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.

WATCH: Xavier scores a basket off the ground, Macura’s buzzer-beater waved off

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Xavier, the No. 11 seed in the West region, needed a few break to go its way in order to stay with top-seeded Gonzaga in the first half of the Elite Eight matchup from San Jose on Saturday evening.

Just before halftime, the Musketeers got the ball to bounce their way. Literally. Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams and Xavier’s RaShid Gaston battled for a rebound. Williams inadvertently spiked the ball off the basket, off himself and off the backboard for a two-board bucket for Xavier.

The bucket was awarded to Gaston. It was two of Gaston’s five first half points.

Less than 30 seconds later, J.P. Macura tried to top Gaston’s unlikely field goal with a bank shot of his own. Following a bucket from Nigel Williams-Goss, Macura heaved a three-quarters court at the buzzer. However, after reviewing the play, it was waved off.

The Zags led 49-39 entering halftime.

Mike White and Frank Martin square off for a Final Four berth, as unlikely as it may be

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NEW YORK — Frank Martin is at South Carolina for one reason: He and his boss did not get along when he was at Kansas State.

There were other factors at play — South Carolina had an opening, he was offered a raise, he is back on the East Coast — but at the end of the day, Frank Martin is probably still coaching in Manhattan, Kansas, if his athletic director hadn’t forced him to hold star forward Jamar Samuels out of a second round NCAA tournament game against No. 1 seed Syracuse in 2012 after accepting a wire transfer of $200 from his former AAU coach.

“Please don’t ask me any questions on it,” Martin said after the game, his displeasure over the decision hidden about as well as Gregg Popovich hides his disdain for sideline reporters. “Because I had nothing to do with the decision. Any questions pertaining to this matter, please direct to John Currie, my boss.”

Why else would Martin, who had been to four NCAA tournaments and an Elite 8 in five years as the head coach of the Wildcats, jump ship for a program that had been to four NCAA tournaments since 1974 and had never won back-to-back NCAA tournament games? When the Gamecocks hired Martin, they were coming off a 10-win season where they finished dead last in the SEC.

It wasn’t exactly a destination job when Martin took over.

And Mike White may have had it worse at Florida.

Regardless of the sport, the hardest thing to do in coaching is to be the guy that replaces The Guy. Billy Donovan, with his two national titles and four Final Fours and ten total SEC championships, was unequivocally The Guy. Those are the shoes that White, who had never been coached an NCAA tournament game until he squared off with East Tennessee State on March 16th of this year, had to fill.

On Sunday night, in the unlikeliest region of this NCAA tournament, one of those two men will rise to the pinnacle of their profession, winning their way to the Final Four, a place not everyone thought was a possible when they signed their contracts.


(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

If Frank Martin didn’t win this season, if he had missed the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive season after taking over in Columbia, it would have been time for us to start wondering just how long he was going to last.

He didn’t save his job by winning 25 games and earning a No. 7 seed on Selection Sunday, but he certainly kept himself from having to answer some tough questions heading into next season. Going five years without a tournament appearance at a Power 5 school is not the best way to earn a contract extension, even at a school like South Carolina, which doesn’t exactly have much in the way of basketball tradition.

“I dreamt of South Carolina being in this moment,” Martin said. “But I don’t go about my job every day acting like we’re getting there right now, this is the day, this is the year.”

The difference now is that this may actually be the year for the Gamecocks, but it certainly didn’t look that way a month ago, when, as Martin puts it, “we slipped a little bit.” It started with a four-overtime home loss to Alabama where the Gamecocks mustered all of 86 points. They would go on to lose three of their next four games and entered the NCAA tournament having lost six of their last nine games, their offensive efficiency dipping into the 150s on KenPom.

Put another way, South Carolina didn’t have the look of a team that was getting ready to take the college basketball world by storm.

They had the look, frankly, of every SEC basketball program not named Kentucky or Florida: Good enough to make noise in their league but not good enough to put together a run in a tournament featuring the best basketball programs in the sport. That characterization of #SECBasketballFever may not be fair, but it’s the truth. There’s a reason everyone is surprised by the presence of three SEC programs in the Elite 8, that the league is one win from Kentucky away from fielding half of the Final Four, and it’s not because the conference has made a habit of outperforming their already-middling expectations.

Florida, however, doesn’t fall into that same category, and that’s part of the reason that White was is such a difficult spot when he took the job over. The Gators have won national titles. They were in the Final Four in 2014; senior point guard Kasey Hill played in that game. They expect to win in Gainesville, even if they only pay attention to those wins once football season comes to a close, and Donovan is the one to thank for that.

“I always said ‘poor guy,'” Martin joked. “Whoever replaces Billy. Oh my God, poor guy.”

