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Tuesday’s Things to Know: Villanova gears up for big stretch, Auburn wins ugly in 2OT and Rutgers keeps rolling

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The headliner of Tuesday night was Virginia regaining an NCAA tournament pulse with a win over No. 5 Florida State, but there were plenty of other developments on the bubble across the country.  Here’s what else you need to know:

1. Villanova runs streak to seven ahead of grueling stretch

Jay Wright’s team had little trouble winning its seventh-straight Tuesday with a 79-59 victory at Madison Square Garden over St. John’s. Saddiq Bey was brilliant, scoring 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting, including 5 of 9 from deep. Collin Gillespie was equally great, going for 17 points, 13 boards and six assists while Jeremiah Robinson-Early had 13 points and 14 rebounds. Cole Swider and Justin Moore both had 11 to put all five Wildcat starters in double-figures to help offset the absence of the injured Jermaine Samuels.

The victory, while unremarkable given St. John’s mediocrity, keeps momentum for Villanova heading into a huge stretch that very well could decide the Big East. They’ve got Creighton at home Saturday before a trip to No. 16 Butler and then back-to-back home games against No. 10 Seton Hall and Marquette, which handed the ‘Cats their lone conference loss this season.

How Villanova emerges from this four-game stretch – and subsequently what the Big East landscape looks like – will likely be determined by a couple of things. If the ‘Cats are going to make it through in the conference driver’s seat, it’ll probably because Villanova’s defense proves for real. The Cats’ defense this season on the whole has been fine, ranking 60th nationally on KenPom, but it’s been the best in the Big East during conference play. They’ve been stingier both inside and outside the arc while improving on the glass. They’ve kept opponents from launching a lot of 3s and have mostly kept them off the line.

Wright’s team is going to be fine offensively, even if they haven’t been elite in Big East play yet. If the defense holds up, the ‘Cats are going to be sitting pretty come March.

2. No. 17 Auburn comes from behind to win in 2OT

Things were looking pretty dire for Auburn. The Tigers narrowly avoided a third loss in four games over the weekend when they blew a big lead to a sub-.500 Iowa State team, and then they fell behind by 19 in the second half Tuesday at Ole Miss.

It turned out to be nothing to be worried about, unless you were on your couch hoping to watch good overtime basketball.

The Tigers narrowly escaped, 83-82, against the Rebels, overcoming a huge deficit and mistakes of their own making that could have negated their comeback but instead will be footnotes.

Auburn shot 56 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range in the second half to mount its comeback while Ole Miss shot just 33 percent. They nearly gave the game away, though, after taking a two-point lead in the final seconds of overtime. The Tigers missed a jumper that would have put them up four with 25 seconds left, but the shot missed and they inexplicably fouled on the rebound to allow Ole Miss to tie the game with 22 seconds left on free throws. After a missed 3 in a tie game by Danjel Purifoy, Ole Miss gave Auburn a gift it just wouldn’t accept. Devontae Shuler’s inbounds pass under the basket with 2 seconds left went astray and was headed out of bounds, which would have resulted in no time coming off the clock and Auburn getting the ball on the baseline, but Isaac Okoro, for some reason, grabbed the ball, waited a second and called timeout. Samir Doughty’s forthcoming 3 out of the huddle as time expired miss to send things to 2OT.

Ole Miss led by as many as four in overtime, but Auburn took the lead with 1:41 left. The two teams traded missed opportunities for the remainder of the game, leaving the Tigers with a win.

College basketball: Not always pretty, but rarely boring.

3. Rutgers continues to build its case

It’s been 29 years since Rutgers last made the NCAA tournament. It’s been 13 since the Scarlet Knights even finished above .500 in a season. Both those streaks seem incredibly likely to fall in just a handful of weeks.

Rutgers ran its overall record to 16-5 and its Big Ten mark to 7-3 with a 70-63 victory Tuesday at home against Purdue.

