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Five takeaways from No. 13 Wisconsin’s win at No. 25 Indiana

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Wisconsin started strong but perhaps finished even stronger to notch a road win Tuesday night at Assembly Hall.

The 13th-ranked Badgers scored the game’s first 13 points and closed the game by outscoring Indiana 19-11 in the final 7 minutes to down the 25th-ranked Hoosiers, 75-68.

Wisconsin has now won nine-straight games while Indiana is in the midst of its first three-game losing streak since late in the 2014-15 season, with two of those losses coming at home.

Here’s what we learned in the Badgers’ victory:

 

1. Wisconsin is now the early Big Ten favorite: Yes, most Big Ten programs are just two games into an 18-game grind, but it’s difficult to see anyone having a better shot of capturing the league title than the Badgers right now. They sit at 2-0 after handing one of their biggest competitors, Indiana, its second home loss of the conference schedule already.

It wouldn’t be wise to count out Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who similarly sit at 2-0, but the Spartans’ wins haven’t been as impressive as the Badgers’, and there’s still the matter of getting Miles Bridges back on the floor healthy and productive.

Wisconsin will have another chance this weekend to strike a crippling blow to another contender as they travel to Purdue, which also already has a home loss to its name in Big Ten play.

You can’t start engraving the Big Ten trophy yet, but Wisconsin has established itself as the prohibitive favorite.

Indiana's Thomas Bryant has his shot blocked by Wisconsin's Alex Illikainen during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Bloomington Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

2. Thomas Bryant was relegated to a non-factor: The Hoosiers’ big man may be a first-round prospect, but he was made mostly insignificant against Wisconsin. He finished with six points on five shots along with three rebounds and one block in 21 minutes. He managed to get up just two second-half shots in 14 minutes, and was at times torched by Ethan Happ offensively. Which brings us to Point No. 3….

3. Ethan Happ is Wisconsin’s best but maybe not most important player: Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are the Badgers’ most well-known players, but Happ is their most productive and consistent. He was the best player on the floor Tuesday night, putting up 19 points on 8 of 11 shooting to go along with six rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes.

He won’t wow you with his physical tools most of the time, but Happ’s patience, awareness, footwork and touch make him a devastating matchup. He’s going to produce, which makes him dependable but not dominating. He needs help from his teammates, especially his senior frontcourt companion…

Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes is defended by Indiana's OG Anunoby during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Bloomington Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

4. Nigel Hayes can still fall in love with his jumpshot: Hayes is probably the Badgers’ most important player because he unlocks so much of what makes them be at their best. He’s a ballhandler and distributor at the power forward position in a way that allows Happ to put in work on the block and Koenig to hunt his shot rather than initiate offense.

It’s no accident that Wisconsin’s nine-game winning streak has coincided with Hayes’ rejection of 3-point shooting. He took 31 3-pointers in the Badgers’ first six games and just six in the subsequent nine games, never taking more than two in any one contest. He didn’t fire up any from beyond the arc against the Hoosiers, but too often he settled for mid-range jumpers, with a number of those coming off the dribble and being tightly contested. When those were flying, that’s when Indiana was often able to claw back in the game.

Those are bad shots not simply because they’re inefficient but because every time Hayes takes one, it means he’s not moving the ball to Happ or Koenig or getting a post-touch himself. It’s just not good offense for Wisconsin, not only from an efficiency standpoint but also from an opportunity cost perspective. The Badgers can get so many better looks than those contested mid-range jumpers, and they can do it in large part because of Hayes’ strengths.

Hayes deserves a ton of credit for re-engineering his game on the fly this season , but if he can continue to tighten things up, it could go a long way for Wisconsin.

No. 5 There’s no reason for Indiana to panic: Yeah, it’s not great to start conference play with a pair of home losses with a defeat to Louisville in their for good measure as part of a three-game losing streak. The Hoosiers, though, fought back from a 14-point deficit and had chances to keep the game close and ultimately beat Wisconsin before some late-game execution got in their way.

The Hoosiers now have a manageable stretch of games (vs. Illinois, at Maryland, vs. Rutgers, at Penn State, vs. Michigan State) that should allow them to steady their footing. If Indiana struggles through that stretch, though, the Big Ten opening loss to Nebraska at home is going to look much more ominous that flukey.

Wisconsin's Ethan Happ is defended by Indiana's Juwan Morgan during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Bloomington Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

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

Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar
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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.