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From prospect to player, how 11 seconds proved the Villanova Way worked for Mikal Bridges

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NEW YORK – The moment when Mikal Bridges’ star turn was complete came with a little more than eight minutes left in No. 4 Villanova’s 88-72 win over No. 12 Gonzaga on Tuesday night.

Eric Paschall set, and slipped, a ball-screen, creating just enough resistance that Bridges was able to turn the corner on Zach Norvell Jr.

Two dribbles was all it took for Bridges to split the Gonzaga defense, elevate over 6-foot-10 Killian Tillie and 6-foot-11 Jacob Larsen, and throw down a dunk that woke a sleepy Madison Square Garden and immediately sent ripples pinging throughout the twittersphere.

And he wasn’t done.

11 seconds later, at the other end of the floor, Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins broke through Villanova’s defense and appeared to have a layup to answer Bridges’ violent two points, and the 6-foot-7 wing came out of nowhere to swat the shot out of bounds.

Even before Tuesday’s outburst, Bridges had quietly been having an all-american caliber season. If you had been paying attention, nothing that happened on Tuesday night was really all that surprising.

Not everyone had been paying attention.


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The idea of Mikal Bridges, Lottery Pick, is not new.

His length. His athleticism. That defensive versatility. The three-point range. The package has been there for years. On paper, he’s looked like everything the NBA is desperate to find, a player to invest millions and millions of dollars in to effectively defend on one end and space the floor on the other.

We all saw it at the Final Four in 2016, when Villanova won a national title, and we all thought we were going to see this from Bridges last year. Only, it wasn’t his time. Bridges knew his role. He knew he was the fourth option offensively on a team that included all-american and first round pick Josh Hart, one of the top five point guards in the country in Jalen Brunson and the man that gave Villanova their first national title in 31 years in Kris Jenkins.

So he deferred.

“Last year he would have passed up a lot of those shots,” head coach Jay Wright said, “just to get it to Kris or Josh.”

That’s what they do at Villanova. You wait your turn. Six of the 11 scholarship players on Wright’s roster have redshirted at some point in their college career, whether by design — like Bridges, like Donte DiVincenzo — or due to circumstance — Eric Paschall is a transfer, Phil Booth was injured last year, Omari Spellman was ineligible as a freshman.

“The Main Line’s not a bad place to be,” Wright said with a laugh after it was pointed out to him just how many guys he’s had sit out.

It has created a culture of development on the Main Line. In hindsight, a redshirt year is ideal. The players are still in practice, but without games to play, their season becomes nothing more than an extra five months to get better. Spellman used that year to shed the baby fat that he had as a high schooler. Bridges went the other way, using his year off to add the strength he needed to handle the physicality of Big East basketball. Some take that year to extend their jump shot. Others use it to add a mid-range game, or a step-back jumper, or a little bit of extra burst on their first step.

And it helps that those are the players Villanova targets, guys, as Wright put it, “that have a chance to be pros and have the character to work hard to get there.”

But they also understand that there won’t be anything given to them. There are no guarantees about playing time. Wright has proven he’s willing to reward his young guys that are good enough — Brunson started 39 games for a title-winning team as a freshman, Spellman is starting now as a redshirt freshman — but you’re more likely to spend your first season at Villanova as a practice player. Jermaine Samuels was a top 40 recruit in the Class of 2017 and picked Villanova over Duke, Kansas and Indiana. He played one minute against Gonzaga on Tuesday. He took a DNP-CD against Tennessee in the Battle 4 Atlantis. He’s averaged 5.6 minutes this season and scored a total of eight points.

It’s worth noting here that Jay Wright has had one player transfer out of the program since the Villanova revival in 2013. That was Dylan Ennis, who saw the writing on the wall when the Wildcats landed a commitment from Brunson.

Which brings me back to Bridges.

“He knows this year he’s the leader, he’s the captain. He’s playing with more freedom and aggressiveness,” Wright said. “He knows it’s his turn. He’s ready for it. He’s worked hard on his game, and he’s ready.”

The proof, Bridges and Wright will both tell you, is that dunk.

“Ever since my freshman year, I laid the ball up a lot and coaches, seniors, they used to get on me for that,” Bridges said. “Go up and be strong.”

“I watched the old guys get on him about that,” Wright added. “If he would go to the basket and make a layup, get blocked, fouled, the old guys would get on him. ‘You gotta dunk that, dude. Go stronger.’ It had an impact.”

‘It’ meaning the Villanova Way.


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Everything that has made Bridges a terrific prospect thorough his basketball life was on display on Tuesday.

