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Late Night Snacks: No. 10 Illinois moves to 12-0 with win over Eastern Kentucky

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Games of the Day

1. Murray State 75, Western Kentucky 70 
Isaiah Canaan led four Racers in double figures with 21 points as Murray State held off the Hilltoppers in Murray. The difference was a 14-2 second half run, turning a two-point deficit into a ten-point lead with just under four minutes remaining. Brandon Harris, who entered the game averaging 4.2 points per game, scored a career-high 23 to lead the way for WKU. Next up for Murray State, who has now won five straight, is a trip to VCU on Tuesday night.

2. McNeese State 80, Texas Tech 75
Despite turning the ball over 20 times and having Texas Tech score 22 points off of those miscues, McNeese State was able to pull off the upset in Lubbock. Craig McFerrin led four Cowboys in double figures with 18 points, and as a team McNeese State shot 55.9% from the field. Jaye Crockett led the Red Raiders with 17 points and ten rebounds.

3. Boston University 69, Quinnipiac 62 (OT) 
A John Papale three-pointer with 5.4 seconds remaining tied things up for the Terriers at “The Roof,” and Joe Jones’ team would go on to win in overtime. Papale led BU with a career-high 16 points off the bench, while Ike Azotam (19 points, ten rebounds) and Zaid Hearst (18 points) led the way for the visiting Bobcats.

Important Outcomes

1. No. 10 Illinois 66, Eastern Kentucky 53 
In a matchup of undefeated teams in Champaign the Fighting Illini held off the Colonels, with Brandon Paul leading the way with 17 points and nine rebounds. Illinois won despite shooting 6-of-23 from three and turning the ball over 20 times, due in large part to their 19-of-27 shooting inside of the arc and a 39-20 advantage on the glass. Next up for Illinois: rival Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights Game on Saturday. EKU’s Corey Walden led all scorers with 21 points.

2. Boston College 61, New Hampshire 59 (OT) 
With losses to Bryant and Harvard (the Crimson have won five straight in the series) already on their “resume,” Boston College could ill afford to lose to UNH. Despite going 0-of-19 from beyond the arc in regulation the Eagles found a way to get the game into overtime, with sophomore Ryan Anderson leading the way with 23 points and 19 rebounds. Ferg Myrick led the Wildcats with 21 points, eight rebounds and five steals, but Bill Herrion’s team will look at this as a game they let slip away from their grasp (led by as many as 13 points in the second half.

3. Rutgers 88, UAB 79 
In the first game of head coach Mike Rice’s three-game suspension the Scarlet Knights took care of UAB in Piscataway, with Myles Mack’s 23 points leading the way. Mack also accounted for five assists, five steals and four rebounds in the first head coaching win for David Cox, who fired up the players by giving his pregame speech in full uniform. As a team Rutgers shot 60% from the field and led by as many as 25 in the first half. Jordan Swing led the Blazers 23 points and Preston Purifoy added 20.

Starred

1. F Ryan Anderson (Boston College) 
Due to the Eagles’ lack of success it can be argued that the sophomore from Long Beach, California is one of college basketball’s hidden gems. Anderson led Boston College past New Hampshire, finishing with 23 points and a career-high 19 rebounds in the 61-59 overtime victory.

2. G Roberton Nelson and F Devon Collier (Oregon State)
Nelson scored a career-high 34 points and Collier added 25 in the Beavers’ 87-77 win over Chicago State. The two combined to shoot 20-of-29 from the field, leading the way as their teammates shot 9-of-32 (28.1%).

3. G/F Fuquan Edwin (Seton Hall) 
26 points (8-of-12 FG; 5-of-7 3PT), five assists, four rebounds and three steals in the Pirates’ 77-66 win over North Carolina A&T. Edwin has scored 22 points or more in four of Seton Hall’s last five games, averaging 20.8 points per game during that stretch.

