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Elite offense makes No. 11 Creighton a threat to go deep into March

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Just three days removed from their emphatic home win over then-No. 6 Villanova, No. 11 Creighton encountered a different test in their game at Marquette. Unlike Villanova the Golden Eagles are one of the many teams across the country looking to fight their way into the NCAA tournament, and a win over the Bluejays would do wonders for Marquette’s resume.

But like the other teams that have faced Creighton this season Marquette had to figure out how to best defend the Bluejays, and they had an incredibly hard time coming up with a suitable answer. Creighton shot 62.2% from the field and 52.2% from beyond the arc, beating Marquette 85-70 in Milwaukee. The problem in defending Creighton: even with all of the attention heaped upon Doug McDermott, he isn’t the only player capable of hurting teams, and that was the case in the first half.

With Marquette limiting McDermott to just four shot attempts Ethan Wragge, who was quiet on Sunday night, scored 12 of his 22 points in the first half. And if that weren’t enough Jahenns Maingat and Devin Brooks added nine and eight points, respectively. Greg McDermott’s team does a very good job of attacking teams offensively, with their ball and player movement resulting in a quality look more times than not.

And in the second half Doug McDermott got going, scoring 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting with Wragge and Austin Chatman scoring ten apiece. How good of a job did Creighton do sharing the basketball? Twenty-one of their 28 made field goals were assisted, with seven players finishing the game with at least two assists. Marquette was able to make a run in the second half, shooting 50% from the field, but they left some points at the foul line and ultimately were unable to do enough to slow down Creighton.

When discussing Creighton’s chances of making a deep run in the NCAA tournament more than a few skeptics point out their defensive performance, and the Bluejays do need to get better on that end of the floor. But this is also the nation’s best offensive team, and the multiple options at Greg McDermott’s disposal make Creighton an incredibly difficult matchup for most teams. With March being about match-ups, that edge should serve Creighton well next month.

PHOTO: Bryce Harper visits the Duke locker room

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils reacts in the second half against the Yale Bulldogs during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 19, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Duke embarrassed UNLV in Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon.

Not only did they beat the Runnin’ Rebels 94-45, but they made sure that UNLV was on the receiving end of what will probably go down as the best dunk of the college basketball season.

(No, seriously, you need to see what Grayson Allen did.)

After the game, Duke had a special visitor in their locker room: soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper, who seems destined to break the hearts of Washington Nationals fans when he leaves D.C. for the Yankees. I’m sure this will only boost his popularity in a city that loves the Maryland Terrapins:

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via @DukeMBB

No. 15 West Virginia struggles early, beats VMI 90-55

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25:  Tarik Phillip #12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers talks with head coach Bob Huggins of the West Virginia Mountaineers against the Temple Owls in the second half during the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center on November 25, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) It took nine games for West Virginia’s Daxter Miles Jr. to start to find a rhythm.

Miles scored a season-high 20 points and the 15th-ranked Mountaineers overcame an early lull to beat VMI 90-55 on Saturday and give coach Bob Huggins his 799th career win.

Miles missed the first three games with an unspecified illness and was ejected for throwing an elbow in the first half of a close win over Virginia last Saturday. The lack of court time set him back on a team where a dozen players are getting extensive minutes.

Against VMI, the junior went 6 of 9 from the field, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range.

“It feels good,” Miles said. “I just had to get back into the basic of things, and just whatever it takes me to do. Did I feel like it was my time? No. Everybody has roles and we all kind of know what each other likes to do.”

West Virginia (8-1) followed up a 53-point win over Western Carolina on Wednesday night with a lackluster first half to finish its final exams week.

VMI (1-7) accomplished what no other mid-major opponent has done in the first half this season – handle West Virginia’s full-court pressure defense and keep up in scoring for a while.

The Keydets lost by 18 points at home to Gardner-Webb in their last game but were scrappy out of the gate against the often-substituting Mountaineers.

