Sweet 16 Previews: Why Crowder will be so valuable vs. Florida

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Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com contributed to this post.

Jae Crowder is Marquette’s most important player, and based on the fact that he won Big East Player of the Year of Kevin Jones, the West Virginia power forward that led the conference in scoring and rebounding, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he was the most important player in the league.

The problem is that most people don’t understand that. They don’t see what he provides this team beyond the box score. (And he gives the box score plenty, averaging 17.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.5 spg and 1.0 bpg while shooting 35.3% from three.) They don’t see why he is going to be the most difficult matchup when No. 7 Florida takes the against the third-seeded Golden Eagles on Thursday night.

What makes Crowder so dangerous is his ability to play multiple positions on the floor. He’s big and strong enough to finish around the rim and make a move in the post when he has a smaller defender on him, but his quickness, mobility and skill with the ball allows him to play on the perimeter when he has a power forward (which is the norm, he plays the four for Marquette) guarding him.

It goes beyond the simple ability to make a play on the perimeter. Take a look at this example from the Golden Eagle’s opening round game with BYU. You’ll see Junior Cadougan running off of a high ball-screen set by Jamil Wilson. Crowder is in the far corner:

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Cadougan is able to turn the corner on the screen and get all the way to the rim in large part because Noah Hartsock, BYU’s power forward that was guarding Crowder, was late to help. He couldn’t leave Crowder open:

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Erik Murphy is likely going to be given the task of guarding Crowder, at last early in the game. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up with Crowder 20 feet from the basket.

That is far from the only area that Crowder contributes to Marquette’s offensive attack. The Golden Eagles love to get out an run. They are 16th nationally in pace, according to Kenpom, with 21.3% of their possessions coming in transition. Only two teams in the country (Iona and Alabama A&M) have a higher percentage of possessions in transition.

There are a couple of ways Crowder adds to Marquette’s ability to run. The first is, well, his ability to run. In this example, you’ll see Crowder guarding Tyler Olander of UConn, who is setting a ball-screen for Jeremy Lamb:

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Lamb ends up driving and finishing a layup, but notice the clock and look at where Crowder (No. 32) is located is relation to Olander (No. 10 in white) and Andre Drummond (No. 12 in white):

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Crowder beat them both down the floor for a layup and an immediate answer to Lamb’s basket:

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Marquette’s ability to score quickly can be demoralizing for an opponent. When their transition game is working well, a misstep defensively and you get burned. Here, you see Crowder — who was playing safety in Marquette’s press — grab a rebound in traffic at one end of the floor. Notice the time on the clock:

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Crowder throws a picture-perfect outlet pass to Cadougan — in stride as he heads the other direction:

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And in just five seconds, Wilson is finishing a lob at the other end of the floor:

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It happens that quickly. Even when he’s barely involved in the play, Crowder plays a huge role in Marquette’s ability to get up and down the floor.

The other part of Crowder’s game and deserves to be noted is his versatility defensively. He can defend in the paint and he can guard on the perimeter. In this example, you’ll see Crowder win the battle for position with BYU’s Brandon Davies on one side of the court:

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He then wins the battle again on the other side of the floor, forcing BYU’s star center to catch the ball 18 feet from the rim:

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When Davies tries to back Crowder down, he “pulls the chair” — he steps back so Davies momentum makes him fall — and creates a turnover:

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But as you can see in this example, Crowder can keep the quickest guards in the country in front of him as well. Here, you see Crowder step up and stop the head of steam that UConn’s Ryan Boatright had in transition:

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Boatright realizes he has a power forward on him, so he pulls the ball out and tries to dribble by Crowder:

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But Crowder is quick enough laterally that Boatright is forced to take, and miss, a tough, step-back jumper:

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Florida is going to have to pick their poison when it comes to Crowder. He will be able to defend anyone that they can throw at him at the four spot. Crowder is also the reason that Florida’s mismatch — Murphy, who is a 6’10” sharpshooter at the power forward spot — will be nullified. Crowder can help and recover onto Murphy like he’s guard, but Murphy won’t be able to take advantage of the matchup in the paint. Using freshman Bradley Beal likely won’t be all that much better. Beal will be overwhelmed by Crowder in the paint without being able to blow-by him on the perimeter.

It’s amazing. Crowder can single-handedly ruin the way that Florida’s offensive attack creates matchup problems.

And you wonder why he’s so valuable?

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

No. 5 Villanova beats Tennessee 85-76 in Battle 4 Atlantis

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 16: Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats drives against Elijah Long #55 of the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers in the first half during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KeyBank Center on March 16, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Jalen Brunson scored 25 points to help fifth-ranked Villanova rally from 15 down and beat Tennessee 85-76 in Thursday’s semifinals at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Wildcats (5-0) trailed 44-29 with 1:39 left before roaring out of a break with a dominating run. Villanova scored the first 11 points as part of that 23-2 burst, with the Wildcats playing far more aggressively and getting out in transition.

Mikal Bridges added 21 points for Villanova, which shot 52 percent after halftime and built a 15-point lead with 4:40 left before having to hold off a late rally by the Volunteers.

