The 2018-19 RTC16: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2018

And so it begins — that wonderful time of year when we once again find our favorite teams playing college basketball. It is a glorious time, indeed. With a sizable slate of games set to commence on Tuesday evening, we are ready to officially unveil our 2018-19 preseason RTC Top 16. This initial poll will hold for the next two weeks but you can expect our weekly RTC16 to release on every subsequent Monday morning starting November 19. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives more deeply into trends that the poll reveals. To see how we did last year, check out our 2017-18 preseason poll — sure, we nailed a few (Villanova, Kansas and Duke), and missed on some others (USC, Notre Dame and Louisville), but we promise to do better this time around. Here is our preseason poll. Enjoy opening week!

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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Big East Burning Questions: Villanova & Xavier

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 1st, 2018

The NBA season tipped off last week, which makes it the perfect time to roll out some new Big East content to drown out the monotony of early-season professional basketball. Over the coming weeks, the Big East microsite will be previewing all the teams, players and key storylines to watch as we approach season tip-off. Be sure to follow @RTCBigEast and its contributors Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro to get your fix. In the spotlight today will be (alphabetically) Villanova and Xavier.

Villanova: Is there enough firepower left to defend its throne?

Eric Paschall is Ready to Lead Villanova (USA Today Images)

The loss of four key contributors from last season’s National Champions is a mountain to overcome, even for a head coach as proficient as Jay Wright. Yes, the Wildcats bring in another heralded recruiting class and a nice transfer in Albany’s Joe Cremo, but it’s not exactly a reassuring thought that only a handful of Villanova’s rotation players are back. The program’s success in recent years has been predicated on numerous scoring options to attack the rim and space the floor, as evidenced by the fact that a robust six different players averaged double-figure scoring last season. This year’s roster features a number of capable shooters and multi-positional defenders, but offensive coordination and defensive cohesiveness don’t just happen overnight. So the question becomes a matter of how quickly Wright’s plethora of sparingly used returnees and newcomers can contribute alongside alpha dog veterans Eric Paschall and Phil Booth. Freshman Jahvon Quinerly will be the next man up in the program’s revolving door of elite point guards and the chatter around campus is that he’ll be ready to take the reins from day one. Besides, it seems silly to count this program out of the running for another title, particularly on the heels of Booth recently dropping 41 points on North Carolina in a secret scrimmage.

Xavier: Is Travis Steele ready for the Travis Steele era?

Travis Steele Takes the Helm at Xavier (USA Today Images)

So long, Chris Mack. Louisville offered the longtime Xavier head coach a handful of pretty pennies ($4 million per year for seven years), which he is presumably using to throw parties at his new $3.1 million mansion. That allowed Xavier the opportunity to promote assistant coach Travis Steele in much the same way Mack had gotten the job after Sean Miller’s departure to Arizona nearly a decade ago. Steele certainly has some big shoes to fill in following Mack’s 215-97 record that included eight NCAA Tournament appearances and four trips to the second weekend. Moreover, the Musketeers lost three scorers who accounted for more than 50 percent of their scoring output a season ago. On the bright side, Steele secured three experienced graduate transfers and can work with a promising set of sophomores in Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall, which is a better hand than most new head coaches are dealt. Both wings showed promise in spurts last season and will now have to do it with consistency this season. The 2018-19 season may shape up as something of a rare transition year for the program, but if Steele can come close to replicating Mack’s typical performance, Xavier will find itself making travel arrangements yet again on Selection Sunday.

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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #9 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 29th, 2018

As RTC heads into its 12th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Tuesday, November 6. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#9 – Where Johnnies Uprising Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17  and 2017-18 preseasons.

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Big East Wrap-Up: Lasting Impressions and Early Rankings

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 11th, 2018

All hail Donte DiVincenzo‘s flurry of baskets that left Michigan fans saying “who is this guy?”

