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Wednesday’s Things to Know: The Big East is up for grabs, Florida State survives and Kansas reclaims the Big 12

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Quite a few developments Wednesday from some of the country’s best teams in the nation’s best leagues. Here’s what you need to know:

Villanova makes this weekend interesting in the Big East

Seton Hall had a chance to do something really cool Wednesday. The Pirates, already having secured a piece of the Big East regular-season championship, could lock up an outright title at home, on a senior night honoring the likes of Quincy McKnight, Romaro Gill and the incomparable Myles Powell.

That is a stage set beautifully.

Except the Pirates were sharing it with Big East powerhouse Villanova.

The Wildcats shot 51.9 percent from the floor and 40.6 percent from 3-point range while holding Powell to 5 of 18 shooting to claim a 79-77 win in Newark and to send the Big East into some serious drama this weekend.

Seton Hall, now 13-4 in the league, still controls its own fate and can win the title outright, but the Pirates’ loss Wednesday means they’re not the only team who holds its fate in its own hands. That’s because the Pirates face Creighton on Saturday in Omaha, and the Bluejays are owners of a 12-5 mark in Big East play. If Greg McDermott’s team wins, they’re co-champs with Kevin Willard’s group.

But, that’s not all!

By virtue of knocking of Seton Hall, Villanova, too, sports a 12-5 conference mark. If the Wildcats can beat Georgetown for the second time this season on Saturday in D.C. and the Bluejays beat Seton Hall at home, it’s a three-way tie atop the Big East.

The ‘Cats tipoff a couple hours before Seton Hall and Creighton, so they’ll have the opportunity to watch their Big East title chances materialize on TV should they beat the Hoyas.

There’s intrigue in the Big East because Saddiq Bey scored 20 points while Justin Moore and Jermaine Samuels both added 19 for the Wildcats, who shot 10 of 18 from the free-throw line to keep Seton Hall hanging around for the final seconds. Sandro Mamukelashvli had 20 and 10 for Seton Hall while McKnight scored 16.

All three teams are jockeying for seed lines both in the Big East and NCAA tournaments, so how things shake out not only effect the regular-season banners that might go up in Philly, Omaha and Newark, but the likelihood if they’re joined by something a little sweeter from the postseason.

Florida State steals a win in South Bend

Raiquan Gray hit a jumper 1 minute, 23 seconds into the game to put Florida State up one in the early going against Notre Dame. On the next possession, which took a total of 16 seconds, the Fighting Irish got a triple from Prentiss Hubb to regain the lead. A lead they would hold nearly until the very end.

The nearly is doing a lot of work in that sentence, though.

From the time of Hubb’s 3-pointer to when Florida State’s Trent Forrest’s layup went through the rim with 3 seconds remaining, Notre Dame had No. 7 Florida State on the ropes, but Forrest’s bucket and the three-seconds worth of advantage it gave the Seminoles was enough for Florida State to beat Notre Dame, 73-71.

The ‘Noles led for just 19 seconds in the game and trailed by as many as 13 in the second half. They really didn’t have a whole lot of business being in this thing late, but there they were until their they went, back home with their 25th win of the year. It also keeps Florida State tied with Louisville atop the ACC standings with just a home game against Boston College this weekend between them and a conference title.

As for Notre Dame, it was a missed opportunity to land a big win in a season that appears destined to end without an NCAA tournament for the third-straight time, which will match the longest drought of the Mike Brey era. They went without a dance from 2004-06 previously.

King Kansas…again

After 12 long months, at long last, the tyrannical reign of Texas Tech and Kansas State as Big 12 champions is over. Kansas injects some much-needed fresh air into the Big 12 as its new champion.

It was a long year for the Jayhawks, who spent the previous 14 as the conference’s best. Must of been tough, I’m sure.

The top-ranked Jayhawks dispatched TCU 75-66 to win at least a piece of the conference title for the 15th time in 16 years, and they can win it outright if they can beat Texas Tech in Lubbock or if Baylor gets tripped up by West Virginia in Morgantown.

Kansas has now won 15 straight and looks to only be rolling into tip-top fighting shape with Udoka Azubuike scoring 31 against the Horned Frogs. Not only is Kansas back after a one-year hiatus atop the Big 12, it looks as though the Jayhawks are quickly becoming the national title favorite.

No. 12 Villanova topples St. John’s

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VILLANOVA, Pa. — Saddiq Bey scored 23 points and Justin Moore added 21 to lead No. 12 Villanova past St. John’s 71-60 on Wednesday night.

The Wildcats (22-6, 11-4 Big East) had trouble shaking St. John’s until late on a night the program honored former star Kyle Lowry. Lowry, a five-time All-Star guard for the NBA champion Toronto Raptors, played two seasons for the Wildcats and was one of the early pieces that helped build coach Jay Wright’s program into a national power.

Lowry was flanked by former teammates and called the jersey recognition honor a “once in a lifetime” experience that he was able to share with his wife and two young sons. His sons, Karter and Kameron, played with the microphones at a halftime press conference.

Lowry played from 2004-2006 when the Wildcats made their first two NCAA Tournament trips of Wright’s young tenure.

