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No. 7 Texas Tech beats No. 23 Oklahoma to remain atop Big 12

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Tuesday’s matchup between No. 23 Oklahoma and No. 7 Texas Tech was a showdown of two of the top guards not only in the Big 12 but in all of college basketball, with freshman Trae Young facing off against senior Kennan Evans.

Evans won the duel, but it was a collective effort that saw Chris Beard’s Red Raiders move one step closer to their first conference regular season title since its first the 1995-96 season with an 88-78 win.

How long has it been since Texas Tech last won a regular season conference title?

The Big 12 had yet to begin play. The Red Raiders won the last Southwest Conference title before the merger with the Big 8.

Not only did Evans outscore Young, finishing with 26 to the freshman’s 19, but he also produced in a much more efficient manner. Evans shot 9-for-15 from the field, and while he finished the game with just two assists, the senior only turned the ball over once. Young’s night was much more difficult, as he shot just 4-for-16 from the field and missed all nine of his three-point attempts.

If not for his going 11-for-11 from the foul line, Young’s night — and that of the Sooners by extension — could have been even worse. The freshman did manage to dish out seven assists, but his struggles from deep contributed to the Sooners shooting just 7-for-22 from beyond the arc. Texas Tech shot 11-for-21 from three, shooting much better than it has throughout the course of the season (35.1 percent 3PT).

Young’s in the midst of a brutal shooting slump from three. He’s just 7-for-41 over the last four games and has now missed 16 in a row. Giving the freshman the freedom to make plays is critical for Oklahoma, but if he’s off it puts the Sooners in a tough spot. Against Texas Tech, others did step forward, most notably Christian James who scored a team-high 23 points, but it still wasn’t enough.

There’s certainly talent on Lon Kruger’s roster, and they’ll hopefully see Kristian Doolittle get into some kind of a groove down the stretch as he works his way back after missing the first semester.

But as Trae Young goes so go the Sooners, and it’s no coincidence that the team’s four-game skid has coincided with him going cold from three.

While the production of Evans and Young had a significant impact on the outcome, the overriding factor was Texas Tech’s approach on both ends of the floor. For much of the night Chris Beard’s team was patient offensively, working for the shots it wanted to take as opposed to allowing Oklahoma’s defense to dictate what they would do. Defensively they got after the Sooners, using a solid man-to-man for much of the night with a trap once the freshman crossed half-court to get the ball out of Young’s hands down the stretch mixed in for good measure.

That’s been the way the Red Raiders have played throughout the season. Texas Tech knows who it is and what is the most effective way to attack opponents, and rarely have they deviated from the identity that they’ve developed. There’s certainly experience on the roster, led by Evans with the likes of Niem Stevenson, Norense Odiase and Tommy Hamilton IV not lacking for it either.

But there’s also freshmen Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver, who are both averaging in double figures for the season. Against Oklahoma, Smith (13 points, four rebounds, three assists) and Culver (seven points, three assists) combined to score 20 points and dish out six assists with the former extending his streak of double-digit scoring performances to four games. While Keenan Evans’ mastery has been a key factor in Texas Tech’s run to the top of the Big 12 standings, he hasn’t lacked for help either.

With games to be played against Baylor and Oklahoma State, two teams looking to strengthen their respective NCAA tournament arguments, before the February 24 showdown with Kansas, it’s imperative that Texas Tech remain focused on the task at hand.

But if their play over the last seven games — and for much of the season overall — is any indication, sticking with what’s gotten them to this point won’t be a concern for the Red Raiders.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

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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

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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

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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

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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?

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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?