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Report: Undercover agent involved in FBI corruption investigation accused of misconduct

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An undercover FBI agent has been accused of the misuse of government money on gambling, food and drinks, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal, and there is some concern that the agent will no longer be allowed to be a witness in the cases he was a part of, including the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball.

According to the report, the undercover agent played a role in setting up a number of the assistant coaches that were arrested in September. He posed as a business partner of Marty Blazer, the FBI’s cooperating witness in the case, to make the coaches believe he was helping to funnel money to them in exchange for the business those coaches could steer his way one their players turned pro. He was allegedly involved in the sting operation in Las Vegas in July, detailed in the criminal complaints that were made public in September, but then appeared to drop out of the investigation.

It is unclear yet whether or not this will compromise the prosecution of the people that have already been arrested and charged.

This week, former Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person and an Atlanta suit-maker named Rashan Michel both had trial dates set for February of 2019.

Next week, a judge will hear arguments as to whether or not to dismiss charges against some of the defendants based on the notion that no laws were broken and that the charges only work to criminalize NCAA amateurism rules.

Mooring scores career-high 31, UNLV tops No. 23 Nevada 86-78

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RENO, Nev. (AP) — UNLV coach Marvin Menzies was proud of his team’s ability to withstand Nevada’s runs in front of a packed house.

Jovan Mooring scored a career-high 31 points with six 3-pointers, Shakur Juiston had 19 points and 12 rebounds and UNLV beat No. 23 Nevada 86-78 on Wednesday night in a Governor’s Series matchup to snap the Wolf Pack’s 16-game home winning streak.

“They understand you’re not going to be successful unless you can sustain runs and respond to runs,” Menzies said.

Mooring, more often than not, proved to be the stopper of any Nevada rally, hitting a circus shot and converting a three-point play. His basket with 1:13 left put the Rebels ahead 82-78 and closed the door on the Wolf Pack.

“He’s been in this rivalry and knows what it means,” Menzies said. “This is his third time playing. He played with some passion. He made shots. He took too many circus shots, but he makes those shots. Defensively, he played well.”

Nevada coach Eric Musselman said having Caleb Martin out with an injury was difficult, but the team struggled in several areas.

“Guys had opportunities tonight and didn’t step up,” Musselman said. “Obviously, we didn’t shoot the ball well tonight, didn’t rebound the ball well enough.”

This is the third time this season that the Wolf Pack has entered the Top 25 only to lose its first game after becoming ranked.

Jordan Johnson added 11 points for UNLV (17-7, 6-5 Mountain West), which outrebounded Nevada 45-32.

Jordan Caroline had 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists for Nevada (20-5, 9-2). Lindsey Drew added 17 points and Cody Martin and Kendall Stephens each scored 16.

Stephens capped an 8-0 run with a 3-pointer to tie it at 78 with 2:08 to go, but Nevada missed its final five shots. Brandon McCoy and Mooring combined to score the final eight points with six straight free throws.

VIDEO: Keita Bates-Diop’s game-winner as No. 14 Ohio State wins at No. 3 Purdue

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No. 14 Ohio State came from 14 points down to snap No. 3 Purdue’s 19-game winning streak and take over first-place in the Big Ten on Wednesday night thanks to this bucket from Keita Bates-Diop with 2.8 seconds left:

The Buckeyes would survive a last-second shot from Isaac Haas to win 64-63.

Bates-Diop finished with 18 points, 11 boards and three assists in the win. Both the Buckeyes and the Boilermakers are sitting at 12-1 in the Big Ten, a game in front of Michigan State in the Big Ten standings. Purdue plays the Spartans on Saturday, which will be the last game between the three teams. Ohio State beat Michigan State in Columbus earlier this season.

No. 1 Villanova falls at home to St. John’s

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Shamorie Ponds finished with 26 points, five boards and  five assists while Justin Simon chipped in with 16 points, 10 boards, seven assists and a pair of steals as St. John’s earned their first Big East win of the season.

On the road.

Against No. 1 Villanova, 79-75.

Just four days after they knocked off then-No. 4 Duke.

Yes, all of those things are true.

So credit to the Johnnies. For the first time this season, they are playing up to their talent level. To be quite frank, the fact that they lost their first 11 games of the Big East season with a team that is good enough to beat Duke and win at Villanova in back-to-back games is an indictment on Chris Mullin’s tenure in Queens.

The bigger story here, obviously, is Villanova.

So let’s talk about them.

