Ethan Wragge, college basketball’s best shooter, shot his first three … in 10th grade?

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PHILADELPHIA — Ethan Wragge is the best shooter in college basketball.

Yeah, I know, that’s about as subjective a statement as a writer can make, one that can be debated and argued and nitpicked until no one actually cares who the best shooter in the country is anymore.

But as of tonight, it’s not a discussion. As of Monday, January 20th, no one can touch Ethan Wragge, because no one else single-handedly buried the No. 4 team in the country, on the road, in all of 6:03 of game-time that took a little more than ten minutes of real time.

Seven straight threes.

By the time Villanova realized what had happened to them, Wragge had hit seven straight threes and Creighton had jumped out to a 27-8 lead at the Wells Fargo Center. That lead would grow as large as 27 in the first half and 40 in the second half, with the Wildcats failing to get closer than 13 after Wragge’s fourth three of the first four minutes put Creighton up 18-5. The Bluejays coasted for the final 12 minutes, eventually winning 96-68.

He finished with 27 points, which simple long-division will tell you is nine three-pointers. What it doesn’t tell you, and what those of you unfamiliar with Creighton might not know, is that the nation’s top marksman is Creighton’s 6-foot-7 center.

That’s only part of what makes Wragge the most unique player in the country.

Because he’s not simply taking threes. Known as WraggeBombs, the native Minnesotan unabashedly fires away from a distance that would make Stephen Curry blush, the irony being that Creighton’s center is much more effective shooting from 30 feet than he is from three feet. In a career that’s spanned five years — he played nine games as a sophomore but was given a medical redshirt for the season — Wragge has taken a grand total of 53 two-point field goals. Of the 154 shots that he’s taken this year, 148 have come from three-point range.

He’s shooting 50% from three.

And he didn’t shoot his first three until 10th grade.

Wragge gets it from his mother.

Kari Wragge, who was Kari Kramme back then, spent four years in the ’80s lighting up NAIA opponents for Midland Lutheran in Nebraska. A two-time second-team all-american, she finished here career scoring 1,779 points while developing a reputation for having as pure of a stroke as you’ll find at any level of the game.

“One of my regrets is that I didn’t make a teaching video of her shooting the basketball,” her former coach, Joanne Bracker, once told the Omaha World-Herald.

Ethan, the oldest of three brothers, didn’t need a shooting video. He was getting all the coaching he could handle for mom and dad, who was the quarterback at Midland Lutheran when Kari was lighting up scoreboards. They were sticklers about form. Elbow under the ball, use your legs, follow through, backspin. “The biggest thing they taught me is don’t shoot too far out,” Wragge said while plowing through a slice of pepperoni pizza in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center. “My dad would always say, ‘the range will come when you’re ready for it.'”

Where most kids that age would be stepping behind the three-point line, using every ounce of strength in their body to try to get the basketball up to the rim, Wragge settled into the 15-foot range. He was lethal, using his height as a weapon to allow him to get his shot off. It wasn’t until his sophomore year in high school that he started stepping out beyond the three-point line.

It wasn’t too long before it became obvious that the slow-footed, burly big man had a skill that very few people in basketball have. He was the biggest guy on his high school team, but still managed to earn all-area, all-conference and all-state accolades while setting school records for three-pointers — most made in a game, most consecutive threes made, career three-pointers. He was a specialist, and while a couple of impressive performances on the AAU circuit prior to his senior season drew interest from the likes of Marquette, Michigan and Minnesota, Wragge settled on Creighton, following in the footsteps of another large sharpshooter, Kyle Korver.

As a freshman, Wragge eventually worked his way into the starting lineup by the end of the season, but he would lose that spot to Doug McDermott the following season, a year he ended up receiving a medical redshirt as he battled through plantar fasciitis. The next two seasons, Wragge won awards for his play coming off the bench, but he wasn’t much more than a role player giving McDermott’s legs some rest of providing opponents with a different look while spelling Gregory Echenique.

It wasn’t until this season that he moved back into the starting lineup, and his presence has turned the Bluejays into arguably the most difficult team in the country to matchup with.

Wragge is Creighton’s five-man. That means that teams in the Big East are forced to guard him with a center.

