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Monday’s Things To Know: Duke-Auburn headlines Maui, Mississippi State loses and Justin Coleman shines for Arizona

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1. WE GET DUKE-AUBURN IN THE MAUI SEMIFINALS!

The first of two top ten matchups in the Maui Invitational will be played in the semifinals on Tuesday, as the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils will face off with No. 8 Auburn in a game that could end up turning into college basketball’s version of what happened between the Rams and the Chiefs on Monday night.

Duke, as we know, is insanely talented and is built to run up and down the floor unlike any team that we’ve ever seen. Auburn, though, has plenty of weapons offensively and also is effective enough defensively that it could cause some disruption for the young Blue Devils.

It’s the first must-see game of a Maui Invitational that is strong even by its own lofty standards. If Gonzaga can get past Arizona on the other side of the bracket, there will be a monster championship game Wednesday.

2. ARIZONA STATE HANDED MISSISSIPPI STATE THEIR FIRST LOSS OF THE SEASON

It looked as though the Bulldogs might stave off their first loss the season when Nick Weatherspoon tied things up with under a minute to play, but Arizona State got a 3-pointer from Kimani Lawrence in response to give the Sun Devils a 72-67 vicotry at the MGM Main Event in Las Vegas.

Lawrence scored 22 points to lead Arizona State to its upset of the 15th-ranked Bulldogs.

Arizona State has another undefeated start to the season at 4-0 after beginning last year with 12-straight wins. Sure, they lost six of their last seven to end the year, but that start was still something. They’ve got a date with Utah State on Wednesday for the championship.

For Mississippi State, the 3-point shooting continues to be an early-season issue. The Bulldogs were 8 of 30 (26.7 percent) against Arizona State and are now shooting 27.5 percent from distance for the season, which ranks outside the top-300 natioanlly.

3. IS JUSTIN COLEMAN THE CLOSER THAT ARIZONA NEEDS?

The big question with Arizona heading into this season was whether or not they still had enough talent on their roster to compete at the level Wildcat fans have become accustomed to. That’s what happens when you lose five starters and your recruiting class goes up in smoke.

But there may be an answer to Sean Miller’s prayers, and his name, on Monday night, was Justin Coleman. The 5-foot-10 transfer from Samford by way of Alabama entered the game having scored a grand total of 18 points through the first three games of the season. Against Iowa State in the Maui Invitational opener, Coleman finished with 18 points, scoring 15 in the second half and just about single-handedly leading the Wildcats back from a double-digit deficit in the final seven minutes.

I’m not saying that Coleman is the answer, but in Arizona’s toughest game of the season to date, he is the one that stepped up and made essentially every single big play.

It was a terrific performance. Let’s see where Arizona can build from here.

Arizona Board of Regents to meet regarding Arizona hoops program

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Less than a week after a jury found former adidas basketball employees James Gatto and Merl Code Jr. and former runner/aspiring agent Christian Dawkins guilty on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, it was reported by the Arizona Daily Star that the Arizona Board of Regents will meet Thursday to discuss the trial and the Arizona men’s basketball program.

Per the report this is more about updating the Board of Regents on the case and its impact on Arizona than it is making any kind of decision on the program.

It was reported earlier in the week by ESPN that Dawkins, who was found guilty on three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, “wrote of a plan to pay Rawle Alkins and his family $50,000” during the 2017-18 season in hopes to secure him as a client for the sports management business he wanted to get started.

Also, during the trial it was alleged that former Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack offered $50,000 in an attempt to recruit Brian “Tugs” Bowen Jr. Bowen’s father said during his testimony that he was made aware of this alleged offer by Dawkins. During his testimony Bowen Sr. admitted that he and Dawkins agreed to a payment of $100,000 in exchange for his son attending Louisville, which has a lucrative sponsorship/apparel deal with adidas. Bowen Sr. stated that he received $19,000 of the total fee that was agreed upon.

“We always knew we would need to monitor things closely as the judicial proceedings elsewhere proceeded. We are now convening for another update in the wake of the trials that were carried out within the past several weeks,” Regent Jay Heiler said in an interview with The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com.

Per the Arizona Daily Star’s report there’s no plan for the Board of Regents to take any action during Thursday’s meeting. Arizona head coach Sean Miller was not accused of any wrongdoing by prosecutors during the trial of Dawkins, Gatto and Code, and he’s long claimed to have done nothing wrong regarding the recruitment of any players who have been connected to the FBI investigation.

Arizona conducted an investigation of its own after allegations regarding the recruitment of former center Deandre Ayton came to light in February, finding that Miller had not violated any NCAA rules and would continue to serve as the program’s head coach.

Former Arizona assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson will go on trial in April for allegedly receiving $20,000 in bribes in exchange for funneling players to a sports management firm. Richardson has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Arizona forward Ira Lee suspended for season opener

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Prior to Arizona’s exhibition game against Western New Mexico, it was announced that sophomore forward Ira Lee will be suspended for the team’s November 7 regular season opener against Houston Baptist.

Lee was cited on a charge of suspicion of super extreme DUI in August. At the time of the incident it was reported that Lee, who also faced a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence as a minor, had a blood-alcohol content of .215.

As a freshman Lee played just over ten minutes per game, averaging 2.4 points and 2.3 rebounds per contest. With starters Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic both having moved on, Lee is one of the players expected to factor heavily into Arizona’s front court plans this season.

Arizona secures commitment from top-60 2019 wing

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Arizona landed another quality commitment on Wednesday night as Class of 2019 wing Terry Armstrong committed to the Wildcats.