After falling behind by 16, the Keydets were within 22-17 before Miles made two 3-pointers, and Elijah Macon’s free throw with 4 minutes left until halftime put the Mountaineers ahead by double digits for good, 32-22.

“I thought we competed, especially for the first 25 minutes,” VMI coach Dan Earl said. “I give West Virginia a ton of credit. They come at you for 40 minutes. They wore us down a little bit.”

Esa Ahmad added 12 points and Brandon Watkins had a season-high 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for West Virginia.

QJ Peterson scored 17 points for VMI, which was limited to three field goals over the final 12 minutes of the game.

BIG PICTURE

VMI: The Keydets might win more games if they match the intensity that they had midway through the first half, when they went on an 11-0 run, including seven points by Peterson, who led West Virginia’s Hedgesville High School to a state championship in 2012.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers lead the nation in forced turnovers with 26.5 per game, including at least 34 turnovers in two of their last three games. Two years ago VMI committed 36 against them. But the defensive effort wasn’t there from start-to-finish Saturday for West Virginia, which forced 22.

“Twenty-two forced turnovers to most people is good,” Huggins said. “And we’re looking at it like we should’ve had some more.”

ADRIAN SLUMPING

The Mountaineers haven’t gotten much production lately out of Nathan Adrian, who no longer is the team’s top scorer after getting two points each against Western Carolina and VMI.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

West Virginia should move up in the AP poll after No. 12 Saint Mary’s and No. 13 Xavier lost earlier in the week.

CHARITY CLANK

West Virginia isn’t going to win many games at the free throw line. The Mountaineers are shooting 66 percent from the line this season and went 26 of 42 (62 percent) on Saturday. They fared better from 3-point range, going 10 of 19.

UP NEXT

VMI: Hosts Charleston Southern on Tuesday.

West Virginia: Can give Huggins his 800th win when it hosts Missouri-Kansas City next Saturday.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

No. 3 Jayhawks cruise to 89-72 victory over Nebraska

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 10: Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk #10 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots against Evan Taylor #11 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the first half at Allen Field House on December 10, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Kansas coach Bill Self and Nebraska coach Tim Miles exchanged a few humorous words after the third-ranked Jayhawks rolled to an 89-72 victory over their former Big 12 foe on Saturday.

Turns out Miles was giving him a little jab.

“Come on, what do you have to complain about? Nothing,” Miles said, recalling their light-hearted conversation. “Sorry, the cheerleaders’ little thing on their pompom fell on the floor. You got it tough.”

Indeed, Self had just spent most of the afternoon riding the officials and riding his players.

Basically, spoiling for a fight.

But from Miles’ perspective, there wasn’t much reason: The Jayhawks made it look easy.

“I thought the first half we were really good, we were really solid. The second half we weren’t,” Self said. “We didn’t guard anybody, but the first half was good, so we’ll dwell on the positive.

“That’s what I always choose to do,” he added with a wry grin, “dwell on the positive.”

Frank Mason III had 18 points and seven assists without a turnover. Josh Jackson had 17 points and Svi Mykhailiuk added 15. Devonte Graham scored 14 and kept everybody calm. Landen Lucas was 5 for 5 from the field and finished with 12 points to give Kansas (9-1) an inside presence.

The result was a blowout despite the absence of forward Carlton Bragg Jr., who is suspended following his arrest Friday for misdemeanor battery. The part-time starter spent the game in street clothes.

“I don’t know anything more than I knew yesterday, which is very little,” Self said. “It’s not anything that’s worth commenting on because there’s no decisions to be made as far as finality goes until you hear what transpired, and certainly I’m sure people are trying to figure it out.”

Tai Webster led Nebraska (5-5) with 22 points. Ed Morrow Jr. finished with 16.

“Yeah, it was rough,” Webster said, “a tough environment to come into. The crowd is nothing like we’ve seen before, but they’re good at what they do. They pressure you full-court, every time you take it out, and they’re relentless. They’re tough.”