Steve Pikiell’s team is building a bulletproof resume after losses to St. Bonaventure and Pittsburgh in the first month of the season made it seem as the status quo would be very much in place in Piscataway this winter. Since then, the only three losses Rutgers have taken have all been on the road to high-quality opponents, with Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa the only teams able to get the best of them.

Rutgers is doing it o the strength of a top-10 defense that overcomes an offense that can be clunky at times, especially at the 3-point line. Defense as stout as the Scarlet Knights are playing, though, makes up for a lot of deficiencies on the other end.

Baldwin scores 31 as No. 24 Butler beats Ole Miss 67-58

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OXFORD, Miss. — Another big performance from Kamar Baldwin kept No. 24 Butler unbeaten after an early-season test in an SEC arena.

Baldwin scored a season-high 31 points and the Bulldogs opened a large lead in the second half before holding off Mississippi 67-58 on Tuesday night in a game they never trailed.

“We swung first. Then we held on,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said. “We showed poise on the road and we executed. And what can you say about Kamar? He’s playing at a really high level.”

Baldwin shot 11 of 16 from the field, including 4 for 5 from 3-point range, to lead the Bulldogs (8-0). He added six rebounds and three assists.

Jordan Tucker and Bryce Nze each had eight points for Butler, and Nze grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.

“My teammates did a great job of finding me when I got to the open spots,” Baldwin said. “When they come to me, I’m supposed to hit the shots.”

Breein Tyree scored 22 points and Khadim Sy added 12 for Ole Miss (5-3).

After trailing 31-22 at halftime and 50-34 midway through the second half, the Rebels pulled to 52-48 on Tyree’s layup with 9:11 left. Butler answered with an 8-3 run, highlighted by six points from Baldwin, and the Rebels never got closer than seven again.

The Bulldogs finished 27 of 47 (51%) from the floor, including 8 for 17 on 3s (47%), and forced 17 turnovers.

“I saw some positive things tonight and I was proud we made a great comeback,” Mississippi coach Kermit Davis said. “Their best player just took over the game. It’s that simple. We missed shots down the stretch and Butler is way too good for that.”

The Rebels shot 22 of 55 (40%) from the field, including a combined 14 for 25 from Tyree and Sy. Ole Miss was 7 of 22 (31%) from beyond the 3-point arc and a season-low 7 for 15 (46%) at the free throw line.

BIG PICTURE

Butler: This was an NCAA Tournament resume-building road win. Picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason coach’s poll, the Bulldogs appear to be much better than predicted. They raced to a 22-8 lead and never trailed as Baldwin had 12 points in the first half while missing only one shot from the field.

“I thought that 22-8 start was huge,” Jordan said. “We challenged our group coming in to get off to a good start and we prepared well. We got contributions from everybody in that fast start.”

Ole Miss: Sy, a 6-foot-10 junior college transfer, had his best performance of the season — including three dunks in the first half. … Since starting swingman Luis Rodriguez was injured, the Rebels have lost two of three games. A broken left foot will keep Rodriguez sidelined for eight weeks.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Butler: Winning on the road against an SEC opponent coming off an NCAA Tournament berth last season should at least be enough to keep the Bulldogs ranked.

UP NEXT

Butler: At home against Florida on Saturday, the third SEC opponent in a four-game stretch.

Ole Miss: Will host CSU Bakersfield, coached by former Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes, on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Mississippi lands junior college center

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One of the best available junior college players is joining Kermit Davis in Oxford.

Khadim Sy,  6-foot-10 center who started his career at Virginia Tech, committed to Davis and Mississippi on Monday, he announced via social media.

“First, I want to thank my parents and coaches for always being supportive and helping me get to where I am today,” Sy wrote. “Next I would like to thank God for giving me this opportunity. Lastly I would like (to) thank all the coaches who recruited me during this long process.

“All the time and effort was greatly appreciated and made this a tough decision. With that being said, I am blessed to announce I have committed to Ole Miss!”

