Kelan Martin

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LATE NIGHT SNACKS: No. 11 Providence, No. 20 Kentucky fall

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: DePaul 77, No. 11 Providence 70

Ben Bentil left the game with an ankle injury, Kris Dunn struggled and no one else could get going for the Friars. When that happens the Friars are in trouble, as Rob Dauster notes here. Myke Henry was the standout for the Blue Demons, scoring 27 points and grabbing 11 rebounds with Billy Garrett Jr. adding 16 points, six rebounds and four assists. Dunn led Providence with 14 points and eight assists, but he shot 5-for-20 from the field, and as a team the Friars shot 39.3 percent from the field.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

Tennessee 84, No. 20 Kentucky 77: The Volunteers came back from 21 points down late in the first half to beat the Wildcats in Lexington, with Kevin Punter leading the way with 27 points. Armani Moore also played well for the Vols, adding 18 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Jamal Murray scored 21 points and Tyler Ulis 20 for the Wildcats, who lost to an unranked opponent for the fifth time this season. And for the young Wildcats, some familiar issues got them in trouble Tuesday night.

No. 14 West Virginia 82, No. 13 Iowa State 77: Jaysean Paige scored 23 points off the bench and Devin Williams added 17 points and 18 boards as the Mountaineers erased a 15-point deficit to win in Ames. Georges Niang scored 20 points for the Cyclones but he also turned the ball over eight times, with fellow front court starter Jameel McKay having four turnovers himself. As for WVU, after getting blown out at Florida Saturday Bob Huggins’ team showed the toughness we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from them.

Butler 87, Georgetown 76: Kelan Martin put forth an outstanding showing in Butler’s win over Georgetown, scoring 35 points and grabbing eight rebounds in a key matchup for both teams. This is Butler’s first Big East win over a team other than DePaul or St. John’s, and even with their non-conference slate the Bulldogs were trending in the wrong direction prior to Tuesday night. This win helps, and on the other side of the equation the Hoyas find themselves in even greater trouble when it comes to the NCAA tournament.

MORE: Tuesday’s Bubble Banter

STARRED

Ray Lee, Eastern Michigan: Lee played just 24 minutes in the Eagles’ 94-69 win over Miami (Ohio). He scored 46 points, shooting 9-for-11 from three (11-for-16 from the field), so took full advantage of his time on the court.

Kelan Martin, Butler: Martin scored 35 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench in the Bulldogs’ win over Georgetown.

Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette: 28 points and 17 rebounds in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ overtime win over UL-Monroe.

Devin Williams, West Virginia: Williams scored 17 points and grabbed a career-high 18 boards in the Mountaineers’ win at No. 13 Iowa State.

STRUGGLED

Reed Timmer, Drake: Timmer finished the Bulldogs’ loss at Indiana State with 15 points, ten rebounds and four assists. But he scored those points on 5-for-20 shooting from the field.

Kris Dunn, Providence: Losing Ben Bentil after 14 minutes didn’t help matters for Dunn, who shot 5-for-20 from the field in the Friars’ loss at DePaul.

