College Hoops Week in Review: Tray Woodall and Miami make noise

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Player of the Week: Tray Woodall, Pitt

Pitt lost eight straight games this season. They started off Big East play with seven consecutive losses. They lost to Wagner. They lost to DePaul. They lost to Rutgers by 23 points at home. And despite all of that, the Panthers are all of a sudden a team that not only looks destined to be headed to the NCAA Tournament, they look like they actually deserve an at-large bid.

Why? Its simple: Tray Woodall. The talented Panther point guard missed an extended period of time in the middle of the season due to groin and abdominal injuries, but he returned to the lineup on January 21st. Pitt lost that game as Woodall was, quite evidently, working to get his bearings back. But since then, the Panthers have won four straight, including going into West Virginia and taking home the title in this year’s Backyard Brawl. Woodall had 24 points and three assists. Then on Saturday, Woodall went for 29 points, six assists and five boards in a nine point win over Villanova.

I went back and watch the tape of Pitt prior to Woodall’s and return and with him back, and there are a couple of differences. The first is that the Panthers are now able to break a press. Believe it or not, that was as big of an issue as any without him in the lineup, particularly against Marquette. More importantly, however, Woodall’s return give Pitt a playmaker at the point that is capable of creating off of the dribble not just for himself, but for the rest of the team. Ashton Gibbs, when he is forced to go 1-on-1 off the dribble, can get a good look, but he’s not going to be finding assists. Woodall is a much more dangerous player with the ball in his hands.

The All-They-Were-Good-Too Team:

G: Damian Lillard, Weber State: The nation’s leading scorer showed why he is such a dangerous offensive weapon this week. He went for 40 points and five assists in a win over Portland State and followed it up with 35 points and five assists against Northern Colorado, upping his scoring average to 25.5 ppg. What makes Lillard so dangerous is how efficient he is. Lillard’s offensive rating is 130.3, which is an astounding number considering that he uses 31.7% of Weber State’s possessions. Think about it like this: looking at every player in the country regardless of usage rate, Lillard is 12th in terms of efficiency. No one else in the top 20 uses more than 23.3% of their team’s possessions. Only three players in the top 50 — Jared Sullinger (25.9%), Doug McDermott (28.0%) and Isaiah Canaan (26.0%) — use more than 23.9%.

This week, Lillard totaled his 75 points while shooting 25-36 (69.4%) from the floor and 11/17 (64.7%) from three with just five turnovers in 70 minutes. That’s impressive.

G: Kevin Murphy, Tennessee Tech: Lillard may be this season’s scoring leader, but Murphy was this week’s champ. On Monday night, the 6’6″ guard went for 50 points, the most scored this season to day, on 16-21 shooting. On Thursday, Murphy followed that up with 33 points before finally closing out the week with a measly 23 point performance at Jacksonville State. If the 106 point aren’t enough, Murphy shot 59.3% from the floor, hit 12-22 from three and added 7.0 rpg.

F: Garrett Stutz, Wichita State: Don’t look now, but Saturday’s matchup between Wichita State and Creighton will be one of the most anticipated games of the season. Why? Because after the Bluejays got dropped on a buzzer-beating three on Saturday afternoon, the Shockers pulled back into a first-place tie in the MVC with them. And the biggest reason WSU has been able to make their run has been their biggest player. Stutz had 25 points and 11 boards in a win at Missouri State on Wednesday and followed that up with 24 points, 15 boards and five blocks as the Shockers outlasted Indiana State on Saturday night.

F: Joshua Smith, UCLA: UCLA went just 1-1 on the week, with their one win coming against Washington State and their loss coming when they blew a late, 10 point lead against Washington. It wasn’t exactly the greatest week for the Bruins. It was, however, arguably the best weekend that Smith has had in his collegiate career. He went for 24 points and nine boards against UW and followed that up with 19 points against Washington State. Its a shame that it takes a trip back to his native Seattle to get him motivated, but maybe tasting success keeps him motivated. When he wants to be, Smith is a top ten center in the country.

C: Anthony Davis, Kentucky: What is there to say about Davis that hasn’t already been said 100 times over? He’s a freak. He’s the most terrifying defensive force in the country. His presence around the rim makes the Wildcats one of the best defensive teams in the country, and that wouldn’t change even if I was playing the two. His offense is starting to come around now as well. This week, in wins over Tennessee and South Carolina, Davis averaged 20.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 7.5 bpg.

Team of the Week: Miami Hurricanes

You might not have realized it on Sunday with that other game going on, but Miami landed a massive win that vaulted them into serious contention for the NCAA Tournament. The Hurricanes went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and knocked off the Blue Devils in overtime despite the fact that Malcolm Grant managed just one field goal on the day. Reggie Johnson went for 27 points and 12 boards, eight offensive, which led to a fourth straight win. Miami has also won five of their last six and nine of 12 since Reggie Johnson returned from him injury.

In fact, the biggest reason for Miami’s turnaround is not necessarily Johnson’s return. Well, it is, but what Johnson’s presence inside has allowed is Kenny Kadji to get free up as a stretch-four on the perimeter. He’s averaged 16.7 ppg and 6.7 rpg in the last 12 games and looks like one of the best four-men in the ACC. I do have concerns about Miami’s back court — they don’t always make great decisions and Shane Larkin is a freshman running the point — but this group looks like they can be in contention for a top four spot in the ACC.

Teams that deserve a shoutout:

Arizona: The Wildcats lost Kevin Parrom to a season-ending foot injury at the start of last week, a blow that had caused the majority of the Pac-12 watching public to all-but write them off this season. So what did Sean Miller’s club do? Oh, they just went into Cal and knocked off the Bears and then went into Stanford and handled the Cardinal. No big deal. Arizona is still very much alive in the Pac-12 race.

Notre Dame: The Irish are back because the Burn Offense is back. After going into Hartford to knock off UConn, Notre Dame beat Marquette — who just may be the second best team in the Big East — by 17 points at home. They have now won four straight games, including a win over Syracuse, and have moved into sole possession of fourth place in the Big East. Who saw that coming? Mike Brey has to be at the top of a short list for National Coach of the Year right now.

Florida: Florida seems like one of those teams that no one is talking about right now. They are right on the edge of being in the top ten and, after beating Vanderbilt on Saturday, seem to have a pretty firm grip on second place in the SEC. They have a lottery pick in the middle and a ridiculous amount of talented spread across their perimeter. But this group still isn’t being taken seriously, and that’s probably because we all have visions of terrible shots from Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker dancing in our heads. Well, with Brad Beal starting to come into his own and Will Yegeute providing quite a dangerous defensive presence at the point of Florida’s press, maybe we should start paying a bit more attention to this team.

Florida State: Yup, the Seminoles did it again. After rolling over Georgia Tech, FSU beat Virginia at home despite blowing a 15 point second half lead. The win keeps Florida State on pace with North Carolina at 7-1 in the ACC, a game in front of Duke and two games up on NC State, Miami and Virginia.

Yale: All the talk heading into this season in the Ivy League was that Penn and Princeton would be the two teams that would give Harvard their biggest test of the season. After this weekend, however, its Yale that is sitting all alone in second place in the league. Thanks to 44 points and 22 boards from big man Greg Mangano, the Elis took care of both Penn and Princeton at home. The bad news? Six of Yale’s last eight games are on the road, including return trips to both Penn and Princeton and a rematch with Harvard, who beat Yale by 30 in New Haven.

Five Thoughts:

Kansas and Missouri rivalry has to continue, but in time: There is so much to love about this rivalry, and with Missouri well on their way towards returning to national prominence, this intensity of this game will continue to grow. That said, there is no way that it happens immediately. If the Big 12 hadn’t managed to survive — which is still no guarantee for the future — the Jayhawks would have been deciding between the remnants of the Big East, the Mountain West and the Missouri Valley for their conference affiliation. You’d be mad, too.

Temple taking control of the Atlantic 10?: No conference in the country — and that includes the Pac-12 — is as big of a mess as the A-10 is right now. Just last week, there were 11 teams within a game of first place in the conference. As of today, there are six teams within a game and two more just two games out. But only one team — Temple — has a hold on first-place, and the Owls look like they are primed to run away with the league. They’ve won six in a row and now have starting center Michael Eric back in the mix.

Iona needs to get better defensively: Thanks to two dominating offensive performances this week, the Gaels have moved into first-place in the MAAC. But as well as Iona can score the ball, they are going to be in trouble if they cannot figure out a way to get stops. The Gaels gave up 86 points to Canisius, who is 1-12 in MAAC play. Their two losses in league play were the result of blowing two separate 18 point leads. Its not difficult to imagine their season being cut short because of their inattentiveness to the defensive end of the floor.

Colorado is still hanging around: I keep waiting for the bottom to fall out of the Buffalo’s season, but this group just simply keeps on winning. This weekend they swept Oregon and Oregon State, moving into a tie for second place in the conference with Cal. They’ve now won five of their last six games. That said, the Buffs have done their damage at home. They are 7-0 in Boulder in league play and 1-3 on the road. The one win came against USC. Oh, and five of their last seven league games are away from home. It will be interesting to see if they can continue to perform at this level.

Time for Northwestern’s run?: We’ve been asking the question for so long that it seems almost silly to bring it back up again, but could this be Northwestern’s year to make the dance? Last week, that idea would have seemed silly as the Wildcats were sitting in at 2-6 in Big Ten play. But after this past week, where the Wildcats beat Minnesota and knocked off Illinois on the road, this group still has a glimmer of hope left. They visit both Purdue and Indiana and get Michigan and Ohio State at home. They’ll need to win at least two of those games for a chance.

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

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.

BYU erases 23-point deficit, beats Dayton in overtime 79-75

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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NASSAU, Bahamas – Gideon George scored 21 points and combined with Jaxson Robinson and Rudi Williams for BYU’s 15 overtime points as the Cougars came back from a 23-point deficit to beat Dayton 79-75 in overtime Friday.

BYU’s victory came in the seventh-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

George’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left in regulation gave BYU (4-3) its first lead after Dayton scored the first 10 points of the game and led 32-9 with six minutes left in the first half.

Mike Sharavjamts’ basket gave the lead back to Dayton but George’s free throw with a minute left sent the game into overtime.

Dayton got the first points in overtime but Robinson’s 3-pointer gave BYU the lead for good halfway through the extra period.

Robinson had 14 points, Dallin Hall 12 and Williams 11 to join George in double figures for BYU.

DaRon Holmes II scored 21 points and Sharavjamts 15 for Dayton (3-4). The Flyers lost starting guards Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith to lower-body injuries in the second half, Smith with with just seconds left in regulation.

Portland beats Villanova 83-71 in Phil Knight Invitational

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Moses Wood scored 16 points and Portland beat Villanova 83-71 on Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational.

Villanova (2-4) has lost three straight games, including an overtime loss to Iowa State on Thursday to drop below .500 for the first time since March 7, 2012.

Vasilije Vucinic’s layup with 4:16 remaining in the first half gave Portland the lead for good. The Pilots had an eight-point lead at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half.

Wood added six rebounds and three blocks for the Pilots (5-3). Tyler Robertson scored 15 points while shooting 6 for 12 (1 for 5 from 3-point range) and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Kristian Sjolund recorded 14 points and shot 5 for 7 (2 for 3 from 3-point range).

Caleb Daniels finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Villanova also got 14 points from Jordan Longino. Brandon Slater had 11 points.

Caleb Grill, Iowa State topples No. 1 North Carolina 70-65

Syndication: The Des Moines Register
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Grill has followed T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota State to UNLV and now back to Iowa State hoping the pair could share a moment like they did Friday.

Taking down the No. 1 team in the country was another bookmark moment in a long journey for the pair.

“I’m actually really enjoying sitting next to him from this moment right now just thinking about how long we’ve known each other and how cool this really was,” Otzelberger said.

Grill hit seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points and Iowa State rallied in the final five minutes to stun No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.

Iowa State (5-0) picked up just its third win over a team ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25. The Cyclones are 3-22 against No. 1 teams, with the other wins coming against Kansas in 1957 and Oklahoma in 2016.

The Cyclones can now add North Carolina (5-1) to the list.

“I was just staying the course of the game. I never really thought about it and the game just kind of came to me,” Grill said.

Grill was averaging 7.3 points and had made just 4 of 24 3-point attempts for the season entering Friday. But he couldn’t be stopped from beyond the arc, hitting a pair of big 3s to spark Iowa State’s late rally. His deep fadeaway jumper just inside the 3-point line with 1:40 left gave Iowa State a 63-61 lead and the Cyclones did just enough at the free throw line in the final minute to close out the upset victory.

Grill’s previous career high was 27 points while playing for UNLV in the 2020-21 season against Alabama. He also hit seven 3-pointers in that game.

Grill originally signed with South Dakota State when Otzelberger was the coach there. He was released from his commitment when Otzelberger took the head job at UNLV and started his career at Iowa State before deciding to join his coach in Las Vegas.

When Otzelberger returned to Ames, Grill followed again.

“Just having him be the first person that really had belief in me, it’s just really special what he’s done for me and my family and everything we’ve done,” Grill said.

Jaren Holmes added 22 points and the Cyclones withstood off shooting games from Aljaz Kunc and Gabe Kalscheur, who combined for three points and missed all eight of their shot attempts. Both were averaging double figures scoring for Iowa State.

RJ Davis led North Carolina with 15 points, Armando Bacot added 14 and Caleb Love scored 12. But the Tar Heels will lament a series of mistakes in the closing minutes that allowed Iowa State to rally.

“We had wide open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted, we just didn’t make those shots,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.

North Carolina led 57-49 after Leaky Black’s layup with 5:43 left, but missed four of its final six shots and had four turnovers during that span.

“We turned the ball over a couple of times and you just can’t do that in late-game situations,” Davis said. “You have to be sound and discipline and you have to do that on both ends of the floor and we just didn’t do it.”

NO. 1 LOSSES

North Carolina lost as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since Nov. 21, 2015 when it lost 71-67 at Northern Iowa. The Tar Heels also lost as No. 1 to UNLV in 2011 at a Thanksgiving tournament.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: Pete Nance wasn’t able to contribute in the same way he did in Thursday’s opening round. Nance, who tied his career high with 28 points against Portland, didn’t score for the first 27 minutes and finished with seven points.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were playing a No. 1 team from outside their conference for the first time since 1999 when they faced Cincinnati in the championship game of the Big Island Invitational.

UP NEXT

Iowa State will face either No. 18 Alabama or No. 20 UConn in the championship game while the Tar Heels will face the loser for third place.

No. 8 Duke locks down late, holds off Xavier 71-64

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – After a shaky offensive performance in the opening round of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, Duke coach Jon Scheyer wanted to see Jeremy Roach get back to playing more instinctively, especially at the offensive end of the floor.

Roach responded with a season-high 21 points, Mark Mitchell added 16 and No. 8 Duke withstood Xavier’s second-half comeback for a 71-64 win on Friday.

The Blue Devils (6-1) advanced to the championship game thanks to the play of their standout guard and another strong defensive effort. Roach came one point shy of matching his career high, and the Blue Devils rebounded after an unexpectedly tight victory over Oregon State in the opening round of the event.

Roach was 3 of 14 shooting against Oregon State as the Blue Devils scored a season-low 54 points. He made 9 of 15 shots and had five assists against Xavier.

“There’s a lot that falls on your shoulders so you can end up overthinking it a little bit,” Scheyer said. “The thing that I love for him today is he just was him. And when he’s that way, he is to me the best guard in the country.”

The Musketeers (4-2) were held to two points over the final five minutes and missed their last four shot attempts. Souley Boum scored 23 points and Adam Kunkel had 13. Kunkel didn’t play the last 11 minutes after taking a hard fall committing a foul.

Xavier leading scorer Jack Nudge was 1 of 13 shooting and finished with five points.

“Jack played a great effort. He really did. He was ready for the game. He just had one of those nights where the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said.

At the same time, Miller was disappointed in what he called the “fracturing” he saw from his team.

“There were spurts and segments of the game where I thought we reflected our style, how we’re trying to play, whether it be defense and offense. But there were way too many segments of the game, if not most of the game, where we were at times in our own way,” Miller said.

Mitchell scored seven points in the opening minutes of the second half, including a pair of layups, and he hit a 3-pointer from the wing that gave Duke a 49-36 lead, its largest of the game.

That’s when Xavier’s comeback started. The Musketeers pulled within three points on several occasions, but Duke answered each time. Desmond Claude’s driving layup pulled Xavier within 63-60 with 5:51 left, but Ryan Young scored for Duke and Xavier didn’t make another basket.

Roach’s jumper with 2:40 left pushed Duke’s lead to 69-62.

“We like to play inside out but I mean, when guys are hitting shots it just opens up for everybody else,” Roach said. “Just try to continue to be consistent hitting shots and I think we’ll be fine.”

Kyle Filipowski had 12 points and was not Duke’s leading scorer for the first time in five games.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils’ dominance on the backboards finally came to an end. Duke had outrebounded each of its first six opponents by double figures, the longest such stretch in school history. But Xavier’s interior size limited Duke to a 33-32 advantage on the glass. The Blue Devils had 12 second-chance points.

Xavier: The Musketeers played an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the first time since beating Virginia Tech in last year’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Xavier dropped to 0-2 against ranked opponents this season, having lost to Indiana last week. The Musketeers will play another ranked foe in Sunday’s third-place game.

UP NEXT

Duke will face the Gonzaga-Purdue winner in the championship game on Sunday, while Xavier will play the loser.