More specifically, let’s talk about that thing that we haven’t really talked about with them to this point in the season: Their defense. Entering Wednesday night, Villanova was ranked 39th defensively on KenPom, which is fine. When North Carolina won the title in 2009, they entered the NCAA tournament ranked 39th on that end of the floor. When Duke won it in 2015, they entered the tournament ranked 37th. You can win a national title by being good enough on that end of the floor if you have one of the nation’s elite offenses, and Villanova does.

As we noted earlier this week, the Wildcats have been a juggernaut on that end, better than any offensive attack that we have seen in the KenPom era.

There are two concerns here, however.

North Carolina turned it on in the NCAA tournament, finishing the year ranked 18th in defensive efficiency. Duke, as we all know, played defense at a level we’ve never seen someone play for an entire season as they won the title in 2015. If there is an issue with this Villanova team defensively, it’s that they’ve struggled to turn it on when they’ve needed to.

“We just kind of lost it,” Wright told me back in January, the last time Villanova had a crisis defensively. “We can’t just say, ‘OK, we’re going to play defense now’ when we haven’t been doing it or three weeks. You have to get back to your habits.”

“The older guys get it, a guy like [Dhamir] Cosby-Rountree or Omari [Spellman], even Donte [DiVincenzo], they’re looking at you like, ‘we scored 100, we’re winning, what’s the big deal?”

It’s probably worth noting here that Villanova was missing two of those older guys. Phil Booth, a redshirt junior and arguably the team’s best back court defender, is battling a broken hand. Eric Paschall, another redshirt senior and Villanova’s most athletic defender, missed Wednesday night’s game with a concussion. For a team that really only goes seven-deep when everyone is healthy, that’s a tough situation for Wright to be in. It might be good for him to get a glimpse at what he has in the likes of Collin Gillispie, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree and Jermaince Samuels, but it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that those learning experiences come with a loss.

The other part of it, however, is that Villanova relies so much on the three ball. More than 40 percent of their offense this season has come off of three-pointers. For comparison’s sake, Duke got 27 percent of their offense on threes in 2015. UNC got just 23 percent off their offense off of threes in 2009.

I’m not exactly breaking news here when I say that you live by the three, you die by the three. On Wednesday, Villanova shot 8-for-33 from beyond the arc. They were 2-for-18 from three in the second half, including 10 straight misses, many of which were wide — and I mean wide — open.

That happens.

But it makes Villanova more susceptible to getting picked off by a team like this.

That’s anything-but a guarantee that Villanova, for the fourth time in five seasons, will get upset earlier in the NCAA tournament than they should.

It should, however, be the kind of thing that wakes Villanova’s defense back up.

Duane Wilson free throw gives Texas A&M upset-win at No. 8 Auburn

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For the first time since the first game of the season, we caught a glimpse of the Texas A&M team that everyone thought would enter the year as the favorite to win the SEC.

On Wednesday night, Texas A&M went into Auburn Arena and knocked off the No. 8 Tigers, 81-80. They are the only team not coached by Bruce Pearl to get a win in that building this season, and they can thank Duane Wilson for that. His free throw with 3.5 seconds left capped a weird final minute and prevented the Aggies from blowing a golden chance at a critical win for solidifying their NCAA tournament hopes.

In the first half, Texas A&M built a lead that grew to double-figures at the break, but Auburn made their run, setting up a final minute that was as thrilling as it was ugly.

Texas A&M had the ball, up 80-78, when they turned it over with 50 seconds left. At the other end of the floor, Auburn immediately proceeded to do the exact same thing. After D.J. Hogg missed a tough three at the end of a shot clock, Horace Spencer was inexplicably fouled by Admon Gilder 90-feet away from the rim. Spencer, a 6-foot-9 center that is not exactly not for his ability to shoot, stepped to the line and cooly buried both free throws despite getting iced by Texas A&M in-between the two shots.

That tied the game at 80.

Until Chuma Okeke picked up a foul trying to take a charge on Wilson, who stepped to the line with 3.5 seconds left and gave the Aggies the win. Mustapha Heron, who finished with 28 points, missed a 30-footer at the buzzer that would have won the game.

Wilson finished with nine points off the bench while T.J. Starks led the way for the Aggies with 23 points, but the truth is that a combination of two things earned the Aggies this win: Their front-line of Robert Williams and Tyler Davis was able to dominate the paint while the shooters stationed on the perimeter made enough shots to make Auburn pay for throwing extra bodies their way.

Davis and Williams combined for 31 points and 15 boards while the Aggies, as a team, shot 9-for-18 from beyond the arc. Texas A&M grabbed nearly 40 percent of the available offensive rebounds while allowing Auburn to corral just five.

That is precisely the way this team needs to be able to play if they are going to fulfill their potential.

