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Four Takeaways from No. 21 Xavier’s win over No. 16 Baylor

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Xavier didn’t have the strongest night from senior All-American candidate Trevon Bluiett but the No. 21 Musketeers still had more than enough to race past No. 16 Baylor with a 76-63 win. Here are four takeaways from a very good win for Xavier (6-1) as they handed the Bears (5-1) their first loss of the season.

1. Xavier doesn’t need an A-game from Trevon Bluiett to beat a ranked opponent

Trevon Bluiett is one of the best players in college basketball. This has been documented by three seasons worth of evidence and numerous preseason All-American accolades.

But the most important takeaway from Xavier’s win over Baylor on Tuesday night was that they can still beat ranked opponents when Bluiett isn’t rolling as a scorer. Averaging 21 points per game entering the Baylor game, Bluiett only finished with 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting on Tuesday as he never seemed to get comfortable dealing with Baylor’s length and athleticism on the defensive end.

And for Xavier on this particular night? That turned out to be okay. J.P. Macura was red-hot in the first half (more on him in a minute) and others like Kaiser Gates and freshman Naji Marshall also stepped up in the scoring column to make up for the off-scoring night from Bluiett.

Gates, in particular, made some huge three-pointers, making it tough for Baylor to stick with its gameplan on the defensive end.

That’s a great sign for Xavier since they also feature a number of other role players who can step up on any given night. We’ve seen senior Sean O’Mara step up his post scoring at times and Tyrique Jones has also been a double-figure scorer plenty of times early this season.

Xavier doesn’t need all of its big guns to get going in order to win if their offense continues to be this balanced.

2. Baylor needs more offensive help for Manu Lecomte

While Baylor deserves credit for never giving up and sticking within striking distance for a good chunk of the game, their offense just didn’t have much help for senior guard Manu Lecomte.

Lecomte struggled to a 4-for-13 shooting night and finished with only 11 points as he had a difficult time adjusting to Xavier’s length and activity on the defensive end. Playing against long-armed opposing guards like Quentin Goodin, Lecomte struggled to hunt his own offense and passing over the top of the Musketeer defense also proved to be a difficult task.

And Baylor didn’t have many other answers to get points since Lecomte was struggling. Terry Maston had 15 first-half points for the Bears but he appeared to go down with an injury as he didn’t play for long stretches of the final frame. Xavier also had a solid plan to change looks against Baylor’s post offense, at times collapsing with doubles from unique angles and playing straight-up single coverage during other moments.

If Baylor wants to be one of the Big 12’s elite teams, they’ll need to address some of its offensive issues if Lecomte can’t get going. This won’t be the only game that Lecomte has to face long and athletic guards this season.

3. Xavier’s J.P. Macura seems to be playing to the level of his opponents.

It’s been a bizarre start to the season for Xavier senior guard J.P. Macura. One of the most intense players in the country, Macura has been really good against the Musketeers’ quality early-season opponents (Arizona State and Wisconsin) and really mediocre against lesser competition.

The Baylor game continued this early trend. Macura was clearly feeling it on the offensive end against the Bears, attacking the 2-3 zone from the free-throw line and also pulling up for some NBA-range three-pointers. Macura finished with 19 points and six rebounds.

Macura’s offensive outburst slowed down in the second half but his defensive intensity was still solid. He was a key on post doubles while getting deflections on the perimeter.

The major question becomes if Macura can sustain really good production every single game? Playing with such a fiery intensity can burn out some players within the ebb-and-flow of a long season or even, at times, within the same game. Macura is a senior, so he should have a good grasp on how to deal with his at-times boundless energy. But if Xavier wants to achieve its highest ceiling this season, they need Macura to play like this nearly every night.

If Macura plays like this and Bluiett is at his normal scoring pace then Xavier could be scary.

4. Xavier freshman Naji Marshall looked like he belonged

Xavier brought in another really solid freshman class this season and 6-foot-7 wing Naji Marshall looks like he could a key to the Musketeers’ season. Another long and active player on the defensive end and aggressive attacking the rack on the offensive end, Marshall struggled against Wisconsin two weeks ago. The freshman looked a lot more comfortable playing against Baylor.

