Cleanthony Early, Sam Dower

How Spike, Josh and Sam spent their summer vacations

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a college player goofing off or hitting the beach this summer. We checked in with three players with something to prove in the upcoming season, so we could find out how they’re working toward their goals.

No Flash in the Pan

As a freshman, Spike Albrecht was a seldom-used bench player. Suddenly, in the title game, he was not only in the game against Louisville, but he was on fire. Albrecht played 28 minutes – by far his most of the season – and poured in 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting. A lot of guys could live on that for the rest of their lives, but for Albrecht, it’s not nearly enough.

“I was more upset that we lost and that I couldn’t do anything in the second half to help us win,” Albrecht told NBCSports by phone. “I was kind of bummed out.”

It couldn’t have helped that Kate Upton – subject of a legendary post-game tweet from Albrecht – decided Blake Griffin is more her speed.

We know now that Albrecht isn’t content being a bench-warmer on the court, or in life. Now that it seems like everybody knows his name, Albrecht is working to make sure his game is up to par, despite the fact that John Beilein has Derrick Walton coming in to, presumably, play in front of him.

To read through NBCSports.com’s series on July’s live recruiting period, click here.

“There’s a lot of talented guys on this team,” Albrecht acknowledged. “But I don’t think they’re going to take me lightly, you know? The most important thing at my size is to get stronger and more athletic, then do as much on the court as I can. Make sure my handle is as good as it can be and that my shot is right.”

Albrecht is also doubling up on his classwork, taking philosophy and science in the compressed summer session. Which is not to say that he’s having no fun at all. He kept his head right and his game tight even while he was visiting home.

“It’s nice because me, Glenn Robinson and Mitch McGary are all from Indiana, and we all live within about a half hour of each other, so we were getting together every day, working out and playing games and stuff. It’s great playing with other guys who know what they’re doing so you don’t get hurt or anything.”

Albrecht isn’t all business. He enjoys a good game of golf. But he’s the rare college kid who thinks video games are a waste of time. So, maybe he’s mostly business.

Recovering from Injury

Where Albrecht is attempting to deal with the sudden appearance of the spotlight, one of his Big Ten rivals has the opposite problem. Josh Gasser was a major component at Wisconsin from day one, averaging 34 minutes, 7.6 points, and two assists per game as a freshman in the 2011-12 season. The 6’3″, 190-lb point guard was set to expand on those numbers: Bo Ryan had named him the starting point guard right before Gasser blew out his ACL in October, and was forced to miss the entire season.

“It happened so quick,” Gasser said via telephone. “Everything was going so well, then a second changes everything. It was a mixture of feelings, being pissed off or mad or sad, depressed, whatever. It was tough to deal with, but after a couple of weeks it all sunk in and I decided to rise to the challenge.”

Right after surgery to repair the ligaments, Gasser could only wait for the swelling to go down. Then began the torturous process of taking baby steps. “At first, the worst thing is trying to get your flexion back. Your knee is so stiff you can’t bend it at all. Then as it goes on, there are various exercises that you dislike the most. Conditioning, and trying to get your legs under you because it’s been so long since you’ve run and cut.”

Gasser was told by trainers that his injury would take a full twelve months to heal. Nine months in, he’s re-learning how to run, jump and cut, alongside the mental effort of enduring residual pain and trying not to hurry his body toward the upcoming season. He’s under orders to rest and recuperate in between rehab and workouts, so he’s had time to indulge in the sort of TV marathons the rest of us take for granted.

“I’m on the second season of Friday Night Lights,” Gasser said. “I usually don’t get into series; I just like to watch basketball games and football games. But after the NBA Finals were over, I started that series and now I’m hooked on it.”

Gasser is also taking a summer class, and his rigorous workout regimen allows the Wisconsin native to indulge in a statewide rite of summer – plenty of bratwurst.

“I’m from here, so I eat them pretty often,” Gasser said. “I’m trying to gain some weight back, so it’s not really a problem for me. I’m burning a lot of calories, so whatever I put back in me is fine.”

Filling NBA-sized Shoes

Quite often, players will spend part of the summer months helping out at coaching clinics. Gonzaga’s Sam Dower recently taught the youth of Spokane some of the moves he’s been working on through the warm months. “I’m working on my conditioning, also driving to the basket now that Kelly Olynyk is gone,” he said. “Teams also try to take away my left hand a lot, so I’m working on a counter move getting to that right hand off that left shoulder.”

Dower has big shoes to fill. Olynyk had a breakout season for the Zags last year, his stock rising so high he became the thirteenth pick in the NBA draft. The Canadian big man impressed in the summer league as well, giving Dower a high mark to aim at.

An avid outdoorsman, Dower has enjoyed spending time with David Stockton and other teammates at the Stockton family’s lake house when rare weekend free time comes up. He says Olynyk and Stockton have had some epic Call of Duty sessions, but he personally prefers the NBA2K franchise.

Dower also took in a couple of summer flicks, though he may have wished he hadn’t.

“I saw The Conjuring,” he said, laughing. “It was probably the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t even sleep that night. I definitely recommend it if you like scary films.”