To his credit, White says that he hasn’t thought about the bigger picture, what it means to be replacing a future Hall of Famer, what it means to be able to maintain the success of a program with annual Final Four aspirations. The job is the job, whether you’re replacing a guy that got fired or a guy that left to coach Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

He does, however, concede that the job wasn’t quite as easy as it may seem from the outside. Before he was even introduced as Florida head coach, White got Donovan on the phone to talk about the team that was about to be his, and Donovan told him precisely what he was going to be dealing with.

“I inherited a group that struggled under a Hall of Famer, that Coach Donovan struggled with,” White said, “and told me that I would struggle with, in terms of some entitlement and some immaturity.”

“They have come a long way. We have developed, our guys have developed, they have really matured. Some of it is natural, some of it is just natural maturity because sophomores are juniors now and juniors are seniors. … And then some of it is a little bit abnormal.”

“Mike’s been unreal,” Martin said. “He’s got those guys playing through his eyes. That’s powerful stuff.”

The result is that just two years into his tenure with the Gators and in the first NCAA tournament that he’s ever been a part of, White has a chance to get to his first Final Four.

Just like Martin.

And on Sunday, one of them will be headed for Phoenix.

As unlikely as it may be.

Indiana hires Dayton head coach Archie Miller

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Indiana is expected to hire Dayton head coach Archie Miller, the school announced.

The deal will be for seven years, according to The Vertical. Miller had spent the last six seasons as the head coach at Dayton, getting to four straight NCAA tournaments, including the Elite 8 in 2014, while winning the last two Atlantic 10 regular season titles.

Miller had been targeted by seemingly every high major program with an opening since he reached the Elite 8, but similar to Shaka Smart when he left VCU, Miller simply waited for the right job to come long.

Indiana is the right job.

There had been some speculation that Miller wouldn’t want to take Indiana, that his dream job is Ohio State and that the idea of coaching in a fishbowl like Bloomington is not something that would be all that appealing to him. But Indiana is an elite job. It’s the kind of opening that happens once every four or five years, and if Miller had said no to the Hoosiers now, it’s very possible that an opportunity like this wouldn’t come along for years, if ever.

This hire is surprising, not because it’s the wrong hire — I think they got this right — but because Indiana actually made the right decision.

The overwhelming sentiment since Tom Crean was fired was that UCLA head coach Steve Alford would be named the next head coach at Indiana because the Hoosiers wanted an “Indiana Guy”. Alford was born in New Castle, he played at IU for Bobby Knight, he won a national title with the program. The goal was to get the Indiana fan base back, a fan base that was so estranged from the program that Indiana had to play an NIT game on the road as a higher seed because they were reportedly afraid of allowing ESPN’s cameras to see the empty seats.

But just because a hire appeases the fans doesn’t make it the right hire.

Miller was the right hire.

If they really want to get the fans back, winning is the best way to do it. Archie is as good of a bet to win at Indiana as anyone.

Elite 8 Preview: Saturday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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So Friday got good.

If Zak Showalter’s game-tying three and subsequent discount double-check wasn’t enough, we had Canyon Barry’s chasedown block and, well, this game-winner from Chris Chiozza.

And all that came after De’Aaron Fox took out what felt like a season’s worth of frustration out on Lonzo Ball.

What is on tap for tonight?

No. 1 GONZAGA (-8) vs. No. 11 XAVIER, 6:09 p.m., TBS: Someone is going to be making their way to the Final Four for the first time on Saturday night, as Xavier’s Chris Mack and Gonzaga’s Mark Few square off for the right to play on the final weekend of the season.

And in a way, this is the perfect Final Four game. Both the Zags and the Musketeers are basketball schools in basketball leagues. They come from outside the power structure and have head coaches that have spurned jobs from within the power structure to remain there. They are built for a run like this, even if they were both overlooked on the way here.

Xavier was obvious. Playing without Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis, the Musketeers just haven’t been the team that they were supposed to be this season. That’s why they lost six straight games in February, but things have turned around in March, as Trevon Bluiett has put the program on his back and willed them to the Elite 8. Gonzaga is the opposite. They went 29-0 to start the season, but they have yet to be accepted as a legitimate title contender by most of the people that watch the games.

My guess on Saturday night is that the Zags make their statement and emphatically get into the Final Four.

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-8)

No. 1 KANSAS (-7) vs.  No. 3 OREGON, 8:49 p.m., TBS: This matchup is a lot tastier on paper than it is likely going to end up being on the floor. As good as Oregon has been this season, they are, essentially, Kansas light. They play two lead guards together and they play small-ball, with a natural wing lined up at the four.

The problem?

The Kansas guys are just better. Josh Jackson is a better player than Dillon Brooks. His length and athleticism should give the Oregon star fits. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are better than whatever combination of Payton Pritchard, Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis the Ducks opt to use.

And, for that matter, no team is playing better right now that they Jayhawks, who beat Michigan State by 20, Purdue by 32 and became the first team to score 90 points in their first three NCAA tournament games since 1995. I think that trend continues on Saturday night.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-7)

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)