It was sort of inevitable, even if watching it play out was sort of shocking.
Virginia’s defense has been so good, even by its lofty standards, that the Cavaliers navigated the first seven games of their schedule without a loss, despite the fact that 65 points against James Madison was their highwater mark of offense.
So unless you thought Tony Bennett’s team was going to hold opponents to the 30s and 40s every night – which, I suppose, given the track record that’s not an entirely crazy notion – the Cavaliers, with an offense that ranks somewhere below clunky and above disastrous, were bound to have a night where the offense simply didn’t show up and the defense wasn’t able to carry the load.
It happened Wednesday.
Purdue absolutely blasted No. 5 Virginia, 69-40, beating the Cavaliers’ defense while letting their offense self-destruct at Mackey Arena.
It was the type of game, however, that Virginia had to know was possible given how much its offense has failed to produce despite the undefeated record.
Bennett’s teams have never been known for their offense, but that has largely been due to pace. His teams have finished in the top-50 in adjusted offense every year since 2014 with two top-10 finishes, including last year’s national champion ranking No. 2. They’ve just never finished ranked higher than 316th in tempo, and that came in Bennett’s first season in Charlottesville.
This year’s team is both slow and bad offensively.
The Cavs entered Wednesday ranked 291st in effective field goal percentage, 338th in 3-point shooting, 168th in turnover percentage and 273rd in assisted field goals. And yeah, they’re still super slow, ranking at the bottom of the country in tempo.
So a night in which Virginia didn’t break into double digits until after 16 minutes isn’t exactly surprising. It is ugly, though, when tabulated all up, the Cavaliers shot 37.2 percent from the floor and 16.7 percent from 3-point range while committing 16 turnovers. Yeah, it was a bad night, but not one that was miles away from what’s been standard for Virginia this year. Nights like this happen when your baseline is as low as Virginia’s has been.
Kihei Clark was 1 of 6 from the floor with three turnovers. Mamadi Diakite was 4 of 10 with four turnovers. When those two can’t produce, Virginia’s offense isn’t likely to either, especially with Braxton Key (wrist) sidelined.
Purdue got to the defense, especially at the 3-point line where they made 13 of 25, but there’s little doubt the Cavaliers are going to have a top-ranked defense. The task for Bennett will be to get the offense to simply serviceable.
That may be a rather significant challenge.
Let’s also not lose sight, though, of what a validating evening this was for Matt Painter’s Boilermakers. Purdue entered the night with three losses and a neutral-floor win again VCU as the best win on its resume, but were still beloved by the computers with a No. 13 KenPom ranking.
To totally dominate Virginia – whatever its offensive shortcomings – on both ends of the floor is a nice piece of evidence that this group is going to be pretty good.
The Boilermakers got 20 points from Sasha Stefanovic, 16 from Jahaad Proctor and 11 from Matt Haarms. They get credit for making Virginia’s offense as ineffective as it was, especially early.
If Purdue is as good as it was against Virginia and the computers believe, the Big Ten is going to be a monster. We already know about Michigan State, Maryland and Ohio State, but with Michigan and Purdue really emerging in the last week – not to mention undefeated Indiana, 8-1 Penn State and an interesting 6-2 Iowa team – the league is staking early claim to being the best in the country.
Wednesday’s Things to Know: Buckeye guards star; Marquette rallies; LSU loses to VCU
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.
VCU fans aren't holding back on Will Wade and LSU. 😂
Dressed as FBI agents, they're right at the end of the bench harping on Wade's part in the FBI scandal. pic.twitter.com/FlPX5YjERU
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.
Revamped backcourt helps No. 23 Purdue get past Green Bay
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Jahaad Proctor and Eric Hunter Jr. gave Purdue’s revamped backcourt a completely different look Wednesday night.
If the new tag-team tandem keeps operating at peak proficiency, the Boilermakers again could pose major problems for opponents.
Proctor scored 26 points in his first game at Mackey Arena, Hunter added 15 and No. 23 Purdue pulled away from Green Bay for a 79-57 victory — the Boilermakers’ seventh straight opening-night win.
“I just know when the (shot-clock) is winding down it’s time to go make a play,” Proctor said, noting it was the biggest crowd he’s played in front of. “Most of the time I don’t like settling for jump shots because the defense is, nine times out of ten, going to foul you if you get to the basket.”
The style change was obvious right from the start.
Rather than having Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline pull defenses out with 3-pointers, Proctor and Hunter challenged the Phoenix by driving to the basket.
Together, they were virtually unbeatable.