Grant Williams scored 20 points for Tennessee (3-1), which clawed to within 79-76 on Admiral Schofield’s 3-pointer with 51.6 seconds left. But that was as close as the Volunteers got, with Villanova hitting four free throws and getting a breakaway dunk from Donte DiVincenzo with 13.2 seconds left to seal it.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers were coming off an overtime win against No. 18 Purdue in the first round and they were poised to add an even bigger upset. But that flat second-half start wiped out a strong half’s worth of work and squandered the momentum that came through their board work and converting turnovers.

Villanova: That’s two straight days the Wildcats put together a second-half spurt to take control in the Bahamas. They did it in Round 1 against Western Kentucky to finally break the game open, but this one — full of active hands, deflected passes and guys diving on the floor — brought them back in a game that was once getting away from them.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers will play the North Carolina State-Northern Iowa loser in Friday’s third-place game.

Villanova: The Wildcats will play the N.C. State-Northern Iowa winner in Friday’s championship game.

VIDEO: Mike Brey celebrates Maui win shirtless

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Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey celebrated his team’s win in the Maui Invitational by going shirtless in the team locker room:

This came after Brey spent the entire tournament coaching in shorts and a t-shirt:

Mike Brey (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

I think it’s safe to say Brey enjoyed himself on the islands.

No. 13 Notre Dame lands come-from-behind win to beat No. 6 Wichita State in Maui

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Notre Dame led twice during Wednesday night’s Maui Invitational title game.

At 4-2, and, after Martinas Geben hit the second of two free throws with 2.3 seconds left, at 67-66.

That score would end up being the final, as the 13th-ranked Irish erased a 14-point second half deficit to knock off No. 6 Wichita State and bring home that Maui trophy.

Bonzie Colson led the way with 25 points and 11 boards while Matt Farrell chipped in with 15 points, four assists, four boards and three steals. Geben chipped in with 12 points, including those two free throws that served as the eventual game-winners.

Beyond the simple fact that they did it against one of the best teams in the country, what makes this comeback so impressive is that the Irish didn’t rely on a flurry of threes to change the course of the game. This comeback came through grit, toughness defensively and, if we’re being honest, a little bit of luck.

With less than 20 seconds left on the clock and the Irish down by three points, Colson airballed a pretty good look at a three from the top of the key. On the ensuing inbounds, Farrell stole the ball and happened to find Colson under the rim for a layup. The lead was cut to one, and Wichita State proceeded to miss the front end of a one-and-one after being fouled.

The ball once again ended up underneath Notre Dame’s basket, but this time it was the Irish ball, and after a gorgeous inbounds play, Geben headed to the line for two shots. The first shots somehow managed to go down after bouncing off the back of the rim, the backboard and the front of the rim twice.

And with that, Notre Dame would get off of the islands with another quality win for their résumé and a title to their name.

No. 8 Kentucky finally has it easy against Fort Wayne, 86-67

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Nick Richards had career highs of 25 points and 15 rebounds, and 70 percent first-half shooting propelled No. 8 Kentucky to an 86-67 rout of Fort Wayne on Wednesday night.

Kentucky’s 19-of-27 shooting before halftime countered the Mastodons’ eight 3-pointers that kept them close for a while. Once Fort Wayne started missing, it couldn’t match the length or speed of the young Wildcats (5-1), who eventually led 78-48 with 6:50 remaining on the way to their most decisive win this season.

Richards thrived in both halves and on both ends, making 9 of 10 from the field and all seven free throws for his first career double-double. The 6-foot-11 freshman’s previous highs were 10 points against Utah Valley and nine rebounds against Kansas last week.

Quade Green, Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander each added 11 points as Kentucky shot a season-best 33 of 55 (60 percent) and dominated the rebounding 44-21.

Junior guard John Konchar had 19 points and Bryson Scott 18 for Fort Wayne (3-2), who had won three in a row before losing on 40 percent shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Fort Wayne: A year after upsetting Indiana, the Mastodons led Kentucky 37-36 with 3:51 left in the first half behind 8-of-22 shooting from long range. They went cold from outside and elsewhere after that and the Wildcats pounced to lead at the break and stretch the advantage to 30 points in the second half. The Mastodons’ 12 3-pointers were their third-highest total this season.

Kentucky: Something had to give after all those tense performances and the Wildcats thrived because of their size and best shooting effort this season. Richards couldn’t be stopped on either end, and teammates seemed in sync for the first time. Sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel came up just short of a double-double with 10 rebounds and nine points.

UP NEXT

Kentucky hosts Illinois-Chicago on Sunday to wrap up the Rupp Classic before getting a few days off.

Fort Wayne visits East Tennessee State on Saturday. ETSU lost 78-31 to Kentucky last Friday.

VIDEO: Providence beats Belmont on Kyron Cartwright’s buzzer-beating three

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We got the first wild buzzer-beater of the college basketball season on Wednesday night, as Kyron Cartwright answered a Belmont bucket with 3.7 seconds left by going 94-feet to hit a leaning three at the buzzer:

Providence won the game 65-63.

Cartwright finished with 17 points in the win.