Jalen Reynolds

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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.

No. 5 Xavier beats No. 1 Villanova, displays tools needed for deep tourney run

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Since joining the Big East in 2013 No. 5 Xavier amassed a record of 34 wins and 16 losses against teams other than No. 1 Villanova. Their record against the Wildcats: 0-6, with an average margin of defeat of 17.2 points per game. For as much as was made about the impact of Wednesday’s game on NCAA tournament seeding, this was more about Chris Mack’s team getting over the hump against the program that has set the standard in the Big East since realignment.

Xavier got the job done at the Cintas Center, winning 90-83 in a game that changed when reserve guard JP Macura checked into the game.

Macura provided the Musketeers a spark on both ends of the floor, going on a personal 7-0 run in a contest that went back and forth for the game’s first eight minutes. Xavier’s ability to attack offensively from multiple areas, be it from the guard spots, the wings or the post, proved problematic for a Villanova team that’s been better defensively this season than they were in either of the two seasons prior.

Edmond Sumner and the rest of the Xavier guards took better care of the basketball than they did in the first meeting, a 31-points Wildcat victory (Sumner left that game after just two minutes due to injury). Sumner’s had issues with turnovers at times this season, but that wasn’t the case against a Villanova perimeter rotation that can get after teams with its 3/4-court pressure. Sumner turned the ball over just three times, and with nine assists (not to mention 19 points and six rebounds) to his credit that’s a good number for the redshirt freshman.

As a team Xavier committed just ten turnovers, nearly half the number they racked up New Year’s Eve (19). Overall the Musketeer guards outplayed Villanova’s backcourt, with Macura adding 19 points and Myles Davis 16 as Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono got off to slow starts. Villanova received a high-level performance from forward Kris Jenkins, who scored 19 points in the first half. But once he ran into foul trouble in the second stanza, by way of having to deal with the likes of Jalen Reynolds and James Farr inside (Daniel Ochefu struggling didn’t help, either), Villanova lost the one player who managed to make things happen offensively.

Some may look to use this result as an “I told you so” opportunity in regards to Villanova. Sure they won’t be able to do much about the recently formed perception of their program, which is viewed with skepticism as their last two NCAA tournament appearances have taken precedence over Jay Wright’s past achievements (Sweet 16 in 2005 and 2008, Elite 8 in 2006 and Final Four in 2009), until the NCAA tournament. But this is still a team, especially in this particular season, capable of playing deep into March given their experience and talent.

Wednesday night was more about Xavier, which showed the attributes of a team capable of going where no prior group of Musketeers have gone before. Chris Mack’s team is talented, and it is deep as well. Xavier played unselfishly against Villanova, with 24 of their 30 made field goals being assisted and six players scoring in double figures. Add in a defense that took away many of Villanova’s primary scoring options, thus forcing the Wildcats to call upon Jenkins, and Xavier managed to do enough to not only make a statement of its national capabilities but also keep their Big East title hopes alive.

And even though Xavier didn’t need much of a confidence boost, if there’s a “Round 3” at Madison Square Garden in a couple weeks they now have concrete evidence that they can get over the hump that is Villanova.

No. 7 Xavier lands key road win over No. 10 Providence

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Jalen Reynolds had 15 points and 11 boards and Trevon Blueitt chipped in with 15 of his own at No. 7 Xavier went into The Dunk and knocked off No. 10 Providence, 75-68.

It was the first time in 20 years that Xavier has beaten a top ten team on the road, and that win came in 1996 against Cincinnati, which is the shortest road trip that the Musketeers can possibly make.

The difference in this game, as it turned out, was the 1-3-1 zone that Xavier employs. It’s an ideal defense to take away what Kris Dunn does well, eliminating the ball-screen actions and isolations that make him such a nightmare to try and guard. The zone forced Dunn to be a playmaker, and while he was able to create open looks for his teammates, those shots once again did not fall.

