Conference Countdown: No. 3 Big East


Pre-Season Awards

Player of the Year: Corey Fisher, Villanova

no secret that Jay Wright runs an offense geared towards back court
players, and with Villanova losing a first team all-american with
Scottie Reynolds’ graduation, Fisher is in line to be the feature
guard. Fisher is a dynamic scorer that can get to the basket, can
finish amongst the trees, and, as he proved this summer,
is a very good three point shooter. He’s a tough kid from the Bronx,
which leaves me with little doubt that he can flourish as a senior
leader for a Nova club with a wealth of young talent.

And a close second goes to: Austin Freeman, Georgetown

be honest, any one of the five players listed below on the Big East’s
first team could slide in here, as the top six players in the league
seem fairly obvious. Freeman is probably the best of that group,
however. At 6’4″, 240 lb, Freeman is built more like a linebacker than
a shooting guard, but for someone his size, he is nimble, mobile, and
athletic. The best aspect of his game is his ability to shoot — when
he gets it going, he is damn near impossible to stop. Ask UConn. Or Louisville.
He needs to improve on his ability to get to the rim — he shot less
than 100 free throws last season — but he has a high basketball IQ and
truly understands what is a good shot and what isn’t. Freeman is the
perfect guard for JT III’s offense, and should thrive this year.

Breakout Star: Kris Joseph, Syracuse

last two years, Joseph has come off the bench, playing a role for a
team that had legitimate stars — Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, Wes
Johnson, Andy Rautins. But with that talent off to the NBA (or New
Zealand) someone is going to have to fill the void, and Joseph is the
perfect player. At 6’7″, Joseph is athletic enough to be a dangerous
slasher. He can get to the rim, and he can finish once there. He has
the length to be a nightmare defensively in the Syracuse zone. If he
can add a consistent jump shot, then Joseph seems like a safe bet to be
a first round pick whenever he decides to go pro.

All-Conference First Team:

  • POY – Corey Fisher, Villanova, Sr.
  • G – Kemba Walker, UConn, Jr.
  • G – Austin Freeman, Georgetown, Sr.
  • F – Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame, Sr.
  • F – Kris Joseph, Syracuse, Jr.
  • F – Kevin Jones, West Virginia, Jr.

All-Conference Second Team:

  • G – Chris Wright, Georgetown, Sr.
  • G – Ashton Gibbs, Pitt, Jr.
  • G – Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall, Sr.
  • F – DJ Kennedy, St. John’s, Sr.
  • F – Jimmy Butler, Marquette, Sr.

Freshman of the Year: Fab Melo, Syracuse

an era of one-and-done basketball, its pretty amazing that in a 16 team
conference, Melo is really the only kid with a chance of being in the
NBA in 2011. The seven-foot Brazilian has a pretty good back to the
basket game for a player his age and is regarded by a few recruiting
outlets as the best center in the class. Playing alongside Rick Jackson
and Joseph, the Orange will have a very good front line.

All-Freshman Team:

  • G – Eric Atkins, Notre Dame
  • G – Vander Blue, Marquette
  • G – Dion Waiters, Syracuse
  • F – Roscoe Smith, UConn
  • F – Nate Lubick, Georgetown

What Happened?:

  • NCAA Sanctions: From a basketball perspective, the biggest story in the Big East this summer was up at UConn. The Huskies received a notice of allegations
    from the NCAA in May, informing them of eight major violations in the
    recruitment of Nate Miles. UConn will find out its final punishment
    from the NCAA in October, but the violations have already cost them two
    assistants — Beau Archibald and Brad Sellers, the son of former Husky
    star Rod Sellers. Jim Calhoun avoided the heavy artillery — getting
    grazed with a citation for “failure to monitor” the program, which is
    ironically what the best coaches need to do to succeed.
  • Coaches:
    The NCAA infractions weren’t the only reason Calhoun was in the news.
    Ailing health, which isn’t helped by the fact that he is nearing 70,
    coupled with the impending NCAA sanctions, a team that is going to need
    some rebuilding, and the fact his contract was up made many believe
    Calhoun would hang ’em up this summer. Wrong. He signed a five-year
    deal instead.

    Calhoun had far from the worst summer for coaches
    in the Big East. Rick Pitino let the world — and every single opposing
    student section — know about his 15 second tryst on a restaurant table with one Karen Sypher. Bob Huggins fell, a result of being in Vegas the medicine he took on an empty stomach making him light-headed, and broke seven ribs. Fred Hill was run out of Rutgers, in part because he lost it on the Pittsburgh baseball team’s coaching staff.

