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Monday Overreactions: Gonzaga’s defensive woes, Kentucky’s back, show the mids some love

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Juwan Morgan, Indiana

Indiana’s best player this season put together the best performance of his career on Saturday afternoon.

One year after setting his career-high by scoring 34 points in a win over Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic, Juwan Morgan went out and put 35 points on Butler in this year’s iteration of the same event. He was 12-for-14 from the floor. He made four of Indiana’s nine threes and seven of their eight free throws. He scored 35 of their 71 points in a 71-68 win over Butler, and while Robert Phinisee’s buzzer-beating three is going to be what everyone remembers from this game, the truth is that Morgan is the reason the Hoosiers won this game. He kept them close in a game that Butler more or less controlled from the tip and gave them a shot to win in the final seconds.

And frankly, it’s a microcosm of Indiana’s season to date. The Hoosiers have yet to hit anything close to their stride. The 23 point win over Marquette last month looks better and better, but since that game Indiana has lost twice and struggled in their six wins. It took them longer than it should have to put away UT Arlington and UC Davis. They won one possession games in four straight, over Northwestern, at Penn State, against Louisville and, on Saturday, vs. Butler. They’ve battled injury. They’ve battled depth issues. They have a roster full of underclassmen that are being asked to figure things out on the fly.

Yet, they are currently 9-2 on the season with a number of good wins and nary a bad loss. Getting smacked by Duke in Cameron is going to happen to everyone. Their loss at Arkansas was by one point in a game that Indiana probably should have one.

If there has been one constant for them, it’s Morgan, their ever-underrated star.

If and when Indiana finally gets healthy and starts playing up to their potential, they are going to be in a position to get a pretty good seed in the NCAA tournament. That’s due, in very large part, to the work Morgan has done these first 11 games.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: North Carolina Tar Heels

North Carolina landed the marquee non-conference win that they’ve been searching for on Saturday.

A loss to Texas in the first round of the Las Vegas Invitational burned their shot at playing Michigan State. The Tar Heels were smoked on the road by Michigan. Kentucky, as of today, doesn’t look like it is going to end up being as good as we thought they would be.

That left Saturday’s home date with then-No. 4 Gonzaga, and North Carolina delivered. Spurred on by hot shooting from Cam Johnson and — finally — Luke Maye to go along with a career-best 14 points from Seventh Woods, the Tar Heels ran away from the Zags late in the first half and coasted to a 103-90 win in Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels are dangerous. They actually matchup well with the likes of Duke, Gonzaga and Tennessee, and given that Nassir Little is still coming off of the bench — we’ll get to that in a bit — they have the kind of depth and lineup versatility that you need. When it comes down to it, getting smoked at Michigan when Zavier Simpson eats up a freshman point guard is not that bad of a loss, and the loss to Texas came on the one day this season where Kerwin Roach decided he wanted to be Russell Westbrook.

I’m still very much in on the Tar Heels.

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MONDAY OVERREACTIONS

1. GONZAGA’S DEFENSE WILL COST THEM A FINAL FOUR

We have reached the point in the season where I can comfortably say that Gonzaga’s defense is a major, major problem. As of today, the Zags rank 63rd nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, but considering that KenPom’s algorithm still factors in last season’s data, it stands to reason that the Zags are, truthfully, worse than just 63rd in defensive efficiency. Against North Carolina on Saturday, they gave up 103 points. They allowed 76 in 68 possessions to Tennessee. Washington scored 79 in just 67 possessions. Creighton put up 92 points in 76 possessions. Duke lit up the Zags as well, scoring 48 of their 87 points in the second half.

I did a study on this last season when Duke’s defense was the biggest concern in college basketball. Only one team has won a national title in the KenPom era when they entered the NCAA tournament ranked outside of the top 35 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric — North Carolina in 2009. Only two other teams reached the title game when they entered the tournament ranked outside the top 40 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric and reached the national title game: Butler in 2011, the year they beat No. 11 seed VCU in the Final Four, and Trey Burke’s Michigan team in 2013.

The good news for the Zags?

Both Michigan in 2013 and North Carolina in 2009 were one of the top two teams offenses in the country, and that’s precisely where the Zags reside this year.