“From the time I got here, he was kind of on that proverbial hot seat,” Lowry said. “Now, he’s never going anywhere and he’s one of the best coaches in the history of college basketball.”

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Wright has since won two national titles at Villanova and was named the AP Coach of the Decade. Wright has said how Lowry skipped classes and was disruptive at practice, so much so that it got to the point where the feisty guard might not have made it to a second season. Lowry, now extremely close with Wright, laughed when he recalled his rocky relationship with his coach.

“My freshman year, I was such an immature kid and I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know what I wanted or what I could do or what my abilities were off the court,” Lowry said. “I didn’t know what I was, I didn’t know who I was. Me and Coach never talked about basketball. We always talked about these things off the court. That’s why me and Jay, to this day, have the relationship that we have. It wasn’t nothing about basketball. He didn’t worry about me on the court. He worried about me as a man.”

Wright’s biggest worry Wednesday was a St. John’s team that came in 12½-point underdogs and kept the deficit within single digits for most of the second half. Greg Williams Jr. buried a 3 for the Red Storm (14-14, 3-12) with 4:37 left that pulled them within six.

Moore, though, steadied the Wildcats with his fifth 3 of the game, a driving layup and a pull-up jumper in succession that stretched the lead to 13 and sealed another win for the perennial Big East power.

PRETTY CLOSE

Villanova hit seven 3s to St. John’s one in the first half but only led 36-34 at the break.

BIG PICTURE

St. John’s is just counting down the days until the season ends. Barring an improbable run to a championship in the Big East Tournament, the Red Storm are looking for the future. They played their fourth straight game without Mustapha Heron (13.8 points) because of a sprained right ankle.

Villanova won its fifth straight game and has a big rematch against No. 13 Seton Hall ahead on March 4. Seton Hall won the first meeting and both teams could meet again in a conference tournament title game.

NOVA-ON-NOVA RUMBLE

Lowry had a staredown with former Wildcat Donte DiVincenzo, the most outstanding player of Villanova’s 2018 title team, after a hard foul in Toronto’s game against Milwaukee on Tuesday.

“Donte better cut that stuff out,” Lowry said with a laugh. “That’s my guy, though. I fouled him hard and he didn’t like it. It’s all in the competitive nature. I love Donte and what he’s doing. He’s having a great year. Hopefully, we see them in the playoffs.”

UP NEXT

St. John’s returns home to play No. 10 Creighton

The Wildcats play Providence on Saturday at Wells Fargo Center.

Wednesday’s Things to Know: Creighton claims another top-10 win, Auburn keeps winning OT games and Villanova stops its skid

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It was a busy night for hoops around the country, that featured some good news for a team not even playing, Louisville struggling and Kansas showing itself to be just a notch better than West Virginia. Here’s what else you need to know:

1. Creighton lands another top-10 W

We’re probably not talking enough about Creighton. After Wednesday’s 87-82 win over No. 10 Seton Hall, the 23rd-ranked Bluejays are now tied for second in the Big East and have quietly assembled a resume that’s going to moving up to top-four NCAA tournament seed territory here shortly. Creighton is very much for real, and has a real chance of making the first Sweet 16 in school history next month.

It’s the offense that makes the Bluejays go, and Seton Hall learned that Wednesday. Creighton shot 46 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3-point range and grabbed 11 offensive rebounds while playing at a blistering 76-possession pace. Ty-Shon Alexander, Marcus Zegarowski, Denzel Mahoney and Damien Jefferson all had 18 points for coach Greg McDermott on the night. Creighton’s offensive night was almost even more impressive considering Mitchell Ballock, their best 3-point shooter and a consistent offensive threat, was 0-7 from the floor. Take that out, and Creighton was 51.8 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from 3.

They’re now up to sixth nationally in offense on KenPom, thanks strong 3-point shooting, good work inside the arc and their ability to take care of the ball.  The rotation is thin, but every player McDermott sends out on to the floor is a capable offensive presence. There’s something to be said for the power of simply not having a liability on the floor to help make an offense excellent. The defense isn’t much to lean on, but the Bluejays get buckets.

The loss is the second in four games for Seton Hall, with both Ls coming at home. There’s certainly no reason to start wondering about the Pirates now – they’re probably not winning on nights when Myles Powell goes an atypical 3 of 16 from the floor – but they’re missing on opportunities to push their resume up a notch.

2. Auburn wins in OT…again

What in the world do you make of Auburn?

The Tigers improved to 22-2 on the year and 9-2 in SEC play with their seventh-straight win, a 95-91 victory over Alabama at home. It was the third-straight extra-time victory for the Tigers, and their fourth in five games.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but winning is, obviously, the thing that’s most important in a basketball game. When you’re trying to evaluate just how good Auburn is, though, all these close games make it awfully difficult. Does it say anything all that much different about a team if they win or lose an overtime game? It’s five minutes of basketball, and in five minutes of basketball anything can happen. Are they clutch? Lucky?

