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Texas Tech seniors go from three Big 12 wins to Elite 8 finish

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Texas Tech coach Chris Beard gathered his seniors in a tight circle around him when they came out of their final game with 9 seconds left — and one win short of the Red Raiders making it to the NCAA Final Four for the first time.

“He just told us how much he appreciated the journey, how much he loved us and appreciated us for sticking with him,” Zach Smith said.

Smith, All-Big 12 guard Keenan Evans and Justin Gray wrapped four-year careers at Tech that began with a 3-15 record in Big 12 play as freshmen in 2014-15, and ended in the Elite Eight, a 71-59 loss to No. 1 seed Villanova in the East Region final. Niem Stevenson and Tommy Hamilton IV, the other departing seniors, transferred into the program after Beard arrived two years ago.

“I’m just so appreciative of our seniors during the coaching change and sticking with us,” Beard said after Sunday’s season finale. “And to almost get to that final weekend, I think, speaks a lot about those guys, their character. Proud of our five seniors.”

The Red Raiders were Big 12 runner-ups in the regular season to Kansas, which is in the Final Four. Their 27 wins were the second-most in school history, behind only the 30 wins in 1985-86, a Sweet 16 team in the final Southwest Conference season. A No. 6 ranking in the AP poll in mid-February was their highest ever.

“This is the way I wanted to go out,” Evans said. “Ultimately, we fell short. But this is all I ever wanted. … Just knowing the work we put in paid off. I definitely saw this type of season coming.”

When coach Tubby Smith unexpectedly left for Memphis, just weeks after a somewhat surprising NCAA Tournament appearance two years ago, the returning starting point guard quickly bonded with the new coach who had been a Red Raiders assistant under Bobby Knight.

Evans was hampered with a toe injury the last five weeks this season, and only after the loss to Villanova revealed how bad it was. He was playing with a broken big toe on his left foot.

Smith, a preseason All-Big 12 pick by coaches, missed 14 games with a foot injury. He was back the final week of the regular season.

“Just for us digging down and us going through injuries; Zach coming back and playing his heart out, we took a lot of pride with it,” Evans said.

While five seniors finished up, Tech had two freshman starters with hometown guard Jarrett Culver and high-soaring Zhaire Smith, who had a 360-degree alley-oop dunk in the first round of the NCAA tourney.

The top two-scoring freshmen in school history were among six freshmen on this year’s roster, including guard Davide Moretti from Italy. Starting center Norense Odiase and Florida transfer Brandone Francis both have another season of eligibility remaining. Beard has already signed several touted recruits for next season.

“When I look at how big of a talent they are and how much room they have to improve, and then I think about the coaching staff that we have …. it’s definitely going to be on the rise,” Evans said during the NCAA Tournament about the team moving forward after this season.

After recognizing his seniors, Beard had a message for returning players: “I told our young guys, we’ll do everything we can in the next 364 days to be back here.”

Former Penn coach allegedly took bribes from potential recruit’s father

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Former Penn head coach Jerome Allen allegedly took bribes from a Miami businessman who wanted his son to get into the school as a “recruited basketball player” — increasing his chances to gain entry to the Ivy League school.

According to a report from Bloomberg’s Michael Smith, David Voreacos and Eben Novy-Williams, Allen was involved with Miami businessman Philip Esformes, who had a son, Morris, who was allegedly recruited by several Ivy League schools. When Philip Esformes was accused of health-care fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and bribery, the government uncovered more than $74,000 in gifts that Esformes gave to Allen in 2013 and 2014.

Allen is identified strictly as “Coach-2” in the indictment that alleges that he took multiple cash payments, paid trips from Philadelphia to Miami, and a private jet trip that included Allen, Esformes and his son. The benefits are alleged to be $74,558 — including three separate wired payments of $15,000, $20,000 and $18,000 to Allen from Esformes.