Defensively, he quite literally defended 1-through-5. On one possession, he would hound Gonzaga point guard Josh Perkins for 94-feet, applying the pressure that kept the Zags from looking all that comfortable on the offensive end of the floor. On the next possession, he was matched up against Tillie, a potential first round draft pick in his own right, in the post and blocked a Tillie turnaround jump shot.

Offensively, he shot 5-for-8 from three, which bumped his season-long shooting percentage up to 51.0 percent on just under six attempts per game. 3-and-D indeed.

But that dunk …

That dunk was the exclamation point, all the proof needed to see that Bridges has made the leap from prospect to player, that he not only has the ability to be a star at this level and thrive at the next, but that he has the confidence in his ability to ensure both of those statements are true.

That dunk was Bridges way of letting us know the Villanova Way had worked on him, “because,” as Wright says, “he’s doing it all this year.”

No. 17 Michigan beats Maryland 85-61 for 5th straight win

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored 22 of his career-high 28 points in the decisive first half, and No. 17 Michigan easily defeated Maryland 85-61 Saturday for its fifth straight victory.

Using runs of 9-0 and 16-3, the Wolverines built a 54-24 halftime lead and cruised to the finish. Michigan went 17 for 28 from the floor in the first half, including 11 for 19 from 3-point range.

The Wolverines (24-7, 13-5 Big Ten) have clinched the No. 5 seed in the conference tournament, but can earn a No. 4 seed and a double bye if Nebraska loses to Penn State on Sunday.

Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 17 for Maryland, which suffered its most lopsided home loss since a 104-72 defeat against Duke on Jan 3, 1998.

The Terrapins (19-12, 8-10) were 15-2 at home and lost to Michigan on the road by just one point on Jan. 15, which made the blowout that much more surprising.

Abdur-Rahkman made six 3-pointers in the first half and also led the Wolverines with five rebounds and four assists. The senior guard cooled off in the second half, but nevertheless surpassed his previous career best of 26 points.

After Michigan rattled off 10 straight points to take a 20-12 lead, Kevin Huerter hit a 3 for Maryland before Jaaron Simmons launched the pivotal 16-3 run with a long-range jumper. Jordan Poole chipped in with a pair of 3-pointers and another by Abdur-Rahkman made it 34-18.

The Wolverines had three turnovers in their opening four possessions, but added only one more before halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: The Wolverines have plenty of momentum to bring into the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan won it all last year, and again appears ready to take on the big boys in the conference.

Maryland: A flat performance at home means the Terrapins have to win the Big Ten Tournament to extend their run of appearances in the NCAA Tournament to four.

CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS

Former Maryland WR Torrey Smith, who earned his second career Super Bowl ring this season, returned to his alma mater to promote a charity basketball tournament next month in Baltimore. Also, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, the brother of Michigan football Jim Harbaugh, sat courtside.

UP NEXT

Michigan: Big Ten Tournament in New York.

Maryland: Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.

Mark Emmert hints at changes coming to rules regulating agents in college basketball

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Whatever changes Mark Emmert has planned, they’re going to happen quickly.

In an interview with CBS Sports prior to the start of Saturday’s college hoops action, Emmert said that the “systemic changes” that he is hoping to implement will, ideally, be in place for the start of the 2018-2019 season.

“They’re going to be putting forth their recommendations and bringing them forward during the month of April, and then the boards are going to act on them and act on them quickly,” Emmert said. “We need to act and have changes in place before tipoff of next season. Failure to do that will really erode everyone’s confidence in what this wonderful game is truly all about.”

What are the changes going to be?

Emmert didn’t spill the beans there, but it does seems like the NCAA will consider changing the rules involving agents and college basketball players. When asked why there’s a difference between the way the NCAA views hockey/baseball players and basketball players with regards to agents, Emmert said, “It makes perfect sense to me that it ought to be very different than it is now.”

This would be the smart move to make. Of Friday, I wrote a long column about how the only way to clean up college basketball is to allow players to have agents and to eliminate amateurism. This would not entirely solve the problem, but it would be a major step in the right direction.

Emmert also said that he hopes that the eligibility concerns involving the players that are mentioned in these reports will be figured out by the start of the NCAA tournament. The process for determining this is simple: Right now, the onus falls on the school. They essentially have three options:

  1. They can provisionally suspend the player, keeping them out of competition until they can determine whether or not a violation took place. This is why Collin Sexton and Jeffery Carroll missed time earlier this season.
  2. They can self-report a violation, announce that the player is ineligible and immediately apply for reinstatement with the NCAA. The player would have to make restitution for the impermissible benefits and, depending on the value of those benefits, they’d face some kind of suspension. This is like what happened with the Georgia Tech players earlier this season.
  3. They can announce that they do not believe any violations occurred, play out the rest of the season and hope that no evidence pops up that proves the guys that played were ineligible at the time.

