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Villanova eviscerates Oklahoma, advances to the title game with 44-point win

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HOUSTON — It started exactly the way you would have expected it to.

It started with Buddy Hield, by far the biggest attraction in a Final Four that isn’t exactly brimming with star power, doing exactly the thing that Villanova had spent the last five days telling their guys not to let him do.

It started with Hield isolated top of the key. It started with two hard dribbles to his left. It started with a step-back jumper, a rhythm three, a bucket and a 3-0 lead for the Sooners.

“I could have killed Ryan,” Villanova assistant coach Ashley Howard said, chuckling, of star guard Ryan Arcidiacono. “When you get out there in the game you’ve got to get a feel for him. He adjusted. All our guys adjusted.”

That would be the last time that Hield, one of just four players in the last 40 years to enter the Final Four averaging more than 25 points, would look comfortable on the NRG Stadium court, as Villanova put on the single-most dominating Final Four performance in the history of the sport.

They won 95-51, the 44-point margin the largest in the history of the Final Four. Those 95 points are the most anyone’s scored in the Final Four in 13 years. They shot 71.4 percent from the floor, as Villanova became just the second team in Final Four history to shoot better than 70 percent from the floor, although their 35-for-49 performance paled in comparison to the 22-for-28 shooting (78.6%) that the 1985 iteration of the Wildcats posted in their title game win over Georgetown. As a team, Villanova shot 11-for-18 from three. They scored 1.484 points-per-possession. Oklahoma’s last lead was at 17-16. Villanova went on a 12-0 run then, pushed their lead to 16 points in the first half and, after Oklahoma got to within 54-41 early in the second half, used a 25-0 run to push their lead to 38 points. In total, the Sooners were outscored 68-27 over a 26-minute stretch.

Man, what?

Is this real life?

A performance like that is impressive when the top teams in the country are squaring off with their buy game opponents. In a game like this? In the Final Four? Against a top ten team that rosters the nation’s best scorer? That’s quite literally never happened before, and it very well may never happen again.

It was the totality of the beatdown that was striking, and not just because it was the exact opposite of what happened in Hawai’i back in December, when Oklahoma beat the Wildcats by 23 points.

Villanova ripped Oklahoma’s soul out of their chest, chewed it up and spit it out in a bag that they put on Old Man Clemons porch and lit on fire. They broke Oklahoma. The Sooners were done midway through the second half.

“With 12 minutes left, Coach told us to quit looking at the score and keep playing,” Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler said. “That’s not a good sign right there.”

I’m sure someone is going to criticize Oklahoma for that, but can you really blame them? It was quite evident at that point that Villanova wasn’t going to be blowing that lead. Hield, Spangler, Isaiah Cousins. Those three guys are seniors. They knew their career was over, that this was the last time that they’d be playing with this group of guys, that their final college basketball memory would be playing out the clock of a humiliating mollywhopping in what may be the biggest game that they’ll ever play in.

You can only fight but so hard for a lost cause.

“I feel bad for Oklahoma,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We’ve all had those nights.”

Josh Hart led six players in double-figures for the Wildcats, finishing with 23 points, eight boards and four assists. He was 10-for-12 from the floor and had a series of back-breaking buckets early in the second half that helped to put the game away. Kris Jenkins chipped in with 18 points while Ryan Arcidiacono added 15 points and three assists.

The most impressive part of the win, however, was the work that Villanova did against Hield. He finished the night shooting 4-for-12 from the floor and 1-for-8 from three, scoring nine points. Before the first TV timeout, four different Villanova defenders had been matched up with Hield. By the 13-minute mark, Kris Jenkins and Phil Booth had gotten their shot as well.

Villanova was constantly changing looks defensively, and not just with the guys they had guarding Hield. Villanova cycled through all of their different defensive looks at least twice in the first half, using everything from a 2-3 matchup zone and a 1-2-2 zone press to a switching man-to-man and a straight man-to-man with a guard denying Hield the ball.

“Just credit to them, what they was doing,” Hield said. “Made it tough on me. Throwing a bunch of bodies at me. Just couldn’t get it going.”

It wasn’t all on Hield, either. Combined, Hield, Cousins and Jordan Woodard scored 36 points — fewer than Hield had on his own in the Elite 8 — on 10-for-36 shooting while hitting just 5-for-22 from three. Villanova’s team defense was just too much for the Sooners guards to handle. Cousins couldn’t get any penetration, Woodard didn’t get any clean looks outside of a four-minute stretch early in the second half.

We’ve said it all season long: Oklahoma doesn’t have a way to win games when their guards aren’t hitting shots, and while the severity of the loss is striking, the fact that it played out the way that it did shouldn’t be overly surprising.

“They just dictated on both ends of the floor,” Lon Kruger said. ‘They were great. We didn’t respond very well to it.”

“We got whipped in every way.”

Four-star 2019 forward flips commitment from Big Ten to SEC program

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Four-star 2019 forward Tray Jackson flipped his verbal commitment from Minnesota to Missouri on Friday night.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decommitment from the Golden Gophers on Twitter and then announced a commitment to Missouri a little more than two hours later. Regarded as the No. 96 overall prospect in the Class of 2019, Jackson reclassified from the Class of 2018 and saw his recruitment blossom in the summer.

While decommitting happens in basketball recruiting semi-frequently, flipping a commitment to a new school within a matter of hours is a very uncommon practice. Typically associated with football recruiting, Jackson’s switch is a big deal for Missouri.

