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Providence knocks off No. 3 Villanova

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Here’s the good news: Providence is a good team, a team that, after beating No. 3 Villanova in the Dunkin Donuts Center on Wednesday night, is likely on their way to the NCAA tournament.

They are better than St. John’s. They were playing at home. They were in the midst of a game they badly needed. This is the kind of loss that happens all the time in league play. Losses like this are part of why college basketball is so much fun.

The problem is that this 76-71

defeat shines yet another light on a pair of issues that have been plaguing Villanova this season, issues that are on the verge of costing them the Big East regular season title for the first time since the Big East split from the Old Big East.

The first problem is the biggest: Villanova is not a good defensive team. They just aren’t. They entered Wednesday night ranked 50th on KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, but that actually buries the lede. In Big East play, Villanova has ranked eighth out of ten teams in defensive efficiency, and that is in a conference that has become awfully defense-averse. They don’t really rebound the ball all that well, they don’t really protect the rim all that well, they don’t really have guys that are defensive stoppers.

Part of the issue is that Phil Booth isn’t available right now and that Eric Paschall missed a couple of games. Without Booth, that means that Collin Gillispie and Jermaine Samuels see Villanova’s back court minutes off the bench instead of Donte DiVincenzo, who is now in their starting lineup. Booth is not exactly Patrick Beverly but he is much better than Gillispie.

But they were struggling when they had everyone healthy. I’m not sure injuries are entirely to blame here. It may just be as simple as this: Omari Spellman and Jalen Brunson are average-to-below average defenders, and the other three guys on the floor are not good enough to make up for that fact.

Being just OK defensively is not a deal-breaker when it comes to winning the NCAA tournament, mind you, not when you’re an elite offensive team. North Carolina won it in 2009 with the 39th-best defense in the country entering the NCAA tournament. Duke won it in 2015 with the 37th-best best defense. Both of those teams were among the three best offenses in the sport, just like Villanova is this season.

RELATED: How does this affect Providence’s bubble profile?

But they also ran everything through the paint. That Duke team got 27 percent off their offense off of threes. That UNC team got just 23 percent of their offense off of three. This Villanova team gets 39 percent of their offense from beyond the arc, and if you look at the two losses they’ve taken in the last three games, there is a running theme: Against St. John’s, Villanova was 8-for-33 from three and shot 2-for-17 in the second half. Against Providence, they were 3-for-19 from three.

I say all that to say this: The way that Villanova can score the ball when they are clicking can paper over a lot of the cracks they have defensively.

But as the saying goes, you live by the three and die by the three, and that is a fact that is exacerbated for a team whose defensive floor is lower than most title contenders.

“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?”

Well, they’re not winning anymore.

And if No. 4 Xavier holds serve against Seton Hall at home on Wednesday, then Villanova will be a game out of first place in the Big East standings with a trip to play Xavier in Cincinnati on Saturday.

If the Musketeers win that — which, admittedly, is a stretch given the recent history of those two programs — they’ll have a two-game lead in the Big East.

If you are a Villanova fan, it might be time to start getting worried.

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.