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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.

Draymond Green nearly transferred from Michigan State before high school coach’s advice

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Draymond Green’s storied career at Michigan State almost ended during his first season on campus.

The Golden State Warriors all-star is known for his brash style and unpredictable emotional swings as those tendencies came to a head when Green wasn’t getting minutes early in his freshman season. In a story from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, Green’s high school coach, Bruce Simmons, is interviewed, as he gives some perspective on how Green turned things around early in his college career.

When Green thought about leaving for somewhere else, Simmons told him to start going after Spartans senior Marquise Gray in practice and making a name for himself by outplaying him. Simmons also instructed Green to stare down Izzo if he played well against Gray.

“His freshman year at Michigan State, he got one minute against Ohio State,” Simmons said to Shelburne. “He called and said, ‘Coach Bruce, I’m going to transfer. F— this s—.’ And I said, ‘Noooo. We don’t do that. This is what you’re going to do. You’re going to go into practice. [Senior] Marquise Gray is getting your minutes. Bust his ass. Talk s— to him. And then when you’re doing that, look at Izzo, because Izzo is putting this [guy] on the court instead of you.'”

Knowing what we know now about Green, and his tendency to trash-talk and play mind games, this approach totally makes sense for him. Not many players are capable of going to emotional war like Green is and the style worked well with Izzo as the duo made a Final Four and Green became one of the NBA’s most important players.

 

Marquette’s Hauser brothers go separate ways in transferring to new schools

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After surprisingly transferring from Marquette following a successful season, Joey and Sam Hauser announced on Tuesday that they are heading to separate schools to continue their college basketball careers.

Sam Hauser, a junior with one season left of eligibility, will head to Virginia to play for head coach Tony Bennett. Joey Hauser, a freshman with three seasons left of eligibility, will play for head coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State. Both brothers were considered two of the best transfers available on the market a year removed from regularly contributing to a team that was consistently in the top 25 last season.

Sam put up 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last season while shooting 45 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range. Joey averaged 9.7 points, 5.3 rebounds per game in his freshman year while shooting 44 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range.

Many expected the high-scoring brothers to continue to play with one another at their next destination, so the split recruiting decisions come as a bit of a surprise after the duo took official visits together during the recruiting process. Both brothers are expected to sit out the 2019-20 season due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming their careers the following season.

While Sam could be an immediate boost offensively to a Virginia team that has sometimes struggled to score, Joey is a nice rotation piece that should add shooting to a promising young Michigan State core.

Joshua Langford finds new role amid injury and Michigan State’s Final Four run

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MINNEAPOLIS — Tom Izzo had seen enough.

His Michigan State team had botched its out of bounds defense, and he felt another voice was needed to get the Spartans locked in. So he turned to his injured star, Joshua Langford.

“I said, ‘Josh, it’s time for you to take over,’ Izzo recalled this week. “So if you watch him on the bench, whenever there’s an out of bounds play, he’s getting the guys ready.”

Out-of-bounds defensive coordinator has been the type of role that Langford has been relegated to since a foot injury ended his junior season in December. Then, it seemed as though Langford might be the key to the Spartans’ success as their best pro prospect, but Michigan State has rolled all the way to U.S. Bank Stadium and Izzo’s eighth Final Four as Cassius Winston blossomed into a Player of the Year Candidate and the Spartans became one of the best two-way teams in the country.

That’s left the 6-foot-5 Langford, who was averaging 15 points per game and shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, to contribute where he can.

“I just try to stay involved with my voice, reminding the guys and encouraging the guys, try to make sure they know we’re a great team,” Longford told NBC Sports. “I jumped right into it because I’m a captain on the team. I was already talking and doing things like that. As soon as I was on the sidelines, I just went right back to doing what I felt like I should do for my team.”

Langford’s reaction to his transformation from star to sideline hasn’t been altogether surprising to his teammates.

“He’s been very positive about it,” fellow junior Nick Ward said. “He’s very optimistic. He’s just been helping us no matter his status with the injury.

“Josh is very optimistic and positive person.”

He’s also someone who craves hoops.

