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.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.