Rick Pitino ‘effectively fired’ as Louisville head coach

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Rick Pitino is done.

On Tuesday evening, roughly ten hours after his program was referenced in an FBI complaint that resulted in the arrest of four assistant coaches, two Adidas executives, an employee for an agent, an AAU coach and a financial advisor, Pitino released a statement saying that “these allegations came as a complete shock to me” and “I am committed to taking whatever steps are needed to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.”

Those were the last words that he would utter as an employed basketball coach.

Pitino was placed on administrative leave and “effectively fired” on Wednesday morning, his lawyer told the Louisville Courier-Journal, the fallout from a pair of scandals too much for one of the most powerful men in the sport to endure. His boss, athletic director Tom Jurich, was expected to receive the same fate, according to multiple reports.

A press conference with interim Louisville President Greg Postel will be held at 1 p.m. Pitino and Jurich will not be there. An official announcement is expected at that time.

A Hall of Famer that has been in charge of the Louisville program for 16 seasons, Pitino’s demise came as a direct result of a bombshell investigation report released by the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. Four assistant coaches and six influencers in the college basketball world were arrested, and while none of them were members of the Louisville staff, the program still managed to find a way into the mess.

Jim Gatto, a powerful Adidas executive, was one of the men that was arrested, in part because of a scheme that was devised to funnel $100,000 from Adidas to the family of a player that can easily be identified as Brian Bowen. That payment was made “at the request of at least one coach from [Louisville],” and another Louisville assistant was recorded as part of a conversation in which a Class of 2019 prospect was paid to commit to the Cardinals. During that conversation, per the release from the FBI, it was made clear: Louisville “was already on probation with the NCAA” and that “they would have to be particularly careful with how they passed money” to the player.

Why was Louisville on probation with the NCAA?

Because from 2010-14, a member of Pitino’s coaching staff, Andre McGee, was caught paying for strippers and sex workers for underage recruits and members of the Louisville team. The NCAA investigation into those allegations resulted in not only probation for the Louisville program, but, pending appeal, the vacation of Louisville’s 2012 trip to the Final Four and their 2013 National Title.

That came on the heels of an incident in 2010 where Karen Sypher, a woman who received a seven-year prison sentence for trying to extort Pitino over an affair the two had.

But this scandal is different.

With Sypher, Pitino strayed outside of his marriage. I’m not condoning that, but his personal life is his personal life, and in the end he was the victim of an extortion scheme, even if, as the ‘victim’, he was thoroughly humiliated in the eye of the public.

Pitino has told anyone and everyone that he was completely in the dark regarding sex-for-pay scandal that the NCAA ruled on earlier this year. I believe him. Even after the results of the FBI’s investigation were made public, I believe him. His deniability in that case is entirely plausible, and while it shouldn’t shield him from NCAA punishment – the rules are the rules – in my mind, he got a pass for that. He’s too smart to do what McGee did.

That’s not excusing Pitino.

But the salacious details of his personal life and the outright, blatant, institutional level of cheating that came to the forefront on Tuesday are two different things.

Here’s the truth: The reason that the NCAA changed their policy on head coach plausible deniability is precisely because of what Louisville did in that Las Vegas hotel room. Members of Pitino’s coaching staff facilitated a six-figure payment to at least one recruit through a shoe company. Pitino was not attached to it; the boss doesn’t get involved with the street-level dealings. No head coaches do, even if they implicitly or tacitly endorse it.

This is the dirty part of college basketball the NCAA has been trying to rid the game of.

Louisville is guilty. Pitino’s staff is guilty. That means Pitino is guilty.

It’s that simple.

He had to go.

And that’s sad to me.

Here’s why:

Pitino is one of the best to ever do it in the college basketball ranks. Hell, he may be the best coach of this generation. I don’t think that’s overstating it.

He’s won two national titles, one with Kentucky and one with Louisville. He’s won 770 games. He’s been to seven Final Fours. He may be the most important and divisive figure in the state that loves college basketball more than any other. He made Kentucky great again after a scandal in the late-80s involving then-Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton that left the program with two years worth of postseason bans. He made Louisville great again after the forgettable end of Denny Crum’s tenure, a four-year stretch where the Cardinals failed to win 20 games in a season.

And his career will be remembered as nothing more than an incident on a restaurant table, hookers in a dorm and the money paid to a player in a Vegas hotel room.

He’s not retiring. He’s being to be forced out of the game that he meant so much to, a pariah at both of the programs that he made relevant, that he took from the doldrums and led to a national title.