And it would stand to reason that the return of Killian Tillie will help on the defensive end of the floor.

But it is worth mentioning here that neither Josh Perkins nor Zach Norvell Jr. are considered good defenders, while Rui Hachimura’s biggest issue is being able to stay in front of people on the perimeter. Tillie’s return would likely bump him to the three.

It is too early to start freaking out about this. Remember, we had this same conversation about Duke last season, and they ended up as a top ten defense after switching to zone. We also had this conversation about Duke in 2015, the year they won the title.

But this is something we will need to track all season long.

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2. KENTUCKY IS … BACK?

The Wildcats de-pantsed a bad Utah team, which in a vacuum is really nothing to write home about.

Kentucky should be beating teams ranked outside the top 100 on KenPom 88-61 in Rupp Arena.

But the reason this is notable today is because Kentucky hasn’t been doing that this season. They’ve struggled to put away teams that we all thought would be overmatched, and since they have lost the only two games they’ve played outside of Lexington, they are falling out of top 25s all over the place. They were not ranked in the NBC Sports Top 25 last week or this week.

That said, this was a promising performance from Kentucky simply because they finally beat the hell out of someone. We’ve been waiting all season for them to play like the team that whooped up on everyone that crossed their path in the Bahamas, and they did that on Saturday. Utah is going to finish somewhere in the bottom half of the Pac-12 this year, but that is still a high-major basketball team coached by one of the best coaches in the sport.

Maybe all they needed to kickstart their season was a week’s worth of doubters telling the world how losing Quade Green and dropping an overtime game to Seton Hall was the death-knell for the John Calipari era at Kentucky.

3. KANSAS CANNOT REACH THEIR CEILING WITHOUT GETTING QUENTIN GRIMES GOING

The Jayhawks are a two-headed monster at this point in the year. I wrote 1,000 words on Saturday explaining why. The tl;dr version is pretty simple: No Udoka Azubuike means that Dedric Lawson has to play the five. Dedric Lawson at the five means that Kansas doesn’t have anyone capable of scoring that can play the four, and since Bill Self’s freshman backcourt hasn’t looked all that much more effective offensively than Marcus Garrett, there are really only two players that opposing defenses have to worry about.

Lawson and Lagerald Vick.

Some of that gets solved with the return of the big fella.

But there is no doubt that Kansas needs to find a way to get Quentin Grimes going. After looking like the best freshman in the country for the first half of the first game this season, Grimes has been non-existent for the Jayhawks. He’s not making threes. He’s not getting to the rim. He looks like he’s totally lost his confidence. And if he’s not a threat to score, there’s no point in having in on the court, as Garrett is better than Grimes at everything that doesn’t involve putting the ball in the basket.

4. THE NCAA TOURNAMENT SELECTION COMMITTEE MUST REWARD THE MID-MAJORS THIS YEAR

The Pac-12 had a dreadful weekend in what has been a pretty dreadful start to their season. Washington was smoked by No. 13 Virginia Tech. Utah was embarrassed by No. 19 Kentucky. Belmont won at UCLA in a game where UCLA led by 12 in the second half. USC got smoked by Oklahoma. Arizona lost at home to Baylor, who most think will be competing for second-to-last in the Big 12 this season. Oregon State lost at home to a rebuilding Texas A&M. Cal improved to 4-5 on the season, but they needed a jumper with 3.8 seconds left to get past 3-6 Cal Poly.

There’s a very real chance that the Pac-12 is a two-bid conference.

The American looks like it is going to end up being a two-bid league, depending on how things shake out. The Atlantic 10 is going to be a one-bid league. The Mountain West and WCC will likely both end up being one-bid leagues as long as Gonzaga and Nevada are the teams that win their respective automatic bids.

The problem with this, however, is that we are going to need to find a way to get to 36 at-large bids somehow.

I hope this means that the mid-majors that have won big games during non-conference play get rewarded. Belmont has beaten UCLA on the road, Illinois State and swept a Lipscomb team that has won at SMU, at TCU and very nearly pipped a win at Louisville. Buffalo is undefeated with a win at West Virginia and a sweep of Southern Illinois. Furman is undefeated with a win at Villanova and a trip to LSU coming up on Friday.