“It’s hard for them to adjust,” Wragge said. Can you blame them? Daniel Ochefu, Villanova’s 6-foot-11 center, was the guy that was victimized by Wragge’s first three threes on Monday night. How many times has he had to guard someone that had that quick of a release from 25 feet out? How many times has a center has to locate his man in transition at half court just to make sure he doesn’t step into an open three from five feet beyond the NBA line?

The answer’s never.

I don’t mean to pick on Ochefu, either. He’s not alone. He’s just the latest victim.

“They’ll be close, but I know how close they need to be to effect it,” Wragge said. “Sometimes it might look like a bad shot, but I have confidence in it.”

“Some of our guys still have a tough time with it in practice,” senior guard Grant Gibbs said with a laugh, which is less an indictment of his teammates than it is a measure of just how unique Wragge’s skill set is.

Think about it.

Wragge has been in the Creighton program for five seasons. In those five years, he’s played 133 games and scored over 1,000 points. He’s shot the ball from inside the arc just 53 times. The scouting report is out there. Everyone, especially his teammates, knows why he’s on the court, yet those teammates still can have issues preventing him from getting open looks.

If they can’t slow him down, how can you expect Big East opponents playing Wragge for the first time to be able to?

CBT Podcast: Mark Titus on Indiana hoops, Virginia-Duke and walk-on scholarships

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Rob Dauster was joined on Tuesday for the Monday Overreactions podcast by Mark Titus of One Shining Podcast and The Ringer. An Indiana native and an Ohio State alum, Titus brought some unique insight into the Big Ten as well as an appreciation for Virginia and the way they play. The two also spent time discussing Titus’ scholarship program and whether or not his live pods were any fun.

Here is the rundown:

OPEN: Titus launched a scholarship program for walk-ons that’s pretty cool.

13:15: Duke beat Virginia, and we need to talk about it.

31:50: What is wrong with Indiana, and can it be fixed?

43:10: Fact or fiction: Michigan State is better than Michigan.

50:00: Are live pods fun or hard?

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Zion Williamson is the nation’s best

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1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

I can’t believe some of the things that came out of my mouth last week.

Like, for example, how I said, over and over again, that Tre Jones was the most important player on the Duke roster. Yes, Jones does things that no one else on this Duke team can do. Yes, he is an elite on-ball defender that allows R.J. Barrett to slide into a role that is more suited for him offensively. Yes, he provides leadership and takes pressure off of their halfcourt offense with the transition opportunities that he creates.

All of that is true.

But the idea that I said, and actually believed, that anyone other than Zion Williamson — and, to a lesser extent, R.J. Barrett — is the most important player on this Duke team is just laughably absurd.

This is how I know I need better friends.

Because anyone that truly cared about me as a human being would never, ever, let me say what I said last week with such conviction.

If you need me, I’ll be taking an L.

2. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

I’ve made this point over and over this season, but it bears repeating after the performance that Dedric Lawson had on Monday night: We fawn over the Kansas star because of his size, his efficiency, his passing ability and the way he can space the floor with his shot. Here are their numbers, side by side:

Should I mention that Tennessee is currently the No. 1 team in the AP Poll as well?

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

Howard the best shooter in the country. He the second-leading scorer in the high-major ranks and the nation’s fifth-leading scorer overall. There no high-major player in college hoops that has been more efficient with a higher usage rate. All of those things are true and wildly impressive for a player that is six months younger than Trae Young, but we also need to consider this: Howard’s assist rate is on par with the likes of Ty Jerome, Jarrett Culver and Justin Robinson. He’s been unbelievable this year.

4. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

It has been a weird two games for Lawson. On Saturday, in the loss at West Virginia, Lawson was unable to get a touch in a dangerous spot in the last 2:30 of the game as the Jayhawks stumbled through four ugly possessions while blowing a six-point lead. On Monday, Lawson finished with 29 points and 15 boards on 13-for-17 shooting, coming up with a huge block and an ever bigger three in the final minute to help seal the win. He carried Kansas for long stretches early in the game as the rest of Bill Self’s roster found a rhythm. He was nothing short of sensational.

I’m sure Kansas fans are hoping that, over the course of the final three months of the season, we see more of that Lawson and less o the player that couldn’t get a big bucket when they needed it in Morgan town.