When a game comes down to such a small sample size, it’s hard to assign credit. The average KenPom ranking of these teams that are playing Auburn even for 40 minutes is 42. Not cupcakes, but hardly national title contenders, either. Making things even more difficult to judge is that the one game in this stretch that didn’t take OT was Auburn’s win against Kentucky.

I don’t really know what to make of Auburn, but I imagine they don’t care too much. They’re too busy winning.

Side note: Alabama shot 59 times from 3-point range tonight. The Tide are one of the fastest-playing teams and highest-volume 3-point shooting teams in the country. If Nate Oats starts loading up on skilled players that can maximize that style of play, they’re going to be a ton of fun.

3. Villanova gets back on track

Villanova’s three-game losing streak is no more.

The Wildcats salvaged their last chance in a tough four-game stretch by beating Marquette, 72-71.

It was the first victory in two weeks after losses to Creighton, Butler and Seton Hall. Even with two of the three coming at home, those are schedule losses as much as anything. Getting this one against Marquette, even if it came down to the wire, helps build a little momentum and confidence heading into a regular-season finale stretch of seven games when a rematch against Seton Hall is the only KenPom top-45 opponent on the slate.

Villanova has a real chance to stack victories over the next month.

Marquette, meanwhile, has a huge game against Creighton next week before a similarly light finish to Big East play that features a rematch with the Pirates.

 

Kamar Baldwin’s buzzer-beater lifts No. 19 Butler past No. 10 Villanova

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Kamar Baldwin knocked down a buzzer-beating three to lift No. 19 Butler past No. 10 Villanova for a 79-76 win on Wednesday night.

The senior put the game in his hands on the final possession. It worked out for Butler as Baldwin buried a stepback jumper to lift the Bulldogs to the Big East home win.

The win puts Butler firmly in the mix among the Big East’s second-tier group.

Seton Hall still maintains the Big East lead. But the Bulldogs are now a game back of Villanova for second place with Wednesday’s win. Butler is still tied with Creighton, Marquette and Providence in the conference standings. But this is a home win that Butler needed if they had any hopes of potentially claiming a Big East regular-season title.

Perhaps most importantly, this is a huge shot for the struggling Baldwin. The senior is a four-year double-digit scorer who has been a reliable offensive threat for Butler. Senior season has been a different story for Baldwin. Shooting a career-low 40 percent from the floor and 29 percent from three-point range, things haven’t come easy for the Butler star over the past few weeks. The past six games, Baldwin is only shooting 2-for-23 from three-point range.

A buzzer-beating three is a huge confidence boost for one of the most dangerous players in college basketball. And for a Butler team that is trying to regain its footing after a hot start, it’s a great sign to see Baldwin take, and make, a huge shot to win a top-25 matchup.

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.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Kansas and K-State Brawl, TCU’s signature win, Villanova beats Butler

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College basketball had plenty of action on Tuesday night.

But instead of a bevy of upsets and huge top-25 games, the action came in the form of a Kansas/Kansas State brawl and a new bubble team picking up a signature win.

There was also a top-25 matchup in the Big East as Villanova squared off against Butler. 

Kansas/Kansas State brawl erupts at end of rivalry game

The big story of Tuesday night involves Kansas and Kansas State.

This inner-state rivalry lost some steam with the Wildcats in rebuilding mode this season. But as we found out Tuesday, there is still plenty of intensity when these Big 12 rivals take the floor.

At the end of a Jayhawk blowout home win, a brawl started under a basket. Video came from all over the place as Kansas and Kansas State players took swings and even picked up a chair.

It overshadowed a rivalry win for the No. 3 Jayhawks. Suspensions will likely be handed out. These teams also have a return matchup at Kansas State to look forward to on Feb. 29. We’ll hear more about this fight throughout the week.

TCU picks up signature win against No. 18 Texas Tech

During a major season of turmoil where upsets are normal and road wins are nearly impossible, TCU has stayed in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid with a positive 11-5 start.

The Horned Frogs lacked a signature win though.

That changed on Tuesday night with TCU claiming a 65-54 win over No. 18 Texas Tech. Now with a Q1 win on the profile, TCU should make a move up the NET to get in respectable bubble territory.

TCU still has work to do if they want to secure a bid. Only one Q1 win, one Q2 win and a combined 2-5 record in those two quadrants isn’t going to cut it.

But with a 4-2 record in the Big 12, TCU is a team to keep tabs of the next several weeks. After getting absolutely destroyed by an average of 26 points per game the last two losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma, this is a quality bounceback win for the Horned Frogs. And the type of win that can jumpstart a postseason push.

No. 9 Villanova cruises past No. 16 Butler for Big East home win

Tuesday night’s only top-25 clash was in the Big East. Villanova ran past Butler for a 76-61 home win to keep pace with Seton Hall in the Big East standings.

Jermaine Samuels paced five double-figure scorers for Villanova with 20 points.

Big East brutality continued for Butler meanwhile.

The Bulldogs have lost three straight games in conference play. All three losses have come by at least eight points. It’s not only that Butler is losing but they’re playing poorly.

It feels like the Wildcats will once again remain in the Big East title picture this season. If Butler wants to say the same, they’ll need to figure things out quickly to fix its January swoon.