Rob Dauster

Abbie Parr/Getty Images

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

1 Comment

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.

POSTERIZED: The Mikal Bridges hype train is officially open for business (VIDEO)

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mikal Bridges is currently in the process of putting on a show for Villanova in the Jimmy V Classic in New York City, and while the 24 points he had with nine minutes left was impressive and noteworthy and got all the scouts in the building intrigued, it was this dunk that is going to make him a name that is known by more than just basketball nerds and people on the Main Line:

Yikes.

I’m glad I got my “Mikal Bridges could be a top ten pick” take in on Monday. I now look prescient.

POSTERIZED: Mo Bamba activates his go-go-gadget arms (VIDEO)

Screengrab via ESPN2
Leave a comment

Texas freshman Mo Bamba is 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-9 wingspan and a standing reach of the stratosphere.

Here, some poor VCU defender – who we will not name out of respect for the family – learned that the hard way:

South Carolina States Ty Solomon reflects after collapsing mid-game

Ty Solomon, Facebook
1 Comment

Two days after CPR and an automated external defibrillator had to be used to resuscitate him while he lay on the floor of PNC Arena, Tyvoris Solomon was awake and alert and able to speak to a reporter.

And when he did, he was sure to thank the men that saved his life on Saturday.

“I love those guys,” Solomon to the Raleigh News & Observer. “Perfect timing, I guess. I was glad it happened where it happened at because I could have been with one of my teammates in a car and it could have been a whole different situation.”

Solomon said that he remembered playing in the game, and that he remembers coming out, speaking to a teammate and putting his head in his hands. He said the next thing he remembers is waking up on the floor with people standing around him.

Doctors are still unsure what happened to Solomon, and while his basketball career may be over, I’m not sure anyone is actually worried about that right now.

“Right now, it’s just cherish every moment and don’t take anything for granted,” Solomon said. “Life, basketball, sports, family. Anything. Not holding grudges with anyone if you can. Get over it as quickly as you can because you are not promised the next second.”

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Marvin Bagley III holds his lead, Devonte’ Graham climbs

Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s funny the way that the Player of the Year race plays out.

Prior to the start of the season, Miles Bridges seemed like a lock to be the Preseason National Player of the Year. You combine how good he was last season with how good he could be this season and the fact that Michigan State was a preseason top three team in the country, and it was a relatively easy pick to make.

Fast forward, and a little more than three weeks into the season, Bridges isn’t even one of the names that I’m considering for National Player of the Year.

Now to be fair, much of that has to do with the fact that he dealt with an ankle injury that limited him some what, and the improvement of the likes of Josh Langford and Cassius Winston has made it easier for Bridges to play the background while he gets back to 100 percent.

But it’s still funny how that works.

In fact, four of our five Preseason First-Team All-Americans are out of the top ten of these Player of the Year Power Rankings. None of them are in the top five, which essentially means that we would have whiffed on the First-Team All-Americans should the season end to day. Now, in our defense, Michael Porter Jr. had surgery and Bridges got hurt while Allonzo Trier and Grayson Allen are still in the mix and Devonte’ Graham could arguably be ranked higher.

So it might all even out in the end.

But as of today, this list still has some names that may not necessarily seem like they’re in the right spot.

1. MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke: Bagley’s place atop these Power Rankings likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so instead of once against talking about the numbers he’s putting up (22.0 points, 11.2 boards) or the performances that he’s had in big games, I want to note something interesting I found about Duke’s offense: Have they turned into one of those teams whose best offense is a missed shot or a bucket in transition?

Duke is in the 11th percentile nationally points-per-possession on spot-up jumpers. Despite having Bagley and Wendell Carter on the roster, they are only in the 41st percentile nationally in PPP on post-ups; Bagley scores a respectable 1.0 PPP on post-ups, while Carter, who has had more post touches, according to Synergy, than Bagley this season, is at 0.732 PPP.

Despite that, Duke is still in the 80th percentile in half court offense and, according to KenPom, a top five offense in raw efficiency. They also lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and are checking in at the 96th percentile in transition offense, which accounts for a full 20 percent of their possessions.

This is not a criticism. Duke is wearing down teams and winning games. It’s working.

But it’s also weird seeing Duke turn into North Carolina.

2. JORDAN MURPHY, Minnesota: We’re now nine games into the season and Jordan Murphy has nine double-doubles. Murphy is the anchor of the Golden Gophers, and the biggest reason that they look like they might end up being the second-best team in the Big Ten this season.

3. JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova: There are some people out there that will tell you that Villanova’s best player is Mikal Bridges, and honestly, the argument for him is pretty strong. Considering the efficiency that he is playing with offensively and the versatility and playmaking that he provides defensively, it’s a compelling case.

But Brunson is still the guy. Let’s forget the intangibles, the fact that he’s the best pure point guard and leader in college basketball this year and most years, for a second and instead just focus on what he’s actually doing on the floor. Brunson leads the nation in offensive rating for players that use more than 20 percent of their team’s possessions, and he’s posting those kind of efficiency numbers despite playing the position where he has the ball in his hands the most. He’s shooting 71.7 percent from two, 51.7 percent from three and 84.6 percent from the free throw line. Most people want those shooting splits to add up to 180; Brunson checks in at 208. He has nine turnovers in 238 minutes.