    Through all of that, perhaps the worst summer was had by Bobby Gonzalez, who lost his job at Seton Hall, had the entire episode come out in the New York Times, sued he former employer, was unable to receive credentials at the NBA Draft, and then go himself arrested for attempting to steal a $1,400 man-purse satchel.

    the only coach you can actually feel bad for this summer was Norm
    Roberts. All Roberts did was St. John’s program and get his kids to
    play as hard as they could for 40 minutes a game all season long. But
    he couldn’t win, and thus got the axe. The Johnnies dipped into the
    ESPN studios and pulled out Steve Lavin, the former UCLA head coach, to
    make the trip east.

    The four new coaches to the conference:
    Oliver Purnell left Clemson for DePaul; Mike Rice filled in for Hill at
    Rutgers, leaving Robert Morris; Steve Lavin replaced Norm Roberts at
    St. John’s; and Kevin Willard left Iona and took Gonzo’s spot at Seton

  • LOI’s: Three Big East teams made headlines for issues with LOI’s that they had recruits sign. DePaul initially refused to release Walter Pitchford, Jr., from his LOI.
    He signed with Jerry Wainwright, who was at DePaul two coaches ago.
    After appealing both the school and the NCAA, DePaul finally released
    Pitchford. The same thing is currently happening to Joseph Young at Providence, who as of this writing has not yet been granted a release by Providence. At Marquette, DJ Newbill was dropped from his LOI
    when Buzz Williams had the opportunity to bring in former top 100
    recruit Jamil Wilson, a transfer from Oregon. All in all, Big East
    members did not shine bright this summer.
  • Back to Providence: Man oh man, did they have a rough summer.
    Two freshmen kicked out of school for beating up a student. Their star
    Greedy Peterson thrown off the team. Another player arrested.
  • Seton Hall didn’t fare much better:
    Aside from their coach being kicked to the curb, the Pirates had their
    best big man spend nearly a month in the hospital because he collapsed after finishing a workouts and saw Robert “Sticks” Mitchell get arrested for (get this) robbing eight people at gunpoint just two days after being kicked off the team.

What’s Next?

  • Expansion:
    I’ve had enough expansion talk for the summer, which is why I’m putting
    it down here. Despite all the rumors and the doomsday scenarios and the
    possibility of the conference disintegrating (or blowing up to 20,
    depending on who you asked), we are still here, a 16 team college hoops
    behemoth. In the future, who knows if that remains true. Do Syracuse,
    Rutgers, Pitt, and/or UConn go to the Big Ten? Do the Big XII’s
    remnants — including the Kansas schools and Baylor — join the Big
    East? What about Memphis and Central Florida? Who knows. We’ll save
    those discussions for next summer.

Power Rankings:

