College Basketball’s Best Wing Forwards

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There are so many good wings in college basketball this year.

And to be frank, the “wing” spot is a tough one to define. For us, the definition is fairly simple: Players that you cannot simply classify as a guard, but that unequivocally are not big men. 

Miles Bridges is the perfect example. He’s certainly not a guard, at least not in the college games, but the idea of listing him alongside the likes of Tyler Davis or Ethan Happ just doesn’t work. 

Where this gets complicated is with the likes of, say, Trevon Bluiett or Deng Adel or Troy Brown. It’s almost as if the idea of positionless basketball makes it difficult to clearly identify players as a certain position.

Almost.

Which is why we give this disclaimer: We used four positions to rank players – lead guards, off guards, wings and big men. If your favorite player isn’t on this list, he’s probably slotted in a different position.

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1. Miles Bridges, Michigan State

Simply put: Bridges is the best player in college basketball this season. He’s back for a sophomore season after averaging 16.9 points and 8.3 boards while shooting 38.9 percent from three as a freshman. He’s a freak-of-nature athlete and a rarity in the sense that he actually embraces playing on a college campus. He wants to here. That’s why he passed up being a top ten pick to make a run at winning a national title.

As Tom Izzo says, Bridges is a “weirdo“.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

But it’s not going to be that simple for Bridges. He’ll be playing a new position as a sophomore. Last year, he was forced to play the majority of his minutes at the four, as Michigan State couldn’t keep any of their big men healthy and Bridges – who checked in at 6-foot-7, 240 pounds last season – is the perfect small-ball four. He can bang with the big boys and he can torch those same players when they try to guard him on the perimeter.

This year, he’s going to be playing the three. He’s not going to be guarding bigs, he’s going to be guarding wings. He’s not going to be defended by power forwards, he’s going to draw an opponent’s best perimeter defender. There are going to be different reads he has to make, different instincts and skills he has to utilize, different places that he is going to be getting shots within the Michigan State offense.

That doesn’t mean that Bridges is going to be worse this year. Far from it. It just means that his role is going to be … different, and how he handles that change will affect whether Michigan State is national title good or just the favorite in the Big Ten.

2. Michael Porter, Missouri

There may not be a more talented player in college basketball this season than the potential No. 1 overall pick Michael Porter. At 6-foot-10, Porter has the size of a big man, the perimeter skills of a guard and the athleticism of a ten-time NBA all-star. He’s a freak, and while I hesitate to compare him to Kevin Durant as a player, I think there is the potential that the kind of season that he has for Missouri mirrors that of Durant’s freshman year.

But for me, the big question for Porter – and, frankly, for Missouri – is going to be where he ends up playing. The way that the Missouri roster is constructed, Porter is probably going to end up playing the three. That’s what happens when two big men are among the five best players on a team coached by a guy that loves playing two bigs together. I’m not convinced that is the best place for him to play, not against college players and not when he still hasn’t fully developed those perimeter skills.

At the very least, I expect Porter will be able to do what Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz could not: Get to the NCAA tournament.

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Michael Porter Jr., Missouri Athletics

3. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier

Anyone that watched Xavier’s run to the Elite 8 in last year’s NCAA tournament knows just how good Bluiett can be when he gets it going. He’s a walking bucket playing on a team that needs someone to carry the lion’s share of their offensive production. Bluiett will enter this season as a heavy favorite, alongside Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado, to win the Big East Player of the Year award. Hell, he could have made a push for that award last season had he not hurt his ankle.

Bluiett is a good bet to be the Big East’s leading scorer this season, and if Xavier is truly going to make a push to win the conference this year, it will be because Bluiett grew into an all-american.

4. Deng Adel, Louisville

Adel is going to test out just how complicated can a season get for a player.

Let’s start with what’s happening on the court. After spending his freshman season banged up, Adel was thought by many to be a breakout candidate as a sophomore, and to a point, he actually was. He was very good down the stretch of last season, although that growth was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that Donovan Mitchell was awesome.

This was supposed to be Adel’s year to because the superstar for this team, to show NBA teams why he’s worthy of a contract, but a wrench got thrown into those plans when Rick Pitino was fired as a result of the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops. Now, instead of playing for one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport, Adel will be looking for make that improvement under the tutelage of a 32-year old first-time head coach.