Villanova Celebrates Its Second National Championship in the Last Three Years Last Week (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova has ascended into blue-blood territory. It’s a tired storyline at this point but it’s also probably the biggest one coming out of the NCAA Tournament. Winners of two championships in three years with largely a different set of players means that Jay Wright has officially assembled a dynasty. Villanova has the roster makeup that makes the rest of college basketball envious: dynamic guards that can score at multiple levels; floor-spacing big men who can shoot the three; and sufficient experience together to play cohesive team defense. The best part is that even with some expected early departures pending (Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson?), Villanova’s standing near the top of the national rankings isn’t likely to change, and that’s what makes this program a dynasty.
  • Goodbye, Chris Mack. Another year, another lost Big East coach to a bigger program budget and salary. Last year, it was Chris Holtmann departing Butler for Ohio State (where he excelled). This year it’s Chris Mack who packed his bags for Louisville after a nine-year tenure at Xavier that included five straight NCAA tournament appearances. In his stead is former assistant Travis Steele, promoted from a position he has held since 2008. Steele has already impressively gotten to work, quickly signing two graduate transfers in Zach Hankins (D-II National Player of the Year) and Kyle Castlin (Columbia) while being in the running for many others. On the heels of a massive graduating class in Cincinnati, Steele will have his work cut out for him next season.
  • Hello, Providence backcourt. What Ed Cooley has done with his guards during his tenure at Providence has been nothing short of amazing. From Bryce Cotton to Kris Dunn to Kyron Cartwright, there has never been a dearth of electric, play-making perimeter players on his roster. Now, though, with Cartwright graduating, the question of who is next for the Friars is bubbling up. Early signs pointed to rising sophomore Makai Ashton-Langford, but his limited end-of-season usage and errant decision-making have been confounding. Encouragingly, Cooley is also bringing in two heralded backcourt recruits in David Duke and AJ Reeves, and it’s a safe bet given recent history that at least one of the pair will emerge into the spotlight.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 79, #3 Michigan 62

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Five Key Takeaways.

Villanova Won Its Second National Title in Three Years (USA Today Images)

