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Creighton’s Patton to declare for draft and hire an agent

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Justin Patton’s rapid rise through the basketball ranks continues.

The freshman big man will declare for the NBA draft with the intention of signing with an agent, sources confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Patton went from a relatively unheralded recruit to top-100 prospect while a prep in Omaha, but still redshirted his initial college season of 2015-16 before wowing scouts and the rest of the sport alike with his dynamic play for the Bluejays.

The 7-footer averaged 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks this season for Creighton. He’s considered a potential lottery pick given his size and skill set.

His departure is a considerable blow for Creighton, which appeared to have a dream season shaping up in 2016-17 before Maurice Watson tore his ACL in January and later was accused of sexual assault.

Marcus Foster will return for his senior season after rehabbing his game and image during his junior season with Creighton. He averaged 18.2 points in his first year with the Bluejays after transferring from Kansas State.

The Vertical’s Sham Charania was the first to report on Patton’s decision.

Big East Conference Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Big East Player of the Year: Josh Hart, Villanova

Josh Hart confirmed what was almost unanimously believed in November: he was the best player in the Big East. The senior wing averaged a conference-leading 18.7 points — shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three — to go along with his 6.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game for first-place Villanova. One of the best two-way players in the nation also had some of his best single-game performances outside of the conference slate.

Big East Coach of the Year: Ed Cooley, Providence

Two days before Christmas, Providence closed out the non-conference slate with a loss at Boston College. The Friars followed by dropping the first two conference games. All three losses were by a dozen or more points. Yet, this team — without Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil — is in possession of another 20-win season, and tied the highest finish Providence has had since the conference’s relaunch. This is a competitive race, especially when you consider what Chris Holtmann and Steve Wojciechowski has done. And that doesn’t include Jay Wright’s continued dominance. But Cooley took a young roster with all the makings of a rebuild and turned it, in all likelihood, a fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

First-Team All-Big East

  • Josh Hart, Villanova
  • Andrew Chrabascz, Butler: The statistics don’t jump off the page, but the senior forward impacts the game in so many different ways for a Butler team that was projected to finish sixth, but ended as the No. 2 seed.
  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova: Taking the full-time ball handling duties this season, the sophomore averaged 14.8 points per game, shooting 54 percent from the field. He also registered a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
  • Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: The nation’s leading rebounder (13.1 RPG) has recorded 24 double-doubles this season. He’s also improved his offense, posting 15.7 points per game.
  • Marcus Foster, Creighton: The transfer guard is second in the conference in scoring at 18.5 points per game. He’s taken on a bigger role since Watson’s season-ending injury.

Second Team All-Big East:

  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
  • Kyron Cartwright, Providence
  • Kelan Martin, Butler
  • Justin Patton, Creighton

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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Villanova brought the Big East the national championship in 2016, ending critcism of the program’s shortcomings in March and providing the league with an added level of legitiamcy it yearned for since its relaunch in 2013.

So, what will the Big East do for an encore? The conference might send 70 percent of its members to the NCAA Tournament.

Like the previous three seasons, the league was dominated by Villanova, which won its fourth consecutive regular season championship. Butler finished second, and spent much of the year in the top-20. Creighton looked every part of a Final Four contender until Maurice Watson Jr. tore his ACL in mid-January. Xavier, which began the season ranked, has struggled since Edmond Sumner suffered the same season-ending injury. Marquette, Providence and Seton Hall have all made late pushes for at-large bids, resulting in a wild finish to the regular season. Four days in New York should be eventual, to say the least.

The Bracket

When: March 8-11

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City

Final: Saturday, March 11 5:30 p.m.

Favorite: Villanova

This should come as a surprise to no one. This reigning national champions enter the World’s Most Famous Arena as the top seed for the fourth straight season. Villanova has at its disposal the conference’s player of the year, another unanimous first-team selection, a national coach of the year candidate and the athleticism and versatility not many teams can brag about. Depth is a concern, with Phil Booth out for the season and Darryl Reynolds, the only true big man in the rotation, recently returning from injury. It’s also worth noting that two of three Big East losses came against the same opponent.

And if they lose?: Butler

The Bulldogs have twice defeated the Wildcats. They did so in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 4, handing Villanova its first loss of the season. Butler went for the sweep by knocking off the Cats on Feb. 22, the only time they lost at the Pavilion this season. In both contests, Butler made the key plays down the stretch for hard-fought victories. Butler has an improved defense from last season to compliment with its always-efficient offense. With a big like Andrew Chrabascz, the Bulldogs are more equipped to match up with Villanova. Also, Kelan Martin, since his move to a reserve role, has caught fire in the last five games of the regular season.