Let’s see how this plays out.

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Deng Adel (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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5. Vince Edwards, Purdue

Edwards has quietly been a productive, versatile and vital cog in the Purdue machine over the course of the last two seasons. He’s a multi-positional defender that makes threes and distributes the ball with an efficiency that should make stat-heads swoon. He’s not really cut out to be a star, but he was quietly much more effective last season than O.G. Anunoby, an in-state rival that got all of these accolades last preseason.

Anunoby is off to the NBA after an injury-plagued season, meaning that it is time for Edwards to get his due. With Caleb Swanigan gone, he’ll have to shoulder more of the offensive load this season, but assuming that Carsen Edwards can develop into a go-to guy offensively for the Boilermakers, Edwards should prove to NBA teams why he has value as a role player.

6. Kevin Knox, Kentucky

I’m torn on Knox when it comes to ranking him on this list.

On the one hand, the kid is a terrific talent. He’s a top ten prospect in a very good class with the tools and the athleticism to make him an intriguing player in the eyes of the NBA. But to me, he’s more of a power forward with some perimeter skill than he is a small forward at this point in his development. In other words, the role I see him playing in his career is as a small-ball four, a guy that should be tasked with getting to the glass and being a switchable defender all while taking advantage of the slow-footed power forwards that will try to keep him in front at the other end.

But on this Kentucky team, Knox will likely never play that role, not with the amount of front court talent John Calipari has at his disposal and the lack of depth available in the back court. This, to me, has the feel of Kentucky trying to fit Trey Lyles into the lineup as a three when that role just wasn’t quite right for his skill-set.

It will be interesting to see how that will play out for Knox, who picked perimeter playing time at Kentucky over a more natural small-ball four role that he could have played at Duke or North Carolina.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Troy Brown, Jon Lopez Nike

7. Troy Brown, Oregon

It’s going to be fascinating to see how Oregon head coach Dana Altman opts to use Brown this season, because he’s never really had a play of Brown’s ilk at his disposal. Brown is something of a 6-foot-6 point forward, an uber-versatile wing that isn’t exactly a scorer and isn’t exactly a shooter but that can handle the rock in ball-screen actions and is capable of creating off the bounce, for himself and for his teammates. Think P.J. Dozier, a former South Carolina player that is now on a two-way contract with Oklahoma City.

Altman’s never really had a guy like that at Oregon. He’s had a lot of guys that were tweeners, but they were either score-first forwards (Dillon Brooks) or freak athletes that work as switchable defenders (Jordan Bell, Elgin Cook, Dwayne Benjamin). Brown will be a different kind of player on a team that returns essentially just a single relevant guy from last year’s Final Four team. Altman is as good as anyone at finding a way to make new rosters fit together, and I’m exciting to see how he decides to utilize Brown’s talent.

8. Bennie Boatwright, USC

Boatwright was a guy that I expected to be something of a breakout star as a freshman, and to a point he was. He averaged 15.1 points in 27 minutes, shooting 36.4 percent from three on the season. But he also missed roughly half the season with knee issues. He’s healthy now, and that is a major reason why I think that USC has a shot to be a Pac-12 title contender and a Final Four team this year.

There’s a reason they call him Bennie Buckets, and we’re going to see it this season.

9. Jeff Carroll, Oklahoma State

No one benefitted more from Brad Underwood’s one season at Oklahoma State than Jeff Carroll, who went from a no-name role player on a mediocre team to a 17-point scorer and a 44-percent three-point shooter on a tournament team. Now, with Jawun Evans in the professional ranks and Underwood at Illinois, it is going to be Carroll who carries the water as new head coach Mike Boynton looks to navigate his first season as a head coach, wading into the Big 12 with the stench of an assistant coach fired after being arrested by the FBI hanging over the program.

10. Justin Jackson, Maryland

Jackson is one of the guys that I think will have a breakout 2017-18 season. I don’t think it’s crazy to project him as a potential top 20 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, the ability to make threes and the skill-set to play the three or the four. Players like him at the future of the NBA.

The big question is going to be how much of that shines through this season at Maryland. There’s a changing of the guard for the Terps, as Melo Trimble is off to the NBA and a sophomore class that includes Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter takes over. Jackson put up some massive games as a freshman, but consistency was an issue. How will that play out this year?

