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Five Things We Learned This Week: Dakota Mathias, Mikal Bridges, and angry rivalries are good

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1. PURDUE’S DAKOTA MATHIAS IS THE NATION’S MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER

It’s time to give this kid the credit he is due.

Let me just lay the stats out, because they speak for themselves: Mathias is averaging 15.5 points, a team-high 4.9 assists and 4.5 boards while shooting 53.7 percent from three and posting an extremely ridiculous 146.7 offensive rating. He’s turning the ball over just a little more than once per game. His shooting splits are, currently, 59 percent from two, 53.7 percent from three and 81.5 percent from the line. It’s generally considered elite when a player’s shooting splits at up to 180; Mathias is getting up towards the 200-club.

But that’s not all that he’s doing for this Purdue team.

Mathias also happens to be Purdue’s best perimeter defender. He may be the best perimeter defender in all of the Big Ten, and there are only a handful of players in the country that are better than he is on that side of the ball. Carsen Edwards gets the headlines because he’s the guy with the ball in his hands and Purdue’s leading scorer. Vincent Edwards gets the hype because he’s the NBA prospect. Isaac Haas gets the attention because he’s 7-foot-3 and college basketball’s version of Mr. Incredible.

Mathias, however, is not only Purdue’s best player, but he’s currently on the very short-list for Big Ten Player of the Year and in the mix to be named an all-american at season’s end. Eventually, his shooting and efficiency numbers are going to regress to the mean, and when they do, make sure you remember just how good, valuable and important he is to the Boilermakers when his stats no longer jump off the page in the same way as they do now.

2. WHAT HAPPENED IN XAVIER-CINCINNATI IS GOOD FOR COLLEGE BASKETBALL

I don’t really have too strong of an opinion on the postgame dust-ups from the Crosstown Shootout this weekend. (For a recap of all the events, go here.)

J.P. Macura does what he always does: he spent 40 minutes trying to get under the skin of Cincinnati’s players and coaches, and he succeeded in doing so. He probably shouldn’t be talking to an opposing coaching staff, and he certainly shouldn’t be telling that coaching staff to “f- off,” as Mick Cronin alleges, but it is what it is.

Cronin is certainly in the wrong for going after Macura, but he’s also a human being. There’s only so many times another adult – and Macura is an adult after all – can tell a person to “f- off” before that person reacts, and if you’ve never wanted to fight J.P. Macura you’ve probably never played basketball again J.P. Macura.

Chris Mack should probably reprimand Macura in some way, but if you thought that, after a rival head coach ripped his player in the media, he was going to do anything other than go into that press conference and defend his guy then you’re out of your mind.

But here’s the larger point: This was all harmless. It was also what makes the Xavier-Cincinnati rivalry one that is so great. Those two programs despise each other. They play a game once a year that is essentially meaningless beyond earning bragging rights in a city where the campuses are less than three miles apart. The brawl is always going to be the memory we have of this rivalry, and that was certainly a bad look for everyone involved, but playing rivalry games with the kind of intensity that could end up leading to a brawl is a good thing.

Everything about the Crosstown Shootout this weekend was terrific theater.

If only someone told Kansas and Missouri, or Kansas and Wichita State, or Wichita State and Creighton, or Georgetown and Maryland, or Duke and Maryland, or UConn and Providence, or … sigh.

3. WE NEED TO START LOOKING AT MIKAL BRIDGES AS A POTENTIAL TOP TEN PICK

I’m really not sure how much more definitive I can be about this.

In an era where length, positional versatility and floor-spacing defenders have become some of the most important and valuable pieces on an NBA roster, Mikal Bridges is one of the few guys in college basketball this season that checks all of those boxes. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He’s shooting 50 percent from three while attempting more than five threes per game. He’s a defensive playmaker – he averages 1.4 blocks and 2.5 steals – that can defend guards, wings and small-ball fours. He’s averaging nearly 18 points.

In a draft class without many players at that position, how many NBA teams are going to be able to overlook a player that can do those things while playing that position?

Think about it like this: The way that basketball is trending, lineups look something like this:

  1. Point guard
  2. Smaller wing
  3. Normal wing
  4. Big wing
  5. Center

Bridges can play three of those positions, and based on the early returns this season, he probably can play them pretty well at the NBA level.

Mikal Bridges (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

4. THREE UP

  • GEORGIA: The Bulldogs have quietly put together a terrific start to the 2017-18 season. They’re now 6-1 and can claim a road win at Marquette and a neutral court win over Saint Mary’s. Their only loss to date came against a San Diego State team that is going to be in the mix at the top of the Mountain West this season. Given the losses that both have taken of late, the Bulldogs probably need to beat both Georgia Tech and Temple at home, but they’re putting together a non-conference slate that will get them into the bubble conversation.
  • TENNESSEE: Speaking of the SEC and the bubble conversation, Tennessee is playing like an NCAA tournament team. They’ve beaten Purdue. They’ve beaten N.C. State. They won at Georgia Tech. Their only loss on the season came by nine points against No. 4 Villanova. They’re in the top 25 conversation right now. A Dec. 17th showdown with No. 13 North Carolina will be a good gauge game.
  • VIRGINIA TECH: Has there been a weirder loss this season than the Hokies falling to Saint Louis? The Billikens have fallen off a cliff since, capped by a 30-point loss to Butler, while Buzz Williams’ club has looked the part of a top 25 team in literally every other game they’ve played this season. On Saturday, they came from 16 down to win at Ole Miss in overtime.

5. THREE DOWN

  • LOUISVILLE: Maybe, just maybe, losing one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport hurt Louisville. Not only did the Cardinals blow a lead at Purdue during the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but they followed that up by losing at home to Seton Hall on Sunday. With the rest of their non-conference schedule looking iffy – Indiana and Memphis and not much else – the Cards are putting themselves behind the eight-ball.
  • USC: The Trojans took their second-straight double-digit loss on Saturday night. One was to Texas A&M. The other was to SMU. Maybe stop playing teams from Texas? Anyway, we went deep on USC on the podcast this week. Give it a listen here.
  • UCONN: Another topic we covered on the podcast this week was UConn. Coming off of a drubbing at the hands of Arkansas, UConn was promptly taken to overtime at home by both Columbia and Monmouth. At what point is it time for UConn to start over?

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.