Kelan Martin (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Providence: The Friars have won six straight, with wins over Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette. Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock may not be Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, but they are anchoring a hot team that could give Providence its second postseason championship in four years.
  • Marquette: The Golden Eagles are the only Big East team team other than the Bulldogs to defeat Villanova. They have a nice balance with a deep roster. Five players average double-digits in points, and Andrew Rowsey, the Big East Sixth Man of the Year, and Katin Reinhardt have been huge in the second unit.

Sleeper: Seton Hall

The Pirates played strong basketball down the stretch last season to win the Big East Tournament championship. Isaiah Whitehead is playing in a different borough now, but Seton Hall is rolling, winners of seven of nine. The defense isn’t as strong as it was during last year’s run, but Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez are capable of a repeat performance.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Xavier: The Musketeers lost six of seven to close out the season. They have two wins in the past five weeks: both against DePaul. A loss to the Blue Demons on Wednesday night could burst Xavier’s bubble.
  • Marquette: The Golden Eagles should be safe at this point. Sure, they earned a come-from-behind win against Villanova, but that won’t stop critics from poking holes in their resume on Sunday, especially when four wins against Xavier and Creighton came after injuries to Edmond Sumner and Mo Watson.
  • Providence: A six-game winning streak and a third-place finish should mean the Friars are safe, but most bracket projections have them as one of the last at-large four bids.

Defining moment of the season: Marquette, down 17 points, comes back to stun No. 1 Villanova, starting a run for the NCAA Tournament.

CBT Prediction: Villanova

Update: Creighton’s Watson turns himself into police

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Update: Later Sunday, Watson turned himself into the Douglas County Jail, a law enforcement official told the Omaha World-Herald. Watson’s attorney told the paper that Watson was driving back to Omaha from his native Philadelphia and was slowed by the snowstorm that hit parts of the country this week.

Law enforcement has been unable to arrest Creighton guard Maurice Watson since a warrant for his arrest on the charge first-degree sexual assault was issued last week, according to police.

“The U.S. Marshals Service and the Omaha Police Fugitive Unit continue to look for Mr. Watson,” Omaha Police said in a statement Sunday. “At this point in time, Mr. Watson is dodging law enforcement efforts to arrest him.

“Until he is located and arrested by law enforcement, or turns himself in, the entire Douglas County Court system is operating off of Mr. Watson’s time frame.

“Neither OPD nor the Douglas County Attorney’s Office is part of any specific arrangements for Mr. Watson to turn himself in.”

Watson was accused by a 19-year-old acquaintance, who reportedly is also a Creighton student, of sexual assault in the bathroom of an Omaha residence around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4. A report was filed later that day.

The point guard was in the midst of a banner season for the Bluejays before he tore his ACL in January, which ended his collegiate career. Creighton announced on Feb. 13 he was suspended from the team and not allowed to participate in senior night act due to  “alleged actions that are contrary to university policies and core values.”

The warrant for his arrest was issued Thursday.

 

Defending champ Villanova is undefeated, No. 1 and still flying under the radar

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OMAHA, Neb. — It was almost camouflaged, but still visible. On the back of the reigning national champions’ warmups, in a darker shade of blue than the rest of the shirt, read “VILLANOVA.” You almost had to squint to see it, as if it was hiding in plain sight.

In a year where Grayson Allen’s antics, Kentucky’s freshmen and UCLA’s resurgence have gobbled up headlines, conversation and college basketball oxygen, right in front of everyone stands Jay Wright’s group, somewhat unnoticed, certainly underappreciated and, after beating 10th-ranked Creighton at CenturyLink Center on Saturday, still undefeated.

The Wildcats are the country’s top-ranked team, but they’ve never been the sport’s top storyline this season. They’re respected, but not revered.

In their 80-70 win over Creighton, they showed why history will be in their grasp this spring.

Facing down a 10-point deficit, a crowd of 18,831 and a Bluejays team that had previously vanquished all challengers behind one of the country’s best offenses spearheaded by one of its best backcourts, the No. 1 Wildcats simply prevailed to win their 20th-straight game and run their record this season to 14-0.

“There’s a lot of guys there that just won a national championship,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said, “and they don’t get shook. They don’t get rattled.

“If you’re not going to get rattled the way that crowd was (with the early score at) 24-14, you’re not going to get rattled because they won’t play in a tougher environment all year.”

Beyond the record and the accolades accumulated by Villanova, it’s their demeanor that stands out. It’s an uncanny resolve in the face of adversity.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright gives instructions to his players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Creighton in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016. Villanova defeated Creighton 80-70. (AP Photo/John Peterson)
AP Photo/John Peterson

The Wildcats, after taking Creighton’s best in the first half and still taking a leading into the locker room, led for nearly all of the second half until Isaiah Zierden’s 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 47 seconds remaining tied the game and sent the crowd into a frenzy. It was exactly the moment when a road team against a top-10 opponent folds under the weight of momentum and pressure.