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Justin Jackson (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
  • 11. Amir Coffey, Minnesota: Coffey is such an important piece for what Minnesota does. He’s a multi-positional defender with offensive versatility that takes some of the play-making pressure off Minnesota’s backcourt.
  • 12. Jacob Evans, Cincinnati: As much as everyone wants to talk about Cincinnati’s front court, there’s a line of thinking that Evans may actually be the best player on the Bearcat roster. He did lead them in scoring as a sophomore.
  • 13. Mustapha Heron, Auburn: A former five-star recruit lured to Auburn by Bruce Pearl, Heron is going to be asked to carry the water for a Tiger team that has the pieces to make a run to the NCAA tournament this season.
  • 14. Mikal Bridges, Villanova: We’ve been waiting for Bridges to make a leap as a player for a couple years now, and that has not yet happened. But even without it, he’s still been effective for the Wildcats thanks to his length, defensive prowess and ability to score from the perimeter.
  • 15. J.P. Macura, Xavier: With all the attention that Trevon Bluiett gets, Macura has flown under the radar. But he is a talented, versatile player that led Xavier through some difficult stretches last season. He is a tough kid that isn’t going to back away from a challenge.
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  • 16. Kelan Martin, Butler: The big thing with Martin this season is going to be consistency. He has the ability to score 25 points in a half on any given night, but he can turn into something of a gunslinger that hunts shots at the detriment to his team’s offense. How will new Butler head coach Lavall Jordan handle that?
  • 17. Jordan Caroline, Nevada: Caroline is probably the most talented player in the Mountain West this season. He had some explosive performances last season, and with Nevada losing two of their top three scorers, he’ll be asked to do much more on that end of the floor.
  • 18. Theo Pinson, North Carolina: This may be something of a reach for a guy that has never proven to be a consistent scorer, but his playmaking and the fact that Roy Williams can slot him at the four in need-be makes him incredibly valuable. I think he has a big senior season.
  • 19. Chandler Hutchison, Boise State: If Caroline is the most talented player in the league, Hutchison may be the best. He’s my pick to win Mountain West Player of the Year.
  • 20. Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech: Okogie is a name you need to familiarize yourself with. He averaged 16 points in the ACC as a freshman and made the cut for the U19 World Cup, a team coached by John Calipari, over kids Cal was recruiting.

Carr scores 19, No. 2 Texas beats No. 7 Creighton 72-67

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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas had pressured Creighton’s shooters into a miserable night, only to watch a late flurry of 3-pointers start swishing.

An 11-point Longhorns lead was down to three.

That hardly rattled Marcus Carr and the second-ranked Longhorns, who stepped up with big late shots of their own and steady free-throw shooting to secure another impressive early-season victory, 72-67 over the seventh-ranked Bluejays on Thursday night.

Carr scored 19 points and made two free throws with 10 seconds left as Texas held off Creighton’s furious late-game rally.

Creighton struggled through a wretched 3-point shooting night, but pulled within 62-59 thanks in part to five points in a row by Baylor Scheierman. Carr’s baseline jumper and an easy layup by Tyrese Hunter when Creighton lost him on an inbound pass with 46 seconds left stretched the Longhorns’ lead again.

That didn’t quite close the door on Creighton, which got two more 3-pointers from Scheierman, who had missed his first nine attempts. That forced Texas to finish it from the free-throw line behind Carr and Brock Cunningham. Cunningham’s two free throws with 4 seconds left were his only points of the game.

“There’s going to be a bunch of times one of us has to go down there and knock down a bunch of free throws,” Carr said. “We talk about it all the time.”

The matchup was part of the Big 12-Big East Battle and Texas earned its second win over a top-10 opponent in its new arena. The Longhorns (6-0) beat then-No. 2 Gonzaga on Nov. 16 and have their highest ranking since they were No. 1 during the 2009-2010 season.

“I don’t think we’ve proven anything,” Texas coach Chris Beard said. “We’re just a team that’s trying to get better.”

Hunter scored 15 points for Texas.

Ryan Kalkbrenner had 20 points and 13 rebounds for Creighton (6-2), and Ryan Nembhard scored 17 points. The Bluejays were 4 of 27 on 3-pointers.