  1. Villanova:
    While the Wildcats do lose all-american Scottie Reynolds, Jay Wright’s
    club (as always) will be more than fine in the back court. Corey
    Fisher, fresh off an alleged 105 point performance in a Bronx summer
    league, and Maalik Wayns will be as dynamic as any back court in the
    country and should be able to thrive in Scottie’s absence. Corey Stokes
    is still going to be a lights out shooter. Dominic Cheek and James
    Bell, who is out indefinitely with stress fractures, will be dangerous
    on the wings. Up front, the five-man rotation of Antonio Pena, Mouph
    Yarou, Isaiah Armwood, Maurice Sutton, and JayVaughn Pinkston gives
    Villanova a very deep, very talented roster for the upcoming season.
    The Wildcats should compete for the Big East title and, depending on
    how well some players develop (Armwood, Cheek, Wayns, Yarou) and how
    good a couple of freshmen are (Bell, Pinkston), Nova could very well
    make a run at the Final Four.
  2. Pitt:
    The Panthers were the surprise of the Big East last season, finishing
    tied for second in the conference, and the majority of their roster is
    coming back this season. Pitt has almost reached the level of a
    Wisconsin — no matter who is on their roster, this is a team that is
    disciplined and well coached to the point that they are always going to
    be competitive. As always, expect a gritty, defensive-minded team from
    the Panthers. An already solid back court of Ashton Gibbs, Brad
    Wanamaker, and Travon Woodall will be bolstered by the addition of
    freshmen Isaiah Epps, JJ Moore, and Cameron Wright, as well as Lamar
    Patterson finally getting healthy. Gilbert Brown, who missed the first
    half of last season due to academic issues, will be back at the small
    forward spot. Brown had an inconsistent season in 2010, but showed
    flashes of some serious potential. Gary McGhee and Nasir Robinson, who
    will miss the first 10 or so games, will bolster the front line, but
    the real x-factor on this team is going to be sophomore Dante Taylor.
    Taylor was one of the most highly touted recruits last year, but it
    took him a while to adjust to the Big East. If Taylor can live up to
    his promise, Pitt is a potential Final Four team. If not, this is still
    a club that will be competing for a league title.
  3. Syracuse:
    It is easy to look at the Orange and think that, with the players they
    lost (Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku), they will be down next
    season. Well, they might not win a Big East title, but they certainly
    will be in the mix atop the conference standings. Brandon Triche and
    Scoop Jardine will anchor the back court, with freshman Dion Waiters
    providing an offensive spark as an off-guard. Kris Joseph should
    blossom into a dangerous weapon as a slasher on the wing, and if he can
    add some strength and a jumper this summer, could very well be in the
    running as a first-team all-Big East selection. Rick Jackson will be
    paired with Fab Melo, who Boeheim has been raving about (he raved about
    Wes Johnson last summer, and look how that turned out), in the front
    court. With guys like CJ Fair, Mookie Jones, and James Southerland
    providing minutes off the bench, there is no doubt Syracuse will be a
    good team. How good — borderline top 25 or a potential Big East champ
    — remains to be seen.
  4. Georgetown:
    Georgetown only lost one player form last season, but it just so
    happens that one player was Greg Monroe. Without Monroe, the Hoyas are
    going to rely heavily on their loaded back court of Chris Wright, Jason
    Clark, and Austin Freeman, which very well could turn out to be the
    best in the conference. Throw Hollis Thompson into the mix on the
    perimeter, and the Hoyas have a back court that rivals Duke’s for the
    best in the country. Julian Vaughn is a solid power forward, and with
    Henry Sims returning and freshmen Nate Lubick and Moses Abraham coming
    in, there is some potential up front. This is a deeper group with a
    different roster makeup than we are used to seeing JT III have. The
    Hoyas are a tournament team and should compete for a top four spot in
    the league, especially if one of the big men can become a high post
    passing threat.
  5. West Virginia:
    Expect the Mountaineers to have a bit of a different makeup next
    season. Three of the five players from their all small forward line-up
    are gone — Da’Sean Butler, Wellington Smith, and Devin Ebanks. Whereas
    the ‘Eers were seemingly short of point guards last season, they will
    be flush this year. Joe Mazzulla may never be a real shooting threat
    again, but he is a bulldog and a true leader. His ailing shoulder
    should be as healthy as it ever will be. Truck Bryant, who dealt with
    some injuries and inconsistencies after a good freshman year, is also
    back. Noah Cottrill, one of the better point guard recruits in the
    class of 2010, is built in the same mold but should immediately be the
    best shooter of the three. The interesting question for Bob Huggins is
    going to be what happens on the perimeter. Casey Mitchell, who just
    returned from a suspension for violation of team rules, and Dalton
    Pepper were both touted as shooters and scorers coming into Morgantown,
    but neither really lived up to the hype last season. The front court
    will be fine for WVU. Kevin Jones is a star-in-the-wings at the power
    forward spot, while Deniz Kilicli should fare much better this season
    without having to serve a 20 game suspension. With guys like John
    Flowers, Cam Thoroughman, Danny Jennings, and freshman Kevin Noreen —
    who may end up being the best scorer of the bunch — Huggy Bear has
    plenty of options up front. WVU loses a lot defensively or on the
    offensive glass this season, and since they aren’t loaded on the
    offensive end, for WVU to make the tournament their bigs are going to
    need to find a way to replace the production of Ebanks, Smith, and
  6. Marquette:
    Don’t be surprised if you see predictions that the Golden Eagles will
