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?

Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

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