Richard Pitino

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 9: Charles Buggs #23 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers drives against Alex Austin #44 of the Illinois Fighting Illini in the first round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 9, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Illinois defeated Minnesota 85-52. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Forward Charles Buggs to leave Minnesota program

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Tuesday afternoon the Minnesota basketball program announced that forward Charles Buggs would be leaving the program, making him the second player to depart since the end of the season. The 6-foot-9 Buggs, the last remaining link to Tubby Smith’s tenure at Minnesota, has graduated and will be eligible immediately at another Division I school as a result.

Buggs started 21 of the 28 games he played in last season, averaging 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 24 minutes of action per contest. He joins guard Kevin Dorsey as players who have left Richard Pitino’s program this offseason.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2012-13, Buggs played in 16 games as a redshirt freshman in 2013-14 and for his career averaged 4.1 points and 2.1 rebounds per contest. With size being at a premium on the transfer market at this point in the spring, it will be interesting to see which schools reach out to Buggs with an eye towards adding another front court option to their rotation for the 2016-17 season.

Under-pressure Pitino: ‘We’ve got to get this right’

Richard Pitino (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
AP Photo/Paul Beaty
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Richard Pitino’s fourth year as the coach at Minnesota has come with significant pressure to pull up the floundering men’s basketball program from the bottom of the Big Ten and help put an end to the off-the-court problems.

With the university president publicly expressing concern about Gophers players repeatedly getting in trouble, Pitino has begun a make-or-break season. Minutes after his first meeting with just-hired athletic director Mark Coyle on Thursday, Pitino sat down in his office for an interview with The Associated Press about his status and the state of the team.

“Obviously he’s coming in at a time when I’m not the most popular guy right now, and I understand that,” Pitino said of Coyle, who arrives from Syracuse. “But I’ve got to show him my vision. I’ve got to show him what I believe we’re all about. I’ve got to also show him what we need to do differently and how we can do it and make sure people are proud of the product on the court as well as off the court.”

Not only did the Gophers finish with an 8-23 record, but guards Kevin Dorsey, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer were suspended for the final four games after a sex video appeared briefly on Dorsey’s social media accounts. Dorsey has left the program with the intent to transfer. Mason and McBrayer were reinstated.

Then center Reggie Lynch was jailed this week on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct. He was released without charges filed, but the investigation is ongoing.

University President Eric Kaler, not yet halfway into his opening remarks at Coyle’s introductory news conference on Wednesday, singled out the team.

“Frankly, this has been a tough week and a tough couple of months for our men’s basketball program. I’m profoundly disappointed in the continuing episodes, poor judgment, alleged crimes, and it simply can’t continue,” Kaler said. “Mark is aware of my concerns and wherever he’s been, Mark’s commitment to integrity is unquestioned. I expect him to set a high bar and make sure this department makes news for winning Big Ten and national titles, and producing admirable and successful student athletes, and not for unacceptable behavior by anyone in the department.”

Pitino said he wasn’t surprised by Kaler’s reaction.

“When you win eight games and you have some off-the-court issues, that responsibility lies on me. It doesn’t lie on anybody else. So we’ve got to get it right,” Pitino said. “I certainly understand where he’s coming from.”

Thanks to an extension and raise granted last year by previous athletic director Norwood Teague, Pitino’s buyout ballooned to $7 million if he were to be fired this offseason. Coyle sounded prepared to play the good cop role in evaluating the coaches he’s now in charge of, including Pitino.

“It’s my job to come in, take a look at it and create accountability,” Coyle said, later adding: “I think I’m patient. No matter what coach you’re looking at or what program you’re looking at, I think it’s important that you understand everything around that program.”

Teague also permitted private jet usage overages for Pitino, who according to a university audit revealed this week spent $325,000 on such travel for recruiting between 2013-16. The coach’s contract only budgeted $150,000 for that period.

“Everything that we did was approved, so we never felt like we were doing anything wrong,” Pitino said. “And if there are things that we need to do differently to get better, we’ll do them.”

Pitino said there has been extra communication between him and his players recently with regard to off-the-court behavior. He said his staff has been making arrangements to advise the team in that area.

“That’s priority number one, making sure our guys are educated properly and understand what’s at stake and what’s expected of them,” Pitino said.

