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Tuesday’s Things to Know: Creighton, Kentucky, Illinois earn big road wins

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College basketball saw some big results in the Big East and Big Ten on Tuesday night. Road wins from Illinois and Creighton left a big impression. Kentucky, meanwhile, kept the strong road-win theme of the night going with a strong win at LSU in the SEC.

No. 15 Creighton takes down No. 19 Marquette

Perhaps the night’s biggest win went to No. 15 Creighton. The Bluejays held off No. 19 Marquette for a crucial Big East road win.

Ty-Shon Alexander shook off a first-half shot to the jaw to finish with 22 points. And Creighton did a strong job of defending Markus Howard. The nation’s leading scorer was limited to 13 points in the loss.

The win gives Creighton a legitimate shot to win at least a share of the Big East title. I examined more on the Bluejays here.

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Ayo Dosunmu’s return lifts Illinois over No. 9 Penn State

The night started with Illinois snapping a four-game Big Ten losing streak. Sophomore Ayo Dosunmu’s return fueled a critical 62-56 road win for the Illini at No. 9 Penn State.

After a scary knee injury against Michigan State last Tuesday, Dosunmu missed the Illinois loss to Rutgers over the weekend. The guard looked healthy in his return to the Illinois lineup. Dosunmu paced the Illini with 24 points. With the shot clock winding down with under a minute left, Dosunmu buried a runner to help seal the win.

Dosunmu’s return also helped Illinois immensely on the defensive end. Penn State only shot 36 percent from the floor and 21 percent from three-point range. The Illini threw length at the Nittany Lions on the perimeter. And the size of Kofi Cockburn (15 points) enabled Illinois to defend Mike Watkins (eight points) one-on-one. Life was also tough for Lamar Stevens during a 3-for-11 night. In a grind-it-out game where both teams went scoreless for minutes at a time, Illinois looked like a top-30 defense in a huge road game.

At this point in the season, Illinois is still a full three games out of the Big Ten lead. It’s unlikely the Illini can jump four or five teams to vault into first. But this is also a very dangerous team if they can get hot.

Starting Big Ten play at 8-2, Illinois already showed they’re capable of running off six or seven wins in a row in the deepest conference in the country. Although one win at Penn State doesn’t put Illinois back in contention it gives a dangerous team confidence.

The next two for Illinois are winnable games against bottom feeders in Nebraska and Northwestern. From there, it’s a three-game sprint to the finish with Indiana, at Ohio State and Iowa. With only one road game against a top Big Ten team, Illinois will be a fascinating team to track the next few weeks.

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No. 10 Kentucky gets past LSU

In the SEC, the Wildcats kept their lead with a strong road win at LSU. The win gives Kentucky a two-game lead in the loss column on LSU. Auburn remains in second in the league at a game behind Kentucky.

The road win also gives the Wildcats another quality win. Winners of nine of their last 10 games, Kentucky looks like a team that is figuring things out down the stretch. Sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley has turned into the team’s most consistent scorer the past several weeks.

Quickley led Kentucky with 21 points on Tuesday night to lead the Wildcats. Establishing Nick Richards on the interior is still Kentucky’s best route to earning a win. But Quickley scoring at least 12 or more points in 14 straight games is something to track going forward.

Richards dominating on the inside and Quickley’s consistent scoring on the perimeter has given the Wildcats more of an established identity during the stretch run.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Michigan State, Penn State win on the road

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College basketball didn’t have a ton of games on Tuesday night.

But we learned more about a crowded Big Ten race with two key road wins.

And three ranked teams struggled to put away feisty unranked teams during a night of close games.

Michigan State survives at No. 22 Illinois

College basketball’s biggest matchup came from Champaign on Tuesday night.

Michigan State claimed a crucial road win over No. 22 Illinois with a 70-69 victory. Stopping a three-game losing streak, this was one of the Spartans’ biggest wins of the season.

Jumping out to an 8-0 advantage, it looked like Michigan State would win this one with ease. The Spartans led by 17 at the half. For about the first 30 minutes, Michigan State looked like one of college basketball’s elite teams in this one.