    be down this season. Yes, they lost Lazar Hayward. Yes, Mo Acker and
    David Cubillan graduated. But, as we should come to expect from the
    Golden Eagles these days, Marquette will have on of the the best back
    courts in the conference come season’s end. Darius Johnson-Odom is one
    of the best shooters in the country, and will get quite a few more
    looks with Lazar Hayward in the NBA. Junior Cadougan is a bulldog at
    the point and should be much improved now that he is healthy. Vander
    Blue is a consensus top 40 recruit that is athletic, attacks the rim,
    and plays a tough, aggressive brand of basketball. Marquette also
    returns the streaky Dwight Buycks. The Golden Eagles are going to be
    thin up front, which means they need Jimmy Butler to continue to
    develop for his senior year. Keep an eye on Juco transfer Jae Crowder
    as well. Marquette is once again going to have a short bench and play
    small ball, but with that back court, they will be able to compete.
  7. Seton Hall:
    Seton Hall is the x-factor in the Big East this season. They got rid of
    Bobby Gonzalez. They have a very good back court. Jeremy Hazell, who
    may be the best returning scorer in the conference, returns for his
    senior season. He’ll play along side Jordan Theodore, an underrated
    point guard who will get a chance to be the ‘man’ with Eugene Harvey’s
    graduation. Keon Lawrence (the talented but enigmatic Missouri
    transfer), Jamel Jackson (a streaky shooter who hit 12 threes in a game
    last season), and freshman Fuquan Edwin should all see significant
    minutes. Eniel Polynice, the Ole Miss transfer, will be eligible
    immediately and could sneak into the Pirate starting line up. At 6’5″,
    Polynice is more of a defender, a slasher, and a creator and should
    really complement Hazell well. Up front, Seton Hall is going to be thin
    even if Herb Pope is cleared. If he’s not, Jeff Robinson, who pulled
    his name out of the NBA Draft, and Ferrakhan Hall will be the only
    returnees on a young, inexperienced front line. If Pope, who averaged a
    double-double last season, returns, Seton Hall has all the pieces they
    need to make a run at a spot in the top four of the league. The
    question is whether new head coach Kevin Willard can fit all those
    pieces together. Hazell doesn’t understand the concept of team
    basketball or what a good shot is. Pope was ejected from the NIT last
    year for punching a Texas Tech player below the belt. Four players have
    transferred in from different colleges. This is a talented group, but
    if there is no chemistry, it could be another disappointing season.
  8. Notre Dame:
    The Fighting Irish have their work cut out for them this season, as
    they will be losing Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson. Mike Brey’s club
    will count heavily on their front line next season, which is headlined
    by last season’s second-leading scorer Tim Abromaitis. Scott Martin, a
    Purdue transfer who tore his acl before the season started, will be
    back after sitting out the past two years. One guy I expect to have a
    big season is Carleton Scott, a senior that nearly left the program
    before finding a groove as he moved into the starting lineup when Gody
    got injured. Ty Nash and Jack Cooley complete the front line rotation.
    In the back court, its going to be Ben Hansbrough and a lot of
    inexperience. After Hansbrough, the Irish return just 30 games played
    of experience with Joey Brooks and Tom Kopko combined, and add three
    freshman to the mix. Eric Atkins, a freshman point guard, should see
    time immediately and is probably the best of that group. Notre Dame
    made a run to the NCAA Tournament last season by changing their style,
    slowing the pace, and becoming a defensively oriented group. Will there
    be more of the same this season?
  9. St. John’s:
    St. John’s is in a good position for new head coach Steve Lavin as the
    Johnnies are loaded with seniors. Ten, to be exact, with eight expected
    to see significant minutes in the Johnnies rotation. This group isn’t
    just experienced, either, they are fairly talented as well. DJ Kennedy
    is as underrated as anyone in the league, averaging 15 points, 6
    boards, and 3 assists last year. Dwight Hardy (who can heat up as
    quickly as anyone in the league, save Jeremy Hazell), Paris Horne, and
    Malik Boothe make up the rest of the Johnnies back court. Anthony
    Mason, Jr., graduated, but with Justin Brownlee, Sean Evans, Justin
    Burrell, and Rob Thomas all returning, Lavin will have a lot of big,
    athletic bodies at his disposal. The x-factor may end up being freshman
    Dwayne Polee, a 6’7″ bean pole with athleticism for days. Norm Roberts
    had his flaws as a coach, but one thing he got his club to do was to
    play all out for 40 minutes. If Lavin can get this group to defend and
    hit the glass, they have the experience, the depth, and a legitimate
    first-team all-conference player. This is the year for St. John’s to
    make a run at the tournament. When this class leaves, it may be a while
    before they are back in the mix.
  10. UConn:
    The Huskies once again lost a ton of talent, as Jerome Dyson, Stanley
    Robinson, and Gavin Edwards all graduated from a team that disappointed
    many fans in Connecticut. Returning is Kemba Walker, the Huskies
    lightening quick point guard, as well as big man Alex Oriakhi, who had
    a solid, if unspectacular, freshman campaign. But beyond that, UConn
    has no proven or reliable pieces returning. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel was
    inconsistent. Charles Okwandu haven’t lived up to expectations and Ater
    Majok left school to sign a pro contract. Donnell Beverly is a solid
    back court player, but is not a starter in the Big East. Calhoun was
    able to land Roscoe Smith, a very highly regarded wing that should be
    able to take over for Robinson. The other two freshman — Jeremy Lamb
    an Shabazz Napier — are top 100 recruits that will replace Darius
