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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?


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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.

Miami lands Florida grad-transfer Keith Stone

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Keith Stone is leaving the SEC but not the state of Florida.

The former Gator will finish his career at Miami as a graduate transfer, he announced Monday via social media.

The 6-foot-8 Stone is from Deerfield, Fla., less than an hour’s ride from Miami Beach. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season before tearing his ACL in January. With Dewan Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu, and Anthony Lawrence all gone from the Canes, Stone could be in line for a major role right from the jump if his knee gets back to full strength.

Miami went 14-18 last season to finish under .500 for the first time in Jim Larranaga’s eight seasons, and it was just the second time the Canes failed to win at least 20 games.

Kyle Guy says he’s staying in the draft, will not return to Virginia

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Kyle Guy is off to the professional ranks.

The Virginia junior had already declared for the NBA draft, but announced Monday that he plans to stay in the draft and not return to the Cavaliers next season, as he would be allowed to under NCAA rules.

“I am officially keeping my name in the draft. I know it’s the right step after much prayer and thought with my family,” Guy wrote on social media.

Players retain the option to return to school up until the end of next month, but Guy’s announcement makes it clear he has no intention of utilizing that avenue as he plows ahead toward a professional career after being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player as Virginia won its first-ever national championship earlier this month in Minneapolis.

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in Virginia’s slow-paced offense while shooting 49.5 percent from 3-point range. Right now, Guy’s draft ceiling would appear to be in the second round with going undrafted a possibility as well. If he does make it at the next level, it’s pretty clear it’ll be the 3-point shooting that gets and keeps him there in a league that covets that skill now more than ever.

For Virginia, Guy’s decision simply crystalizes what was likely the reality already – they’re going to have a completely remade roster, which certainly isn’t uncommon for national championship winners. There’s a reason no one since Florida in 2006 and 2007 has repeated as champions. With Guy gone and Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite all having declared, Tony Bennett and Co. could be looking at more modest expectations following the greatest season in program history.

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

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Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

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Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

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This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.