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No. 1 Villanova falls at home to St. John’s

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Shamorie Ponds finished with 26 points, five boards and  five assists while Justin Simon chipped in with 16 points, 10 boards, seven assists and a pair of steals as St. John’s earned their first Big East win of the season.

On the road.

Against No. 1 Villanova, 79-75.

Just four days after they knocked off then-No. 4 Duke.

Yes, all of those things are true.

So credit to the Johnnies. For the first time this season, they are playing up to their talent level. To be quite frank, the fact that they lost their first 11 games of the Big East season with a team that is good enough to beat Duke and win at Villanova in back-to-back games is an indictment on Chris Mullin’s tenure in Queens.

The bigger story here, obviously, is Villanova.

So let’s talk about them.

More specifically, let’s talk about that thing that we haven’t really talked about with them to this point in the season: Their defense. Entering Wednesday night, Villanova was ranked 39th defensively on KenPom, which is fine. When North Carolina won the title in 2009, they entered the NCAA tournament ranked 39th on that end of the floor. When Duke won it in 2015, they entered the tournament ranked 37th. You can win a national title by being good enough on that end of the floor if you have one of the nation’s elite offenses, and Villanova does.

As we noted earlier this week, the Wildcats have been a juggernaut on that end, better than any offensive attack that we have seen in the KenPom era.

There are two concerns here, however.

North Carolina turned it on in the NCAA tournament, finishing the year ranked 18th in defensive efficiency. Duke, as we all know, played defense at a level we’ve never seen someone play for an entire season as they won the title in 2015. If there is an issue with this Villanova team defensively, it’s that they’ve struggled to turn it on when they’ve needed to.

“We just kind of lost it,” Wright told me back in January, the last time Villanova had a crisis defensively. “We can’t just say, ‘OK, we’re going to play defense now’ when we haven’t been doing it or three weeks. You have to get back to your habits.”

“The older guys get it, a guy like [Dhamir] Cosby-Rountree or Omari [Spellman], even Donte [DiVincenzo], they’re looking at you like, ‘we scored 100, we’re winning, what’s the big deal?”

It’s probably worth noting here that Villanova was missing two of those older guys. Phil Booth, a redshirt junior and arguably the team’s best back court defender, is battling a broken hand. Eric Paschall, another redshirt senior and Villanova’s most athletic defender, missed Wednesday night’s game with a concussion. For a team that really only goes seven-deep when everyone is healthy, that’s a tough situation for Wright to be in. It might be good for him to get a glimpse at what he has in the likes of Collin Gillispie, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree and Jermaince Samuels, but it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that those learning experiences come with a loss.

The other part of it, however, is that Villanova relies so much on the three ball. More than 40 percent of their offense this season has come off of three-pointers. For comparison’s sake, Duke got 27 percent of their offense on threes in 2015. UNC got just 23 percent off their offense off of threes in 2009.

I’m not exactly breaking news here when I say that you live by the three, you die by the three. On Wednesday, Villanova shot 8-for-33 from beyond the arc. They were 2-for-18 from three in the second half, including 10 straight misses, many of which were wide — and I mean wide — open.

That happens.

But it makes Villanova more susceptible to getting picked off by a team like this.

That’s anything-but a guarantee that Villanova, for the fourth time in five seasons, will get upset earlier in the NCAA tournament than they should.

It should, however, be the kind of thing that wakes Villanova’s defense back up.

Elite Class of 2020 point guard to reclassify

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Nico Mannion, a five-star point guard from Arizona, announced on Friday that he will be reclassifying into the Class of 2019.

Mannion was a top 20 player in 2020 but, according to 247 Sports, he will be ranked No. 11 in 2019. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Mannion was long-rumored to be considering a move up a class because of his age. He’ll turn 18 in March of next year, meaning that he’ll arrive on campus the same age as a typical college freshman.

Mannion cut his list to ten schools in June — Duke, Arizona, Villanova, Kansas, USC, UCLA, Oregon, Vanderbilt, Marquette and Utah — but Duke and Arizona appear to be the favorites at this point.

Mannion plays his high school ball for Pinnacle High School in Phoenix and with West Coast Elite on the Under Armour Association circuit. He played for Team USA’s youth ranks, but his mother is Italian and, in June, he was called up to the Italian men’s senior national team, scoring nine points in 29 minutes of a FIBA World Cup Qualifier.