Four McGlynn, Rhode Island: With the Rams playing without Jarvis Garrett (jaw) and Kuran Iverson (concussion), McGlynn had a lot of responsibility on his shoulders Tuesday night. He finished the Rams’ overtime loss at UMass with 13 points and four assists, but he shot 3-for-16 from the field and committed six turnovers.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • Buddy Hield led six Sooners in double figures with 17 points as No. 1 Oklahoma blew out TCU, 95-72. Hield’s failed to reach 20 points in a game just three times in Big 12 play this season, but the Sooners have won all three of those games (West Virginia and Baylor being the others).
  • After getting off to a slow start Indiana flipped the switch in a big way, outscoring the Wolverines 41-9 over the final 14:31 of the first half and going on to win comfortably 80-67. Yogi Ferrell scored 17 points and dished out nine assists to lead the way for Indiana, which continues to make strides defensively.
  • Yante Maten accounted for 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks at Georgia beat No. 25 South Carolina 69-56. The Gamecocks are now 19-3 on the season, but given their non-conference slate Frank Martin’s team doesn’t have a large margin for error down the stretch.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Josh Williams scored 20 points, shooting 7-for-8 from the field, as Akron went on the road and beat Ohio, 80-68. Keith Dambrot’s Zips are now alone atop the MAC East standings at 7-2, one game ahead of Kent State (which lost at Central Michigan).
  • Ben Simmons tallied 21 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists to lead LSU to an 80-68 win at Auburn.
  • Clemson outscored Wake Forest 56-34 in the second half of their 76-62 win in Winston-Salem. Jaron Blossomgame posted a double-double, finishing with 22 points and 13 rebounds.
  • Michael Gbinije scored 17 points and Tyler Roberson added 12 points and 15 rebounds as Syracuse beat Virginia Tech 68-60 in overtime. The Orange have now won five of their last six games.
  • Louisiana-Lafayette won its seventh straight game, moving to 8-3 in the Sun Belt with a 72-65 overtime win over UL-Monroe. Shawn Long finished with 28 points and 17 rebounds.
  • Grayson Allen scored 27 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and Brandon Ingram chipped in 15 points, ten boards and four blocks despite an off shooting night to win at Georgia Tech 80-71. The Blue Devils were without head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who remained in Durham due to illness.
  • James Webb III scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds as Boise State held off Utah State, 70-67. The Broncos held the Aggies without a point over the final 2:49.
  • San Diego State moved to 10-0 in Mountain West play with a 69-67 win over Colorado State. Trey Kell scored 19 points and Jeremy Hemsley added 16 and five assists for the Aztecs, who host second place New Mexico (7-2) on Saturday.

College Basketball’s Most Improved Players

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On Wednesday, we released our Midseason Awards, which included the NBCSports.com All-American teams, the Player of the Year, the Coach of the Year and the Freshman of the Year.

We also named our Most Improved Player. That decision wasn’t quite as easy as it seemed, so here is a complete list of the nation’s most improved players:

THE BREAKOUT STARS

Ben Bentil, Providence: As we wrote yesterday, Bentil had some promising moments as a freshman and found his way onto a few Breakout Stars lists in the preseaosn, but I don’t anyone could have predicted that he would end up being a guy that averages 19 points and eight boards for a team ranked in the top ten. He’s got a legitimate case to be an all-american. Who saw that coming?

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield was the Big 12 Player of the Year last season and, depending on where you looked, he found his way onto some all-american teams as well. But he did all that as a guy that was more-or-less a spot-up shooter that did much of his damage in transition. This season, he’s become Oklahoma’s late-clock option. He’s getting isolations. He’s the ball handler in pick-and-roll actions, and he’s far more effective doing it as well. Last season, he scored 21 points in 42 totals isolations, according to Synergy’s logs. This season, he’s already had 29 isolation possessions and scored 31 points. When you factor in possessions that end in a pass, he’s creating 1.083 PPP in ball screen actions as compared to 0.825 PPP last season.

Kelan Martin, Butler: This may be a situation where Martin simply needed to get the opportunity, but he’s become the most consistent offensive weapon for a Butler team that’s currently ranked in the top 20. Martin, who is averaging 14.1 points after scoring 7.7 per game last season, began the season as Butler’s sixth-man but played his way into the starting lineup with Kellen Dunham’s shooting slump.

Elijah Brown, New Mexico: Brown has usurped coach’s son Cullen Neal as the star of the Lobo back court. A redshirt sophomore, Butler transfer and the son of former NBA coach Mike Brown, Elijah is averaging 19.4 points, 5.6 boards and 3.1 assists.

Moses Kingsley, Arkansas: As a freshman, Kingsley played 10 minutes a game and averaged just 3.4 points and 2.5 boards. As a sophomore, he’s averaging 17.1 points, 9.9 boards and 2.5 blocks, turning into a guy that may actually be the best big man in the SEC. Chew on that for a second.

Michael Gbinije, Syracuse: The fifth-year senior has become one of the best guards in the ACC and is one of the only reason that Syracuse has a reason to believe they can play their way into an NCAA tournament bid. He’s averaging 18.0 points, 4.7 boards and 4.3 assists.

Yante Maten, Georgia: Maten, a sophomore, has become the anchor on the interior for a Georgia team that still has NCAA tournament hopes. The 6-foot-8 Michigan native is averaging 16.5 points and 7.2 boards.

Desi Rodriguez, Seton Hall: When he’s not getting benched for yelling at his coach, Rodriguez is a pretty important piece for the Pirates, averaging 12.0 points and shooting 38.1 percent from three after going 1-for-12 as a freshmen.