Sy averaged 16.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game while shooting 55.1 percent from the floor this past season at Daytona State College, and picked the Rebels over Pitt and East Carolina. He spent his freshman season with Buzz Williams in Blacksburg, where he averaged 4 points and 2.7 rebounds in 11.4 minutes in 32 games as a freshman.

 

NCAA Tournament 2019: Instant Analysis South Region

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The South Region is led by some top seeds who were bounced early in the NCAA tournament last season as Virginia and Tennessee look to redeem themselves after strong seasons.

The South Region is led by No. 1 seed Virginia. Following last season’s stunning loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round, the Cavaliers will get a chance to redeem themselves against No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb, the champions of the Big South.

The No. 8/9 matchup is a matchup between SEC and Big 12 as Ole Miss and Oklahoma battle. The Rebels were one of the most pleasant surprises of any team in the field this season while Oklahoma has won some games down the stretch to earn another bid.

Wisconsin draws the No. 5 seed as the Ethan Happ-led Badgers get a major test in No. 12 seed and Pac-12 Tournament champion Oregon. Although the Ducks struggled during the regular season — particularly after the loss of star freshman Bol Bol — they’re a dangerous team with two recent wins over Washington.

ANALYSIS: East | South | West | Midwest

The No. 4 seed is Kansas State as they are still hoping to get senior forward Dean Wade (foot) healthy enough to play in the NCAA tournament after he missed all of last season’s Elite Eight run for the Wildcats. They’ll face No. 13 seed UC Irvine, the champions of the Big West.

Defending champion Villanova drew no favors from the committee with the No. 6 seed. There hasn’t been a No. 6 seed in the Final Four since 1992 as the Wildcats will have an uphill battle to make the Final Four for the third time in four years. They draw No. 11 seed Saint Mary’s as the Gaels gained a lot of momentum in winning the WCC title over No. 1 seed Gonzaga.

Earning a surprising share of the Big Ten regular-season title this season, Purdue draws the No. 3 seed as they get a tough first-round opponent in No. 14 seed Old Dominion.

The committee also didn’t help No. 7 seed Cincinnati as the Bearcats had an impressive showing in an AAC title-game win over Houston on Sunday. The Bearcats will face No. 10 seed Iowa in a clash of styles and tempo.

After falling short in the SEC tournament title game, No. 2 seed Tennessee gets a matchup with No. 15 seed Colgate — a program making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 23 years. Although the Raiders feature the Patriot League Player of the Year in forward Rapolas Ivanauskas, they’ll face one of the best frontcourts in the tournament with the Vols’ veteran combo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.

No. 6 Kentucky earns hard-fought 80-76 win over Mississippi

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OXFORD, Miss. — Keldon Johnson scored 22 points, Tyler Herro added 20 and No. 6 Kentucky earned a hard-fought 80-76 win over Mississippi on Tuesday night.

Kentucky (25-5, 14-3 Southeastern Conference) bounced back from its 71-52 loss at No. 5 Tennessee on Saturday. PJ Washington had 13 points — all in the second half — to help the Wildcats ward off a tough challenge from the Rebels.

Kentucky shot 55.4 percent from the field and dominated in the paint with 34 points.

Ole Miss (19-11, 9-8) has lost three straight and four of five. The Rebels trimmed their deficit to 78-76 with six seconds left, but Immanuel Quickly made two free throws to put the game out of reach.

Terence Davis led the Rebels with 25 points on his Senior Night. Breein Tyree added 21.

Ole Miss led 39-38 at halftime thanks to 15 points from Davis. The 6-foot-4 guard also had six rebounds and two assists before the break.

Herro scored 13 points in the first half on 6-of-6 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: It was a good bounce-back win for the Wildcats, who were once again tested. Kentucky prevailed thanks to an efficient offense that finished tough chances close to the rim. Washington’s second-half outburst was huge. Kentucky remains in the mix for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Ole Miss: The Rebels were feeling good about their NCAA Tournament chances a few weeks ago, but three straight defeats have hurt the resume. Two have come against Tennessee and Kentucky, and while those are certainly understandable, it means Saturday’s road game against Missouri could have NCAA implications.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: Hosts Florida on Saturday.

