACC job that could open this spring — beyond, you know, the obvious Buzz Williams to Texas A&M rumors — is Boston College, where Jim Christian missed on his chance to make the tournament with Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson last season. As the No. 11 seed this year, an automatic bid to this tournament this year seems exceedingly unlikely.

PREDICTION

Zion Williamson returns and Duke reminds everyone who the true king is in college basketball this season, beating Syracuse, North Carolina and Virginia en route to the ACC tournament title.

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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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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.