5. JA MORANT, Murray State

I know it was only SIU-Edwardsville, but Ja Morant went for 40 points and 11 assists on Saturday. He was 21-for-21 from the foul line and, in his last two games, is now shooting 7-for-14 from three. He’s not a great shooter yet, but he’s getting there. Top five picks.

6. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

After a sterling start to the season, Texas Tech is starting to get figured out. This is what happens when your offense is, essentially, the Jarrett Culver Show. He hasn’t been good enough to carry the Red Raiders in their last two games, a home loss to Iowa State and a loss at Baylor. He was 7-for-21 from the floor against the Cyclones and had seven turnovers in the loss at Baylor.

7. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

We were all up in arms about Barrett’s performance in the loss to Syracuse, finishing with just 23 points on 8-for-30 shooting, he turned around and put up 30 points on an efficient 11-for-19 shooting against Virginia, one of the nation’s very best defensive units.

8. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

No one in college basketball deserves more and is getting less All-American hype than Michigan State’s star point guard Cassius Winston. What he is able to do in transition is a difference-maker for a team that likes to run far more than anyone realizes. He’s been better defensive as well, and in the absence of Josh Langford, he’s picked up the scoring slack when needed. He had 29 points and six assists at Nebraska. He had 23 points and five assists against Purdue. He had 25 points and five assists at Ohio State.

Sparty won all of those games, and after soundly knocking off Maryland on Monday night, they have now won 11 in a row and sit all alone in first place in the Big Ten. Michigan State is dangerous, and Winston is the reason why.

9. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin

Happ had one of the most dominating performances of the season on Saturday, as he posted 26 points, 10 boards, seven assists and two steals as the Badgers handed Michigan — one of the top five defensive teams in the sport — their first loss of the season. Wisconsin has struggled of late, and Happ’s inconsistency from the free throw line is going to cost the Badgers a big game at some point, but what he did on Saturday was special.

10. SOMEONE, Virginia or Gonzaga

These two teams play drastically different styles — Gonzaga is one of the fastest teams in the country while Virginia is the slowest team — but the one thing that they have in common is that there is no clear-cut “best” player on either roster. De’Andre Hunter is the best pro prospect for Virginia, but Ty Jerome might actually be their best player this year while Kyle Guy is the team’s leading scorer. We can say the same thing with the Zags, who are infinitely better thanks to the defense that gets played by Brandon Clarke but who run their offense through their Japanese star Rui Hachimura.

IN THE MIX: Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Virginia Tech), Jordan Caroline (Nevada), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Charles Matthews (Michigan), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s)

No. 9 Kansas outlasts No. 24 Iowa State for critical Big 12 win

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Kansas earned a huge Big 12 home win on Monday night as the Jayhawks outlasted Iowa State for an 80-76 win. Following a Saturday road loss at West Virginia, there were questions about the Jayhawks’ ability to close tight games following some recent late-game mishaps. But thanks to a key defensive adjustment and a strong performance from a Player of the Year candidate, the Jayhawks stayed right in the mix in a crowded Big 12 race.

Here are three takeaways from the Kansas win on Monday night.

Defense was a huge part of the Kansas comeback and eventual win

By switching in the second half, and adjusting to Iowa State’s movement-heavy offense, Kansas was able to go on a 14-0 second-half run and take a solid lead in the second half before eventually going on to win.

The first half, Kansas looked sluggish on the defensive end, as they couldn’t seem to stay with the Cyclone offense. When head coach Bill Self adjusted in the second half by switching at all positions in some smaller lineups, it changed the game for the Jayhawks.

Gaining confidence by getting stops in the second half, Kansas translated that into offense. That run eventually helped them gain control of the game. Making plays on the defensive ended also started to get slow-starting guys like Marcus Garrett (16 points) and LaGerald Vick (14 points) when they didn’t have a lot fall for them early.

Kansas didn’t have the start they wanted. They looked hungover from the road loss two days before. But the halftime adjustments and renewed commitment to the defensive end ignited the Jayhawks on both ends of the floor. A team that has struggled to close some games got some key stops when they needed them.

If Kansas can defend like that, and get some timely stops, then they can stay at the top of the Big 12 race.