Ole Miss: Plays at Missouri on Saturday.

Bubble Banter: Xavier, Alabama, Utah State with critical games

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The latest NBC Sports bracket projection can be found here.

WINNERS

MINNESOTA (NET: 56, SOS: 55): The Golden Gophers landed a massive, massive win on Tuesday night, as they picked off Purdue (11) in Minneapolis. It’s the third Q1 win for Richard Pitino’s and their second elite win in league play — they also beat Wisconsin (17) on the road. The Gophers are just 2-8 this season on the road, but they are sitting here on March 6th with a 19-11 record, 10 wins against Q1 and Q2 opponents and just one loss outside the top 100 — at Boston College (111), which is still a Q2 game. Minnesota entered the day sitting right around the play-in game on most projections, and this should be enough to get them on the right side of the bubble. They’re in a really good spot.

OKLAHOMA (NET: 41, SOS: 23): As hard as it may be to believe, Oklahoma entered the day sitting as a No. 9 seed in our latest bracket projection at NBC Sports despite the fact that they were 18-11 overall and 6-10 in the Big 12. That’s what happens when you have a pair Q1 wins, an 8-11 mark against Q1 and Q2, no bad losses and exactly zero games played against Q4 competition. Now add to that Tuesday night’s win — by 13 points over Kansas (16) at home. The Sooners play at Kansas State (27) on Saturday, and at this point, I think they are just about a lock to dance.

VCU (NET: 36, SOS: 42): The Rams did what they needed to do on Tuesday, absolutely drilling George Mason in Fairfax and heading back to Richmond needing nothing more than a win over Saint Joseph’s to just about lock up their bid. The Rams are 6-4 in Q1 and Q2 games, highlighted by a win at Texas (33), but they also have a pair of Q3 losses. I don’t know if they can withstand two more ugly losses, which is what just about every loss to an Atlantic 10 opponent is this season, but I do think they can get a bid with one.

LOSERS

ALABAMA (NET: 53, SOS: 21): The Crimson Tide whiffed on a major chance to land their third Q1 win of the season when they blew a double-digit lead at home against Auburn (20). They are now sitting at 17-13 overall with two Q1 wins and a 9-12 mark against Q1 and Q2. The loss to Georgia State (135) at home is bad, but the win over Kentucky (5) is good. They’re probably sitting in one of the play-in games at the moment, so there is definitely work left to do.

UTAH STATE (NET: 30, SOS: 100): The Aggies dodged a massive bullet on Tuesday night, going into Fort Collins with a share of the MWC title on the line and getting taken to overtime by Colorado State (185). But they got the win, and at this point, with Saturday’s win over Nevada (23) in the books and their regular season over, I think they’re dancing as long as they can avoid taking a bad loss in the MWC tournament.

XAVIER (NET: 70, SOS: 46): Xavier played its way back into the bubble picture thanks to a surprising five-game Big East winning streak. Momentum ran out for the Musketeers during a Tuesday road loss at Butler (59). Squandering a valuable Q1 opportunity against the Bulldogs, Xavier finds itself at 3-9 against Q1 teams and a solid 6-2 with Q2 opponents. Saturday’s home game against St. John’s (61) is now a must-win scenario for the Musketeers if they want to maintain any sort of bubble credibility — but that will likely only be a Q2 opportunity.

OLE MISS (NET: 37, SOS: 85): The Rebels missed on a chance to beat Kentucky (5) at home on Tuesday, but they still are in a good spot. They are 19-11 overall, but 10 of their 11 losses are against Q1 opponents, they swept Auburn (20) and they have a total of seven Q1 and Q2 wins. I would not recommend losing at Missouri (86) and in the first round of the SEC tournament, but I do think that all it would take is one more win to get the job done.