Kendrick Nunn, Illinois: Nunn, along with Malcolm Hill, is the reason this season isn’t a total loss for the Illini. He’s averaging 18.5 points as a junior.

Zach LeDay, Virginia Tech: LeDay averaged 3.5 points for South Florida in 2013-14. He’s averaging 14.7 points and 9.5 boards for the Hokies this season and went for 22 points and seven boards in the win over No. 4 Virginia on Monday night.

George King, Colorado: King is a redshirt sophomore that didn’t play much as a freshman and then sat out last season as Tad Boyle knew that he wouldn’t get much playing time. It paid off, as King is Colorado’s second-leading scorer, averaging 13.9 points and shooting 43.1 percent from three.

Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Berry has embraced the point guard role for the Tar Heels, averaging 12.9 points and 4.4 assists as he’s allowed Marcus Paige to spend more time playing off the ball.

Bradley Hayes, Georgetown: Hayes was a total non-factor in his first three seasons with the Hoyas but has emerged as the best low-post scorer for this Georgetown team, averaging 9.4 points and 6.6 boards.

THE ALL-AMERICANS: There is also a small subset of guys that belong on the most improved list that were already pretty damn good.

  • Grayson Allen, Duke: I really struggled with whether or not to include Allen on this list at all, because I’m not convinced that he’s all that much better than he was last season. He’s having a sensational season — we have him as a second team all-american right now — but how much of that is simply a result of Allen finally seeing the floor? A lot of it, I think.
  • Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Poeltl could have been a lottery pick had he bolted for the NBA after last season, which means that some folks may not realize just how much better he is right now than he was at this time last season. He’s got post moves, he can pass out of double teams and he’s still one of the best defensive centers in college basketball.
  • Brice Johnson, North Carolina: Johnson has played himself into All-American consideration in the last seven games, as Kennedy Meeks has been out with a knee issue. It came to a head on Monday: 39 points, 23 boards, three steals, three blocks. Talent isn’t the issue. It’s assertiveness and aggressiveness. Let’s see if it lasts.
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: Valentine has always seemed like one of those dudes where we’re going to say, “He’s a great college players.” Now, after his start to the 2015-16 season, there’s a real shot he ends up getting picked in the first round.

 

POSTERIZED: Butler’s Kelan Martin dunks on DePaul’s Darrick Wood

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Butler’s Kelan Martin threw down one of the better dunks of the 2015-16 season as DePaul’s Darrick Wood stepped up to take a charge and got run over.

Wood clearly didn’t look for the restricted area when he stepped up and he got called for the foul on the play as well.

https://vine.co/v/iha0e5IiHZK

(H/T: Brady Collier)

No. 12 Providence’s win at No. 9 Butler validates status as contender

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Kris Dunn scored 15 of his 20 points and handed out seven of his nine assists in the second half as No. 12 Providence erased an 11-point halftime deficit, knocking off No. 9 Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse, 81-73, which means that it is now time to seriously start discussing Providence as a Final Four contender.

The Friars, at this point, may very well be the best story in all of college basketball. There were legitimate discussions during the preseason about whether or not these Friars would actually have the ability to make the NCAA tournament. With LaDontae Henton gone, Providence didn’t have a proven secondary scorer. Ben Bentil has more than adequately filled that role, and with Rodney Bullock playing the way he did on Thursday, the Friars look every bit the part of a top ten team and a Big East contender.

Think about this, for a second: As of today, you could reasonably argue that Dunn is the National Player of the Year, head coach Ed Cooley is the National Coach of the Year and Bentil is the nation’s Most Improved Player.

Dunn completely took the game over in the second half after struggling with foul trouble in the first 20 minutes. He picked up his second foul midway through the first 20 minutes, and with Bentil also in foul trouble, the Friars struggled to find a source of offense, digging themselves a 36-25 hole at the break.

Bentil finished with 19 points and five boards, as he had a couple of key buckets and one really important block down the stretch, but the hero of this game was Rodney Bullock. The 6-foot-8 sophomore entered the day having shot just 7-for-26 from beyond the arc on the season. He was 6-for-9 from three on Thursday, hitting finishing with 25 points. Drew Edwards also added 10 points off the bench, including threes on back-to-back possessions early in the second half that helped spark the Providence run.

The Friars are now 13-1 on the season, their lone loss coming to No. 1 Michigan State when Denzel Valentine was in the middle of playing like Magic Johnson.

