Late Night Snacks: No. 6 Villanova wins Big East regular season title

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Northwestern State 119, Central Arkansas 102

Central Arkansas scored 52 points in the first half and 50 in the second…and still lost by 17 points. Why? The Demons scored 72 points in the second half, shooting 70.3% from the field and assisting on 19 of their 26 made field goals. Northwestern State also forced 13 turnovers in the second half, converting those opportunities into 23 points. Jalan West scored 26 points and Zikiteran Woodley added 24 for Northwestern State, which locked up the four seed in next week’s Southland tournament.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

1) N0. 6 Villanova 77, Xavier 70

From the Xavier angle this result represents a missed opportunity to further solidify their standing with regards to the NCAA tournament. As for the Wildcats, Jay Wright’s team wins the Big East regular season title outright for the first time since 1982. Darrun Hilliard continued his solid play by scoring 19 points, and the victory keeps the Wildcats in contention for a one-seed in the NCAA tournament. This is one of the best teams in the country, and Jay Wright’s done an outstanding job with this group.

2) No. 22 Michigan State 86, No. 24 Iowa 76

The big news for the Spartans: Keith Appling knocked down some shots. Appearing more confident Appling scored 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting, and Travis Trice scored 17 points off the bench. As for Iowa the night was a frustrating one, as they once again struggled to string together stops. Michigan State shot 58.3% from the field, and if the Hawkeyes don’t find away to get better defensively they won’t be in the NCAA tournament very long.

3) No. 15 Cincinnati 97, No. 20 Memphis 84

On Senior Night the Bearcats senior starters did as they’ve done all season long: they led in regards to both the numbers and the intangibles. Sean Kilpatrick scored 34 points, Titus Rubles 24 and Justin Jackson added 13 to go along with nine rebounds, three assists and three steals. Cincinnati can win a share of the American Athletic Conference title with a win at Rutgers on Saturday. As for Memphis, the Tigers struggled defensively and as a result they’re locked into the 4/5 game in next week’s conference tournament.

STARRED

1) F Brandon Edwards (UT-Arlington)

33 points (13-for-16 FG), 19 rebounds, three assists and three blocks in the Mavericks’ 87-86 win at Troy.

2) G Antoine Mason (Niagara) 

38 points (13-for-19 FG), six rebounds and four assists in the Purple Eagles’ 78-76 win over Marist in a MAAC tournament first-round game.

3) G Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati) 

34 points (11-for-18 FG) and three assists in the Bearcats’ 97-84 win over No. 20 Memphis.

STRUGGLED

1) Northwestern and DePaul

Both Chicagoland-area teams were bad in home losses. The Wildcats fell to Penn State 59-32, and DePaul lost to Butler 79-46.

2) G Ledrick Eackles (McNeese State) 

Eackles missed all 11 of his field goal attempts in the Cowboys’ 67-51 loss at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

3) ShawnDre’ Jones (Richmond)

Shot 1-for-11 from the field in the Spiders’ 56-50 loss to VCU, finishing with three points, two assists and five turnovers.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

  • Atlantic Sun: FGCU, Mercer set up title game rematch
    Last season FGCU began its run with a win in the A-Sun title game on Mercer’s home floor. This year the Bears will aim to return the favor, with the top two seeds winning semifinal games at home. FGCU outlasted ETSU 69-64, and Mercer needed double-overtime to beat USC Upstate 78-75.
  • MAAC: Desi Washington victimizes Fairfield again
    Both regular season meeting between Saint Peter’s and Fairfield ended on Desi Washington three-pointers, and Washington did it again as the Peacocks eliminated the Stags, 65-62 in overtime. The other winners on day one were Niagara (over Marist) and Rider (over Monmouth).
  • MVC: Loyola-Illinois knocks off Bradley
    The Ramblers are now 1-0 all-time at “Arch Madness” by virtue of their 74-72 win over Bradley. Milton Doyle’s three-pointer as time expired was the difference. The other winner on opening night was Evansville, which will take on No. 2 Wichita State after beating Drake 69-61.
  • OVC: Seeds hold to form in the quarters
    After picking up wins on day one Tennessee Tech and Southeast Missouri State looked to pick up a second win, but both fell short. Morehead State eliminated Tennessee Tech, with Angelo Warner scoring 23 points in their 76-61 win over the Eagles. And SEMO fell 84-76 to Eastern Kentucky as Corey Walden led the victors with 17 points.
  • WCC: Lower-seeded teams win on day one
    With the opportunity to take on top seeds Gonzaga and BYU on the line, Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount advanced in Las Vegas. The Broncos beat WCC tournament debutant Pacific 81-64, and they’ll take on Gonzaga Saturday. As for the Lions, they’ll look to duplicate their run to the WCC semifinals last season by beating BYU after coming back to beat Portland 67-64.

