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Michigan completes sweep of Michigan State to advance to Big Ten title game

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NEW YORK — The biggest shot of the game came with 2:48 left on Saturday afternoon.

30-feet away from the rim with the shot clock down to two, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman rattled home a three that kissed the rim three different times, dying against the glass before falling through the net.

The biggest defensive play of the game came just 15 seconds left, when Abdur-Rahkman drew an offensive foul on Miles Bridges. Michigan had the ball back, up 62-54 with just over two minutes as Madison Square Garden turned into Crisler Arena. By the time the final buzzer had sounded, Michigan had upset top-seeded Michigan State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament, 75-64, completing a season sweep of the Spartans and advancing to the finals of the Big Ten tournament for the second time in as many seasons.

For John Beilein, who took the Wolverines to the 2013 national title game were they lost to Louisville nobody, he’s on the verge of another feather in the cap for what has been a sensational career as a tournament coach. He reached the Sweet 16 last season. He reached the Elite 8 the year after he lost Trey Burke. He took West Virginia to the Elite 8 and the Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons, and also won the NIT with the Mountaineers. He won a game as a No. 14 seed with Richmond way back in 1998.

So seeing Beilein win three games in three days, sweeping their in-state rivals in the process, to end up playing for the right to call themselves back-to-back Big Ten tournament champions is not necessarily a surprise.

What may actually be a surprise is that the Wolverines may have just played their way into a position where getting seeded above Michigan State, one of the preseason favorites to cut down the nets, is a realistic possibility.

While that probably says more about the strength of the Big Ten and the randomness that comes with a league that doesn’t play a full round-robin schedule than anything else, it does present an interesting conversation to have: Just how good is Michigan State?

And is there something that the Spartans can fix over the course of the next 12 days to fix that?

The answer to the first question is easier to answer: Really good, and in the context of a season where the best teams in the country are all flawed in some major way, the Spartans could very well be college basketball’s best. To put it another way, they are not going to be a team that any No. 1 seed wants to draw in their region.

“The one thing that I would remind everybody, this team has won 12 games in a row and 29 games this season,” head coach Tom Izzo said after the game. “And through some trying times.”

“Now, do we have to get it back on track? Yeah, we do.”

Cassius Winston was not himself this weekend, particularly against Michigan, where he finished 3-for-10 from the floor and struggled to break down Michigan off the dribble. Winston entered NYC shooting 56.5 percent from three. He’ll leave having made just one of 11 from beyond the arc in the Garden.

Nick Ward wasn’t himself, either, as his issues defensively and with immobility against teams that can play small limited him to 25 minutes in the two games. Josh Langford hasn’t played well for two months, and Michigan State’s experiment with playing small — Jaren Jackson at the five, Miles Bridges at the four — seems to have died on the vine.

And all of that came while losing a game that resulted in a sweep against their in-state rival.

“We’re just going to try and move on,” Bridges said.

“It was a big game, but it’s not the end of our season,” added Winston. “There’s still another big goal that we’re very capable of achieving.”

There will be time to figure this out. If Michigan State gets put into a pod where they play Friday-Sunday, they will be looking at a 13-day layoff between the end of their Big Ten tournament run and the start of an NCAA tournament run. Izzo may not need to reinvent the wheel, but he’ll certainly have enough time to do so.

“I haven’t ever been through that,” Izzo said, meantioning that the team might head to Chicago to see Denzel Valentine play. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. And the best part is we’re on spring break next week. So we might just go to the beach in East Lansing, see if we can play a little beach basketball.”

“It will be the one time in my life the NCAA has no rules on us. We’re on break and we don’t have any games. That doesn’t happen very often. It’s never happened to me, so knowing me, I’m going to take advantage of that.”

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

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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.