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Creighton hits 21 threes in a rout of No. 4 Villanova

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PHILADELPHIA — Creighton can beat anyone in the country.

It’s not even debatable at this point, not after the Bluejays went into the Wells Fargo Center and beat No. 4 Villanova 96-68.

Let me repeat that in case you missed it: Creighton beat the No. 4 team in the country — a team with wins over No. 8 Kansas and No. 10 Iowa — by 28 points on the road. When you think about it like that, there may not be a more impressive win by anyone in the country this season.

It’s not just the fact that Creighton blew the Wildcats out, either. It’s how they did it. They hit their first nine three pointers, seven of which came in the first six minutes from 6-foot-7 sniper Ethan Wragge. They finished with 21 threes, a Big East record, and at one point were up by 40 points. Wragge? He finished with nine, which tied a school record set by none other than Kyle Korver. Save for a couple of possessions at the end of the first half, when the Wildcats were able to cut the lead down to 13 points, Villanova was never in this game.

“That was one of the more incredible things I’ve ever been a part of as a coach,” Creighton head coach Greg McDermott said.

Simply put: Villanova didn’t stand a chance. No one does when the Bluejays shoot the ball like they did tonight.

It’s ludicrous to expect this kind of performance on a nightly basis. They aren’t going to hit 21 threes every time out, but it’s important to remember that they don’t need to hit 21 threes every game. I know this math doesn’t actually work this way, but hear me out: If Creighton only made 12 threes, they still would have won this game by a point.

The key?

Wragge and all-american Doug McDermott. They are Creighton’s starting big men, which creates all kinds of matchup problems for Bluejay opponents. McDermott is a problem all by himself. He’s the best player in the country, good enough that scoring 23 points on 13 shots wasn’t an overly impressive performance. He moves without the ball, he spreads the floor with his ability to shoot from three and he’s as good as anyone in the country at sealing his man in the post. In other words, it’s very, very difficult to find a player that can matchup with him.

Wragge, on the other hand, plays the five. He’s guarded by opposing centers, but how many centers are accustomed to defending a guy that simply cannot be given any space? How many centers know how to locate a spot-up shooter in transition?

“Most centers aren’t used to having to chase a guy at the three-point line or in transition,” Coach McDermott said.

Creighton has two of those guys.

What ends up happening is that opposing defenses simply cannot help off of either of those two, which creates all kinds of space in the paint. Creighton’s guards aren’t exactly all-americans, but they are good enough that get past their man off the dribble. When they do, they either get a shot around the rim or draw a help-side defender, and Creighton, who may be the most unselfish team in the country, is as good as anyone at swinging the ball and finding the open man.

“When you let a good shooting team get hot, you’re in trouble,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said.

So yes, like I said, Creighton can beat anyone in the country.

But keep in mind, this performance came just 48 hours after the Bluejays were waxed at Providence, so while they are a very dangerous team on the nights that their threes are dropping, they are susceptible to getting knocked off when they don’t shoot as well.

And they aren’t always going to shoot this well. It’s just not possible. This was a once-in-a-career kind of performance from the Bluejays. The last time a team hit 21 threes in a game against a Division I opponent? November of 2007, when No. 4 Louisville pulled the feat off against … Hartford.

That doesn’t even touch on the issues they will have defensively. Wragge may be a matchup nightmare for opposing big men, but those same big men lick their chops when they see Wragge defending them. He can be overpowered in the post. As good as McDermott is, he’s never been known as much of a defender, either. In the press conference after the game, Coach McDermott gave more lip service to the fact that his team was terrific defensively in the first half than he did his team’s shooting performance. Much of that is coach-speak, but it’s rooted in fact.

“The way we defended those first seven or eight minutes allowed to create some separation,” he said.

The bottom line is this: on the nights that McDermott and Wragge are hitting their threes, the Bluejays will be able to hang with anyone. On the nights that they defend, they’ll be able to hang with anyone.

When it all clicks, they go up 40 in the No. 4 team’s home arena. On the nights none of it clicks, they’ll trail Providence by 20.

So don’t be surprised when this isn’t the last time the Bluejays leave you scratching your head after a game.

Swanigan staying for sophomore season

Purdue's Vince Edwards (12), Purdue's Caleb Swanigan (50) and Purdue's A.J. Hammons (20) celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Illinois in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Purdue won 89-58. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Purdue will once again be rolling out a formidable frontcourt in the 2016-17 season.

Boilermaker big man Caleb Swanigan is withdrawing from the NBA Draft to return to West Lafayette for his sophomore season, the school announced Wednesday.

The NBA is right there and always will be,” Swanigan said in the school’s press release, “but you always have to have patience and do what’s best for you.”