  1. Villanova Won the National Title Without All-American Performances From Its All-Americans. NPOY Jalen Brunson and All-American Mikal Bridges have been outstanding all season long, but Michigan managed to give both of them trouble during the key stretches of tonight’s game — essentially, the first half. As Michigan came out swinging haymakers led by the early charge of Moritz Wagner, Brunson and Bridges’ shots that normally drop were rimming out. The pair combined for just 11 first half points on 5-of-14 shooting that included only one three-pointer in six attempts. Luckily for Villanova, a secret weapon came off Jay Wright‘s bench to pick up the slack (more on Donte DiVincenzo below). That gave the Wildcats the cushion they needed heading into the break, allowing for Bridges to join DiVincenzo’s coming-out party in the second half to the tune of 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Brunson finished with nine points and two assists on the evening, but that shows just how balanced Villanova was this year — The NPOY had a rough night and his team still won a title game by 17 points.
  2. Rather, the Michael Jordan of Delaware Stepped Up. To most of America watching tonight, the rise of Donte DiVincenzo to log 31 points and five rebounds on 10-of-15 shooting (5-of-7 3FG) must have seemed like another Grayson Allen moment, where a talented but relatively unknown bench player came out of nowhere to lead his team to the National Championship. The truth, however, is a little more nuanced this time around. Despite being an unheralded recruit out of Wilmington, Delaware (where else?), three years ago, Wright admitted after the game that DiVincenzo was plenty good enough to be his starter on the wing. The wrinkle in the redshirt sophomore coming off the bench is that he still played starter’s minutes (72.5%) this season and logged five games of 20 or more points. He was obviously a key cog all year long, and given Michigan’s defense was so keyed on stopping Brunson and Bridges, DiVincenzo had his chance to step up and he met the call with full throttle.
  3. Jay Wright Joins Select Company. Not even the most optimistic Villanova fan could have seen this coming a little over two years ago. Jay Wright had experienced so many disappointing NCAA Tournaments since his last run to the Final Four in 2009 that there were some grumblings in Philadelphia about him keeping his job. Two years forward and now Wright is one of only 15 coaches in NCAA history (and two active) to hold more than one National Championship. That he did it with two distinct teams with some overlap perhaps makes it even more impressive. Wright’s 2016 team was certainly outstanding, but it wasn’t a #1 seed nor did it win the Big East Tournament. This group won everything possible — Big East regular season; Big East Tournament; NCAA Tournament — and it did so by demolishing every team in its path during the postseason. Over nine games in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments, the Wildcats won each by an average of 17.7 points per game. Wright is a wonderful narrative in what can happen if a school gives the right coach time to find his own niche and growth curve after some early disappointments.
  4. Historical Perspective. Not many schools can lay claim to winning two National Championships in a three-year window, and most of those schools won back-to-back titles with largely the same cores. The Kentucky teams of 1996-98 won a pair of titles with vastly different teams (and head coaches). UCLA bookended its 10-in-12 years run of the 1960s and 1970s with similar 2-in-3 successes. Kentucky’s original dynasty had a similar in the early 1950s. But that’s it. What Wright has done at a school that was often considered a second-class Big East citizen behind the likes of Syracuse, UConn and Georgetown is simply phenomenal. Villanova now has more championships than the Orange and Hoyas combined, and is only one behind the Huskies. Conference realignment has hurt a lot of programs in varying ways (hey, Pitt), but perhaps the biggest basketball success story has as a result of all the league movement has occurred right on the Main Line in Philadelphia.
  5. Basketball Schools Doing Basketball Things. People can quibble about which schools are most closely defined as basketball schools or football schools (and they do), but it’s really not that hard to determine in almost every case. The key question is which sport the fan base tends to most identify with, which in part fuels support and expectations for success in that sport, working in a continuous feedback loop. Villanova defines itself by its basketball program. Michigan — while very successful in both major collegiate sports — most assuredly defines itself on the gridiron. With Villanova’s second title in the last three years tonight, basketball schools have won the last 11 championships and 22 of the last 24 titles. The lone exception during that period was Florida’s back-to-back run in 2006-07. There are plenty of reasons for this kind of run that involves resources, coaching, motivation and luck, but the fact remains that the football schools as a general rule haven’t been able to break through the plexiglass ceiling just yet.

Player of the Game. Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova. DiVincenzo produced one of the best championship game performances in modern college basketball history tonight, dropping 31 points, five rebounds and three assists on 10-of-15 shooting. He also nailed five back-breaking threes (in seven attempts), two of which came in succession when Villanova earned the lead for good and wrested control of the game away from Michigan. Per the NCAA, DiVincenzo’s effort represented just the sixth time in the last 40 years when a player in the title game has topped the 30-point barrier. That he did so from the bench makes it even more impressive.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 95, #1 Kansas 79

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Advances to the Title Game for the Second Time in Three Years (USA Today Images)