And rest assured, they have potential.

The fact that they lost their first five games in SEC play is embarrassing. Suspensions and injuries played a role in that — as did some bad luck in close games — but the truth is that A&M should be good enough that bad luck shouldn’t cost them against LSU at home.

And if they continue to play the way they did on Wednesday night, they will be.

Bubble Banter: Did Texas A&M just play themselves into the NCAA tournament?

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Wednesday night.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

TEXAS A&M (RPI: 30, KenPom: 25, NBC seed: 9): The Aggies landed one of the biggest wins of the season by anyone on Wednesday, going into Auburn and beating the Tigers. They are the only team in the country to win on Auburn’s home floor. The Aggies have now won three in a row and five of their last seven games. They are back, they look like the team we thought would win the SEC in the preseason and they are primed to be a nuisance for whatever No. 2 or 3 seed draws them in the second round. For the time being, they are now out of bubble consideration.

MARQUETTE (RPI: 55, KenPom: 48, NBC seed: Next four out): After losing four straight — including three home games that the Golden Eagles really, really needed — Marquette went out and landed their third Quadrant 1 win of the year, beating Seton Hall on the road. That’s huge. If they can stay hot and win at St. John’s on Saturday, that would be even bigger. With a 14-10 record and a 3-8 mark against Quadrant 1 teams (they’re 5-10 against the top two Quadrants), Marquette is still playing catchup. But this was a good way to get that chase started.

KANSAS STATE (RPI: 69, KenPom: 61, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Wildcats landed another impressive Quadrant 1 win, doing what Oklahoma could not and beating Texas in Austin. They are not 3-6 against Quadrant 1 teams and 7-6 in Quadrant 1 and 2 games. The two knocks on this team are a loss to Tulsa on a neutral floor and a non-conference SOS of 337. That last number means they are going to have to have a résumé that looks much better at the top than the other bubble teams. The committee puts a lot of emphasis on teams trying to schedule well. Kansas State did not.

ST. BONAVENTURE (RPI: 47, KenPom: 66, NBC seed: Out): The Bonnies are in the bubble picture right now, believe it or not. Their worst loss, against Niagara, came without the guy that has got for 40 points and six assists in back-to-back games. They have two Quadrant 1 and two Quadrant 2 wins, and their worst losses with Adams are league games away from home. Throw in wins at Syracuse (38) and Buffalo (27) and a home game against URI (6), and the Bonnies have a real chance to land an at-large bid.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: 72, KenPom: 41, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Hokies landed a nice Quadrant 2 win over N.C. State on Wednesday. Every little bit helps when you’re right on the cut-line, especially given the murderer’s row that remains on their schedule: at Virginia, at Duke, at Georgia Tech, Clemson, Louisville, Duke, at Miami. If they go 4-3 in that stretch, they’ll be in. Hell, 3-4 might get the job done.

TEMPLE (RPI: , KenPom: 88, NBC seed: Out): The Owls are hanging onto the edge of the bubble for dear life, and they’re still hanging after Wednesday, when they knocked off East Carolina. Their season ends like this: at South Florida, at Wichita State, Houston, UCF, at UConn, at Tulsa. They probably need to win at least four, more likely five of those to have a real chance.

LOSERS

MARYLAND (RPI: 60, KenPom: 39, NBC seed: Out): It’s getting close to the point in time when we have to stop considering Maryland as a bubble team. They’ve lost four of their last five and six of their last 18 after falling to Penn State on Wednesday, and they only have one Quadrant 1 or 2 win: Butler at home. With a schedule that only offers one more potential Quadrant 1 win, the Terps are in rough shape.

GEORGIA (RPI: 71, KenPom: 78, NBC seed: Out): The Bulldogs lost a game they absolutely could not afford to lose at Vanderbilt on Wednesday. That’s two losses in a row, five in their last six and seven in their last nine. If there is a silver-lining here, it’s that six of Georgia’s last seven games are against Quadrant 1 teams, including three games against Auburn and Tennessee. They’ll have chances to rally, but what makes you think they can do it? They will not be considered as a bubble until they do something to help themselves.

N.C. STATE (RPI: 59, KenPom: 60, NBC seed: 10): The Wolfpack lost at Virginia Tech on Wednesday night, which is hardly a bad loss. The Hokies have a good enough RPI that it slots in as a Quadrant 1 loss. Given that N.C. State has lost to Northern Iowa (153) on a neutral and UNC Greensboro at home (90) with a non-conference SOS of 282, they have less margin for error than you might think for a team with wins over Arizona on a neutral, Duke, Clemson and at North Carolina.