Darrun Hilliard, Josh Hart stand out in No. 8 Villanova’s win over Marquette

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No. 8 Villanova has lost just three times this season: at No. 4 Syracuse in December and twice to No. 9 Creighton during Big East play. Not a particularly flashy team, the Wildcats are tough, unselfish and they’ve got plenty of skill as well. Those attributes were on display Sunday afternoon as Villanova beat Marquette 73-56 in Philadelphia.

The leader, offensively speaking, on Sunday was junior guard Darrun Hilliard. Hilliard made seven of his eleven shot attempts, finishing with a game-high 26 points to go along with four assists and three rebounds. Averaging 13.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, Hilliard’s versatility is one asset that has helped propel Villanova to the top of the Big East.

Hilliard’s a capable perimeter shooter, as evidenced by his 5-for-8 afternoon against Marquette and the fact that he’s shooting 40.9% from deep on the season. He’s also good off the dribble, and from a decision-making standpoint Hilliard committed just one turnover on Sunday. Hilliard’s big afternoon was one reason why the Wildcats were able to beat Marquette by such a comfortable margin despite the fact that leading scorer James Bell struggled with foul trouble and didn’t score a point.

Also of note were the 12 three-pointers made by Villanova and the 13 points contributed off the bench by freshman Josh Hart. Given Marquette’s lack of consistent perimeter shooting a 24-point gap (36-12) in points from beyond the arc will be difficult for the Golden Eagles to make up, and that was the case against Villanova.

As for Hart, he hadn’t reached double figures in a game since scoring 13 in a win over DePaul on January 18. With veterans such as Bell, Hilliard, Ryan Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkston the freshman doesn’t have to be a primary scoring option. But when one (or more) of those players struggles Villanova will need Hart, and on Sunday he rose to the challenge.

Between the performances of Hilliard and Hart and a defensive effort that limited Marquette 40% shooting, Villanova had all it needed to pick up its 26th victory of the year with the total establishing a new school record. And if they can continue to play as they have for much of this season, the Wildcats are bound to enjoy even greater success.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.