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Monday’s Overreactions: Michigan’s awesome, Udoka Azubuike’s breakout, Obi Toppin alert

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Obi Toppin, Dayton

Heading into the Maui Invitational, Obi Toppin was one of the best kept secrets in college basketball.

We all knew who he was, but we didn’t quite have a feel for whether or not he was simply a really, really good Atlantic 10 player or a legitimate candidate for All-American and the top of the 2020 NBA Draft.

Turns out, it’s the latter.

And even the people that were bullish on Toppin probably undervalued him.

In three games in the Maui Invitational, Toppin averaged 22.3 points and 7.0 boards. He blocked four shots in the three games, including three in the overtime loss to Kansas in the title game. He was a very nice 25-for-36 (69%) from the floor and 6-for-11 from three. He was the best player every time he stepped into the gym, and he proved it.

That matters a great deal for Toppin since he does play in something of a lesser league. He’s not going to be on national television every single night going up against the likes of Kansas, or Anthony Edwards, or the team that just beat No. 3 Michigan State. He needed to make a statement in the event that literally everyone in the world pays attention to, and he did.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Michigan Wolverines

There really was no decision to make here.

Michigan went from unranked to No. 1 in the NBC Sports Top 25.

What more can I say?

OVERREACTIONS

1. MICHIGAN IS THE BEST TEAM IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL

The Wolverines have one of the nation’s best point guards a senior leader in Zavier Simpson that is also the head of the snake defensively. They have one of the nation’s most underrated big men, a 7-footer in Jon Teske that has developed into an elite defensive presence that can play as a pick-and-pop five or roll to the rim. They are one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams, with myriad and versatile wings that can space the floor and lock up defensively.

Truthfully, we should have seen this coming from Juwan Howard’s program. I explain why in this column.

2. THE MOST IMPORTANT PERFORMANCE OF THIS WEEK CAME FROM UDOKA AZUBUIKE

I think that I can make the argument that the single-most important individual development from Feast Week came when Udoka Azubuike completely took over a game against Dayton.

Doke is a throwback center. He’s a low-post behemoth that can barely make free throws, let alone threes, and saying he moves slowly laterally is like saying that grass grows slowly in the winter. Dayton is a team that plays five-out, that has shooters every where on the floor and that actually has the adequate size and rim protection to hold their own against a big like Azubuike in the post.

And, after about a dozen post touches in the final five minutes and overtime, Azubuike was able to lead Kansas back from a late eight-point deficit to an overtime win against the Flyers.

I went in depth on why this matters in this column.

3. DAYTON’S PERFORMANCE IN THE MAUI INVITATIONAL WAS AWESOME, BUT HAS BEEN OVERVALUED

I cannot take credit for this overreaction. This is courtesy of Bobby Reagan, which he discussed on the CBT podcast on Monday, but I’m going to be talking about it here.

The Maui Invitational is the most visible Feast Week tournament. It’s the oldest that is still running, for starters, and it’s held in one of the best environments for a neutral site college basketball game in the world. There’s tradition, there’s history and that means there are plenty of casual college basketball fans that love it.

But that exposure means that a couple good performances can end up being massively overrated, and Dayton is the perfect example. The Flyers dominated a couple of high-major teams in Georgia and Virginia Tech, but there’s no guarantee that either of those two teams are going to be in the NCAA tournament in March. I’m guessing that both of them will eventually end up being Quad II wins. The most impressive thing Dayton did was A) Take Kansas to overtime, and B) Do it while playing a style, and with a super star, that made them jump off the page.

Put another way, anyone with two eyes will know that the Flyers are really dangerous.

But the truth is that they really did not do all that much this week to change their resume on the islands.

4. FLORIDA STATE IS A TOP 20 TEAM AT WORST

I was ready to write off Florida State as anything more than an also-ran after they went into Pittsburgh and lost to the Panthers on the opening night of the season.

And that … might have been a mistake.

Because since that season-opening loss, Florida State has reeled of seven straight wins. They beat Florida at Florida before this weekend’s Emerald Coast Classic, in which they beat Tennessee and Purdue.

The Seminoles lost some big names, but they still have all kinds of length and athleticism, and they are still a nightmare defensively, and when you combine that with the emergence of Devin Vassell and Trent Forrest and the addition of P.J. Williams, you get a pretty damn good basketball team.

5. DEPAUL IS A TOP SIX TEAM IN THE BIG EAST

I’m not ready to say top five.

Not just yet.

The Blue Demons are 8-0 on the season and they have been the easiest team to bet on over the course of the last month. It’s obvious that the market has undervalued them, I’ve won a lot of bets on the Blue Demons proving me correct and I’m sad that is going to end up going away pretty soon.

That said, their three good wins right now are at Iowa, at Boston College and at Minnesota. Beating those three teams on the road matters, but I don’t think any of the three are actually any good. The Blue Demons get Texas Tech at home on Wednesday. Let’s see what happens then.

Until then, it’s hard to justify putting DePaul above any of Villanova, Xavier, Seton Hall, Marquette or Butler.

