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No. 2 Kentucky rides Monk’s hot hand to blowout win of No. 13 Michigan State

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NEW YORK — It only took seven minutes for the 18,000 fans packed into Madison Square Garden to get a feel for how dangerous Malik Monk can be as a scorer.

Kentucky’s most entertaining freshman hit three threes in the span of 161 seconds to spark an 11-2 Kentucky run that gave the Wildcats a lead they would never relinquish. Monk finished his night with 23 points, hitting 7-for-12 from three and living up to the hype as one of the streakiest players in college basketball. Monk entered the night shooting 36 percent from the field and 25 percent from three and left the Garden as the clear difference-maker for this version of Kentucky as the No. 2 Wildcats beat No. 13 Michigan State, 69-48.

Isaiah Briscoe added 21 points and five boards while De’Aaron Fox finished with 12 points, six assists, four boards and two steals.

But it was Monk who was the star of the show.

The Wildcats entered Tuesday having shot just 9-for-34 from beyond the arc in the season’s first two games, with three of those nine threes coming from Mychal Mulder, who didn’t get off Kentucky’s bench until garbage time against Michigan State. On Tuesday, Wildcats not named Monk shot 0-for-10 from beyond the arc.

It doesn’t take a physicist to figure out that the Achilles’ heel for this team is going to be their perimeter shooting, the same way that it was for the 2010 team. And on the nights when Monk gets hot from deep, this is the result that you’re going to get. When he gets rolling like this, Monk has ‘gravity’. Defenses have to adjust to his presence on the floor. He pulls help defenders out of position, he creates driving lanes for the likes of Fox and Briscoe and, eventually, it will create space for Bam Adebayo, Isaac Humphries and the rest of Kentucky’s front court in the paint.

“We knew they were going to pack the lane in,” Monk said. “Fox and Briscoe get in the lane every time they can. They set me up and I was able to knock down the shot.”

“I knew he was due for a big night,” Briscoe added.

Perhaps the most important part of Monk’s performance was that none of the 17 shots that he took felt forced. His reputation coming out of high school wasn’t just as a streaky shooter; it was as a dumb shooter, too. His shot selection wasn’t what you would call good, and it is certainly a very good sign for the Wildcats that, on a night where Monk was cooking from the opening minutes while playing on the biggest stage he’s ever played on, that he didn’t start forcing shots.

In fact, he was almost too passive.

In the first half, he passed up an open look to set up Wenyen Gabriel for a three – which he missed – and committed his only turnover of the game when he palmed the ball later in the half. After the game, head coach John Calipari noted that finding a way to manufacture shots for Monk is one of the things his team is working on.

“Malik has it going,” Cal said, “so how are we going to get him shots and where are we going to get them from?”

Tuesday night was the first time we got a real look at who Kentucky is going to be this year – forgive me if I’m unimpressed with wins over Stephen F. Austin and Canisius in Rupp Arena – and as impressive as Monk was shooting the ball, perhaps the most important takeaway was how well that back court works in concert with each other.

At this point, everyone should know about Fox’s prowess on the defensive end of the floor. He may be the best on-ball defender in college basketball. But Monk is athletic enough that effort is the only thing that will keep him from being a plus-defender, and Briscoe is developing into a lock-down defender in his own right. Miles Bridges, Michigan State’s star freshman and a future lottery pick, finished 2-for-11 from the floor with nine turnovers on Tuesday and it was Briscoe who did the heavy lifting on him defensively.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15: Isaiah Briscoe #13 of the Kentucky Wildcats puts up a shot against Kenny Goins #25 of the Michigan State Spartans in the first half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Isaiah Briscoe (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“People that watched him in high school can’t believe he can defend and rebound the way he has,” Coach Cal said of Briscoe, who is embracing the role of ‘elder statesman’ on this Kentucky team. “He’s way more mature. He’s way more comfortable with the way he’s playing.”

Briscoe was once against terrific getting to the rim, both in half court settings and in transition, where defenders bounce off of him like pebbles bouncing off the windshield of a Ford F150 on the interstate. The knock on him is his inability to shoot from the perimeter, and on Tuesday, he was 0-3 from three and did not make a field goal from outside the paint. And while his stroke did not look as bad as it did last season, he’s still a long way away from being a ‘good’ shooter.

But Coach Cal doesn’t care, because as far as he is concerned, Briscoe’s issue is that he thinks like a bad shooter.

“All it is is being more confident,” he said. “The first half he didn’t want to take the shots that were there. I told him that if he didn’t take the three that was there I was taking him out.”

That’s all he really needs to be.

Because Monk is going to have nights where he goes nuts, where he makes Tuesday’s shooting display look pedestrian. Fox and Briscoe are going to create all kinds of problems on the defensive end of the floor and in transition; I think these Wildcats have the potential to be a top three team defensively. Tom Izzo agreed, saying “I think this is one of John’s best defensive teams,” which is saying a lot considering he’s had three teams finish in the top two of KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric.

And eventually, talents like Adebayo, Humphries and Wenyen Gabriel are going to start playing like the future NBA Draft picks that they are.

“The group of freshmen, they’re not ordinary freshmen,” Briscoe said. “They pick up things fast and they know how to play basketball. We don’t run a lot of plays.”

Kentucky’s ceiling is as high as any team in the country.

And if the Wildcats are going to end up reaching that ceiling, they’re going to need Monk to be the guy that he was on Tuesday night.

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

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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

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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.