So, pretty much your typical summer for these guys. Food, sun, fun and some elite-level basketball workouts. And they, like the rest of us, can hardly wait until the weather turns cooler, and the action on the court starts up again. That’s when all the work really pays off.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

You Make The Call: Did Tyler Roberson set an illegal screen?

SYRACUSE, NY - JANUARY 28:  Tyler Roberson #21 of the Syracuse Orange dunks the ball against the Florida State Seminoles during the first half at the Carrier Dome on January 28, 2017 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
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Syracuse was unable to cap off a thrilling comeback on Sunday night due, in large part, to the fact that Tyler Roberson was called for an illegal screen with 16 seconds left in the game and the Orange down just two points.

They had gone on a 20-9 run in the previous four minutes to close the deficit, and had gotten a stop in order to get the ball on that possession.

But here’s the thing: The call was, to put it politely, controversial. I don’t think that Tyler Roberson committed a foul here.

You make the call:

The loss put the Orange in a bad spot with just two weeks left before the end of the regular season. We go all the way through their at-large profile here.

Bubble Banter: Let’s talk about Syracuse, Georgetown and Georgia Tech

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 16:  Tyus Battle #25 of the Syracuse Orange during their game at the Dean Smith Center on January 16, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here. This is where the seeds you see listed below come from.

This post will be updated throughout the night. 

LOSERS

Georgetown (RPI: 61, KenPom: 53, first four out): The Hoyas missed a golden opportunity to add an elite road win to their profile, losing at Creighton by 17 points, and now I think we’re just about to a point where we can write the Hoyas off. They’re sitting at 14-13 on the season and 5-9 in the Big East. The win over Oregon on a neutral, at Butler and over Creighton at home got them back into the picture, but three losses in their last four games will probably be too much to overcome.

That said, I’m going to keep listing them here because I think that if they can win out – DePaul, at St. John’s, at Seton Hall, Villanova – they’ll have an argument. In the early bracket reveal, the committee made clear that they value good wins over anything, which is why Gonzaga was rated as the fourth No. 1 seed despite having fewer losses than any of the other No. 1 seeds. There aren’t many teams that would be able to match Georgetown win for win in they win out.

Syracuse (RPI: 77, KenPom: 46, No. 10 seed): The Orange lost to Georgia Tech on Sunday, so let’s talk about Syracuse, because they are on track to enter Selection Sunday with one of the weirder profiles. The bad first: they lost to a bad, injury-depleted UConn team at the Garden. They were blown out at Boston College. They were blown out by St. John’s at home by 33 points. There is no high-major team with that collection of awful losses to their name, and it doesn’t help that Jim Boeheim’s club has nine more losses to add to the mix.

They also have some good wins – Virginia, Florida State, Wake Forest, Miami – but they’ve only won two games away from the Carrier Dome: at Clemson, who is 4-10 in the ACC, and at N.C. State, who fired their coach three days ago. With FSU and UVA careening – combined, they’ve lost five straight games – neither of those games look at good as they did two weeks ago. So after today, for my money, Syracuse is out. That can change, however. They get Duke at home this week and Louisville on the road this weekend. Those are season-changers.

WINNERS

Georgia Tech (RPI: 79, KenPom: 78, first four out): The Yellow Jackets have a very similar profile to that of Syracuse, who they beat at home on Sunday. They have wins over North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame, but they also won at VCU – which is now a top 30 road win – and their worst loss came against an Ohio team that looked like they could win the MAC before their best player went down with a season-ending injury. Their problem? Their non-conference strength of schedule is 244th, and that RPI is dreadfully low for an at-large contender.

Michigan (RPI: 52, KenPom: 27, No. 10 seed): The Wolverines lost an overtime game on the road to Minnesota, which is not the kind of loss that is really going to hurt their profile beyond the opportunity cost of it. The Wolverines are still in a good spot.

Valparaiso (RPI: 74, KenPom: 97, No. 12 seed): Valpo is in as a No. 12 seed in our bracket, but they are in as an automatic bid, meaning that there are no at-large teams rated below them. Being the best automatic bid does not guarantee that they’ll be in as an at-large, not when their best win is a Rhode Island team that is fading and they’ve lost four games to sub-100 competition. Win that auto-bid.

Illinois State (RPI: 35, KenPom: 49, No. 12 seed): Illinois State beat Loyola (IL) on Sunday to keep themselves alive for a potential at-large bid should they lose in the Missouri Valley tournament. Their profile, however, is quite different than that of Wichita State. Their only top 50 win is a Wichita State team whose only top 50 win is … Illinois State. They have also lost to San Francisco, Tulsa and Murray State, who is 239th in the RPI. Pro-tip: Don’t risk it, even with the weak bubble. The committee is going to value wins over a lack of losses.

 

VIDEO: Valparaiso’s Micah Bradford makes 3/4 court shot off the shot clock

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Valparaiso freshman Micah Bradford made one of the most ridiculous shots we’ll see all season on Sunday against Detroit.

With time winding down in the first half, Bradford hoisted a 3/4 court buzzer-beater and watched as it hit the shot clock, flew high in the air, hit the rim and dropped through the hoop to the disbelief of everyone in attendance.