No. 3 Maryland rallies from 15 down, beats Illinois 59-58

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Anthony Cowan Jr. made a free throw with 2.1 seconds left and No. 3 Maryland erased a 15-point deficit in the second half to rally past Illinois 59-58 Saturday in the Big Ten opener for both teams.

The Terrapins (10-0, 1-0 Big Ten) didn’t lead after halftime until Cowan’s free throw but still matched their best start since winning 10 straight to open the 1998-99 season.

Cowan collected a steal in the closing seconds of a tie game and was fouled in a scrum by guard Andres Feliz. Cowan made the first free throw and missed the second. Illinois (6-3, 0-1) failed to get a shot off in the remaining time.

Cowan had 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and Jalen Smith (14 points, 13 rebounds) recorded his sixth double-double of the season for Maryland.

Trent Frazier scored 13 points for Illinois, which nearly claimed its first road victory over a top-five team since 1989. The Fighting Illini have lost 15 consecutive road games against ranked teams and six straight conference openers.

Illinois led 39-25 at halftime and briefly pushed its lead to 15 in the second half, but Maryland gradually clawed back.

Donta Scott’s basket with 1:45 remaining got Maryland within 57-55, and Frazier split two free throws 2 seconds later. It remained a three-point game until Cowan hit a deep 3-pointer with 29.8 seconds remaining.

The 14-point halftime hole was the largest Maryland has erased since coming back from a 15-point deficit at the break in an 80-78 defeat of Bucknell on Nov. 18, 2017.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: After allowing Miami to shoot 59.3% while dropping an 81-79 decision Monday, the Illini were far sharper on defense. It wasn’t enough to avoid enduring a second consecutive one-possession loss.

Maryland: The Terps once again turned in a stellar second half to remain perfect on the season. Maryland has defeated Marquette, Notre Dame and Illinois in a seven-day span.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Maryland avoided joining No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 Virginia and No. 7 North Carolina as highly ranked teams to stumble this week. The Terps will likely remain in the top three when the next poll is released Monday.

UP NEXT

Illinois: The Illini host Michigan on Wednesday for their Big Ten home opener. Illinois has lost four in a row and 14 of 16 to the Wolverines.

Maryland: The Terrapins travel Tuesday to Penn State, where they have lost in each of the last three seasons.

No. 8 Kentucky rolls Fairleigh Dickinson, 600th win at Rupp

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — EJ Montgomery scored a career-high 25 points, forward Keion Brooks added 15 off the bench and No. 8 Kentucky dominated Fairleigh Dickinson 83-52 on Saturday for its 600th victory at Rupp Arena.

The 6-foot-10 Montgomery made 12 of 16 from the field, including several dunks to surpass his previous scoring best of 16 on Nov. 29 against UAB.

Forward Nick Richards, at 6-11, had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats (7-1), whose 19-2 run over 6:11 in the first half built a 43-23 halftime lead. Kentucky shot 52% and held the Knights (2-6) to 33% shooting, outrebounded them 42-33 and owned nearly statistic for their fifth consecutive victory after a week off.

The Wildcats became the fastest school to reach 600 wins in an arena in NCAA history. Kentucky achieved the milestone at the 43-year-old building named after coach Adolph Rupp in 670 games, surpassing the pace of UCLA (689 games at Pauley Pavilion) and Kansas (699 at Allen Fieldhouse) .

Kaleb Bishop had 12 points for the Knights, who led only in the early minutes. The Northeast Conference school was coming off Tuesday’s 78-77 win over Quinnipiac that ended a five-game losing streak.

BIG PICTURE

Fairleigh Dickinson: The Knights couldn’t follow up their 50% shooting against Quinnipiac beyond the first couple of baskets as Kentucky’s defense disrupted their flow. They certainly were no match against the taller Wildcats inside, resulting in lopsided gaps in rebounding and paint scoring respectively.

Kentucky: The Wildcats emerged from the week-long break sharper and crisper, especially on defense. At times there were three players battling for rebounds, and they forced eight turnovers in the first half alone. Montgomery’s growing offensive confidence showed with several jumpers and aggression inside. Brooks, a freshman forward, took off in the second half for a career high as well.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

This victory likely won’t change Kentucky’s position in the rankings.

UP NEXT

Fairleigh Dickinson visits St. Peter’s on Wednesday.

Kentucky hosts Georgia Tech on Dec. 14 as it faces Power Five opponents for the remainder of the season.

No. 23 Villanova holds off St. Joseph’s run, wins 78-66

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PHILADELPHIA — Villanova nearly came undone completing an exhausting stretch of three games in six days against regional rivals.

Instead, the Wildcats found a final burst of energy, and that spoiled a frantic rally by their Main Line neighbors.

Saddiq Bey scored 22 points, Collin Gillespie had 20 and No. 23 Villanova held off a second-half comeback from Saint Joseph’s to win 78-66 Saturday.

Villanova (7-2) led 41-25 at halftime, but Saint Joseph’s Ryan Daly scored 22 of his 32 points after halftime to get the Hawks within 65-62 with 4:03 left. The Wildcats responded with a 13-4 run to end it.

