Xavier Musketeers

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 25:  Kamar Baldwin #3 of the Butler Bulldogs brings the ball up the cout against the Arizona Wildcats during the championship game of the 2016 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on November 25, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Butler won 69-65.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Kamar Baldwin, No. 12 Butler survives No. 15 Xavier at home

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Kamar Baldwin scored a career-high 21 points as No. 12 Butler survived No. 15 Xavier, 83-78, in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon.

The Bulldogs were down 31-22 late in the first half, but they took the lead with a 12-0 run to open the second half, pushing the lead to as much as ten points before Xavier rallied.

The game ended in a mild bit of controversy, as Myles Davis appeared to be fouled shooting a three with 3.9 seconds left in the game. Xavier was down 79-76 at the time and Butler was fouling intentionally to keep the Musketeers from attempting a shot that would allow them to tie the game. It looked like the right call on a replay, as Davis was fouled before he shot the ball.

Edmond Sumner led four Musketeers in double-figures with 22 points.

Here are four things we can takeaway from this game:

1. Butler’s tournament profile is awesome: The Bulldogs own wins over four currently-ranked teams already this season. They beat No. 16 Arizona on a neutral court that wasn’t neutral (it was in Las Vegas). They beat No. 3 Villanova, No. 15 Xavier and No. 22 Cincinnati at home. They also have a neutral court win over Indiana and a win at Utah, which wasn’t all that impressive at the time but that will look better and better now that Utah has their full team available.

There are some bad losses – at St. John’s, at Indiana State – and they will certainly help to weigh down Butler’s profile. But if they can manage to protect their home court and sneak a road win against one of Xavier or Villanova, the Bulldogs could very easily end up getting a top three seed on Selection Sunday.

2. Xavier’s isn’t: The Musketeers probably don’t have a win over a tournament team right now, unless you think that Utah or Clemson, who hasn’t done much of anything, either, are tournament teams. That’s not to say that the Musketeers aren’t good – they are, and they will still be in my top 25 on Monday morning – but this is a team that is gong to have to start worrying about where they are going to be seeded on Selection Sunday if they don’t start beating the top teams in the conference.

The good news? Xavier still gets Creighton, Butler and Villanova at home as well as road games against Creighton and Cincinnati. They’ll have enough chances.

3. Kamar Baldwin isn’t just going to be a problem, he is one right now: Is there a quicker player in all of college basketball than Butler’s freshman point guard Kamar Baldwin?

I’m deadly serious when I ask that question, because off the top of my head, I can’t think of one. Baldwin had a career-high 21 points and nine boards on Saturday, making big play and big shot after big play and big shot. He’s the team’s best on-ball defender and a guy that fits seamlessly alongside either Tyler Lewis or Kethan Savage in Butler’s back court. How Butler pulled this dude out of Georgia baffles me, particularly when there are so many SEC program that could desperately use a super-athletic, talented lead guard that can defend and has the, ahem, intestinal fortitude to, as a freshman, take and make clutch shots.

4. Butler’s actual problem is Kelan Martin: Martin has not been good in Big East play this season. He’s averaging just 12.2 points in conference play – he was averaging 18.1 points in non-conference play – and the reason is that he’s apparently forgotten how to shoot. He’s hitting just 32.4 percent from the floor and 23.3 percent (7-for-30) from beyond the arc in six league games.

And Butler is still 4-2 in league play with a win over Villanova.

Not bad.

Bluiett scores 20, No. 17 Xavier holds off Wake Forest 69-65

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 14:  Trevon Bluiett #5 of the Xavier Musketeers attempts a reverse layup in the second half as Ikenna Smart #34 of the Buffalo Bulls defends on November 14, 2016 at Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Xavier defeated Buffalo 86-53.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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CINCINNATI — No. 17 Xavier got outrebounded for the first time all season and wasted several chances to put the game away, allowing it to come down to a final free throw. Trevon Bluiett made it.

