Minnesota Golden Gophers

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Cassius Winston leads No. 8 Michigan St to 74-58 win over Minnesota

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Cassius Winston scored 18 of his 27 points in the second half while Xavier Tillman finished with 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, leading No. 8 Michigan State to a 74-58 win over Minnesota on Thursday night.

The Spartans (13-3, 5-0 Big Ten) led by just four points at halftime before pulling away for their eighth straight victory, staying atop the Big Ten standings as the only team without a conference loss.

The Golden Gophers (8-7, 2-3) were very competitive in the first half, which had five lead changes and five ties, but couldn’t slow down Winston after halftime.

Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu had 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting, 10 rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Marcus Carr scored 11 points and Alihan Demir added 10 points for the Gophers.

BIG PICTURE

Minnesota: Oturu needs more help. The Gophers have four players who average in double figures, but didn’t have anyone get there other than Oturu until Demir made a 3-pointer with 1:31 remaining.

Michigan State: After taking full advantage of a home-heavy schedule, the Spartans will play three of their next four games on the road.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Spartans are the highest-ranked team with three losses, making it difficult for them to move up in the poll.

UP NEXT

Minnesota: Hosts No. 19 Michigan on Sunday and No. 20 Penn State on Wednesday night, facing a third ranked opponent in a week.

Michigan State: At Purdue on Sunday.

Minnesota’s Amir Coffey to remain in draft

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Minnesota’s hopes of a second-straight NCAA tournament took a significant blow Wednesday.

Amir Coffey, the Gophers’ leading scorer and assist-man last season, will remain in the NBA draft and forgo is remaining collegiate eligibility, according to multiple reports.

The 6-foot-8 junior averaged 16.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists last season while shooting 43.6 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from 3-point range. Coffey was a major recruit as a prep player before a knee injury cooled his prospects some. He’s dealt with injuries throughout his collegiate career as well.

NBA franchises will likely be intrigued by his playmaking coupled with his size, but he projects as a late second-round pick or going undrafted.

Coach Richard Pitino and the Gophers will now be tasked with replacing the focal point of the offense in Coffey along with departed seniors Jordan Murphy and Dupree McBrayer.

Cassius Winston’s brilliance on full display as Michigan State returns to the Sweet 16

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Starved for something to cheer for, the thousands of Minnesotans who made the trek a couple hundred miles south down Interstate 35 finally came to life. The Gophers they were there to cheer for, the program which was looking to return to the Sweet 16 for the first time in two decades, trimmed a 20-point lead against the Big Ten co-champs, the team that had destroyed them by 24 a month earlier, to nine points.

Seemingly everything other than the scoreboard seemed in Minnesota’s favor, and that looked suddenly in play.

“It got loud,” Winston said.

That’s when Tom Izzo told Winston to go to work.

“I told him he’s got to take over,” the Hall of Famer said, “and like a true All-American did.”

Instead of a superhero in a cape, the Spartans have a diminutive guard in a headband, though the results are largely the same.

Winston scored seven-straight points while recording two steals and a rebound in just over a minute to resecure the game for Michigan State and send the Spartans into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015’s Final Four run with 70-50 win Saturday against Minnesota at Wells Fargo Arena.

“You’ve got to make big plays. I’ve got to be who I am for this team. That’s my role for this team,” Winston said. “That’s what I’ve been doing all year. I don’t try to do too much. I don’t try to put the world on my shoulders, but I try to make plays to the best of my ability.”

The world may not have been on Winston’s shoulders, but the Spartans were on his back during that remarkable 82-second stretch that few players in the country could replicate.

An 8-0 run by Minnesota trimmed what had once been a 20-point Michigan State advantage to single digits, 40-31, with under 14 minutes to play in the game. After a Michigan State turnover, the Gophers had the opportunity to cut even further into their deficit, but Dupree Macbrayer’s jumper was off the mark, and Winston collected the rebound. On the ensuing possession as the shot clock dipped down, Winston connected on a step-back jumper.

He then picked off a pass from Gabe Kalscheuer, and hit another jumper on the other end. Next it was a deflection that lead to a fast break, where Winston pulled up in transition and buried a 3-pointer. Seven points in 57 seconds. A ballgame decided and a Sweet 16 trip to Washington, D.C. locked up in under a minute.