I know there are more teams that deserve mention here as well that I’m just not remembering off the top of my head.

And I hope that the work these programs have done in the non-conference will get them the attention they deserve and an at-large bid should they end up getting upset in their league tournament.

I also know that probably isn’t going to be how it goes.

We’ll just invite the entire ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 and call it a bracket.

5. CAM JOHNSON IS THE REASON NASSIR LITTLE DOESN’T PLAY 35 MINUTES A NIGHT

Much has been made this season about why Nassir Little, a top five prospect and a potential top three pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, isn’t starting and is only seeing 20 minutes when he’s been so productive in those minutes.

The reason why is very, very simple, and I explained it all right here on Saturday.

NBC Sports Top 25: Villanova, Syracuse, Purdue drop out

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There’s not really all that much to discuss in the top 25 this week.

Kansas beat a Villanova team that has lost to Furman and Penn, so they get a bump up over Gonzaga, who lost at North Carolina on Saturday. The Tar Heels jump up over Auburn after Auburn struggled to put away UAB. Purdue, Syracuse and Villanova all drop out of the top 25 after more losses while Indiana, Oklahoma and Maryland all make their first appearance in the rankings.

All told, in a quiet week thanks to finals, there isn’t much else to go over.

So here is the top 25:

1. Duke (9-1, Last Week: 1)
2. Michigan (11-0, 2)
3. Tennessee (8-1, 3)
4. Virginia (9-0, 5)
5. Kansas (9-0, 6)
6. Gonzaga (9-2, 4)
7. Nevada (11-0, 7)
8. North Carolina (8-2, 9)
9. Auburn (9-1, 8)
10. Florida State (8-1, 10)
11. Texas Tech (10-0, 11)
12. Michigan State (9-2, 12)
13. Virginia Tech (9-1, 13)
14. Wisconsin (9-2, 14)
15. N.C. State (9-1, 15)
16. Ohio State (9-1, 16)
17. Arizona State (8-1, 17)
18. Marquette (8-2, 21)
19. Mississippi State (9-1, 2)
20. Buffalo (10-0, 22)
21. Nebraska (9-2, 25)
22. Iowa (8-2, 24)
23. Indiana (9-2, NR)
24. Oklahoma (9-1, NR)
25. Maryland (9-2, NR)

New Additions: 23. Indiana, 24. Oklahoma, 25. Maryland
Dropped Out: 18. Purdue, 19. Villanova, 20. Syracuse

Vick, Lawson lead No. 1 Kansas past No. 17 Villanova

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Dedric Lawson and Lagerald Vick combined for 57 points and scored all but one of the Jayhawks field goals in the second half as No. 1 Kansas remained undefeated with a 74-71 win over No. 17 Villanova in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon.

Villanova, who was coming off of their third loss of the season — and their second to a mid-major — when they were beaten by Penn on Tuesday, put up an impressive fight, but they did not have an answer for the Big Two of the Jayhawks.

Here are three things we can takeaway from that game:

1. KANSAS REALLY MISSES UDOKA AZUBUIKE

The Jayhawks were essentially a two-man band on Saturday afternoon, as Dedric Lawson and Lagerald Vick accounted for 57 of their 74 points. They were 19-for-30 from the floor. The rest of the Kansas roster was 4-for-16 combined. A Devon Dotson layup late in the second half was the only field goal made by someone not named Dedric or Lagerald in the second half.

I bring this up because Udoka Azubuike’s absence has created a situation where Lawson is forced to play a different role than what would be ideal for him and for Kansas. Self has made it clear that he wants to run his offense through the post. We know this, and without the dynamic guard play that he’s had the last two or three years, he doesn’t really have another option. Dotson is good. He’s not Frank Mason or Devonte’ Graham, at least not yet.

But with Azubuike dealing with an ankle injury, Lawson is the only player on the roster that can come close to matching Azubuike’s low-post production. Mitch Lightfoot isn’t that guy. K.J. Lawson isn’t that guy. David McCormack isn’t ready. Silvio De Sousa isn’t eligible. So it has to be Dedric, but running him as a low-post presence means that he’s not out there as a playmaking four.

