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D.J. Carton leads No. 5 Ohio State past No. 6 Kentucky, 71-65

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In a performance that sums up this Ohio State team pretty perfectly, seven of the eight players that saw the floor on Saturday afternoon scored between seven and 15 points as the fifth-ranked Buckeyes knocked off No. 6 Kentucky, 71-65, in Las Vegas in the CBS Sports Classic.

D.J. Carton led the way for the Buckeyes, finishing with 15 points and making a number of critical plays down the stretch, while Kaleb Wesson chipped in with 10 points, eight boards and a pair of assists before fouling out.

Nate Sestina led the way for Kentucky with 17 points, knocking down a season-high five threes. Tyrese Maxey had 15 points for the Wildcats while Ashton Hagans went for 14 points and nine assists.

Kentucky has now lost back-to-back games, with a game against Louisville coming up next, while Ohio State added yet another marquee win to their resume.

Here are three things that we can take away from this game:

1. THIS FELT LIKE A COMING OF AGE PERFORMANCE FROM D.J. CARTON

The x-factor for Ohio State this season is freshman point guard D.J. Carton.

He’s one of, if not the most talented freshman point guard in college basketball. He’s explosive, he’s a talented penetrator that can create offense out of nothing and he’s capable of making threes. Every team that was won the national title this decade has had an elite point guard, and with the exception of Kentucky’s 2012 title team (and maybe Villanova in 2018), every single one of those champions played with two point guards on the floor.

C.J. Walker is fine. He’s not a guy that is going to make many mistakes, he can knock down an open three, Chris Holtmann trusts him to run the offense and he can guards when need be. But “fine” has not been good enough to cut down the nets for any team this decade. Carton is the guy with the upside. He’s the dynamic playmaker that can takeover a game and make a play when a defense wins the game-planning battle. He’s the guy that has some NBA upside. All of that showed against Kentucky on Saturday, especially down the stretch.

Carton finished with a team-high 15 points. He was 5-for-6 from the floor and hit a couple of key free throws down the stretch. He broke down UK’s defense when Ohio State’s offense stalled, and he did that against one of the better on-ball defenders around in Ashton Hagans. He made a couple ridiculous plays on the defensive side of the ball as well, blocking an Immanuel Quickley three when he had the chance to put Kentucky in the lead late in the game and stealing a post entry from the weakside when it looked like Nick Richards had himself a wide-open dunk.

Carton’s background is interesting. He’s from Iowa, he didn’t end up at some All-World prep school and he played for an AAU team that was not on one of the shoe company circuits. Put another way, he hadn’t played all that much against this level of competition before arriving on campus. It’s part of the reason he came in as something of a blank slate.

If he can put it all together, if he is the guy on this roster that makes the leap over the next three months, than that can be what turns Ohio State from “one of the best teams in the country” to “OK, maybe their actually is a favorite to win the national title this year.”

2. NATE SESTINA HELPS, AND KENTUCKY FEELS LIKE THEY’RE GETTING CLOSER

Kentucky more or less invented the superteam era in college basketball, so it would be awfully ironic if the team that has thrived in the one-and-done era as much as any program in the country had their season saved by a grad transfer fro Bucknell.

And that may end up being the case this season.

Nate Sestina came back from injury on Saturday and scored a team-high 17 points while hitting five threes. That’s important for a couple reasons. For starters, the Wildcats have been just atrocious shooting the three this season. They entered Saturday making just 27.5 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, and if you take Sestina’s shooting on Saturday out of the equation, the rest of the roster was just 2-for-15 from deep against Ohio State.

Getting someone on the floor that will punish defenses for selling out on drives is pretty important. Sestina does that.

But just as important is that Sestina provides some scoring pop at the four. E.J. Montgomery and Nick Richards have had some good moments this season, but most of those moments have come against the bad teams that the Wildcats have faced. Combined, those two are averaging 10.5 points and 8.0 boards against the four high-major opponents Kentucky has faced. Keion Brooks has had some flashes of potential, but that’s about it. Kahlil Whitney has looked less like a lottery pick and more like a guy destined to be in Lexington until he transfers because he’s sick of being recruited over.

Sestina has his limitations physically, but he plays hard, he provides some leadership and he does the thing none of those guys have been able to do: Provide some scoring pop.

And with him back in the fold, it does feel like Kentucky is getting closer to figuring this thing out. Tyrese Maxey’s making shots again. Ashton Hagans has really been the one guy that has consistently performed for the first seven weeks of the season. The execution wasn’t there against Ohio State – that has as much to do with Ohio State and Chris Holtmann as it does Kentucky and John Calipari – but the effort was there. The fight was there.

I don’t think Kentucky is ever going to look like a top ten team, and I doubt Cal is ever going to feel comfortable about what’s going on at the five, but the good news is that given the landscape of college basketball this season, you don’t have to be great. You just have to give yourself a chance.

3. NEXT SATURDAY HAS BECOME GIGANTIC FOR THE WILDCATS

So let’s talk about that chance for Kentucky.

Because they really have not accomplished all that much this season.

The win over Michigan State is nice. It looks really good on KenPom, a metric that still has preseason data baked into the formula. It is a solid Q1 win in the NET, which is still a good thing. But that is literally the only thing that is worth mentioning about Kentucky’s resume. They haven’t beaten anyone else in the top 100 on KenPom. As of this very moment, Kentucky’s strength of schedule ranks 308th nationally, and that is after they played KenPom’s No. 1 team (Ohio State) on a neutral court.

Think about that for a second.

Their non-conference schedule has been so bad that they rank 308th despite playing two top five teams on neutral courts!

That’s hard to do.

Should I mention that they have already lost to two of those sub-100 KenPom teams?

And given the fact that the SEC is down this year, it is going to limit just how many chances they have to land marquee wins.

Which brings me back to Louisville.

They play Kentucky next Saturday in Rupp. That’s a chance to land a top five win in the non-conference. If the Wildcats, as KenPom projects, go 12-6 in the SEC, then I think they need to beat Louisville if they want to be a top four seed.

There is a lot of season left to play, but there is no question that this is a win Kentucky badly needs to get.

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.