“That really killed us,” Gopher forward Amir Coffey said. “We had it going a little bit, and Cassius just came through for Michigan State and hit some clutch shots.”

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It’s what Winston has been doing for Michigan State all year. Whether it was a season-ending injury to Josh Langford or the  ailments that have sidelined Nick Ward or Kyle Aherns. Michigan State has time and again looked as though it faced a situation where its season could go sideways only to have Winston there to set the Spartans straight. The Big Ten player of the year has been tremendous, averaging 19.1 points and 7.5 assists per game while shooting 47.2 percent from the floor and 40.4 percent from distance.

“That’s just typical Cassius. That’s just what he does,” sophomore Xavier Tillman said. “Whenever we need him to score, whenever we need him to distribute, whenever we need him to just lead vocally he does whatever we need him to do, and that was just another day in the park.”

That scoring outburst was exactly what Michigan State needed to shutdown the Gophers, and it was about all Winston could give the Spartans. The Big Ten tournament champions have played five games in eight days, and Winston has looked worse for the wear. Those seven points were more than half of what he scored for the game, finishing with 13 points on 5 of 11 shooting (1 of 4 from 3) along with nine assists and four turnovers.

When Minnesota had its chance to truly threaten the Spartans, Winston found the strength, will, fortitude or maybe just a second wind enough to put a halt to it.

“He was hurting. He just was worn out. I said, ‘Well, here is the way it is, my man,’” Izzo said. “‘If you’re worn out you’ll get a lot of rest. If you’re not worn out you got another week or so and you’ll get a lot of rest any way. So how about we get after it and try to prolong this.’

“I just love the fact that he responded. He wouldn’t have responded like that two years ago if you ask me. He responded and I know how he felt. Yet I also know what he did. It was pretty impressive.”

It also put an end to the recent run of calamities for the Spartans in the NCAA tournament. There was Middle Tennessee State in 2016 followed by a nine-seed season that No. 1 Kansas put an end to in the Round of 32. Last year it was 11-seed Syracuse that sent Michigan State home that first weekend.

For a program that has prided itself on consistent Final Fours, a run like that is grating.

“Amazing, to finally get over the hump,” Winston said, “get to that second weekend.”

Nearly as amazing as how Winston took a few dozen seconds to win a game and keep the Spartans on track to perhaps in a week retrace the path all those dejected Gopher fans were making Saturday night, north to Minneapolis.

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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.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Who will be the breakout star of this year’s tournament?

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What makes a breakout star is a subjective thing. Zion Williamson could average 50 and 25 as Duke cruises to a national title, but the only thing he’d be breaking is records.

Ja Morant plays for a mid-major, but he’s going to be a top-five pick come June’s draft.

So there’s a sweet spot of either being a role player thrust into prominence, an OK team who advances because of its best player or an unknown star for a mid-major.

That’s at least the criteria we’ll be looking at here.

LONGSHOTS

Amir Coffey, Minnesota

Coffey was a major prospect before an ACL tear in high school kept his recruitment a bit lower-key, and he ultimately stayed home to play for the Gophers. At 6-foot-8 with athleticism and guard skills, Coffey  is super talented and productive. He has the ability to absolutely go off, too, having scored 30-plus three times against Big Ten opponents. The trouble for him will be sticking around long enough to get noticed with Minnesota drawing the 10 seed in the east with No. 7 Louisville first and then potentially No. 2 Michigan State, which beat the Gophers by 24 in the teams’ only meeting this year.

Matt Mooney, Texas Tech

The Red Raiders, along with Kansas State, ended Kansas’ 14-year reign over the Big 12, and with Chris Beard the architect of their defense, there’s a real shot at a deep run here. Jarrett Culver draws the headlines and NBA scouts, but Mooney, a South Dakota transfer, is a decent bet to outperform expectations. He’s shooting 50 percent on 3s in the last month and if Texas Tech is going to be a true Final Four threat, they’ll need to give Culver some help offensively.

