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AAC tournament preview and postseason awards

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POSTSEASON AWARDS

AMERICAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati

Jarron Cumberland continued his development as a junior, turning into one of the most dangerous scorers in the ACC and certainly the best player in college basketball that looks like he got lost on the way to football practice. There are a number of really, really terrific perimeter players in the AAC this year, but for the Bearcats to end the year with a chance to win a share of the AAC regular season despite all that they lost last season should tell you all you need to know about what Cumberland did.

AMERICAN COACH OF THE YEAR: Kelvin Sampson, Houston

Sampson is very much in the mix for National Coach of the Year after the way that he was able to make Houston great against after the loss of Rob Gray. The Cougars are a top 15 team in all the rankings — and a top five team in the NET — after going 29-2, winning the AAC regular season title outright and putting themselves in a position that a top two seed in the NCAA tournament is a real possibility.

FIRST TEAM ALL-AAC

  • JARRON CUMBERLAND, Cincinnati
  • COREY DAVIS JR., Houston
  • JEREMIAH MARTIN, Memphis
  • B.J. TAYLOR, UCF
  • SHIZZ ALSTON JR., Temple

SECOND TEAM ALL-AAC

  • ARMONI BROOKS, Houston
  • AUBREY DAWKINS, UCF
  • MARKIS MCDUFFIE, Wichita State
  • QUINTON ROSE, Temple
  • DAQUAN JEFFRIES, Tulsa

AMERICAN TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

WHEN: March 14-17
WHERE: Memphis
FINAL: March 17, 3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

FAVORITE: Houston (+100)

The Cougars are the best team in the conference, and, frankly, I’m not sure that it is all that close. They have myriad talented perimeter players that can take a game over, and I think that their frontcourt is actually somewhat underrated. Corey Davis Jr. and Armoni Brooks get all the attention, but Dejon Jarreau is certainly talented as well.

The one concern I have about this Houston team is that they are going to have a tough semifinal game regardless of who they play. If it’s UCF (+450), they’re drawing the second-best defense in the league, one of the oldest and most talented teams and the group that beat Houston on their home floor just two weeks ago. If it’s MEMPHIS (+900) … well, let’s talk about the Tigers.

SLEEPER: Memphis (+900)

I don’t think there is a single coach in the AAC that is happy about the fact that this tournament is going to be played in FedEx Forum, the Tigers’ home arena, this season. That’s because Memphis has been dangerous in their own building. They are 15-2 at home this season — the only losses were by five to Cincinnati and against Tennessee — and you know that place is going to be packed to the gills with out of control Tiger fans. Remember, things get so rowdy in that building that one fan pooped behind an ice cream stand during a game this season.

The Tigers are hot. They’ve won six of their last eight games, and the two losses in that stretch came by a combined nine points at UCF and Cincinnati. They have arguably the most dangerous scorer in the league in Jeremiah Martin — he scored 41 in a half this year, he scored 43 in another game and in his last seven games, he’s averaging 30.7 points — and they play a thrilling style that allows them to score in bunches.

Penny Hardaway knows how to play the heel. He knows how to get Memphis fans into a frenzy. His players leave everything on the floor. This is a dangerous team that is peaking at the right time and playing at home.

BEST VALUE: Memphis (+900)

They are very clearly the best value bet in this tournament, and at 9:1 odds, I think they’re one of my favorite conference tournament futures, period.

I also think that WICHITA STATE (+1700) is worth a look. The Shockers have won nine of their last 11 games, they have a wins over UCF, Baylor and Providence and Gregg Marshall is a guy that has had plenty of success in tournament settings.

BUBBLE DWELLERS

TEMPLE (NET: 50, SOS: 72): Temple benefitted from some excellent bid collusion by the AAC this week, as UCF jettisoned up into the top 30 thanks to wins at Houston and against Cincinnati, which means that the Owls beating UCF in Philly became a Q1 win. Temple has two of those — UCF and Houston (4) at home. With a 23-8 record and just one loss outside Q1 and Q2 — Penn (108) at home — they’re in a good spot. Even with a loss to Memphis (53) in the quarterfinals of the AAC tournament, that’s only going to add another Q1 loss to their resume. It’ll be a sweat if a couple more teams go all Saint Mary’s on the bubble, but I’m starting to believe in the four-bid AAC.

UCF (NET: 28, SOS: 39): I’ve seen UCF on some bubble watch lists so I felt obligated to list them here, but for my money they are a lock after their win at Houston and against Cincinnati last week. They’re all the way up to a No. 8 seed in Dave Ommen’s latest bracket projection.

WHAT ELSE IS ON THE LINE?

Not all that much, frankly. There are a couple of coaches in the league that are in a bit of a difficult spot currently, but I don’t think that we will see too much turnover. I don’t think that Houston is going to be able to climb much higher than a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. I will say this, however: The AAC sure does look like it is going to be a four-bid conference, and if Memphis can find a way to get this automatic bid, they’ll get five. So much for all that talk about how the AAC is staring at being a one-bid league this season.

Now think about what happens when Memphis, UConn and Wichita State are all firing at the levels we’ve come to expect.

PREDICTION

I’ll ride with the Tigers. I think Penny finds a way to get it done as Jeremiah Martin becomes a conference tournament legend for the performance he puts together this week.

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

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.