  1. Three-llanova. It was 9-2 before most people had even started their mid-session hot dog. 14-4 by the first TV timeout. 22-4 seven minutes into the game. And everyone in the building, including Kansas head coach Bill Self, knew it was over. Villanova was simply too good to blow an 18-point lead, even if 80 percent of the game was still to come. At that point in the game, Villanova had already nailed six threes, but the Wildcats were far from done. Over the course of the next 13 minutes, Villanova dropped another seven threes, totaling a Final Four record-tying 13 in the first half alone. The Wildcats did so on 26 attempts (50%), effectively eschewing its patented drive game in favor of a number of long-range heat checks that dropped. Furthermore, Villanova only attempted seven two-point field goals for the half and took zero foul shots. All of this goes to show that Jay Wright‘s team was absolutely scorching, feeling it and playing to their hot hands. It was a first half performance for the ages and Kansas never really had a chance after the opening few minutes. Going into the break down 15 points, the Jayhawks never saw a single-figure deficit again.
  2. Villanova is on the Cusp of Greatness. Win a single National Championship at any school in America and you drink for free in the area for the rest of your life. But the truth is that there have been a number of one-hit wonder championship teams that are generally forgotten beyond their localities. If Villanova cuts down the nets on Monday night in San Antonio, however, Wright’s program will ascend to greatness. Three-year runs that include a trio of 30-win seasons and two banners don’t exactly grow on trees. In fact, only Kentucky from 1996-98 can make that claim in the modern era. For a program that doesn’t pile up all of the elite recruits but rather cultivates and grows the ones it gets, this run is nothing short of astonishing. There is still another game to be played, of course, and Michigan is a worthy and capable opponent, but all signs point to Villanova achieving something that perhaps only Wright and his closest supporters saw coming three years ago.
  3. Kansas Did Its Job For America. Bill Self alluded to this after the game, but given the number of issues that Kansas has faced this season — from losing Billy Preston to running a four-guard set — the Jayhawks have nothing of which to be ashamed. Beating a loaded Duke team in overtime of the Elite Eight is what this team will be remembered for, and even though the Kansas program plays for banners, it will be a very nice memory for the Jayhawks and the rest of America for years to come. We made light of Self having his “least impressive team” ever — which is still hogwash, but it certainly had more weaknesses than most of his teams over the last decade in Lawrence. That said, Kansas will continue to recruit great players; Self will continue to coach ’em up; and Kansas will continue to get to Final Fours. Eventually he’s going to win another one of these tournaments.

Player of the Game. Eric Paschall, Villanova. Take your pick on the Villanova roster for this award, but it’s yours when you drop 24 points in 29 minutes with only one missed shot on the entire evening. Paschall is one of the lesser-known players among the Wildcats’ regulars but he was All-American level tonight, draining a couple of threes for eight points in the first half and effectively ensuring Kansas would not make a run with 16 more points in the second stanza.

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What a National Championship Would Mean For Each Final Four Team…

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 31st, 2018

With the Final Four set to begin this evening in San Antonio, the college basketball world is getting close to crowning its 2018 National Champion. With the ultimate goal of standing atop a Werner ladder cutting down the nets now in sight, the question becomes what would a title mean for each of the remaining four programs. Let’s examine each in more detail.

Kansas Slayed Mighty Duke to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

A National Championship for Kansas would… be the program’s fourth NCAA title overall, putting the Jayhawks in the same company as Connecticut, Duke, Florida and North Carolina as programs with multiple championships since 2000. A second ring would make Bill Self the 14th head coach with multiple titles and just the third active coach with at least two. It would also further erase the memory of first round exits at the hands of Bradley and Bucknell early in Self’s tenure at Kansas, as well as the no-shows against VCU, Northern Iowa and Oregon in recent years.

A win would also further elevate Devonte’ Graham in Jayhawks’ lore. The Big 12 Player of the Year, a consensus All-American, a four-year player, and the possibility of a National Championship could combine to getting Graham’s jersey lifted into the Allen Fieldhouse rafters some day.

A National Championship for Loyola would… be historic for the “little guy.” While a pair of wins in San Antonio would produce the program’s second National Championship, the shift of the college basketball landscape over the last several decades has put all but a few mid-major programs like Loyola in a large and difficult hole. The annual margin of error is minuscule come conference tournament time and NCAA Tournament paths are rarely advantageous as a result. A win by a mid-major program would remind everyone that these teams deserve not only inclusion in the tournament, but they help make the tournament as great as it is.

