CBT Monthly Awards: Arizona earns accolades, everybody enjoyed Butler vs. Indiana

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As we did last month, the College Basketball Talk writers got together to pick the very best of December. The month was filled with entertaining games, outstanding performances and everything in between.

With the calenders turning to a new year, we analyze which teams we believe in, and which teams need a reality check.
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Team of the Month: Arizona
Terrence Payne – In less than two weeks, the Wildcats had a pair of top-25 wins including a big-time win over Florida. Nick Johnson’s block preserved a victory over San Diego State on Christmas night. Arizona is now ranked No. 3 and undefeated at 12-0 heading into the New Year.

Daniel Martin – As undefeated teams dropped around them, the Wildcats continue to stand strong, despite lingering questions about the inexperience of their frontcourt and how far natural shooting guard Mark Lyons can take them while playing the point. Regardless, Arizona has claimed its title as the favorite in the Pac-12.

Rob Dauster – Wins over Florida and San Diego State are impressive this early in the season, especially when you consider that the Wildcats are only going to get better as their big men mature.
 
 
Player of the Month:
Daniel Martin – Trey Burke, Michigan – The sophomore point guard averaged 18.2 points, 6.7 assists, and just 1.2 turnovers per game for a team that is still undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country. He has been the most important part of the offensive engine for Michigan and he is continuing to prove that he made the right choice by foregoing the NBA draft and returning to school.

Raphielle Johnson – Khaliff Wyatt, Temple – Three games of 20 or more points in December, most notably that 33-spot he hung on Syracuse, and Wyatt failed to reach double figures just once (the loss to top-ranked Duke). Many have jumped to say the A-10 race is VCU, Butler and Saint Louis, but Wyatt is one reason why the Owls will be heard from when league play begins next month.

Troy Machir – Anthony Bennett, UNLV – The freshman forward finished the month with four double-doubles and was one of the lone bright spots in the Rebel’s loss at North Carolina. Carried the load when Mike Moser went down. Looks like a ready-made pro just two months into his college career.

Honorable Mention: Ben McLemore (Kansas), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Mason Plumlee (Duke)
 
 
Game of the Year: Butler 88, Indiana 86 (OT)
David Harten – And it’s not really all that close. It had great offensive and defensive play. Great individual efforts. An incredible atmosphere you could feel even through the television. An improbable hero in Bulldogs walk-on guard Alex Barlow and an upset. Case closed.

Raphielle Johnson – Even with the Arizona/Florida game later that night not sure there was a better game this month than the Bulldogs outlasting the Hoosiers. In fact, this could very well end up being the best game of the entire season when it’s all said and done.

Eric Angevine – Absolutely the best, most meaningful game of the month.

Daniel Martin – Not only did it have the typical ingredients for a great game, it had implications, too. The Indiana loss knocked them out of the No. 1 spot and vaulted Butler into the Top 25. It didn’t hurt that reserve Alex Barlow emerged as an unlikely hero with the game-winning shot.
 
 
Most Surprising Team:
Rob Dauster – Oklahoma State – They have a point guard that’s not a natural point guard and they lost tow key players to season-ending injuries. And yet, there they are.

Eric Angevine – Arizona – Don’t get me wrong. This looked like a good team to start the season, but undefeated at year’s end? Didn’t see that coming at all.

Terrence Payne – Illinois – I wasn’t sold on the Illini after winning Maui, but despite the loss to Mizzou, Illinois went into Spokane and behind a great performance from Brandon Paul beat Gonzaga by double digits.

David Harten – New Mexico – Alex Kirk has solidified himself as a go-to big man and Kendall Williams has shown himself to be a contributor as a scorer (14.9 ppg, a team high) and distributor (a team-high 4.7 apg). Tony Snell is the athlete everyone comes to see make plays. Beating no. 8 Cincinnati on Thursday night on the road definitely helped the cause.
 
 
Least Surprising Team: Michigan
Terrence Payne – The Wolverines went undefeated in conference play behind the strong play of Burke, Tim Hardaway, and Glenn Robinson III.

Daniel Martin – Despite being undefeated and the No. 2 team in the country, how much are the Wolverines being talked about in the Final Four discussion? Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Glenn Robinson III are as solid a trio as you’ll find. Pair that with a three-point shooter like Nik Stauskas and inside toughness from Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan and you, too, shouldn’t be surprised at where Michigan is right now.

