Corey Perrine/Getty Images

No. 1 Villanova once again smacks around No. 10 Xavier

1 Comment

PHILADELPHIA – Phil Booth led the way with 21 points and four assists while Jalen Brunson chipped in with 17 points and five assists and Mikal Bridges added 15 points as No. 1 Villanova pasted No. 10 Xavier, 89-65.

Xavier joined the Big East prior to the 2013-14 season, and in the five trips that the Musketeers have made to Philadelphia, the closest they have managed to keep a game has been 13. They lost by 23 points the first time they played as league foes. They lost by 13 the following year, by 31 points the season in which the Wildcats won the national title and by 25 last season.

Wednesday night was more of the same.

Villanova was up 18-6 just six minutes into the game and never looked back. The Wildcats took a 12-point lead into the break and lead by 20 less than five minutes into the second half.

The only thing the Musketeers had going all night long was Kerem Kanter, who finished with a team-high 16 points.

Here are three things that we can takeaway from this game:

1. IF THERE WAS ANY CONCERN ABOUT VILLANOVA’S DEFENSE, THEY ERASED IT

The last two games that the Wildcats played prior to Wednesday night were somewhat worrying.

The issue was on the defensive end of the floor. The Wildcats gave up 101 points in their only loss of the season at Butler, a game that could somewhat be explained away by the Bulldogs making a ridiculous 15-for-22 from beyond the arc. But just a week later, Villanova gave up 90 points at Marquette, and that doesn’t even include the 85 points that Villanova gave up to DePaul in their Big East opener.

Prior to their blowout win over the Musketeers, Villanova was dead last in defensive efficiency in Big East play, according to KenPom.

Those doubts … well, they are no longer doubts, at least not in the moment. Xavier shot just 42 percent from the floor. They were 3-for-16 from three and turned the ball over 14 times. If you’re into the analytic angle, Xavier scored less than 1.0 points-per-possession, the first time Villanova held an opponent below that mark since Dec. 22nd.

And it’s probably worth noting here that, entering Wednesday, Xavier was ranked 13th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric.

“We’ve been struggling defensively,” head coach Jay Wright said, “and our guys really stepped up.”

The issue, according to Wright, has been complacency. It started on that Dec. 22nd game against Hofstra, and it continued into the start of Big East play. The problem? Villanova didn’t get in the practices they needed to in order to solve the problem. After the Hofstra game it was Christmas. Then they had to travel to Chicago to play DePaul. Next, they made a trip to Indianapolis on Dec. 30th.

“We saw it coming, we just didn’t have the time to practice,” Wright said.

It wasn’t until after the Butler game that they were able to take a week to really iron out some of the kinks, and the Wildcats still struggled with an admittedly awesome Marquette offense.

“We just kind of lost it,” Wright said. “We can’t just say, ‘OK, we’re going to play defense now’ when we haven’t been doing it or three weeks. You have to get back to your habits.”

“The older guys get it, a guy like [Dhamir] Cosby-Rountree or Omari [Spellman], even Donte [DiVincenzo], they’re looking at you like, ‘we scored 100, we’re winning, what’s the big deal?”

And that’s where Villanova’s veterans come in.

They’re the ones that set the tone in practice. Hell, they’re the ones that set the example for the entire program. The term that gets tossed around is “culture”, and the culture at Villanova is one for improvement and hard work even when the Wildcats are winning games.

That’s where Wright started.

“When we weren’t doing well defensively or rebounding, we didn’t focus on Omari or Dada,” he said. “We focused on Jalen, Phil and Mikal. They had to show those young guys how to do it first.”

They did.

And the result was the performance you saw Wednesday.

2. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN XAVIER AND VILLANOVA CAN BE SEEN IN THE SUPPORTING CAST

Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are the stars for Villanova, and while they got their numbers on Wednesday, they weren’t Wednesday’s stars.

Phil Booth was.

He scored 11 of Villanova’s first 18 points. He finished with 21 points and five assists. He was the spark for this team at the start of the game, the guy that led the run that buried Xavier before they were able to work their way into the game. We’ve seen nights where Donte DiVincenzo was that guy for Villanova. Omari Spellman has been that guy. Eric Paschall finished with 14 points on Wednesday and buried a pair of threes.

The blessing for Villanova is that Bridges and Brunson – especially Brunson – are annoyingly consistent. They don’t really have off nights.

Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura do, Xavier doesn’t necessarily have guys that can pick them up on those off-nights. Kerem Kanter was good on Wednesday, but he did most of his damage in the second half, once the lead was too big for Xavier to really have a shot at making a comeback; if Kanter was better defensively Chris Mack might have more confidence in using him when the game is on the line. Naji Marshall had 13 points, but that’s his second-highest scoring output of the season.

3. XAVIER NEEDS TREVON BLUIETT TO GET RIGHT

Bluiett is one of the best players in college basketball, but he has not played like it in the last month. In Xavier’s last eight games, he is shooting 34.2 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from three. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Xavier has lost twice during that span, needed to come back from 22 points down at home against East Tennessee and 16 points down at home against DePaul. They struggled at Northern Iowa, the MVC’s cellar-dweller, and barely held off Marshall at home.

Hell, when Xavier was blown out by Arizona State, Bluiett was 4-for-10 from the floor and finished with 11 points.

When he’s right, Xavier’s right.

And he has not been right for a while.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

Photo by David Becker/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Leave a comment

Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

Eric Espada/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?