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LATE NIGHT SNACKS: Three more NCAA tournament tickets punched

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GAME OF THE DAY: Northern Iowa 56, Evansville 54

Wes Washpun’s jumper as time expired gave the Panthers the win in the Missouri Valley title game and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Ben Jacobson’s team, which despite big wins over the likes of North Carolina and Iowa State began Valley play 2-6, enters the tournament having won 12 of their last 13 games. And with experienced options such as Washpun, Matt Bohannon and Jeremy Morgan, this isn’t a team to be taken lightly when the 68-team field is revealed.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 12 Indiana 80, No. 14 Maryland 62: Tom Crean’s Hoosiers finished the regular season in style, as they ran away from the Terrapins in the second half in Bloomington. Yogi Ferrell was once again the leader, but it was Troy Williams who led the Hoosiers with 23 points. If Williams can carry his play in the last five games into postseason play, Indiana’s going to be a tough out in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

No. 4 UNC Asheville 77, No. 2 Winthrop 68: The four-seed in the Big South tournament completed its run to the title, with Dwayne Sutton leading the way with 25 points and 18 rebounds. Three other Bulldogs scored in double figures in the win, and Winthrop went just 5-for-33 from beyond the arc. Jimmy Gavin led the way for the Eagles with a game-high 31 points. UNC Asheville has five players averaging double figures, and their “small ball” nature can make them a tough matchup in the NCAA tournament.

No. 4 FGCU 80, No. 7 Stetson 78 (OT): The Eagles are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013, as they beat the Hatters by two in the Atlantic Sun title game. Zach Johnson’s blocked shot in the final seconds of overtime preserved the win for FGCU, and he finished the game with 19 points. Antravious Simmons produced a double-double, scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, to lead the way statistically for the Eagles. There will be mentions of “Dunk City” over the next week, but Joe Dooley’s team is different from the one that captured the imagination of America three years ago.

STARRED

Dwayne Sutton, UNC Asheville: 25 points and 18 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ Big South title game win over Winthrop.

Antravious Simmons, FGCU: 21 points and 12 rebounds as FGCU beat Stetson in overtime to win the Atlantic Sun tournament.

Troy Williams, Indiana: 23 points and five rebounds in the Hoosiers’ win over No. 14 Maryland. Over his last five games Williams is averaging 16.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

Malcolm Hill, Illinois: His team didn’t win, losing 86-79 at Penn State in double overtime, but Hill finished with 39 points and 13 rebounds.

STRUGGLED

Winthrop: The Eagles shot just 5-for-33 from three in their 77-68 loss to UNC Asheville in the Big South title game.

Tanner Plomb, Army West Point: Plomb finished the Black Knights’ loss to Holy Cross with 11 points and nine rebounds, but he scored those points on 3-for-15 shooting.

Jordan Pickett and Marcellus Barksdale, IUPUI: Pickett and Barksdale combined to score ten points on 2-for-15 shooting in the Jaguars’ 60-45 loss to North Dakota State.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 15 Purdue closed out its regular season schedule with a 91-80 win over Wisconsin in West Lafayette. Caleb Swanigan scored 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and P.J. Thompson added a career-high 22 points as the Boilermakers grabbed the four-seed in the Big Ten tournament. Wisconsin will be the six-seed in Indianapolis.
  • Cincinnati added a much-needed quality win to its résumé, beating SMU 61-54 in the Mustangs’ final game of the season. Mick Cronin’s Bearcats will be the four-seed at the American Athletic Conference tournament, where they’ll play five-seed UConn in the quarterfinals.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

  • The top two seeds advanced to the CAA title game, with No. 1 Hofstra edging out No. 5 William & Mary 70-67 and No. 2 UNCW holding off No. 6 Northeastern 73-70. Both winners avenged losses in last year’s semifinal round, and Monday’s title game can be seen on NBCSN at 7:00 p.m. The road team won both regular season meetings.
  • The Horizon League tournament has been all chalk, and Sunday the three and four seeds advanced to the semifinal round. No. 3 Wright State took care of No. 6 Detroit 82-72, and they’ll take on No. 2 Oakland on Monday. In the other semifinal No. 1 Valparaiso will play No. 4 Green Bay, which beat No. 5 Milwaukee 70-61.
  • The MAAC title game Monday night will match the conference’s top two teams, as No. 1 Monmouth and No. 2 Iona took care of business in Sunday’s semifinals. The Hawks beat No. 5 Fairfield 76-63, and the Gaels took care of No. 3 Siena (the tournament hosts) 81-70. Monmouth and Iona split their two meetings, with the road team winning both.
  • No. 2 Lehigh will host the Patriot League title game, as they beat No. 6 American 78-62. The Mountain Hawks’ opponent will be No. 9 Holy Cross which won its third straight road game, 60-38 at Army West Point.
  • SoCon top seed Chattanooga advanced to Monday’s title game, surviving an upset bid from No. 5 Western Carolina by the final score of 73-69. Also advancing was No. 2 ETSU, which beat No. 3 Furman 84-76 in the other semifinal.
  • After the top two seeds won their quarterfinal match-ups at the Summit League tournament Saturday, the three and four seeds weren’t as fortunate Sunday. No. 3 Omaha lost to No. 6 Denver 78-70, and No. 4 IUPUI was eliminated by North Dakota State, 60-45. Monday’s semifinals will match No. 1 IPFW and NDSU, and No. 2 South Dakota State and Denver.

OTHER NOTABLE OUTCOMES

  • Temple wrapped up the outright American Athletic Conference regular season title with a 64-56 win at Tulane. Fran Dunphy’s Owls had already locked up the top seed in the conference tournament, with SMU ineligible for postseason play.
  • Also in the American, UConn avoided a bad loss by taking care of UCF 67-46 in Storrs. As mentioned above, the Huskies will take on Cincinnati in the quarterfinals.
  • Brandon Taylor scored 21 points and grabbed 11 boards as Penn State beat Illinois 86-79 in overtime. The Nittany Lions will be the ten-seed in the Big Ten tournament, drawing No. 7 Ohio State in the second round. Illinois, the 12-seed, will play No. 13 Minnesota in the first round Wednesday night.
  • Northwestern beat Nebraska 64-55, dropping the Huskers into the 11-seed in the Big Ten tournament. Nebraska will open play No. 14 Rutgers in the first round, while No. 9 Northwestern gets No. 8 Michigan in Thursday’s second round.

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

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The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

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Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.