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No. 18 Michigan embarrasses No. 8 Villanova in title game rematch

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VILLANOVA, Pa. — It was the toughest ticket in town.

$3,000 to sit courtside. A month or two worth of cable and phone bills just to get in the door. A student section that didn’t look safe to inhabit.

It’s about what you’d expect for a team that’s coming off their second national title in three years and unveiling the $25 million renovation to their on-campus facility while playing a rematch of their most recent national title game in a building that typically plays host to Villanova’s buy games and the dregs of the Big East.

Finneran Pavilion was electric.

And No. 8 Villanova never led.

They were tied for a grand total of 13 seconds. Jordan Poole got free on a backcut, laid the ball in with 19:47 left in the first half and the Wolverines never looked back. They led 10-2 at the first media timeout. It was 26-10 by the time the under eight timeout rolled around. When halftime mercifully arrived, Michigan held a 44-17 lead — the biggest halftime deficit that Villanova had faced since playing St. Joseph’s at the Palestra on Feb. 3rd, 2003, the infamous 40-9 Holy War beatdown. The only intrigue the second half held was whether or not Zavier Simpson would leave the Philly suburbs with Colin Gillespie’s soul or just his pride.

No. 18 Michigan’s 73-46 win won’t change the fact that Villanova has a third national title banner hanging in the arena the Wolverines now own, but humiliating the Wildcats on a night meant for celebration is not a bad consolation prize.

We knew Villanova was young, and we knew Michigan was and is one of the toughest defensive teams in the country, but no one saw this coming.

And it begs the question: Just what the hell happened on Wednesday night?


(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Jay Wright knew.

He knew that his youngest team in years wasn’t ready, regardless of what the AP Poll says. He knew that his freshmen, getting thrown into a game like this against a team like that, were not going to handle it well. He was subdued at shootaround, far too aware of the fact that his young guys didn’t know what they don’t know.

“I can’t say I’m shocked this happened,” Wright said after the game. “I thought we could be down. I didn’t think it would be this.”

The crux of the issue, Wright explained, was the youth on his roster. As of today, Nov. 14th, this is not a Villanova basketball team. It’s a bunch of tall guys in Villanova jerseys. What I mean by that is there is a beauty in the way that Villanova plays basketball. This is not a program is relies on calling out set plays. They only have a handful of plays that they run. They are a read-and-react offense, one predicated on the simplicity that comes as a result of understanding complicated concepts. Their success, as much as anything, comes as a result of the ability of Wright and his coaching staff to teach the guys in his program how to be basketball players, not simply run a basketball play.

That takes time.

And as any coach at any level of college basketball will tell you, freshmen don’t usually arrive at college knowing how to play. There’s a reason why Wright tries to get old and stay old. There’s a reason that he redshirts players as much as any power program in college basketball. There’s a reason that the most successful program in the sport over the last half-decade has shied away from chasing one-and-done talent.

The problem is that the Villanova Way worked too quickly.

As much as anyone in college basketball, Wright intentionally tries to stagger his recruiting classes to minimize how much he loses each offseason. He’ll actively leave scholarships open to avoid years where he brings in four or five or six players. The goal is to avoid what happened this past season — watching his top four players bolt for the NBA.

Villanova expected Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges to leave.

What they didn’t expect was for Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo to develop into first round picks in their own right. Those were the two guys, along with Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, that were supposed to shepherd Villanova through this season. Jermaine Samuels, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree and Colin Gillespie would be afforded another season of seasoning. Villanova’s talented four-man recruiting class would get a year of experience under their belt.

What Wright didn’t expect was to walk into this season as reigning champions with a team that, frankly, doesn’t know what they’re doing just yet.

“We didn’t have that cohesiveness that you need to have,” Wright said. That showed up offensively, as Gillespie and Jahvon Quinerly tried without little success to get Villanova into a semblance of an offense. It showed up defensively as well. One of the staples of Villanova on the defensive end is that they switch everything. They’ll deal with bad matchups if it forces the team they’re playing out of their offense. A player getting beaten one-on-one is not an uncommon sight; it’s the risk Wright takes.