Even facing unique defensive matchups like Bears center and rim protector Jo Lual-Acuil, Marshall was assertive, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds off the bench. Getting to the free-throw line six times, Marshall showed why he was a consensus top-75 recruit in his class.

While Marshall is at his best playing in the open floor when he can get a head of steam going to the rim, his versatility also gives Xavier some unique options when he’s in the lineup. Marshall still has to prove he can be consistent but he’s another versatile piece for Xavier. On a night when Xavier needed a little extra, Marshall stepped up as a much-needed additional scorer when Blueitt got off to a sluggish offensive start.

Rutgers lands upset win over No. 15 Seton Hall

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Corey Sanders scored 22 points and Deshawn Freeman added 12 points and 16 boards as Rutgers landed the biggest win of the Steve Pikiell era to date, erasing a 13-point deficit to knock off in-state rival No. 15 Seton Hall, 71-65.

The Scarlet Knights finished the game on a 17-2 run over the final six minutes of the game, answering a 9-0 Seton Hall run that put the Pirates up 63-54. Rutgers did not lead until a free throw from Sanders with 2:22 left put them up 64-63.

The win was the first for Rutgers over Seton Hall in four tries, roughly the time frame that the Pirates have been relevant nationally, and it is precisely what Pikiell needed to continue building a program in Piscataway. Rutgers is now 10-3 on the season, but their three losses have all come to teams are in – or getting votes in – the top 25: Florida State, at Minnesota and Michigan State. As the saying goes, it isn’t really a rivalry until both teams have a chance to win the game, and this win proves just that.

But that’s not the only reason to be bullish on this program. Rutgers is also starting to recruit a little bit better. They sold out the RAC for this game.

He still has a long way to go, and building something out of nothing in the Big Ten is never going to be simple, but Pikiell has this thing going in the right direction.

As far as the Pirates are concerned, there is some reason to be worried here. A team with this kind of veteran presence should not be getting rattled and blowing leads down the stretch. Khadeen Carrington, who is making the adjustment to playing the point this season, was 4-for-17 from the floor with five turnovers, and he struggled to make plays when Seton Hall needed them in the final minutes. Angel Delgado finished just 3-for-9 from the floor.

I’m not sure this is the kind of situation where you need to be worried about their long-term prospects, but it is something to monitor.

No. 17 Purdue takes down Butler in Crossroads Classic

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The annual Crossroads Classic opened with No. 17 Purdue running past Butler for a solid 82-67 win on Saturday afternoon. The Boilermakers continued a recent strong stretch of play with another road or neutral win against a power-conference opponent.

Here are three takeaways from this one.

1. Purdue is the second best team in the Big Ten (and the gap might be growing).

The Big Ten is a mess so far. Only Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State are 2-0 in league play. The Buckeyes aren’t expected to maintain their surprising hot start. Obviously, others in the Big Ten like Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern could all be dangerous. But those four teams have also been underwhelming and have a lot of glaring holes.

For the current moment, Purdue (11-2) clearly looks like the second best team in the Big Ten. And the gap seems to be getting wider during a seven-game winning streak. Outside of a weird two-game stretch at the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Boilermakers have put together a solid stretch that now includes road or neutral wins over Arizona, Maryland and Butler in the last few weeks.

Purdue has experience, unique size with 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms, and capable perimeter shooters who can space the floor. The Boilermakers have good defenders at multiple positions. They outplayed Butler in nearly every facet of the game during a solid win on Saturday. Carsen Edwards (18 points) has matured as a solid leading scorer and plenty of players around him are double-figure scorers.

Butler isn’t likely to be a second-weekend NCAA tournament team, but they’re a solid postseason-caliber group that the Boilermakers made look silly for much of the game. Purdue knows itself. The Boilermakers know their personnel and they’re a veteran group. There’s a lot to like about Purdue at this point in the season.

2. Butler struggles mightily against length

Butler’s offense couldn’t get much of anything going on Saturday. The Bulldogs were ice-cold from the perimeter (7-for-22 from three-point range) and they didn’t fare much better when they tried to go inside (26-for-69).