Struggled

1. Boston College from three-point range 
The Eagles shot 0-of-19 from beyond the arc in regulation. Luckily for Steve Donahue’s team they were able to push New Hampshire to overtime, where Lonnie Jackson and Olivier Hanlan knocked down three-pointers to help push BC past the Wildcats.

2. F Tony Mitchell (North Texas)
To be fair the Mean Green struggled as a team in their 45-40 win over Southeast Louisiana, shooting 29.5% from the field (0-of-11 from three). But Mitchell, a player many thought to be a possible lottery pick before the season began, shot 1-of-9 and finished with eight points and ten rebounds.

3. Manhattan 
The Jaspers had a rough go of it in Brooklyn, as they shot 30.2% from the field and 4-of-21 from three in a 75-48 loss at LIU Brooklyn. LIU played their first game without the services of forward Julian Boyd, who tore his ACL in Wednesday’s win over Rice.

Three Facts

1. With their 69-64 win over Northern Illinois, DePaul moved its win streak to six. The last time the Blue Demons could claim a streak of at least five wins in a row: the 2006-07 season.

2. Fairfield guard Derek Needham became the school’s all-time leader in made three pointers in the Stags’ 69-58 win over Drexel. Needham, who has now made 231 three pointers in his career, surpassed Greg Francis atop the list.

3. Just two games on Sunday’s schedule were decided by fewer than five points: Boston College’s 61-59 overtime win over New Hampshire and Central Michigan’s 80-77 win at Pepperdine.

Other Notable Scores 

– No. 24 Oklahoma State 91, Central Arkansas 63

– Villanova 75, Delaware 65

– Fairfield 69, Drexel 58

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

Three Takeaways from N.C. State’s win over No. 17 Duke

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 23:  Head coach Mark Gottfried talks to Dennis Smith Jr. #4 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack during their win against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina State won 84-82.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Freshman Dennis Smith Jr. had a monster performance as he scored 32 points and had six assists to lead the Wolfpack past No. 17 Duke for an ACC road win.

Here are three takeaways for an important win for N.C. State.

1. This is the Dennis Smith Jr. (and N.C. State) that we envisioned 

Before this season N.C. State received a lot of hype with some pundits — including NBCSports.com — because people knew that freshman Dennis Smith Jr. was a lottery pick talent and there were other pieces around him that could be productive. Smith has mostly lived up to his top-five hype this season but Monday night’s game saw the North Carolina native go to another level.

Smith comes from a family of N.C. State fans. It is part of the reason he selected the Wolfpack even though they aren’t a one-and-done factory like some other schools. The Wolfpack hadn’t won in Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1995 and this year’s N.C. State had lost four of five ACC games entering Monday.

And Smith went completely bonkers. He finished with 32 points and six assists as he was 4-for-6 from three-point range.

At the end of the first half when it looked like Duke might take a double-digit lead into the break, Smith converted a three-point play and followed it up with a tough, contested three to make it a six-point game. The second half saw more of the same from Smith as he nailed pull-up threes, got to the rim and finished through traffic. It was the type of mesmerizing performance that gets casual basketball fans excited about a player before March Madness begins.

Smith wasn’t the only good player for N.C. State on Monday. Freshman big man Ted Kapita gave crucial minutes inside as he registered his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Abdul Malik-Abu was a great secondary option for Smith as he contributed 19 points and nine rebounds. Maverick Rowan (nine points) hit a key late three and some important free throws.

When this team has all of its pieces going you can see why so many people believed N.C. State was capable of the Sweet 16. It feels like this team could be in for a run and the road game at Louisville on Sunday is another major test.

2. Duke is still figuring out its ideal rotation (while getting some answers)

Interim coach Jeff Capel went to some interesting lineup choices on Monday night. Capel started the game by using the lineup that jumpstarted Duke’s second half against Miami. That meant increased minutes for freshman center Marques Bolden as he was paired with Jayson Tatum (16 points) and Frank Jackson.

Seniors Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson were the interchangeable parts who played the most minutes in the first half for the Blue Devils and the second unit included Grayson Allen (13 points), Luke Kennard (20 points) and Harry Giles.