Then Illinois made a furious rally to take the lead with under five minutes left. A back-and-forth finish ensued. Cassius Winston’s missed layup was followed by a Xavier Tillman putback dunk with just over six seconds left for the game-winning bucket.

Illinois sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu took the ball the length of the floor on the ensuing possession and twisted his knee before losing the ball. Dosunmu (17 points) was a warrior in the second half. But he had to be carried off the floor by two Illinois staffers following the heartbreaking loss. Dosunmu’s status going forward is certainly a concern for Illinois in a brutal Big Ten race.

But the story of this one is Michigan State holding on to win.

The Spartans blew a 20-point lead and got cold in the second half after a hot start. On an off night from Winston (12 points, four turnovers), freshman Rocket Watts (21 points) came up huge in the scoring column for Michigan State. Watts created offense off the dribble by himself when it was difficult for the Spartans to generate offense.

Xavier Tillman (17 points, 11 rebounds) also came through with a double-double as he converted a few key post touches on mismatches late in the second half.

This one certainly wasn’t pretty. And Michigan State still has to figure out how to get Winston going on certain off nights. But for Watts to step up like that and the Spartans to take Illinois’ best shot is a very positive sign of a turnaround. If Michigan State wanted to stay in the Big Ten race, they needed a road win like this to keep pace with teams like Maryland and Penn State.

No. 13 Penn State pushes win streak to seven with statement win

Perhaps the night’s most impressive win belongs to Penn State.

The Nittany Lions blitzed Purdue with 10 first-half three-pointers to claim another Big Ten road win. On a seven-game winning streak, the Nittany Lions have four road wins in that span.

Tuesday night’s win was impressive because of the way Penn State did it. With Lamar Stevens battling foul problems and second-leading scorer Myreon Jones (illness) out, the role guys stepped up.

I have much more on Penn State’s notable road victory here. It’s been a long time since Penn State basketball was relevant. This is one of the most fun and surprising stories of the 2019-20 college basketball season.

Three ranked teams survive scares

Some close games scared some ranked teams across college basketball on Tuesday night.

In a slow night for the top 25, two SEC teams needed second-half comebacks over unranked teams. And the Big Ten’s leader survived a final push from a conference bottom feeder.

After jumping out to a double-digit lead, Vanderbilt couldn’t close No. 12 Kentucky at home. Tyrese Maxey scored 25 points to pace the Wildcats past the Commodores for an SEC road win. Ashton Hagans also registered a triple-double for Kentucky in the win.

Keeping pace with the Wildcats in the SEC was No. 25 LSU. The Tigers also needed a second-half rally as they held off Missouri. Skylar Mays (23 points) and Darius Days (20 points, 10 rebounds) paced the five double-figure scorers for LSU. The wins for both keep Kentucky and the Tigers tied atop the SEC with 9-2 conference marks.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten’s leader also had some trouble. Maryland needed to get a stop on its final two defensive possessions to seal a win over Nebraska. Jalen Smith registered a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds, coming up with a key defensive play late in the game to help keep the Terps on top.

The win keeps Maryland on top of the Big Ten standings. The Terps are a game up on Penn State and two up on the Spartans after Tuesday night.

Wednesday’s Things to Know: Buckeye guards star; Marquette rallies; LSU loses to VCU

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There were top-25 teams in action, the Gavitt Games rolled on and there was something of an awkward homecoming in Richmond.

Here are the most important things you need to know from the action around the country Wednesday.

Ohio State’s guards can elevate the Buckeyes

When we talk about Ohio State, we inevitably start with the Buckeyes’ frontcourt. And with good reason. Kaleb Wesson is a hulking 6-foot-9, 270-pound throwback double-double machine. He’s the type of player we just don’t see as often anymore up front, and as such, few teams have a true counter for him.

What we saw Wednesday in the Buckeyes’ 76-51 dismantling of Villanova, though, was that Chris Holtmann’s guards might hold the key to success in Columbus this season. If nothing else, they certainly opened a lot of eyes against the Wildcats.

Duane Washington Jr (14), Luther Muhammad (11), D.J. Carter (11) and CJ Walker (10) all scored in double-figures while Walker had seven assists, Washington had five rebounds and Carton had five rebounds and five assists. That’s on top of Wesson doing Wesson things like recording 10 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and three assists.