Scheierman, a 44% shooter from beyond the arc this season, made three 3s in a row late. His off-balance shot from the right corner over a defender pulled the Bluejays within 68-65 with 11.4 seconds left.

Scheierman finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

“The reality is you are gonna have nights,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “It just happens. We don’t ever want him to stop shooting.”

BIG PICTURE

Creighton: Kalkbrenner was all but unstoppable on a 9-of-10 shooting night for the Bluejays, who kept launching from long range instead of looking for their 7-foot-1 center.

Texas: The Longhorns couldn’t force their usual numbers of turnovers and fast-break points, but were exceptionally clean with the ball on offense. Texas had just three turnovers that Creighton turned into three points.

FORMER TEAMMATES

Texas senior forward Christian Bishop played three seasons at Creighton before transferring prior to last season. He finished with six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes.

“We understood what this game was, not just for our team but for Christian,” Carr said.

TIRED TEAM

McDermott suggested his team maybe just wore out. The Bluejays went 2-1 in the Maui Invitational last week and then played their first game of the season on an opponent’s home court.

“Three games in three days against ranked teams (in Hawaii) and then to come in here,” McDermott said. “That’s a lot to ask of my team.”

UP NEXT

Creighton hosts in-state rival Nebraska on Sunday.

Texas plays No. 16 Illinois in New York City on Dec. 6 in the Jimmy V Classic.

No. 20 Maryland upsets No. 7 Notre Dame at the buzzer, 74-72

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Diamond Miller scored 31 points, including the game-winner at the buzzer, to lead No. 20 Maryland to a 74-72 victory over seventh-ranked Notre Dame on Thursday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Irish guard Sonia Cintron’s layup had tied the game with 15 seconds left off before Maryland held for the last shot. Miller hit a contested mid-range jumper just before time expired to give the Terrapins a victory over a top-10 opponent. It was the 15th lead change of the game.

Miller also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with five assists. Shyanne Sellers added 17 points.

Maryland (7-2) picked up its first win over Notre Dame (6-1) since 2007.

Cintron’s double-double led the Irish with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Notre Dame’s leading scorer Olivia Miles got off to a slow start on Thursday due to foul trouble. She scored 12 of her 14 points in the final 15 minutes of the game to go along with seven assists and two steals.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: The Terrapins picked up their second top-20 win of the season ahead of the upcoming Big Ten opener.

Notre Dame: The Irish have had issues with foul trouble this season, a problem that persisted on Thursday. Miles played just 25 minutes, including the majority of the fourth quarter, due to picking up her fourth foul late in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Maryland: Returns to College Park for the program’s Big Ten opener Sunday against Nebraska.

Notre Dame: Stays home to host No. 3 UConn Sunday.

Virginia’s depth helping its rapid climb in the AP Top 25

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The starting five is the same, but that is where comparisons between the Virginia team that has climbed to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and last year’s NIT quarterfinalists ends.

Yes, one more year together and a trip to Italy has made the first five significantly better, but part of the credit for that surely goes to another group: the reinforcements. They’ve helped the Cavaliers (6-0) already knock off No. 6 Baylor, No. 16 Illinois and Michigan.

Virginia has scored 70 points or more in its first six game for the first time since the 2003-04 season, and coach Tony Bennett said it was the offense – and not UVA’s signature relentless defense – that saved them in a 70-68 victory this week at Michigan in the ACC/Bg Ten Challenge.

“Our offense kind of kept us in it in the first half,” Bennett said, before the team put it all together, erasing an 11-point halftime deficit to disappoint a raucous Wolverines crowd.

Reece Beekman was the offensive catalyst, scoring 15 of his 18 points before halftime, but four others joined him in double figures, including Jayden Gardner. His foul-line jumper with 39.9 seconds left provided the last of his 11 points, and the winning margin.

Gardner, who led Virginia in scoring last season (15.3 ppg), is averaging 11.5 this year.

“We’ve got a lot of capable scorers and we’re just gonna keep playing together. And we’re playing very unselfish basketball right now,” Gardner said after scoring 24 against Maryland Eastern Shore. He went into the game with 31 points through four games.

“He’s not the most jumping type of guy, but he’s got so much power,” Hawks coach Jason Crafton said of Gardner, an East Carolina transfer with 2,068 career points. “That low center of gravity and the flexibility that he has to be able to get under people and hold his position is elite. When he wants the ball at a certain spot, he can get it there.”