His pledge gives head coach Cuonzo Martin an athletic and versatile frontcourt player with upside as Jackson could play multiple positions. The Tigers missed on E.J. Liddell, but Jackson is a nice prize to land instead. Missouri now has two four-star prospects in the Class of 2019 as Jackson joins four-star guard Mario McKinney.

Minnesota needs to replenish its recruiting efforts as they are now without a commitment in the Class of 2019. With head coach Richard Pitino facing pressure to win this season, this isn’t good for the future of Golden Gopher basketball either.

West Virginia lands five-star 2019 center Oscar Tshiebwe

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West Virginia pulled in a major commitment on Saturday as five-star 2019 center Oscar Tshiebwe pledged to the Mountaineers.

A late-developing, high-motor big man who ascended into a national recruit this summer, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Tshiebwe represents an important grab for West Virginia. Tshiebwe represents a potential replacement for Sagaba Konate in the middle as the Mountaineers beat some pretty impressive programs to land him. That includes Baylor and Kentucky.

Tshiebwe is quick off the floor and a good athlete, as he could be a very dangerous player in Bob Huggins’ system because of his brand of basketball. Regarded as the No. 21 overall prospect in the Rivals Class of 2019 national rankings, Tshiebwe also took official visits to Baylor, Illinois and Kentucky during the recruiting process.

Tshiebwe joins three-star guard Miles McBride in West Virginia’s 2019 recruiting haul.

VIDEO: Marshall’s Taevion Kinsey easily clears three teammates on ridiculous dunk

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Marshall freshman Taevion Kinsey put down one of the preseason’s best dunks on Friday night. With the Thundering Herd hosting Herd Madness, the 6-foot-5 Kinsey put down a ridiculous dunk that easily cleared three teammates.

Most dunkers use an arm on the shoulder during the dunk. Kinsey didn’t need any sort of help as he glided over his teammates.

Kinsey is going to be a dunker to keep an eye on in the future. His teammates certainly think highly of his dunking ability, as most of them projected Kinsey to win the dunk contest before the event even started.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson impresses Duke fans in Cameron Indoor debut, downplays link to trial

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Duke freshman Zion Williamson made some ridiculous dunks look effortless in his Cameron Indoor Stadium debut on Friday night. As part of Duke’s annual “Countdown to Craziness” event, Williamson took part in a scrimmage against his Blue Devil teammates.

That included Williamson going head-to-head with fellow freshman R.J. Barrett in a scrimmage. And more absurd dunks in the warm up line.

But besides for the on-court action, Williamson was also asked about his family’s link to the college basketball corruption trial. On Tuesday, a transcript of calls was read to the New York courtroom that allegedly included Williamson’s stepfather on FBI tapes asking for money and a job from Kansas men’s basketball coaches. The tapes were not admitted as evidence.

“Honestly, I’ve paid no attention to it,” Williamson said to reporters, including ESPN’s David M. Hale, about the trial. “I’m just a college kid, out here having fun with my classmates, looking forward to stuff like Countdown and our first game. You only get one chance at the college experience, and I want to enjoy it.”

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski also downplayed Williamson’s link to the trial, pointing to the NCAA eligibility center’s “exhaustive” process to vette incoming recruits.

“They have an eligibility center now that these kids and their parents go through — and they go through everything,” Krzyzewski said. “We feel very comfortable with him and all our freshmen.”

We’ll likely hear more about Williamson, Kansas and this trial, as time goes on. Williamson also might legitimately not know much about this if it was his stepfather on the call. For now, Williamson is making a huge impression with Duke fans every time he steps foot on the floor.

(H/t: Lawrence Davis III and Duke men’s basketball)

Louisville lands commitment from Irish basketball star

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For the sixth time since Chris Mack took over the Louisville program, the new Cardinal head coach has landed a commitment from a member of the Class of 2019.

On Friday, it was Aidon Igiehon, a top 50 recruit, that announced he will be playing his college basketball for the Cardinals.

He followed in the footsteps of fellow four-stars Samuell Williamson, David Johnson, Jaelyn Withers and Josh nickelberry, not to mention three-star forward Quinn Slazinski.

And all this has happened over the course of the last five months.

Mack got the job in April, after he finished his final run with a Xavier program that he had been in charge of for the last nine years. That came just six months after Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino was fired for a series of scandals that had enveloped the university in the last few years, not the least of which was their involvement with the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball.

That may be the most impressive part of all of this.

No one really knows what is going to happen with Louisville and the NCAA as a result of the way that they were able to entice Brian Bowen on campus. What we do know is that while Louisville was on probation due to the fact that a member of their coaching staff was paying for strippers and sex workers for players and recruits, an agreement was made for Adidas to pay the family of Brian Bowen $100,000 to get him to enroll at Louisville. Bowen’s father said under oath that, in addition to that money, he also accepted at least one $1,300 payment from former Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson.

Those are NCAA violations committed while the program was on probation.

And those are the kind of things that the NCAA does not take lightly.

Everyone involved with the reason that Louisville was on probation and that actually committed those violations has moved on, but that hasn’t stopped speculation that the Cardinals could be facing even more punishment from the NCAA, which is what has made this recruiting job by Mack so impressive.

He’s filled up an entire class of prospects before he’s even coached a game for the program all while this nonsense is swirling around his program.

Was there ever any doubt that the Cardinals hired the right guy?