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Scouting Final Four teams: How to beat Michigan State

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NBC Sports spoke with a dozen coaches in the last two days to put together a scouting report for each of the teams in the Final Four. 

The coaches were granted anonymity in exchange for honesty. 

We started with Virginia. Then we gave you Auburn and Texas Tech. So last but not least, Michigan State.

‘CASSIUS IS PEYTON MANNING’

What Michigan State does starts and, more often than not, ends with their all-american point guard Cassius Winston, who has thrown this team on his back and carried them to the Final Four after leading them to Big Ten regular season and tournament titles.

“Cassius Winston is a true point guard. He’s a QB. He is Peyton Manning. They play off of him. They put him in a ton of ball-screens, but they also move him around. They run him off wide pindowns, they put him in flares, they even used him as a screener for the game-winner against Duke. But it all comes back to him.”

“They don’t just screen you once. They’ll run Cassius off a ball-screen and you’ll switch. Then he’ll run off it again, and you switch again. Then they’ll run it a third time, and suddenly you’re 17 feet from the rim and he makes a floater over your big.”

“He’s not big and he’s not all that fast, but he finds a way to get where he wants. He knows how to play.”

“We talked a lot about how much they run in the halfcourt. A lot of wide pindowns, and they’re good at running off those. You can’t let them catch it where they want to. No curls, no catching it where they want to get the ball.”

“They have counters to their counters, and they run their stuff really well.”

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THE TRANSITION GAME

He doesn’t really have the reputation for it nationally, but outside of Roy Williams and North Carolina, there may not be a better coach at teaching the fast break than Tom Izzo. And there is not a better point guard at leading the fast break than Cassius Winston.

“I don’t know if you can run as fast forwards as they can run backwards. They go so fast on about 30 possessions a game. You can’t catch them. They’ll get whatever they want because they’re running wide and Cassius is as good as anyone int he world at getting the ball to their guys where they need it.”

“Their bigs are big, but they will sprint their asses off to get to the rim because they know Cash will find them.”

“The very first thing we talked about was the transition game. Defense to offense. Those hit-ahead passes where they’re trying to score early in the clock, Cash is so good at those. He’s not a jet, but he just keeps coming and coming and coming.”

“They run off of misses. They run off of makes. They got a couple of buckets running off of made free throws against Duke. You’re just playing catchup the entire time. You can’t get back fast enough. You have to make them take it out of the bucket.”

“You cannot let them pass it across halfcourt. You have to make them dribble it across halfcourt. I think you have to press them. Just pick up in the backcourt, pick the ball up as quick as you can, I don’t care who it is. Maybe use the shooter to shadow Winston. Whatever. We even have pressed them sometimes.”

“This will be a key for them against Texas Tech. Their defense does not let you reverse the ball. They take away ball-screens, they push your offense out. Tom is going to have to play higher and wider. Michigan State wants to play in the middle of the floor and Texas Tech makes you play on a side, so the more Michigan State can beat them down the floor – reverse the ball quick, hit a couple drag screens, early actions – then you can beat them.”

REBOUNDING

“You have to be as physical as possible with their bigs. You cannot get pushed around inside. [Nick] Ward and [Xavier] Tillman are huge.”

“They are going to go hard after the offensive glass. They kicked LSU’s ass on the boards. [Aaron] Henry gets there. [Kenny] Goins, too. And you have to be careful sending too many to the offensive glass. They’ll run it on you.”

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THEY’LL LET YOU RUN YOUR STUFF, BUT THEY CAN REALLY GUARD

What Michigan State does defensively is similar to what Virginia tries to do. Where Texas Tech and Auburn are going to get out and pressure, try to take you out of what you want to run, the Spartans will let you run your offense. But they’re not giving up space in the paint, they’re contesting everything and they’re off to the races once they get the rebound.

“They’re a really good defense, but they’re not going to pressure or deny. You are going to get the ball where you want to. You won’t get it into the paint, but we never felt like we couldn’t run our stuff against them.”

“Their positioning off the ball is so good. They let you reverse it, they don’t disrupt you that way. You’ll feel like you can swing it. But they challenge everything in the paint. Watch when they play when guys drive in the lane or get an offensive rebound just how many Michgian State players are making a play on the ball. It’s more than anyone.”

“Their defensive spacing is really, really good. Well-coached. It’s difficult to get a clean look. They’re a great pack defense and a great screen and roll defense. That actually plays into Texas Tech’s hands a little bit, they don’t run a lot of ball-screens.”

“They’re better with Tillman than Ward. Their guys – [Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Winston] – aren’t elite athletes by they can guard.”

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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.