Florida v Arizona

Contributions both large and small set stage for Mark Lyons’ gamewinner

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TUCSON — The moment Arizona fans have been clamoring for was finally here. Even with an Elite 8 appearance in 2011 there had yet to be a “marquee” game at McKale Center reminiscent of the days when Lute Olson ran the show.

That all changed on Saturday night, as the No. 8 Wildcats hosted No. 5 Florida in the first matchup of Top 10 teams at McKale since 2004. And even though it was Mark Lyons’ drive to the basket that capped a rally in the final minute to give Arizona the 65-64 victory, a “return” to last season put the Wildcats in position to remain undefeated.

That “return” to last season was Arizona going small, a move that happened mainly because freshman 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski was in foul trouble for much of the night.

Head coach Sean Miller continued to play two big men at the same time with Tarczewski on the bench in the first half but the moving of Solomon Hill onto Erik Murphy helped limit the senior in the second, as Murphy looked far too comfortable in scoring his ten first-half points.

Murphy would score six points in the second half but Arizona’s ability to pressure him and take away those pick and pop opportunities that he tends to feast on led to four of his five turnovers. Just as important as Arizona’s defending of Murphy was the fact that they didn’t allow Patric Young to go off, something that cost them dearly in last year’s meeting.

Young tallied 25 points (12-of-15 shooting) and ten rebounds (six offensive) in last year 78-72 triumph in Gainesville, with Arizona lacking the bodies needed to keep him in check. With Tarczewski on the bench his classmates had to step up and that they did, even though Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett combining for five points (all from Jerrett) and six rebounds doesn’t look like much in the box score.

Young finished Saturday’s game with just eight points and two rebounds, with Arizona’s young big men making him work for his post touches. Both Ashley and Jerrett factored into the equation, with Ashley also helping the Wildcats when they needed to press late.

Jerrett also knocked down two important baseline jumpers down the stretch, displaying a confidence that not all freshmen would have when they’ve gone scoreless for that long.

“We had a freshman make two huge baseline shots that gave us the opportunity to make that comeback,” said Miller.

Hill (18 points) and Nick Johnson (15) led the way offensively along with Lyons, but the contributions of players like Jerrett, Ashley and Kevin Parrom (seven points, four rebounds and three assists) set the stage for Lyons’ finish. While there’s a lot of work to be done (and many games left to be played) it bodes well for the future that guys were able to step up in different areas.

“One thing I like about our team is that each of our players has taken turns,” Miller remarked. “Even when one of our guys has an off night, the team as a collective group is able to make up for that. On any one night, any of our players can have a great night.”

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

No. 22 Cincinnati’s loss to No. 16 Butler shines light on AAC’s struggles

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 10: Head coach Mick Cronin of the Cincinnati Bearcats reacts against the Butler Bulldogs in the first half of the game at Hinkle Fieldhouse on December 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Kelan Martin scored 20 points and Andrew Chrabascz added 12 points, four boards and five assists as No. 16 Butler bounced back from a tough loss at Indiana State to beat No. 22 Cincinnati, 75-65.

The Bulldogs had been undefeated on the season prior to the loss to the Sycamores, but their ranking was built on the fact that they had beaten Arizona, who was No. 8 at the time, as well as a trio of high-major programs that look destined for the NIT.

Cincinnati probably isn’t destined for the NIT. Their top 25 ranking is justified, which is what makes this win valuable. Quality non-conference wins matter, and this is just one of a handful of good wins for what has proven to be one of the most top-heavy conferences in the country. Villanova, Creighton, Xavier and Butler all look capable of reaching the Sweet 16 this season.

The opposite is true for Cincinnati, who look like the flag-bearer in a conference that isn’t really all that good. They’re the best team in the AAC this season, but that’s a conference that has consistently disappointed this year. SMU, Temple and UConn have all struggled more than we expected them to. Tulsa and Memphis are in rebuilding mode. Houston was supposed to be good this season but they’ve yet to live up to the preseason hype.

Think about it like this: The only team in the AAC without multiple losses on the season is now UCF. That’s … not ideal, and it’s going to be interesting to see just how many bids the league is able to generate.

Think about it. Temple has beaten West Virginia and Florida State while losing to New Hampshire and UMass. SMU’s best win is either Pitt or TCU, both of whom are borderline tournament teams. UConn beat Syracuse but has some atrocious losses on their resume. Houston beat Rhode Island but lost to Arkansas and LSU. Memphis beat Iowa, but Iowa’s not all that good. UCF’s best win is … Mississippi State?

Cincinnati’s lone quality win is at Iowa State, who is about to drop out of the top 25.

POSTERIZED: Wichita State’s Daishon Smith dunks on Oklahoma big man

WICHITA, KS - NOVEMBER 13:  Guard Daishon Smith of the Wichita State Shockers drives up court past forward Roschon Prince #23 of the Long Beach State 49ers during the first half on November 13, 2016 at Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, Kansas.  (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
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Daishon Smith is 6-foot-1.

Kristian Doolittle is 6-foot-7.

The lil guy won this battle:

Here’s another angle of the dunk, which sent Wichita State’s bench into hysterics:

POSTERIZED: Duke’s Grayson Allen with a Dunk of the Year candidate (VIDEO)

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It looks like Grayson Allen’s toe is healthy. I’d say his explosivness is back:

Whoa.

Yeah.

POSTERIZED: Five-star Class of 2017 guard Trevon Duval dunks on 6’8″ defender

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)
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Class of 2017 point guard Trevon Duval put down a huge poster dunk on a 6’8″ defender on Saturday as the five-star prospect showed why many consider him the top lead guard in high school basketball.

The 6-foot-2 Duval is considered the No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.

Nigel Hayes shines against as No. 17 Wisconsin beats Marquette

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 10:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers is fouled by Luke Fischer #40 of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half of a game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on December 10, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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What a difference a year makes.

Last season at this time, Wisconsin dropped a home game to a Marquette team that was headed to the NIT.

This year?

The Badgers put six players in double-figures as they went into Milwaukee and knocked off Marquette, 93-84.

Bronson Koenig continued his hot shooting, finishing with 18 points and six assists while shooting 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Vitto Brown chipped in with 15 points, Khalil Iverson had 16 and Ethan Happ chipped in with 11 despite battling foul trouble all afternoon.

But the really story here – hell, the story of Wisconsin’s season to date – has been the change in the way that Nigel Hayes plays.

Hayes was terrific again on Saturday. He had 17 points, nine boards, four assists and three steals. He shot 6-for-10 from the floor and attempted just a pair of threes, making one of them. He had the ball in his hands when Wisconsin was trying to kill off the game, and, more importantly, head coach Greg Gard has seem to start to take advantage of just how good Hayes can be as a facilitator.

There are a couple of points that need to be made here:

  1. When Hayes plays like this, he deserves to be in the all-american discussion. He’s averaging 18.0 points, 7.3 boards and 6.7 assists in the three games Wisconsin has played against high-major competition since the change, and the Badgers have won five straight games while playing easily their best basketball of the season.
  2. And it’s not just because of the numbers he puts up. When Hayes operates as Wisconsin’s de-facto point guard, it makes everyone else on the roster better. For starters, it allows Koenig to play off the ball, where he seems to be more effective. He’s at his best when he’s hunting shots and trying to create off the bounce, but his aggressiveness can be detrimental when he’s the only one touching the ball. It also means offense runs through Happ more often since Koenig isn’t dominating possession, and it lets guys like Brown space the floor because they’re actually able to get rhythm threes.

As of today, Wisconsin is the favorite to win the Big Ten, even if Indiana is far more likely to end up being a No. 1 seed in March.