Providence finished the night shooting 7-for-34 (20.6%) from beyond the arc after starting the night missing 18 of their first 20 long-balls. It’s a constant theme with the Friars, and one I wrote about on Sunday. When dudes not named Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn show up for Providence, they can beat anyone in the country.

On Tuesday night, Rodney Bullock, Kyron Cartwright and Junior Lomomba combined for 17 points on 5-for-26 shooting.

But this game was more about Xavier than it was Providence, at least in my eyes.

The Musketeers might be the Big East team best suited to make a run in March. They can play multiple styles defensively. They have size and physicality up front with Reynolds and James Farr. Their perimeter attack is equally long and athletic, with the likes of Remy Abell, J.P. Macura and Edmond Sumner capable of guarding multiple positions. Trevon Bluiett is a poor man’s Georges Niang, a slow-footed combo-forward that blows by bigger defenders and overpowers smaller guards. They have shooters to space the floor and a potential difference-maker in Sumner, a redshirt freshman who was as atrocious on Tuesday night — he shot 0-for-9 from the floor and looked totally shook handling the ball as the Friars made a late run — as he has been promising throughout the rest of the season.

Their deep and balanced and matchup proof. Their only two losses this season have come in a game where Sumner was stretchered off the court three minutes in and in a game where a unheralded sophomore point guard for Georgetown turned into Steph Curry for a half.

And that’s to say nothing of the mentality that this team program has. They are always going to be the toughest team on the floor. Always. That may matter to head coach Chris Mack just as much as winning the game does, and the guys on his roster have totally bought into that idea.

Put it all together, and what you have is a team that is built for a postseason run.

After beating Cincy, can we start talking about No. 12 Xavier as a title contender?

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Myles Davis scored 17 points and Edmond Sumner added 11 points and five assists as No. 12 Xavier made a statement in the latest installment of the Crosstown Shootout.

The Muskeeters were up by as much as 18 points in the first half, took a 16-point lead into the break and held on down the stretch to beat No. 23 Cincinnati, 65-55, in the Cintas Center on Saturday afternoon.

Xavier is now 10-0 on the season. They blew out Michigan at Michigan. They stormed through the Advocare Invitational, beating Dayton in the final by 29 points. They just pounded their arch-rivals, who happen to be pretty good.

We’ve reached the point where we have to say that, at No. 12 in the country, Xavier is quite underrated nationally.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Xavier could very well be the best team in the Big East — I’m not totally writing off Villanova just yet — as well as a Final Four contender and a team capable of winning a national title.

[MORE: Edmond Sumner’s crazy poster dunk | Was it better than Poythress?]

Yeah, I said it.

Look, there is no great team in college basketball this season. No. 3 North Carolina, who I still believe is the best team in the country, lost at Texas. No. 1 Michigan State, who everyone else thinks is the best team in the country, struggled with Florida at home. Kentucky has looked good in exactly one game this season. Iowa State needed to erase a 20-point deficit to beat Iowa at home.

And Xavier?

They don’t really have a weakness, at least not one that is obviously exploitable.

Their front line of Trevon Blueitt and Jalen Reynolds is as good as any in their league, and that’s before you factor in James Farr, who has arguably been their best big man this season. Sumner is an underrated NBA prospect at the point guard spot while Remy Abell, Myles Davis and J.P. Macura are well-rounded role players that understand what they are on this team to provide: defense, three-point shooting, a toughness.

Xavier is a former Atlantic 10 team now playing in a Big East conference that is not your father’s Big East. Everyone knows they’re a good basketball program, but for the most part, when you think of Xavier you think of a six-seed that will sneak into the Elite 8.

Not one of college basketball’s seven or eight best teams.

Because as of today, I’m not sure you can convince me that they aren’t one of the seven or eight best teams in college basketball.

VIDEOS: College basketball’s best dunkers

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Like just about everyone that’s ever watch the sport, we love a good dunk better than just about anything, so we decided to compile a list of the guys you need to keep an eye on throughout the year.

