Kellen Dunham

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

No. 16 Providence avoids third straight home loss by surviving No. 18 Butler

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Ben Bentil scored 20 points and Rodney Bullock added 16 as No. 16 Providence dodged a bullet and picked up a win they desperately needed on Tuesday night, knocking off No. 18 Butler, 71-68, at the Dunkin Donuts Center.

I say the Friars dodged a bullet because they picked off a good Butler team on a night where Kris Dunn struggled. The Friars star finished with nine points and seven assists, but he managed just eight shots from the floor as Butler head coach Chris Holtmann put together a terrific defensive scheme to take away the Providence All-American.

The Bulldogs sat in a packed-in 2-3 zone where Roosevelt Jones was essentially tasked with guarding Dunn out to about 30 feet. Butler essentially dared Dunn to be a distributor, and it nearly worked. The Friars as a team shot 5-for-22 from three, and if it wasn’t for the play of Bentil and Bullock on the interior; I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Kyron Cartwright here, as he had 13 points and caught fire towards the end of the half.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Dunn could have finished with 15 assists had his teammates been able to knock down the looks that he created, and it belies a bigger issue for the Friars. Coming into Tuesday night, Providence had lost two of their last three games, their lone win coming in a hideous performance at Creighton. During that stretch, they shot 13-for-67 (19.4%) from three while taking exactly half of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. On the season, Providence entered Tuesday night ranked 288th nationally in three-point shooting.

That’s a problem.

Because it’s not going to change. The defenses that Providence faces are only going to get more and more compact as the likes of Bentil, Bullock, Ryan Fazekas and Drew Edwards continue to miss threes.

As far as Butler is concerned, I’m not sure that Bulldog fans should start getting worried just yet. At this point, their tournament hopes are not in jeopardy because they have exactly zero bad losses. Their Big East titles hopes are likely nothing more than a pipe dream as they are sitting at 2-4 in the league with wins over St. John’s and DePaul and a trip to Creighton looming at the weekend, but that’s not the biggest concern.

If, on a night where Kellen Dunham, Kelan Martin and Jones combine for 52 points while Providence shoots 5-for-22 from three and Dunn is quiet, the Bulldogs cannot beat Providence, it might be time to start questioning exactly what this group’s ceiling is.

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.

No Dunham, no problem: No. 17 Butler hands No. 9 Purdue their first loss

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Butler may be the No. 17 team in the country today, but they’re No. 1 in the state of Indiana as the Bulldogs handed No. 9 Purdue their first loss of the season on Saturday evening, 74-68.

The Bulldogs pulled away midway through the second half, using a 17-4 run that stretched their lead out to 53-37. Purdue would chip away at that lead, getting within seven before Butler’s free throw shooting failed them, but the Bulldogs were able to make just enough from the charity stripe to hold on for the win.

Roosevelt Jones led the way for Butler with 19 points, 11 boards and five assists. Tyler Lewis added 17 points, six boards, four assists and four steals.

Beating Purdue is impressive in and of itself, but how Butler won this game is far more important than the simple fact that they did win. Kellen Dunham, Butler’s leading scorer, was 0-for-12 from the floor on Saturday. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Kelan Martin, Butler’s second leading scorer and the guy that’s averaged 23.0 points over the course of the last three games, finished just 2-for-9 from the field.

Combined they had nine points.

And Butler still won in relatively easy fashion, all things considered.

The Boilermakers have the biggest front line in the country, one that, on paper, looked like it should be able to overpower the Bulldogs. And, to a point, they did, as freshman Caleb Swanigan finished with 25 points and 11 boards while A.J. Hammons chipped in with 12 points. The problem is that size isn’t what is going to beat the Bulldogs. They’re big enough and disciplined enough defensively to take some of that away.

Where Butler can be beaten is off the dribble. Facts are facts: Tyler Lewis, and, to a point, Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, are all somewhere between not great and pretty bad when it comes to their ability to keep penetrating guards out of the lane. The one thing that Purdue does not have on their roster this season is a dynamic playmaker in their back court, someone that can break down a defense and take advantage of Lewis’ limitations.

