Ohio State v Michigan State

The comeback was thrilling, but Ohio State’s offense remains concerning

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Plenty of people had questions about No. 3 Ohio State entering their game with No. 5 Michigan State at the Breslin Center on Tuesday night.

Can a team with such issues on the offensive end of the floor really be the third-best team in the country? Does winning at sputtering Marquette, or beating a depleted Maryland, or a miracle comeback against a thoroughly average Notre Dame team really justify their lofty standing nationally? Did they enter this game undefeated because they’re that good or because their schedule, well, wasn’t?

Tuesday was going to tell us all we needed to know.

Michigan State has played like they are the best team in the country when healthy, and on Tuesday, they weren’t even healthy. Travis Trice didn’t play. Adreian Payne, who has been dealing with plantar fasciitis, also sprained his foot. Matt Costello still found himself playing limited minutes. And yet, the Spartans were still able to stretch a 28-21 halftime lead to 55-38 with just over seven minutes left in the game.

That’s when Ohio State took over.

The Buckeyes are one of the best teams in the country on the defensive end of the floor, and there may not be a better defensive back court anywhere than the pairing of Shannon Scott and Aaron Craft. That defense was on display over the course of those final seven minutes, as the Buckeyes went on a thrilling, 20-3 run to tie the game and force overtime. Hell, they almost won it in regulation. If it wasn’t for an unbelievable defensively play from Keith Appling on a fast break layup for Scott, Sparty would be heading back into the frozen tundra of East Lansing with a loss.

Ohio State ended up losing in overtime, 72-68, but that doesn’t take away from just how impressive that comeback was.

What happened was simple, really.

Michigan State got a bit lackadaisical offensively, thinking they would be coasting in for an easy win. Ohio State took advantage, cranking the screws defensively and making Michigan State look like a men’s league team that was 10 minutes past being gassed. During that 20-3 run, the Buckeyes forced nine turnovers, which led to nine points and put them in complete control of the game.

But here’s the thing: we didn’t learn anything new about Ohio State.

Yeah, they are going to defend you. Yes, they can force turnovers. Obviously, when those turnovers come in bunches they can create massive comebacks. Notre Dame will tell you that.

But this is also still a team that really struggles on the offensive end of the floor. Their only go-to guy is LaQuinton Ross, an inconsistent talent who just-so-happened to have an off-night on Tuesday. He finished the night 1-for-7 with just five points and was benched for freshman Marc Loving down the stretch. Neither Craft or Scott can break down a defense off the dribble. Neither of them are a real threat in the pick-and-roll. Amir Williams, Sam Thompson, Lenzelle Smith. These aren’t guys that need to be game-planned around for opponents.

Those issues were quite evident outside of the seven minutes at the end of regulation.

Ohio State is going to have a lot of nights like this, especially when LaQuinton Ross isn’t shooting the ball all that well. 

But with that defense, there aren’t going to be many nights where they’re ever out of a game.

Malik Newman to return to school, considering transfer

Mississippi State guard Malik Newman (14) dribbles past a Northern Colorado player during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/15712769/mississippi-state-malik-newman-withdraw-draft-transfer
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Malik Newman will withdraw his name from consideration and return to school for his sophomore season.

Newman was a top 10 recruit in the Class of 2015, a high-scoring combo-guard that opted to stay home and play for Mississippi State instead of enroll at one of the blue bloods that was recruiting him. He averaged 11.3 points as a freshman, but it was a largely disappointing season as he spent the year off of the national radar playing inefficient basketball.

Put another way, the fourth-leading scorer on a 14-17 SEC team isn’t exactly a lock for the lottery.

But here’s the catch: he may not be returning to Mississippi State, as Newman is considering a transfer, according to a report from ESPN. That report quotes a source close to the situation saying “unhappy with his role and how he was utilized.”

It will be interesting to see what happens from here. Newman would have to sit out a year if he transferred to another Division I program, and for a kid that thought he was destined to be a one-and-done star, locking himself into a three-year college career would be an odd move.

Whitehead to stay in NBA Draft

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) shoots past Xavier forward Sean O'Mara (54) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.

Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.

The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.