Henry Ellenson

AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps

Guard Wally Ellenson leaves Marquette program

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Normally when a player who averaged 1.9 points and 2.2 rebounds in just under nine minutes per game leaves a program, his name simply goes onto the “available transfers” lists on the internet without much thought. But when that player is the older brother of a freshman expected to be selected in the NBA Draft lottery, not to mention also has a great deal of potential in another sport, it grabs attention.

That’s the case of Marquette redshirt junior guard Wally Ellenson, who on Thursday left the program according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A two-sport athlete who began his college career in basketball and the high jump at Minnesota, Wally’s departure comes just over two weeks after younger brother Henry announced his intentions to forego his final three years of eligibility and enter the 2016 NBA Draft.

So why is this situation a head-scratcher? Ellenson’s mother quoted a report from ESPN.com on Twitter, adding the words “smoke and mirrors” to the post. And earlier this week the Paint Touches website did some looking into the situation before it had been learned that Wally would be leaving the program.

With the late additions of USC grad transfer Katin Reinhardt and reclassified freshman guard Markus Howard (he was in the class of 2017 before moving to 2016), Marquette had used all 13 of its scholarships for the 2016-17 campaign. With the additions and departures, Marquette has just two players taller than 6-foot-7 on the (at this time) roster for next season: Luke Fischer and Matt Heldt.

Ellenson’s departure opens up a scholarship for Marquette to use, in all likelihood on a player who can add depth in the post. The Journal-Sentinel reported that Ellenson can remain on scholarship should he decide to stay at Marquette, with the four-time All-American in the high jump receiving that grant-in-aid for track as opposed to basketball.

However, it should be noted that as an “equivalency” sport, men’s track and field gets a total of 12.6 scholarships that can be handed out at the coach’s discretion (full or partial scholarships). Would Ellenson receive a full scholarship despite the fact that he’d be competing in just one event? For that reason, along with the questions as to how this situation came to be, this is something worth monitoring moving forward.

No. 5 Xavier advances to Big East semis with a 90-72 win

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NEW YORK (AP) Trevon Bluiett matched his career high with 24 points and No. 5 Xavier dominated from start to finish in a 90-72 victory over Marquette on Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

The Musketeers took advantage of foul trouble by Marquette star center Henry Ellenson to have a big advantage in points in the paint early and finished with a 42-32 difference.

Xavier (27-4) advanced to Friday’s semifinals to face the winner of third-seeded Seton Hall and sixth-seeded Creighton.

It will be the Musketeers second straight trip to the semifinals. They lost to Villanova in last season’s championship game.

JaJuan Johnson had 19 points to lead the Golden Eagles (20-13), who have reached the semifinals twice (2008, 2010) but they have never made it to the championship game. They beat St. John’s 101-93 in the opening round.

This was the third time Xavier beat Marquette this season with the first two both decided by eight points.

Xavier opened on an 11-2 run with Ellenson, the conference’s freshman of the year and its leading rebounder, picking up his second foul just 3 minutes into the game. He was taken out of the game but when Xavier started having its way inside and took a 15-4 lead, he was back with 14:20 left in the half. The Golden Eagles went to a 2-3 zone to try and keep him from picking up another foul but it didn’t work.

Ellenson, who finished with 14 points and three rebounds, scored eight straight points for Marquette as the Golden Eagles drew within 26-21. With 2:44 left in the half Ellenson and Bluiett got tangled up near midcourt and both went down to the court. An official review found that Ellenson tripped Bluiett and he was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul – his third.

Bluiett’s free throw and J.P. Macura’s 3 on the ensuing possession were part of a 13-0 run that gave the Musketeers a 43-25 lead and Macura hit a long 3 with 4 seconds left to give Xavier a 46-30 lead.

Xavier shot 59.4 percent (19 of 32) in the half while the Golden Eagles were 11 of 32 (34.4 percent).

The Musketeers opened the second half on a 10-3 run and the rout was on with Xavier leading by as many as 28 points. The closest Marquette got was 17 points.

TIP-INS:

Marquette: The Golden Eagles entered the game first in the conference in steals (7.8) and they are second in assists (16.3). … The 101 points against St. John’s in the opening round was the first time the Golden Eagles broke the century against a Big East opponent. They joined the Big East for the 2005-06 season.

Xavier: The Musketeers entered the game first in the conference in assists (16.4) and they are second in steals (7.2). … Myles Davis leads the Big East in free throw shooting percentage (85.9). … Seven players have led the Musketeers in scoring in at least two games this season. … Chris Mack was named national coach of the year by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

UP NEXT:

Marquette: good enough for an NIT bid.