    Smith and Jamaal Trice, last year’s duo of top 100 freshman that
    transferred out. UConn has some solid pieces in Walker, Oriakhi, and
    Smith, but unless some depth and balance develops, the Huskies are
    looking at another disappointing year.
  11. Louisville:
    Now that they are past the trial of the century in Kentucky, the
    Cardinals now actually have a college basketball season to prepare for.
    And preparing for it is going to be tougher than you think. Gone are
    starters Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith, and Reginald Delk. Gone is their rock
    in the post, as Samardo Samuels went pro to support his family. For
    those scoring at home, that means that Louisville will be losing their
    top three scorers and four players that started at least 26 games.
    Then, consider that Roburt Sallie was not allowed to transfer in from
    Memphis, Justin Coleman did not get cleared, and Jared Swopshire and
    Russ Smith are injured. At least they were allowed to bring in freshman
    Gorgui Deng. That’s tough to overcome when you aren’t bringing in
    Kentucky’s recruiting class. That said, there is still talent on this
    roster. Terrence Jennings and Jared Swopshire have all sorts of
    potential on the front line, Peyton Siva — as well as Preston Knowles
    — should be able to showcase his ability in a featured role in the
    back court. And with guys like Kyle Kuric, Mike Marra, and Raheem
    Buckles, there are capable role players who have shown flashes of
    potential. Louisville will need to catch a few breaks to make the
  12. South Florida:
    The Bulls are going to have a big time front court this season.
    Augustus Gilchrist, when healthy (he missed about half the season last
    year), is an absolute force in the paint. Jarrid Famous is 6’11”, 240
    lb, athletic, and has shoulders as broad as Dwight Howard’s. Stan Heath
    also has two more-than-adequate backups in Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Ron
    Anderson, who is now eligible after transferring in from Kansas State.
    The issue for the Bulls is going to be in the back court. Dominique
    Jones, Chris Howard, and Mike Mercer are all gone, which means that the
    Bulls lost over 40 ppg and their three best creators. Remember, this is
    a team that struggled to score at times last season. In two Big East
    tournament games, the only three the Bulls hit came from a walk-on in
    garbage time. Anthony Crater, the Ohio State transfer, is the only
    returner in the back court that played any kind of significant minutes.
    Beyond Crater, there are a couple walk-ons, a couple JuCo transfers,
    and a couple freshmen. USF may be able to make a run at a finish in the
    top half of the league and, possibly, a trip to the NCAA Tournament if
    they can become a staunch defensive team and find someone that can
    score and create in their back court. That is a very big “if”, however.
  13. Cincinnati:
    The Bearcats are going to be in trouble next season. With Deonta Vaughn
    graduating and Lance Stephenson off to the NBA Draft, Mick Cronin is
    going to be left without any real perimeter scoring threats. Point
    guard Cashmere Wright, a top 100 recruit in 2008 that tore his acl
    before playing a game, will be counted on heavily to be a playmaker.
    Cinci does have a big front line, headlined by potential all-Big East
    center Yancy Gates, and with the number of big, strong wings they have,
    Cronin is going to need to rely on his club’s rebounding and defensive
    toughness, because they certainly will struggle to score this season.
  14. Providence:
    The Friars have had a disastrous offseason. They lost assistant coach
    Pat Skerry, which cost them a top 100 recruit in Naadir Tharpe. They
    saw their best player, Greedy Peterson, get booted out of school along
    with freshmen Johnnie Lacy and James Still. Then, Kadeem Batts, a
    redshirt freshman, was arrested outside a club. All this happened while
    Joseph Young has been trying to get out of his letter of intent so he
    can attend college closer to an ailing aunt. Currently, 12 of the 15
    players listed on the Providence roster are underclassmen, including
    nine freshmen. There are a couple of bright spots for the Friars.
    Senior Marshon Brooks is an underrated scorer as an off-guard, and
    sophomores Bilal Dixon, Vincent Council, and Duke Mondy showed flashes
    of potential during the season, but don’t expect much out of Keno
    Davis’ club this year.
  15. Rutgers:
    There was quite a bit of turnover in Piscataway this summer. Gone is
    Fred Hill, replaced by Mike Rice, who nearly led 15th seeded Robert
    Morris to an upset of Villanova in the NCAA Tournament. Mike Rosario
    and Gregory Echenique, the Scarlet Knights’ two best scorers,
    transferred to Florida and Creighton, respectively. Hamady Ndiaye
    graduated. What’s left? Well, sophomore Dane Miller was a unanimous
    selection to the Big East’s all-rookie team. Jonathon Mitchell, who
    averaged 11.8 ppg and 6.1 rpg, returns for his senior season. But
    beyond that, there isn’t much talent on this roster, and this freshman
    class isn’t going to be coming to the rescue. The future is bright with
    new head coach Mike Rice recruiting like a maniac, but this year will
    be another long season for Rutgers, even if they do get Kadeem Jack
    midway through the year.
  16. DePaul:
    DePaul is not going anywhere this season. Gone is Mac Kowshal. Gone is
    Will Walker. How bad has it gotten for the Blue Demons? The most noise
    they made this summer was when they refused to release Walter
    Pitchford, Jr., from his LOI, and when they were able to land a visit
    — not a commitment, simply a visit — from Chicago native Anthony
    Davis. DePaul was able to land Cleveland Melvin, who was originally a
    UConn commit, however most believe him to be a stretch for the Big
    East. Oliver Purnell was known for his hot starts to a season at
    Clemson. The Big East may not be as friendly.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit

No. 20 Maryland upsets No. 7 Notre Dame at the buzzer, 74-72

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Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Diamond Miller scored 31 points, including the game-winner at the buzzer, to lead No. 20 Maryland to a 74-72 victory over seventh-ranked Notre Dame on Thursday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Irish guard Sonia Cintron’s layup had tied the game with 15 seconds left off before Maryland held for the last shot. Miller hit a contested mid-range jumper just before time expired to give the Terrapins a victory over a top-10 opponent. It was the 15th lead change of the game.

Miller also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with five assists. Shyanne Sellers added 17 points.

Maryland (7-2) picked up its first win over Notre Dame (6-1) since 2007.

Cintron’s double-double led the Irish with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Notre Dame’s leading scorer Olivia Miles got off to a slow start on Thursday due to foul trouble. She scored 12 of her 14 points in the final 15 minutes of the game to go along with seven assists and two steals.


Maryland: The Terrapins picked up their second top-20 win of the season ahead of the upcoming Big Ten opener.

Notre Dame: The Irish have had issues with foul trouble this season, a problem that persisted on Thursday. Miles played just 25 minutes, including the majority of the fourth quarter, due to picking up her fourth foul late in the third quarter.


Maryland: Returns to College Park for the program’s Big Ten opener Sunday against Nebraska.

Notre Dame: Stays home to host No. 3 UConn Sunday.

Virginia’s depth helping its rapid climb in the AP Top 25

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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The starting five is the same, but that is where comparisons between the Virginia team that has climbed to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and last year’s NIT quarterfinalists ends.

Yes, one more year together and a trip to Italy has made the first five significantly better, but part of the credit for that surely goes to another group: the reinforcements. They’ve helped the Cavaliers (6-0) already knock off No. 6 Baylor, No. 16 Illinois and Michigan.

Virginia has scored 70 points or more in its first six game for the first time since the 2003-04 season, and coach Tony Bennett said it was the offense – and not UVA’s signature relentless defense – that saved them in a 70-68 victory this week at Michigan in the ACC/Bg Ten Challenge.

“Our offense kind of kept us in it in the first half,” Bennett said, before the team put it all together, erasing an 11-point halftime deficit to disappoint a raucous Wolverines crowd.

Reece Beekman was the offensive catalyst, scoring 15 of his 18 points before halftime, but four others joined him in double figures, including Jayden Gardner. His foul-line jumper with 39.9 seconds left provided the last of his 11 points, and the winning margin.

Gardner, who led Virginia in scoring last season (15.3 ppg), is averaging 11.5 this year.

“We’ve got a lot of capable scorers and we’re just gonna keep playing together. And we’re playing very unselfish basketball right now,” Gardner said after scoring 24 against Maryland Eastern Shore. He went into the game with 31 points through four games.

“He’s not the most jumping type of guy, but he’s got so much power,” Hawks coach Jason Crafton said of Gardner, an East Carolina transfer with 2,068 career points. “That low center of gravity and the flexibility that he has to be able to get under people and hold his position is elite. When he wants the ball at a certain spot, he can get it there.”

The leader remains guard Kihei Clark, who already has a place in Virginia history, having retrieved a loose ball and fed Mamadi Diakite for a jumper that sent the Cavs’ Elite Eight game against Purdue into overtime on the way to winning the 2019 national championship.

Newcomers Ben Vander Plas, a transfer from Ohio, and freshman Isaac McKneely have given Bennett more options, and more scoring power than a year ago.

As a junior, Vander Plas had 17 points for No. 13 seed Ohio when the Bobcats upset Virginia 62-58 in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

He scored seven straight in the second half against the Wolverines, twice scoring inside and then swishing a 3-pointer while trying to slow down bruising big man Hunter Dickinson.

“Ben, yeah. Just his poise and composure in the post, took advantage of some mismatches and he really gave us a great lift,” Bennett said. Vander Plas is the son of a teammate of Bennett’s at Green Bay, and his first name is a tribute to Bennett’s father, Dick.

McKneely scored 15 and made 4 of 6 3-point tries in an 89-42 victory against Monmouth

“He was standing in front of our bench. I’m like, `Listen, we’re not helping off him,”‘ Monmouth coach King Rice said he told his team, pointing at McKneely, a two-time player of the year in West Virginia. “And he kind of looked at me and I said, `Yeah, you, because you make all of them,’ and he started laughing.”

Ryan Dunn also made quite the impression on Rice in his first collegiate appearance, scoring 13 points with six rebounds and three blocks in almost 27 minutes.

“I was in the building when De’Andre Hunter came off the bench and had a breakout game,” Rice said of Hunter, now with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. “Dunn reminds me a lot of Hunter, and you can tell he’s young. But when he grows into that body with that skill set, he’ll be giving people problems for a long, long time.”

The Cavaliers open Atlantic Coast Conference play against Florida State, then host top-ranked Houston, which beat them 67-47 last season, a week later.

“A good schedule for sure and it tests you, it kind of shows you, win or lose, you see where you’ve got some holes,” Bennett said.

So far, the Cavaliers have been able to fill them all.

No. 4 Arizona turning heads early in the season

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David Cruz/USA TODAY Sports
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TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd knew there was talent on his roster. He wasn’t exactly sure how good the team would be.

The former longtime Gonzaga assistant had a similar view of last year’s team and that one turned out to be pretty good, running all the way to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

This year’s team could end up being even better.