If the Buckeyes’ guards can give them this kind of production, it’s really not much of a leap to consider this team a serious threat to Michigan State in the Big Ten, and maybe even a bigger contender nationally than we’ve given them credit for this preseason. The team that took apart Villanova on Wednesday night looked like a team that could make it to Atlanta in April. It was that complete a performance.

It’s easy to draw a line from this Ohio State performance against Villanova to Michigan’s last year against Jay Wright’s team, which took a 27-point L to John Beilein last November. The ‘Cats ultimately bounced back and found their stride, but that lopsided result probably said more about how good that Wolverines team was as they eventually went on to secure a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament.

Can the Buckeyes replicate that path? That question is probably best answered with another – can their guards replicate the night they had against Villanova?

Marquette erases 18-point deficit to beat Purdue

Marquette is one of the country’s biggest question marks. There were a few fleeting moments last spring when they looked like a national title contender when Markus Howard decided to return to school, but the Golden Eagles were flung into the “mystery” category after the Hauser brothers decided to bolt, leaving Marquette with an interesting albeit uncertain roster.

Steve Wojciechowski’s team looked like it answered some questions Wednesday, coming from 18 behind to defeat Purdue, 65-55, in Milwaukee.

Howard was his dynamic self with 18 points, four rebounds and three assists on 6 of 12 shooting, but it was the play of Kobe McEwen that is perhaps the most promising. The Utah State transfer went for 23 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal to help Marquette claw back and win the game.

Marquette needs McEwen to be that productive this season as an offensive second option as defenses do everything they can to try to bottle up Howard. If McEwen can not only be a viable No. 2 but make teams truly pay for throwing the kitchen sink at Howard defensively, Marquette can be closer to that upper-echelon Big East team we thought they might be last spring rather than the enigma they became this summer.

Purdue, meanwhile, saw its offense implode, shooting 33.9 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range. Given the departures from last year’s team, offense is understandably a work in progress, though that progression looked stalled in a second half in which Matt Painter’s team scored just 17 points – while buckling defensively, giving up 40 to Marquette.

Will Wade loses to his former school

As a program that sends many of its coaches on to bigger stages and brighter lights, VCU has figured out quite a few ways to make their status as a stepping stone to their advantage. First off, it’s an attractive job for talented coaches because of the track record. A smaller, but interesting, way the Rams have maneuvered is to work into the coaches’ contract that if they leave for another gig, they have to bring that team back to Richmond.

That’s why LSU and Will Wade were in town Wednesday, taking a 84-82 loss. If they hadn’t, Wade would have owed VCU $250,000.

That bit of info turned out to be at least a little funny, given that a few VCU students dressed up as FBI agents as an allusion to reports that Wade was caught on a wiretap discussing a “strong-ass offer” to a recruit as part of the federal government’s investigation into corruption into college basketball.

Here’s guessing Wade and LSU get plenty of this treatment throughout the season, though it’s probably worth noting the Tigers made it to the Sweet 16 last year amid the controversy and Wade hasn’t missed a beat on the recruiting trail – they inked five-star Trendon Watford last May – so whatever lingering controversy there may be probably isn’t going to be too bothersome to them.

LSU returning four of six players who entered NBA draft process

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LSU will still have a talented roster available for next season despite six players declaring early for the 2019 NBA Draft process earlier this offseason.

Point guard Tremont Waters and big man Naz Reid are both staying in the draft. And replacing those two would be tough for anybody. But the Tigers are expected to return guards Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays and Marlon Taylor while freshman big man Emmitt Williams will also be back for next season.

Considering where LSU was a month ago — with a suspended head coach and potentially six players leaving early — and things are looking a lot better for the 2019-20 season.

It’s a distinct possibility that all four of those returning players will make up most of LSU’s starting lineup for next season as the program also brings in a five-star forward in Trendon Watford and an intriguing sophomore forward in Darius Days.

Williams could be the key for LSU’s success next season. While the Tigers know what to expect from Smart and Mays, Williams and his high-motor style will have to replace the imposing size and skill of Reid on the interior.

