Michigan v Syracuse

Mitch McGary leads Michigan past Syracuse, into the title game

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ATLANTA — That vaunted Syracuse zone, the one that held Indiana and Marquette to a combined 89 points last weekend, did it’s job, at least on the perimeter. Michigan’s star point guard Trey Burke — that’s National Player of the Year Trey Burke to you — finished with seven points, shooting 1-8 from the floor.

Tim Hardaway Jr. wasn’t much better despite leading Michigan in scoring with 13 points; he needed 16 shots, hitting just four of them, to get those 13 points.

Nik Stauskas, the guy who went 6-6 from beyond the arc last Saturday while lighting up Florida to the tune of 22 points, was 0-5 on this Saturday night and finishing without a single point.

And Michigan won.

No. Seriously. They won. 61-56.

That’s what happens when Mitch McGary, who has been the breakout star of the 2013 NCAA tournament, decides to channel his inner John Stockton. The Chesterton, IN, native finished with 10 points and 12 boards. He set the tone for the Wolverines defensively with two highlight reel blocks in the first minute of the game. He threw down a couple thunderous dunks. But where he made his real mark on this game was as a zone-buster.

McGary finished with six assists on Saturday night. That in and of itself doesn’t sound all that impressive, but think about this: McGary had 18 assists all season long prior to setting foot on the court at the Georgia Dome. He didn’t have a single assist in the first four games of the season. He had all of four assists when Big Ten play began on January 3rd.

It wasn’t just the fact that he made the passes, either. He was throwing no-look touch passes with his right hand. (He’s lefty, by the way.) He grabbed a rebound and led a 3-on-1 break, dropping off a pretty little bounce pass to Tim Hardaway Jr. for a layup.

How many people knew that he was capable of that?

“It was very … intriguing as we were developing the game plan against the zone,” Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander said after the game. To breakdown the Syracuse zone, you need to somehow get the ball into the high post. It can be via dribble penetration or it can be the result of a pass into the foul line area. It doesn’t matter. The ball just has to get there because it will either create an open 15-footer from the foul line or a high-low pass for a layup. The key? Having a big man versatile enough to be able to make that pass or make that shot. Why do you think Otto Porter was so successful against Syracuse this season?

Mitch McGary isn’t Otto Porter, or so we thought.

“When the ball gets in the high post, there was two things happening,” Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara said after the game. “We weren’t active enough from the guard position to keep it out of the high post, and then when it was getting in there, we werent active enough with the forwards to take away the dump pass.”

McGary made those dump passes. Maybe he is like Otto Porter after all.

“Did you ever think,” Alexander said, “that Mitch McGary would lead Michigan in assists over Trey Burke?” Not in a game that the Wolverines won. “I’m shocked.”

As are the rest of us, but the development is evidence of a point that the Wolverines made on Friday: the game is slowing down for McGary. He’s beginning to learn that basketball isn’t simply a game that has to be played at 100 mph. Nothing about the way McGary plays is nuanced; I don’t think he’s ever even heard the word ‘finesse’. But his understanding of Michigan’s system — the way that he can read the defense and know what is the right play to make — is where he has made the biggest strides this season.

“I consider myself a good passer,” McGary said.

McGary is still a bully. Michigan’s defense on Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland is what won them this game. The tone on that end was set by McGary’s blocks at the beginning of the game. He still grabbed five offensive rebounds. He still was the most physical presence in the paint.

But more proof that he’s beginning to learn how to play the game is bad news for the Wolverines.

While it may win them a national title, it’s looking increasingly less likely that they’ll have McGary for another season.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 22 Xavier’s slide continues with loss to short-handed No. 7 Creighton

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 16:  Chris Mack the head coach of the Xavier Musketeers  gives instructions to his team against the Creighton Blue Jays during the game at Cintas Center on January 16, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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It’s officially time to be concerned about No. 22 Xavier.

The Musketeers have now lost three straight games, all to the top three teams in the Big East, and currently sit at 13-5 on the year with just a single good win to their name: Clemson.

But prior to Monday’s loss to No. 7 Creighton, Xavier had lost all of their games on the road to teams that will either get a top five seed in the NCAA tournament (Villanova, Butler, Baylor) or play at altitude (Colorado). On Monday, the Musketeers not only lost 72-67 to Creighton, but they did so on a day where the Bluejays lost star point guard and all-american candidate Mo Watson to a knee injury midway through the first half and spent the majority of the game playing with star center Justin Patton saddled with fouls.