In other words, this is just not an ideal matchup for Purdue.

And it showed in final box score.

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.

WEEKLY AWARDS: Utah’s Jakob Poeltl shines, UNC’s big week

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Jakob Poeltl, Utah

Poeltl has turned into a full-fledged monster in the season’s first month, and it was on full display this past week. On Wednesday, when the Utes hosted arch-rival BYU at the Huntsman Center, Poeltl put together arguably his best game of the season, finishing with 26 points, 13 boards and five blocks in a game that Utah dominated for more than 36 minutes. He followed that up with 21 points, six boards and six assists (!) in a win over IPFW. On the week, Poeltl shot 21-for-28 (75%) from the field and upped his numbers on the season to 21.9 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 2.5 bpg while shooting 69.2 percent from the floor.

Poeltl’s presence is critical for the Utes. This team is different than the one that Delon Wright had control of last season — that team was young and needed leadership, these guys don’t — but what they miss more than anything is a guy to give the ball to where they know they’ll get a good look out of it. It’s a good bet right now that giving Poeltl a touch will either get Utah a high-percentage shot or get them to the foul line, and that’s before you factor in the six assists he had on Saturday.

The Pac-12 is wiiiiiiiide open this year. When Poeltl plays like this, Utah is good enough to win the league.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Ben Bentil, Providence: Bentil averaged 22.0 points and 7.0 boards on the week, including a 23-point, eight-board performance in a win at in-state rival Rhode Island that also happened to include a game-winning tip-in. Bentil has turned into the perfect complement to Kris Dunn.
  • Brandon Ingram, Duke: Ingram had the best week of his college career, going for 24 points in a win over Indiana and following that up with 23 points against Buffalo. Ingram’s potential is off the charts, but he’s struggled with the physicality of college basketball this season.
  • Taurean Waller-Prince, Baylor: Waller-Prince had the best game of his college career in Baylor’s come-from-behind win over No. 16 Vanderbilt, scoring 30 points while showing off his versatility.
  • Thomas Welsh, UCLA: Welsh was the best big man on the floor as the Bruins knocked off No. 1 Kentucky on Thursday night, finishing with 21 points, 11 boards and two blocks. He followed that up with 15 points and 10 boards in a win over LBSU.
  • A.J. Hammons, Purdue: Isaac Haas has been sensational for Purdue this season, but Hammons was their best center this week. He had 24 points and 12 boards in a win at Pitt, following that up with 16 points and 11 boards, including a number of critical buckets down the stretch, in a home win over New Mexico.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: North Carolina Tar Heels

What a difference a Paige makes.

Marcus Paige played for the first time this season, and it totally changed the product that the Tar Heels put out. He had 20 points and five assists in a win over No. 2 Maryland on Tuesday night and followed that up with 13 points in a blowout win over Davidson on Saturday. It’s amazing what happens when an all-american is added into the mix, isn’t it?

When Marcus Paige is healthy, he’s a legitimate National Player of the Year contender, and with him in the mix, North Carolina may just very well be the best team in the country.

It’s good to have him back and have him healthy, isn’t it?

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Arizona Wildcats: Few were sold on the Wildcats after a less-than-stellar performance in the Wooden Legacy, and rightfully so. There isn’t the kind of talent on this roster that were accustomed to from a Sean Miller team. But that didn’t matter on Saturday when they went into Spokane and beat Gonzaga on a night where Kyle Wiltjer went bananas. I’m not sure there are five more impressive wins this season than that …
  • UCLA Bruins: … but one of those five might actually be UCLA’s win over No. 1 Kentucky on Thursday night. The Bruins are the most frustrating team in the country. They lose to Monmouth and struggle with Cal Poly and LBSU but they manhandle the Wildcats? Ay yi yi. This team may cost Steve Alford that beautiful head of hair.
  • Georgetown Hoyas: There were more impressive wins this season — hell, this week — but I promise that none were as satisfying for the winners as the Hoyas landing a win in the Verizon Center against rival Syracuse.
  • Butler Bulldogs: A 14 point home win over Indiana State is solid, but the reason the Bulldogs are on this list is because they went into Cincinnati and knocked off the No. 17 Bearcats on a last-second jumper from Roosevelt Jones.
  • Wisconsin Badgers: Remember when we had all written Wisconsin off this season? Did we speak too soon? Wisconsin won at No. 14 Syracuse in overtime in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and followed that up by beating Temple at home on Saturday.

SET YOUR DVR

  • No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 8 Villanova, Mon. 7:00 p.m. (Hawaii)
  • No. 20 West Virginia vs. No. 10 Virginia, Tue. 7:00 p.m. (Madison Square Garden)
  • Florida at No. 21 Miami, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
  • Michigan at No. 22 SMU, Tue. 9:00 p.m.
  • No. 2 Maryland at UConn, Tue. 8:30 p.m. (Madison Square Garden)
  • Dayton at No. 16 Vanderbilt, Wed. 9:00 p.m.
  • Iowa at No. 5 Iowa State, Thu. 9:00 p.m.
  • No. 17 Cincinnati at No. 18 Xavier, Sat. 5:30 p.m.
  • UCLA at No. 13 Gonzaga, Sat. 10:00 p.m.

Ranking the best off-guards in college basketball

Buddy Hield (AP)
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The off-guard spot is the weakest position in college basketball this season. For comparison’s sake, the No. 20 lead guard in the list we released yesterday was UConn’s Sterling Gibbs, who ranked 59th in our top 100 players list.

For off-guards, only 18 were ranked in our top 100, meaning the final two in this list didn’t crack that list. Why is this the case? Is it because the best scoring guards in basketball are trying to mold themselves after the likes of Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Derrick Rose as opposed to, say, Kobe? Is it because the emphasis on court spacing has turned the off-guard spot into a spot-up shooters role? Or is this just a random year where the two-guards just aren’t all that good?

As interesting as that discussion would be, it’s a different conversation for a different day. Here are the top 20 off-guards in college basketball:

[MORE: Top backcourts | Top frontcourts]

1. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

It feels like Hield has been around forever. Initially considered to be not much more than a lockdown perimeter defender, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year has developed into one of the nation’s most potent wing scorers, averaging 17.4 points last season. His shooting percentages dipped a bit last year, which will be something to keep an eye on this year. Does being the focus of every team’s defense throw him off?

2. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia

I’m beating this quote to death, I know, but the ACC coaches that I’ve spoken too rave about Brogdon. One of them told me that “he’s a MFer, man. In every way.” That’s just about the highest compliment that can be given to a basketball player from a coach. What he means is that Brogdon is tough, he’s physical, he’s skilled and he’s got the mental fortitude to execute in big moments. He’s a perfect fit for Tony Bennett’s system.

3. Ron Baker, Wichita State

It’s really difficult to argue with Ron Baker’s results. He made the Final Four as a freshman. He was a star on a team that won their first 35 games as a sophomore. He was an all-american on a team that went to the Sweet 16 and beat in-state rival Kansas — who refuses to play the Shockers — in the tournament. What does he have left to do?

The NBA hype on Baker has subsided a bit, but I still think he’ll find a role somewhere at that level. He can shoot, he can defend, he can handle the ball and he can operate in ball-screen actions.

4. Caris LeVert, Michigan

Ability is not going to be the issue with LeVert. We know how good he can be. The question is going to be his health. He’s broken his left foot twice in the last 18 months, with both injuries requiring surgery. How long does it take him to shake off the roster? And, more importantly, can he remain healthy for an entire season? If he does, Michigan has enough talent to make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and LeVert is good enough to finish his final season as an all-american.

5. Wayne Selden, Kansas

I see all the buzz surrounding Wayne Selden after his performance in the World University Games this summer. I understand why people are so high on him entering the year. The dude has never lacked for ability. Consistency and a left hand? That’s where he’s struggled. He got a slight bump in these rankings because of his play in Korea, but until he proves it night-in and night-out in the Big 12, I’ll have my reservations.

