Syracuse Orange Keita blocks Marquette Golden Eagles Mayo during the first half in their East Regional NCAA men's basketball game in Washington

Marquette had enough talent to win in March, but not enough to play to April

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Marquette has seen the Syracuse 2-3 zone before. They’ve seen it a lot, both in-person and on film. In fact, they’ve beaten the zone this year, a 74-71 win back on February 25th.

But the teams that survive and advance late into March are usually equipped with a handful future NBA players, maybe even an all-star or two.

On Saturday in the East regional finals, Marquette’s talent was no match for Syracuse’s talent, and the final score reflected this, a 55-39 win for the Orange.

Vander Blue led the Golden Eagles with 14 points, but needed 15 field goal attempts to get there. Davante Gardner finished with 11 points, but scored just two points in the second half. And to make matters worse, the Orange got strong performances from their top guys. Michael Carter-Williams, who was named the MVP of the East Region, finished with 12 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals. James Southerland led all players with 16 points, and C.J. Fair provided 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks.

Syracuse’s players played better than Marquette’s players.

Marquette struggled to hit open shots from the wings, and were unable to cut through the interior of the 2-3 zone. They made just 12 field goals on 55 attempts (22.6%) and just three 3-pointers on 24 attempts (12.5%). But their struggles weren’t because of a lack of effort or a bad game plan.

“Syracuse was the better team, they had better players. They have pros,” said Buzz Williams, who advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in his five years at Marquette. “I think they probably have guys on their team that after they win the national championship may not play for Syracuse anymore. It is the zone, and it is the players in the zone.

Simply put, this Marquette team is not built to beat a team from the perimeter. This is not a team with an elite front court. Marquette’s best 3-point shooter is Jamil Wilson, who entered the game 38-for-95 from beyond the arc (38%), and finished the contest with just three points on 1-for-9 shooting, including 0-for-5 from beyond the arc.

Marquette can scrap with just about any team in the country, but if you force them out of their comfort zone, they are just like any other good-but-not-great college basketball team.

“I just think they flat-out played better than us from start to finish,” said Junior Cadougan, who finished with just six points. “Coach said we did everything possible to put us in a better situation, but we didn’t get consecutive stops and they did a great job.”

Perhaps Marquette believed that they could shoot as well against Syracuse as they did against Miami on Thursday. The Golden Eagles shot 27-for-50 from the field against the Hurricanes, unquestionably one of their top shooting performances of the season.But against Syracuse, they had stretches of five and six minutes in the first half where they failed to score a field goal.

Marquette has both in-game experience against the 2-3 zone, and a coaching staff that excels at game tape analysis. But one of the tools you need in order to beat a lanky zone like Syracuse’s is a perimeter attack, and there is a reason Marquette is ranked 310th in the nation in three-point percentage.

Maybe this loss means we should be giving Buzz Williams even more credit for the job he’s done with this team. On paper, Marquette is a top-25 team. But on the court, they have, at times, played like a top-10 team. You never have to question the heart, determination or toughness of a Buzz Williams-coached team. Buzz Williams has made a living off of getting good players to play hard.

“Well, he’s a tremendous basketball coach,” said Boeheim during Friday’s pregame press conference. “He’s done a tremendous job. They have a very good team. I just look at the players on the team, I don’t look at the hype. They have very good players. They’re very good defensively. They can score inside, they can score outside. They handle the ball, they don’t make mistakes.”

This was Marquette’s eighth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and their third straight Sweet 16. But this was just their first trip past the Sweet 16 since some guy named Dwayne Wade led the Golden Eagles to the Final Four in 2003. Sure Marquette has produced NBA players since 2003, guys like Lazar Hayward, Wesley Matthews and Jae Crowder. I’d be willing to bet that at least one player from this current team makes it to the NBA.

But you need elite talent to win a National Championship. In March, teams with more talent tend to win out, and on Saturday, that’s exactly what happened.

You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir.

Four-star 2017 shooting guard commits to Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams celebrates a play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP) LOCAL STATIONS OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LOCAL PRINT OUT (SALEM TIMES REGISTER; FINCASTLE HERALD; CHRISTIANSBURG NEWS MESSENGER; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL; MANDATORY CREDIT
Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP
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Recruiting, and on-court results, have picked up at Virginia Tech since Buzz Williams took over as head coach. In his second year at the helm the Hokies won ten conference games, and in reaching the Postseason NIT made their first postseason appearance since 2011.

Thursday night Virginia Tech landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2017, as four-star shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker made his pledge.

The 6-foot-5 Alexander-Walker, who’s ranked 91st in his class by Rivals.com, also took official visits to Maryland and USC before making his pledge to the ACC program. Alexander-Walker attends Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but as a native of Canada plays his grassroots basketball for the Canada Elite program on the Under Armour Association circuit.

Good with either hand, Alexander-Walker can play either on or off the basketball. And that versatility should serve him well in a system that places a high value on “switch-ables,” or players who can fill multiple roles.