Here’s the thing: this isn’t close to a comprehensive list of terrific dunkers in college hoops this season.

[MORE: Top 100 players in college hoops]

So if we missed on the best dunker on your favorite team, please, by all means, post a video of his best work in the comments:

25. Wally Ellenson, Marquette: The older brother of all-everything freshman Henry Ellenson and an Olympic hopeful in the high jump, Ellenson does things like this a lot:

24. Dwuan Anderson, Wagner: The former Michigan State commit is healthy this season after breaking his foot last year. That’s good for people that like things like this:

23. Deuce Bello, East Tennessee State: The former Baylor and Missouri guard is now playing in the OVC. He’s still got bounce, though:

MORE: Top leads guards | Top off guards | Top 100 Wings | Top 100 Bigs

22. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: The 6-foot dynamo can do things like this, which is only part of the reason we have him pegged as an all-american this season:

21. Phil Cofer, Florida State: He’s not the most well-known dude in college basketball, but he’s big and athletic and aggressive, which is why you see him do things like this:

20. Jaylen Brown, Cal: Brown isn’t known as an elite dunker, but he did do this over the weekend. We approve:

19. Aubrey Dawkins, Michigan: You won’t see a cooler dunk vid than this vine of still frames from when Dawkins banged on Nnanna Egwu:

18. Muhammad Ali Abdur Rahkman, Michigan: Not to be outdone, Dawkins’ teammate, who we like to refer to as MAAR:

17. David Walker, Northeastern: A little love for the mid-majors here:

16. Grayson Allen, Duke: You should be well aware of what he can do by now, but this throwback edit from when he won the Burger Boy dunk contest is a nice reminder:

RELATED: Top 100 players | NBC Sports Preseason Top 25

15. Dwayne Bacon, Florida State: Bacon is the reigning McDonald’s All-American dunk champion:

14. Antonio Blakeney, LSU: Blakeney had one of the best dunks you’ll ever see in grassroots basketball a few years back:

13. Jordan Weethee, VMI: Remember this guy? Easily the best part of the dunk is the reaction of No. 34:

12. Josh Adams, Wyoming: Josh Adams is listed at 6-foot-2. You buy that?

11. Gary Payton II, Oregon State: I feel comfortable calling Payton the best on-ball defender in college basketball, not unlike his dad. But where The Glove threw a lot of these, II catches ’em like Shawn Kemp did:

10. Kerwin Roach, Texas: The video of Roach maxing out the vertical testing machine went viral in September. This is what happens when he actually is able to dunk:

9. Jalen Reynolds, Xavier: Reynolds was on the giving end of what might have been my favorite dunk from the 2015-16 season:

8. Sheldon McClellan, Miami: Whether it’s in the half court or in transition, this high-flying Hurricane is a threat to finish above the rim. And you’ll see him catching lobs quite often.

7. Rayjon Tucker, #DunkCity: I wanted to just post a vine of Tucker’s handiwork … but man, there’s just too much good stuff in here. He picked the right school in Florida-Gulf Coast:

6. Daniel House, Texas A&M: The former five-star recruit was one of the most underrated players in the SEC a season ago:

5. Troy Williams, Indiana: I’m fairly surprised that Williams doesn’t have more in-game dunks in portfolio, because he can do things like this:

4. John Brown, High Point: John Brown’s career highlights are worth watching — they’re all right here — but his best work is as follows:

3. Shaq Johnson, Longwood: Johnson threw down some nice dunks last season playing for Longwood and his high school mixtape is the single best mixtape every made, but this is still the best dunk the former Auburn guard has ever thrown down:

2. Deonte Burton, Iowa State: It’s hard to imagine a nastier dunk at the college level:

1. Derrick Jones, UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels are going to be fun this year. Jalen Poyser, Steven Zimmermann and Ike Nwamu are all elite dunkers. Truly. But no one — and I mean no one — compares to Derrick Jones. I mean, this is just stupid: