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The latest on the NCAA’s investigation of UCLA

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The most intriguing story line heading into the 2012-2013 season is the investigation surrounding the loaded recruiting class currently enrolled at UCLA.

Many expect the Bruins to make a return to national prominence this season, thanks in large part to the additions of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, Tony Parker and Jordan Adams. Muhammad and Anderson are universally considered two of the nation’s top three incoming freshmen, along with Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel.

The latest?

Over the weekend, news leaked out that the NCAA was investigating three of those four freshmen — Muhammad, Anderson and Parker. On Labor Day, UCLA released a statement around the same time as a report was published that, essentially, said Parker was cleared, but that Anderson and Muhammad still had NCAA amateurism issues to work out.

Muhammad’s issues have long been out in the open. Back in late February, news broke that Muhammad’s connection with a pair of financial advisors had piqued the NCAA’s interest. And according to the latest reports, the questions that are being asked about Anderson involve his association with an agent by the name of Thad Foucher, the Wasserman Media Group’s Executive Vice President of Basketball. From the Sports Agent Blog:

Foucher’s name is being mentioned in basketball circles because there is talk that he is on the NCAA’s radar in its investigation focusing on UCLA.  Specifically, Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com reported that the NCAA is looking at a possible relationship between Foucher and UCLA freshman Kyle Anderson, which may concern some kind of recruiting violation.

Foucher has been a Wasserman Media Group employee since 1998.  His clients includeLaMarcus Aldridge, DJ Augustin and Russell Westbrook.  Prior to joining Wasserman, Foucher was the head coach of a very successful New Orleans, Louisiana-based AAU team.

And while UCLA claims that only two of their recruits are being investigated by the NCAA, there are those in the media who are insistent that Parker is still involved:

Now, there are a couple of parts of this story that are quite interesting. For starters, much has been made of the fact that Howland hired an AAU coach, Korey McCray from the Atlanta Celtics, prior to signing this class. There’s a stigma associated with AAU basketball, but the two guys that came from Atlanta — Parker and Adams — are the two guys that have had the fewest rumors circulate about them.

The more fascinating part of this story is the gossip in recruiting circles about how Howland managed to land a class this talented. Generally speaking, in situations like this, where there is smoke, there usually is fire. But there was — and still is — plenty of smoke surrounding the Baylor basketball program, and an NCAA investigation was only able to turn up excessive phone calls. In other words, the NCAA only caught Scott Drew breaking a rule that no longer exists. An investigation by no means guarantees significant sanctions.

This whole mess feels a lot like the plot of Blue Chips, doesn’t it?

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.