Creighton v Villanova

Ethan Wragge, college basketball’s best shooter, shot his first three … in 10th grade?

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PHILADELPHIA — Ethan Wragge is the best shooter in college basketball.

Yeah, I know, that’s about as subjective a statement as a writer can make, one that can be debated and argued and nitpicked until no one actually cares who the best shooter in the country is anymore.

But as of tonight, it’s not a discussion. As of Monday, January 20th, no one can touch Ethan Wragge, because no one else single-handedly buried the No. 4 team in the country, on the road, in all of 6:03 of game-time that took a little more than ten minutes of real time.

Seven straight threes.

By the time Villanova realized what had happened to them, Wragge had hit seven straight threes and Creighton had jumped out to a 27-8 lead at the Wells Fargo Center. That lead would grow as large as 27 in the first half and 40 in the second half, with the Wildcats failing to get closer than 13 after Wragge’s fourth three of the first four minutes put Creighton up 18-5. The Bluejays coasted for the final 12 minutes, eventually winning 96-68.

He finished with 27 points, which simple long-division will tell you is nine three-pointers. What it doesn’t tell you, and what those of you unfamiliar with Creighton might not know, is that the nation’s top marksman is Creighton’s 6-foot-7 center.

That’s only part of what makes Wragge the most unique player in the country.

Because he’s not simply taking threes. Known as WraggeBombs, the native Minnesotan unabashedly fires away from a distance that would make Stephen Curry blush, the irony being that Creighton’s center is much more effective shooting from 30 feet than he is from three feet. In a career that’s spanned five years — he played nine games as a sophomore but was given a medical redshirt for the season — Wragge has taken a grand total of 53 two-point field goals. Of the 154 shots that he’s taken this year, 148 have come from three-point range.

He’s shooting 50% from three.

And he didn’t shoot his first three until 10th grade.

Wragge gets it from his mother.

Kari Wragge, who was Kari Kramme back then, spent four years in the ’80s lighting up NAIA opponents for Midland Lutheran in Nebraska. A two-time second-team all-american, she finished here career scoring 1,779 points while developing a reputation for having as pure of a stroke as you’ll find at any level of the game.

“One of my regrets is that I didn’t make a teaching video of her shooting the basketball,” her former coach, Joanne Bracker, once told the Omaha World-Herald.

Ethan, the oldest of three brothers, didn’t need a shooting video. He was getting all the coaching he could handle for mom and dad, who was the quarterback at Midland Lutheran when Kari was lighting up scoreboards. They were sticklers about form. Elbow under the ball, use your legs, follow through, backspin. “The biggest thing they taught me is don’t shoot too far out,” Wragge said while plowing through a slice of pepperoni pizza in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center. “My dad would always say, ‘the range will come when you’re ready for it.'”

Where most kids that age would be stepping behind the three-point line, using every ounce of strength in their body to try to get the basketball up to the rim, Wragge settled into the 15-foot range. He was lethal, using his height as a weapon to allow him to get his shot off. It wasn’t until his sophomore year in high school that he started stepping out beyond the three-point line.

It wasn’t too long before it became obvious that the slow-footed, burly big man had a skill that very few people in basketball have. He was the biggest guy on his high school team, but still managed to earn all-area, all-conference and all-state accolades while setting school records for three-pointers — most made in a game, most consecutive threes made, career three-pointers. He was a specialist, and while a couple of impressive performances on the AAU circuit prior to his senior season drew interest from the likes of Marquette, Michigan and Minnesota, Wragge settled on Creighton, following in the footsteps of another large sharpshooter, Kyle Korver.

As a freshman, Wragge eventually worked his way into the starting lineup by the end of the season, but he would lose that spot to Doug McDermott the following season, a year he ended up receiving a medical redshirt as he battled through plantar fasciitis. The next two seasons, Wragge won awards for his play coming off the bench, but he wasn’t much more than a role player giving McDermott’s legs some rest of providing opponents with a different look while spelling Gregory Echenique.