Buoyed by transfers and improved returning players, Arizona has rolled through the early part of its schedule, climbing to No. 4 in this week’s AP Top 25 after winning the Maui Invitational.

“I learned that we’re good,” Lloyd said. “We’re tough. We’re gritty. I think there’s going to be some great things for us to really double down on and some things to show our guys where we went the wrong way.”

Lloyd had a superb first season in the desert, earning coach of the year honors last season with a team that lost three players to the NBA.

The Wildcats (6-0) had to replace three NBA players again this season. Again, they made a seamless transition.

Improvement on the part of the returning players has been a big part of it.

Oumar Ballo, considered a project as a freshman at Gonzaga, has transformed into one of the nation’s best big men. The 7-foot, 260-pound center from Mali has vastly improved his footwork and developed patience in the post, setting himself up for good shots instead of trying to bull his way to the basket.

Ballo is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 76.7% from the field, fourth-best nationally. He was named Maui Invitational MVP after finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds against No. 7 Creighton in the title game.

Not bad for a player who averaged 2.5 points and 6.3 minutes per game two years ago at Gonzaga.

“When he struggled, I still believed in him,” Lloyd said. “I didn’t need for him to be instantly successful for me to reaffirm my belief in him. When he struggled, we continued to love him and work with him and then he continued to hang in there and I think it is a great story.”

Fellow big man Azuolas Tubelis has made a few strides of his own, adding strength and toughness to his athletic, fluid game. The 6-10 forward leads Arizona with 19.3 points per game while grabbing 8.0 rebounds.

Fiery point guard Kerr Kriisa has rounded into a reliable floor leader, averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 assists while shooting 51% from the 3-point arc.

“I don’t pay attention to the antics because they don’t mean anything to me,” Lloyd said. “I know maybe that draws attention to him from other people but when it comes to just pure basketball, I mean he is doing a good job and I think he is really showing something.”

So is Courtney Ramey.

The Texas transfer has given the Wildcats a huge boost in his first season in Tucson, providing hounding defense, leadership and another scoring option. He’s averaging 16 points per game and has hit 10 of 16 from 3-point range so far this season.

Campbell transfer Cedric Henderson Jr. has provided an athletic lift off the bench and 7-foot Estonian Henri Veesaar has given Arizona solid minutes.

The mix of new and old has helped Arizona lead the nation with 97.5 points a game and rank second with 21.8 assists per game. The Wildcats climbed 10 spots in this week’s poll after wins over Cincinnati, No. 24 San Diego State and Creighton.

Arizona opens Pac-12 play Thursday at Utah.

“It was good to get the recognition, but we’re not satisfied,” Ramey said. “Our ultimate goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the season and be the final two teams playing, so I think the regular season matters but it’s not the ultimate goal for us.”

The Wildcats are certainly off to a good start.

Gardner, No. 3 Virginia rally for 70-68 win at Michigan

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Tony Bennett’s team passed all its tests in the opening month of the season.

Jayden Gardner made a go-ahead jumper with 39.9 seconds left and blocked Jett Howard’s 3-point shot just before the buzzer, allowing No. 3 Virginia to stay undefeated with a 70-68 win over Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (6-0) won their first true road game against a team that was ranked in the first two polls this season, a little more than a week after beating then-No. 5 Baylor and then-No. 19 Illinois in Las Vegas.

“It got pretty intense in here,” Bennett said.

Virginia trailed by 11 points at halftime, rallied to go ahead with 7:25 left and built a five-point lead that didn’t last.

The Wolverines (5-2) went ahead 66-65 at the 1:42 mark when Hunter Dickinson made one of two free throws.

Michigan missed chances to stay or go ahead when Dickinson missed a hook shot with 1:01 to go and Princeton transfer Jaelin Llewellyn turned the ball over with 16 seconds left.

“Hunter has made that running hook before,” coach Juwan Howard said. “The turnover, yes, down the stretch, it hurt, but overall that’s not the reason we lost the ballgame.

“We could’ve easily put our heads down when they came out in the second half and made a run.”

Reece Beekman, who finished with 18 points, stepped in front of Llewellyn’s pass in the final minute and made one of two free throws.

Virginia’s Armaan Franklin missed two free throws with 5.7 seconds left, giving Michigan a chance to extend or win the game. Howard took a contested shot beyond the 3-point arc on the right wing – near his father, Michigan’s coach – and Gardner came up with the block against the freshman guard while Wolverines coaches and players screamed for a foul call.

It appeared that Gardner got all ball on the block.

Kihei Clark scored 16 points, Gardner had 12, Kadin Shedrick fouled out with 12 points and Ben Vander Plas added 10 for the balanced Cavaliers.

“You need different guys, and that’s what it takes, to make plays offensively and defensively,” Bennett said.