Bluiett scored 20 points, including three free throws in the final 19 seconds, and the Musketeers held on for a 69-65 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday night in their annual game dedicated to former coach Skip Prosser .

The Musketeers (9-2) led most of the second half but didn’t have the game in hand until Bluiett hit one of his two free throws with 2 seconds left. Wake Forest (8-3) missed a pair of 3-point shots that could have tied it before Bluiett got the rebound and was fouled.

“Something may be off,” said point guard Edmond Sumner, who had 17 points and six turnovers. “At times you can see we’re clicking, but it’s not through a whole half, it’s in spurts. We still have to figure out what’s going on.”

John Collins had his sixth consecutive double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, and Bryant Crawford scored 20 points for the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest missed all of its 12 shots from beyond the arc in the second half and finished 5 of 25 on 3-pointers.

“We’re still going to shoot it,” coach Danny Manning said. “We’re going to shoot it 12 times the next game. Normally we make our fair share.”

There were nine ties and 11 lead changes in a back-and-forth game, with the Musketeers holding a slim lead for most of the second half. Sumner had a bank shot high off the backboard, and J.P. Macura had a steal and layup that made it 66-61 with 1:29 left.

Sumner and Bluiett both missed the front end in the bonus before Bluiett finally closed it out from the line.

“Even when we’re not on top of our game, we can still close games out,” Bluiett said. “It’s a good feeling for us to know we’re capable of doing that. We don’t want to keep putting ourselves in those situations.”

OUTREBOUNDED

The Demon Deacons became the first team to outrebound Xavier this season, getting a 38-37 edge that included 15 offensive rebounds.

ARC WOES

Wake Forest has done much better at shooting the 3 this season, making 38.8 percent before Saturday’s game. They’ve been a team of extremes, tough, making 13 twice and five or less four times.

“We were getting good looks at the basket but the ball wasn’t falling,” Crawford said. “We should have gone inside more, found other ways to score.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Xavier has won its last two games, including a 77-69 victory over Utah, to stabilize in the poll after dropping because of back-to-back road losses against Baylor and Colorado.

BIG PICTURE

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have lost both of their games against ranked teams this season, including 96-77 to Villanova in the Charleston Classic. They’re 1-12 against ranked teams in last two seasons, including a win over No. 13 Indiana in the Maui Invitational. Their last win on the road over a ranked team was 82-69 at No. 24 North Carolina on Jan. 20, 2010.

Xavier: The Musketeers’ soft passes led to repeated turnovers that played into Wake Forest’s hands. Xavier had 10 turnovers in the first half and 15 overall.

“That was just us doing careless stuff, like me traveling two times,” Sumner said. “It wasn’t because of the pressure.”

UP NEXT

Wake Forest returns home and finished non-conference play against LSU on Thursday. The Demon Deacons won in Baton Rouge 77-71 last season.

Xavier hosts Eastern Washington on Tuesday before opening Big East play by hosting Providence on Dec. 28.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Duke is back in the No. 1 spot

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 10: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils watches as he sinks a 3-point shot against the UNLV Rebels during their game at T-Mobile Arena on December 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Duke won 94-45. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
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I made some changes in my top 25 this week, and I did it for one reason and one reason only: I think Duke is the best team in college basketball.

And I get it. I might be the only one that ranks Duke No. 1 this week, because there are so many other teams with valid argument to be ranked above Duke.

  • Villanova was No. 1 last week and all they did was beat a city rival and then knock off No. 21 Notre Dame.
  • Kansas has already beaten Duke this season on a neutral court.
  • UCLA owns the most impressive win of the season, picking off Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Duke has beaten Florida, Rhode Island and Michigan State and played Kansas tough.
  • Baylor has the best résumé of anyone to date.

But these rankings are supposed to be used to determine who is the best team in the country, right?