Unfortunately, Bradford’s wacky three-pointer did not count as he finished with five points in a 20-point Valpo win.

(H/t: Eric Fawcett)

Michigan State senior Eron Harris to have season-ending knee surgery

Michigan State's Eron Harris (14) shoots against Wisconsin's Jordan Hill (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
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Michigan State senior guard Eron Harris will undergo season-ending surgery on his knee after leaving Saturday’s loss at Purdue on a stretcher, the school announced on Sunday.

The 6-foot-3 fifth-year senior suffered the right knee injury during Michigan State’s loss at Purdue on Saturday as the unsettling injury resulted in some Michigan State players being brought to tears. Harris is a native of Indianapolis and received a standing ovation from the road crowd at Purdue as he was taken off the floor.

“We all feel absolutely awful for Eron,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said in the release. “As I said last night, I couldn’t ask for more than what Eron has given me and this program. Over the last month he’s grown even more as a leader and been an example to his young teammates. And maybe I didn’t even fully grasp it until I walked on the court and saw the admiration his teammates had for him and the tears in their eyes. There’s no faking the respect they have for Eron as a man, as a player, and most importantly a teammate.

“It’s cruel to see a senior’s career end this way. If there is a silver lining, it’s that we expect Eron to be able to make a full recovery and pursue a basketball career after graduation. He’s always worked for everything he’s accomplished on the court, and that same passion and mindset will serve him well in his recovery. Basketball is important to all players, but for Eron it was a way of life. Very few have spent more time in this facility or worked harder than Eron has. That’s why I’m confident his best basketball is still in front of him.”

Although Harris was never able to recreate his awesome sophomore season at West Virginia after his transfer to Michigan State, losing him still hurts this Spartans team because he’s one of the team’s veterans and, at times, a capable scorer. Harris averaged 10.7 points and 3.0 rebounds per game as a senior while shooting 43 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three-point range.

The injury bug has hit Michigan State pretty hard this season as they’ve also lost Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling to season-ending injuries.

No. 11 Wisconsin takes down No. 23 Maryland

MADISON, WI - FEBRUARY 19:  Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers works against Michal Cekovsky #15 of the Maryland Terrapins during the first half of a game at the Kohl Center on February 19, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Wisconsin snapped a two-game losing streak with a 71-60 Big Ten home win over No. 23 Maryland on Sunday. With senior guard Bronson Koenig returning to the rotation after missing the Michigan loss with injury, the No. 11 Badgers looked more like themselves for the first time in the last few games.

Here are some takeaways from this one.

1. This was an ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly game (just the way Wisconsin wanted)

Sorry to make you read the word “ugly” four times but I felt it was completely necessary to hammer home the point that this basketball game was not a pleasant viewing experience (and this has nothing to do with pace or style of play).

Wisconsin only shot 41 percent from the field, 16 percent from three-point range and 54 percent from the free-throw line and still won by double digits because they were the older and more physical team. While the Terps were able to hang in the game until the final five minutes or so because of junior guard Melo Trimble’s scoring punch, a younger Maryland team was physically dominated by Wisconsin for most of the game.

The Badgers owned the glass (44 to 27), got to the free-throw line 37 times and did a nice job of getting Maryland’s bigs into foul trouble.

Even though Wisconsin couldn’t generate a lot of consistent offense, they had enough from guys like Nigel Hayes (19 points) and Ethan Happ (20 points) to feel comfortable once they built a bit of a cushion. Wisconsin winning ugly isn’t any sort of new phenomenon, but it does bode well for the Badgers that they handled Maryland this easily despite such a poor shooting game.

2. Maryland needs even more help for Melo to be elite

Maryland has been able to stay in the top 25 this season because junior Melo Trimble has had a lot of help from a talented freshman class. Anthony Cowan has given the Terps another attacking guard, Kevin Huerter is one of the Big Ten’s better all-around freshmen and Justin Jackson has given Maryland a nice dose of athleticism.

Those three freshmen had a game to forget in Madison on Sunday. While Trimble went for 27 points, those three freshmen went a combined 3-for-15 from the field as they just didn’t show up to play during a very important game for conference implications.

Freshmen are going to have off games but this was the biggest game of Maryland’s season and they didn’t look ready to play.

Looking to fire up his team in the second half, head coach Mark Turgeon even went on the floor during a Wisconsin possession and basically forced the officials to whistle him for a technical foul. Even after trying to rally his team with that tech, the Terps didn’t fair much better.

It is also concerning that center Michael Cekovsky went down with an ankle injury in the second half. Cekovsky grabbed his ankle and left the game — looking noticeably frustrated on the bench — and that could be something to watch for Maryland in these final few weeks. Although Cekovsky is only a reserve big man, his 10-point showing on Sunday was one of his best games since returning from injury as he was just starting to look more comfortable.

Losing Cekovsky could hurt, but thankfully for Maryland, the remaining schedule isn’t too daunting. Three of four games come at home and the only road game comes at Rutgers. Even with Sunday’s lackluster effort, Maryland can stay in the Big Ten race if they continue to win.