Monday Overreactions: Josh Langford arrives, Gonzaga’s great, Virginia’s better?

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Joshua Langford, Michigan State

It took a couple of years for us to get here, but we all finally saw what made Joshua Langford a five-star prospect coming out of high school.

The 6-foot-4 off-guard has developed a reputation for being underwhelming in East Lansing. He hasn’t taken over games since he arrived on campus even though the only played ranked higher than him in the loaded Class of 2016 that is still in college is Marques Bolden. He’s not quite athletic enough to get all the way to the rim. He settles for too many long twos, playing as a pull-up jump-shooter when he hasn’t been all that great at jump-shooting. He’s fine, I guess, which is how many view this Michigan State team as a whole.

The Spartans are considered by some to be overrated as a borderline top ten team. Who, they’ll ask you, are the good players on the Spartans? Who scares you if you’re an opposing coach? This is precisely the conversation I had with one scout in the press room at Barclays on Friday prior to the start of the Kansas-Tennessee game.

At that point, the score was Texas 25, Michigan State 6, and I don’t think it is too much of an overreaction to say that this was something of a crossroads in Michigan State’s season. They were getting run out of the gym by a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team, which is not a good sign when in-state rival Michigan is mowing down any and everyone in their path while the Big Ten continues to dominate during the non-conference.

And to their credit, Michigan State turned that thing around, and Langford played a pivotal role. He scored all 29 of his points in the final 29:35 of a 78-68 Michigan State win. He scored 22 of those 29 points in the second half, including 11 points in a 14-2 run to open the period. He buried a three to give Michigan State their first lead of the game at 50-49. He hit another jumper with 13 minutes left to push the lead to 55-51, and the Longhorns never again got within a single possession.

Langford is now Michigan State’s leading scorer and best three-point shooter on the season.

This is who we thought Langford was when he arrived on campus, and if this is who he continues to be, the ceiling for Michigan State’s preseason expectations are in reach.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Is there really another option?

Playing without Killian Tillie, Gonzaga headed to the Maui Invitational and showed the nation why they have been considered to be a peer of Duke and Kansas at the top of the polls since the preseason. The Zags survived a challenge from Illinois and Trent Frazier before outscoring Arizona by 30 points in the second half, which led them to the Maui title game where the Zags put to rest all of that premature talk about Duke’s 40-0 season.

Rui Hachimura was dominant. Brandon Clarke Was a defensive menace. Zach Norvell Jr. continued to show why he may have the biggest stones of any shooter in college basketball. Corey Kispert got the attention of everyone as one of college basketball’s best role players. And Josh Perkins, the guy we were all worried about heading into the season, settled some of those concerns. I’m not yet convinced he is the answer Gonzaga needs at the point, but it is quite evident that he is not going to torpedo this season.

There is a reason that the Zags are the new No. 1 in the NBC Sports top 25, and — Are you ready for this scorching hot take? — now have a better chance to go 40-0 this season than Duke ever did. The Bulldogs should cruise through league play, where the WCC is easier than the ACC, which means that if they can get past Creighton, Washington, No. 5 Tennessee and No. 7 North Carolina, they could enter the NCAA tournament without a loss fairly easily.

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MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. VIRGINIA BELONGS IN THE CONVERSATION WITH DUKE, KANSAS AND GONZAGA FOR BEST TEAM IN THE COUNTRY

Remember when we all thought that Virginia was going to be in for a down year?

LOL.

The Wahoos have been as good as ever through the first two weeks of the season. Ty Jerome was playing at an all-american level before he came back down to earn in wins over Dayton and No. 25 Wisconsin. De’Andre Hunter, on the other hand, has looked every bit the part of a top ten pick, as he’s averaging 16.8 points while shooting 46.7 percent from three. Kihei Clark has proven to be an effective piece that gives Virginia backcourt depth and some lineup versatility; he’s a role player, but he is really effective in his role, pestering ball-handlers and operating as a point guard to give Ty Jerome some possessions off the ball.

All of this is happening as Kyle Guy is still working his way into a rhythm this season and Braxton Key is trying to find his role within this offense.

“The teams [with Malcolm Brogdon] were better overall defensively,” said a coach that has scouted Virginia in recent seasons, noting that the trade-off is that this group is harder to guard. “They’ve small-balled it more with Key and Hunter. They’re more versatile. Still tough and talented [defensively].”

I said it before the season and I’ll say it again now: Virginia is Villanova before the titles. If you remember back then, the narrative was that the Wildcats weren’t talented enough to do more than run through the new Big East, that a team that relies on the three-ball cannot win the national title.