Iowa State’s remains a dangerous team despite the loss

The Cyclones might have fallen on Monday night. Looking at things long-term, Iowa State held a halftime lead in this game, rallied to tie the game in the second half once they fell behind, and still ended up with a 1-1 season-series matchup with Kansas after a blowout win at Hilton.

The Cyclones haven’t shown nearly enough reliability to be considered a major top-10 team. They also haven’t been fully healthy enough to figure things out for this season. All of that being said, the Cyclones still remain one of the nation’s most dangerous teams because of their offense. Iowa State’s ability to have four or five guys in every lineup who can score is a huge help.

Marial Shayok (26 points), Talen Horton-Tucker (16 points) and Michael Jacobson (12 points) all made some key shots in this one. And Lindell Wigginton (three points) and the rest of the rotation outside the starting five provided next to nothing.

If the Cyclones get a night where more than a few guys are clicking, then they could be a terrifying team to face in a tournament-style scenario.

Kansas forward Dedric Lawson closed this game like a Player of the Year candidate

On a night where many of their key players struggled, the Jayhawks got a huge, potentially signature, performance from junior forward Dedric Lawson. Coming up with 29 points and 15 rebounds on 13-for-17 shooting, the forward looked simply unstoppable while displaying ruthless efficiency.

But most importantly: Lawson came up with clutch plays on both ends of the floor for a Kansas team that desperately needs help closing.

Making a huge block on a Wigginton dunk attempt with under a minute left, Lawson stopped Iowa State from closing the game to within one point as the play also ignited the home crowd. Following that, on the offensive end, Lawson’s three-pointer with a little under 30 seconds left made it a five-point game and proved to be a major difference in a tight game.

Kansas needed this type of performance from Lawson on a sluggish night and he delivered in a huge way. While others like Zion Williamson and Grant Williams are ahead of Lawson in the Player of the Year race, if he keeps playing like this, he’ll quickly re-join the top conversation.

Monday’s Things to Know: Kansas outlasts Iowa State; Michigan State, North Carolina earn big wins

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Monday was a slow night in college basketball. There were three games between ranked teams to keep it interesting though. With major battles in the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12, the night started slow, but closed with a good back-and-forth game.

No. 9 Kansas outlasts No. 24 Iowa State in back-and-forth contest

Following a bad loss to West Virginia over the weekend, Kansas took the floor Monday against an Iowa State team that previously blew them out in Ames.

The Jayhawks avenged that first Iowa State loss with a solid comeback win in Lawrence against the Cyclones on Monday. Playing very much like a Player of the Year candidate, Jayhawk junior forward Dedric Lawson had a monster game with 29 points and 15 rebounds — making critical plays on both ends of the floor. Lawson knocked down a key three-pointer to make it a five-point difference with under a minute left while also making a huge block of a Lindell Wigginton dunk attempt that could have pulled Iowa State to within one.

With all of the Kansas woes late in games, this was a solid win for them after Iowa State mounted a late rally to tie the game.

First-half run propels No. 11 North Carolina past No. 10 Virginia Tech

The Monday ACC undercard to Saturday’s memorable Duke vs. Virginia clash, the Tar Heels used a huge 20-2 run at the end of the first half and eventually run past the Hokies. Getting stops after a hot start for Virginia Tech’s offense, the North Carolina defense looked much improved after some bad stretches at times during the season.

Freshmen also played a giant part in the win for the Tar Heels as Coby White (27 points) and Nassir Little (23 points) combined for 50 points while Luke Maye (14 points) and Garrison Brooks (12 points) had solid games on the interior.

Since North Carolina has to play a difficult remaining ACC schedule that includes two games against Duke and a tilt with Virginia, this is a critical home win for them to get against a team as good as Virginia Tech.

Cassius Winston, No. 6 Michigan State control game against No. 13 Maryland

In the Big Ten, the Spartans maintained control of the league with a solid double-digit win the Terps. Playing without junior guard Joshua Langford, and with big man Nick Ward (0 points) struggling for consistent offense, the Spartans still pretty easily took care of a top-15 thanks to defense, toughness and the steady play at point guard of Cassius Winston.

