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SATURDAY’S SNACKS: Florida State wins key ACC game; Creighton, SEC suffer bad losses

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SATURDAY’S THINGS TO KNOW

No. 14 Arizona won at Pauley Pavilion, and in the process exposed everything that’s fraudulent about No. 3 UCLA.

Quality win for No. 10 Florida State as they jumped out to a 16-2 lead and held on to beat No. 16 Louisville for a home ACC win. I have five takeaways on this one, including when we’ll know if this Seminoles team is a legitimate contender for the ACC title.

No. 18 Duke played their best half of the season in a 70-58 win over Miami. Matt Jones not only sparked a game-changing, 31-4 run, but he also may have been responsible for the turning point in the Blue Devil season.

Playing their first game without senior point guard Mo Watson Jr., No. 7 Creighton struggled in a home loss to Marquette. The Bluejays had some promising production from reserve guard Davion Mintz (17 points, eight assists) and Marcus Foster went nuts (30 points) but they allowed seven double-figures scorers for Marquette. Rob Dauster has a deeper look at Creighton here.

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate just how critical Kansas State’s win over No. 7 West Virginia was. There’s a chance that it can be what saves Bruce Weber’s job.

No. 5 Kentucky smoked No. 24 South Carolina, but the game itself isn’t the big story from Saturday. That would be the health of P.J. Dozier, who missed the game with back spasms, and De’Aaron Fox, who left the game with a sprained right ankle.

The SEC had a pretty bad day for its NCAA tournament hopes on Saturday. No. 19 Florida dropped a game a home against a struggling Vanderbilt team that lost four straight entering the game. That loss won’t take the Gators out of the field but it leaves them with little room for error.

Georgia was also comfortably ahead of Texas A&M by double digits in the second half on the road before squandering that lead and losing 63-62. A clock malfunction ultimately cost Georgia a possession in the end. The Bulldogs led by nine points with 2:09 left and the Aggies closed the game on a 10-0 run. That’s the kind of loss that could keep Georgia out of the NCAA tournament.

For all the concern about Indiana since O.G. Anunoby’s injury, they went out and smacked around Michigan State. The Spartans made a late run on Saturday, but the Hoosiers were in control for most of the game.

STARRED

Marcus Keene, Central Michigan: The nation’s leading scorer went off for 50 points in a win over Miami (OH).

V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame: The senior had a monster outing in an Irish win over Syracuse as he went for 30 points and shot 6-for-10 from three-point range. Beachem also added seven rebounds and two blocks.

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ finished with a cool 28 points, 12 boards, six assists and five blocks. No one has done that in a college basketball game since at least 2010.

Deonte Burton, Iowa State: When Burton plays well, Iowa State reaches a new level and he hit for 31 points in a double-overtime road win over Oklahoma on Saturday. Burton also had this thunderous dunk to send the game to overtime.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Adding another solid game to his Player of the Year campaign, the senior had 25 points (10-for-16 shooting), six rebounds and four assists in a Wildcat win over Providence. Hart was also 2-for-2 from three-point range and 3-for-3 from the free-throw line for the game.

Jared Brownridge, Santa Clara: The senior sharpshooter knocked in the game-winning three-pointer with five seconds left for the Broncos in a WCC win over Loyola Marymount as he tallied a game-high 25 points.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • Top-ranked Villanova took care of Providence for a Big East home win as Josh Hart had another strong game and Kris Jenkins added 19 points.
  • Devonte Graham led four double-figure scorers with 18 points as No. 2 Kansas moved to 7-0 in the Big 12 with a home win over Texas.
  • Gonzaga, ranked No. 4 in the country, is still the only undefeated team left in America after the Zags picked off Portland out in The Kennel.
  • No. 6 Baylor remained within striking distance in the Big 12 as they took care of TCU.
  • It was tight for a little while but No. 9 North Carolina scored 56 points in the second half and ran past Boston College for an ACC road win. Justin Jackson (22 points) and Kennedy Meeks (20 points) paced the Tar Heel offense. Rob Dauster has more on the Tar Heels winning on an off-game from Joel Berry.
  • No Dillon Brooks, no problem. No. 11 Oregon cruised past Stanford for their 16th straight win.
  • Not the prettiest win but No. 13 Butler escaped DePaul with a one-point road win in the Big East. Kethan Savage had 20 points and freshman Kamar Baldwin added 18 more points.
  • All of Notre Dame’s ACC wins came by single digits until Saturday as the No. 15 Fighting Irish ran past Syracuse for a home win. V.J. Beachem had 30 and Bonzie Colson had 14 points and 14 rebounds.
  • No. 16 Virginia got past Georgia Tech for an ACC home win as Marial Shayok had 19 points.
  • Wins continue to come easy for No. 20 Cincinnati as the Bearcats cruised to an American road win at Tulane. Cincinnati has won 10 straight games as Jacob Evans led with 15 points.
  • Easy win for No. 21 Purdue as they made quick work of Penn State for a Big Ten home win. Sophomore big man Caleb Swanigan stayed in the Player of the Year discussion with 19 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.

NOTABLE

  • It took two overtimes but Iowa State came through with the road Big 12 win at Oklahoma. The Cyclones had 31 points from Deonte Burton.
  • Sticking in the Big 12, Texas Tech suffered a bad home loss for its NCAA tournament credibility as they got blown out by Oklahoma State. Jeffrey Carroll led the Cowboys with 25 points.
  • Rutgers earned its first Big Ten win of the season with a one-point home win over Nebraska. Sophomore Corey Sanders had 25 points and the game-winner with one second left.
  • Earning its first conference road win in three years was Wake Forest as the Demon Deacons shocked N.C. State with another bad home loss. John Collins had 21 points and nine rebounds in the win.
  • D.J. Wilson had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists as Michigan won at home in the Big Ten over Illinois.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.