Purdue is losing 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons, but will be once again teaming Swanigan with Isaac Haas (7-2) and Vince Edwards (6-8) that will allow them to roll out a supersized lineup that is sure to be a difficult one to face off against.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan, who likely would have landed as a second-round pick, averaged 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and was a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the country’s top freshman.

“We are excited that (Swanigan) has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will return to Purdue,” head coach said Matt Painter in a statement released by the school. “He has the potential to make a huge jump from his freshman season and will be a big part of what we do next year. He received great experience going through this process and will use the feedback he received to make him a more diverse player.”

Purdue is probably a rung down from Michigan State and Wisconsin at the top of the league, but the return of Swanigan pulls them closer to competing at the top of the league next season.

USC’s Nikola Jovanovic not expected to return to USC

Southern California forward Nikola Jovanovic pauses on the court during an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Nikola Jovanovic’s college career has come to a close.

The USC center will not withdraw his name from NBA Draft consideration by Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m., a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Jovanovic, a 6-foot-11 Serbian, averaged 12.3 points and 7.0 boards as a junior with the Trojans.

Jovanovic is not expected to be drafted, which means that Andy Enfield’s club will be losing two players to the professional ranks with eligibility to spare that likely won’t end up on an NBA roster next season. Julian Jacobs, who averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 boards, signed with an agent back in April.

The Trojans were a top 25 team last season despite many considering them to still be “a year away”. But with two starters departing, the Trojans will be a borderline preseason top 25 team as opposed to a top 15 team.

Marcus Lee withdrawing from the draft, transferring from Kentucky

Kentucky forward Marcus Lee dunks during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Indiana in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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For the second time this season and just the sixth time in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats are losing a player to transfer.

Marcus Lee announced on Wednesday that he will be withdrawing from the NBA Draft, but the 6-foot-9 forward will not be returning to Kentucky. He will be transferring out of the program to a new school.

“I want to thank the University of Kentucky, the basketball staff and the Big Blue Nation for supporting me over the years,” Lee said. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come to this decision, but I’m trying to do what’s right for me and my family. I’ll always think fondly of my time at Kentucky.”

Lee averaged 6.4 points and 6.0 boards this season, seeing his first major minutes as a member of the Wildcats. But he seemed destined for a bench role if he had opted to return to Kentucky this season as John Calipari has landed a recruiting class that includes five-star freshmen Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

The tough part?

It does not appear that Lee will be able to finish his degree and be eligible to play immediately next season. He’ll have to sit a year at whatever school he opts to transfer to.

“Marcus Lee informed us today that he is pulling his name out of the draft but has decided he is going to transfer to a school out west to be closer to his family,” head coach John Calipari said. “We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision. I also told him he was a semester away from graduating. With that said, he was still adamant that, after the combine experience, a year off and regrouping would be the best thing. As always I support my players and their decisions.”

Lee joins Charles Matthews as members of last year’s Wildcats that are transferring out of the program. Darnell Dodson (Southern Miss), Stacey Poole (Georgia Tech) , Ryan Harrow (Georgia State) and Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga) are the other four players that have transferred.

Isaiah Briscoe to return to Kentucky

Eric Johnson, Isaiah Briscoe
(AP Photo/James Crisp)
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Isaiah Briscoe announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season.

The 6-foot-3 guard had one of the more difficult decisions to make for players in this year’s draft class. On the one hand, there was a very real chance that he would go through this draft without getting picked. He was a role-playing guard on last year’s team that isn’t a point guard, isn’t big enough to be a two-guard and was a total liability shooting the ball.

But he’s returning to a team that is as loaded as the group that won their first 38 games two years ago, particularly in the back court. He’ll be playing behind De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk who both play essentially the same role that Briscoe does: playmaking guards that thrive with the ball in their hands. And since Briscoe can’t shoot, he may not be the best option at the three, where Derek Willis will likely see minutes.

In other words, Briscoe returning to school is essentially a two-year decision.

Kentucky now awaits an announcement from Marcus Lee on whether or not he will be returning to school.

James Blackmon Jr. to return to Indiana, Troy Williams to remain in draft

James Blackmon Jr.
(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
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James Blackmon Jr. will be returning to Indiana for his junior season, the school announced on Wednesday morning.

Blackmon missed the final 22 games of his sophomore season following surgery on his knee in December. As a freshman, Blackmon averaged 15.8 points and shot 46 percent from beyond the arc.

Indiana now awaits word on the decision that will be made by Troy Williams. A junior swingman, Williams has a shot to be an early second round pick if he opts to stay in the draft. There is a report from the Indy Star that he will keep his name in the draft, but the program has yet to confirm that news.

Losing Williams would hurt, but it’s a loss that Indiana can overcome. The emergence of O.G. Anunoby as a versatile defender means that the Hoosiers have a guy that can be a defensive stopper and can allow them to play small and fast. Anunoby also has not proven to be prone to bouts of poor decision-making, which arguably may make him a better fit.