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Tremont Waters’ late layup pushes LSU past Maryland and into the Sweet 16

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Whatever issues embroiling LSU off the court, they’re not slowing the Tigers down on it.

No. 3 seed LSU overcame its own blown 15-point lead to ultimately outlast Maryland on Saturday with a 69-67 victory in the second round of the NCAA tournament to secure the Tigers’ first Sweet 16 since their 2006 Final Four run.

Skylar Mays hit two free throws to tie the game at 64 with 1 minute, 13 seconds left. The Tigers then got a stop, and Mays delivered a go-ahead 3-pointer from the win with 32.5 seconds left on the clock. The Terps, however, weren’t done as they matched Mays’ 3 with one by Jalen Smith on the ensuing possession.

Tremont Waters then came to the rescue for LSU.

The Tiger guard dribbled the clock down under 10 seconds, then attacked the rim, getting into the paint and delivering a scooping game-winning layup with under 2 seconds to play.

Mays scored 16 to lead the Tigers while Waters had 12 and Naz Reid 13 as LSU overcame shooting 28.9 percent in the second half when Maryland switched largely to zone to advance to Washington, D.C. next week.

It’s been quite the stretch for LSU under interim coach Tony Benford. After going one-and-done at the SEC tournament as the controversy surrounding coach Will Wade’s alleged wiretapped call to Christian Dawkins in which Wade reportedly said he made a “strong-ass offer” to land a recruit, LSU suddenly has its best postseason in more than a decade. How about that?

Of course, the Tigers’ success may eventually be wiped from the record book if the NCAA finds extensive wrongdoing or if the recruit in question, Javonte Smart, is retroactively declared ineligible as he’s playing for LSU despite the cloud that’s been created by what Wade allegedly said on a wiretap that was caught by an investigation that continues to sprawl and impact the sport. Even if it yet hasn’t been to the degree once thought to be imminent when the Southern District of New York announced those first batch of charges more than a year ago.

Regardless of what ultimately happens, though, this group of Tigers is going to play in the Sweet 16, even if it’s eventually stricken from the record books. There’s no Men In Black memory wipe. LSU and its fans will know they won these games, and they’ll probably give themselves extra credit for overcoming the adversity of perhaps getting caught cheating.

It’s hard to argue against LSU leaning into this. They could be looking at potential punishments to the program, and it seems likely they’ll be moving on from Wade after just two seasons. Given it’s been 13 years since they made a second weekend – much less a return to the Final Four – it’s probably best to just enjoy this run, however it may eventually be recorded. Hiring a new coach with a cloud of NCAA uncertainty over the program doesn’t usually foretell a return to prominence, ya know?

So with Minnesota or Michigan State awaiting them in D.C. next week and then potentially Duke, don’t fault LSU for getting its money’s worth out of this run. Maybe that wasn’t the best metaphor there, but you get it.

For Maryland, it’s the third first-weekend departure in four tournaments under Mark Turgeon. The Terps look to be a team that should be back again next year, even if sophomore big man Bruno Fernando opts to go pro. The 6-foot-10, 240-pound center is a projected first-round draft pick, and would be a significant loss for Turgeon, but that could be the only major departure from this year’s team that went 23-11 and finished fifth in the Big Ten.

 

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)