So not only does Kansas lose Doke’s presence on the block and not only is Dedric forced to play out of position, but they don’t really have anyone that can do the things that Dedric can do when he’s playing the five instead of the four.

And Kansas is still undefeated, despite having played one of the toughest schedules in the country for high-major program.

2. AND THEY NEED TO FIND SOME WAY TO GET QUENTIN GRIMES GOING

Another problem with Kansas is that they are getting absolutely nothing out of Quentin Grimes. He scored a single point in 14 minutes on Saturday, which is more or less in line with everyone game he’s played since that 21 point outburst he had in the win over Michigan State. This is a problem because teams don’t really have to pay attention to him defensively. They don’t really have to pay attention to Marcus Garrett, either. Charlie Moore and K.J. Lawson haven’t been threats to score. Other than Vick and Dotson, who is as up and down as you would expect a freshman to be, Kansas doesn’t have anyone to worry about on the perimeter when Quentin Grimes is playing like he’s Rick Grimes.

(Now do you see why Bill Self has everything running through the post?)

I’m not really sure what the issue is here, either, beyond Grimes not knowing where he fits in this offense. He’s not going to be the guy asked to run ball-screens. He’s not going to be the guy asked to score in isolation, at least not when Vick is doing what he’s been doing to start the season. He’s never been a pure jump shooter.

There’s a reason he’s a projected lottery pick. The kid is talented. Self just needs to figure out how to get him going.

3. IT’S CLEAR WHO JAY WRIGHT TRUSTS AND DOES NOT TRUST

We know he doesn’t trust Jahvon Quinerly. That much has been proven true time and again. Saturday was JQ’s fourth DNP-CD of the season.

But as Villanova plays more games in tough environments like this — with Big East play bearing down, it’s going to happen quite a bit more often — we’re likely going to see his rotation condense unless some of the guys on the outside looking in step up.

On Saturday, Phil Booth, Collin Gillespie and freshman Saddiq Bey all played at least 36 minutes. Eric Paschall would have matched that if he didn’t pick up his fourth foul midway through the second half. Dhamir Cosby-Rountree played 28 minutes and fouled out.

And for the most part, it looks like that is going to be the five guys Wright rolls with. Jermaine Samuels will see minutes as a guy that gives Villanova a different look. Joe Cremo will be the guard that gives Gillespie and Booth a breather. Swider will get a few minutes here and there as Wright tries to get him to find his shot.

But Swider has now missed his last eight threes and is shooting 24.2 percent from deep on the season. Cremo has looked like an America East player. Samuels isn’t ready for this level yet.

Wright is never a stranger to a short bench, but this year it feels more like this is being forced upon him than it is a conscious decision to condense minutes.

CBT Podcast: ESPN’s Myron Medcalf on Jahvon Quinerly, Quade Green, Kentucky

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Rob Dauster was joined by Myron Medcalf from ESPN.com on Friday morning to talk through all of the week’s biggest college basketball stories, from Jahvon Quinerly and the fake Instagram hack to Quade Green’s transfer to whether or not Kentucky can still recruit basketball players that matter.

Film Room: Why is Jahvon Quinerly struggling to get minutes for Villanova?

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After losing to Penn on Tuesday night, snapping a streak of 25 consecutive wins against Big 5 opponents, Villanova — winners of two of the last three national titles — fell to 8-3 on the season with a trip to Phog Allen Fieldhouse coming up on Saturday.

Penn was the second mid-major opponent that Villanova has lost to this season. They fell at home against Furman in overtime. That came just days after they were absolutely humiliated by Michigan in a national title game rematch as they unveiled the newly-renovated Finneran Pavilion.

And while there is plenty to discuss about how and why the Wildcats are now in the midst of what could end up being their worst season since missing the 2012 NCAA tournament, the major talking point for this team has become Jahvon Quinerly. Through the first month of the season, the No. 29 prospect in the Class of 2018 has been easily the most ineffective freshman ranked in the top 30 of the class that is healthy and in school. Ranked between potential lottery picks Kevin Porter Jr. and Luguentz Dort, according to 247 Sports, Quinerly has taken three DNP-CDs through 11 games. The only reason he’s in the box score as logging one minutes in the loss to Penn is because Collin Gillespie fouled out with six seconds left; Quinerly didn’t even play the entirety of the last six seconds. He played two minutes against La Salle. He played three minutes against Oklahoma State. He hasn’t played more than eight minutes in a game that didn’t come against totally overmatched competition.