RELATED: Top 100 players | Top Lead Guards | Top Wings | Top Bigs

Indiana's James Blackmon Jr. (AP Photo)
Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. (AP Photo)

6. James Blackmon, Indiana

Blackmon is such a dangerous scorer and he’s such a perfect fit for this Indiana offense. He’s a lethal three-point shooter when he gets into a rhythm, which is often, and that ability to shoot is what helps Indiana keep the floor spread offensively, creating acres of space for Yogi Ferrell to penetrate. I’d be surprised if his scoring numbers — he averaged 15.7 points as a freshman — didn’t improve this year. That said, the reason he’s sixth on this list is because he was a sieve defensively last year.

7. Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky

Briscoe was another guy that was tough to place in these rankings. For starters, he’s probably more of a natural lead guard than he is an off-guard, but playing in a back court with Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis is an easy way to get pushed off the ball. How does he react to that? Will he be willing to fill a role for UK? Is he a good enough shooter to dominate minutes over guys like Charles Matthews and Mychal Mulder? The ability is there, but it remains to be seen how he will be utilized by John Calipari.

8. Danuel House, Texas A&M

House was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and last season, his first with the Aggies after transferring in from Houston, he looked like it. House averaged 14.8 points, 2.1 assists and shot 40.0 percent from three. The Aggies were one of the last teams left out of the NCAA tournament in March. With House leading the way, and a talented freshman class coming in, the Aggies should be an SEC contender this season.

9. E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island

Matthews, a junior, is probably the best player in the Atlantic 10, having averaged 16.9 points last season. He’s an explosive, albeit at times inefficient, scorer that is a major reason the Rams will enter this season as the favorite to win the Atlantic 10.

10. Eron Harris, Michigan State

As a sophomore at West Virginia in 2013-14, Harris averaged 17.0 points. He’s a big-time wing scorer that can light it up from three when he gets on a role. Like Briscoe, it’s going to be interesting to see how Tom Izzo divvies up minutes on his perimeter. Will Harris start over Bryn Forbes? Will they be on the floor together with Denzel Valentine handling playmaking duties? Who will be the guy whose number gets called in crunch-time?

  • 11. Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen was terrific in the Final Four last season, helping to spark Duke’s come-from-behind title game victory. Does his development continue this season? And how does Coach K divide up minutes on Duke’s loaded perimeter?
  • 12. Kellen Dunham, Butler: It feels like Dunham is perennially underrated. He averaged 16.5 points and shot 41.0 percent from three last season on a top 25 team.
  • 13. Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma: Cousins doesn’t get quite as much attention as he should, which is a by-product of sharing a back court with Buddy Hield and Jordan Woodard. NBA scouts know how good he is.
  • 14. Zak Irvin, Michigan: Irvin had a nice sophomore season individually, but with Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton getting injured, Michigan missed the NCAA tournament. Irvin is a lights-out spot-up shooter when he gets in a rhythm.
  • 15. A.J. English, Iona: English was the only player in college basketball last season to average 20 points, five boards and five assists.
  • 16. Antonio Blakeney, LSU: Blakeney is a big-time talent that can score in bunches and throw down some thunderous dunks. But he’s also streaky and playing for a coach that doesn’t always maximize his talent. I expect that he’s going to have an up-and-down season.
  • 17. Sheldon McClellan, Miami: McClellan was the steadying force on a Miami team that won 25 games a season ago. While Angel Rodriguez was up and down, McClellan averaged a cool 14.5 points with 48.4/35.8/82.4 shooting splits.
  • 18. Stefan Moody, Ole Miss: Moody is the SEC’s leading returning scorer. At 5-foot-9 with a 45 inch vert and a penchant for hitting three or four 25-footers in a row, Moody is as entertaining as anyone in the country.
  • 19. Anthony Drmic, Boise State: Drmic missed the second half of last season with an injury. With Derrick Marks gone, Drmic will have to carry a heavier load this season.
  • 20. Juice Woodard, Tulsa: Woodard is the leading scorer on a Tulsa team that is going to contend for the AAC regular season title.