Nebraska to lose junior big man to transfer

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Nebraska’s frontcourt depth took a blow on Thursday as junior big man Jordy Tshimanga informed the program that he will be transferring.

“Jordy called me tonight and asked for his release,” head coach Tim Miles said in a statement that was given to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “The University of Nebraska and our program wish Jordy and his family the best.”

Tshimanga averaged 4.0 points and 4.6 boards in 13 minutes this past season, and a source close to the program told NBC Sports he wasn’t expected to play much more than that this season.

Miles’ has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the hot seat, and this certainly doesn’t make his job easier, but with the talent the Cornhuskers have on their roster, they look like an NCAA tournament team already. They bring back their top four scorers, including former five-star prospect Isaac Copeland and potential first-team all-Big Ten wing James Palmer. With or without Tshimanga, Nebraska has a shot to finish top four in the Big Ten.

North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State part of Las Vegas event

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — North Carolina, UCLA, Michigan State and Texas will play in an early season basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Invitational will include games at campus sites, then the final two rounds on Nov. 22-23 in Las Vegas. North Carolina takes on Texas in one semifinal, and Michigan State faces UCLA in the other.

UNC, UCLA and Michigan State are all top 20 teams in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.

The championship is Nov. 23, and the semifinal losers also play each other that day.

NCAA to study possible effects of widespread legal wagering

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA plans to study how the expansion of legalized betting could affect college athletics and member schools.

The NCAA announced Thursday it will create a working group of “subject matter experts” to assess areas such as officiating, NCAA rules, federal and state laws, and the use of integrity services. NCAA leadership has already called for federal regulation on sports betting. NCAA rules prohibit sports wagering by athletes and athletic department employees.

The Supreme Court opened the door for states to have legal wagering on sporting events when it struck down a federal ban in May. Schools in some states such as West Virginia, Mississippi and New Jersey are already exploring the possibility of collecting integrity fees in anticipation of legal sports books opening in their states.

“While we certainly respect the Supreme Court’s decision, our position on sports wagering remains,” said Donald Remy, NCAA chief legal officer. “With this new landscape, we must evolve and expand our long-standing efforts to protect both the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes.”

The NCAA Board of Governors has already suspended the association’s ban on holding championships in states with legalized sports betting, a policy that only affected Nevada.

“Legalized sports gambling across the country is rather new, but the NCAA and its members have committed significant resources over the years to policy, research and education around sports wagering,” said Joni Comstock, senior vice president of championships and alliances. “With student-athlete well-being as the centerpiece, we will continue to build upon these efforts to assist members as they adapt to legalized sports wagering in their states and regions.”

Arizona releases non-conference schedule

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A trip to Maui, a home date against Baylor and trips to UConn and Alabama highlight Arizona’s non-conference schedule, which the school released Thursday, this season.

Despite losing nearly the entirety of last year’s talented-but-troubled group, Sean Miller still scheduled aggressively. The first test will come the week of Thanksgiving in Hawaii at the Maui Invitational. It’s an extremely competitive field with Duke, Auburn, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Illinois, San Diego State and Xavier. The bracket for the event has yet to be released.

The Wildcats travel to Storrs to face UConn in Dan Hurley’s first season on Dec. 2, and then a week later visit Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The marquee home game will be Saturday, Dec. 16, when Scott Drew and Baylor come to Tucson.

Here’s the full schedule:

Day Date Opponent Location

Sunday Nov. 11 Cal Poly Tucson, Ariz.

Wednesday Nov. 14 UTEP Tucson, Ariz.

Monday Nov. 19 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Tuesday Nov. 20 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Wednesday Nov. 21 vs. TBA Lahaina, Hawai’i

Wednesday Nov. 28 Texas Southern Tucson, Ariz.

Sunday Dec. 2 at UConn Hartford, Conn.

Thursday Dec. 6 Utah Valley Tucson, Ariz.

Sunday Dec. 9 at Alabama Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Saturday Dec. 15 Baylor Tucson, Ariz.

Wednesday Dec. 19 Montana Tucson, Ariz.

Saturday Dec. 22 UC Davis Tucson, Ariz.