NOTABLES

  • Conference USA finished its regular season with a four-way tie for the regular season crown, with Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Southern Miss and Tulsa all finishing 13-3 in conference play. How they’ll be seeded in the conference tournament: Louisiana Tech gets the top seed, followed by Tulsa, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss.
  • Western Kentucky clinched the second seed in the Sun Belt with a 75-72 win over Louisiana. George Fant scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half to help the Hilltoppers hold off the Ragin’ Cajuns, who were led offensively by Elfrid Payton (31 points, 13 rebounds and three assists).
  • North Carolina Central concluded its 15-1 run through the MEAC with a 76-70 win at Norfolk State. Jeremy Ingram scored 19 points to lead the Eagles, who are 25-5 overall.
  • UC Irvine maintained its hold on first place in the Big West with a 62-44 win at Cal-State Fullerton, guaranteeing themselves at least a share of their first conference title in 12 years.
  • Jordan Adams scored 31 points to lead UCLA to 91-82 win at Washington. While the Bruins are locked into the two-seed in next week’s Pac-12 tournament, they’re still playing to improve their NCAA tournament seeding.
  • Southern Utah ended a 31-game losing streak against Division I opponents with a 77-71 win over North Dakota.
  • Portland State beat Weber State 66-59, limiting the Wildcats to 17 points in the first half. The win was a big one for the Vikings, one of five teams competing for the final three spots in next week’s Big Sky tournament.
  • VCU moved to 11-4 in Atlantic 10 play with a 56-50 win at Richmond, keeping alive their hopes of winning a share of the conference title. They’ll need help in the form of another Saint Louis loss, however.
  • Stephen F. Austin moved to 17-0 in the Southland with an 83-72 win over Oral Roberts. Thomas Walkup led three Lumberjacks in double figures with 16 points.

USC lands four-star 2018 guard Elijah Weaver

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USC landed an important commitment for its future on Monday night as four-star Class of 2018 guard Elijah Weaver.

Regarded as the No. 35 overall prospect in the Rivals’ national Class of 2018 rankings, the 6-foot-5 Weaver gives the Trojans a floor leader to build around for the future as he provides great size in the backcourt. Capable of playing multiple guard spots, Weaver has a lot of upside for a program that has done a very solid job of developing backcourt talent under head coach Andy Enfield.

Weaver’s commitment is also important for the Trojans because it comes despite the looming FBI investigation that the program is dealing with thanks to former assistant coach Tony Bland. USC had recently lost a four-star commitment from forward J’Raan Brooks, so the commitment of Weaver is a huge momentum boost for them as they get right back on track in the Class of 2018.

With Weaver in the mix, USC now owns three four-star pledges in the 2018 class as he joins four-star forward Taeshon Cherry and four-star guard Kevin Porter.

Jim Larranaga believes he’s ‘Coach-3’ in FBI investigation

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Despite losing key contributors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy from last season’s NCAA tournament team, the Miami Hurricanes are expected to be a player both within the ACC and nationally this season. But instead of having the focus solely on the likes of JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, Jim Larrañaga’s program is also having to deal with the impact of the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball.

While no one connected to the Miami men’s basketball program was arrested last month, the program is referenced in the FBI report. On Monday, Larrañaga stated during a press conference that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI report. Larrañaga also maintained his innocence, saying that he had done nothing wrong while also being thankful that none of his assistant coaches were involved.

“It’s been a strain, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Larrañaga said according to the Palm Beach Post. “It’s something that’s there. I have to deal with it. I have the support of my wife and a wonderful family. I have the support of the university, my staff and players.”