“We knew we had to stick with doing what we were doing,” senior Josh Hart said, “and that’s being solid, playing Villanova basketball for 40 minutes. Against the best teams, it’s going to take 40 minutes. (Creighton) is a great team. One of the best teams in our league so we knew when that happened, come closer together and play Villanova basketball.

“Don’t try to go win it yourself. Don’t try to go outside of doing what we do. Stick with Villanova basketball, and we’re going to live and die with that.”

Live, Villanova did.

After Zierden’s 3, Villanova made 4 of 5 shots (rebounding and converting their one miss), made all six of their free throws and held Creighton to just one field goal.

It was a masterclass of poise and execution. When a big shot needed making, Villanova cashed in. When the defense needed a stop, the Wildcats buckled down. It wasn’t just the results, though, that were impressive. Villanova didn’t luck into made shots or Creighton turnovers. Almost every dribble, switch and rebound was executed with cool precision belying the circumstances.

Of course, for this group, a Saturday afternoon in Omaha isn’t as daunting when you’ve played on a Monday night in April.

“I think (the experience) is what it is,” coach Jay Wright said. “We have three seniors that are just amazing. Not just Xs and Os and making shots, but communicating and leading the team in tough times because they’ve been through it.”

Villanova guard Mikal Bridges (25) gets the rebound ahead of Creighton forward Cole Huff (13) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016. Villanova defeated Creighton 80-70. (AP Photo/John Peterson)
Villanova guard Mikal Bridges (AP Photo/John Peterson)

Villanova’s foundation is its experience and its maturity, but what gives the Wildcats the best chance at a repeat national championship since Florida a decade ago is their multitude of weapons. Josh Hart is a national player of the year candidate. Kris Jenkins hit one of the biggest shots in the sport’s history and came into the afternoon averaging nearly 13 points per game. It was the third – and youngest – option that kept Villanova afloat amid the volleys Creighton fired their way in the first half. With Hart bottled up and Villanova floundering some, Jalen Brunson hit four consecutive shots, three of them from distance and scored 11-straight points for the Wildcats.

“You go through their run in the NCAA tournament,” McDermott said, “they’re so good at taking what the defense gives you. They’re so intelligent that way.”

It’s impossible to separate last year’s Villanova team for this season’s. Yes, Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu are gone, but that’s it. There’s also the matter of the fact they just keep winning. Six to end last season, 14 to start this one. Wright, however, won’t let this version of Villanova take credit for last year’s success, even if the public wants to draw a line from the team that showered under confetti in Houston last April to this undefeated start.

“It’s completely different,” he said. “It’s a different completely different crew. A completely different team. We’re playing differently.

“But they have to deal with everyone else’s impact from last season. They have to deal with everybody treating them like the No. 1 team, treating them like the former national champions. Still talking about last year. They all have to deal it. It’s part of the responsibility. It’s a good challenge to have, but it’s a totally different team this season.”

It’s not, of course, a totally different team. Not exactly the same, sure, but certainly not far removed. This is a team with national championship pedigree. It has one of the best players in the country, and a supporting cast that can star when called upon. Experience, talent and no apparent complacency make for a dangerous team.

Only two programs – Duke and Florida – have repeated as national champions since UCLA’s run in the 1960s and ‘70s. Villanova is equipped to potentially join that group. It’s the biggest story in the sport, and it’s happening in front of the entire country. You don’t even need to strain to see it, let alone appreciate it.

Four takeaways from No. 1 Villanova beating No. 10 Creighton

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No. 1 Villanova continued its unbeaten season and stretched its win streak to 20 games as they outlasted N0. 10 Creighton for a 80-70 Big East road win.

Here are four takeaways from the Wildcats’ win on Saturday.

1. Nothing is going to fluster Villanova: Early in the game, the Wildcats found themselves down 19-9 and 24-14. Three-pointers weren’t falling and the underrated Creighton fanbase was loud and engaged. It didn’t bother Villanova one bit.

The Wildcats heated up from the perimeter and sophomore Jalen Brunson played one of the best games of his college career, going for a career-high 27 points and coming up with a big steal late in the game.

Villanova already has two closers in Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Hart can get shots late in games and get points when Villanova needs them while Jenkins is a great second option who isn’t afraid to take any shot. If you add in Brunson playing this well? You can see why Villanova is still unbeaten and sitting at No. 1 at this point in the season.

2. Villanova finishing the regular season unbeaten is picking up steam: Villanova might have just won the toughest possible test they’ll receive by winning at Creighton on Saturday.

