Monday Overreactions: Michigan’s the best, Pac-12’s the worst, Nevada’s going undefeated?

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Markus Howard, Marquette

In a game that Marquette badly needed to win, Markus Howard put on one of the better performances of his career in an 83-71 win over No. 12 Kansas State.

45 points. 11-for-17 shooting. 21 free throws attempted.

It wasn’t quite as impressive as the 52 point outburst that he had at Providence last year, and he has a habit of doing things like this from time-to-time — I steadfastly refuse to bet on Marquette on a game-to-game basis strictly because Howard can do something like this at literally any moment during a season.

This is a massive win for the Golden Eagles. It is not exactly a secret, but the Big East is in a bit of a down year. There is only one team in the league that is currently in the top 25, and that is a Villanova team that is not as good as Villanova of the last five years. Put another way, there are not going to be many marquee wins available once conference play starts, so getting this one on the board now was critical.

I also think that it is important to note how this explosion came about. Kansas State has one of the best on-ball defenders in the country on their roster in Barry Brown. With 9:00 left in the first half, Howard had just six points and was struggling to find a rhythm offensively. At the 8:31 mark, Brown picked up his second foul and was then given a technical foul for his reaction to the call. He went to the bench for the rest of the half, and while he was sitting, Howard scored 18 points in a 27-13 Marquette surge to close the half with a 44-33 lead.

One of the takes that I’ve seen floating around twitter is that Howard only got going because Brown was sent to the bench because of his third personal (the tech), and that he would have continued to be stymied had Brown remained on the floor. But that ignores the simple fact that one of the reasons Howard is so good and so dangerous is that he draws a ton of fouls. He averaged 6.5 fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Against Kansas State, I counted 13 fouls drawn. He went to the free throw line 21 times.

Put another way, drawing fouls and getting an opponent’s best defender off of him is part of why he is so good.

Because when the door is left cracked open, he’ll push his way through with a 40-burger.

D’Mitrik Trice (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Wisconsin Badgers

The Badgers bounced back from a loss to Virginia in the title game of the Battle 4 Atlantis with a pair of quality wins over NCAA tournament teams.

It started with a come-from-behind win over N.C. State — who is currently ranked 18th in the NBC Sports top 25 — in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and then on Friday night, the Badgers went into Iowa City and landed a solid win over the Hawkeyes.

Ethan Happ is the man that has been getting all the praise, and deservedly so. He’s playing at an all-american level, and he has been the anchor for this group on both sides of the ball. I can’t say enough about what he’s been able to do this year.

But it’s time that we start fawning over the improvement that D’Mitrik Trice has made this offseason. Trice is actually Wisconsin’s co-leading scorer this season, and he is far and away their best perimeter shooter. He’s shooting 58.3 percent from three. He’s made 28 threes on the year. No one else on Wisconsin has made more than 10 or attempted more than 30.

The Badgers finished last season ranked in the 250s nationally in three-point shooting. This year they are 15th, and that is almost solely due to the improvement of Trice. I’m not sure there is a better 1-2 punch in the Big Ten right now than the two Badger stars.

MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. MICHIGAN MIGHT BE THE BEST TEAM IN THE COUNTRY

No, I’m not kidding.

By now, even my dog knows how good Michigan is on the defensive end of the floor. They still haven’t allowed better than 1.0 points-per-possession in a game this season, and that came against North Carolina, who was a top five team in offensive efficiency entering that game.

We expected that.

Maybe not quite to this level — I, for one, did not think that Jon Teske was going to develop into one of the best defensive big men in college basketball — but any team with Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews and Ignas Brazdeikis was always going to be tough as nails and a nightmare to score on.

Where Michigan is changing the narrative here is on the offensive side of the ball, which sounds weird since this is a team that is coached by John Beilein but is 100 percent accurate. The concern for this group was whether or not they would be able to score enough. Even during their run to the national title game last season, the Wolverines went through long stretches where they were completely unable to get an easy shot, and that was with Mo Wagner, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman on the roster.

This year, despite losing the three-best offensive weapons from a team that finished 35th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric last season, the Wolverines are better on that end of the floor.