Dickinson scored 23 points, Jett Howard had 11 of his 15 in the first half and Kobe Bufkin added 11 points for Michigan.

“Jett is a gamer, he’s going to compete no matter what,” Juwan Howard said. “He’s loved basketball since he was a little baby boy.

“He’s going to help us win a lot of games this year.”

The Wolverines started slowly, trailing 9-2 in the opening minutes, before Howard scored eight points to lead a 13-2 run. Michigan led 45-34 at halftime when Bufkin made a layup after a steal.

“We can’t be sloppy like that on the defensive end, but we did battle hard in the second half,” Bennett said.

Vander Plas scored nine points during an 11-2 run that put Virginia ahead 65-60. The Cavaliers then went 4 1/2 minutes without a basket before Gardner’s big shot.


Virginia: The Cavaliers have their highest ranking since the 2018-19 season – which ended with a national title – and are off to their best start since being 7-0 three years ago. The team continues to honor the memory of three football players who were fatally shot on campus earlier this month, wearing warmup jerseys with their names.

Michigan: Juwan Howard’s team matched up well in its first game against a ranked opponent this season.

“When we come out with the effort like we did today for 40 minutes, I love our chances against any college team in the country,” he said.


Virginia: Hosts Florida State (1-7) on Saturday.

Michigan: Plays No. 19 Kentucky (5-2) on Sunday in London.

Marquette’s defense overwhelms No. 6 Baylor in 96-70 win

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE – Marquette has developed a habit under Shaka Smart of saving its top performances for the best opponents on its schedule.

Olivier-Maxence Prosper scored 24 points and Marquette capitalized on a dominant start from its defense to roll past No. 6 Baylor 96-70 on Tuesday night in the Big 12-Big East Battle. This was the highest-ranked team Marquette (6-2) has beaten under Smart and the Golden Eagles improved to to 7-6 against AP Top 25 squads in his tenure.

“Most of the time against these great teams, they don’t have us winning that game,” said David Joplin, who scored 19 points. “We just come out, we want to go out and prove everybody wrong. And that feeling, that chip makes us play so much better.”

Marquette nearly produced its most lopsided victory against a Top 25 team. The Golden Eagles trounced No. 16 Providence 88-56 on Jan. 4 in Smart’s debut season.

“When you go into a game and the game is bigger in the minds of your players than anything else, to me that’s the best recipe for winning,” Smart said. “It should be that way all the time, but human nature sometimes messes with that.”

Marquette’s defense embarrassed a highly regarded Baylor backcourt.

The Golden Eagles raced to a 51-25 halftime lead thanks to a 24-0 edge in points off turnovers. Baylor (5-2) already had a season-high 16 turnovers by halftime.

Baylor entered Tuesday ranked third among Division I teams in assist-turnover margin. The Bears had 20 turnovers and 12 assists against Marquette.

“I didn’t see that coming,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Credit the crowd. Credit them for building momentum. Credit Shaka for having them prepared and how hard they played. At the end of the day, we fed to the fire by turning it over and making some uncharacteristic mistakes.”

Prosper scored 10 points and sank two 3-pointers during a 23-2 run that turned an early 7-2 deficit into a 25-9 advantage. Chase Ross capped the spurt by getting a steal and throwing down a left-handed dunk.

Baylor never cut Marquette’s lead below 22 points in the second half.

Kam Jones had 20 points as Marquette shot 58.3% overall to win its third straight. The Golden Eagles shot 12 of 25 from 3-point range, with Jones going 4 of 7 and Prosper and Joplin each going 3 of 4.

Baylor’s LJ Cryer had 17 of his 19 points, in the second half. Adam Flagler had 16 and Keyonte George added 12 for the Bears.


Baylor: The Bears shot 48.2% (27 of 56) but had no answers for Marquette’s defense and dug too deep a hole. Baylor rallied from a 25-deficit to force overtime in an NCAA Tournament loss to North Carolina last season, but the Bears never mounted any kind of comeback Tuesday.

Marquette: After losing to Purdue and Mississippi State earlier this season, the Golden Eagles delivered the kind of performance that showed they’re capable of beating anyone. Marquette will try to prove that again when it hosts Wisconsin on Saturday.


The Big 12-Big East Battle started Tuesday and runs through Sunday. Last season’s Big 12-Big East Battle ended in a 5-5 tie.


Marquette came out of its locker room wearing shirts with No. 24 to honor George Thompson, who died in June of complications from diabetes. Thompson played for Marquette from 1967-69, and he was the school’s career scoring leader for 40 years.

Tuesday would have been Thompson’s 75th birthday. A No. 24 banner with Thompson’s name hangs from the Fiserv Forum rafters.

“I really felt like we needed to win tonight to honor George,” Smart said. “If you make it George Thompson Night, you couldn’t lose.”


Baylor: Faces No. 14 Gonzaga on Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Marquette: Hosts Wisconsin on Saturday.