The Jayhawks rolled to a 54-34 halftime lead, but things started to go haywire after the break. They missed eight of their first 11 free throws in the second half, allowing Nebraska to claw back into the game.

What really set Self off, though, came with about 12 minutes left, when Mykhailiuk tracked down a loose ball and tried to throw an alley-oop pass to Jackson off the glass. Jackson’s dunk hit the rim and sprung into the air – and sent Self springing from his seat with an R-rated roar.

Asked who earned the brunt for it, Jackson or Mykhailiuk, Lucas chimed in: “Everybody on the court.”

It was Jackson who responded, though. He scored the next two baskets, then converted an emphatic jam, as the Jayhawks pushed their lead back to 20 and coasted the rest of the way.

“That’s a fast team, a skilled team, a powerful team. They can get you a lot of ways,” Miles said. “I was really proud of our guys. I thought the second half we showed some toughness, some resiliency to at least claw back and make it uneasy on them.”

BIG PICTURE

Nebraska has lost five of six, including a blowout loss to No. 10 Creighton. The only win for Miles’ struggling team during that stretch came against South Dakota.

Kansas finished 14 of 25 from the free throw line, continuing a troubling trend. Jackson was 3 of 8, while Udoka Azubuike clanked three of his four attempts off the rim.

BRAGG BENCHED

The Jayhawks’ sophomore forward pleaded not guilty to a charge of misdemeanor battery after allegedly pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs. Bragg had appeared in their first nine games, starting five of them, and is averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in 16 minutes.

“I think one reason why in the first half we were more focused was because of it. I don’t know,” Self said. “But they seemed to be pretty focused in the first half, but it was a distraction, and with teams and throughout seasons, there’s going to be different things come up.”

UP NEXT

Nebraska returns home to play Gardner-Webb on Dec. 18.

Kansas plays Davidson on Dec. 17 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

No. 11 Louisville runs away from Texas Southern 102-71

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 10:  Quentin Snider #4 of the Louisville Cardinals dribbles the ball during the game against the Texas Southern Tigers at KFC YUM! Center on December 10, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Rick Pitino graciously acknowledged the latest milestone in his Hall of Fame career with the hope his Louisville Cardinals grow from the tougher-than-expected win that required overcoming some deficiencies.

Quentin Snider scored 15 points, V.J. King added 13 and No. 11 Louisville overcame a cold shooting start to beat Texas Southern 102-71 on Saturday and give Pitino his 400th victory as the Cardinals’ coach.

Pitino, who last month earned his 750th career college victory, improved to 400-163 in his 16th season with Louisville. His Cardinals (9-1) first had to shake off early sluggishness and a 4-for-21 start from the field to pull away from the scrappy, athletic Tigers and win their fourth in a row.

They also had to overcome a rebounding clinic conducted by Texas Southern’s Derrick Griffin, who grabbed 26 of his team’s 49 boards to establish as NCAA Division I high for this season. His performance included 15 offensive rebounds that helped the Tigers make things tense for 25 minutes before Louisville slowly pulled away.

“Well, congratulations to Derrick Griffin because that was an amazing rebounding performance,” said Pitino, whose team edged the Tigers by two rebounds overall. “Happy with the victory, but when you can learn lessons in victory rather than defeat, like the Baylor game, it helps you a lot. … It was good tonight because those guys got taken to the woodshed on the glass, and they’ll learn a valuable lesson.”

Louisville made 30 of its final 57 shots (53 percent) to finish at 44 percent from the field overall while holding TSU (4-5) to 35 percent. Snider’s first double-figure game scoring in four contests set the tone followed by five teammates.

Donovan Mitchell had 12 points, Jaylen Johnson and Deng Adel 11 each and Mangok Mathiang 10 for Louisville.

Freshman point guard Demontrae Jefferson debuted with 27 points for Texas Southern, which lost its fourth straight. Dulani Robinson added 16 points and Griffin had 15 for the Tigers.

Griffin didn’t seem fazed by his rebounding performance.