Part of it has been Brazdeikis, who is the team’s leading scorer and has provided the program with a set of tools they haven’t had in prior years. He’s shooting 42.9 percent from three, he’s terrific at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim, he’s dangerous in transition and he can do all of those things while being able to guard fours at the college level.

Part of it has been Poole’s recent emergence. He’s made 12-of-16 threes in the last three games after starting the season 1-for-10 from deep. He’ll run hot and cold all year long, but the threat of him popping off for five or six threes will be enough to force defenses to defend him. You cannot let him get going.

Part of it is Simpson’s growth operating in ball-screens, and Teske’s development in every aspect of the game.

Put it all together, and Michigan is top 20 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency — which still factors in data from last season, so they are probably better in reality — and in the top 80 in three-point shooting. If that holds up all season, there is no reason the Wolverines can’t play with and beat anyone in college hoops.

Caleb Martin (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

2. NEVADA, RIGHT NOW, IS MORE LIKELY TO GO UNDEFEATED THAT DUKE EVER WAS

Nevada passed two of their toughest tests of the non-conference this week, as they went into Chicago and knocked off Loyola in the MVC-MWC Challenge before heading to LA to take out USC.

On Friday, the Wolf Pack will face their toughest test of the non-conference, playing Arizona State on a neutral floor. If Eric Musselman can get his team back to Reno with a win, then all of a sudden we are looking at a situation like the one teams like Gonzaga and Wichita State have faced in recent seasons: There is a very real chance that they’ll get to March with an unblemished record.

After ASU, Nevada will play Grand Canyon, South Dakota State, Akron and Utah before starting Mountain West play. There isn’t another team in the league that currently ranks in the top 50 on KenPom, and as things stand today, he is projected Nevada as a heavy favorite in every game they play the rest of the season. As of today, there is a 9.4 percent chance the Wolf Pack end the regular season undefeated.

At some point, Nevada is probably going to get picked off. Maybe they lose to the Sun Devils. Maybe they get picked off on a road trip to Utah State or San Diego State, both of whom are good and have really tough home-court environments. Hell, maybe they overlook their trip to Utah.

But this is something to be cognizant of because it will very likely be a storyline.

And if Gonzaga can get through Tennessee and a trip to North Carolina with wins, they’ll be right there with Nevada.

3. LAGERALD VICK IS THIS YEAR’S EARLY MVP

Vick is not the best player on Kansas. He is not the guy that Kansas runs their offense through. He is not the guy NBA teams are interested in seeing when they come to Lawrence. He’s not even someone you can call an x-factor for this team moving forward.

But he has been Kansas’ MVP through the first month of the season, and he might be the single most valuable player in all of college basketball to date.

That’s because he has repeatedly rescued this Kansas team this year. He had 32 points and his all eight of his threes when Kansas struggled to beat Vermont, trailing in the second half. He had 33 points and his seven threes in a win over Louisiana where the Jayhawks trailed by 12. He scored eight straight second half points to give Kansas their first lead against Tennessee. And on Saturday, he hit a three to force overtime and then scored the first eight points of overtime — 27 in total — to help KU avoid an upset at the hands of Stanford.

Put another way, if Vick isn’t playing the way that he’s been playing, Kansas might have three or four losses to their name.

Sounds like an MVP to me.

4. LOUISVILLE WILL BE A TOP 25 TEAM THIS SEASON

Credit where credit is due: Louisville has put together one of the more unexpected early season runs. This past week, they won at Seton Hall and knocked off Michigan State in overtime at home. That came on the heels of a trip to NYC for the Preseason NIT where the Cards lost in overtime to Marquette and hung with Tennessee for 38 minutes before losing by 11.

Chris Mack is starting to figure this group out. He’s not quite there yet — Jordan Nwora is shooting 27 percent from three, Steve Enoch is not yet dominating the paint like he should be, V.J. King has no confidence — but you can see the Cards getting better every time they play.

5. THE PAC-12 WILL MAX OUT AT THREE NCAA TOURNAMENT BIDS

It’s hard to overstate just how bad the conference has been this season.