Soundly outplaying his counterpart in Maryland’s Anthony Cowan Jr., Winston (14 points, seven assists) led a balanced effort for Michigan State as five double-figure scorers led to a solid offensive night. Kenny Goins (14 points, 12 rebounds) finished with a double-double for the Spartans while Xavier Tillman (10 points, five blocks) and Aaron Henry (12 points, six rebounds, four assists) gave great role efforts.

The Spartans remain unbeaten through eight games in a very deep Big Ten as they’re quietly looking like one of the most consistent teams in the country. This team doesn’t have a headline-making star like Miles Bridges, but Michigan State is playing together and playing hard on both ends of the floor.

No. 11 North Carolina beats No. 10 Virginia Tech 103-82

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina went from being unable to hit a 3-pointer to seemingly unable to miss. And its touted freshmen rolled to big nights against a highly ranked Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.

This is more what coach Roy Williams envisioned — or hoped for, anyway — from his 11th-ranked Tar Heels.

Freshman Coby White scored 27 points while UNC hit a season-high 16 3-pointers to beat No. 10 Virginia Tech 103-82 on Monday night, cracking the 100-point mark for the first time in league play.

Fellow rookie Nassir Little added a season-high 23 points for the Tar Heels (15-4, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who struggled out of the gate to fall behind by nine while making just 1 of their first 12 3s. But it wasn’t long before just about everything started falling from behind the arc, an avalanche that sparked a game-turning 20-0 run that pushed UNC to a 45-31 lead by halftime.

“I’ve seen us play like that but not in enough spurts this year in games,” Williams said.

It was the Tar Heels’ best showing since scoring 103 points in a December home win against No. 4 Gonzaga. There have been clunkers since, though namely suffering the worst home loss in 16 seasons under their Hall of Fame coach against Louisville on Jan. 12.

“I think the key factor for us was we had won two games and then played terribly against Louisville,” Little said. “And we didn’t want that to happen this time. … We just wanted to keep going, keep that energy going, keep that win streak going.”

UNC made 15 of its last 22 3-pointers, shot 54 percent for the game and led by 27 points.

Ahmed Hill scored 20 points for the Hokies (15-3, 4-2), who made 6 of 7 3-pointers in a fast start only to end the half by going nearly 6 minutes without a basket while dealing with foul trouble.

“I thought we tried to manage it the right way,” Hokies coach Buzz Williams said of the 20-0 run. “Obviously we didn’t get any stops. It was kind of a mix-match group that we were trying to survive with, and offensively we were for sure out of sorts.

“It kind of compounded on us fairly quick over those last four minutes.”

BIG PICTURE

Virginia Tech: This was the Hokies’ second road game against a ranked opponent in the past week. Things went poorly in the first at No. 3 Virginia, with the Hokies struggling at both ends in a woeful first half en route to a 22-point loss. Williams sounded happier with his team’s response this time around.

“I think collectively we feel different tonight in the locker room than we did (after the Virginia loss),” he said, adding: “The scores are similar but I think the energy and the effort and the fight tonight was different.”

UNC: The Tar Heels were coming off a win at Miami that pushed them to 3-0 on the road in ACC play, then shook off that slow start by putting five players in double figures — even with season-leading scorer Cameron Johnson managing just eight points.

“It just shows how deep our team is,” White said. “Our depth is crazy.”

WHITE LEADS THE WAY

White finished with seven rebounds, six assists and four steals to go with his game-high 27 points, becoming the first Tar Heel to lead his team in all four categories since Joseph Forte had 24 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and three steals in a February 2001 win at Duke.

FROM DEEEP

UNC’s 16 3-pointers are tied for the No. 2 total in program history, one shy of the program record set in 1995.

FOUL TROUBLE

The fouls added up in the first half for the Hokies. First starting point guard Justin Robinson headed to the bench with his third foul on a charge at the 9:52 mark, then season-leading scorer Nickeil Alexander-Walker picked up his third with 1:26 left in the first half.

INJURY NEWS

Hokies reserve P.J. Horne (4.8 points) didn’t play, with Buzz Williams saying he would be out indefinitely due to an undisclosed injury.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: The Hokies host Syracuse on Saturday night.

UNC: The Tar Heels visit Georgia Tech on Jan. 29.

This story has been corrected to show UNC’s game at Georgia Tech is Jan. 29, not Saturday.

More AP college basketball: http://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25