Well, the narrative with Virginia is that they are not talented enough to win it all, and that a team that relies on their defense cannot win a national title.

This may be the year they finally buck that narrative.

2. TEXAS TECH IS THE SECOND-BEST TEAM IN THE BIG 12

Chris Beard is a freakin’ wizard.

Here we are just eight months removed from the Red Raiders losing their top two players and their most versatile defender from what seemed like a once-in-a-generation team for the Red Raiders, and they already appear to be back in the mix for a run at the top of the Big 12.

Jarrett Culver made the leap. Through six games, he is averaging 18.8 points, 5.2 boards and 4.3 assists — which includes the 44 points, 15 boards and seven assists he had in come-from-behind wins over USC and Nebraska last week — all while shooting 50 percent from three. He’s turned into a go-to scorer that is a threat from beyond the arc and can put it on the floor and create.

Throw in South Dakota transfer Matt Mooney and St. John’s transfer Tariq Owens, and Beard has once again managed to fit a bunch of pieces together and make them into a force to be reckoned with.

Here’s to hoping he stays in Lubbock for a long, long time.

Jarrett Culver (Elsa/Getty Images)

3. THE BIG 12 WILL LOOK REALLY GOOD ONCE THEY GET OVER THE INJURY BUG

The Big 12 once again looks like it is going to be a gauntlet.

We know about Kansas and Kansas State at this point, and while West Virginia hasn’t looked like the team we all thought they would be entering the season, they are really the only program in the conference that is underperforming right now. Texas Tech, as we mentioned, looks like they are back in the mix at the top of the league. Oklahoma just went 2-1 in the Battle 4 Atlantis, beating Florida and losing to No. 25 Wisconsin. Oklahoma State blew out Memphis and then beat No. 19 LSU by 13 points on Sunday; if it wasn’t for one of the worst calls in the history of college basketball, the Cowboys would have just a single loss on the season — to Villanova. Texas just beat No. 7 North Carolina in the Las Vegas Invitational, and this looks like it could be the best team that Shaka Smart has had in Austin.

And then there is Iowa State, who is currently sitting at 5-1 on the season with blowout wins over Missouri, Illinois and San Diego State despite the fact that they are playing without four key rotation pieces, including their most talented guard (Lindell Wigginton) and their best big man (Cameron Lard). Talen Horton-Tucker and Nick Weiler-Babb have proven that you can have a hyphen in your name and still dominate.

When the Cyclones get healthy, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with, especially if they continue to defend at this level. Even TCU, who has been the most disappointing team in the league, has reasons for their struggles: They are still waiting for a pair of starters — Jaylen Fisher and Kouat Noi — to get fully healthy.

Should I mention that Kansas is currently sitting at 5-0 with wins over Tennessee, Michigan State and Marquette, and they still don’t look like they are close to hitting their stride?

This league is going to get wild.

4. I GUESS VILLANOVA ISN’T DEAD YET

The Wildcats suffered back-to-back losses and dropped from No. 4 to outside the top 25 before proceeding to head down to Orlando for the AdvoCare Invitational where they ripped the heads off of Canisius, Oklahoma State and No. 14 Florida State.

Villanova is going to go through some growing pains, but they should probably come out of this just fine.  The main reason I say that is that on Sunday, they managed to beat a good Florida State team while shooting just 3-for-14 from three. They won a game based on their ability to be tough defensively and the fact that they decided to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim when their shots weren’t dropping. Collin Gillespie played very well, as did Dhamir Cosby-Rountree.

We’ll see how long this lasts, but this was a message to the rest of the Big East: “The league is still ours.”

5. THREE TEAMS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

There are a trio of teams that I did not expect all that much from this season that have proven to be better than expected: Minnesota, Maryland and Arizona State.

Just how good are they?

I’m not quite sure.

Arizona State knocked off No. 15 Mississippi State in impressive fashion in the opener of the Las Vegas Invitational last week before trucking Utah State in the title game. Luguentz Dort was terrific — as he has been all season long — while Kimani Lawrence has provided a scoring boost as well. I’m going to hold off having a strong take until I see them against Nevada.

Minnesota is another team that had some buzz entering the season, and they’ve gone 5-0 to start the year, including wins over Utah, Texas &M and Washington. They’ll start Big Ten play next week with a trip to Ohio State and a home date with Nebraska. We’ll know then.

Maryland is 6-0. They play Virginia in College Park on Wednesday. Buena suerte.

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.