And that’s a shame.

Memphis keeps at-large hopes alive with win over No. 22 Houston

AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Precious Achiuwa scored 10 points, including the go-ahead free throw with 28.2 seconds left, and Memphis beat No. 22 Houston 60-59 on Saturday.

Malcolm Dandridge scored 12 points and Lester Quinones and Tyler Harris had 10 points apiece as Memphis (19-8, 8-6 American Athletic Conference) won its second straight.

Caleb Mills led Houston (21-7, 11-4) with 21 points and Marcus Sasser added 18 points for the Cougars. Mills’ jumper with 4 seconds left was off the mark. Houston missed its last four shots.

Houston was without guard Quentin Grimes, its second-leading scorer at 11.8 points per game. Grimes was dealing with a hip pointer.

The Cougars were forced to play catch-up for much of the game.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

Sasser’s 3-pointer gave Houston the lead with just under seven minutes left. It started a string of nine straight points for Sasser.

The teams exchanged leads down the stretch. Mills converted a pair of free throws with 47 seconds left to tie it at 59. Achiuwa then made the second of two free throws for the final margin.

By the midway point of the first half, neither team was shooting well. Memphis, which struggled early, managed to take the lead.

The Tigers put together enough of an offensive push during the middle stages of the first half to build the lead to eight points on a couple of occasions. Memphis led 27-23 at halftime with Houston shooting 26% from the field.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: The Cougars improved their shooting in the second half, going 12 for 26 (46%), but went cold again in the final minutes.

Memphis: The Tigers needed the win since they are considered outside looking in on the NCAA Tournament. Memphis struggled from the field, especially Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis and Quinones, who combined to go 3 of 24. Dandridge made all five of his shots.

UP NEXT

Houston: Hosts Cincinnati on March 1.

Memphis: At SMU on Tuesday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegesbasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Pipkins scores 24, Providence beats No. 19 Marquette 84-72

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) Luwane Pipkins scored 24 points and David Duke had 15 to lead Providence to an 84-72 victory over No. 19 Marquette on Saturday, the Friars’ third straight victory – all over ranked teams.

Markus Howard scored 38 points for Marquette, which lost its third straight game. Howard shot 10 for 25 from the field and had just one assist while committing four of the Golden Eagles’ (17-9, 7-7 Big East) 18 turnovers.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

AJ Reeves added 11 points and three others had 10 for Providence (16-12, 9-6), which held a double-digit lead for all but 39 seconds of the game’s last 26:29. Trailing 71-50, the Golden Eagles scored seven points in a row, but they could get no closer.

Providence led by as many as 17 in the first half thanks to its 3-point shooting (8 for 15) and 17 points from Pipkins. After Marquette cut the lead to nine, 52-43, midway through the second, the Friars scored six straight points.

It was 62-50 when Providence scored nine in a row, the last five on a basket and a 3-point play by Duke.

BIG PICTURE

Marquette: The Golden Eagles dipped into The Associated Press Top 25 at No. 18 on Feb. 10 and have lost three in a row. Though the first two were to higher-ranked teams, the loss at Providence will certainly drop them out of the rankings

Providence: The Friars are fourth in the Big East and the top unranked team in the conference. They are 4-4 against ranked teams this season.

UP NEXT

Marquette: Hosts Georgetown on Wednesday.

Providence: At No. 12 Villanova on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Dominant Doke leads No. 3 Kansas past No. 1 Baylor

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Udoka Azubuike wasn’t hard to find this time around.

The 7-footer put together the best performance of his college basketball career on Saturday afternoon, going for 23 points, 19 boards and three blocks while shooting 11-for-13 from the floor as No. 3 Kansas went into the Ferrell Center and staked their claim to the title fo the best team in college basketball with a 64-61 win over No. 1 Baylor.

After Baylor scored the first five points of the game, Kansas answered with a 9-0 run and never looked back. The Bears were only able to draw level once for the remainder of the game, and while Ochai Agbaji managed to make things interesting down the stretch with a late turnover against Baylor’s pressure, the Jayhawks were more or less in control throughout.

RELATED: Latest CBT Bubble Watch | Bracketology

And the reason for that is simple: Udoka Azubuike.

The first time that these two teams squared off back in January, when Baylor landed the program’s first-ever win in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Azubuike was invisible, especially offensively. He finished with just six points on 3-for-6 shooting from the field largely due to the fact that Baylor’s defense is uniquely designed to take away players in the post. The Bears fronted Azubuike, they played off of non-shooters on the weak side of the floor and they dared Kansas to beat them from the perimeter.