Troy Machir – Shockingly enough, this is exactly where I predicted the Wolverines to be at this point in the season. They are really, really good. Really.

Eric Angevine – Under Trey Burke and the scions of half of the pre-millennium NBA, the Wolverines have been an absolute machine. Their undefeated run has been so unremarkable that it’s almost easy to forget they’re around.
 
 
Bandwagon you’re jumping on: Kansas
Troy Machir – They have two guys playing like All-Americans and another handful playing like All-Conference selections. Everybody is chipping in. Jayhawks should steamroll through Big-XII play.

Rob Dauster – I’ve been on the bandwagon for a while, but with McLemore playing as well as he has, this team is ahead of the curve.

Terrence Payne – Never quite sure why I leave the bandwagon, but Bill Self has the Jayhawks riding a 10-game winning streak and led Ben McLemore’s 15.8 points per game, KU looks to be a mix on the national stage entering conference play.
 
 
Bandwagon you’re getting off:
Eric Angevine – Florida – I was legitimately on this bandwagon, choosing the Gators as a Final Four contender when we made our CBT preseason picks. But horrible shot selection and poor situational awareness is killing this team, and nothing about that seems to be about to change any time soon.

Raphielle Johnson – Wyoming – The Cowboys are 12-0 and have four players averaging double figures, but no reserves average more than 5.3 points per game (Josh Adams; Riley Grabau’s 5.1 ppg would be the mark if Adams is the fifth starter). If a Leonard Washington, Larry Nance Jr. or Luke Martinez were to land in early foul trouble, would Wyoming have enough offensively to contend with the other powers in the Mountain West?

Rob Dauster – Colorado – They are good and they’ll compete in the Pac-12, but I don’t see the Buffaloes being anything more than a good west coast team.
 
 
New Years Resolution for a team, player or coach:
Rob Dauster – Indiana needs to realize that Cody Zeller is their bread and butter and get him more touches.

Eric Angevine – New Mexico needs to keep big man Alex Kirk engaged. It’s no coincidence that a dangerously close win over New Mexico State and a home loss to the NDSU Jackrabbits happened on successive nights when Kirk was ineffective around the basket.

David Harten – Pittsburgh needs to get more out of Steven Adams. This isn’t a knock on the Panthers or Adams. He’s lived up to the preseason love, but to say he’s reached max potential this season might be far-fetched. Averages of 7.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game aren’t bad at all, but the more I watch him, the more I believe he’s capable of averaging somewhere around 13 and 9 per. He can do it.

Raphielle Johnson – Minnesota should resolve to become more efficient on the defensive glass. The best offensive rebounding team in the country, the Golden Gophers have had their issues on the other end. If that doesn’t improve in Big Ten play, their chances of contending diminish greatly.
 
 
Final Four Picks after two months:
Raphielle Johnson – Duke, Indiana, Louisville, Arizona
David Harten – Duke, Kansas, Louisville, Ohio State
Rob Dauster – Duke, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri
Eric Angevine – Duke, Kansas, Michigan, Indiana
Troy Machir – Duke, Kansas, Michigan, Indiana
Daniel Martin – Duke, Kansas, Michigan, Indiana
Terrence Payne – Duke, Kansas, Michigan, Indiana

Notre Dame ends skid with over Boilermakers, may have lost Pflueger

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INDIANAPOLIS — Notre Dame finally played the way coach Mike Brey wanted.

They worked hard, shot well and they demonstrated they could deliver a knockout punch, too.

John Mooney scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds while D.J. Harvey matched his career-high with 19 points to lead Notre Dame past Purdue 88-80 in the first game of Saturday’s Crossroads Classic.

“This is huge for us. We lost to two good teams away from our building. If we go 0-3 we’re digging out of a hole for a while,” Brey said. “If there are must-wins in December, we were staring at one today.”

The Fighting Irish (7-3) snapped a two-game losing streak by becoming the first in-state school to beat Purdue since February 2016.

And though they never trailed over the final 35 minutes, it sure wasn’t easy on or off the court.