Problems piling up for Pitino in Minnesota

Minnesota coach Richard Pitino reacts as he talks to his players during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Rutgers in the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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When Minnesota hired Richard Pitino in 2013, he was hailed as a wunderkind with a basketball pedigree and acumen that was far more than just his last name. He was coming off an 18-14 campaign in his first season as a head coach at FIU, but he’d coached for the likes of his father, Rick Pitino, and Billy Donovan. Not to mention he was being hand picked by the man that tabbed Shaka Smart and started the famed Villa 7 consortium.

Three years later, it appears that the Gophers program is unraveling fast.

The latest in a recent string of issues for Pitino is an audit of his travel that found he’d spent triple his budget for private plane use in 2015 among other overspending issues, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

This revelation came just hours after junior Reggie Lynch was released from custody after being arrested on suspicion of criminal sexual conduct. Lynch was not charged, but police will continue to investigate and he could face charges at a later date.

Just a few months ago, three Gophers were suspended after an explicit video was posted to social media. One of them, Kevin Dorsey, decided to transfer after the season.

Athletic director Norwood Teague, of course, resigned ignominiously last summer amid a sexual harassment scandal, but not before he negotiated the terms of a contract for Pitino that gave the 33-year-old a $400,000 raise and upped his university-owed buyout to $7.1 million, despite the fact Pitino went just 43-28 overall and 14-22 in the Big Ten in his first two seasons. The Gophers went 8-23 overall and 2-16 this past season. That extension has Minnesota’s Board of Regents moving to gain approval of all high-level contracts for athletic department employees.

Minnesota still has not hired Teague’s replacement, leaving Minnesota with an interim AD.

The audit that was made public Tuesday would also appear to show Teague giving Pitino further favorable financial treatment. Pitino’s contract called for him to be allowed $50,000 for private planes but Teague authorized him to spend $100,000 in 2014 and $150,000 in 2015, according to the Star Tribune. Pitino was also said to have “unreasonable” spending on rental cars and took two “unallowable” flights because the destinations were within 200 miles of campus.

That’s a long way of saying that Pitino will be under tremendous pressure this upcoming season, but he will welcome his best recruiting class yet to the Twin Cities. He’ll likely need to show significant improvement to appease whoever his new boss is once Minnesota hires an athletic director. Putting an immediate end to the off-court issues that have plagued the program in high-profile ways will also be a priority.

The excitement of hiring a young coach with a famous name has faded fast in Minneapolis. What’s left is a program that is piling up problems with regularity and frequency.

Minnesota dismisses guard Carlos Morris

Louisiana-Monroe guard Justin Roberson (32) and Minnesota guard Carlos Morris (11) battle for the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)
AP Photo/Paul Battaglia
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota has dismissed swingman Carlos Morris for conduct detrimental to the team.

The Golden Gophers announced the move Wednesday, a day before they host No. 6 Maryland. The school says the senior will remain on scholarship for the remainder of the season.

Morris was the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 9.8 points a game. He made 16 starts and averaged 25.6 minutes for the Gophers, who are still looking for their first Big Ten victory of the season.

Morris was a junior college transfer before last season and was one of just two seniors on the rebuilding team, along with Joey King.

He was recently replaced in the starting lineup by freshman Dupree McBrayer.

Bryant helps No. 19 Hoosiers hold off Gophers for 74-68 win

Indiana center Thomas Bryant (31) shoots over Minnesota center Bakary Konate (21) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. Indiana won 74-68. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) Indiana’s Thomas Bryant got down and dirty Saturday and looked good doing it.

He scored points, banged inside, played defense and jump-started the Hoosiers’ sometimes anemic offense at three key points.

The freshman center had a career-high 23 points, grabbed eight rebounds and scored the go-ahead basket on a putback with 1:56 left to help No. 19 Indiana fend off Minnesota’s frantic second-half rally for a 74-68 victory.

“It was just one of those games that you have to do some things to find a way to win the game and he had a big impact,” coach Tom Crean said.

Bryant made plays on both ends in a game the Hoosiers (18-4, 8-1 Big Ten) desperately needed after the Golden Gophers erased a 16-point second-half deficit and took a 67-66 lead with 3:54 to go.

But Bryant clogged up the middle and the Golden Gophers didn’t make another basket.

Offensively, Bryant’s basket off the rebound and an emphatic dunk with 27 seconds left made it 70-67. That was all the Hoosiers needed.

“I felt like Thomas stayed with it even when calls didn’t go his way,” senior guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell said after scoring 13 points. “He kept his head, he played great defense, he rebounded well for us and he had that poise for us.”

