Late Night Snacks: Villanova, Kansas, Kentucky all go down

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Marquette 74, No. 1 Villanova 72

The Golden Eagles were down by 15 at half to the nation’s top team, but closed out the game on a 19-4 run led by Duane Wilson and Katin Reinhardt. If I told you that duo was going to lead Marquette to a win over Villanova, would you have believed me? … Didn’t think so. We need to stop sleeping on this team.

In less than five days, Marquette has played its way into the NCAA Tournament field with a pair of signature wins.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 18 West Virginia 85, No. 2 Kansas 69:  After back-to-back losses, the Mountaineers responded in a big way with a double-digit win over the Jayhawks. This didn’t follow the typical ‘Press Virginia’ blueprint, but that’s what made it all the more impressive. Frank Mason III was held to a 12 points, needing a 15 shots to score his dozen.

Tennessee 82, No. 4 Kentucky 80: Tennessee snapped Kentucky’s seven-game win streak. The Wildcats were held in check in transition, while the Volunteers’ bench outscored Kentucky’s, 37-4. Robert Hubbs III and Malik Monk both led their teams with 25 points apiece.

Well this is one way to set up Saturday’s matchup with Kansas.

No. 12 Virginia 71, No. 12 Notre Dame 54: Shots didn’t fall early for Notre Dame, as the pack-line defense held the league’s best 3-point shooting team to 18 percent shooting from deep. London Perrantes scored 22 points and once again came up with timely shots.

No. 20 Purdue 84, Michigan State 73: Hot shooting couldn’t be sustained and Purdue’s frontline became too much for Michigan State’s shorthanded front court. Caleb Swanigan finished with another monster stat line: 25 points and 17 rebounds. Miles Bridges had a season-high 33 points.

STARRED

  • Katin Reinhardt, Marquette: The grad transfer scored 18 of his 19 points after halftime. Playing the role of point forward was even more important after Markus Howard struggled all night.
  • Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: The sophomore guard had 16 points at half. Pitt had 18 as a team. Mitchell’s career-best of 27 points included 6-of-8 from three.
  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: The 6-foot-9 sophomore recorded his 17th double-double of the season. The Boilermakers have played 21 games.

STRUGGLED

  • Pitt: Louisville throttled the Panthers, 106-51. It was the worst loss for the program in more than a century.
  • Deadspin: You made Ted Cruz likable. Enough said.

TOP 25

  • Bronson Koenig’s 20 points led No. 15 Wisconsin to an 82-55 win over Penn State. The Badgers are still the co-leaders in the Big Ten.
  • Behind 15 3-pointers, No. 23 South Carolina routed Auburn, 98-69. The Gamecocks, coming off a loss to Kentucky, is 6-1 in the SEC.
  • No. 22 Maryland was led by Melo Trimble’s 17 points in a 67-55 win over Rutgers. The Terrapins still share the top spot in the Big Ten standings with No. 15 Wisconsin.

NOTABLE

  • Akron (7-0 MAC) remained unbeaten in conference play with a 90-80 win over Western Michigan
  • The nation’s leading scorer, Marcus Keene, had 28 points in Central Michigan’s 82-76 win over Bowling Green.
  • St. Bonaventure came back from down 18 to defeat St. Joe’s, 67-63
  • Wichita State has won three in a row after an 87-45 victory over Southern Illinois
  • It’s fitting that on the day the school honored Steph Curry that Jack Gibbs recorded a 32-point outing. Davidson beat Duquesne 74-60
  • Syracuse is back to .500 in ACC play by beating Wake Forest, 81-76
  • Daryl Macon’s last second free throws capped a 15-point comeback as Arkansas topped Vanderbilt, 71-70
  • Matt Thomas hit seven 3-pointers en route to 25 points as Iowa State held off Kansas State, 70-65

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.