It wasn’t until this season that he moved back into the starting lineup, and his presence has turned the Bluejays into arguably the most difficult team in the country to matchup with.

Wragge is Creighton’s five-man. That means that teams in the Big East are forced to guard him with a center.

“It’s hard for them to adjust,” Wragge said. Can you blame them? Daniel Ochefu, Villanova’s 6-foot-11 center, was the guy that was victimized by Wragge’s first three threes on Monday night. How many times has he had to guard someone that had that quick of a release from 25 feet out? How many times has a center has to locate his man in transition at half court just to make sure he doesn’t step into an open three from five feet beyond the NBA line?

The answer’s never.

I don’t mean to pick on Ochefu, either. He’s not alone. He’s just the latest victim.

“They’ll be close, but I know how close they need to be to effect it,” Wragge said. “Sometimes it might look like a bad shot, but I have confidence in it.”

“Some of our guys still have a tough time with it in practice,” senior guard Grant Gibbs said with a laugh, which is less an indictment of his teammates than it is a measure of just how unique Wragge’s skill set is.

Think about it.

Wragge has been in the Creighton program for five seasons. In those five years, he’s played 133 games and scored over 1,000 points. He’s shot the ball from inside the arc just 53 times. The scouting report is out there. Everyone, especially his teammates, knows why he’s on the court, yet those teammates still can have issues preventing him from getting open looks.

If they can’t slow him down, how can you expect Big East opponents playing Wragge for the first time to be able to?

UT-Arlington dominates, upsets No. 12 St. Mary’s

Texas-Arlington's Kevin Hervey, left, reacts to a 73-68 NCAA college basketball game win as Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate looks on  in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
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UT-Arlington made a statement on Thursday night, completely dominating No. 12 Saint Mary’s in a 65-51 upset win in a true road game in Moraga.

Back in October, I ranked both the Gaels and the Mavericks in the top-5 of my Mid-Major Power Rankings. Saint Mary’s was the obvious top choice, one of the nation’s most efficient offenses that returned Emmett Naar and Jock Landale. UT-Arlington, ranked fifth, served as a dangerous opponent. The Mavs had defeated Ohio State and Memphis in 2015, but their season was derailed once Kevin Hervey, a player with serious pro potential, tore his ACL.

With five starters back, including Hervey, who is just now getting back to 100 percent, UT-Arlington looks every bit the part of a March Cinderella.

The Mavericks jumped out to an early lead and forced the Gaels to play out of character. Saint Mary’s had only committed a season-high 14 turnovers before the midway point of the second half. The Gaels, who entered shooting 40 percent from three as a team, was held to 8-of-27 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

UT-Arlington did an incredible job of closing out on shooters. And it didn’t matter the matchup, at times we saw Hervey, a 6-foot-9 junior, come out and run a guard off the 3-point line. While those statistics mentioned above show up in the box score, the amount of deflections don’t. The Mavericks used its length and athleticism to get their hands everywhere on the defensive end of the floor, making it difficult to find good looks.

In the first half, UT-Arlington controlled the glass. Saint Mary’s found more success in that department after halftime, as Kevin Clark’s offensive putback capped an 11-2 run, which cut the deficit to 52-41. However, the Mavs were able to counter each time the Gaels threatened, never letting the lead get to single digits.

Aside from the struggles the typically-efficient Saint Mary’s offense had, the Gaels struggled to keep UT-Arlington guards Erick Neal and Kaelon Wilson out of the lane, whether it be on a high ball screen or a handoff. Saint Mary’s never seemed to have a help-side defender there to protect the rim. Neal had 13 points and eight assists (five turnovers), while Wilson had 10 points off the bench. Hervey had a game-high 15 points and seven rebounds.

UT-Arlington is winners of eight straight after losing three straight. One of those wins includes a double-digit win over Texas in Austin. The Mavericks are the clear-cut favorite to win the Sun Belt. Come Selection Sunday, I’d say plenty of at-large teams would not like to be paired up with Scott Cross’ team.