One day after the athletic department announced freshman Robby Carmody would miss the rest of this season with a torn labrum, the Irish suffered another big blow when senior Ref Pflueger crumpled to the floor with 5:36 to play, clutching his left knee. He was carried directly into the locker room and later returned to the bench with the knee packed in ice.

Brey credited Pflueger with helping the Irish turning things around Saturday and said the starting guard would have an MRI next week.

“It didn’t look good,” Brey said. “There’s fear that it’s an ACL.”

Pflueger’s teammates took the cue from his big game — seven points and a career best 10 assists — and closed it out almost according to the script, too.

Notre Dame opened the game by making 11 of their first 14 shots and eventually used a 12-2 spurt to take a 30-18 lead with 8:14 left in the first half.

The Boilermakers (6-5, 1-1 Big Ten) closed the half on a 7-2 run, cutting the deficit to 36-29, and got as close as 42-38 with 16:01 left to play before Notre Dame answered with a putback and Harvey’s 3-pointer to make it 47-38.

Purdue never got closer than five again despite getting 27 points from Carsen Edwards and 15 from Ryan Cline. The Boilermakers have lost two in a row, four of five and had their nine-game winning streak against in-state schools snapped.

“We just had too many breakdowns defensively,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “When you’re just trying to outscore somebody, you’re not going to win too many basketball games.”

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Irish completed a brutal nonconference stretch by going 3-2 against five straight power-conference teams. Things should get a little easier before heading into ACC play, and if they can overcome the injuries Notre Dame could emerge as a stronger team.

Purdue: The Boilermakers have struggled to find a consistent complementary scorer for Edwards and it looks like they will continue to struggle until they do.

STAT PACK

Notre Dame: Notre Dame won its first game in the Classic in three years. … T.J. Gibbs scored 12 points and Dane Goodwin added 11 points. … The Irish shot 52 percent from the field and were 11 of 21 on 3s.

Purdue: The Boilermakers are 0-3 against ACC schools with previous losses against Virginia Tech and Florida State. … A six-day break didn’t help the Boilermakers solve their shooting woes. After going 9 of 32 on 3s in last Sunday’s loss at Texas, they were 9 of 29 against Notre Dame. … Trevion Williams scored 10 points and was the only other player to reach double figures. … Purdue had a 40-30 rebounding advantage, including 15-2 on offensive rebounds.

THEY SAID IT

Notre Dame: “It’s huge. We closed it out,” Mooney said.

Purdue: “It was just our lapses that gave them open shots. We can’t just play through our offense. We have to get stops,” Cline said.

No. 5 Michigan beats Western Michigan 70-62, stays unbeaten

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Charles Matthews made a layup just before halftime to give No. 5 Michigan its first lead and the smooth-shooting guard matched a season high with 25 points to help the undefeated Wolverines beat Western Michigan 70-62 on Saturday.

Michigan (11-0) is off to its best start since it was 16-0 six seasons ago.

The Broncos (5-5) were in control for much of the first half and led by eight points with 2:58 remaining after Michael Flowers scored 11 of his career-high 31 points in just over two minutes.

Matthews scored eight of his team’s 10 points to close the first half, giving Michigan a 30-28 lead. He scored five more points during the Wolverines’ 14-2 run early in the second half, giving them a cushion they needed because the Broncos stayed aggressive on both ends.

Matthews made a 3-pointer with 1:13 left to put the Wolverines ahead by eight.

Michigan’s Zavier Simpson scored 15 points and Jordan Poole had 14.

The Wolverines’ leading scorer, Ignas Brazdeikis, was held scoreless for more than 24 minutes before finishing with just four points — 13 below his average.

Jared Printy had 10 points for the Broncos, whose top two scorers were held well below their average. Seth Dugan had seven points, more than 10 points below his average, and Josh Davis fouled out with four points after entering the game scoring nearly 14 points per game.

BIG PICTURE

Western Michigan: The Broncos, who hadn’t played a ranked team since 2016, will likely get a boost of confidence for leading for much of the first half and refusing to get routed when Michigan took control in the second half.

Michigan: The Wolverines looked rusty in the first half and must learn how to stay sharp with only one game per week from Dec. 8 to Dec. 30 before resuming Big Ten play in early January.

