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No. 4 Villanova, Mikal Bridges beat No. 12 Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic

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NEW YORK — Mikal Bridges scored a career-high 28 points while Phil Booth added 20 for No. 4 Villanova as the Wildcats won the opener of the 2017 Jimmy V Classic, 88-72, over No. 12 Gonzaga.

Villanova’s resident All-American was quiet on Tuesday night, spending much of the first half on the bench in foul trouble and finishing with just 12 points and three assists. Generally speaking, that would be a problem for these Wildcats, but they certainly did not need him on this night, as Bridges put together one of the best performances of his career — more on that in a second.

The Zags battled foul trouble all night long. Johnathon Williams III, who was so impressive in Gonzaga’s overtime loss against No. 5 Florida, fouled out after managing all of three minutes in the second half while Killian Tillie, who was Gonzaga’s best player in a win over Creighton on Friday night, was glued to the bench for the first 20 minutes.

Tillie and Williams picked up their second foul less than a minute and a half apart midway through the first half, and Villanova immediately went on a 11-0 run to open up a 28-17 lead that would eventually balloon to 17 points. The Zags would make a couple of runs to cut into the lead, but Villanova was never seriously threatened in the second half.

Here are four things we learned from Tuesday night’s win:

1. VILLANOVA IS MORE TALENTED THAN THEIR 2016 TITLE TEAM

It’s true.

The knock on Villanova during what I’ll refer to as the Hart-Jenkins era — the last four years, where the Wildcats have won four straight Big East titles — is that they’ve had a roster that’s populated by good college players that are, essentially, just that. College players.

During those four years, Josh Hart was the only Villanova player to get picked in the first round of the NBA Draft, and he was the last pick in the first round of the NBA Draft. And that’s not a criticism, mind you, because a return to blue-collar roots, to recruiting players that fit the Villanova Way is what turned Villanova back into a national power.

And rest assured, Jay Wright still has a roster full of “Villanova kids,” but they just so happen to be Villanova kids with a shot at getting on an NBA roster. Bridges might end up being a top ten pick before it’s all said and done. Eric Paschall’s ability to defend and make a three will keep him on the radar of NBA teams. Omari Spellman was a McDonald’s All-American that has NBA upside now that he’s slimmed now. they beat out programs like Duke and Kansas for Jermaine Samuels, and Jalen Brunson is flat-out a top three point guard in college basketball at worst.

That’s what makes this team scary.

They still have selfless kids that will play a certain way, are switchable defensively and can all make shots and play on the perimeter, but instead of simply being good college players, they’re pros.

2. MIKAL BRIDGES FINALLY GONE FROM PROSPECT TO PLAYER, AND HE’S NOW VILLANOVA’S BEST PLAYER

That’s the biggest difference here, the biggest reason that I can confidently say this Villanova team is more talented — and probably better — than a team that won a national title.

For years we’ve been talking about how intriguing he is as a player. That length. That switchability. That perimeter skill. He was on everyone’s “Breakout Star” list after the way he played in the Final Four as a redshirt freshman.

And then he fizzled.

Or, perhaps more accurately, he didn’t have much of a chance to get his with Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins joining him in the front court. But now that those guys are gone, now that his role needs to be as a go-to scorer, he’s embraced it.

He’s thriving in it.

And he’s turned into quite possibly the best wing in college basketball.

3. GONZAGA’S YOUNGSTERS ARE PROMISING

The Zags did not have their best game on Tuesday night, and I don’t think anyone would argue otherwise. That’ll happen in college basketball, especially when a team from Washington state is traveling across the country to New York City to play a game against a team as good as Villanova.

So I’m not that worried about Gonzaga.

I am, however, intrigued by some of the younger guys that are on that roster. At this point, the secret is out on Killian Tillie, and Rui Hachimura’s performance in the U19 World Cup this summer let everyone know just how good he can end up being.

I did not, however, realize that Zach Norvell Jr. was ready to have the impact that he had on Tuesday; he went for 22 points and hit four threes against a top four team and is now averaging 20 points over his last three games. The injury to Corey Kispert – who is promising in his own right – was a blessing in disguise; I don’t know if Mark Few even realized what he had in Norvell.

Jacob Larsen got his chance to shine as well. With Williams and Tillie battling foul trouble, Larsen stepped up and had his best game as a collegian. He finished with 10 points, five boards and a pair of assists. He protected the rim, he moved his feet well.

I say all that to say this: As good as the present is for the Zags, the future may be even brighter.

4. VILLANOVA CAN PLAY BIG

Villanova was dealing with some foul trouble to their guards in the first half, and it forced them to play a different lineup that Jay Wright is used to — Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, and Bridges all on the floor at the same time.

And it worked!

That’s probably not a lineup that the Wildcats are going to use all that much, but knowing just how good and how big some of Villanova’s title competitors are, it has to be comforting to know that he can matchup that way.

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.