Xavier: faces the winner of Creighton-Seton Hall in the semifinals on Friday.

WEEKLY AWARDS: Buddy Hield stars again, Oregon’s big week.

(AP Photo/Bill Feig)
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

Saturday was arguably the best day of college basketball that we’ve seen this season and no player shined brighter than Hield. He had 32 points for the No. 1 Sooners, hitting five straight threes down the stretch in a come-from-behind win over Ben Simmons and LSU. That followed up a performance against a scrappy Texas Tech team where Hield popped off for 30 points on just 12 shots from the floor.

This was peak-Buddy, and to get an idea of just how good peak-Buddy is, think about it like this: offensive rating is a metric used at KenPom to determine just how efficient a player is with the possessions that he uses. Usage rate is a statistic that determines what percentage of possessions end with that player — shots taken, turnovers, fouls drawn, etc. No one in KenPom’s database, which dates back 13 seasons, has posted a higher offensive rating than Hield’s 127.8 with a usage rate above 28.0 percent. Not J.J. Redick or Adam Morrison in 2006. Not Stephen Curry in any of his three seasons. Not Jimmer Fredette in 2011. Not Doug McDermott. Not Frank Kaminsky. Not anyone.

There’s more: He’s now averaging 26.2 points for the nation’s No. 1 team while shooting 52.4 percent from three and taking more than eight threes per game! 

After this week, the question is no longer whether or not Hield can win the National Player of the Year award. Now you have to ask yourself just what kind of magic Kris Dunn or Ben Simmons will have to pull off in order to catch Hield.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: The Shockers took firm control of the Missouri Valley this week, most notably as they won in dominating fashion at Evansville, who many believed was the one team that could push them this season. VanVleet finished with a career-high 32 points at Evansville.
  • Wayne Selden, Kansas: Selden struggled in the loss at Iowa State on Monday night, but he more than made up for it with his 33-point performance in the overtime win over Kentucky on Saturday night.
  • Prince Ibeh, Texas: Ibeh is making Texas fans forget about Cameron Ridley. He averaged 15.0 points, 10.5 boards and 3.5 blocks in wins over Vanderbilt TCU, which followed up his seven points, seven boards and seven blocks against Kansas last weekend.
  • Henry Ellenson, Marquette: Ellenson went for 32 points, 10 boards and six blocks in a key win over Butler.
  • Michael Carrera, South Carolina: Carrera averaging 27.0 points and 13.0 boards in a pair of wins this week for the Gamecocks.
(AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Oregon Ducks

To put in perspective what Oregon did this week, you first need to understand that Pac-12 teams just don’t win in the McKale Center. It’s not a thing that happens, at least not in the last four seasons. The last time that Arizona lost at home in Pac-12 play was back in 2012-13, when they lost to UCLA.

The last time that a team landed a sweep of the Arizona schools on the road? You have to go back another year, when Oregon won at Arizona State and Arizona on Jan. 12th and 14th of 2012.

That’s the most difficult road trip in the conference to make, yet Oregon passed that test with flying colors this week, getting 24 points from Dillon Brooks in the win at Arizona and, on Sunday night, getting 26 points, 10 boards and seven blocks out of center Chris Boucher. The Ducks now sit all alone in first place in the conference, and while there are four teams sitting within a game of first place, it really does feel like this will be Oregon’s league to lose at this point.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Xavier: Not that you really needed the proof, but the Musketeers showed themselves to be a real Final Four contender during the week when they went into the Dunkin Donuts Center and knocked off Providence.
  • Virginia: The Cavaliers had struggled on the road all season, and they struggled on the road on Tuesday when they very nearly lost to Wake Forest — thanks, Darius Thompson — but they availed themselves on Saturday by mollywhopping Louisville in the Yum! Center.
  • USC: The Trojans defended their home court this week, beating Washington State on Thursday and following that up with a win over then-league leaders Washington on Saturday.
  • Kentucky: We all had our doubts about Kentucky, but the Wildcats looked terrific when they took Kansas to overtime in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday. Remember, when Oklahoma took Kansas to overtime, we realized that the Sooners were actually pretty good. Is that what will happened with Kentucky now?
  • Maryland: The Terps picked up a huge win over Iowa on Thursday night. I explained why it was so important here.