As you can imagine, it’s been frustrating.

After the loss to Penn, Quinerly hopped on Instagram and posted on his story a black screen with white lettering that read “Was my 2nd choice for a reason;” if you recall, he was initially committed to Arizona before the FBI investigation into corruption in college hoops uncovered information that former Arizona assistant Book Richardson may have funneled as much as $20,000 to Quinerly’s family. Quinerly quickly deleted the post before attempting to make it seem as if his account had been hacked. A friend of his from New Jersey, LSU freshman Naz Reid, even tweeted that Quinerly had been hacked.

Turns out, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Quinerly was not hacked. He just was frustrated about the way the start of his Villanova career has gone and said something on social media that he shouldn’t have said. Villanova head coach Jay Wright said that this was just “the normal frustration of a young kid that’s used to playing a lot, and not playing” and that Quinerly had already apologized to the team. He issued a statement on Thursday on his twitter account apologizing as well.

The story of a frustrated freshman popping off on Instagram isn’t all that interesting to me. Neither is the speculation that this could lead to Quinerly transferring out of the program; I don’t see it happening during the season, and if it happens in the offseason we can talk about it then and there.

What’s more interesting to me is the why: Why has Quinerly been limited to 69 minutes on the season? Why hasn’t he earned Jay Wright’s trust? Why has Wright opted to go with Gillespie who, as one scout put it to me earlier this year, is “playing above his level”?

It starts with the defensive side of the ball.

What Villanova wants to do defensively is not easy for freshmen to pick up. They’re not strictly a man-to-man team, but when they play man, they rarely do it without a lot of switching. They’ll mix in some zone and some 1-2-2 pressure as well, and that often results in players being forced into guarding mismatches.

I cannot speak to what happens in practice. The word coming out of the program is that Quinerly “worked hard” and “continues to work” and is “a great teammate”, which is exactly what you would expect to hear a head coach say about his five-star freshman.

I can, however, see what happens when Quinerly is on the floor during games. I watched every minute that he has played this season, and this is what I am seeing.

The biggest reason that Quinerly has been forced to the bench is that he has had some real issues defensively.

He’s not identifying who he is supposed to be guarding in transition. He’s falling asleep when he is supposed to be boxing out. He simply isn’t strong or good enough as an individual defender to handle the assignments he’s been given — in the last clip you see him getting easily beaten off the dribble. To his credit, it doesn’t appear to be an effort issue as much as a ‘he’s not quite ready’ issue.

The biggest cause for alarm here is the third clip below.

This isn’t a complicated action that Michigan is running, as Zavier Simpson cuts between Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers right before Livers sets a ball-screen for Poole:

When Livers sets the screen, Quinerly should switch onto the bigger defender as Saddiq Bey, another freshman, switches onto Poole. But Quinerly gets confused and goes to guard Simpson, leaving Livers a free run to the rim:

Joe Cremo is forced to rotate over to help, and actually forces a miss at the rim, but Quinerly falls asleep, doesn’t box out Charles Matthews and watches as the Michigan star throws down a monster dunk:

You can see the entire play below:

Quinerly was never going to come into the program and be the best on-ball defender on the roster. We knew that. The problem is simply that he has not been good enough offensively to justify putting him on the floor when he’s a defensive liability. Trae Young couldn’t guard a mailbox last season, but Oklahoma had to have him on the floor because of how good he made them offensively. Ashton Hagans has been a mess offensively through the first month of the season, but Kentucky has been giving him Quade Green’s minutes because he is just so good on the defensive side of the ball.

Quinerly?

He has all of these issues defensively, and on the season he is averaging just 2.4 points with eight assists to 11 turnovers while shooting 26.9 percent from the floor and 17.6 percent from three. Yes, some of that is a result of the fact that he’s been strapped to the bench and unable to develop any kind of rhythm or confidence. I get that. But he also hasn’t quite learned, or bought into, the principles and concepts that Jay Wright drills his players on.

