How Kris Jenkins went from Villanova recruiting afterthought to indisposable player

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HOUSTON — The Kris Jenkins of today and the Kris Jenkins from his first two-and-a-half seasons at Villanova are two totally different players. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound junior has gone from being a defensive liability that chucked too many threes to the player that has become Villanova’s most difficult matchup.

On Monday night, Jenkins is quite possibly the most important player for the Wildcats as they look to win the program’s second national championship. Five years ago, when Jenkins first visited Villanova, he was the guy that head coach Jay Wright let tag along in the hopes of landing point guard Nate Britt.

The Wildcats made Britt a recruiting priority and wanted him to visit campus. As Britt’s brother through legal guardianship, and also his high school teammate, the Britts wanted to bring Jenkins along for Nate’s visit to Philadelphia. The Villanova coaching staff knew that Jenkins could hit shots and put up points, but they didn’t believe Jenkins would be disciplined enough to thrive in their program.

“The Britts are a really tight family. We were recruiting Nate. We liked Kris, but we thought he’s overweight and he’s not going to want to do all the stuff we do,” Wright said. “[The Britts said] ‘Do you mind if we bring him?’ [We responded] ‘Yeah, we love him.'”

“When we met with Nate, we met with Kris. You heard all the things we’re saying to Nate, but you’re going to have to come in here and work hard, get your body fat tested. That’s what we want you to do. As the recruiting went on, Nate Britt, Sr. said, ‘Kris loved it.’ [We thought] If he loved that, we want this guy.”

Nate Britt Jr. ended up at North Carolina, Villanova’s opponent in Monday night’s national championship game, but the Wildcats rolled the dice on Jenkins, the undersized, out-of-shape forward who had a knack for getting buckets.

It took some time at Villanova for Jenkins to get his body into proper shape. Thanks to a strength-and-conditioning program, an improved diet and a lot of time riding the bike, Jenkins eventually got into the kind of shape the Villanova coaching staff was looking for.

There would be days in practice, and in games, where Jenkins would light it up in the scoring column, but he still wasn’t figuring things out all the way as a defender and rebounder.

That approach to defense and rebounding began to change midway through the 2015-16 season.

People around the Villanova program admit that Jenkins has always had the intelligence and toughness to be a good defender and rebounder but it’s been his improved conditioning and preparation that has led to increased minutes.

Around the time Big East conference play started this season, teammates and coaches noticed that Jenkins was pouring over scouting reports on defense after he went through a rough stretch where he was held to six points or less in six of nine outings. He started becoming a vocal leader on the defensive end of the floor as his confidence grew at that end.

“I think once we got in conference play, Kris started to lock in and be more focused on defending and rebounds, and in turn, because he did those things, he’s out on the floor longer and he gets to do what does best on the offensive end,” Villanova assistant coach Ashley Howard told NBCSports.com. “As his commitment to defense has gone up, his offensive production has gone up. Now he’s in a groove, he’s playing at a high level and he’s still playing well on both ends.”

Jenkins has grabbed headlines for the offensive production he’s put up during the last few months of the season — scoring double-figures in 14 consecutive games — but his improved commitment to rebounding and defense has enabled him to stay on the floor longer to put up better numbers.

The increase in minutes means that Villanova can put Jenkins in a number of different positions to hurt an opposing defense. Jenkins is versatile enough as an offensive threat to score inside, but he’s also lethal enough as a shooter to knock down 3-pointers at a high clip. Jenkins went 8-for-10 from the field and 5-for-6 from 3-point range in a Sweet 16 win over Miami as he finished with 21 points. Through out the tournament he’s also drawn fouls, created for teammates and provided ball movement in the flow of Villanova’s offense.

“We’ve been playing through Kris a little bit more, posting him up a little bit more, so now he’s getting more touches and he’s in more of a rhythm offensively,” Howard said. “Now he doesn’t feel the need to come down and take every 3-point shot that he gets. He’s using those opportunities to help create for his teammates and get fouled and that ability to mix up his offense helps us a lot.”

In the Elite Eight it was Jenkins who guarded Kansas senior forward Perry Ellis for most of the game when Ellis only scored four points on 1-for-5 shooting with four turnovers as the Wildcats advanced to the Final Four. And on the offensive end, Jenkins countered with 13 points as he nabbed Most Outstanding Player in the South Regional.

“I’ve always thought that he’s taken defense to heart,” teammate Darryl Reynolds said. “Even when there’s times where guys have criticized him for such you can tell they still got under his skin and that makes him a good defender at this point. It’s something that he’s worked on over the last couple of years here. I think that’s really what separated him.”

A few months ago, Jenkins was the type of player that made you wonder how he would fit on the floor and who he would match up against on the defensive end. Now that he’s earned the respect and admiration of his teammates for his contributions on defense and on the glass. Jenkins has become the indispensable jack-of-all trades forward who has become a matchup nightmare for Villanova.

“He’s improved a lot. We always knew he was a great offensive player who could do stuff in the post out to the 3-point line,” teammate Daniel Ochefu said. “The way he’s been committing to our scouting reports, taking pride in guarding guards, getting in the paint and rebounding against guys my size, it’s definitely big for us and we have a lot of respect for him.”

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.

No. 12 Iowa State holds on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76

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AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes matched his season high with 23 points as No. 12 Iowa State held on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76 on Tuesday night.

The Cyclones (15-4, 6-2 Big 12) moved into a three-way tie atop the conference standings with the Wildcats and Texas.

Gabe Kalscheur added 19 points for Iowa State. Osun Osunniyi finished with 16.

Markquis Nowell led Kansas State (17-3, 6-2) with 23 points.

A 3-pointer from Holmes gave Iowa State a 59-49 advantage with 8:12 remaining. Kansas State responded with a 10-1 run to trim the margin to 60-59.

Caleb Grill’s 3-pointer steadied the Cyclones and pushed the lead back to 63-59 with five minutes left.

Free throws by Osunniyi, Grill and Holmes sealed the victory in the final 24 seconds.

The first half featured eight lead changes and ended with Kansas State up 33-31.

A 3-pointer by Kalscheur ignited an early 9-0 run for the Cyclones and helped them build a 19-14 lead. Iowa State made just one of nine 3-point tries in the first 20 minutes.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State was trying to extend its best start to a season since 1961-62.

Iowa State improved to 11-0 at home. The Cyclones have not lost back-to-back games this season.

UP NEXT

Kansas State hosts Florida on Saturday as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Iowa State travels to Missouri on Saturday.

Georgetown snaps 29-game conference losing streak

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WASHINGTON – Primo Spears scored 21 points and Georgetown snapped a 29-game conference losing streak with an 81-76 victory over DePaul on Tuesday night.

Georgetown (6-15, 1-9) won its first Big East game since March 13, 2021, ending the longest skid in the history of the conference. The Hoyas also ended a 10-game losing streak this season.

Spears also contributed six assists for the Hoyas. Akok Akok scored 12 points and added six rebounds and four blocks and Brandon Murray recorded 12 points.

Umoja Gibson led the Blue Demons (9-12, 3-7) in scoring, finishing with 24 points, four assists and three steals. Javan Johnson added 13 points.

Spears scored nine points in the first half and Georgetown went into the break trailing 37-36. Georgetown used a 10-0 run in the second half to build a 12-point lead at 75-63 with 1:39 remaining.