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

And I think that Duke is the best team in college basketball. We all had them there in the preseason, before all of the injuries. Now that they’re getting back to full strength, we’re just going to ignore that fact because Frank Mason II hit a jumper and Villanova hasn’t given us a reason to drop them?

I guess I understand the logic, but it just seems silly to rank someone else No. 1 when you don’t think they’re the best team in the country.

Anyway, here is the NBCSports.com Top 25:

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Things We Learned

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1. Duke (10-1, Last Week: 4)
2. Villanova (10-0, 1)
3. UCLA (10-0, 2)
4. Kansas (9-1, 3)
5. Kentucky (9-1, 5)
6. North Carolina (10-1, 6)
7. Gonzaga (10-0, 7)
8. Baylor (8-0, 8)
9. Creighton (10-0, 9)
10. Indiana (8-1, 10)
11. Wisconsin (9-2, 11)
12. Louisville (9-1, 12)
13. West Virginia (8-1, 15)
14. Purdue (8-2, 14)
15. South Carolina (8-0, 17)
16. Xavier (8-2, 13)
17. Saint Mary’s (7-1, 14)
18. Virginia (8-1, 18)
19. Butler (9-1, 19)
20. USC (9-0, 21)
21. Notre Dame (9-1, 24)
22. Cincinnati (7-2, 19)
23. Oregon (9-2, NR)
24. Arizona (8-2, NR)
25. Texas A&M (7-2, NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 21 Florida, No. 23 Syracuse, No. 25 Iowa State
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 Oregon, No. 24 Arizona, No. 25 Texas A&M

No. 13 Xavier’s cold-shooting continues in loss at Colorado

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 21:  Xavier Johnson #11 of the Colorado Buffaloes reacts against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the second half of the 2016 Legends Classic at Barclays Center on November 21, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Derrick White scored 23 points and Xavier Johnson chipped in with 18 points and seven boards as Colorado knocked off No. 13 Xavier, 68-66, in Boulder on Wednesday night.

The Musketeers got 25 points from Trevon Bluiett, but the rest of the roster struggled to score as Xavier once against had issues shooting the ball from the perimeter.

It’s been the Achilles’ heel for this team all season long. On Wednesday night, the Musketeers shot 38.3 percent from the floor and 7-for-26 (26.9%) from three. On the season, Xavier is 272nd nationally in three-point shooting at 31.3 percent. They’re ranked in the bottom-half of the country in effective field goal percentage, and that lack of perimeter shooting really limits what they are able to do on the offensive end of the floor.

Edmond Sumner is shooting 22.7 percent from three. J.P. Macura isn’t much better, checking in at 28.8 percent. Those are the two best ball-handlers and playmakers in Xavier’s perimeter attack right now, and with Myles Davis’ return unclear, the Musketeers haven’t exactly made themselves difficult to guard.

In the long run I think they’ll be fine, especially if Davis does eventually return to the country.

But they’ve now lost back-to-back games against the two best teams they’ve faced this season. Yes, both of those games came on the road, but that doesn’t change the facts here.

As of right now, Xavier is a perimeter shooting team, and until they get that fixed, their ceiling this season is limited.

Manu Lecomte’s 24 points leads No. 9 Baylor past No. 7 Xavier

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 10:  Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears shoots a free throw against the Texas Longhorns during the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 10, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Manu Lecomte finished with 24 points, hitting six threes and dishing out five assists as No. 9 Baylor added to what is unquestionably the best résumé in college basketball on Saturday with a 73-58 win over No. 7 Xavier in Waco.

The Bears have already beaten Louisville, VCU, Michigan State and Oregon this season, so it’s not like we needed anymore confirmation that the Bears were good this year.

But we got it.

Johnathon Motley finished with 17 points and eight boards and Jo Lual-Acuil chipped in with 12 points and six blocks, but it was Lecomte that was the star here. Entering the season, the question everyone had with this Baylor team was whether or not they had enough outside shooting and enough point guard, and it just so happens that Lecomte checks both those boxes.