Proctor, a graduate transfer from High Point, went 11 of 17 from the field while grabbing five rebounds. Hunter, who made only one start last season as a freshman, was 7 of 14 from the field with four rebounds and six assists.
The Boilermakers considered it the perfect ending on a celebratory night on which they unveiled their 24th Big Ten championship banner and played highlights from last season’s Elite Eight run.
But it certainly wasn’t what Green Bay coach Linc Darner envisioned when he scheduled the return to his alma mater.
“He had a great game and when he gets going downhill there,” Darner said, referring to Proctor. “It was hard to guard, we’ve got to do a better job of helping.”
The Phoenix (0-1) never really had a chance after giving up the first eight points and falling behind 14-2 less than six minutes into the game.
Freshman Amari Davis scored six of his 10 points during an 8-0 run that got Green Bay within 14-10, but Purdue scored the next eight to make it 22-10 and the Phoenix never seriously challenged again.
Kameron Hankerson led the Phoenix with 15 points. JayQuan McCloud also scored 10 for Green Bay.
Purdue finally sealed the game with an 8-0 run that extended the lead to 69-49 with 4:32 to play.
“You’ve got to be able to cut through the paint, you got to be able to get the ball in and get angles and attack people in different actions,” coach Matt Painter said. “I thought those guys (Proctor and Hunter) were able to do that.”
Green Bay: Darner’s team just couldn’t match Purdue’s size or depth. But the Phoenix managed to stick around long enough to show why they could be a legitimate Horizon League contender.
Purdue: The Boilermakers certainly can play defense. They held the usually high-scoring Phoenix without a 3-pointer in a first half during which they also forced 10 turnovers. They just need to find a quicker knockout punch.
The only real score for Purdue was the wrist injury starting guard Nojel Eastern sustained when he was fouled with 5:30 to go in the first half.
After a brief delay, the junior walked to the end of the bench with a trainer and then headed straight for the locker room. He returned before halftime with his left wrist taped, then appeared to re-injure himself wrist with less than six minutes to play.
Again, Eastern walked to the end of the bench with the trainer and this time did not return.
Painter described it as a hand injury and said only that it was not broken.
Green Bay: The Phoenix shot 36.5% from the field and went 8 of 21 on 3s after scoring 81.3 points per game last season. … Green Bay has lost 11 straight against Big Ten teams. … Darner’s streak of alternating losses and wins through his first five season-openers continued. He’s now 2-3 on opening night. … Purdue had a 44-16 scoring advantage in the paint.
Purdue: Painter improved to 14-1 in season openers at Purdue. … The Boilermakers have won 16 in a row against Horizon League foes, 18 in a row at Mackey Arena and 20 consecutive home games against non-conference foes. … Matt Haarms had 16 points and seven rebounds. … Aaron Wheeler finished with 10 points and nine rebounds. … Painter said he plans to redshirt freshmen Mason Gillis and Brandon Newman.
As the NBA game gets smaller and quicker and more spread out, the college game can still be beaten with big guys.
Just two years ago, in between Villanova’s two national titles, was a championship game played between a Gonzaga team built around their big guys and a North Carolina team built around their big guys.
Hell, I think you can make the argument that Kansas center Udoka Azubuike is one of the five most valuable players in college basketball, even if his potential as a pro is limited.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the best frontcourts in college hoops.
1. KANSAS (Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot, Silvio De Sousa, David McCormack, Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna)
The Jayhawks have perhaps the best traditional big men in college hoops in Udoka Azubuike, who shot 77 percent from the floor in his last (and only) healthy season, but it’s unclear just exactly how this frontcourt will work as a whole. Silvio De Sousa is probably the most talented of this group with David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot the most experienced. None of those three, though, have shown the ability to step out on the perimeter to help create the space that will be critical for Azubuike to operate. Lightfoot is actually largely expected to redshirt. That leaves freshmen Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna, a couple of four-star recruits.
What Bill Self does with this situation could very well determine Kansas’ ceiling. Frankly, it won’t be at all surprising if we see Self try doses of Marcus Garrett, Isaiah Moss and Ochai Agbaji at the four to alleviate the spacing concerns.
2. DUKE (Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White)
Coach K’s use of his frontcourt last year was one of the more scrutinized tactical decisions, with Zion Williamson, a singular force in the sport, splitting his time between power forward and center, when more time at the five probably would have unlocked a little more firepower for the Blue Devils. That won’t be the case this year with Duke’s roster flipping over, but how its frontcourt performs will go a long way in determining if it can get where last year’s team didn’t – the Final Four.
Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt are both five-star recruits and potential one-and-done lottery picks as top-15 prospects. The pair should, well, pair well with Carey at the five and Hurt stretching the floor at the four. Javin DeLaurier got a lot of run for the Blue Devils last year, and will help provide experience and depth up front.
Just how good Penny Hardaway’s frontcourt is will go a long way in determining if the Tigers are as good as their recruiting class.
It starts with James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 top-rated freshman and potential top-NBA draft pick come June. If he’s All-American good, then that sets Memphis up for success more than anything else. There’s that pesky ankle injury that’s kept him sidelined in the preseason, which is concerning but not cause for a full panic now.
It’s not the only thing, though. Precious Achiuwa was the other five-star Hardaway collected in his No. 1 recruiting class, which also included Isaiah Maurice, D.J. Jeffries and Malcolm Dandridge.
4. GONZAGA (Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev, Drew Timme, Pavel Zakharov)
Killian Tillie is one of the more intriguing forwards in the country. People have been raving about his talent for years, but he’s been stuck behind great college players and future pros while also dealing with injuries. He even had knee surgery this offseason that has his immediate availability currently in question. If he’s healthy, the deck has been cleared in Spokane for him to be featured.
Six-foot-11 Filip Petrusev played in 32 games last year for the ‘Zags but wasn’t a huge piece of the rotation. He did have a big summer playing for Serbia at the FIBA U19s, putting up nearly 20 points a game and shooting 66 percent from the floor. He and Tillie could make for a dynamic duo.
Coach Mark Few also has some highly-rated freshmen he can mix in with Drew Timme and Pavel Zakharov, but they did get dinged when Oumar Ballo was forced to redshirt..
5. WASHINGTON (Jaden McDaniels, Isaiah Stewart, Naz Carter, Hamier Wright, Sam Timmins)
Memphis’ recruiting deservedly got a lot of love this summer, but Mike Hopkins got the job done, too. Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels are both top-10 recruits that will immediately make the Huskies’ frontcourt formidable. Both are 6-foot-9, but Stewart weighs in at 245 pounds and McDaniels 185. Nahziah Carter averaged 8.1 points and 2.4 rebounds while Hameir right played nearly 18 minutes per game. Sam Timmins played sparingly, but shot 62 percent.
6. LOUISVILLE (Jordan Nwora, Steve Enoch, Malik Wiliams, Aidan Igiehon, Jaelyn Withers)
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound Nwora blossomed into an All-American candidate last year, averaging 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting 37.4 percent from the floor. He’s an ACC player of the year frontrunner, and the cornerstone to both the Cardinals’ frontcourt and their Final Four aspirations.
Steve Enoch was effective both inside and out last season while Malik Williams is a top-level shotblocker. Aidan Igiehon is a four-star, top-75 recruit while Jaelyn Withers is a top-150 prospect from 2019.
7. MISSISSIPPI STATE (Reggie Perry, Abdul Ado, Elias King, Robert Woodard II, Prince Oduro, KeyShawn Feazell, E.J. Datcher, Quinten Post)
Reggie Perry is a first-team all-SEC pick after he averaged 9.7 points and 7.2 rebounds last season while Abdul Ado is back after shooting 61.4 percent from the floor and blocking 1.8 shots per game last season. Robert Woodard played 17 minutes per game last year while Prince Oduro is eligible after a promising freshman season for Siena.
Bruno Fernando is gone, but Jalen Smith was nearly as productive as him last season as a freshman. The 6-foot-10 Smith blocked 12.5 percent of opponent shots while on the floor while shooting 56.2 percent from 2-point range. He shot just 26.8 percent from distance, but hoisted 71 attempts, at least an indication he could potentially be a floor-spacer. The Terps are also adding twins Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, the former a top-75 recruit and the later a three-star prospect. Chol Marial is a 7-foot-2 freshman that could contribute if he gets healthy.
9. BAYLOR (Tristan Clark, Mark Vital, Freddie Gillispie, Flo Thamba)
Tristan Clark was on his way to first-team all-Big 12 honors last year before his knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season in January. He’s back this year, and he’ll anchor one of the best frontcourts in the country. Mark Vital, Freddie Gillispie and Flo Thamba all were contributors last season, and should be more effective with Clark by their side this season.
10. MICHIGAN STATE (Xavier Tillman, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier, Malik Hall, Joey Hauser*)
Nick Ward and Kenny Goins are gone, but Xavier Tillman returns after a productive sophomore campaign that has him blossom on both ends of the floor, albeit not his 3-point shooting. Marcus Bingham and Thomas Kithier will be in line for more minutes after being seldomly used as freshmen while Malik Hall is a top-75 recruit.