Throughout the first month of the season, the conference has registered five wins that will register as quality wins come Selection Sunday. They are, in order:

  1. Oregon over Syracuse in MSG when Syracuse was missing Franklin Howard.
  2. Arizona at UConn.
  3. Arizona over Iowa State in Maui when Iowa State was missing four players, including two starters.
  4. Arizona State over Mississippi State in Las Vegas.
  5. Arizona State over Utah State in Las Vegas.

Their sixth-best win is … UCLA beating Loyola Marymount in Westwood?

That doesn’t include the bad losses that they’re taken. Oregon may have that win over the Orange, but they lost at home to Texas Southern and just took an L at Houston. Oregon State lost to Missouri. Washington State lost to Seattle and New Mexico State. Colorado fell at San Diego. Utah lost to Hawaii and took a 22-point beating against Northwestern. Cal is 2-4 on the season. Stanford is 4-4. USC and UCLA have a combined five losses, and while none of them are bad losses — Vandy’s win at USC will look worse than it was as the Commodores play out their season without Darius Garland — they are 0-5 against relevant competition.

All told, the conference is 6-19 against the top seven leagues, and I didn’t even factor in include games against Nevada, Utah State and Saint Mary’s.

No matter how you slice it, the conference has arguably been worse than expected this year.

And that’s saying something.

Miles Kelly leads Ga. Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.

No. 17 Illinois rallies late, beats No. 2 Texas 85-78 in OT

Illinois v Maryland
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NEW YORK – Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining, and No. 17 Illinois rallied to hand second-ranked Texas its first loss of the season, 85-78 on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.

Jayden Epps added 11 points, including the final five points of regulation – a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two tying free throws with 8 seconds remaining. Epps then blocked Marcus Carr’s jumper in the lane just before the buzzer to force overtime in an entertaining showdown at Madison Square Garden.

Matthew Mayer, who faced Texas several times at Baylor, tied a career high with 21 points as he made his first seven shots and finished 8 of 10.

Shannon, who missed eight of nine shots in regulation, took over in the extra period to help Illinois (7-2) beat a ranked foe for the second time this season. He opened overtime with a jumper after Marcus Carr was called for traveling and then hit an open 3 from the right wing over Brock Cunningham for a 73-70 lead.

Shannon then converted a reverse layup and finished off a three-point play to make it 77-70 with 2:16 left. Carr hit two free throws to get Texas within one with 1:28 remaining. Jayden Epps hit a layup, RJ Melendez sank two free throws to put Illinois ahead by five, and Shannon made two free throws with 27.7 seconds left.

Timmy Allen scored a season-high 21 points for Texas (6-1), which failed to open 7-0 for the first time since 2014-15. Tyrese Hunter added 10 points but Carr was held to nine points on 3-of-14 shooting as Texas had 12 shots blocked and shot 42%.

Texas took its only double-digit lead when Dillon Mitchell hit a layup with 8:28 left. Illinois cut the lead to 58-56 on a 3 by Melendez nearly four minutes later. After Cunningham hit an open 3 with 4:15 remaining, Si’Jabari Rice made a 3 for a 64-58 lead.

Allen found Cunningham for an open jumper that counted when officials called goaltending on Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins. That gave Texas a 65-61 lead with with 1:51 remaining.

Carr’s rainbow jumper in the lane made it 68-63 with a minute left and Illinois had a 3-pointer by Melendez waved off because it called timeout with 45.3 seconds left. After the timeout, Epps made an open corner 3 with 33 seconds remaining.

Hunter missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up Epps’ tying free throws.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini continued to struggle with turnovers, committing 17. But only two of them came in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation or overtime. Illinois’ 15th turnover was an offensive foul by Mayer, which sent him to the bench with four fouls with 10:42 remaining.

Texas: The Longhorns had little offense beyond Allen and Hunter. While the duo was a combined 13 of 29, the rest of the team missed 24 of 40 shots.

UP NEXT

Illinois hosts Penn State in its second Big Ten game on Saturday. The Illini lost their conference opener to No. 13 Maryland.

Texas hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Jimmy Blacklock Classic on Saturday.

