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Michigan State runs by Big Ten rival Minnesota to advance to Sweet 16

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Michigan State jumped out to a big early lead and maintained a comfortable cushion from there in dispatching Big Ten rival Minnesota, 70-50, in the NCAA tournament’s East Region on Saturday.

Winners of seven straight games, No. 2 seed Michigan State (30-6) started out 5-for-5 from the floor with five different players scoring as it was a precursor to how Saturday’s game would unfold. Dominating on the interior, the Spartans destroyed Minnesota on the glass (45 to 18) while getting balanced scoring from their veteran roster.

Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston led the Spartans with 13 points and nine assists as his personal 7-0 run lifted the Spartans back into blowout territory after an early 8-0 Minnesota second-half run cut Michigan State’s lead to single digits.

Sophomore big man Xavier Tillman led Michigan State in scoring with 14 points while Kenny Goins, Matt McQuaid, Nick Ward and Aaron Henry all had nine points each.

Advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since a Final Four run in 2015, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and his players deserve a tremendous amount of credit for reaching the NCAA tournament’s second weekend. For the past three seasons, the Spartans have fallen short of lofty expectations as rosters with NBA draft picks (Denzel Valentine, Deyonta Davis, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr.) didn’t come to play in March. Remarkably, this was the longest stretch of Izzo’s Hall-of-Fame career at Michigan State without making it to the tournament’s second weekend.

With a roster gutted with injuries to veterans like Joshua Langford and Kyle Ahrens this season, Michigan State reverted back to classic Spartans basketball as they’re one of the most tough and cohesive teams in the country. Even without bonafide pro talent, Michigan State still has an All-American floor general in Winston and a bevy of great role players who know what to do on both ends of the floor.

Michigan State will need to clean up some turnover issues (22 against Minnesota) if they want to advance. But the Spartans look like they’re in strong shape in most other ways heading into next week as they advance to face No. 3 seed LSU in a Friday Sweet 16 clash in Washington D.C.

A matchup between Big Ten and SEC regular-season champions, that game should feature some fun individual matchups to look forward to. At point guard, Winston and the Tigers’ Tremont Waters (LSU’s hero against Maryland) are both All-American-caliber players. And the matchup of LSU’s Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams banging against the Spartans’ Ward and Tillman on the interior should be a fascinating frontcourt battle.

Minnesota (22-14) struggled to generate consistent offense without a healthy Jordan Murphy — reverting back to poor perimeter shooting (2-for-22 from three) after Thursday’s outlier shooting performance in a win over No. 7 seed Louisville. Murphy, a senior forward and double-double machine, played only four minutes in the first half and went scoreless before exiting until the game’s final moments with back spasms. In a touching March moment, Murphy returned to the floor for a possession with the game out of hand to receive one final curtain call as he never missed a practice or game during his four-year career at Minnesota.

Without Murphy’s consistency, the Golden Gophers only had three players score in the first half as they had a difficult time figuring out Michigan State’s stingy defense. Amir Coffey led Minnesota with 27 points as he was the only members of the Gophers able to generate his own looks. After 24 points against the Cardinals on Thursday, freshman shooter Gabe Kalscheur didn’t register a field goal as he finished with two points. Point guard Isaiah Washington was Minnesota’s only other double-figure scorer with 11 points.

Following last season’s immensely disappointing 15-17 season, Minnesota and head coach Richard Pitino deserves a lot of credit for bouncing back with a Round of 32 appearance. Some preseason polls had Minnesota finishing near the bottom of the Big Ten, with Pitino on many “Hot Seat” lists, as the Golden Gophers defied critics with a strong comeback season.

The loss of Murphy and guard Dupree McBrayer will hurt, but if Coffey returns, Minnesota will have a go-to player and some intriguing guys around him. Freshmen Daniel Oturu and Kalscheur are both double-figure scorers and other role guys like Michael Hurt and Washington could also return. If Minnesota can add another impact recruit or grad transfer, they could be in the mix for another NCAA tournament appearance in 2020.

The rare inter-conference matchup in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the Spartans and Golden Gophers played because of the Big Ten’s high number of tourney bids coupled with the selection committee’s relaxed policy if conference foes only play once during the regular season. The Spartans handily beat the Gophers at home on Feb. 9 with a 79-55 win earlier this season.

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.