“Some guys like the game, some guys love the game, and some guys live the game. Joshua is a guy that lives the game,” Izzo said. “He’s become a quiet kid that became a great leader last summer, and he still leads. That kid has not missed one second of one practice the entire time he’s injured. Even when he rehabs, he either does it right there in front of him or he comes in. H

“We miss him, but we have kept him involved.”

That’s why you’ll see Langford barking directions when Texas Tech takes the ball out under the basket Saturday night.

“I just try to remind the guys to stay down and focus,” Langford said of his out-of-bounds responsibilities. “I don’t really do anything with the defensive schemes. That’s the coaches’ job. I try to remind the guys what our game plan is. I try to make sure they stay down and ready because most of the times teams score on out of bounds because they’re not prepared.”

Langford, though, is dialed in to not only what the Spartans have to do, but what they’ll see from their opponents.

“Just telling us to get down, the plays that they’re about to run,” Ward said. “It’s always good to have reminders.”

It’s also good to have a guy like Langford, even if he’s in a walking boot rather than a pair of Nikes.

“He’s going to be one of those guys that, when he leaves,” Izzo said, “I’m going to be sorry that he left.”

Michgian State’s Xavier Tillman is ready for his moment

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MINNEAPOLIS — Xavier Tillman couldn’t quite believe it when he saw it. As he stepped out on to the floor, the Michigan State sophomore was almost overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. Tillman looked around U.S. Bank Stadium and tried to get a grasp of it.

“I’ve never been in anything like this before. We walked out there and everybody was kind of looking around like this is huge,” Tillman. “It was hard to even see the top of the stadium. I’ve never played in something this big.”

The stadium matches the stage, as well as the role Tillman has played for the Spartans over the last six weeks to help them get back to their first Final Four since 2015 and try to win Tom Izzo’s second national championship. The Grand Rapids, Mich. native has transformed from useful reserve to indispensable piece after taking over as starter following Nick Ward’s hand injury in mid-February.

“He plays his role to perfection,” All-American point guard Cassius Winston said.

That role was one the 6-foot-8 forward had to wait for, not just this season, but last. A four-star recruit coming out of Grand Rapids Christian High School, Tillman spent the bulk of his freshman season watching. He played just 305 minutes, rarely seeing the floor for more than just spot duty for a few minutes each game. Still, that was a role he tried to embrace.

“My freshman year when I didn’t play in any games, I was on the bench standing up, yelling. I was clapping. I was smacking the ground,” Tillman said. “Show as much energy as I could from the bench so whenever they looked over, they’d be locked in.”

Tillman went from spending most of his time on the bench last year to seeing much more action as a sophomore, but it wasn’t until Nick Ward broke his hand on Feb. 17, that Tillman emerged not only as a reliable replacement but a critical cog in Michigan State winning 14 of its last 15 to reach the Twin Cities and Izzo’s eighth Final Four.

He immediately put up numbers, going for 19 points and nine boards in his starting debut against Rutgers and followed that up shortly with double-doubles against Nebraska and Michigan. Despite the stats, though, Tillman was still trying to feel his way through his expanded role.

“I wasn’t comfortable,” Tillman. “In the moment you try to get comfortable, you try to lock in, but you’re always going to be a little shaky in the moment. When you look back on it, you can say, ‘OK, at this moment I made a mistake that I usually don’t make so I was probably a little nervous at that point.’”

Eventually, those nerves melted away as Tillman’s production rose down the stretch of the season. In his 12 starts, he averaged 13.8 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the floor.

“He’s stepped up a lot,” Ward said. “He’s been doing his thing.”

That thing was never better than when Michigan State needed him most. Sunday against Duke, the tournament’s prohibitive favorite, and Zion Williamson, the biggest force to hit college basketball in years, Tillman was at his best, putting up 19 points and 10 rebounds while defending Williamson.

There were no more nerves. No more searching for comfort. Just production.

“You would think, this is a big game, you should be a little nervous,” Tillman said, “but I was really comfortable. I think I’ve gotten to the point that I’m living with all my results that happen on the court so now I’m just trying to win the game and play as hard as I can no matter how well I play or not.”