The leader remains guard Kihei Clark, who already has a place in Virginia history, having retrieved a loose ball and fed Mamadi Diakite for a jumper that sent the Cavs’ Elite Eight game against Purdue into overtime on the way to winning the 2019 national championship.

Newcomers Ben Vander Plas, a transfer from Ohio, and freshman Isaac McKneely have given Bennett more options, and more scoring power than a year ago.

As a junior, Vander Plas had 17 points for No. 13 seed Ohio when the Bobcats upset Virginia 62-58 in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

He scored seven straight in the second half against the Wolverines, twice scoring inside and then swishing a 3-pointer while trying to slow down bruising big man Hunter Dickinson.

“Ben, yeah. Just his poise and composure in the post, took advantage of some mismatches and he really gave us a great lift,” Bennett said. Vander Plas is the son of a teammate of Bennett’s at Green Bay, and his first name is a tribute to Bennett’s father, Dick.

McKneely scored 15 and made 4 of 6 3-point tries in an 89-42 victory against Monmouth

“He was standing in front of our bench. I’m like, `Listen, we’re not helping off him,”‘ Monmouth coach King Rice said he told his team, pointing at McKneely, a two-time player of the year in West Virginia. “And he kind of looked at me and I said, `Yeah, you, because you make all of them,’ and he started laughing.”

Ryan Dunn also made quite the impression on Rice in his first collegiate appearance, scoring 13 points with six rebounds and three blocks in almost 27 minutes.

“I was in the building when De’Andre Hunter came off the bench and had a breakout game,” Rice said of Hunter, now with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. “Dunn reminds me a lot of Hunter, and you can tell he’s young. But when he grows into that body with that skill set, he’ll be giving people problems for a long, long time.”

The Cavaliers open Atlantic Coast Conference play against Florida State, then host top-ranked Houston, which beat them 67-47 last season, a week later.

“A good schedule for sure and it tests you, it kind of shows you, win or lose, you see where you’ve got some holes,” Bennett said.

So far, the Cavaliers have been able to fill them all.

No. 4 Arizona turning heads early in the season

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd knew there was talent on his roster. He wasn’t exactly sure how good the team would be.

The former longtime Gonzaga assistant had a similar view of last year’s team and that one turned out to be pretty good, running all the way to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

This year’s team could end up being even better.

Buoyed by transfers and improved returning players, Arizona has rolled through the early part of its schedule, climbing to No. 4 in this week’s AP Top 25 after winning the Maui Invitational.

“I learned that we’re good,” Lloyd said. “We’re tough. We’re gritty. I think there’s going to be some great things for us to really double down on and some things to show our guys where we went the wrong way.”

Lloyd had a superb first season in the desert, earning coach of the year honors last season with a team that lost three players to the NBA.

The Wildcats (6-0) had to replace three NBA players again this season. Again, they made a seamless transition.

Improvement on the part of the returning players has been a big part of it.

Oumar Ballo, considered a project as a freshman at Gonzaga, has transformed into one of the nation’s best big men. The 7-foot, 260-pound center from Mali has vastly improved his footwork and developed patience in the post, setting himself up for good shots instead of trying to bull his way to the basket.

Ballo is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 76.7% from the field, fourth-best nationally. He was named Maui Invitational MVP after finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds against No. 7 Creighton in the title game.

Not bad for a player who averaged 2.5 points and 6.3 minutes per game two years ago at Gonzaga.

“When he struggled, I still believed in him,” Lloyd said. “I didn’t need for him to be instantly successful for me to reaffirm my belief in him. When he struggled, we continued to love him and work with him and then he continued to hang in there and I think it is a great story.”

Fellow big man Azuolas Tubelis has made a few strides of his own, adding strength and toughness to his athletic, fluid game. The 6-10 forward leads Arizona with 19.3 points per game while grabbing 8.0 rebounds.

Fiery point guard Kerr Kriisa has rounded into a reliable floor leader, averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 assists while shooting 51% from the 3-point arc.

“I don’t pay attention to the antics because they don’t mean anything to me,” Lloyd said. “I know maybe that draws attention to him from other people but when it comes to just pure basketball, I mean he is doing a good job and I think he is really showing something.”