Taylor will also have to step up his play, particularly his scoring, for next season, but if Williams can become a double-double threat and protect the rim then LSU should be in position to return to the NCAA tournament while remaining competitive in the SEC.

Now that Will Wade is reinstated as head coach and much of a conference title-winning core is back, things are looking up for the Tigers are an up-and-down spring.

LSU coach Will Wade avoids tough questions in first time talking to media since March

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LSU head coach Will Wade spoke publicly with reporters on Tuesday. — the first time since last March when he was suspended amid a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the FBI’s college basketball corruption case.

With LSU in the midst of an SEC regular-season title campaign, Wade was suspended indefinitely by LSU after Yahoo Sports and ESPN reported on leaked wiretapped phone conversations between Wade and convicted former runner Christian Dawkins. During their wiretapped discussion, the duo discuss “the Smart thing” and a “strong-ass offer” — which many interpreted as being about Tigers freshman guard Javonte Smart, a highly-recruited McDonald’s All-American.

Wade missed the LSU postseason run as Tony Benford was interim coach through the Sweet 16. Later reinstated last month, Wade has already landed a five-star prospect in Trendon Watford for next season while Smart and fellow guard Skylar Mays announced their return to school next year after testing the NBA Draft process.

Dancing around direct questions involving the “strong-ass offer” Wade told reporters on Tuesday that he “can’t get into the specifics of everything.” Wade was speaking at the SEC Spring Meetings as he took a podium to answer questions for nearly 16 minutes.

“Eventually, as we move forward from this, I want to get a point where we have full disclosure,” Wade said on Tuesday. “… We’re not at that point right now.”

Wade was also asked various questions about LSU players accepting money from agents or coaches to which he replied, “Everything you can think of was addressed in the meeting with LSU and the NCAA.”

“Obviously this has been a difficult couple of months for LSU and the basketball program,” Wade said. “As the leader, I’m here today to start the process of rebuilding trust.”

While Wade is out to rebuild his personal reputation while maintaining the strong success he’s built with the Tigers, this media sessions is going to leave a lot of people skeptical about what really happened with potential offers to players like Smart and Naz Reid — who was mentioned during the FBI college basketball corruption trial.

Wade doesn’t have to answer these questions truthfully since he’s not in court under the threat of perjury, but his public perception is going to take a long time to repair — if it is ever repaired at all.

Regardless of what Wade says to the media, he has another talented roster that should factor in the SEC title equation this season as he continues to recruit at a high level despite the allegations and suspension.

(H/t: Pat Forde, Yahoo SportsThe Advocate)

Five-star forward Trendon Watford commits to LSU

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Whatever issues have dogged LSU coach Will Wade over the last few months, they aren’t enough to keep him from landing another five-star recruit.

Trendon Watford, a top-25 forward in 2019, committed to Wade and the Tigers in an Monday afternoon announcement.

“It’s the trust,” he said of his pick of the Tigers, according to AL.com, “the trust I have with those coaches and them helping me reach my potential.”

Watford said he had been leaning towards heading to Baton Rouge, but retreated from that stance when Wade was suspended by LSU after reports surfaced about federal wiretaps featuring Wade discussing making a “strong-ass offer” for a recruit. Former Arizona assistant Book Richardson was also on wiretap discussing Wade, recruit Naz Reid and $300,000. Ultimately, though, LSU has stood by him as it reinstated him from suspension.

“When all that was going on it was definitely a pause in my recruitment,” Watford told 247Sports. “Before that I was going to commit to LSU during the McDonald’s game and that happened so we postponed. He still contacted me throughout that time and would tell me what was up. When he got reinstated they got pushed back to the top.”

Ultimately, the Tigers are landing one of the top players that were left on the board this spring, a 6-foot-9 forward that was also considering Alabama, Memphis and Indiana, where his brother Christian played. He joins James Bishop, a top-150 guard from Maryland, and junior college transfer guard Charles Manning in Wade’s 2019 class. It would also seem there is little immediate concern, at least by Watford, that the NCAA might soon find wrongdoing that was suggested by the evidence and testimony to come out the federal investigation into college hoops.