It did not go well.

But giving Bill Self four days to devise and implement a game-plan is never going to work out well for anyone, and Baylor learned that the hard way.

And the tweak, truthfully, really quite simple:Mi

Middle ball-screens.

This had an impact on two things on that end of the floor. For starters, it made it difficult for Baylor to influence which way the ball-handler would come off of the screen. You can’t ‘ice’ a ball-screen in the middle of the floor. You can ‘weak’ it — forcing the ball-handler to come off of the screen going to his weak hand — but this is risky, especially with a point guard that is as quick as Dotson is. He was allowed to get a full head of steam going with only Freddie Gillespie between him and the rim. That’s a good thing for Kansas.

The other part of this is that since the ball is in the middle of the floor, and since Baylor cannot make the offense go the way they want them to go, it’s harder to sell out as a helper. This creates open lanes for Azubuike to run to the rim, and there is no one in college basketball that is a better lob-catcher in traffic than Azubuike.

“He was great and controlled the paint,” Self told reporters after the game. “That was about as well overall as I’ve seen him play.”

And he’s not wrong.

Azubuike was a titan on the offensive end of the floor.

But he was just as good defensively.

Baylor’s guards were never able to get into a rhythm on Saturday afternoon. MaCio Teague hit a couple of threes, but for the most part, he was a non-entity. Matthew Mayer scored eight straight points in the first half but was invisible outside of that run. Devonte Bandoo took one shot. Davion Mitchell shot 2-for-11 from the floor, and while Jared Butler went for 19 points and six assists, he needed 18 shots to get there.

Much of the credit there belongs to the perimeter defenders on this Kansas roster. Marcus Garrett is a walking, talking, ball-hawking demolition derby. He’ll take the soul of someone that is careless with their dribble, and Mitchell learned that the hard way. Devon Dotson more than held his own, while Ochai Agbaji, Isaiah Moss and Christian Braun did just enough to keep whoever they were guarding from getting a clean look. The Jayhawk ball pressure was, throughout the game, something else.

But the reason that ball-pressure was possible is because of the human eraser at the five. Doke owned the paint. He only finished with three blocks, but that’s because Baylor opted to settle for jumpers instead of trying to challenge the big fella. His ability to move his feet eliminated Baylor’s ball-screen offense:

All told, when you factor in both ends of the floor, this was one of the single-most dominant performances that I can remember seeing this season.

Kansas is going to enter this upcoming week as the biggest talking point in the sport.

Is this the best team in the country?

Can the Jayhawks win a national title this year?

Are they actually the favorite to cut down the nets?

And the reason that the answer to all three of those questions is ‘yes’ is the presence of Udoka Azubuike.

The more interesting question that we should be having has less to do with Kansas as a team and more to do with Udoka Azubuike: Is he, and not Dotson, the All-American on this Kansas team?

And where should he factor in the Player of the Year race?

Auburn’s Jaylin Williams throws himself a lob off the backboard (VIDEO)

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It’s only 1 p.m. but we have already seen the play of the day: Auburn forward Jaylin Williams through himself a lob off the backboard that was so impressive it had Clark Kellogg making up words to describe it:

Bubble Banter: All of Saturday’s bubble action in one place

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There is plenty of action happening on the bracketology bubble watch despite it being a relatively slow night for college hoops.

Dave Ommen’s latest bracketology can be found here. Rob Dauster’s Bubble Watch can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

Here is everything you need to know to.

THE BUBBLE WATCH WINNERS

… AND LOSERS

LEFT TO PLAY

VIRGINIA (NET: 55, NBC: 10) at Pitt

Missouri at ARKANSAS (NET: 48, NBC: Off the bubble)

No. 22 Houston at MEMPHIS (NET: 63, NBC: Next four out)

Michigan at PURDUE (NET: 32, NBC: First four out)

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 50, NBC: First four out) at Texas A&M

No. 8 Florida State at N.C. STATE (NET: 52, NBC: 11)

OKLAHOMA (NET:46 , NBC: 10) at Oklahoma State

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 31, NBC: 11) at Davidson

LSU at SOUTH CAROLINA (NET: 62, NBC: Next four out)

ALABAMA (NET: 45, NBC: Off the bubble) at Ole Miss

GEORGETOWN (NET: 43, NBC: Play-in game) at DePaul