This was no typical game for the surging Hoosiers.

They started slow, didn’t take the lead until midway through the first half, didn’t make a 3-pointer for the first 14 1/2 minutes and couldn’t close it out against a team that has now lost 11 in a row.

Minnesota (6-16, 0-10) was led by Nate Mason and Kevin Dorsey, who each had 21 points. Dorsey’s scoring total was a career high.

After trailing 39-27 at halftime and 48-32 with 16:33 to play, the Gophers rallied.

They scored six straight points, went on an 11-4 run and finally took the lead when Dupree Brayer came up with a steal and scored on a breakaway dunk that sent the Gophers bench jumping up and down while most of the fans inside Assembly Hall were stunned.

Bryant made sure it didn’t last.

“I think maybe they tightened up a little bit defensively, so you’ve got to give them credit,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “I know a lot of people make fun of us, our record, and so on. But these guys, they’re fighting.”

TOPSY-TURVY TURNAROUND

Minnesota opened the game with a 7-0 lead, then fell into a 12-point halftime deficit after Indiana went on a 22-4 run. The Gophers turned things around in the second half and came up short. It’s not the first time this season things have gotten a little topsy-turvy. Indiana rallied from a nine-point first-half deficit for a 70-63 win earlier this month at Minnesota.

THE SHOOTERS

Both teams finished 2 of 18 on 3-pointers, but it was Indiana’s numbers that really turned heads. The Hoosiers set a conference record in league play with 18 3s the last time Minnesota came to Bloomington, and the Hoosiers started the day No. 3 in the nation in 3-point percentage (44.4 percent). Afterward, Cream said he would have liked his team to have taken even more 3s.

SHORT-HANDED

After the game, Pitino noted that his team almost pulled off a major upset on the road despite playing with only seven scholarship players. Senior guard Carlos Morris, a team captain and former starter, missed the game to attend the funeral of a family friend.

TIP-INS

Minnesota: Outscored Indiana 48-42 in the paint and had the same offensive rebound total (10) as Indiana. … In addition to losing 11 in a row, the Gophers have lost three straight in the Indiana series and 15 of their last 16 Big Ten regular season games.

Indiana: Troy Williams also scored 13 points and had six rebounds. … Came into the game with three consecutive home wins by 25 or more points for the first time since 1987-88.

UP NEXT

Minnesota visits Northwestern on Thursday.

Indiana visits Michigan on Tuesday.

No. 1 Michigan State rebounds from midweek loss, beats Minnesota

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo reacts in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Minnesota, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016, in Minneapolis. Michigan State won 69-61. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
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On the heels of their worst defensive showing of the season in a 13-point loss at Iowa, No. 1 Michigan State rebounded Saturday afternoon with a 69-61 win at Minnesota.

Tom Izzo’s Spartans limited Minnesota to 33.8 percent shooting from the field and 5-for-20 from three, a far cry from the numbers Iowa was able to produce Tuesday night. The Hawkeyes shot better than 48 percent from the field, the best a Michigan State opponent has shot this season, routinely finding quality looks and outworking the Spartans on both ends of the floor.

That wasn’t the case against Minnesota. And while it is clear that Iowa has more talent than Minnesota, getting back to playing the hard-nosed defense their head coach demands of them is a positive response from a Michigan State team still playing without its leader in Denzel Valentine.

Offensively Michigan State did what it had to do in order to pick up the victory, but they’re still a bit disjointed without the versatile senior playmaker. Michigan State committed 11 turnovers, resulting in 14 Minnesota points that helped Richard Pitino’s team stay in the game. In three games without Valentine, Michigan State is averaging 14 turnovers per game, nearly three more than their average in the 12 games Valentine’s played in (11.2 tpg).

When the Spartans took care of the basketball Saturday they were able to produce points more times than not, shooting 49 percent from the field and 17-for-20 from the foul line.

Bryn Forbes led four Spartans in double figures with 20 points, and Matt Costello added 17 and 15 rebounds with fellow big men Gavin Schilling (eight points, five rebounds) and Deyonta Davis (ten points, four rebounds) also being solid performers. It goes without saying that there’s a clear difference in this team with Valentine off the court; it would be incredibly difficult for any team to not skip a beat with their best player out of the lineup.

With Valentine sidelined the “little things” become that much more important for Michigan State, and after being outworked in Iowa City the Spartans were closer to their true selves against Minnesota.