The Canada connection paid off for Virginia Tech in the recruitment of Alexander-Walker, with assistant coach Jamie McNeilly being a native of the country himself and having a connection to the Walker family. The Hokies will lose two perimeter players at the end of the 2016-17 season in Devin Wilson and Seth Allen, which will give Alexander-Walker the opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.

Oakland lands former Oklahoma State guard Clark

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When point guard Stevie Clark began his career at Oklahoma State in 2013, the Top 100 prospect was expected by many to be an impact player for the Cowboys. Things didn’t go as planned however, as off-court issues ultimately led to Clark’s dismissal from the program before his sophomore season. Add in a lawsuit filed by Clark in which he alleged that he was forced by the school to take psychotropic drugs, and it’s safe to say that his time in Stillwater was anything but smooth.

Clark ultimately landed at Arkansas Baptist College, and on Thursday it was reported by the Detroit Free Press that he’s committed to Oakland University to play for head coach Greg Kampe. Clark joins a program with an immediate need at the point, with All-American Kahlil Felder having entered the NBA Draft and hired an agent as well.

The obvious question regarding Clark is whether or not he’s managed to take care of business off the court, and in an interview with Mark Snyder of the Free Press the Oklahoma native made note of the benefits of getting away from home for college.

Playing in Rochester, far from his home, will serve him well, he said.

“Anywhere away from home is the best thing,” Clark said. “It’s just hard balancing everything being close to home.”

Clark will be one of the options Kampe has to choose from at the point, with incoming freshmen Brailen Neely and Billy Thomas also among the new arrivals, and sophomore Jaevin Cumberland looking to earn more playing time than the 5.6 minutes per contest he averaged as a freshman.

Creighton point guard Watson Jr. to return for senior season

Creighton's Maurice Watson Jr. (10) reacts after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Creighton won 70-56. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Creighton’s chances of moving up the Big East standings and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 improved a great deal Thursday, as starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. announced that he will be returning for his senior season. Watson, who began his college career at Boston University, entered his name into the NBA Draft pool without hiring an agent but decided that another year in Omaha would be best for him.

Watson was one of the most impactful transfers in the country last season, as his play at the point was a major factor in the Bluejays winning 20 games and going 9-9 in conference play after being picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll. Watson averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game last season, earning second team All-Big East honors.

With Watson’s return the Bluejays will welcome back three of their top four scorers from last season, with center Geoffrey Groselle being the lone departure. Head coach Greg McDermott adds a talented shooting guard in Marcus Foster, who sat out last season after transferring in from Kansas State. With Watson and Foster working together, Creighton will have a formidable perimeter tandem leading the way in 2016-17 with the likes of forward Cole Huff and guard Isaiah Zierden also being key contributors.

In addition to what Watson can provide in games he’ll also serve as a good mentor for Kaleb Joseph, who will have to sit out next season after transferring in from Syracuse. Joseph, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, fell out of the rotation as a sophomore so the year in residency should benefit him as he works towards grabbing the reins in 2017-18.

h/t ESPN.com

UConn, four-star 2017 big man Brown part ways

Brown, Zach
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Back in mid-January UConn made waves on the recruiting trail by securing a verbal commitment from 7-foot-1 center Zach Brown, a player seen by many as one of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. That partnership came to an end Thursday, as the two parties decided to part ways. News of the mutual decision was first reported by Scout.com.

The Miami native is currently ranked 28th in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.com, and Thursday’s news opens up a spot in the front court that UConn head coach Kevin Ollie and his staff will now have to fill. Amida Brimah, who’s currently going through the NBA pre-Draft process, will be a senior next season should he return to Storrs as will Kentan Facey.

Among the interior options who will have eligibility remaining beyond next season for the Huskies are sophomore Steven Enoch and incoming freshmen Mamadou Diarra and Juwan Durham.

UConn was in the running for 2016 power forward Taurean Thompson, but multiple outlets have the Brewster Academy product considering Michigan State (which added UNLV grad transfer Ben Carter Wednesday), Seton Hall and Syracuse at this point in his recruitment.

UCF lands commitment from transfer Terrell Allen

New UCF men's NCAA college basketball coach Johnny Dawkins speaks at his introductory press conference Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT
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Having already landed one transfer in former Michigan guard Aubrey Dawkins (the new head coach’s son), UCF landed a second Thursday afternoon as former Drexel guard Terrell Allen announced that he’ll finish out his college career playing for Johnny Dawkins.

Allen, a CAA All-Rookie Team selection in his lone season at Drexel, announced the news by way of his Twitter account. After sitting out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules, Allen will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

On a team that struggled throughout the 2015-16 season, winning just six games, Allen averaged 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 32.5 minutes of action per game. The 6-foot-2 point guard finished the season ranked in the top ten in the CAA in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, with his assist tally ranking eighth and his A/T ratio of 1.9 placing him seventh.

With B.J. Taylor entering his junior season and Jeremy Carter-Sheppard joining the ranks this summer, the addition of Allen gives UCF another option at the point for the 2017-18 campaign.