GETTING CLOSER

Anthony Lamb, Vermont

The Catamounts’ star is a high-scoring, rebound-grabbing, sweet-shooting and major-usage player in the form of the 6-foot-6 Rochester, N.Y native. Lamb averages 21.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.9 blocks per game. He shoots 37 percent from 3 and 52.1 percent overall. He shoots a ton – taking nearly 35 percent of his team’s attempts while he’s on the floor – and sometimes volume is the key to Big Dance stardom. The only way to make a bunch of shots is to take a bunch of shots. The draw is a little tough with Florida State in Round 1, but then a sinking Marquette team or good-but-not-daunting Murray State team between them and the Sweet 16.

Matt McQuaid, Michigan State

The 6-foot-5 senior is an absolute sharpshooter for one of the country’s best teams. Shooting from 3 at a 43.3 percent clip, McQuaid is going to be tasked with taking and making big shots for the Spartans, who are looking to get back to the Final Four after three-straight first-weekend flameouts. Cassius Winston is the Spartans’ star, no doubt, but here’s betting McQuaid finds himself in a situation or two where he can be a hero on a big stage.

Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s

Ponds is an electrifying guard that can take over a game – the NCAA tournament loves players like that – and he averaged 19.5 points per game for Chris Mullin and Co. He can really fill it up, and it’s fun to watch him cook when he’s at his best. The problem is, he can run hot and cold, plus there’s the issue of St. John’s being exiled to Dayton and the First Four. Ponds has the game and the role to breakthrough, but there’s plenty working against him, too.

ONE SHINING MOMENT HEROES

Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati

The Bearcat junior is a name hoop-heads know well, but isn’t on the radar of NBA draftniks or casual fans by virtue of playing in the AAC. Cincinnati is a basketball brand, though, and that could help Cumberland capture hearts and minds. The 6-foot-5 AAC player of the year averaged 18.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. His shooting percentage is ugly at 40.4 percent overall, but that’s because he struggles inside the arc, shooting just 41.3 percent on 2s. Outside the arc, it’s a strong 39.1. He’s another high-usage player, who if he gets hot will put up monster numbers. The path isn’t horrible either, with No. 10 Iowa in the opening round and then a Tennessee team that’s great but  also just took a 20-point L to Auburn.

Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

Clarke shouldn’t be on this list. He plays for one of the best programs in the country and is having an absolutely astounding season. Honestly, it’s been fantastic. He wasn’t, however, names as a Naismith semifinalist or on the final watch list for the Karl Malone power forward award (or the Abdul-Jabbar for center if you see him as a five). So, apparently, he’s not getting the due he deserves, whether it’s because Gonzaga basically stops being part of the conversation for two months in the WCC, the discussion on Killian Tillie’s health sucked up the oxygen or playing next to Rui Hachimura just makes it hard to get noticed. The truth, though, is that Clarke is one of the most efficient offensive players in the country, and one of it’s most versatile and productive defenders. Maybe March is the time for the public to learn all that.

Corey Davis Jr., Houston

The senior guard is the best player on the team we don’t talk about enough after they went 31-3 in the regular season. Davis averaged 16.7 points per game and shot 38 percent from 3-point range. With Georgia State in the first round and then either an inconsistent Iowa State team or a mediocre Ohio State awaiting them, Houston’s path to the Sweet 16 isn’t overly formidable. Then it’s an excellent-but-beatable Kentucky and then maybe the field’s weakest 1-seed in North Carolina away from the Final Four. If it happens, bet that Davis will be a big reason why.

THE PICK

Brandon Clarke

Given the stage he’ll be given provided the Bulldogs take care of business, Clarke is going to make it wildly apparent how good he is and how early we’ll hear his name from Adam Silver later this summer.

Made for TV NCAAs: Louisville-Minnesota hits Pitino intrigue

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Richard Pitino sat calmly in the middle of the room, his eager players flanking him and his restless children in front of him on the floor, as the teams with NCAA Tournament bids flashed on a big screen.

There went Louisville, an awfully familiar name.

Next came Minnesota, his current team.

Pitino simply smiled, fully and immediately aware of the extra intrigue created by the selection committee with this East Region matchup of No. 7 and 10 seeds.