At this time, we are still waiting to hear from Alabama on Collin Sexton, Michigan State on Miles Bridges and Arizona on Deandre Ayton and Sean Miller.

Chimezie Metu cleared to play by USC

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USC has cleared junior forward Chimezie Metu as he’ll be allowed to play on Saturday against Utah, the school announced.

The 6-foot-11 Metu is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Trojans this season as he was one of the players named in the Friday reports that linked him to NBA agent Andy Miller and Christian Dawkins.

The Trojans are the latest school to allow their player to play after the reports as they follow schools like Duke and Kentucky, as they also did the same with allowing Wendell Carter Jr. and Kevin Knox Jr. to play.

It’s also noted in the release that USC is reviewing Bennie Boatwright’s eligibility as well even though he’s out for the season with a knee injury.

On Friday, Yahoo Sports reported a wide-scale payment operation from Miller and Dawkins in order to recruit players for Miller’s agency. The records allege that Bennie Boatwright Sr. received about $2,000. The records also allege that Metu or his advisor, Johnnie Parker, also got $2,000.

Although the allegations look serious, Dawkins has also proven to be untrustworthy in many instances and it’s hard to tell what might be real and what might be a cover for another expense. It’s hard to prove a lot of these things presented in a business expenses spreadsheet. USC is backing Metu by saying he never received anything that would harm his eligibility as they try to make a final push at Arizona before the postseason.

Bubble Banter: There will be some NCAA tournament bids determined today

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

PROVIDENCE (RPI: 43, KenPom: 71, NBC seed: 10): The Friars avoided what could have been a disastrous loss by handing on to beat Georgetown in Washington D.C. on Saturday. The Friars had lost two in a row — at Butler and Seton Hall at home — and play at Xavier on Wednesday, meaning that they would be staring a four-game losing streak in the face had they lost at Georgetown. As it stands, Providence is 3-7 against Quadrant 1, which includes home wins over Xavier and Villanova, but they’ve also lost two Quadrant 3 and one Quadrant 4 games.

SETON HALL (RPI: 21, KenPom: 31, NBC seed: 8): Seton Hall stumbled their way onto the bubble by losing four straight to start February, but they’re rebounded with three straight wins. Surviving a postponed game at Providence might have been what put the Pirates in the Dance. I think they are a lock with one more win.

TCU (RPI: 20, KenPom: 21, NBC seed: 9): The Horned Frogs have just about punched their ticket. A win over Baylor today was yet another good win. They now have four Quadrant 1 and four Quadrant 2 wins without a single loss outside the top two Quadrants. If they lose out it will be interesting, so I would say they need one more win to lock up a bid.

LOSERS

BAYLOR (RPI: 58, KenPom: 38, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Bears lost their second straight game on Saturday, falling to 16-12 overall and 7-9 in the Big 12. They are in a tough spot now. They have four Quadrant 1 wins but they are just 4-10 in those Quadrant 1 games. All 12 of their losses, however, are “good” losses, and they still play Oklahoma at home and Kansas State on the road before the Big 12 tournament. I don’t think they can get a big with 14 losses, so I think they need to win two more during the regular season and maybe another one in the Big 12 tournament.

MARQUETTE (RPI: 64, KenPom: 52, NBC seed: First four out): Marquette took their worst loss of the season on Saturday afternoon, going into Chicago and losing at DePaul, the first Quadrant 3 loss for the Golden Eagles. They are now 16-12 on the season and 7-9 in the Big East with just four Quadrant 1 wins. I don’t think the dream is dead yet, but the biggest issue Marquette currently faces is that they cannot help themselves without winning a game or two in the Big East tournament.

YET TO PLAY

LOUISVILLE
VIRGINIA TECH
SMU
MIAMI
LSU
TEXAS
USC
UTAH
MISSISSIPPI STATE
TEXAS A&M
WASHINGTON
ALABAMA
KANSAS STATE
OKLAHOMA
MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE
ST. BONAVENTURE
FLORIDA

Marvin Bagley III returning to Duke lineup against Syracuse after knee injury

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Duke star freshman Marvin Bagley III will be available for the Blue Devils on Saturday when they play Syracuse in an ACC home game.

Bagley missed the past four games due to a knee strain that he suffered in the Feb. 8 game against North Carolina. During Bagley’s absence, the Blue Devils went 4-0 as their defense looked very good and senior Grayson Allen became an aggressive scorer.

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of changes Duke makes with Bagley’s return. Watching Bagley’s health and seeing how many minutes he plays will be another subplot to watch against the Orange.