NCAA

Sean Payton signs 5-year extension with Saints

Sean Payton signs 5-year extension with Saints

NEW ORLEANS (AP) New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton signed a five-year contract extension Wednesday that will run through the 2017 season.

The team announced the extension but did not release financial details of the deal. Payton had agreed to the deal in principle on Dec. 29.

``Sean has been a critical part of our success, getting him signed to a long-term deal is very important to our organization and we are pleased to have it finalized,'' Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said in statement released by the team. ``We have already begun the process of planning for the 2013 season, turning the page on 2012. We have challenges ahead, but they are nothing we cannot overcome. I know Sean is ready to get back to football in 2013.''

Payton has guided the most successful period in the franchise's history, leading the Saints to three NFC South division titles and four postseason appearances. Two of his teams advanced to the NFC Championship and the 2009 squad won Super Bowl XLIV.

Payton, who was suspended for the entire 2012 season in connection with the NFL's bounty investigation, can return to work Feb. 4, the day after the Super Bowl.

``I am excited that we have finalized this contract with Sean,'' Saints owner Tom Benson said in the release. ``He and Mickey have built a foundation of success as they have built the roster. We have already begun preparations for the 2013 season.''

Payton signed an extension in 2011 worth more than $6 million a year that would have kept him in New Orleans through 2015, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell objected to certain language in that deal, leaving Payton's future uncertain until a deal was reached in principle. The language in question in the previous extension gave Payton the right to opt out early if Loomis left the club for any reason.

Payton is the only coach in Saints history to win a Super Bowl. But his legacy was tarnished by the NFL's bounty probe, as Goodell ruled that Payton failed to exert proper institutional control over a cash-for-hits bounty program run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009-2011.

Although the Saints objected to the characterization of what coaches and players have said was nothing more than a performance pool for big plays, Goodell suspended Payton for the entire season. The commissioner also suspended Loomis for half of the season and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games.

Payton is 62-34 in regular-season games as Saints coach and 5-3 in the postseason. During the three seasons before his suspension, the Saints won 41 regular-season and playoff games combined, more than any other team in the NFL.

Payton has primarily handled the offense in New Orleans, teaming up with quarterback Drew Brees to break numerous NFL and club records. The single-season NFL records set by the Saints in 2011 included yards passing by a team (5,505) and a quarterback (5,476). The Saints also set a record for total offensive yards with 7,474.

Although speculation ran rampant that Payton could essentially become a free agent after this season and end up elsewhere, Brees repeatedly said he would be ``shocked'' if Payton ended up anywhere but New Orleans next season. Brees is under contract with the Saints through the 2016 season, and Payton was the driving force in the Saints' effort to acquire Brees as a free agent in 2006.

Without Payton on the sideline this season, the Saints missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Brees remained prolific, but his 18 interceptions also tied for a league high heading into the final weekend of the season.

When Payton reports back to work, it will officially close the book on the bounty saga that has overshadowed the Saints' organization since the NFL first announced on March 2 that it found the Saints ran a program that paid improper cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents.

In addition to the suspensions of Payton, Loomis and Vitt, the Saints also were docked second-round draft choices in 2012 and 2013, though Goodell has said he could potentially restores the Saints' 2013 second-round choice and dock the team a later-round pick.

Meanwhile, four current or former Saints were initially given suspensions of varying lengths. Two current Saints defensive captains, linebacker Jon Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, were among those suspended. Vilma was banned for the whole season and Smith for four games, but the players successfully challenged their punishment with the help of the NFL Players Association and never served a game.

Former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who was appointed by Goodell to oversee the players' appeals, ruled that the NFL probe was accurate in its findings that the Saints ran an improper program and attempted to cover it up, but that the evidence was not strong enough to warrant unprecedented suspensions for players who had been only fined for similar behavior in the past.

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No. 7 Maryland takes down Northwestern for 9th straight win

No. 7 Maryland takes down Northwestern for 9th straight win

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) -- Jalen Smith had 22 points and a career-high 19 rebounds for his ninth consecutive double-double, and No. 7 Maryland extended its winning streak to nine games by defeating Northwestern 76-67 Tuesday night.

Smith achieved his 17th double-double of the season by halftime. In two games against Northwestern this season, the 6-foot-10 sophomore has 47 points and 30 rebounds.

Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 19 for the Terrapins (22-4, 12-3 Big Ten), who never trailed in improving their record at home to 15-0. The victory, combined with Penn State's loss to Illinois, left first-place Maryland with a two-game lead with five games to go.

Ryan Young scored 17 and Boo Buie added 15 for the Wildcats (6-19, 1-14) in their 10th successive defeat.

Down by 12 at halftime, Northwestern trailed only 50-46 with 10:45 left. It was 63-57 before a dunk by Smith, two free throws by Cowan and layup by Aaron Wiggins put the Terps up 69-57 with 3:23 remaining.

When the teams met at Northwestern a month ago, the Terrapins rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to win 77-66. This time, Maryland took charge at the outset.

Smith had 10 points and six rebounds in the opening seven minutes to stake the Terps to a 17-6 lead. After the Wildcats closed to 25-22, Darryl Morsell, Wiggins and Eric Ayala hit successive 3s and Cowan added a free throw for a 13-point cushion.

A late dunk by Smith made it 37-25 at halftime.

MOVING ON UP

Cowan passed Tom McMillen to move into eighth place on Maryland's career scoring list. Cowan, a senior guard, has 1,809 points and is 49 short of catching Lonny Baxter for seventh. The school record is 2,269 by Juan Dixon.

BIG PICTURE

Northwestern: The Wildcats can take solace in making a game of it on the road against a Top 10 team. But what Northwestern could use instead of a moral victory is a real one, a feat the Wildcats haven't accomplished since Jan. 11 against Nebraska.

Maryland: One week after squeezing past lowly Nebraska at home, the Terrapins left nothing to chance against an overmatched opponent. It wasn't a blowout, but the outcome was never really in doubt. Maryland now stands two wins away from a perfect season at home.

UP NEXT

Northwestern hosts Minnesota on Sunday, the rematch of a game the Wildcats lost 77-68 on Jan. 5.

Maryland faces No. 25 Ohio State on Sunday to begin a stretch in which the Terrapins play three of four on the road.

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If Georgetown wants to make the NCAA Tournament, they must beat Providence

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If Georgetown wants to make the NCAA Tournament, they must beat Providence

An improbable upset over No. 19 Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse suddenly vaulted the Georgetown Hoyas into the NCAA Tournament conversation over the weekend. 

They pulled out the victory with only seven scholarship players, missing their top two scorers on the season. But no matter how they accomplished the feat, they win drew attention across the country. Any team in the Big East conference that just pulled out a road victory against the ranked Butler Bulldogs has to have postseason aspirations, right? 

There was a surprising revelation when evaluating the Hoyas: The don't have that bad of a tournament resume. 

Yes, at 15-10 (5-7 Big East) the Hoyas can be considered a bubble team. They're ranked 46th in the NET, 47th in KenPom, 60th in BPI and are the last team in Joe Lunardi's bracketology projection as of this writing. Their surprising win over Butler, along with an atrocious bubble this season, has helped them get there.

Now is when the season gets important for the Hoyas, though. One loss to a subpar team could derail that. On Wednesday they host Providence for their second matchup of the season. If they lose, the Hoyas can kiss an at-large bid goodbye. 

Georgetown's resume is contingent on them avoiding bad losses. Their worst loss on the season was to a solid UNC Greensboro team. Every other one is qualified as a Quadrant 1 loss according to the NET. They are 10-1 in non-Q1 situations. 

Bad losses are abound in college basketball this season, even from the top teams. Those losses have Virginia, VCU and Alabama stuck on the bubble. Somehow, the scrappy Hoyas have kept them off their resume. 

Losing to Providence would be a bad loss for the Hoyas. It would be their worst loss to date, according to the NET. Providence is, in fact, one of those teams with a handful of poor losses (9-4 vs. sub-Q1 opponents). And while Providence is also in consideration for the NCAA Tournament, it would crush the Hoyas' outlook since they don't have the Q1 wins to offset a loss like that. 

Beating the Friars at home will not likely be enough for the Hoyas to make the tournament. They'll have to also beat Xavier, DePaul and likely find some magic in one of their other three games. 

The Hoyas can get there, but their quest for the NCAA Tournament starts by beating Providence. 

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