These alleged incidents took place in 2013 and 2014, when Allen was still head coach at Penn and Morris Esformes was a high school basketball player trying to make it to the Division I level. Esformes was eventually granted admission to Penn as he was allegedly going to be on the basketball team. But Allen was fired before Esformes enrolled at the school. So Esformes went to school at Penn, but he never played for the basketball team. Esformes is currently still a senior at Penn.

Allen has been an assistant coach under Brad Stevens with the Boston Celtics since leaving Penn in 2015. He hasn’t been criminally charged for any of these alleged benefits while the NCAA also hasn’t been involved with anything yet.

But this is yet another black eye on college basketball — and this time coming from a prestigious Ivy League institution. It shows that cheating and using leverage happens at all levels of Division I college basketball. Lately, the schools have been paying to get players. This shows there are instances of wealthy people attempting to gain influence through athletics.

This case at Penn is certainly a rare one. Esformes tried to exploit a loophole that would allow his son entry into a great school under the guise that he was a potential Division I-caliber basketball player. And Morris Esformes did end up at Penn — and seems to be doing well. So, this didn’t end poorly for Morris or Allen.

Since Allen is coaching at the NBA level, this likely won’t alter his coaching career, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the NCAA get involved with Penn and Allen going forward.

Elite Class of 2020 point guard to reclassify

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Nico Mannion, a five-star point guard from Arizona, announced on Friday that he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2019.

Mannion was a top 20 player in 2020 but, according to 247 Sports, he will be ranked No. 11 in 2019. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Mannion was long-rumored to be considering a move up a class because of his age. He’ll turn 18 in March of next year, meaning that he’ll arrive on campus the same age as a typical college freshman.

Mannion cut his list to ten schools in June — Duke, Arizona, Villanova, Kansas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Marquette and Utah — but Duke and Arizona appear to be the favorites at this point.

Mannion plays his high school ball for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and with West Coast Elite on the Under Armour Association circuit. He played for Team USA’s youth ranks, but his mother is Italian and, in June, he was called up to the Italian men’s senior national team, scoring nine points in 29 minutes of a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.

Nebraska to lose junior big man to transfer

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Nebraska’s frontcourt depth took a blow on Thursday as junior big man Jordy Tshimanga informed the program that he will be transferring.

“Jordy called me tonight and asked for his release,” head coach Tim Miles said in a statement that was given to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “The University of Nebraska and our program wish Jordy and his family the best.”

Tshimanga averaged 4.0 points and 4.6 boards in 13 minutes this past season, and a source close to the program told NBC Sports he wasn’t expected to play much more than that this season.

Miles’ has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the hot seat, and this certainly doesn’t make his job easier, but with the talent the Cornhuskers have on their roster, they look like an NCAA tournament team already. They bring back their top four scorers, including former five-star prospect Isaac Copeland and potential first-team all-Big Ten wing James Palmer. With or without Tshimanga, Nebraska has a shot to finish top four in the Big Ten.

North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State part of Las Vegas event

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Texas will play in an early season basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Invitational will include games at campus sites, then the final two rounds on Nov. 22-23 in Las Vegas. North Carolina takes on Texas in one semifinal, and Michigan State faces UCLA in the other.

UNC, UCLA and Michigan State are all top 20 teams in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

The championship is Nov. 23, and the semifinal losers also play each other that day.

NCAA to study possible effects of widespread legal wagering

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA plans to study how the expansion of legalized betting could affect college athletics and member schools.

The NCAA announced Thursday it will create a working group of “subject matter experts” to assess areas such as officiating, NCAA rules, federal and state laws, and the use of integrity services. NCAA leadership has already called for federal regulation on sports betting. NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by athletes and athletic department employees.

The Supreme Court opened the door for states to have legal wagering on sporting events when it struck down a federal ban in May. Schools in some states such as West Virginia, Mississippi and New Jersey are already exploring the possibility of collecting integrity fees in anticipation of legal sports books opening in their states.

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The NCAA Board of Governors has already suspended the association’s ban on holding championships in states with legalized sports betting, a policy that only affected Nevada.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”