The Blue Devils still have some disjointed sets and scorers are still struggling to play with Tatum at times but there were some promising signs. Giles (eight points, seven rebounds) continues to improve his natural timing and he knocked down a face-up jumper from 17 feet with ease that could help keep defenders honest on him.

There was some good but there was also some bad. Bolden regressed to being a non-factor once again and Allen struggled to find a consistent scoring touch with a 4-for-13 performance.

We still have yet to see the (mostly) full strength Blue Devils that make us believe they are a national title contender. It’ll be interesting to see which lineup ultimately plays the best for Duke but they’re struggling to figure out a consistent rotation.

3. Can N.C. State sustain this kind of effort on a nightly basis?

Monday night was N.C. State’s first road win of the season. So for as big as this win is, the Wolfpack still have a long way to go to becoming a consistent factor in a ridiculously deep ACC. Smith is going to get tested quite a bit by Louisville’s length and athleticism on Sunday and playing in front of that Cardinal crowd is one of the hardest things to do in college basketball.

It doesn’t get any easier for N.C. State and they can’t have a major letdown after the high of a road win like this. That losing stretch of four out of five games included some really bad losses. Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are the kind of losses that tournament teams can’t sustain on a regular basis so the Wolfpack have to take care of  business against teams like that for the rest of the season.

Success on the road will also help N.C. State’s tournament cause. This Duke win is nice but now the Wolfpack get two more cracks at top-15 teams away from home with Louisville and Florida State in the next two weeks. If N.C. State can somehow split those road games and stay strong at home they’ll be in good shape the rest of the way.

PHOTO: Nevada wearing pink jerseys to honor Coaches vs. Cancer this week

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Nevada announced that they’ll be wearing special pink uniforms for the next two games to promote cancer awareness.

The Wolf Pack will wear the jerseys on Wednesday (Jan. 25) on the road against Boise State and at home on Saturday (Jan. 28) against New Mexico.

“We are extremely excited and honored to release our new Pink “Cancer-Awareness” Jerseys. It was apparent very early in our time here, that many members of our Nevada Wolf Pack Basketball Program and in our Pack community have been affected or are currently being affected by cancer,” Nevada head coach Eric Musselman said in the release. “We could not be more proud to help support the cause and unite to fight this horrible and devastating disease.”

 

UCLA is no longer a Final Four contender if their defense doesn’t improve

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 03: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after making a three-point basket against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half of the game at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA defeated Kentucky 97-92. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s win over No. 8 UCLA was massive for No. 7 Arizona for a number of reasons.

They got Allonzo Trier back into the fold. They remained undefeated atop the Pac-12 standings, keeping pace with an Oregon team that’s dealing with another Dillon Brooks foot injury and getting ready to make the nightmarish trip to the Mountain schools, Utah and Colorado, this weekend. They took a two game lead over the Bruins in the Pac-12 standings.

Perhaps more importantly, the Wildcats certified themselves as a legitimate threat to get to the Final Four. Their 17-2 record entering Saturday was pretty. A win at Pauley finally gave that résumé some substance.

So good for Arizona.

But that wasn’t the biggest story line coming out of Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon.

UCLA’s defense, or lack thereof, was.

Ever since the Bruins went into Rupp Arena and knocked off then-No. 1 Kentucky, UCLA has been considered one of the very best teams in the country. Villanova’s up there, too. So is Kansas, and Gonzaga, and those Kentucky Wildcats. North Carolina probably should be in that conversation as well. Maybe Baylor, maaaybe Florida State.

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You get my point. The Bruins, for better or worse, were one of the handful of teams that everyone thought would enter the NCAA tournament as a favorite to win the national title, but it’s time for us to question whether or not that is actually the case. That’s how bad the UCLA defense has been this season, particularly of late.