And frankly, I don’t think anyone knew just how good Lecomte was going to be this season.

The Baylor coaching staff did. Word out of Waco during the preseason was that Lecomte looked great, that his redshirt season did wonders for him as a player, but then again, you hear that about every kid that’s ever sat out a season. With Lecomte, it turned out to be true. And on Saturday, we saw him at his best.

It’s also worth noting here just how important these non-conference wins will be not just for the Bears, but for the Big 12 as a whole. If Baylor can somehow find a way to win the Big 12 regular season title – or maybe even if they finish second in the league and win the Big 12 tournament – they’ll be in a great spot to earn a top four seed in the NCAA tournament. A No. 1 seed isn’t out of the question.

That’s great for the conference as a whole. These wins will significantly help the computer numbers for the league, and it also means that there are going to be more quality wins available for the other teams in the conference during league play.

Put another way, bubble teams won’t have to simply rely on trying to steal a win against Kansas at home if they need to inject some life into their at-large profile in February.

The most impressive part?

Baylor has done all of this despite not getting a single vote in the Preseason AP top 25 poll.

Weekend Preview: Kentucky-UCLA, Baylor-Xavier and the rest of Saturday’s Showdowns

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Head coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats talks with Malik Monk #5, De'Aaron Fox #0, and Wenyen Gabriel #32 in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 11 UCLA at No. 1 Kentucky, Sat. 12:30 p.m.: Outside of the Champions Classic, this matchup between a pair of blue-bloods in one of the nation’s most famous arenas is likely the most anticipated game of the season to date. Why? For starters, the amount of talent that’s going to be on the floor is ridiculous, but more importantly, that talent allows Kentucky and UCLA to both play styles that are quite aesthetically pleasing. Our full preview for this game can be found here.

  • Prediction: The official lines are not out yet, but according to KenPom.com, which is usually a fairly good approximate for Vegas, Kentucky looks to be around a 10-point favorite. At (+10), I’ll be on UCLA.

No. 7 Xavier at No. 9 Baylor, Sat. 3:30 p.m.: UCLA-Kentucky may be the most anticipated matchup of the weekend, but Baylor-Xavier is the game that will pit two top ten teams against each other. Xavier we all expected to be in this spot this season, but Baylor’s emergence as a potential Big 12 contender caught a lot of people by surprise.

There are going to be two key matchups here. The Bears are going to have a huge advantage on the interior. Johnathan Motley will be the best big man on the floor by a wide margin – if he keeps playing the way that he’s been playing, he’ll be in the discussion for all-american teams – while Jo Lual-Acuil has been a revelation this season. That duo can really protect the rim, and the Bears have been good about making sure they run offense through them on the other end of the floor. I’m not sure who Xavier has to slow them down.

On the other side, we have the Musketeers, who are going to have to figure out how to deal with Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone, which looks like a junk defense on the surface but is tough to figure out the first time you see it. Chris Mack’s club has some perimeter talent – Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner are the big names, but J.P. Macura has been terrific this season – but Myles Davis, the guy that makes their offense run smoothly, still is not cleared to play.

  • Prediction: We’ll update this when an official line comes out. KenPom has Baylor winning by four, and if that’s the case, Baylor (-4) is a good bet.

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SEVEN MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • No. 25 West Virginia at No. 6 Virginia, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Styles don’t get any more contrasting than that of Press Virginia and the Pack-Line. The Mountaineers want to play full court, frenetic basketball while the Wahoos like to control every detail of a game. What wins out?
  • Saint Joseph’s at No. 2 Villanova, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: The Holy War! An always-intense rivalry, I don’t think that the Hawks have the horses to take a run at Villanova this season, especially not when the game is being played in the Pavillion.
  • No. 8 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Arizona, Sat. 5:30 p.m.: This game looked a lot more interesting when we thought Arizona would have Parker Jackson-Cartwright, not to mention Allonzo Trier, Ray Smith and Terrence Ferguson.
  • Oklahoma at No. 17 Wisconsin, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: The Sooners are sitting at 6-1 on the season despite learning to play without Buddy Hield and company. This will be their biggest test of the season to date.
  • No. 21 Rhode Island at Providence, Sat. 4:30 p.m.: A battle for supremacy in the state of Rhode Island. It may not make waves nationally, but this rivalry matters in the state.