As far as Butler is concerned, I don’t think it’s time to panic quite yet. In the same way that they matched up well against Purdue the Bulldogs matched up poorly with Providence. They’re going to struggle with dynamic back court playmakers, and there is no one in the country that fits that mold better than Dunn.

It doesn’t help matters that Kellen Dunham is in the midst of one of the worst slumps I’ve ever seen a really good shooter go through. He was 3-for-14 from the floor and 0-for-5 from three on Thursday, meaning he’s now missed 23 straight threes and, in his last five games, is 10-for-60 (16.7%) from the floor and 2-for-32 (6.3%) from three.

This is a team that thrives on their offensive potency, and Dunham plays a huge part in that. He’s not much of a defender, the kind of player that makes up for the points he gives up by outscoring the guy that’s guarding him. With Roosevelt Jones and Kelan Martin playing the way that they currently are, Butler is going to be fine once they get their best scorer back on track.

WEEKLY AWARDS: Javan Felix’s big shot, Wichita State’s bigger week

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Javan Felix, Texas

Before we get into what it means, let’s talk for a minute about what actually happened. Texas upset No. 3 North Carolina, 84-82, in a game where their defense didn’t do all that much to slow down the Tar Heels. They won because they were able to keep UNC’s big men in check — specifically off the offensive glass — and because they shot the lights out, no one more so than Felix. He finished with 25 points on 9-for-14 shooting, hitting 5-for-7 from beyond the arc, but his biggest shot of the day may or may not have come with time left on the clock. A missed Isaiah Taylor jumper happened to bounce out to Felix who buried an 18-footer than came a split-second before the buzzer.

This is a critical win for the Longhorns for a couple reasons. For starters, it’s the kind of non-conference victory that is going to look really good on their résumé come tournament time. I still think North Carolina is the best team in the country, but at the very least, the Tar Heels now have a win over a team that is going to be in the top ten range all year long. That’s the difference between a 10 seed and the NIT.

But this was also the most visible non-conference game that Texas was playing. It came at home, on ESPN, against a blue-blood program on the first Saturday after yet another disappointing football season. It was always a struggle for Rick Barnes to get Texas fans fully committed to supporting the basketball team, and Shaka Smart is likely to have some of those same issues. But for a fan base desperate for a good team to root for, the timing of this win in this fashion could not have been more perfect.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Kelan Martin, Butler: Martin had 25 points and 11 boards in 20 minutes off the bench in a come-from-behind win over Tennessee on Saturday, which followed up a 20-points, eight-rebound performance — also in just 20 minutes — on Monday against Indiana State. Martin is averaging 23.0 points over his last three games.
  • Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma: Buddy Hield is the guy that gets all the attention for Oklahoma, but Cousins was the best player on the floor in their blowout win over No. 9 Villanova, finishing with 19 points, 10 assists and six boards. He followed that up with 15 points, five assists and five boards against Oral Roberts.
  • Jameel McKay, Iowa State: Iowa State came back from 20 points down to beat Iowa at home on Thursday night, and McKay was the hero in that game. He finished with 20 points, 12 boards and a pair of blocks, but it was his energy — eight of those rebounds were offensive — that changed the course of the game.
  • Isaac Hamilton, UCLA: Hamilton looks like he is finally living up to his billing as a top 20 recruit in the country. He scored a career-high 21 points to help the Bruins avoid an upset against LBSU and followed that up with 20 points in UCLA’s win at No. 20 Gonzaga. He also added seven assists and seven steals this week.
  • Rodney Bullock, Providence: Bullock came up huge for Providence this week, scoring 15 second half points in the win over Boston College and following that up with 14 points, 13 boards, four steals and three blocks in a win over Bryant. Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil both missed the second half against BC and Dunn didn’t play against Bryant.
  • BENCH: Melo Trimble (Maryland), Josh Scott (Colorado), Allonzo Trier (Arizona), London Perrantes (Virginia)
Associated Press
Associated Press

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Wichita State Shockers

This week was the most important week of the regular season for the Shockers. Having lost four of their first six games, Wichita State was in a position where they not only needed to prove — to themselves, to their fans, to the media — that their early season losses were a direct result of injuries to the likes of Fred VanVleet and Anton Grady, but they needed to start building a résumé that would give them a chance to play in the NCAA tournament this season if they don’t happen to win the Missouri Valley’s at-large bid.