What is uncommon is a total defensive breakdown, a miscommunication that results in someone being left unguarded for a three or a layup. That happened on the first play of the game. It happened at least three more times that I noticed in the first half. All told, Michigan had 16 layups on Wednesday night. They had 44 points in the paint, 26 of which came in the first half.

“We’ve got too many pieces,” Wright said, “running guys in and out. We’re not as organized as we walk to be. We were trying to find a lineup here early … throwing guys in there against an experienced team.”

“When you get in that mode against good teams,” he added, “with young guys going in and out, rarely does that work.”

While it’s easy to pin blame on Villanova’s youth, the credit for exploiting that mismatch has to be given to Michigan, who has turned into an absolute defensive juggernaut.

Simpson is a monster on that end of the floor. He’s owned better point guards than Gillespie in the past. He’ll own better point guards than him in the future. And he’s just one half of a backcourt that thrives on a defensive mentality that we’ve never seen out of a John Beilein-coached team before, maybe ever.

“Charles Matthews is relentless when given a matchup like this,” Beilein said. “These two guys, this is what they love to do. They have a defensive mindset. They want to know that they’re guarding Phil Booth out there. They want to know that they’re guarding Gillespie out there. That’s what makes them go.”

We knew that.

What we learned today was just how dangerous and matchup proof Michigan can be.

Some of that is because of the improvement of Isaiah Livers, a 6-foot-8, 230 pound athletic monster that can play the five in Michigan’s offense. The Wolverines made their big first half run when Livers was at the five on Wednesday — it was a 27-9 surge over about a 10 minute stretch, and Livers buried two threes in the middle of that surge — but the difference-maker might actually be the freshman that we’ve been hearing about for months.

Iggy Brazdeikis.

At 6-foot-7, Brazdeikis is skilled enough that he can play the two in Michigan’s offense. He’s athletic enough that the first of his 18 points on Wednesday came via a powerful tip-dunk in the first two minutes of the game. And he’s tough enough that he’s already earned the respect of Michigan’s defensive stalwarts.

“The thing about Iggy,” Matthews said, a wry smile peeking out, “is he has a lot of pride. Defensively, that’s half the battle. He’s ready to compete on the big stage.”

“He’s a mini-pitbull,” Simpson said of his much larger teammate. “He’s not scared of anything. He took the challenge against Paschall.”

That right there is where the difference for this team is made.

Beilein went out of his way to praise the defensive work of Jon Teske on Wednesday night, and while I’m not one to quibble with a man that is on his way to the Basketball Hall of Fame, it’s hard not to get excited about what Michigan can do when they put Brazdeikis and Livers on the floor together. Suddenly, you have two players big and strong enough to hang with the biggest players in the Big Ten, yet athletic and mobile enough to guard a future first round pick in Paschall.

Livers is the guy that can space the floor.

Brazdeikis is the animal on the glass.

And both of them, thrown out there with Simpson and Matthews, are going to give opposing offenses nightmares.


Ignas Brazdeikis (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

So where do these two teams go from here?

Michigan appears destined for a fight to the top of a Big Ten that suddenly looks far more formidable than any of us imagined. With Indiana blowing out No. 24 Marquette and Nebraska pounding Seton Hall on Wednesday, we’re nine days into the season and the only losses anyone in the league has suffered came when Illinois was beaten by Georgetown and Michigan State lost to Kansas.

A team with an elite defense, coming off of a trip to the national title game, that is coached by a Hall of Famer whose track record suggests his teams play their best in March, not November, just beat a top ten team by 27 points on their home floor.

I’d say the future is pretty bright.

It’s a bit different for Villanova.

“Getting beat by 30 is a wake-up call,” Wright said, “but you try not to do that.”

He knew his team did not play great in their wins over Morgan State and Quinnipiac, but when you’re winning by 30, those youngsters don’t always hear what their coach is saying. Talent allows team to get away with more against overmatched competition.

Against Michigan?

Not a chance.

“Theres a lot of things you talk about when you win by 30, and you try and get them to listen,” Wright said. “Hopefully, this is a great learning experience.”

When your team has everything left to learn, every moment becomes a teachable moment.

Zach Norvell leads No. 5 Gonzaga over Loyola Marymount 73-55

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Zach Norvell Jr. scored 17 points and No. 5 Gonzaga used a stout defense to beat Loyola Marymount 73-55 on Thursday night, the eighth consecutive win for the Bulldogs since a pair of losses knocked them out of the top spot in The AP Top 25.

Brandon Clarke added 13 points, Corey Kispert 12 and Rui Hachimura 10 for Gonzaga (17-2, 4-0 West Coast), which beat Loyola Marymount for the 20th straight time. The Zags have won 18 straight games at home.

James Batemon led Loyola Marymount (13-5, 1-3) with 12 points.

Loyola used a slow-down offense and stingy defense to keep the scoring low, and it mostly accomplished that goal.

Gonzaga, which averages 92 points a game, led just 17-16 midway through the first half.

The Zags went on a 19-6 run the rest of the half to take a 36-22 lead at halftime. The Lions shot only 36 percent in the first and committed 11 turnovers.

A 3-pointer by Norvell highlighted a 14-2 Gonzaga run to open the second half that lifted the Bulldogs to a 50-24 lead. Meanwhile, the Lions were missing eight of their first 10 shots.

Loyola Marymount made just five of its first 20 shots in the second half, and fell behind 61-35 with less than 8 minutes left.

BIG PICTURE

Loyola Marymount: The Lions opened the season 11-1, but have dropped off since … The Lions ranked 13th in the NCAA in defense at 61.2 points per game … Their last win in this lop-sided series was in 2010. They have not won in Spokane since 1991 … The Lions have already surpassed last season’s 11 wins.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are cruising toward another WCC title, outscoring conference foes by nearly 30 points per game… The Zags suffered back-to-back losses to No. 3 Tennessee and at No. 13 North Carolina in mid-December and have not lost since … They lead the nation in field goal shooting at 52.6 percent and are second in scoring at 92.2 points per game … Gonzaga and Marquette are the only programs with both men’s and women’s teams in the Top 15.

UP NEXT

Loyola Marymount hosts Pepperdine on Saturday.

Gonzaga plays at last place Portland on Saturday.

Cassius Winston’s career-high 29 lifts No. 6 Spartans over Huskers

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Four nights after Tom Izzo called out Cassius Winston for his poor play in Michigan State’s previous game, the Spartans’ star point guard responded better than his coach would have expected.

Winston scored a career-high 29 points to go over 1,000 for his career, had six assists and played tough defense on Glynn Watson Jr. while leading No. 6 Michigan State past Nebraska 70-64 on Thursday night.

“I told him before the game, ‘You’re going to get measured on how you bounce back,’ ” Izzo said.

Winston more than passed the test.

“Cassius, the way he ran that whole thing, he was like a quarterback dissecting a defense,” Izzo said.

In a win at Penn State on Sunday, Winston had seven turnovers, and his 11 points were his fewest since Florida held him to 10 on Dec. 8. Izzo told reporters it was one of the worst games Winston had played in his three seasons.

Of the Spartans’ first 18 field goals against Nebraska, Winston scored eight of them and had assists on five others. He held Watson, the Huskers’ hottest player the last week, to 3-of-13 shooting from the field and eight points.

Izzo’s criticism motivated him, he said.

“Just get back on track, playing at the level I was playing at,” Winston said. “I want to play at the highest standard, my best ability. I’ve got to do that for this team and put us in the best situation.”

Michigan State (16-2, 7-0) won its 11th straight game overall and extended its school-record Big Ten winning streak to 19 games. The Cornhuskers (13-5, 3-4) had their school-record 20-game home win streak end.

Nick Ward added 15 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double. He also made his first 3-pointer of the season and second of his career.

“That should keep him happy for a week or 10 days,” Izzo said.

The Spartans led by 12 points in the final 2 minutes, but Nebraska cut the lead to four twice before Matt McQuaid made a pair of free throws for his first points with 14.2 seconds to put the game away.

Nebraska shot a season-low 32.8 percent and was just 5 of 26 on 3-pointers, 1 of 12 in the second half.

“I wasn’t very pleased with our offense in any way, shape or form,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said.

James Palmer, who led Nebraska with 24 points, struggled mightily from the field, going 6 of 21, but he made all 11 of his free throws.

“Palmer’s a good player, and I feel like I did a pretty good job on him,” McQuaid said. “I just tried to do what I could. He’s a bigger, more physical guard. I tried to get a couple charges, but things weren’t going my way. So I had to figure out different ways to guard him.”

Nebraska had hoped to build off its win at No. 25 Indiana on Monday night but couldn’t get going. The Huskers were trying for their first win over a top-10 opponent in nine tries.

“You need to build and play from the front against these teams,” Miles said.

He found no consolation in playing the Spartans close for most of the game, which had 11 lead changes and six ties.

“There are no moral victories,” Miles said. “I’m utterly mad and disappointed.”

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: This was a gut-check win for the Spartans, who were without Joshua Langford (ankle) for a fifth straight game and Kyle Ahrens (back) for a second in a row.

Nebraska: The Huskers were feeling pretty good about themselves after an impressive win at No. 25 Indiana on Monday, and they had an amped standing-room crowd on hand. But they could never find rhythm until it was too late against the nation’s No. 3 team in field-goal defense.

HE SAID IT

“We were paranoid of this game. They didn’t make shots tonight. Those things happen sometimes. Tim’s got a great team that’s going to be an NCAA Tournament team, and I hope they keep on winning now.” — Izzo.

UP NEXT

Michigan State hosts No. 19 Maryland on Monday.

Nebraska visits Rutgers on Monday.

WATCH: Ja Morant can’t be stopped

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The Ohio Valley Conference is just not equipped to deal with Ja Morant.

The Murray State guard just keeps dunking on anyone and everyone that stands in his way, the latest victim coming Thursday night at Eastern Illinois.

There’s just so much to love about this dunk. The athleticism. The explosiveness. The aggressiveness. The ferocity. It’s thunder meeting lightning at the rim.

If there’s someone who can stop Morant, a likely top-10 pick in June, it sure ain’t in the OVC.

UCLA, USC meet amid rocky seasons for crosstown rivals

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A fired coach. A transfer. Suspensions. Injuries. UCLA and Southern California have experienced it all barely halfway through the season.

Things began promisingly enough for the Bruins. They were an AP Top 25 team and were predicted to finish second in the Pac-12 before early consecutive losses to ranked Michigan State and North Carolina knocked them out. Then came stunning defeats at home to mid-majors Belmont and Liberty. Those precipitated the biggest shocker of all: coach Steve Alford’s firing on New Year’s Eve.

Murry Bartow was quickly tabbed as interim coach for the Bruins (10-7, 3-1 Pac-12). They’ve won three out of four games under him.

“We had a lot of ups and downs,” UCLA freshman Moses Brown said, “but I think we caught our stride and the sky is the limit for us.”

USC was predicted to finish fifth in a weakened Pac-12. The Trojans got off to a 5-2 start before dropping four in a row. They regrouped to reel off four straight wins, including a home sweep to open conference play. But they dropped a pair on the road, where freshman Kevin Porter Jr. got suspended last weekend.

In the midst of rocky seasons, the crosstown rivals meet Saturday at Galen Center. The Bruins have won four in a row in the series and are 8-4 at USC’s arena since it opened.