FIVE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

1. Kentucky and UCLA are both playing elite teams for the first time: That is the No. 1 story line that needs to be taken out of this game.

Kentucky has been absolutely massacring opponents this season. They’ve only scored fewer than 87 points once and cracked triple-digits in their last three games. UCLA has reached triple-digits quite often themselves this season, putting together a transition attack that is less ruthless but more aesthetic than Kentucky’s. Both of them look like the runaway favorites to win their respective leagues as of today, but neither of them have played anyone all that good. Kentucky has wins over Michigan State and Arizona State. UCLA has picked off Nebraska and Texas A&M.

Those wins are nothing like the wins that Indiana now has, which is the beauty of this game. UK and UCLA matchup really, really well, so this should not only be an incredibly entertaining game to view, it is going to be our first chance to really see how they do going up against a significant test.

2. The same can be said for West Virginia and Virginia: The Mountaineers are doing crazy things with their press this season – like, for example, forcing 40 turnovers in a 40 minute game – but they aren’t exactly doing it against the best competition. They have beaten Illinois (who lost to Winthrop) and lost to Temple (who lost to New Hampshire and UMass). So who knows just how good they actually are.

The same can be said for Virginia, who gave up an average of just 41.3 points in their first six games but who also found themselves down 32-16 with five minutes left in the first half at home against Ohio State. The Wahoos eventually won that game, but seeing as the Buckeyes, who are a borderline tournament team, are the best team that Virginia has played this season, I don’t think we really have a feel for just how good this team is or how much they miss Austin Nichols.

We’ll learn a lot in Charlottesville on Saturday.

Virginia guard London Perrantes (32) reacts to a three pointer during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Charlottesville, Va., Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. Virginia won the game 63-61. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia guard London Perrantes (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

3. About Nigel Hayes … : Hayes played easily his best game of the season in Tuesday’s win over No. 22 Syracuse, coming within a point of a triple-double as he almost single-handedly sliced apart the Orange zone. It wasn’t a coincidence that Wisconsin looked as good as they have all year when Hayes, who hasn’t shot a three in two games, operated as a playmaker in the paint and played inside-out. But that was also against a zone, where it only makes sense to play Hayes at the high-post.

So what happens this weekend? What happens against Oklahoma? Will Hayes continue to embrace what he does best at this level, or will be continue to try to prove what he can be to the next level?

4. Melo Trimble vs. Jawun Evans: Evans might be the best point guard in the country that you haven’t heard of yet. Trimble, on the other hand, is a guy that everyone knows, a guy that has developed a reputation for saving his team in crunch time. Both Evans’ Oklahoma State team and Trimble’s Maryland Terrapins really could a win on Saturday night when they play at the XFinity Center.

5. So who’s hurt the most by injuries?: Duke’s problems aren’t exactly a secret anymore. Neither are Michigan State’s, although news came down on Thursday evening that star freshman Miles Bridges is dealing with an ankle injury that could keep him out for a few weeks. USC learned on Thursday that Bennie Boatwright, a starting forward, will be out for six weeks after spraining his MCL while Arizona is going to be without starting point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright for some time with a high-ankle sprain. And Indiana? They have two games this weekend and neither of them will be played with O.G. Anunoby on the floor.

BLOOMINGTON, IN - NOVEMBER 30: O G Anunoby #3 of the Indiana Hoosiers grabs his ankle after being injured during the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Assembly Hall on November 30, 2016 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
O.G. Anunoby (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)