Should I mention that Creighton, who is third-nationally in three-point percentage, shot 5-for-19 from beyond the arc, or that their two best healthy guards – Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas – shot a combined 10-for-31?

All of the stars were aligned. Coming how to an afternoon game against a top ten team on a holiday after losing back-to-back games on the road, and that top ten team lost their most important player early in the first half?

This should have been where Xavier landed that first elite win.

Instead, the Musketeers are left scratching their head again.

And it begs the question: If not now, when?

The Musketeers still play Villanova and Butler at home, visit Creighton and have the Crossroads Classic at Cincinnati. There are opportunities for them to get wins that they need.

But if they cannot get a win over a short-handed Creighton team at home, who are they actually going to be?

VIDEO: No. 7 Creighton beats No. 22 Xavier, loses all-american Mo Watson to a knee injury

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Creighton point guard Mo Watson was carried off of the Cintas Center floor on Monday afternoon after an ugly-looking injury in the first half.

Watson drove the lane and landed on his left leg. He immediately grabbed the knee in clear distress:

The Bluejays would hold on to win a thrilling, hard-fought game, 72-67, without Watson. That’s impressive, and it means that they move into a tie for first place in the Big East with Villanova, but the story of this game was Watson.

According to a reporter at the game, Watson told head coach Gregg McDermott that he “heard it pop“. Losing Watson to any significant injury would be catastrophic for the No. 8 Bluejays. Watson entered Monday averaging 13.4 points and a nation’s-best 8.8 assists. He’s been in the top ten of our Player of the Year Power Rankings all season long, is a clear-cut candidate for an all-american team and is the engine for the high-powered offense that has made Creighton a Final Four contender.

The injury may be somewhat controversial as well. Two minutes before the video clip above, Watson banged knees with a Xavier defender and had to be helped off of the floor. He was tested on the sideline and allowed to return to the game, albeit with a noticeable limp.

UPDATE: Gregg McDermott told FS1 after the game that Watson’s ligaments are intact, but that they are concerned about the meniscus.

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Kansas vaults to No. 1

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03:  Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrates with Frank Mason III #0 after making a three-pointer during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 3, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Kansas vaulted up to the No. 1 spot in the Coaches Poll for the first time this season, receiving 23 of the 32 first place votes.

Villanova comes in at No. 2 while UCLA, Gonzaga and Kentucky finish up the top five. Bay.or, who was No. 1 in the country last week, is No. 6 while Duke fell all the way to No. 18 with a pair of losses last week.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

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

College Basketball AP Top 25: Villanova is back to the top spot

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Kris Jenkins #2 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts 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 vaulted back into the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll after falling out for a week when they lost at Creighton.

Kansas comes in at No. 2 while UCLA, Gonzaga and Kentucky finish up the top five. Bay.or, who was No. 1 in the country last week, is No. 6 while Duke fell all the way to No. 18 with a pair of losses last week.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

1. Villanova (28 first-place votes)
2. Kansas (32)
3. UCLA (3)
4. Gonzaga (2)
5. Kentucky
6. Baylor
t-7. Creighton
t-7. West Virginia
9. North Carolina
10. Florida State
11. Oregon
12. Louisville
13. Butler
14. Arizona
15. Notre Dame
16. Virginia
17. Wisconsin
18. Duke
19. Florida
20. Cincinnati
21. Purdue
22. Xavier
23. Saint Mary’s
24. South Carolina
25. Maryland

Texas gets important commitment from 2017 point guard Matt Coleman

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Texas landed an important piece for its future on Monday as four-star Class of 2017 point guard Matt Coleman committed to the Longhorns during a televised announcement.

A priority recruit for head coach Shaka Smart, the 6-foot-2 Coleman is regarded as the No. 35 overall prospect in the country, according to Rivals. A lefty floor general who can attack the basket and set up others, Coleman played for Smart this summer as the two won a gold medal together with the USA Basketball U18 team during the 2016 FIBA Americas.

Coleman is going to have to improve his perimeter shooting for the next level — he only shot 18 percent from three-point range in Nike EYBL play — but he’s the type of setup guard who should help the talented Texas perimeter get ideal shots. It’ll be intriguing to see how Smart plans to play Coleman in what could be a crowded backcourt next season but Coleman should help bring stability to the team.

With Coleman in the mix, we’ll likely see Smart use a lot of lineups with two ball handlers as we saw with Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix last season. That type of backcourt might suit Smart’s style of play a bit better than the current Texas roster this season.

Coleman is the fourth commitment for Texas in the Class of 2017. He joins three other four-star prospects in big man Jericho Sims, guard Jase Febres and forward Royce Hamm.