Schofield scores 29, No. 3 Tennessee beats Memphis 102-92

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Admiral Schofield scored 20 of his 29 points in the second half and added 11 rebounds as third-ranked Tennessee beat Memphis 102-92 Saturday to snap a three-game skid to the in-state rival.

The Volunteers (8-1) avoided any letdown after a weeklong layoff for finals since upsetting then-No. 1 ranked Gonzaga last weekend in Phoenix. That win pushed the Vols to their highest Associated Press ranking since Feb. 25, 2008, when they went to No. 1 after upsetting another top-ranked team in Memphis.

Grant Williams added 19 points for Tennessee. Jordan Bone had 17, Jordan Bowden 12 and Kyle Alexander 10.

Kyvon Davenport helped Memphis (5-5) keep Tennessee from blowing the Tigers out. He scored 26 of his career-high 31 points after halftime and had 11 boards. Tyler Harris added 10 points.

First-year Memphis coach Penny Hardaway remains winless against the Vols after going 0-2 when playing for the Tigers in the early 1990s. Simply having the former NBA star as head coach has Tigers’ fans excited enough about the future that they sold out the FedExForum for the first time since March 7, 2009, against Tulsa just before coach John Calipari left for Kentucky.

This rivalry had cooled down since that No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown in 2008. It’s the first game between the programs on either end of Tennessee since January 2013.

These Vols came in with a big advantage in both size and experience with all five starters back from the team that shared the Southeastern Conference regular season title last year. They trailed only once at 3-2 within the first minute on a trio of free throws by Harris.

With Tennessee hitting its first five shots, including a trio of 3-pointers, the Vols jumped out to a 15-5 lead on Schofield’s 3 with 16:21 left. Tennessee led 50-35 at halftime.

The Tigers pulled to 63-56 when Antwann Jones’ 3 capped eight straight. Schofield scored the next five for Tennessee. Davenport did his best to rally Memphis but couldn’t get the Tigers closer than eight despite hitting 10 of 12 shots.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Vols finally have a true road game on their resume with the arena filled with lots of Memphis blue.

Memphis: Hardaway needs more time and the recruiting class he is building for 2019 is led by James Wiseman. But he had the Tigers racing up the floor every chance they got in transition. Hardaway’s halftime adjustments were evident when the Tigers hit as many shots (10) within the first nine minutes as the entire first half.

Vick, Lawson lead No. 1 Kansas past No. 17 Villanova

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Dedric Lawson and Lagerald Vick combined for 57 points and scored all but one of the Jayhawks field goals in the second half as No. 1 Kansas remained undefeated with a 74-71 win over No. 17 Villanova in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon.

Villanova, who was coming off of their third loss of the season — and their second to a mid-major — when they were beaten by Penn on Tuesday, put up an impressive fight, but they did not have an answer for the Big Two of the Jayhawks.

Here are three things we can takeaway from that game:

1. KANSAS REALLY MISSES UDOKA AZUBUIKE

The Jayhawks were essentially a two-man band on Saturday afternoon, as Dedric Lawson and Lagerald Vick accounted for 57 of their 74 points. They were 19-for-30 from the floor. The rest of the Kansas roster was 4-for-16 combined. A Devon Dotson layup late in the second half was the only field goal made by someone not named Dedric or Lagerald in the second half.

I bring this up because Udoka Azubuike’s absence has created a situation where Lawson is forced to play a different role than what would be ideal for him and for Kansas. Self has made it clear that he wants to run his offense through the post. We know this, and without the dynamic guard play that he’s had the last two or three years, he doesn’t really have another option. Dotson is good. He’s not Frank Mason or Devonte’ Graham, at least not yet.

But with Azubuike dealing with an ankle injury, Lawson is the only player on the roster that can come close to matching Azubuike’s low-post production. Mitch Lightfoot isn’t that guy. K.J. Lawson isn’t that guy. David McCormack isn’t ready. Silvio De Sousa isn’t eligible. So it has to be Dedric, but running him as a low-post presence means that he’s not out there as a playmaking four.

So not only does Kansas lose Doke’s presence on the block and not only is Dedric forced to play out of position, but they don’t really have anyone that can do the things that Dedric can do when he’s playing the five instead of the four.