According to the FBI report, “Coach-3” requested that payments totaling $150,000 be funneled to “Player-12” in order to ensure his commitment to their university. It has been reported that “Player-12” was 2018 five-star prospect Nassir Little, who has also stated that he had done nothing wrong. Two of the schools recruiting Little at the time, Arizona and Miami, have been entangled in the FBI investigation to varying degrees.

While Miami has not had anyone connected to its program arrested, Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the four Division I coaches were were indicted. As a result Little removed both Arizona and Miami from consideration before ultimately committing to North Carolina earlier this month.

There’s no telling what the FBI investigation will ultimately uncover, which for the schools involved could take a heavy toll not only for the 2017-18 season but for future years as well. The FBI case has been comparatively quiet since the first set of indictments, with future moves likely to be influenced by what authorities learn from the ten individuals named in the first announcement.

Miles Bridges discusses being offered money during recruiting process

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With the FBI launching an investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball last month, the entire sport has found itself under the microscope. Ten people, including four Division I assistant coaches, were arrested and there’s no telling just how long the FBI’s investigation will last or what information it will produce.

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges is considered by many to be the leading candidate for national Player of the Yeah honors, and he had the opportunity to turn pro after a good freshman season. But Bridges made the decision to return to East Lansing, and with that comes questions as to why he would do that as opposed to cashing in on his NBA potential as soon as possible.

In an interview with Brendan Quinn of The Athletic (subscription required) Bridges discussed a host of issues, including being offered money by people while going through the recruiting process.

“I mean, if you get caught, that might be the end of your career. I wanted to play in college really bad,” Bridges told Quinn. “I don’t know — materialistic things, they don’t really get to me. So when people were offering me money, I would say no right away, because I wanted to be able to live out my college experience. But really, I don’t know, it is hard, especially because I was so young at the time — 17.”

Given the ongoing investigation, high-profile players and teams will be on the receiving end of increased scrutiny even if they aren’t part of the FBI probe. It’s an unfair situation for a player like Bridges to deal with, as even in the actual cases of alleged wrongdoing the players themselves are essentially commodities whose services are being auctioned as opposed to the main characters looking to cash in.

Unfortunately, due to recent events a decision like the one made by Bridges will result in some questioning whether or not the player received something from the school or another entity/individual. And that’s a tough — and unfair — thing for a young player to have to deal with.

Broken hand sidelines North Carolina PG Joel Berry II

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North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.

Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.

Berry was named an NBC Sports Preseason Third-Team All-American in late September.

With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.

North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.

Bill Self’s stance on Kansas/Missouri series remains unchanged

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Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri got together on the basketball court for the first time since 2012, with the Showdown for Relief raising $1.75 million for recent hurricane victims. In what was an entertaining game, the Jayhawks won by the final score of 93-87 with point guard Devonté Graham leading the way for the winners with 25 points and ten rebounds.

Kansas finished the game with five players in double figures, including Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (17 points) and center Udoka Azubuike (16). On the other side freshman Michael Porter Jr. paced four Tigers in double figures with 21 points while younger brother Jontay grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.

However despite the excitement for the two rivals being on the same court in any capacity, Sunday’s meeting was different given the circumstances. Following the game Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked about the possibility of the two teams meeting in a regular season game, and he maintained the stance he’s held since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said following Sunday’s exhibition. “I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

While it would certainly benefit college basketball if Kansas and Missouri were to renew acquaintances down the line, it is understandable that Self — and maybe some others on the Kansas side of things — would have reservations. The programs, even with the arrival of Cuonzo Martin in Columbia and the freshman class led by the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr., are in different places right now.

The Jayhawks have their sights set on a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and a run at their first national title since 2008, Missouri is looking to fast-track a rebuilding process after struggling mightily under former head coach Kim Anderson. Yet with that being said, the state of the two athletic departments during realignment likely has more to do with the teams not playing each other.

Missouri was a school with options earlier this decade before joining the SEC, but that was not the case for Kansas. Had the Big 12 broken up as some believed would be the case, where would the Jayhawks have landed? Fortunately for the school the Big 12 survived the realignment craze, losing four schools (Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten) and adding TCU and West Virginia to get their membership number to ten.

Given that, the best bet for college basketball fans who want to see this rivalry played during the regular season may be to hope for the programs wind up in the same in-season tournament. Even better, how about the same NCAA tournament region?