SET YOUR DVR

No. 2 North Carolina at No. 16 Louisville, Mon. 7:00 p.m.
No. 9 West Virginia at No. 14 Iowa State, Tue. 9:00 p.m.
No. 25 Notre Dame at No. 15 Miami (FL), Wed. 7:00 p.m.
No. 6 Villanova at No. 10 Providence, Sat. 2:30 p.m.
No. 21 Purdue at No. 8 Maryland, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 17 Baylor at No. 9 West Virginia, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

BIG EAST CONFERENCE RESET: Can anyone dethrone Villanova?

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
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College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

Today, we’re taking a look at the Big East.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kris Dunn, Providence

This decision was made somewhat difficult by the combination of Dunn missing some games due to illness and other players excelling in non-conference play. But it’s hard to overlook his influence on a team that enters Big East play ranked 12th in the AP poll after being projected as a bubble team in the preseason. Dunn’s averaging 16.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game for the Friars, and his turnovers (2.9) are down more than one per game from last season’s average (4.2).

ALL-BIG EAST FIRST TEAM

  • Kris Dunn, Providence
  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Josh Hart, Villanova
  • Ben Bentil, Providence
  • Henry Ellenson, Marquette

[2015 REVIEW: Best Dunks | Best Games]

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED

  1. The Big East is one of the nation’s best leagues: The preseason conversations regarding the best conference in college basketball centered on the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten, but through non-conference play the Big East has stepped forward into that discussion. Xavier’s been one of the most impressive teams in the country to this point, two-time defending champion Villanova’s lone defeats came against two Top 10 teams in Oklahoma and Virginia, and Butler is 10-1. Joining those contenders has been 12-1 Providence, and both Marquette and Seton Hall are off to good starts as well.
  2. Xavier’s depth and talent make it Villanova’s biggest threat: The biggest question for the Musketeers entering the season was how they’d fill the hole left by the graduation of Dee Davis at the point. Would Edmond Sumner be ready to take the reins after redshirting last season? To this point Sumner has indeed been the answer Chris Mack needed at the point, giving the Musketeers an athletic finisher who continues to improve as a floor general. And he’s surrounded with a host of experienced options, including Trevon Bluiett, Myles Davis and Jalen Reynolds, who can put points on the board. That makes Xavier the team best equipped to challenge reigning Big East champ Villanova.
  3. To look at Providence as “Kris Dunn and some other dudes” would be a big mistake: While Dunn was a preseason favorite for National Player of the Year honors, many didn’t know what to make of the rest of Ed Cooley’s team. Heading into their conference opener against Butler the Friars are ranked in the top ten, and this has been no one-man operation. Sophomore Ben Bentil has been one of the nation’s most improved players, Rodney Bullock’s given them another quality front court option, and role players such as Junior Lomomba have been productive as well. Will the Friars be a top ten team throughout league play? That remains to be seen, but this has been an impressive group worthy of Big East contender status.

[CONFERENCE RESETS: ACC | Big Ten | American]

KEY STORY LINES IN LEAGUE PLAY

  1. Villanova’s perimeter shooting: For a team loaded with quality guards, the Wildcats’ shooting in non-conference play was a surprise. Jay Wright’s team is shooting just 31.1 percent from three on the season, with nearly 52 percent of their field goal attempts being three-pointers. Josh Hart (39 percent) and Ryan Arcidiacono (37 percent) have been the best of the bunch, and they’ll need players such as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Kris Jenkins to raise their perimeter accuracy moving forward.
  2. Does Georgetown have what it takes to rebound: With two of their first three losses coming against very good Maryland and Duke teams, not too many worried about the Hoyas’ 1-3 start after a five-game win streak made John Thompson III’s team appear to be okay. But after dropping games to Monmouth and UNC Asheville and escaping with a win at Charlotte, there are some significant issues to be addressed. Paul White’s struggled with health, and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera hasn’t been the player many envisioned him being when he changed course and decided to return for his senior year. Can they turn things around and be the contender many expected them to be?
  3. Marquette, Seton Hall looking to make NCAA tournament push: Both the Golden Eagles and Pirates put together quality records in non-conference play, which sets them up for run at NCAA tournament bids as conference play begins. And the strength of the Big East can help both in the quality wins department, with Seton Hall’s best win coming against Wichita State and Marquette’s being at the expense of Arizona State. Marquette’s Henry Ellenson has been one of the nation’s best freshmen, but their tournament hopes may hinge on the development of their perimeter rotation. As for the Pirates, this sophomore-laden group will lean on Isaiah Whitehead and Desi Rodriguez as they look for their first tournament bid since 2006.
Xavier's Edmond Sumner (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Xavier’s Edmond Sumner (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

[NEW PODCAST | NEW TOP 25]

BETTER THAN THEIR RECORD: On Monday’s podcast, my colleague Rob Dauster said that he believed that Villanova was the fourth-best team in the conference, that their issues shooting the ball combined with their question marks in the front court left them susceptible to being picked off. Jay Wright’s club has their issues, but they also have a total of four losses in Big East play the last two years.