“This will be good for us,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We’ve gone through a really tough stretch here, and we really haven’t had a chance to practice. Now, we’ll get a gap where we can work on some things. And it’s always good when you can work on it after a win.”

Justin Moore added 14 points and Jermaine Samuels had 12 for Villanova. The Wildcats have won 28 of 29 against Big 5 opponents since 2012.

The Hawks have lost seven straight overall and eight consecutive against Villanova since 2011. Daly was the only Saint Joseph’s player with more than eight points.

“I’d much rather not had the 32 points if we ended up winning the game,” Daly said. “That was the most important thing, and it didn’t happen.”

Saint Joseph’s got within three on two occasions in the second half, including after Daly’s two free throws with 4:08 left.

The Wildcats pulled away thanks to 8-for-8 shooting from the foul line in the last 2:11.

“We had a lot of tough games like this last year that helped us out,” Bey said. “These games help you mature.”

BIG PICTURE

Villanova: After a 2-0 week and winning three straight over Big 5 opponents, Villanova will likely remain in the AP Top 25 somewhere around their current ranking. The team has two games — Saturday against Delaware in Newark, a Dec. 21 home game against Kansas — before starting Big East play on Dec. 30 against Xavier.

Saint Joseph’s: The Hawks — in their first season under coach Billy Lange — showed some signs of life despite poor shooting.

“There are no such things as moral victories,” Lange said. “However, I’ve kept a notebook that asks if we played hard that I fill out when I get into my car or on the bus after a game. And clearly, we did that today against a national championship program.”

UP NEXT

Villanova: The Wildcats are off until next Saturday when they play Delaware in the Never Forget Tribute at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Saint Joseph’s: The Hawks travel to Temple on Tuesday night.

Wesson, No. 6 Ohio State unload on Penn State 106-74

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Kaleb Wesson scored 28 points and had 10 rebounds for his ninth career double-double, helping No. 6 Ohio State rout Penn State 106-74 on Saturday.

Ohio State scored 100 points against a Big Ten rival for the first time since 1991.

Four players hit double figures for the Buckeyes (9-0, 1-0 Big Ten), who shot 57.4 percent from the field. Andre Wesson scored 15, and sophomores Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad each had 14.

Izaiah Brockington scored 19 points and Seth Lundy added 10 for the Nittany Lions (7-2, 0-1), who lost for the second time in four games and gave up 100 points for the first time since 2017. Penn State managed just 25 rebounds, far below its average of 44.

Senior Lamar Stevens, Penn State’s leading scorer averaging 17.9 points, managed just 11 against the Buckeyes and fouled out after getting a technical with 13:26 left in the second half.

Ohio State started the first half 1 for 6 from beyond the arc, but started draining 3-pointers in the second half, hitting 14 of 26 for 53.8 percent for the game. The Buckeyes were led by Washington, who hit four straight and Kaleb Wesson who shot 4 for 6 from long range, including three straight in the second half. Ohio State now has back-to-back games with 10 or more 3-pointers.

BIG PICTURE

Penn State: After showing early promise, Lions ran into Ohio State’s potent offense.

Ohio State: Solidified its standing as a Top 10 team, dominating every facet of the game and dispatching Penn State with ease.

UP NEXT

Penn State: At Maryland Tuesday.

Ohio State: At Minnesota Dec. 15.

Balanced effort leads No. 24 Butler past Florida 76-62

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INDIANAPOLIS — Sean McDermott and Aaron Thompson each scored 16 points to lead No. 24 Butler to a 76-62 win over Florida on Saturday.

Thompson made 6 of 7 shots and delivered seven assists. McDermott contributed a team-high seven rebounds.

Jordan Tucker added 13 points off the bench for the Bulldogs (9-0). Kamar Baldwin, who was averaging a team-high 17.5 points for Butler, scored 12 points.

Baldwin picked up two fouls in the first 3-plus minutes of the game and was limited to 11 minutes in the first half. The senior guard finished with three fouls.

Kerry Blackshear Jr. led Florida (6-3) with 17 points. Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke each scored 11.

The Bulldogs shot 52% percent while holding the Gators to 44%. Butler made 9 of 20 3-pointers while Florida was 6 of 21. Each team had 10 turnovers.

The Gators, who trailed by nine at halftime, narrowed the deficit to six points twice before the Bulldogs pulled away. Butler’s largest lead was 19 points at 61-42 with 7:33 remaining.

Butler finished the first half with a 19-5 run to take a 35-26 lead at halftime. Trailing 21-16, the Bulldogs had an 11-0 run.

Butler owns the nation’s longest streak of consecutive non-conference home victories at 56.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: After a solid start on the road, the Gators’ four-game winning streak end with a thud. Entering the game with a 30% average from 3-point range, Florida shot 23%.

Butler: The Bulldogs won their third meeting with an SEC opponent in the last four games, previously beating Missouri 63-52 in the Hall of Fame Classic on Nov. 24 and host Mississippi 67-58 Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Florida: Home game against another Big East opponent Providence on Dec. 17.

Butler: Travels to No. 18 Baylor on Tuesday.