So is Courtney Ramey.

The Texas transfer has given the Wildcats a huge boost in his first season in Tucson, providing hounding defense, leadership and another scoring option. He’s averaging 16 points per game and has hit 10 of 16 from 3-point range so far this season.

Campbell transfer Cedric Henderson Jr. has provided an athletic lift off the bench and 7-foot Estonian Henri Veesaar has given Arizona solid minutes.

The mix of new and old has helped Arizona lead the nation with 97.5 points a game and rank second with 21.8 assists per game. The Wildcats climbed 10 spots in this week’s poll after wins over Cincinnati, No. 24 San Diego State and Creighton.

Arizona opens Pac-12 play Thursday at Utah.

“It was good to get the recognition, but we’re not satisfied,” Ramey said. “Our ultimate goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the season and be the final two teams playing, so I think the regular season matters but it’s not the ultimate goal for us.”

The Wildcats are certainly off to a good start.

Gardner, No. 3 Virginia rally for 70-68 win at Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Tony Bennett’s team passed all its tests in the opening month of the season.

Jayden Gardner made a go-ahead jumper with 39.9 seconds left and blocked Jett Howard’s 3-point shot just before the buzzer, allowing No. 3 Virginia to stay undefeated with a 70-68 win over Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (6-0) won their first true road game against a team that was ranked in the first two polls this season, a little more than a week after beating then-No. 5 Baylor and then-No. 19 Illinois in Las Vegas.

“It got pretty intense in here,” Bennett said.

Virginia trailed by 11 points at halftime, rallied to go ahead with 7:25 left and built a five-point lead that didn’t last.

The Wolverines (5-2) went ahead 66-65 at the 1:42 mark when Hunter Dickinson made one of two free throws.

Michigan missed chances to stay or go ahead when Dickinson missed a hook shot with 1:01 to go and Princeton transfer Jaelin Llewellyn turned the ball over with 16 seconds left.

“Hunter has made that running hook before,” coach Juwan Howard said. “The turnover, yes, down the stretch, it hurt, but overall that’s not the reason we lost the ballgame.

“We could’ve easily put our heads down when they came out in the second half and made a run.”

Reece Beekman, who finished with 18 points, stepped in front of Llewellyn’s pass in the final minute and made one of two free throws.

Virginia’s Armaan Franklin missed two free throws with 5.7 seconds left, giving Michigan a chance to extend or win the game. Howard took a contested shot beyond the 3-point arc on the right wing – near his father, Michigan’s coach – and Gardner came up with the block against the freshman guard while Wolverines coaches and players screamed for a foul call.

It appeared that Gardner got all ball on the block.

Kihei Clark scored 16 points, Gardner had 12, Kadin Shedrick fouled out with 12 points and Ben Vander Plas added 10 for the balanced Cavaliers.

“You need different guys, and that’s what it takes, to make plays offensively and defensively,” Bennett said.

Dickinson scored 23 points, Jett Howard had 11 of his 15 in the first half and Kobe Bufkin added 11 points for Michigan.

“Jett is a gamer, he’s going to compete no matter what,” Juwan Howard said. “He’s loved basketball since he was a little baby boy.

“He’s going to help us win a lot of games this year.”

The Wolverines started slowly, trailing 9-2 in the opening minutes, before Howard scored eight points to lead a 13-2 run. Michigan led 45-34 at halftime when Bufkin made a layup after a steal.

“We can’t be sloppy like that on the defensive end, but we did battle hard in the second half,” Bennett said.

Vander Plas scored nine points during an 11-2 run that put Virginia ahead 65-60. The Cavaliers then went 4 1/2 minutes without a basket before Gardner’s big shot.

THE TAKEAWAY

Virginia: The Cavaliers have their highest ranking since the 2018-19 season – which ended with a national title – and are off to their best start since being 7-0 three years ago. The team continues to honor the memory of three football players who were fatally shot on campus earlier this month, wearing warmup jerseys with their names.

Michigan: Juwan Howard’s team matched up well in its first game against a ranked opponent this season.

“When we come out with the effort like we did today for 40 minutes, I love our chances against any college team in the country,” he said.

UP NEXT

Virginia: Hosts Florida State (1-7) on Saturday.

Michigan: Plays No. 19 Kentucky (5-2) on Sunday in London.