The Bulldogs haven’t been a very good perimeter team in general this season — entering Saturday’s game with only 31 percent three-point shooting — and those problems were very apparent against Purdue. Without an ability to space the floor, attackers like Kelan Martin (15 points) and Kamar Baldwin (13 points) struggled to get anything going with the drive as the Boilermakers had a great defensive game plan to limit Butler’s looks. Senior big man Tyler Wideman (seven points) also had a hard time finishing over the length of players like Haas and Haarms at the rim.

Paul Jorgenson (15 points) had a big second half and he has been solid at times this season as a floor-spacing threat. The Bulldogs need more help for him on the outside. Sean McDermott has been labeled as a perimeter specialist, but he’s also returning from a recent injury and the Bulldogs are slowly bringing him back.

Butler’s offense is at its best when they can rely on Martin and Baldwin to attack. That wasn’t even close to the case on Saturday as both struggled to get going. It meant Butler didn’t stand much of a chance.

3. Purdue has some late-game turnover issues

Purdue has been generally solid with closing out games this season but they weren’t able to do so against Butler on Saturday.

It looked like the Boilermakers were going to cruise to an easy win before turnovers became an issue and Butler crept back in this one. While Purdue maintained most of its defensive intensity, its offense took a foot off the gas as Butler’s aggressiveness defending on the perimeter led to 18 Boilermaker turnovers.

Purdue is great at closing out games from the free-throw line if they need to. But their ball handlers need to limit turnovers and continue to run good offense if they build up a lead.

Purdue had trouble at times defending late leads last season. They’re now 10-0 this season when they have a halftime lead. Could this be an issue that comes back once again? It doesn’t seem likely but the second half on Saturday brought some ugly flashbacks.

VIDEO: Miami’s Lonnie Walker skies for ridiculous putback dunk

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Miami freshman guard Lonnie Walker timed this one perfectly.

The 6-foot-4 McDonald’s All-American came from across the floor to hammer home a left-handed putback on Saturday as Walker showed why many consider him to be a potential one-and-done prospect.

After a career-high 26 points in a win over Boston on Tuesday, it appears that Walker might be gaining confidence as ACC season approaches.

VIDEO: Memphis’ Jimario Rivers catches lob on Louisville’s Anas Mahmoud

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Memphis senior forward Jimario Rivers caught a tough one-handed alley-oop on Saturday as Louisville senior big man Anas Mahmoud found himself on the receiving end.

This is one of the better lobs we’ve seen this season. Rivers got way up there for this one.

Northern Colorado basketball placed on probation by NCAA

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA placed the University of Northern Colorado men’s basketball program on three years’ probation among other sanctions Friday after finding academic fraud and recruiting violations by ex-coach B.J. Hill and some of his assistants.

The violations by Hill and eight members of his staff over a four-year span included completing coursework for prospects, paying for classes prospects needed to become academically eligible and arranging off-campus practice sessions with an academically ineligible student-athlete.

In addition to probation, penalties in the case include a one-year postseason ban (already served) for the men’s basketball team; a financial penalty; scholarship and recruiting restrictions; and a vacation of records.

Seven coaches received “show cause” orders, including a six-year penalty for the head coach, five years for two assistant coaches, four years for another assistant coach and three years for two assistant coaches and the graduate assistant. During the show cause periods, if an NCAA school hires the coach, that school must demonstrate why restrictions on the coach’s athletically related duties should not apply.

The NCAA concurred with the university’s self-imposed one-year postseason ban last season, a reduction of three scholarships and recruiting restrictions. Also, the school must return all proceeds from its 2011 NCAA Tournament appearance.

The rules violations spanned four years under Hill, a first-time head coach who personally completed coursework for a prospect and enlisted an athletic director to do the same, the NCAA found.

The NCAA said Hill recruited ineligible players, then broke rules to get them on the court.

Hill was fired last year when the NCAA began looking into the violations. He had gone 86-98 with two postseason appearances in six seasons after taking over the program in 2010 following a stint as an assistant in Greeley to current Colorado coach Tad Boyle.

The NCAA commended the university for its “exemplary cooperation” in the case and said Hill “admitted that he failed in his responsibilities to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor his staff.”

The panel said two assistant coaches violated ethical conduct rules for lying to investigators and a third failed to cooperate with the probe.