Tillman is a man who not only has settled into his role with the Spartans, but his spot in life. He’s the father of a 2-year-old daughter and will marry his fiance next month. It brings the perspective that allows him to thrive at a university that casts a shadow 70 miles across Interstate 96 from East Lansing to his hometown.

“Other than getting engaged, this has been the best decision I’ve made, for my family, just for myself,” he said. “Myself because I’ve gotten to compete against some really great guys that made me better, and formed me into the man I am today.”

That’s a man that will be vital for Michigan State as it looks to reclaim its spot atop college basketball after nearly a two-decade hiatus.

“We’ve come this far, might as well finish it,” Tillman said. “To be part of a program with such a winning history is already an honor. To make another mark with the history of this program, is just unbelievable. Hopefully we’re able to finish it out with another national championship and add to coach’s resume and start our’s as well.”

Final Four is set after memorable Elite Eight

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The 2019 Final Four is set for next weekend in Minneapolis as the second weekend of the NCAA tournament was a memorable one.

After four memorable Elite Eight games, No. 1 seed Virginia will face No. 5 seed Auburn in one national semifinal with No. 2 seed Michigan State battling No. 3 seed Texas Tech in the other Final Four game on Saturday.

Falling in last season’s NCAA tournament to No. 16 seed UMBC, the Cavaliers figured things out to make the Final Four with a memorable overtime win in the South Region over No. 3 seed Purdue. Despite 42 points from Boilermaker junior guard Carsen Edwards, Virginia outlasted his 10 three-pointers with a flurry of their own from Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. And with the team needing a buzzer-beating bucket just to force overtime, big man Mamadi Diakite came through.

Virginia’s win will go down as one of the better Elite Eight games of the decade as Edwards became a March hero while the Cavaliers finally overcame some NCAA tournament demons.

Also winning an overtime game in the Midwest Region was No. 5 seed Auburn as they outlasted SEC rival Kentucky. Playing without Sweet 16 star Chuma Okeke, who suffered a torn ACL on Friday, the Tigers rallied in the second half to beat the Wildcats behind Bryce Brown and Jared Harper to make their first Final Four in school history. The Wildcats’ great season ends behind a strong game from P.J. Washington as he overcame a foot injury last week to end a memorable sophomore season with 28 points and 13 rebounds.

Texas Tech advanced to its first Final Four in school history as well with a win over No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday. In a close Elite Eight matchup in the West Region, the Red Raiders held off the Bulldogs with shot-making from Jarrett Culver and Matt Mooney while Gonzaga was held to 7-for-26 three-point shooting. Rui Hachimura (22 points) and Brandon Clarke (18 points) both had strong games while Josh Perkins (16 points) committed a late out-of-bounds foul that sealed the game for the Red Raiders.

The final Elite Eight thriller saw No. 2 seed Michigan State outlast No. 1 seed Duke in the East Region. Cassius Winston (20 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks) and Xavier Tillman (19 points, nine rebounds) both had big games for the Spartans as they limited turnovers to shock the No. 1 overall seed. The loss likely ends the college career of freshmen Zion Williamson (24 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks, three steals) and R.J. Barrett (21 points, six assists) as the Blue Devils fall short of the Final Four when many considered them a title favorite.

Between the four great games, two overtime thrillers, a buzzer-beater to force overtime and some big star performances, this makes a strong case for the best Elite Eight ever. We had a jaw-dropping Edwards performance in a losing effort, two blueblood programs (Duke and Kentucky) getting upset in close games and the final college game of the sport’s biggest star of the decade (Zion).

And that doesn’t even include Auburn and Texas Tech making the first Final Four in school history, Izzo’s finest coaching job and Winston’s heroics and Goins’ big shot. Virginia overcoming a shaky reputation and the Tigers overcoming the loss of Okeke to injury.

The first weekend might have been mostly chalk. The second weekend of the 2019 NCAA tournament was a great one as it culminated in memorable Elite Eight games and stars coming through in the clutch. It’s led to some unexpected Final Four matchups, but at least college hoops fans have plenty to talk about this week after some ridiculous games.