Duke cruises past Michigan State to advance to the national title game


INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan State took the floor with a ton of confidence during Saturday’s national semifinal against Duke. The Spartans scored 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the game’s opening 3:41 and began slapping the floor on defense in a charged-up display of early emotion.

Michigan State learned the hard way that you shouldn’t slap the floor — a Duke trademark — against Duke in the Final Four.

The Blue Devils’ improved defense in the 2015 NCAA Tournament¬†continued in the Final Four as they slowed down the Michigan State offense and ran past the Spartans for an easy 81-61 win to advance to Monday night’s national championship game.

Freshman wing Justise Winslow continued his strong stretch in the NCAA tournament with 19 points and nine rebounds while freshman center Jahlil Okafor added 18 points. Winslow’s dunk with 15:56 left in the second half gave Duke a 48-31 cushion. The entire Blue Devil lineup slapped the floor during the ensuing defensive possession and the Duke faithful rose to their feet.

The game’s first punch was landed by Michigan State; the game’s final (floor) slap was delivered by Duke.

After the hot Michigan State start, Duke’s defense held the Spartans to only three field goals over the last 16:19 of the first half as Duke jumped out to a 36-25 halftime lead and never felt threatened in second half.

“I thought we tried to work ourselves into the game early and they came out and punched us right in the mouth,” Duke senior guard Quinn Cook said. “But we withstood their run and we made a run of our own.”

Duke (34-4) scored the first six points of the second half to push its lead to 42-25 and the second-half lead grew as large as 20 points.

“The last 36 minutes we played great basketball. That’s the best basketball we’ve played in the NCAA tournament. And we’ve played really well in the tournament,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Senior guard Quinn Cook added 17 points for the Blue Devils as Duke shot 52 percent (26-for-50) from the field for the game.

The Duke defense during the regular season could be porous on the perimeter and the Blue Devils often had trouble defending high ball screens. Duke’s defense has been a different animal in the NCAA tournament. By going with a smaller starting lineup and putting Winslow at the four in the second half of the season, it enabled Duke to switch every matchup 1-through-4 against Michigan State’s offense. The switches and improved Blue Devil ball-screen defense neutralized the Spartans’ ability to attack the basket and the Michigan State offense was largely ineffective after the opening flurry.

Changing defensive looks by including some full-court pressure, and an occasional zone look, also aided Duke’s defense. Sometimes the Blue Devil defense would face-guard Michigan State offensive threats like senior guard Travis Trice and junior wing Denzel Valentine the length of the floor to make them work to receive the ball.

“Week by week, I felt that guys were making tremendous strides on the defensive level,” Cook said. “It was fun to string some stops together. Coach always stresses great defense leads to great offense. It’s a habit that we’ve developed, which guys are liking. It’s been paying off for us.”

Michigan State (27-12) was led by 22 points and 11 rebounds from Valentine but they couldn’t get much offensive consistency outside of the junior’s 3-for-3 start from 3-point range. Trice finished with 16 points while senior forward Branden Dawson chipped in 12 points as Michigan State turned the ball over 14 times.

“It was a heck of a run. I’m just mad we lost because of BJ, Trav, what they’ve been through, what we’ve been through as a team this season,” Valentine said. “We’ve got to tip our hat off to Duke. They were the better team today.”

Saturday’s Final Four contest was the second time Duke and Michigan State played in Indianapolis during the 2014-15 season. The two teams met at the nearby Banker’s Life Fieldhouse on Nov. 18 as part of the Champions Classic. Duke led the entire game in an 81-71 win.

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.