Villanova will still get a solid test at Butler during their next game but the Bulldogs just lost to St. John’s on the road and had to deal with a scary flight situation on the way home. We don’t know if Butler is mentally prepared to hang with the defending national champions.

That means Villanova only has tough road games at Seton Hall and Xavier if they beat Butler next game and the schedule looks more-and-more favorable for them to finish unbeaten. Obviously, the Wildcats have to avoid slip-ups against lesser opponents and still beat the Big East’s beat teams at home. There’s an intriguing non-conference clash with Virginia that also looms for the Wildcats.

But we need to start looking at Villanova potentially going unbeaten as a serious threat since this team has some good road wins at Purdue and Creighton in which a lot of other teams would have folded.

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3. Creighton remains a solid Big East threat: We shouldn’t forget about the Bluejays just because they lost this one at home. Creighton is still going to be a premier team in the Big East with a great chance at a top-4 seed in the NCAA tournament as their potent offense puts them in any game.

The backcourt of Mo Watson Jr., Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas is a quality trio while center Justin Patton has improved so much over the course of the season. Senior forward Cole Huff remains an intriguing forward who can stretch the floor or go in the mid-post and score on turnaround jumpers.

Creighton still has to figure out how to get stops in close games like this one but they at least traded punches with the champion for 10 out of 12 rounds of a prize fight. They ultimately fell short in this one but Creighton hasn’t reached its ceiling yet — which is fun to think about.

4. Creighton goes as Mo Watson goes: One of the interesting things about Creighton’s loss to Villanova was seeing how this team looked with and without Mo Watson Jr.

Watson played most of the game but he did battle foul trouble in both halves before eventually fouling out during Creighton’s rally with a few minutes left. With Watson playing at his best, he’s one of the finest floor leaders in the country as he sets up others for shots while also handling pressure and limiting turnovers.

But you have to wonder if Watson is afraid to look for his shot sometimes. Against Villanova, Watson played his typical pass-first style but he passed up multiple open looks that he could have taken instead of making dangerous passes to guarded teammates.

Villanova is a different caliber of team defensively so Watson needs to look for his own offense more than usual when facing a team like them. But for the Bluejays to also be in this game despite an average game from Watson also shows how good they can be if he’s playing at his best.

Foster has 22 points, Creighton rallies to beat Oral Roberts

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OMAHA, Neb. — Marcus Foster scored 22 points and No. 10 Creighton rallied to beat Oral Roberts 66-65 on Saturday night.

The Bluejays (11-0) led by as many as 13 early in the second half, but saw the Golden Eagles (2-10) claw back to take a five-point lead with 6:08 left in the game. Creighton held Oral Robert the rest of the way, talking the lead on Foster’s short jumper in the lane with 3:28 left.

Owens led Oral Roberts with 23 points, and Jalen Bradley had 16 for the Golden Eagles.

The Bluejays used a zone press to trigger a 9-0 early second half run that made it 54-41. Then Creighton went cold, hitting just two of its next 14 shots while Oral Roberts scored steadily, taking the lead at 60-58 on Albert Owens’ short jumper with 8:45 left. Oral Roberts went up 65-60 on Owens’ banked-in 3-pointer.

The Golden Eagles didn’t score again while Creighton managed just three field goals, a layup and a dunk from Justin Patton and Foster’s short jumper. Neither team scored again as Creighton missed the front end of two 1-and-1 free-throw opportunities in the final minute.

Creighton, which shot 58 percent and had 21 fast break points in the first half, hit just 37 percent of its shots in the second half and didn’t have a fast break point. The high-scoring Bluejays, who have averaged 91.6 points per game, scored just 21 points in the first half

Foster had 10 points in the first three minutes as Creighton raced out to a 12-5 lead and went up by 10 on Maurice Watson Jr.’s layup with 14:27 left in the half. But Oral Roberts stayed within striking distance with strong inside play and trailed by seven at half.

Maurice Watson Jr. had 13 points and 10 assists for Creighton. Patton finished with 10 points.

BIG PICTURE

Oral Roberts: Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton was born in Omaha, the son of former Creighton coach Eddie Sutton, who led the Bluejays from 1969 to 1974 in his first Division I coaching post. The Sutton family was recognized by Creighton before Saturday’s game with a jersey presentation to Scott and his brother and assistant coach Sean Sutton..

Creighton: With Saturday’s victory, the Bluejays have won 97 straight home games against teams that enter the contest with a record of .500 or worse, a streak that dates to 2002. The Bluejays who led 45-38 at halftime have now won 67 straight games when scoring 42 or more in the first half.

UP NEXT

Oral Roberts” Hosts Little Rock on Monday night.

Creighton: At Arizona State on Tuesday night.