Tight-knit Spartans earn No. 1 seed, ‘play to leave a legacy’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Exacting revenge on a loss from exactly one week ago, the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans defeated the No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes, 68-64, to win the Big Ten Championship.

Led by Brandon Wood’s 21-points, the Spartans prevailed in a hotly contested game that went back-and-forth for 30 minutes, and then shifted in favor of Michigan State due to poor shooting from the Buckeyes.

It was only the Spartans’ first conference tournament trophy since 2000.

Unlike other conference tournament winners, the waiting game for the Spartans was minimal, as they were quickly sequestered to a viewing area to watch the Selection Show and await their tournament fate. A small throng of media and team family and friends followed, waiting with baited breath for an announcement.

As the best team in the best conference in college basketball, the Spartans were well deserving of an NCAA Tournament one-seed.

With Kansas and North Carolina unable to win any hardware this weekend, the case for Tom Izzo’s guys became that much more probable.

After a few minutes of sitting around, the good news was delivered.

source: AP

As the top seed in their conference tournament, the Spartans cut down nets, munched on what appeared to be some delicious looking bar food, and heard Greg Gumbel announce their name as the top seed in the West Region.

Knowing they fully deserved the distinction, the Spartans rejoiced, pumped some fists and then quickly resumed munching on that bar food while watching the Selection Show.

What else would you expect out from a group of college kids?

“We were playing for a one-seed. No doubt,” said Draymond Green, who was named Big Ten Conference Tournament MVP.  “But we also wanted to play to leave a legacy. Do something that hasn’t been done since [2000]. We had an opportunity to do something since Mateen Cleaves group.”

Per usual, the Spartans have a tough road ahead. With Memphis playing their best basketball all-season, paired with elite level talent incongruent with what you normally get with an eight-seed, the Spartans could be heavily tested as early as the third-round.

From there possible opponents include Louisville, Marquette or Missouri, but whatever thoughts the Spartans had on their quadrant of the Big Dance as it was unveiled live was kept inside.

As the rest of the field was announced, the team was fairly emotionless, but when they took to the post-game press conference, they showed confidence.

“I knew if we were going to be a one-seed if we won today,” said Brandon Wood, who finished with a game-high 21-points in the victory. “I watched the shows, so I felt pretty confident.

It’s clear that this team has been one of Izzo’s most impressive during his tenure. Unranked coming into the season, the Spartans balance and drastic in-season improvement in both the frontcourt and the backcourt is what drove them to 26-wins.

They have weapons all over their rotation and, oh yeah, played another incredibly tough schedule.

“This year feels better than any of my others at Michigan State,” said Green. “We love to be together.”

That clock is ticking, but there may be plenty of quality time remaining.

Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN

West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate returns to school

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The nation’s most entertaining shot-blocker is back for another season.

Sagaba Konate, a 6-foot-9 center from Mali, will return to school for his junior season to anchor West Virginia’s defense for yet another season, according to ESPN.

Konate declared for the draft and went through the combine, and while his shot-blocking and intensity shined through there as it did throughout the season, he’s more of a mid-to-late second round pick than he is a first rounder at this point.

As a sophomore, Konate averaged 10.8 points, 7.6 boards and 3.2 blocks. He also shot 79 percent from the free throw line.

So let’s sit back and enjoy what we get to see for another year:

Luke Maye to return to North Carolina for senior season

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Here’s something I never thought I’d say: Luke Maye is returning to North Carolina for his senior season, meaning that the Tar Heels will have their preseason National Player of the Year candidate back in the fold.

Who saw that coming?

“I have had a great experience learning from the NBA process and growing as a basketball player during the past couple weeks,” Maye wrote on Instagram. “I would like to thank my family, friends, coaches and teammates for all of their support. Through this process, I have decided that I am going to comeback to school to improve as a player and finish my college career. I am looking forward to the opportunities and challenges that I will face and there is no better group to do it with than my teammates and the Carolina family! Time to finish the right way with two of the best players and leaders that I know! Let’s finish our legacy the right way!”

Maye, who averaged 16.9 points and 10.1 boards as a junior, declared for the draft last month, but he did not get invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. The 6-foot-9 forward is a stretch four that will fit perfectly at the four for the Tar Heels this season, with Nassir Little, Cam Johnson and Kenny Williams on the perimeter and a trio of sophomore bigs to handle the five.

Getting Maye back was key, but expected. UNC reaching their ceiling this season will depend on whether or not their point guard play is up to par. With Jalek Felton gone and Joel Berry II graduated, that is going to come down to whether or not Seventh Woods can handle the lead guard role or if Coby White can step in and start as a freshman.

Old Dominion lands former four-star center

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Elbert Robinson came out of high school in 2014 as a borderline top-50 recruit with offers from the likes of Florida, Kansas and Louisville before he ultimately chose to attend LSU.

The 7-foot-1 center, though, never even averaged 10 minutes a game in Baton Rouge and now will be finishing his career as a graduate transfer at Old Dominion, according to multiple reports.

“Old Dominion was perfect for him,” Lawrence Johns, Robinson’s grassroots coach, told the Virginian-Pilot. “I know for a fact that nobody in (Conference USA) is over 7 feet.

“I told him to go there and show people why he was the No. 1 center the year he came out.”

Robinson, who sat out last year for medical reasons, could step right into a major role with the Monarchs, who lost their starting frontcourt this offseason. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.4 minutes per game last year for the Tigers.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.