The 13 craziest moments of the first weekend of the 2016 NCAA Tournament

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Was this the greatest first weekend in the history of the NCAA tournament?

If it wasn’t, it was damn close. We had eight game-winning (or losing!) shots in the final seconds, three of which were true buzzer-beaters — which is already tied for an NCAA tournament record. We had the greatest collapse in the history of college basketball. We had the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament. 

It may get better than that, but not by much. 

Here are the 13 craziest moments from the first weekend of the Big Dance.

13. Hawai’i taking advantage of the dumpster fire that was Cal

The Rainbows convincingly beat a No. 4 Cal team that was as talented as anyone in the country but was dealing with the fallout of a star player with a broken hand and an assistant coach whose sexual harassment scandal may have torpedoed the program. I can’t decide whether or not the win or the scandal is crazier. We need to take a minute to appreciate the job that Eran Ganot did with Hawai’i this season. With a postseason ban looming, this may be the last time in a while that the ‘Bows are going to be this good.

12. Adam Woodbury’s tip-in/foul

Iowa fans may hate me for this, but I don’t care. Adam Woodbury got away with a push-off that sent the Hawkeyes to the second round. It was hardly the only horrible call officials made this weekend, it was just the only one that truly decided the outcome of a game. Call the foul like they should have and Temple would have been shooting free throws.

Making this shot all the more wild was the fact that Iowa blew a late lead and fouled a three-point shooter with a couple of ticks left, the free throws forcing overtime.

11. Indiana’s defense (…?) leading them to win over Kentucky

Considering where the Hoosiers were when I wrote this piece on their humiliating defensive performance against Duke, I NEVER would have predicted that they would A) win the Big Ten regular season title, B) get to the Sweet 16, and C) do so by totally shutting down what was the nation’s most efficient offense.

In fact, if you told me that this is what would happen, I would have told you to stop drinking.

10. Taurean Waller-Prince owning an idiot reporter

Get him.

9. The horridly-beautiful ending to Providence-USC

Missed free throws, terrible shot selection, bone-headed mistakes. The final minute of No. 8 USC’s loss to No. 9 Providence was not covered in glory. But it ended with Ed Cooley calling a beautiful BLOB — something Providence had practiced, because they did not use a time out — to get a layup to win the game:

8. The near-epic comebacks by Wichita State and Yale

The second day of the NCAA tournament began in thrilling fashion. In the last game we’ll ever see Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet play at this level, the Shockers erased a 27-6 deficit and took the lead in the second half before eventually succumbing to Angel Rodriguez going full Angel Rodriguez.

It was an incredible game, but very nearly topped by Yale, who trimmed a 27-point first half deficit to three points. And if that isn’t impressive enough, the Elis left the court at the Dunkin Donuts Center feeling as if they let one slip away. They had chances to win that game that they blew.

7. Stephen F. Austin’s Cinderella run ending thanks to … Rex Pflueger?

Stephen F. Austin was set to become a national brand much the way that FGCU went from ‘Who?’ to #DunkCity in a matter of 80 minutes. The No. 14 seed Lumberjacks — who were led by Thomas Walkup, the most lumberjack-looking basketball player in the history of basketball — had manhandled a very good West Virginia team in their opener and held a five point lead on No. 6 Notre Dame with just over a minute left in the game.

Then Rex Pflueger happened. To make matter all the more March, Pflueger’s game-winning tip-in was his first basket since the regular season finale on March 5th.

6. Cincinnati’s buzzer-beater that wasn’t

You really have to feel for Cincinnati. They lost in the AAC tournament on a 65-foot heave that came a split-second before the final buzzer sounded. And they lost in the NCAA tournament — after erasing a 12-point lead in the final five minutes — when Octavius Ellis couldn’t quite get this game-tying dunk off in time. Torture:

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5. Bronson Koenig going full buzzer-beater

Koenig hit a pair of threes in the final 12 seconds on Sunday to send No. 7 Wisconsin to the Sweet 16, an astonishing accomplishment when you consider where they were just two months ago. This was the shot that sent No. 2 Xavier back to Cincinnati. I love how Koenig disappears into the bench before the shot even goes in:

4. Arkansas-Little Rock erases a 13-point lead in three minutes thanks to Josh Hagins

Little Rock is not a pressing team, but they threw on a press in the final three-plus minutes to erase a 13-point Purdue lead their first round game against the Boilermakers on Thursday. Hagins was the star of the show, finishing with a career-high 31 points (on his birthday!!!), which included this shot to force overtime:

3. Paul Jesperson’s half-court heave

To think it was just two days ago that Northern Iowa was the happiest team in college basketball. Because they had just advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament on one of the craziest shots you’ll ever see in the tournament:

As far as I know, that’s only the second game-winning NCAA tournament shot that can from beyond half court. U.S. Reed hit one in 1981 for Louisville.

2. Michigan State losing to Middle Tennessee State

I will go to my grave arguing this: Michigan State suffered the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history on Friday. The Spartans are one of now just eight No. 2 seeds to have ever lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and as I detailed out here, they are the only one of those No. 2 seeds to have been considered the favorite — favorite, popular pick, whatever; they were the team the majority of the experts picked to win it all — for the national title.

1. Northern Iowa’s historic meltdown

No one knows the full-swing of March emotions like Northern Iowa does. This one, however, is going to hurt, Panther fans: You just set an NCAA record for the worst collapse in the history of the sport. Not the history of the NCAA tournament, mind you. The history of college basketball. I do not envy that.

So if you know a Panther fan, please buy them a cup of coffee and give them a hug. They need it this morning. And if you’d like to relive the epic choke-job, you can do so right here, in a video condensed to a beautiful 2:15. (NFSW in Cedar Falls.)

Only March could make Jesperson’s half-court heave a sidenote to their tournament run.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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.