Against Arizona, the Bruins were a train-wreck. They gave up 96 points on 1.315 points-per-possession, which, for those of you who aren’t into advanced stats, is atrocious. That game was the culmination of a four-game stretch where UCLA’s defense had gone from concerning-but-good-enough to a major red flag. In those four games – road trips to Colorado and Utah and home games against Arizona and Arizona State – the Bruins allowed an abysmal 1.153 PPP. For comparison’s sake, the 2015 Kentucky team that went 38-1, the best defense we’ve seen in the KenPom era, gave up 0.847 PPP. UCLA averages 75 possessions a game, which is a difference of 23 points over 40 minutes.

That’s a big deal.

And on the season, UCLA has fallen the way to 125th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric.

That’s a bigger deal.

For those that don’t know, KenPom.com is a website that ranks teams based on how many points they score and allow per possession, adjusted for schedule strength. It’s widely considered the best way to determine who the best offensive, the best defensive and the best overall teams are.

It’s been around since 2002.

And since 2002, given where UCLA’s defense is today, they would be the second-worst defensive team to ever get to a Final Four.

In 2011, VCU ranked 138th in defensive efficiency as of Selection Sunday*, and they are the only team to ever rank outside the top 80 in defensive efficiency and make it all the way to the Final Four. Only three other teams have ranked outside the top 50 and made it to the final weekend of the season: Marquette in 2003 (76th), Butler in 2011 (72nd) and Michigan in 2013 (66th). Two others ranked outside the top 40 and won at least four games in the Big Dance: Texas in 2003 (46th) and Wisconsin in 2014 (50th):

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*(All of this info is via KenPom.com and as of Selection Sunday in those given seasons. That’s important to note, because winning games against good teams in the tournament changes those stats.)

The precedent is there.

UCLA, unquestionably, has to get better defensively if they want to win a national title.

But all hope is not lost.

The two teams with the lowest defensive efficiency entering the NCAA tournament to win the national title – North Carolina in 2009 and Duke in 2015 – both had top three offenses nationally.

UCLA leads the nation in offensive efficiency.

AP Poll: Villanova, Kansas neck-and-neck for No. 1

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Head coach Jay Wright and Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats congratulate Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats in the second half against the Temple Owls at The Pavilion on December 13, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Temple Owls 78-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Villanova maintained a slim lead over Kansas for the No. 1 spot in this week’s AP poll, with Gonzaga being the only other program to receive any first place votes.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBCSports Top 25

After losing to Arizona at home, UCLA dropped to eighth as the Wildcats vaulted them into No. 7 in the poll.

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1. Villanova (35 first-place votes)
2. Kansas (28)
3. Gonzaga (2)
4. Kentucky
5. Baylor
6. Florida State
7. Arizona
8. UCLA
9. North Carolina
10. Oregon
11. Butler
12. Virginia
13. Louisville
14. Notre Dame
15. Wisconsin
16. Creighton
17. Duke
18. West Virginia
19. Cincinnati
20. Purdue
21. Saint Mary’s
22. Maryland
23. South Carolina
24. Xavier
25. Florida

Coaches Poll: Kansas remains No. 1, Villanova No. 2

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 21: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives to the goal against Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns in the first half at Allen Field House on January 21, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Kansas remained No. 1 in the Coaches Poll this week, getting 18 of the 32 first-place votes.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBCSports Top 25

Villanova sits at No. 2 in the poll, with Gonzaha in third, the only other team to receive a first-place vote.

After beating UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, Arizona jumped up to No. 9 but still sits two spots behind UCLA at No. 7.

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1. Kansas (18 first-place votes)
2. Villanova (11)
3. Gonzaga (3)
4. Kentucky
5. Baylor
6. North Carolina
7. UCLA
8. Florida State
9. Arizona
10. Oregon
11. Butler
12. Notre Dame
13. Virginia
14. Louisville
15. Wisconsin
16. Creighton
17. Duke
18. West Virginia
19. Cincinnati
20. Purdue
21. Sainy Mary’s
22. Xavier
23. Maryland
24. South Carolina
25. Florida