The 6-foot-6 Armstrong is originally from Michigan, but he’s completing his prep career in Arizona this season at Bella Vista Prep. A lethal scorer with The Family in the Nike EYBL this spring, Armstrong was one of the top 10 scorers in the league as he put up 20.4 points per game on 49 percent shooting and 35 percent three-point range.

Armstrong is the third best commitment out of four for Arizona in the Class of 2019, as he joins the five-star backcourt of Nico Mannion and Josh Green along with three-star big man Christian Koloko.

Considering the position that Arizona was in as recently as this past March, and this has been a miraculous turnaround for head coach Sean Miller and his staff. Even though Arizona has been linked on multiple occasions to the FBI’s college basketball corruption scandal — with an upcoming trial that includes former assistant coach Book Richardson — they’re still bringing in high-quality commitments to Tucson for the future.

The perimeter trio of Mannion, Green and Armstrong has the potential to be a really strong class, especially when it comes to adding perimeter firepower. Arizona now finds itself back where it used to be in the recruiting landscape. They’re armed with multiple five-star commitments and a likely top-10 class.

The Wildcats also still have a chance to land one more quality big man as they’re in the mix for a number of quality forwards. If Arizona puts together a top-10 recruiting class composed of five players then it will be a minimal drop-off for a program that once faced a lot of adversity in keeping recruits.

It’s still a long time until this Class of 2019 group hits campus. But it’s a group worth thinking about when it comes to Arizona’s big-picture future.

 

Deandre Ayton mentioned in testimony during FBI’s college basketball corruption trial

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A former Adidas consultant and AAU coach testified on Wednesday that he made payments to the families of five notable college basketball players — including the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Deandre Ayton.

As the FBI’s corruption case against college basketball continued in a New York courtroom on Wednesday, T.J. Gassnola —  affiliated with Adidas through the New England Playaz AAU basketball program — testified that he made payments to players including Ayton, Brian Bowen Jr., N.C. State point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and Kansas’ Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa.

Gassnola testified that he sent $7,000 cash inside of a magazine in an envelope to either Brian Bowen Sr. or associate Christian Dawkins in order for Bowen Jr. to play for the Adidas-sponsored Michigan Mustangs AAU team. Before Gassnola could get into more detailed specifics about the payments to players and their families, the trial broke for the day. Gassnola’s potentially explosive testimony is set to resume on Thursday.

Wednesday’s Gassnola testimony is most notable for the inclusion of Ayton, as this marks the first time during the trial that the No. 1 pick and former Arizona star has been directly mentioned.

Ayton and Arizona have been previously mentioned in the FBI scandal by a report from ESPN’s Mark Schlabach in late February. Arizona head coach Sean Miller has denied those allegations while continuing to coach.

The original ESPN report stated that Miller was caught on a wiretap by the FBI discussing with Dawkins, a runner for ex-NBA agent Andy Miller, a $100,000 payment that was to be made to secure the services of Ayton. Schlabach then made a TV appearance on SportsCenter and said the calls were allegedly made in 2017. After that initial Schlabach TV appearance, the timeline for the alleged phone calls in the original report have come into question. ESPN initially issued a correction that changed some of the dates to 2016 before doubling down and deleting that correction — implying that 2017 was correct all along.

Nothing has been proven beyond the oft-debated ESPN report with regards to Ayton and/or Arizona, so Thursday’s Gassnola testimony will be fascinating to watch. It’s also worth noting that Gassnola’s dealings were usually with Adidas-affiliated college programs and AAU players. Ayton was a Nike (and formerly Under Armour) grassroots player who went to a Nike-backed school in Arizona.

That means Gassnola’s mention of Ayton might not have anything to even do with Arizona or Ayton’s college commitment. It is totally feasible that Gassnola was trying to pay Ayton’s family to lure the talented big man to an Adidas AAU program as he did by paying cash to the Bowen family. All of this is merely speculation until Thursday’s Gassnola testimony, as we’ll have to wait and see what information he gives up on each of those aforementioned players.

(H/t: Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports)

Arizona lands commitment from second five-star guard

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Arizona has landed a commitment from a second five-star prospect in as many months.

Josh Green, a 6-foot-5 Australian that currently lives in Phoenix, announced on Thursday afternoon that he will be playing his college ball for Sean Miller and the Wildcats. A top ten prospect in the class, this commitment comes less than a month after Nico Mannion — a fellow five-star and Green’s teammate with the West Coast Elite AAU program — announced that he, too, will be committing to Arizona.

Arizona has also landed a commitment from three-star center Christian Koloko, a shot-blocker with high-upside.

One of the best scorers in the class, Green should slot in perfectly alongside Mannion, a big, talented point guard that has already cracked Italy’s senior national team.

The irony of this commitment is that it came during the fourth day of the trial of Jim Gatto, Merl Code and Christian Dawkins, three defendants that were charged with crimes during the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball. No one outside of Louisville was as tied to this investigation as Arizona was. An assistant coach was arrested for handing out bribes, they lost a five-star point guard because of the evidence that was turned up and there was a report that came out linking Miller to a $100,000 payment to Deandre Ayton.

It cost Arizona their 2018 recruiting class, but it hasn’t cost the program its status among the elite.

Because the truth is that instability affects recruiting far more than perception. Once it became clear that Miller wasn’t getting fired, recruits no longer had reason to be concerned with committing to the school.

And the proof is a five-star backcourt that could make the Wildcats the favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2020.