Pitt reaching the Final Four seems inevitable

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The Big East is turning into Pitt’s personal playground. That’s a promising sign for a program dying to get back to the Final Four.

A 57-54 win at Villanova Saturday night gave the Panthers their first win at The Palestra Pavilion 17 years and marked the first time they’ve won 11 of their first 12 Big East games. Not bad for team playing without leading scorer Ashton Gibbs.

“It was fun. A hostile environment, no Ashton Gibbs and we got the win,” said senior Brad Wanamaker, who scored a team-high 21 points, including most of the clutch baskets that usually fall to Gibbs.

That gives Pitt (23-2, 11-1) a sizable lead heading into its final six Big East games. Notre Dame – its one conference loss – is 10-3, while the rest of the league is no better than 8-4. If you’re a believer that the Big East is the nation’s best conference, the fact that Pitt’s running away with the league should be an indicator of what March holds.

For comparison, the 2008-09 Pitt squad that finished 31-5, reached No. 1 in the rankings, nabbed a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance and reached the Elite Eight features tempo-free numbers that are awfully close to this year’s edition. (That Sam Young-DeJuan Blair-Levance Fields team didn’t win the Big East but had stiffer competition in Louisville and UConn.) The offense is slightly worse, but the defense is better.

People have noticed, too.

“I think [this Pitt team] compares to their team in ’09. Their depth, their experience, their veteran guys are awesome,” ‘Nova coach Jay Wright told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook.

Pitt’s detractors love to write them off as a team that thrives in the regular season and falters in March for varying reasons, usually related to their offense. (Because reaching the Final Four is soooo easy.) Yet Cook writes that the more Pitt plays, the tougher it’s gonna be to ignore their Final Four chances.

After all, this is a team that just won at ‘Nova without its leading scorer. That should speak volumes. From Cook’s column:

… I like No. 4 Pitt’s chances as much as any team’s. There is no dominant club this season. No. 1 Ohio State lost Saturday at Wisconsin, the last of the unbeatens to fall. Pitt already has beaten one of the teams ahead of it in the polls — No. 3 Texas.

That Texas win was back in November, before the Longhorns turned into the nation’s nastiest defensive team. But that’s nitpicking given that Pitt’s offense is an incredible blend of talent, depth and impressive rebounding.

And that defense? Ask Jay Wright about it. For one of the few times this year, the Panthers won by shutting down an opposing offense, not by displaying an unstoppable offense.

Offense, defense, depth, talent. Pitt has it all. If this isn’t the year the Panthers return to the Final Four, not sure when it’ll happen.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Five-star 2017 point guard Trevon Duval down to 10 schools

CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 9: Trevon Duval during the 2015  Under Armour All-America Basketball Camp on July 9, 2015 at Queens College in Charlotte, NC. (Photo by Ned Dishman/Under Armour)
(Photo by Ned Dishman/Under Armour)
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Five-star point guard Trevon Duval is the most electrifying lead guard in the Class of 2017. The native of Delaware dominated the Under Armour circuit this spring and is currently regarded by many as a top-five player in the class by most recruiting services.

Now he’s down to 10 schools as his recruiting is starting to become more of a focus. The 6-foot-2 Duval is down to Arizona, Cal, Kansas, Maryland, Oregon, St. John’s, Seton Hall, UCLA, USC and Villanova.

Things are still early in the process for Duval and it will be interesting to see if he schedules any official visits soon.

Ohio State gaining recruiting momentum with two 2018 commitments

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 24: Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes claps on the sideline in the first half against the Iowa State Cyclones during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 24, 2013 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Ohio State has lost quite a few transfers and hasn’t had a lot go their way with regards to recent recruiting, but things could be changing after a good weekend.

The Class of 2018 is starting to look really good for the Buckeyes as they landed commitments from wings Darius Bazley and Justin Ahrens this weekend. The two in-state products are grassroots teammates together on King James and they give Ohio State three commitments in that class.

Bazley is considered a four-star prospect on Rivals while Ahrens checks in as a three-star. They join another Ohio native, guard Dane Goodwin, in the class as this could be the group that helps bring Ohio State back in regular Big Ten contention.

Butler lands commitment from four-star 2017 forward Kyle Young

Atlanta, GA - SUNDAY, MAY 29: Nike EYBL. Kyle Young #34 of King James Session 4. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
(Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Butler picked up an important commitment on Monday as four-star forward Kyle Young committed to the Bulldogs.

A Class of 2017 stretch forward who can hit jumpers and has an improving skill set, the 6-foot-7 Young comes from Massillon, Ohio and he’s regarded as the No. 109 overall prospect.

Young was impressive in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer with King James as he averaged 15.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game as he shot 48 percent from the field and 36 percent from 3-point range.

This is a nice grab for Butler as Young is the type of versatile perimeter shooter that they like to utilize and he should be able to help a bit on the glass as well.

Young joins a class that includes guards Cooper Neese and Jerald Butler.

VIDEO: Collin Sexton with a trick shot for the ages

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 1.33.34 PM
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Earlier this summer, we told you the story of Collin Sexton, how the 6-foot-2 Georgia native went from being a mid-major recruit to a five-star prospect being courted by the likes of Kansas, Arizona, North Carolina and Villanova.

It’s because he’s a bucket-getter.

     RELATED: Making A Five Star

He averaged 31 points in the Nike EYBL circuit, nine points better than Michael Porter, who finished second in the league in scoring. No one puts points on the board like he does, so it’s only fitting that he was the guy that made a shot from the balcony during ‘The Trip’, Nike’s effort to keep kids associated with their brand from Elite 24:

Lonzo Ball struggled on UCLA’s Australian tour

Lonzo Ball (UCLA Athletics)
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UCLA capped their three-game trip to Australia on Sunday night with a 94-91 win over the Brisbane Bullets, a game in which sophomore point guard Aaron Holiday finished with a team-high 17 points. Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton both added 16 points and freshman Ike Anigbogu finished with 13 points and 10 boards.

This win came just two days after the Bruins lost to Melbourne United, 89-84, when Hamilton — 18 points and five assists — and Holiday — 16 points — were both once again impressive. Alford also added 18 points in Friday’s loss.

It’s not surprising that the Bruins had some up and down performances abroad. Everyone does. It’s what happens when a team of college kids, with three freshmen playing key roles, heads to the other side of the world to square off against teams made up of professionals. Don’t go hanging the ‘Fire Steve Alford’ banners on anymore airplanes just yet.

There are, however, two interesting things to consider from this trip:

– Lonzo Ball, UCLA’s star freshman, was, at best, their fourth-best perimeter player. Seniors Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford and sophomore Aaron Holiday all played well and posted impressive numbers on the three-game trip. Ball? He didn’t shoot well. At all. In UCLA’s 47-point opening win, he was 3-for-9 from the floor and 1-for-3 from three, putting together was was by far his best shooting performance of the trip. In the three games, he shot a total of 25 percent (9-36) from the field and 19 percent (4-21) from three. He did average 5.0 assists and, in one game, notched 13 boards, but Ball’s ability to shoot will be something to keep an eye on.

– And then there’s this, from Bryce Alford:

UCLA needs to travel with more towels.