BEAT SOMEONE AND WE’LL TALK: On paper, Marquette looks like the real deal. They have a slew of highly-regarded guards surrounding a pair of NBA-caliber big men in Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer. And as good as they’ve looked in bursts this season, their best wins are over a depleted LSU, Arizona State and a Wisconsin team that has already lost five games. They were also embarrassed on their home floor by Iowa and lost to Belmont in Milwaukee. I want to believe in Marquette, but they need to beat one of the top four teams in the league for me to get there fully.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Georgetown has been by far the most disappointing team in the Big East and one of the most disappointing teams in the country. They have top 20 talent on the roster, but they’ve lost at home to Radford, UNC Asheville and Monmouth, the latter of which was a blowout. Given who his father is, it’s going to be very hard for the program to jettison John Thompson III, but if he can’t turn this thing around, he’s going to be a name that pops up on hot seat lists.

POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

Tourney teams

  • 1. Xavier: Chris Mack’s team, which reached the Sweet 16 a season ago, has everything a team needs to not only reach that point but go further. And if Edmond Sumner continues to develop at the point, Houston is possible.
  • 2. Villanova: The Wildcats do have to shoot better from the perimeter than they have, and with players such as Arcidiacono, Brunson and Hart they’re capable of turning things around on that front. But do they have enough in the post to play deep into March?
  • 3. Butler: The Bulldogs don’t defend as well as they did in years past, but they’re better offensively thanks to the presence of two playmakers in Tyler Lewis and Roosevelt Jones.
  • 4. Providence: Dunn and Bentil have been excellent, but Ed Cooley’s had many other contributors step forward as well. And their play with Dunn out of the lineup can only help the confidence of those supplementary players moving forward.
  • 5. Marquette: The Golden Eagles’ best wins have come over teams likely to land on the bubble (Arizona State, LSU, Wisconsin). They’ve got an extremely talented front court tandem in Ellenson and Fischer, but the key moving forward: the guards keeping the turnovers (19.6 percent turnover rate) to a minimum.

NIT teams

  • 6. Seton Hall: The progress made by Desi Rodriguez has been huge for the Pirates, who have wins over Ole Miss and Wichita State on their résumé. Kevin Willard’s team will go as far as their sophomore class, led by Rodriguez, Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado, can lead them.
  • 7. Georgetown: The Hoyas have NCAA tournament talent, but they haven’t played to that level on a consistent basis thus far. The biggest issues have been on the offensive end, but they need to be better on the glass as well (7th in defensive rebounding percentage).
  • 8. Creighton: With Maurice Watson Jr. on the leading a balanced offensive attack, the Bluejays could surprise some people in league play. But in order to do so, they’ll need to improve defensively (last in field goal percentage defense, ninth in three-point percentage defense).

Autobid or bust

  • 9. DePaul: The Blue Demons did manage to knock off a ranked George Washington squad, but they’re unlikely to make a major move up the Big East pecking order.
  • 10. St. John’s: This is a rebuilding year for the Red Storm, who still hope to add Marcus LoVett Jr. at some point in the near future. That being said, they compete and are capable of pulling off some upsets in league play.

SUNDAY’S SNACKS: No. 4 Maryland, Syracuse take care of business

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GAME OF THE DAY: Fairfield 101, Bucknell 91

This was a wild one, as the Stags and Bison combined to score 192 points with the winning team shooting 17-for-32 from three. Tyler Nelson led the way for Fairfield with 25 points and Jerome Segura dished out nine assists on the afternoon. Ryan Frazier led five Bison in double figures with 20 points, but Bucknell was outscored 51-15 from three.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 4 Maryland 87, Marshall 67: Robert Carter Jr. led four Terrapins in double figures with 19 points while also grabbing eight rebounds and blocking two shots as Maryland moved to 11-1 on the season. Maryland held a major advantage beyond the arc, as they shot 13-for-27 from distance with the Thundering Herd going 6-for-31. The one issue for Maryland in the win: turnovers. They finished with 18 as Marshall was able to speed things up in the first half, with Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon committing five apiece.

