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Which program will be next first-time national title winner?

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Last week, we took a look at the next head coach to follow in the footsteps of Tony Bennett and win their first national title.

Today, we’re going to mix it up a bit.

Here is a list of the seven programs that are the next in line to cut down the nets on that first weekend in April for the first time in program history.

GONZAGA

BEST FINISH: National title game, 2017

This is the easiest and most obvious pick. The Zags may play in the WCC, but they are nationally relevant and perennially a preseason top ten team. They have already made it to the national title game, and eventually they will breakthrough with a title.

I think the most important thing that can be said about the Zags is this: Since getting to the national title game, they have lost five players to the NBA with eligibility remaining. Outside of Rui Hachimura this past season, none of the other four were players that entered the season as guys that were expected to be gone. That includes all-americans Nigel Williams-Goss and Brandon Clarke, as well as sophomore Zach Norvell and freshman Zach Collins.

And despite all of that, the Zags were a No. 4 seed in 2018, a No. 1 seed in 2019 and will enter this season as a preseason top ten team. How many programs can sustain losses like that without missing a step?

Mark Few (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

PURDUE

BEST FINISH: National title game, 1969

Matt Painter is one of the most underrated coaches in the game. Over the last four years, despite some significant roster turnover, the Boilermakers have never won less that 26 games, have finished as a top ten team on KenPom three times and have done all this despite three pretty different styles. This has paid off with two Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight in the last three years.

I don’t think this will be the year where Purdue wins a national title, but I do think that it is going to happen eventually.

MEMPHIS

BEST FINISH: National title game, 2008

I’ve written too many words on Memphis over the course of the summer, but that’s because they may just be the most intriguing team heading into this season. Personally, I think they are overrated as a preseason top ten team this year, but I do think that Penny has positioned himself to be arguably the most powerful program in college sports within the next five years. He landed the No. 1 recruiting class this year. He was always going to get James Wiseman, but Penny also, landed guys like Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis and Lester Quinones, none of whom are from Memphis.

There are two things that we can take away from this: 1) Penny is going to continue to bring in the elite of the elite, battling with the likes of Duke, Kentucky and Kansas for the top players in every class. 2) Perhaps more importantly, five of the seven players in this year’s Memphis recruiting class are guys that will spend two or three years in college.

Wiseman and Achiuwa will get the hype train rolling, but the true value of this class is that Penny set himself up really well for the future.

AUBURN

BEST FINISH: Final Four, 2019

There should be no question Bruce Pearl’s ability to win at the college level anymore. He took Auburn to their first Final Four a decade after he had Tennessee ranked No. 1 in the country.

Pearl has proven himself to be a consistent, high-level winner at the college level. He has turned Auburn Arena into one of the toughest places in college basketball to play. He is recruiting pros to his program, and he is developing guys that aren’t necessarily NBA guys into being all-conference players.

At some point, there is going to be a year where it all comes together for Auburn. If Jared Harper had stayed in school for one more year, it might have been this season.

Chris Beard (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

TEXAS TECH

BEST FINISH: National title game, 2019

Let’s start with the obvious: Chris Beard is a helluva coach that has, for two straight seasons, had the best team in the Big 12. (I will go to my grave saying they would have won the 2018 Big 12 regular season title had Keenan Evans not broken his toe.) His ability to win at a high level with a completely restructured roster makes me believe that Tech’s reliance on grad transfers to fill gaps won’t hinder Tech’s chances of winning.

The biggest concern here is that Tech’s success is almost entirely tied to their current head coach. No one, not even Bobby Knight, has ever come close to winning at the level that Beard has one, and eventually, that is going to pique the interest of some bigger programs. I don’t think there are many jobs that Beard would leave for considering his salary and the fact that he will never, ever be fired, but there are a few that could open fairly soon … *cough, Texas and Arizona, cough*.

TENNESSEE

BEST FINISH: Elite Eight, 2010

Not only has Tennessee never won a national title, the program has never actually been to the Final Four. I think that will change sooner rather than later with Rick Barnes in charge. I know that it is trendy to make fun of Barnes’ coaching ability, but he has been to a Final Four (with Texas in 2003) and he twice came within a game of reaching the Final Four (in 2006 and in 2008) as Big 12 co-champion. The 2006 loss came in overtime against LSU.

The biggest question with the Tennessee program is whether or not they missed on their best chance to win a title the last two years. The Vols had three NBA players on their roster in Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone, and they were able to keep all three of them until they reached upperclassmen status. I’m not sure how often that is going to be true in Knoxville, and considering that Barnes is currently 65 years old, I don’t know just how long he is going to continue coaching. Keep in mind, he also said this summer that he would have left the program for UCLA had UCLA been willing to pay his buyout.

So while I love the direction this program is trending, the Vols are like Texas Tech in that the longterm stability of the program does not appear to be as solid as some of the teams higher on this list.

SETON HALL

BEST FINISH: National title game, 1989

It took a while for him to get it there, but Kevin Willard has built Seton Hall into one of the better programs in the Big East. He enters this season with a borderline top ten team that, arguably, is the favorite to win the Big East. This comes just two years after he put together a team that entered the season with top 20 hype. I’d be shocked if the Pirates didn’t find their way to their fifth straight NCAA tournament, and with an All-American like Myles Powell on their roster, I can see this being a year where the Pirates make a deep run.

I can acknowledge that this may be a bit of a reach, but how often will teams that have never won a title enter any season in the preseason top 12?

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.