The wildcard here is Joey Hauser. The Marquette transfer has already seen his request for an immediate-eligibility waiver denied by the NCAA, but Michigan State has appealed. If the NCAA reverses course, the Spartans’ frontcourt will suddenly look much more formidable.
The Florida frontcourt got a massive boost when the 6-foot-10 Kerry Blackshear decided to grad-transfer over this past offseason. Blackshear averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Hokies last season while also shooting 50.8 percent from the field. He’ll join Keyontae Johnson, who put up 8 and 6 last year, and Gorjok Gak, a 6-foot-11 center who missed last season with injury.
12. VIRGINIA (Jay Huff, Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key)
The national champs lost a lot from last year’s team, but their frontcourt remains somewhat intact, although De’Andre Hunter is a major loss, no doubt. Getting Mamdi Diakite, Braxton Key and Jay Huff all to return is a help, though.
Diakite averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 22 minutes per game while blocking more than 10 percent of opponent shots while he was on the floor. Braxton Key and Jay Huff were smaller contributors last year, but still important ones. They’ll help Tony Bennett bridge the gap to the post-title era.
Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson are both gone, but Garrison Brooks is back from his junior season and five-star center Armando Bacot comes into the fold. So, too, is William & Mary graduate transfer Justin Pierce, a third-team all-CAA honoree who averaged 14.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game last season as a junior.
14. UTAH STATE (Neemias Queta, Justin Bean, Diogo Brito, Kuba Karwowski, Roche Grootfaam)
Neemias Queta, a 7-foot sophomore, averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game in his rookie campaign while shooting 61.4 percent, putting him among the country’s most productive centers. Justin Bean saw more time late in the season and was productive against MWC competition. Diogo Brito is a floor-spacer when he’s at the four. Kuba Karnowski and Roche Grootfaam are a pair of junior college transfers that could contribute.
Matt Painter and the Boilermakers have made a habit of having one of the nation’s best frontcourts, and that won’t be any different this year. Matt Haarms will anchor the group after the 7-foot-3 center averaged 9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 63.2 percent from the floor. Two freshmen that saw time last year – 6-foot-9 forwards Aaron Wheeler and Trevion Williams – will step into bigger roles up front, too.
Seven returning collegians among Team USA U19 invites
USA Basketball is welcoming seven sophomores among its 34 total invitees to training camp next month ahead of the FIBA U19 World Cup in Greece.
Incoming freshmen and Class of 2020 will vie for 12 roster spots with Kansas State coach Bruce Weber helming the team and being assisted by Washington’s Mike Hopkins and North Carolina Central’s LaVelle Moton.
The returning college players garnering invites are Kessler Edwards (Pepperdine), Tyrse Haliburton (Iowa State), Kira Lewis (Alabama), Isaac Likekele (Oklahoma State), Trevion Williams (Purdue) and Bryce Willis (Stanford), along with Jayden Scrubb from the junior college ranks.
“The committee is excited at the level of talent that will be at training camp for the USA U19 World Cup team, and we expect to have a difficult decision trying to narrow down the group to 12 team members,” Matt Painter, Purdue coach and cahr of the junior national team committee, said in a statement.
R.J. Hampton, Samuell Williamson, Scottie Barnes and Jalen Suggs are some of the headliners from the group of players without college experience.
Matt Painter’s offseason just got a whole lot better.
Ethan Morton, a top-50 player in the Class of 2020, committed to Painter and Purdue on Thursday, giving the Boilermakers their highest-rated recruit since Caleb Swanigan pledged in the 2015 class.
“I would like to announce that I am 100 percent committed to Purdue University,” Morton wrote on social media. “Thanks to coach Painter, the entire Purdue staff and Purdue fanbase for accepting me into your family!”
The 6-foot-4 guard from Pennsylvania had offers from Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oregon and Virginia, among plenty of others, but committed to the Boilers after getting a recent home visit from Painter and his staff along with his own trips to West Lafayette.
“My relationship with (Painter) grew to be probably one of the best I’ve had,” Morton told the Lafayette Journal & Courier. “There’s a trust and belief between both of us in what I can do as a player and person and what he can do as a coach and person to help me.
“Since being there a couple of times, I’ve always said that was the best fit for me from a player’s standpoint. Playing with guys that play the right way, make others better and just care about winning, and putting the team before themselves, because you want to win championships.”
Morton averaged 27.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game as a junior last season, and he joins three-star guard Jaden Ivey of Indiana as the first two members of Painter’s 2020 class.