“Coming off a two-game losing streak, we’re kind of hoping this is a game that we can bounce back,” USC’s Nick Rakocevic said. “We want to be put in a good position for the rest of the Pac-12.”

Both teams would likely need to win the Pac-12 tournament title to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Last March, the Bruins played in the First Four for the first time in school history and lost. The Trojans were snubbed by the selection committee despite finishing second in the Pac-12 for the first time in 25 years after losing twice to UCLA.

“We play UCLA twice, but there’s 16 other games. You have to do well the rest of the league,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Whether you win or lose these games, yes, it’s great for a rivalry, it’s great for another win in your conference, but it’s a long Pac-12 season. We try to keep that in perspective no matter who we play even if it’s UCLA.”

The Trojans (9-8, 2-2) have played over half their games with eight or fewer scholarship players because of injuries and the recent transfer of Jordan Usher, who was suspended before he left.

“Nothing surprises us at this point,” Enfield said. “The injuries and distractions have had a significant impact on our team.”

Porter was back practicing with the Trojans this week, but he hasn’t been cleared to play in games.

“He’s working on some things off the court. He has very clear expectations that he has to meet,” Enfield said. “As he progresses, we will reevaluate his status.”

Bartow said the Bruins will prepare as if Porter will play Saturday. Before his suspension, Porter missed time with a leg injury.

USC’s Bennie Boatwright, a local product who was recruited by UCLA, has been on an offensive tear in his last seven games. He scored a career-high 37 points in an overtime loss at Oregon State and is averaging a team-leading 17.1 points. The Bruins are led by Kris Wilkes at 17.3 points a game.

“Inside, they’ve got some really, really good players,” said Bartow, who has the Bruins playing at a faster pace and zipping the ball around.

One of the intriguing matchups on Saturday will be the 6-foot-11 Rakocevic and Brown, who at 7-1 is the tallest player at UCLA in decades. Rakocevic averages 14.9 points and a league-leading 9.5 rebounds. Brown averages 11.9 points and 9.0 rebounds

“It’s going to be fun going against somebody like that,” Rakocevic said.

A famous name associated with the rivalry won’t be on the court.

USC’s Chuck O’Bannon, the son of former UCLA star Charles O’Bannon, is expected to seek a medical redshirt. The sophomore broke his pinky finger in practice in November, had surgery, got the cast off in December and it hasn’t healed properly. He’s still has pain, too, Enfield said.

Report: Cam Reddish cleared for Saturday’s showdown with Virginia while Tre Jones’ injury isn’t as severe as feared for Duke

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Duke may not be at full strength for its showdown with Virginia on Saturday, but the Blue Devils are on their way to that eventuality.

Cam Reddish is expected to play after missing Monday’s loss to Syracuse with an illness while Tre Jones will not miss an extended amount of time and is not initially ruled out for Saturday after suffering a shoulder injury, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told The Athletic on Thursday.

Reddish absence wasn’t expected to be a lengthy one, but there was fear that Jones’ might be after he suffered an AC sprain in a collision with Syracuse’s Frank Howard. Jones initially told coaches he thought he broke his collarbone, but x-rays revealed a sprain slightly more significant than a grade one.

“I don’t know if it’s for this game or the next game, but it’s not going to be long term, where it’s a month or something,” Krzyzewski told Dana O’Neil of The Athletic.  “He’s going to be back.”

While Jones hasn’t been ruled out for Saturday, he is unlikely to play against the Cavaliers, Krzyzewski said. That will diminish some of the luster for a game that pits The Associated Press’ top-ranked team vs. the coaches’ poll top team, but it’s ultimately fantastic news for the Blue Devils.

Losing Jones for any significant length of time would have been a significant blow to Duke. While Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Reddish headline the highlight reels and mock drafts, Jones’ skill, leadership and tenacity at the point guard position plays no small part in allowing that trio – and Duke at large – flourish. Without him, the machine doesn’t run as smoothly, as evidenced by the overtime home loss to the Orange.

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