Iowa cruises past No. 25 Iowa State

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20:  Head coach Fran McCaffery of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Barclays Center on March 20, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Iowa picked up a major win on Thursday night, defeating in-state rival No. 25 Iowa State, 78-64, in a contest the Hawkeyes thoroughly dominated.

Let’s put it this way: the Hawkeyes have played four top-100 teams, according to kenpom. In those games, all losses by the way, their defense has surrendered 91 points to Seton Hall, 74 points to a Virginia team that plays at the slowest tempo in the country, 100 points to Memphis and 92 points to Notre Dame.

On Saturday, on the same floor Iowa demolished the Cyclones, its defense allowed 98 points in a loss to Nebraska Omaha.

This is exactly the sort of win Fran McCaffery and Co. needed to right the ship as we inch closer and closer to conference play.

When the Cyclones went to their bench in the first half, Nick Baer sparked a 10-0 run which helped set the tone for the remainder of the half. Iowa State went without a field goal for more than six minutes during that span.

Iowa kept Iowa State from getting out and running, holding the Cyclones to zero fast break points through the first 20 minutes and limiting them to only 36 percent from the floor as a team. Iowa, on the other hand, shot 47 percent, including 59 percent in the first half, which led to a 15-point halftime lead.

Peter Jok torched Iowa State to the tune of 23 points (4-of-7 from distance).

Monte Morris was held in check with 10 points, while Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas shot a combined 4-of-13 from three (they each hit a three with less than three minutes to play and the outcome all but decided).

Iowa State’s offense is becoming a bigger concern. Just like against Gonzaga, the Cyclones dug a first-half hole they could shoot out their way of. And like last week’s overtime loss to Cincinnati, they struggled from beyond the arc.

Iowa landed a marquee win it needed, while its rival headed home with questions to answer after losing three of four.

 

Alabama wing sidelined due to weight loss

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Avery Johnson of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at HP Field House on November 29, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Alabama junior wing Nick King will not be with the team for Sunday evening’s matchup against No. 24 Oregon in Eugene.

According to Rainer Sabin of the AL.com, Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said King undergoing a series of tests after losing more than 10 pounds in less than a week and a half.

Johnson told reporters that he is “very concerned” and estimates that as of now King will be sidelined for “a week or two.”

King, who played his first two seasons at Memphis, has appeared in all seven games for the Crimson Tide, averaging 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game.

Damonte Dodd out with MCL sprain

COLLEGE PARK, MD - FEBRUARY 13: Melo Trimble #2 and Damonte Dodd #35 of the Maryland Terrapins react to a call as Alex Illikainen #25 of the Wisconsin Badgers looks on in the second half at Xfinity Center on February 13, 2016 in College Park, Maryland. Wisconsin won 70-57.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Maryland could be without the services of starting center Damonte Dodd for the remainder of the non-conference slate, the team announced on Wednesday.

Dodd suffered a MCL sprain in his left knee during practice earlier this week. The injury caused him to miss Wednesday’s 76-56 win over Howard. He will not be available for matchups with St. Peter’s and Jacksonville State. The Terrapins then close out the non-conference slate at Charlotte on Dec. 20 before opening up Big Ten play a week later.

Dodd has started in six of seven games he’s appeared in this season. He’s averaging 5.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Michael Cekovsky started in place of Dodd on Wednesday night. Ivan Bender, who returned to the lineup against Howard after missing the previous contest, should also see an increase in minutes with Dodd sidelined.

Federico Mussini goes coast-to-coast, beats buzzer with and-1

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 03:  Chris Mullin the head coach of the St. John's Red Storm gives instructions to Federico Mussini #4 during the game against the  Xavier Musketeersat Cintas Center on February 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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St. John’s capped the first half with a 6-0 run.

Sophomore guard Federico Mussini went coast-to-coast to beat the buzzer, and draw the foul, as the Johnnies went into the break up 42-33 on city rival Fordham.

The 6-foot-4 guard had gone cold during a five-game stretch, but since Thanksgiving he’s scored in double figures in four consecutive games, including on Thursday night.