The madness of March has been built on all those low-major upsets and buzzer-beating swishes that bust up the office-pool brackets, but some of the must-see TV each year is arranged before the opening tip.

The Louisville-Minnesota game is one of those predetermined talkers, pitting Pitino and the Gophers against the storied program that fired his father, Rick Pitino, prior to the 2017-18 season in response to the federal investigation into a nationwide college basketball bribery and corruption case. Richard Pitino served two stints as an assistant with the Cardinals under his dad, who has been coaching a professional team in Greece this season .

“Has he talked about Louisville the last two years? Yeah, he has, not in the most positive light,” Pitino said. “It’s not going to be about me. I’m not going to be, ‘Oh, it’s revenge,’ or anything like that. It’s about our players. It’s about this program.”

The Gophers will go to the NCAA Tournament for a second time in six seasons under Pitino.

“We know he’s been there a long time, his dad’s been there, but we can’t make it all about the Pitino family,” senior shooting guard Dupree McBrayer said. “This is a team game.”

The Cardinals and Gophers were sent to Des Moines, Iowa, where they’ll face off on Thursday with a late morning tipoff. That was far from the only assignment made by the committee that carried a dimension beyond the matchups on the court, of course.

Buffalo will get a fresh look at its first opponent when Arizona State plays St. John’s in one of the play-in games on Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio. If Arizona State wins the right to face Buffalo on Friday afternoon in Tulsa, Oklahoma, well, Bulls coach Nate Oats sure won’t be surprised. Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley just so happened to be his boss, before Hurley left for Arizona State and Oats was promoted by Buffalo.

As the final quarter of the bracket, the West Region, was revealed, Oats had an inkling his Bulls, the No. 6 seed, would wind up next to the Sun Devils.

“You think it was a coincidence? Yeah, me neither. It’s TV,” said Oats, who was trading text messages with Hurley’s brother, Danny, during the selection show.

After Hurley directed Buffalo’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 2015, Oats has now steered the Bulls to three in four years.

“Coach Hurley gave me my shot. I pull for him,” Oats said. “We talk a lot. Emotionally, it’s not going to be fun. For his sake, I hope they get the win.”

If UCF, the No. 9 seed in the East Region, can beat No. 8 VCU, coach Johnny Dawkins will be subject to the same type of mixed emotions. The second-round pairing for the Knights would probably be Duke, provided the No. 1 overall seed takes care of North Carolina Central or North Dakota State. Dawkins both played for and coached under Blue Devils maven Mike Krzyzewski.

The coaches are a major part of the story in March, but they’ll always be on the bench. The players are the true stars of the show, and there are no greater individual standouts than Marquette’s Markus Howard and Murray State’s Ja Morant. Well, guess what? They’re scheduled to play each other right away, too.

Marquette is the No. 5 seed in the West, facing No. 12 Murray State in Hartford, Connecticut, on Thursday afternoon. Nobody in the tournament has scored more this season than the 5-foot-11 Howard (sixth in the country with an average of 25.0 points per game) and the 6-foot-3 Morant (eighth with 24.6 points per game). The sophomore Morant, a dynamic dunker, also leads the nation with an average of 10.0 assists per game. The junior Howard hit the 45-point mark three times.

Let’s go back to Minnesota for a moment, too. If the Gophers beat Louisville, there will likely be an even more familiar foe waiting for them in the next game: Michigan State. The No. 2 seed Spartans play No. 15 Bradley to start. That potential Michigan State-Minnesota matchup would be a big deal for the Big Ten even if not in the rest of the country.

Such an intraconference matchup on the first weekend is a rarity. In 2011, when the Big East sent a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament out of what was then a 16-team league, there were two all-Big East games in the second round: Cincinnati-Connecticut and Syracuse-Marquette.

According to David Worlock, the NCAA’s director of media coordination and statistics, the committee tries to avoid such matchups if possible. Tournament principles state that teams who played only once during the season can meet as early as the second round, and this season the Spartans and Gophers only met once. If two teams played twice, they’re allowed to meet as early as the regional semifinals. If they met three times, they couldn’t match up until the regional finals.