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N.C. State knocks off Xavier, advances to face No. 5 Saint Louis

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T.J. Warren did what T.J. Warren does.

The ACC Player of the Year went for 25 points, five boards and three steals despite spending much of the first half in foul trouble as N.C. State knocked off Xavier, 74-59, in the nightcap of the NCAA tournament’s first set of games.

Tyler Lewis added seven points and eight assists, playing a terrific floor game and running the Wolfpack offense, while Ralston Turner chipped in with 17. N.C. State also put together a pretty good defensive performance, holding the Musketeers to 41.8% shooting from the floor. Matt Stainbrook had 19 points and nine boards to lead the way for the Musketeers, but it was the seven turnovers from Semaj Christon (to go along with 14 points and four assists) and the combined 4-for-19 shooting (1-for-12 from three) from Justin Martin, Dee Davis and Myles Davis that did Xavier in.

With the win, the Wolfpack, who many believed didn’t belong in the NCAA tournament to begin with, will roll on to the Round of 64 as the No. 12 seed in the Midwest Region. They’ll be taking on No. 5 seed Saint Louis in a game that is quite winnable for Mark Gottfried’s club.

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The Billikens are one of the nation’s best defensive teams. They can really struggle to score at times, but when their defense is clicking, they can flat out guard. The question, however, is which Saint Louis team will show up: the one that started out the season 25-2, or the one that lost four of their last five games and got knocked out in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament?

The other issue is going to be who on Saint Louis guards Warren. Jordair Jett is probably their best on-ball defender, but Warren will have a couple of inches on him. And while his game isn’t exactly that of a post player, he use his body and his size to his advantage in the mid-range, as he leads the NCAA in floaters made and attempted.

Whatever the case, the Wolfpack are in for a long couple of days. After playing a game that tipped at 9:10 p.m. on Tuesday night, they’ll be catching a 2:00 a.m. flight — which will take a little more than two hours —  to Orlando for Thursday’s game , which tips off at 7:20 p.m. They’ll have a media availability around lunch time on Wednesday.

Every year since the First Four has come into existence, one of the at-large winners has one a game in the main event. If N.C. State wants to be the team that continues that streak, I hope they can sleep on a plane.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.