Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

No. 1 Villanova falls at home to St. John’s

Leave a comment

Shamorie Ponds finished with 26 points, five boards and  five assists while Justin Simon chipped in with 16 points, 10 boards, seven assists and a pair of steals as St. John’s earned their first Big East win of the season.

On the road.

Against No. 1 Villanova, 79-75.

Just four days after they knocked off then-No. 4 Duke.

Yes, all of those things are true.

So credit to the Johnnies. For the first time this season, they are playing up to their talent level. To be quite frank, the fact that they lost their first 11 games of the Big East season with a team that is good enough to beat Duke and win at Villanova in back-to-back games is an indictment on Chris Mullin’s tenure in Queens.

The bigger story here, obviously, is Villanova.

So let’s talk about them.

More specifically, let’s talk about that thing that we haven’t really talked about with them to this point in the season: Their defense. Entering Wednesday night, Villanova was ranked 39th defensively on KenPom, which is fine. When North Carolina won the title in 2009, they entered the NCAA tournament ranked 39th on that end of the floor. When Duke won it in 2015, they entered the tournament ranked 37th. You can win a national title by being good enough on that end of the floor if you have one of the nation’s elite offenses, and Villanova does.

As we noted earlier this week, the Wildcats have been a juggernaut on that end, better than any offensive attack that we have seen in the KenPom era.

There are two concerns here, however.

North Carolina turned it on in the NCAA tournament, finishing the year ranked 18th in defensive efficiency. Duke, as we all know, played defense at a level we’ve never seen someone play for an entire season as they won the title in 2015. If there is an issue with this Villanova team defensively, it’s that they’ve struggled to turn it on when they’ve needed to.

“We just kind of lost it,” Wright told me back in January, the last time Villanova had a crisis defensively. “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?”

It’s probably worth noting here that Villanova was missing two of those older guys. Phil Booth, a redshirt junior and arguably the team’s best back court defender, is battling a broken hand. Eric Paschall, another redshirt senior and Villanova’s most athletic defender, missed Wednesday night’s game with a concussion. For a team that really only goes seven-deep when everyone is healthy, that’s a tough situation for Wright to be in. It might be good for him to get a glimpse at what he has in the likes of Collin Gillispie, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree and Jermaince Samuels, but it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that those learning experiences come with a loss.

The other part of it, however, is that Villanova relies so much on the three ball. More than 40 percent of their offense this season has come off of three-pointers. For comparison’s sake, Duke got 27 percent of their offense on threes in 2015. UNC got just 23 percent off their offense off of threes in 2009.

I’m not exactly breaking news here when I say that you live by the three, you die by the three. On Wednesday, Villanova shot 8-for-33 from beyond the arc. They were 2-for-18 from three in the second half, including 10 straight misses, many of which were wide — and I mean wide — open.

That happens.

But it makes Villanova more susceptible to getting picked off by a team like this.

That’s anything-but a guarantee that Villanova, for the fourth time in five seasons, will get upset earlier in the NCAA tournament than they should.

It should, however, be the kind of thing that wakes Villanova’s defense back up.

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?