Should I mention he’s averaging 17.9 points and 4.5 assists?

We’ll get a real sense for just how good Brunson, Bridges and Villanova truly is on Tuesday night when they take on Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic.

Jalen Brunson (Elsa/Getty Images)

4. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas: After going for 35 points and five assists in back-to-back games, Graham is one of three players in college basketball this season to average at least 18 points and eight assists. Trae Young is one of them. Marshall’s Jon Elmore – who is putting up 24.9 points and 8.4 assists per game – is the other. The difference? Graham is doing it for the No. 2 team in the country who just so happens to have seven scholarship players and uses a 6-foot-4 walk-on as their third big man.

5. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma: Last week, we showed you just how much of an outlier season Trae Young is having. He’s doing things that have never been done, at least not in the 26 years on Basketball Reference’s database or the 14 years in KenPom’s database. To provide a quick update, Young’s usage rate is up to 37 percent, although his efficiency took a little bit of a dip, down to 125.9. Still: no one has ever come close to that. Ever.

6. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier: Bluiett snapped out of a mini-slump by pumping in 28 points as the Musketeers beat archrival Cincinnati in the Crosstown Shootout. I’ll let Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News handle the explanation for this one.

7. TRA HOLDER, Arizona State: The Sun Devils have only played once since Holder’s 40-point outburst in the win over Xavier, but he’s still averaging better than 22 points, six boards and five assists, although his three-point shooting percentage dropped from 50 percent to 48.8 percent. Almost had to cut him from the rankings for that.

8. BONZIE COLSON, Notre Dame: Bonzie struggled offensively in the last two games – partly because he had to deal with Jaren Jackson, partly because he was ejected for swinging an elbow against St. Francis – but I do think it’s notable that he posted five steals and four blocks in that game. Colson has become much more of a playmaker on that end of the floor this season.

Desi Rodriguez (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

9. DESI RODRIGUEZ, Seton Hall: After averaging 26.5 points in wins over Texas Tech and at Louisville, the latter of which included a game-winning bucket, Rodriguez is now averaging an even 20 points for a top 20 team on which he wasn’t even supposed to be one of the two best players entering the season. His rise into matchup-nightmare and go-to scorer for the Pirates has kept them from a slow start to the season.

10. JEVON CARTER, West Virginia: We all kind of wrote off West Virginia after their awful start to the season, but maybe we should start paying attention to the Mountaineers again? They haven’t lost since that blowout loss to Texas A&M in Germany, and Carter has turned into a caricature of himself, averaging 19.0 points, 5.5 assists, 4.8 boards and an absurd 4.5 steals. Like Villanova, we’ll get a better sense of where WVU stands nationally as they take on Virginia Tuesday night.

ALSO CONSIDERED: GRAYSON ALLEN, Duke; DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona; MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova; KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech; D.J. HOGG, Texas A&M; DAKOTA MATHIAS, Purdue; YANTE MATEN, Georgia; LUKE MAYE, North Carolina; SHAKE MILTON, SMU; KHYRI THOMAS, Creighton; ALLONZO TRIER, Arizona

 

Kansas adds a big man to their roster, but not the big man they need

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kansas has made an addition to their roster, but it’s not the one that Jayhawks were hoping for.

James Sosinki, a 6-foot-7, 260 pound tight end on the Kansas football team will walk-on to the basketball team this season. Sosinki averaged 19.1 points and 12.6 boards as a freshman at a community college before opting to play football at Kansas. At this point, Kansas – who is down to just seven scholarship players – needs bodies, preferably big bodies, and Sosinki can provide that.

At this point, Bill Self told reporters on Monday, the hope for Sosinki is mainly to provide a big body to bang against Udoka Azubuike when the team is practicing on the road. The Lawson twins are at practice in Lawrence, but they aren’t traveling with the team.

Reinforcements are on the way. Sam Cunliffe will be eligible after the first semester, but he’ll only add to the back court depth. There is hope that the Jayhawks can add Silvio De Sousa, a 6-foot-10 high school senior in the Class of 2018, but that won’t come until the semester break, either.

And then there is Billy Preston.

The 6-foot-10, 240 pound freshman was brought in to play the Perry Ellis role this season, but he’s yet to be cleared to play as the school continues to investigate and work with the NCAA over a car that Preston was driving on campus.

“This is something our people have worked really hard on. We think it’ll come to a head soon,” Self said. “Hopefully it’ll come to a head in a way that we held him out for precautionary reasons. We just don’t know that yet.”

“It’s unfortunate because the way this system is set up and the way we’re attacking this and when I say attacking I mean that in the literal sense, we are trying to resolve this as quickly as possible. It’s just not going to be something that happens as quick as we want it to happen.”

“We are very hopeful we are nearing the conclusion to the point where maybe we can find something out in the relatively near future, but I don’t think it’s going to be by Wednesday.”

The No. 2 Jayhawks play Washington at the Sprint Center on Wednesday.