“Playing defense was key,” said the 6-foot-7 sophomore, last season’s Southwestern Athletic Conference Player of the Year and this year’s preseason choice. “That’s what we focus on, and our offense comes from our defense.”

THE BIG PICTURE

Texas Southern: The 5-7 Jefferson entered as a four-star prospect and with just one practice but delivered on high expectations with strong court leadership and 10 first-half points. Griffin helped the Tigers stay close on the boards with Louisville but had no bench to keep up with the Cardinals, being shut out 21-0 in the first half and outscored 43-8 overall.

“They’re just so physical,” coach Mike Davis said of Louisville. “Because of that, a turnover here, a missed shot there would’ve been different but it would’ve been hard for us to sustain our play for 40 minutes.”

Louisville: Three days after thriving against Southern Illinois, the Cardinals’ frontcourt struggled early against TSU as Mathiang and Ray Spalding each picked up two fouls. Fortunately for Louisville, Snider picked things up while Adel and King added timely baskets.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Louisville: The Cardinals have had a good week with lopsided wins that should keep them near the top 10.

ROAD TESTED

Texas Southern won’t debut at home until Jan. 14 against Grambling and their next four games are at No. 22 Cincinnati, LSU, TCU and No. 4 Baylor, which handed Louisville its first loss last month. Davis said he created the challenging road docket to prepare his team for league play and hopefully win a third straight SWAC regular season title.

“We’re not focused on the outcome right now. we’re focused on the outcome in March,” he said. “I’d rather show them a great hotel, eat really well, play in a game they’ll be able to see on TV one day with the family than to play a home game in front of a few hundred people and it cost us money. If they understand the challenges now, it’ll help them in the real world.”

UP NEXT

Texas Southern: The Tigers’ stretch of 16 road games to open the season continues Tuesday at No. 22 Cincinnati.

Louisville: Hosts Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 17. Pitino reunites with second-year Colonels coach Dan McHale, who was a Cardinals staff assistant and former video director.

More AP College Basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org

No. 22 Cincinnati’s loss to No. 16 Butler shines light on AAC’s struggles

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 10: Head coach Mick Cronin of the Cincinnati Bearcats reacts against the Butler Bulldogs in the first half of the game at Hinkle Fieldhouse on December 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Kelan Martin scored 20 points and Andrew Chrabascz added 12 points, four boards and five assists as No. 16 Butler bounced back from a tough loss at Indiana State to beat No. 22 Cincinnati, 75-65.

The Bulldogs had been undefeated on the season prior to the loss to the Sycamores, but their ranking was built on the fact that they had beaten Arizona, who was No. 8 at the time, as well as a trio of high-major programs that look destined for the NIT.

Cincinnati probably isn’t destined for the NIT. Their top 25 ranking is justified, which is what makes this win valuable. Quality non-conference wins matter, and this is just one of a handful of good wins for what has proven to be one of the most top-heavy conferences in the country. Villanova, Creighton, Xavier and Butler all look capable of reaching the Sweet 16 this season.

The opposite is true for Cincinnati, who look like the flag-bearer in a conference that isn’t really all that good. They’re the best team in the AAC this season, but that’s a conference that has consistently disappointed this year. SMU, Temple and UConn have all struggled more than we expected them to. Tulsa and Memphis are in rebuilding mode. Houston was supposed to be good this season but they’ve yet to live up to the preseason hype.

Think about it like this: The only team in the AAC without multiple losses on the season is now UCF. That’s … not ideal, and it’s going to be interesting to see just how many bids the league is able to generate.

Think about it. Temple has beaten West Virginia and Florida State while losing to New Hampshire and UMass. SMU’s best win is either Pitt or TCU, both of whom are borderline tournament teams. UConn beat Syracuse but has some atrocious losses on their resume. Houston beat Rhode Island but lost to Arkansas and LSU. Memphis beat Iowa, but Iowa’s not all that good. UCF’s best win is … Mississippi State?

Cincinnati’s lone quality win is at Iowa State, who is about to drop out of the top 25.