Clark, Gardner lift No. 3 Virginia past James Madison, 55-50

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Kihei Clark scored 18 points, Jayden Gardner had 14 points and eight rebounds, and No. 3 Virginia beat feisty in-state rival James Madison 55-50 on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (8-0), who lost starting guard Reece Beekman to a right leg injury early in the first half, prevented the Dukes (7-3) from winning a second straight December game in Charlottesville. James Madison beat Virginia 52-49 last Dec. 7.

Clark had seven assists while playing nearly 39 minutes with Beekman sidelined.

“Kihei gave everything he had and I had to, you know, ride him,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Sure, he missed some free throws. And I know he made some mistakes, but you could just see him, you know, how tough-minded he was.”

Dukes coach Mark Byington said he told Clark – who’s playing his fifth season for Virginia – after last year’s game that he loved watching him play.

“He’s seen everything and nothing you’re going to do is going to surprise him,” Byington said. “There’s nothing Kihei Clark hasn’t seen out there, and he’s poised. I mean, you can’t rattle him. … So I told him this time I was like, `Look, I better never see you in college basketball again.’ But he’s one of my favorite players to watch just because he’s tough, talented, and he’s a winner.”

Takal Molson scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half for James Madison, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 42-all with 7:47 to play. Gardner responded for Virginia by scoring five straight points in a 9-1 run.

The Cavaliers kept the Dukes in the game by missing eight of 13 free throws over the last six minutes.

Molson made an acrobatic layup while being fouled with 1:51 left, but he missed the free throw. He scored again with 1:01 left, pulling the Dukes within 52-50, but freshman Ryan Dunn answered with a strong move on the baseline for Virginia with 35 seconds to play.

James Madison threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.

BIG PICTURE

James Madison: The Dukes came into the game leading the nation in scoring (93.3 points per game) and having scored as many as 95 points five times. They were shooting 52.7% for the year, but made just four of their first 19 shots and finished 15 of 55 (26.9%). Vado Morse scored 11 points, the only other JMU player in double figures.

“Yeah, we knew how good they were and they showed it in spots tonight,” Gardner said. “But I think you saw a lot of resiliency tonight on the defensive end getting crucial stops.”

Virginia: The Cavaliers played the final 36 minutes without Beekman and gave extensive minutes to freshman Isaac McKneely. Virginia will hope Beekman, its third-leading scorer and a primary ballhandler and defender, recovers in time for its showdown with No. 1 Houston on Dec. 17.

UP NEXT

The Dukes return home to play Gallaudet on Saturday night.

Virginia has a 10-day break before hosting the top-ranked Cougars.

No. 25 Villanova women beat American University 83-42

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VILLANOVA, Pa. – Maddy Siegrist had 24 points and seven rebounds, Lucy Olsen added 14 points and No. 25 Villanova beat American University 83-42 on Tuesday night.

Siegrist scored 15 points in the opening 13 minutes as Villanova led 34-15. The Wildcats extended it to 46-23 by halftime before starting the second half on a 9-0 run for a 32-point lead.

Villanova added an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter for its largest lead of the game at 79-36. The Wildcats held American to 15-of-50 shooting (30%) and scored 21 points off 19 turnovers.

Christina Dalce scored 13 points for Villanova (8-2), which plays Saint Joseph’s on Saturday before taking a week off for final exams. Siegrist, who was coming off a 29-point performance on Sunday, made 10 of 17 shots as Villanova shot 56%.

Emily Johns scored 12 points for American (0-8), which hosts Marist (3-5) on Saturday.

No. 6 UConn star Azzi Fudd out 3-6 weeks with knee injury

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STORRS, Conn. — Sixth-ranked UConn’s top scorer, Azzi Fudd, is expected to be out three to six weeks because of a right knee injury she suffered during her team’s weekend loss to No. 5 Notre Dame, a university athletic spokesperson said.

The sophomore guard was injured in the first half of the game when a teammate collided into her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way.

“I think she’ll be all right,” coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.

Fudd entered the game averaging 24.0 points but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes in the team’s first loss of the season.

The athletic spokesperson didn’t specify the type of knee injury Fudd sustained.

She underwent evaluation and an MRI confirmed the injury, the spokesperson said.

The Huskies host Princeton next.