I’ve written long and detailed stories on Villanova’s offense twice in the last year, but the tl;dr version is this: Villanova doesn’t run plays, they teach concepts and reads and develop the kids in their program as basketball players that can function in any environment more than turning them into robots that run set after set after set. It’s takes every freshman time to learn these things. There’s a reason that Villanova has so many redshirts.

Here’s an example: One of the core principles of Villanova’s offense is the jump-stop. It sounds simple, but it’s true. Wright wants his guys to get into the paint, come to a jump-stop and then see what opens up. Maybe they’ll have a layup. Maybe they’ll have room to get a floater off. Maybe they pivot a couple of times before finding an open shooter. Maybe those pivots will create enough space for a turnaround jumper. Half Court Hoops put together an entire video package on this last year.

Quinerly, far too often, has his drives to the paint end like this:

I think Quinerly is going to be fine.

The talent is there. He was never going to be a one-and-done point guard — I’m not sure he is an NBA player, period — but he is good enough to be a really good guard at the college level. He’s also not the only freshman struggling to acclimate on this Villanova roster. Cole Swider, a top 40 recruit, is averaging less than 12 minutes. Brandon Slater, a top 75 prospect, has played just 26 minutes in six games.

But Quinerly is the five-star with all the hype.

He’s Jelly-Fam. He’s the one that Book Richardson tried to buy, according to the FBI.

That brings with it expectation, and when you fail to live up to that expectations, people talk, especially if your failure is spotlighted by a fake Instagram hack.

Quinerly is in a tough spot. You can’t hide a point guard offensively. When you make a mistake with the ball in your hands, everyone knows it. If Swider makes a mistake off the ball, no one outside of the coaching staff notices. And unlike Swider, Quinerly doesn’t have physical tools that can help make up for the times the ends up out of position defensively.

He’ll get there soon enough, but until he’s good enough offensively to make himself a net-positive, or until he figures out what he’s doing defensively, it’s going to be a struggle to take minutes from Gillispie, a veteran that Wright trusts.

Penn ends No. 17 Villanova’s 25-game Big 5 winning streak

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Villanova’s 25-game Big 5 winning streak is over.

The 17th-ranked Wildcats fell to Penn, 78-75, at the Palestra on Tuesday to see its undefeated run among its Philadelphia counterparts come to an end after six years.

It’s also an end to the six-game winning streak coach Jay Wright’s team has enjoyed since losing back-to-back games to Michigan and Furman last month.

Issues persisted on the defensive end for the Wildcats as they fell on a night they shot 50 percent from the floor and 34.6 percent from 3-point range. The Quakers bested that by converting 51.1 percent of their shots overall and 43.8 percent of their 16 attempts from distance.

Villanova had put some distance between itself and the shellacking it took courtesy of Michigan and the OT lost to Furman, but it continues to be clear that while still a top-25 caliber team, Wright’s squad this year looks to be well short of the teams that celebrated national championships in 2016 and 2018. Eric Paschall was expected to step into the void from losing so many players to the NBA off last year’s title-winner, but he took just five shots against Penn and has been generally inconsistent all season. Five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly can’t even got on the floor. That leaves Collin Gillespie and Phil Booth, who combined for 39 points Tuesday, carrying a bigger burden than would be ideal.

The Wildcats are likely ultimately going to be fine – they lost to a good team Tuesday – but unless they can get more from especially Paschall it’s hard to see them elevating themselves to a Final Four contender.

That’s the weight of expectation after two titles in three years.

We knew the Big East championship wasn’t going to be Villanova’s to simply waltz to, but the top-half of the league continues to look incredibly tightly grouped together without mich separation.

Penn, meanwhile, looks a real threat in the Ivy, as was evident in the Quakers’ win over Miami last week. The win over Villanova only solidifies their status.

AJ Brodeur and Antonio Woods both scored 16 points against the ‘Cats as Penn led by as many as 12 points on the night, but still had to survive a Booth attempt from 3 at the buzzer to finally end Villanova’s supremacy over Big 5 hoops.