And they did just that.

On Wednesday, the Shockers beat a talented UNLV team and followed that up by blowing out No. 25 Utah. In total, the Shockers gave up 100 points on the week, playing the kind of physical half court defense that we’ve become accustomed to from Gregg Marshall coached teams. VanVleet doesn’t quite look like he’s totally himself yet, but he had bursts in both games where it was quite obvious his hamstring is feeling better than it did prior to the Advocare Invitational in Orlando.

As of this moment, Wichita State is probably back to being one of the top 15-20 teams in the country, particularly if guys like Zach Brown and Markus McDuffie are going to play the way they did on Saturday.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Xavier Musketeers: Did anyone make a bigger statement this weekend than Xavier? The Musketeers totally blew the doors off of arch-rival Cincinnati, a pretty good team in their own right this season. The Muskies look like a legitimate title contender.
  • UCLA Bruins: The Bruins may be the most confounding team in the country. They lost to Monmouth at home, lost to Wake Forest in Maui and got their doors blown off by Kansas. They also beat then-No. 1 Kentucky and, on Saturday, went into Spokane and beat No. 20 Gonzaga at the Kennel. Are you buying them yet?
  • Marquette Golden Eagles: Even if Marquette misses the NCAA tournament this season, their season will be considered somewhat of a success as the Golden Eagles picked off in-state rival Wisconsin in the Kohl Center on Saturday. They seem to have made a renewed commitment to getting the ball into the paint.
  • Boise State Broncos: It’s been tough-sledding for Boise State early on this season, but the Broncos picked up two big wins this week. It started when they avoided getting upset by Loyola Marymount and ended with a win over No. 24 Oregon in Boise, a win that is only going to look better as the season progresses.
  • Chattanooga Moccasins: Not only did the Mocs go into Dayton Arena and knock off the Flyers on Saturday, they did it without their best player, Casey Jones. In his first season as head coach, Matt McCall has now landed wins over Georgia, Illinois and Dayton. Not bad.
  • SMU Mustangs: In their only game this week, the Mustangs pounded Michigan. It really is a shame this team is banned from the tournament, because they are certainly capable of getting to a Final Four this year.

SET YOUR DVR

  • No. 25 Utah vs. No. 8 Duke, Sat. 12:00
  • No. 9 Villanova at No. 10 Virginia, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 1 Michigan State at Northeastern, 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 3 North Carolina vs. UCLA, Sat. 1:00 p.m.
  • Indiana vs. Notre Dame, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • No. 23 Cincinnati at VCU, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • No. 18 Butler vs. No. 11 Purdue, Sat. 5:00 p.m.
  • No. 16 Baylor at Texas A&M, 9:00 p.m.
  • UNLV at No. 13 Arizona, Sat. 9:30 p.m.

Kelan Martin with another big game as No. 18 Butler dispatches Tennessee

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Butler got off to a slow start on Saturday afternoon, digging themselves a first half hole before a late run gave them a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

Roosevelt Jones was the best player on the floor for the No. 18 Bulldogs, notching 21 points, 10 assists and seven boards as the No. 18 Bulldogs beat the Vols, 94-86.

But as good as Jones was, he wasn’t the story of this game.

Kelan Martin was.

The 6-foot-6 forward finished with 25 points and 11 boards off the bench, shooting 5-for-8 from beyond the arc. It was the third straight game that the sophomore finished with more than 20 points in a reserve role; he had 24 points against Indiana State and 20 against VMI after going for 14 points in Butler’s win at Cincinnati.

And if it wasn’t for Martin, Butler may not have won this game. He scored 11 points straight points during a run in the second half that pushed butler’s lead to nine, the first time they were really able to get any separation from the Vols. He also stepped up on a night that Butler’s two best offensive options — Kellen Dunham and Andrew Charbascz — struggled. Dunham shot just 3-for-12 from the floor and -for-11 from three while Charbascz took just three shots from the floor.

This Butler team is going to be fun to watch this year. Unlike the Bulldog teams that we’ve become accustomed to in the past, this group is much more offensive-minded. They want to push tempo. They want to spread the floor. They look to play small-ball, going four-around-one and waiting for Martin and Jones to get mismatches.

They’re never going to be great defensively, not without defensive playmakers, but there aren’t many teams in the country that are as explosive as them.