And Kansas is still undefeated, despite having played one of the toughest schedules in the country for high-major program.

2. AND THEY NEED TO FIND SOME WAY TO GET QUENTIN GRIMES GOING

Another problem with Kansas is that they are getting absolutely nothing out of Quentin Grimes. He scored a single point in 14 minutes on Saturday, which is more or less in line with everyone game he’s played since that 21 point outburst he had in the win over Michigan State. This is a problem because teams don’t really have to pay attention to him defensively. They don’t really have to pay attention to Marcus Garrett, either. Charlie Moore and K.J. Lawson haven’t been threats to score. Other than Vick and Dotson, who is as up and down as you would expect a freshman to be, Kansas doesn’t have anyone to worry about on the perimeter when Quentin Grimes is playing like he’s Rick Grimes.

(Now do you see why Bill Self has everything running through the post?)

I’m not really sure what the issue is here, either, beyond Grimes not knowing where he fits in this offense. He’s not going to be the guy asked to run ball-screens. He’s not going to be the guy asked to score in isolation, at least not when Vick is doing what he’s been doing to start the season. He’s never been a pure jump shooter.

There’s a reason he’s a projected lottery pick. The kid is talented. Self just needs to figure out how to get him going.

3. IT’S CLEAR WHO JAY WRIGHT TRUSTS AND DOES NOT TRUST

We know he doesn’t trust Jahvon Quinerly. That much has been proven true time and again. Saturday was JQ’s fourth DNP-CD of the season.

But as Villanova plays more games in tough environments like this — with Big East play bearing down, it’s going to happen quite a bit more often — we’re likely going to see his rotation condense unless some of the guys on the outside looking in step up.

On Saturday, Phil Booth, Collin Gillespie and freshman Saddiq Bey all played at least 36 minutes. Eric Paschall would have matched that if he didn’t pick up his fourth foul midway through the second half. Dhamir Cosby-Rountree played 28 minutes and fouled out.

And for the most part, it looks like that is going to be the five guys Wright rolls with. Jermaine Samuels will see minutes as a guy that gives Villanova a different look. Joe Cremo will be the guard that gives Gillespie and Booth a breather. Swider will get a few minutes here and there as Wright tries to get him to find his shot.

But Swider has now missed his last eight threes and is shooting 24.2 percent from deep on the season. Cremo has looked like an America East player. Samuels isn’t ready for this level yet.

Wright is never a stranger to a short bench, but this year it feels more like this is being forced upon him than it is a conscious decision to condense minutes.

Stith leads Old Dominion’s rally, upset of No. 25 Syracuse

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — B.J. Stith scored all of his 18 points in the second half, and Old Dominion overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to stun No. 25 Syracuse 68-62 on Saturday.

Xavier Green had 15 points and Marquis Godwin added 11 for the Monarchs (8-3), who trailed by 13 points late in the first half and by 11 early in the second before rallying for their sixth straight victory.

After Elijah Hughes made a 3-pointer to put the Orange (7-3) ahead 39-28, Old Dominion went on a 13-2 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Goodwin that tied it at 41 with 10:19 remaining.

Syracuse pulled aback ahead and led 50-46, but a jumper by Godwin and a 3-pointer by Ahmad Carter put the Monarchs on top again. Syracuse went ahead 53-51 with 4:15 to go, but that was the Orange’s last lead of the game.

Three foul shots by Stith and five straight points by Green extended the Monarchs to a 59-53 margin with under three minutes to go. Six points by Stith down the stretch sealed the upset.

Tyus Battle led Syracuse with 23 points on just 5-of-14 shooting. Hughes had 15. Oshae Brissett had just nine, going 3 of 11 from the field.

Syracuse shot just 33 percent from the field for the game and 8 of 22 from 3-point range.

Syracuse closed on a 12-3 run to take a 33-23 halftime lead. Battle, who scored 13 in the first 20 minutes, accounted for eight straight points during the run.

BIG PICTURE

Old Dominion: The Monarchs are flying high. Six straight wins and a huge comeback at the Carrier Dome give Old Dominion huge momentum heading into its matchup with in-state rival Richmond.

Syracuse: The Orange are still in search of an offense. Frank Howard isn’t himself and Syracuse won’t go far if its point guard doesn’t contribute.