Syracuse 80, Texas Southern 67: Michael Gbinije went for 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists to lead the Orange past the Tigers at the Carrier Dome. Five Syracuse players scored in double figures including center DaJuan Coleman, who scored 14 to go along with seven rebounds, four steals and two blocks. The concern for the Orange ahead of their ACC opener at Pittsburgh Wednesday is the status of freshmen wing Malachi Richardson, who left the game in the second half after taking a hard fall.

Northwestern 74, Loyola (MD) 59: Playing their final non-conference game before the start of Big Ten play, the Wildcats struggled mightily in the first half as they got used to playing without injured senior center Alex Olah. Chris Collins’ team was much better in the second half, shooting 65.6 percent from the field and 7-for-10 from three in the game’s final 20 minutes. Bryant McIntosh led the way with a career-high 33 points and eight assists, and Scottie Lindsey scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half.

STARRED

Henry Ellenson, Marquette: 17 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks in a win over Presbyterian.

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State: Bates-Diop tallied 24 points and ten rebounds in the Buckeyes’ win over South Carolina State.

STRUGGLED

Marshall’s three-point shooters: The Thundering Herd shot 6-for-31 from three in their loss at No. 4 Maryland.

Tashombe Riley, South Carolina State: Shot 2-for-12 from the field, scoring five points, in the Bulldogs’ loss at Ohio State.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • They didn’t play their best game but Marquette managed to beat Presbyterian 84-66 in Milwaukee. Henry Ellenson went for 17 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks in the win.
  • VCU rolled to an 85-57 win over Liberty in their final tune-up before the start of Atlantic 10 play. Melvin Johnson led a balanced scoring attack with 15 points, and the Rams shot 53.3 percent from the field and 10-for-19 from three.
  • Despite shooting 15-for-33 from the foul line, South Dakota State managed to hold off Middle Tennessee State 65-61. The Jackrabbits, who are now 11-3, received 16 points and eight rebounds from Deondre Parks.
  • Keita Bates-Diop posted a double-double (24 points, ten rebounds) and Kam Williams scored 12 points off the bench as Ohio State beat South Carolina State, 73-57. With Austin Grandstaff transferring, Williams will have the opportunity to earn more minutes.

Marquette hands Wisconsin third home loss this season

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This is Bo Ryan’s 15th season at Wisconsin, and entering the year, the Badgers had lost a grand total of eight games in the Kohl Center against non-conference competition.

It just wasn’t something that happened.

On Saturday, Wisconsin suffered their fourth loss of the young season to Marquette, the third time in the season’s first four weeks that they have taken a loss at home. This one may have been the most painful, as a Wisconsin comeback came up short, 57-55, against in-state rival Marquette.

Superstar freshman Henry Ellenson finished with 15 points, 11 boards and four assists while Luke Fischer chipped in with 12 points and eight boards for the Golden Eagles as the dup combined to take 27 of Marquette’s 46 field goal attempts. Marquette shot just five threes on Saturday. That matters for this group for two reasons:

1. The combination of Ellenson and Fischer is as good offensively as any front line in college basketball. They need touches, and when Marquette funnels their offense through them, the Golden Eagles actually have a chance of being pretty good.

2. Marquette’s guards have not consistently shot the ball well from beyond the arc, but they did consistently get those threes up in bunches this year. They shot 30 threes in a 28-point home loss to Iowa, including a 2-for-19 start. They can make threes when they play inside-out. They are not what you would call a three-point shooting team, and, at least on Saturday, it looks like Steve Wojciechowski has driven that point home.

Marquette doesn’t have any standout wins yet this season, but they have now beaten LSU, Arizona State and Wisconsin with their only losses coming against Belmont — not a bad loss — and Iowa. Their non-conference schedule is awful weak, so they’re going to need to put together some wins over the top-shelf teams in the Big East if they want to go dancing. But Marquette is in a position to make that happen, which isn’t exactly something that was expected in October.

As far as the Badgers are concerned, this just doesn’t look like a group that’s going to be able to turn things around in Big Ten play. They don’t have enough balance offensively. Nigel Hayes no longer has the advantage of pulling bigger power forwards away from the basket now that he’s essentially playing as a small forward. Bronson Koenig is struggling as the lone creator in Wisconsin’s back court.

Those two combined to shooting 7-for-29 from the floor on Saturday.