By cutting down the nets on Monday night, Porter Moser would become the immediate “it” coach at any number of interested programs. While leaving Loyola immediately after a National Championship might be unlikely, a new contract at Loyola is a certainty. If Moser is able to guide Loyola to a championship this year followed by another strong season in 2018-19, he will have plenty of opportunities to vault himself into a power conference coaching position as soon as he likes.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Villanova Wildcats

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 27th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next up is #1 Villanova from the East Region.

How Villanova Got Here

Villanova is headed back in the Final Four. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

East Region Champions. In a March defined by massive upsets, close games, and wild finishes, Villanova cruised to San Antonio without too much trouble. On opening weekend, the Wildcats beat #16 Radford by 27 points before hammering #9 Alabama, 81-58, two days later. In its Sweet Sixteen tilt with West Virginia, Jay Wright’s group used a 22-6 second half run to overcome a two-possession deficit and beat the Mountaineers by 12 points. On Sunday, Villanova put forth one of its best defensive efforts of the season, limiting Texas Tech to 0.89 points per possession in another 12-point win. The Wildcats now head to their second Final Four in three seasons, this time as the odds-on favorites to win it all.

The Coach

Jay Wright. The sharply dressed 56-year-old is working his way on to the Mount Rushmore of active head basketball coaches, and its hard to argue otherwise. Wright became the winningest coach in school history earlier this month and is currently in the midst of his fourth-straight 30-win season, which gives him as many such campaigns (five) as Syracuse’s Jim Boehiem and one more than Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (four). In fact, he has gone a remarkable 163-21 over the past five seasons, never once losing more than five games during that span. Now with three Final Four appearances under his belt, Wright is tied with Kansas’ Bill Self and Mississippi State’s Ben Howland for sixth-most among active coaches, and has a chance to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams as the only active head coaches with multiple National Championships.

Style

Villanova runs a four-out, one-in motion offense that relies on floor spacing, crisp ball movement, dribble-penetration and great perimeter shooting. The Wildcats, in fact, take 47.1 percent of their shots from behind the arc, which is substantially more than even the three-point reliant Jayhawks (41.4%) or Wolverines (43.1%). And there’s nothing excessive about it. Since every player on the floor is capable of penetrating, all it takes is one help defender to free up an open man somewhere on the court. And considering how well Villanova moves the ball — perhaps no team makes the “extra pass” as often as the Wildcats — that open man often finds the ball in his hands. The result is college basketball’s most efficient offense since 2015. Defensively, Villanova mixes defenses, sometimes running a zone press that’s proved effective throughout Wright’s career. The Wildcats also guard the perimeter aggressively, one reason they rank 29th nationally in three-point defense (32.2% 3FG).

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 71, #3 Texas Tech 59

Posted by Matt Patton on March 25th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Matt Patton (@mpatton08) is in Boston for the East Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Donte DiVincenzo ignites the Villanova crowd in the second half of their Elite Eight win (photo credit: AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  1. Villanova doesn’t have to outshoot its opponents to win. Villanova won this game for two main reasons, and neither is a hallmark of this squad. First, the Wildcats dominated Texas Tech on the glass. They rebounded 37 percent of their own misses (20 offensive boards in all), extending their possessions and shortening the game. While they didn’t get all that many second-chance points, those rebounds forced the Red Raiders to expend more energy on defense with less time to mount a comeback. The second reason Jay Wright‘s team won today was because of their work defending the paint. Villanova had a good two-point defense this year (holding opponents to 49 percent shooting from the field), but their work in Boston this weekend was phenomenal. Wright’s team held Texas Tech to 7-of-24 shooting on layups despite foul trouble for much of the game for big man Omari Spellman. In fact, Texas Tech missed their last 10 layups of the game, covering the last 12 minutes of action (which was also when they were trying to mount an ultimately futile comeback).
  2. Villanova’s ball movement is probably unparalleled in college basketball. The threes didn’t fall for Villanova today, but the Wildcats space the floor better than any other team in college basketball. The whole rotation can shoot, so Jalen Brunson will frequently drive the ball inside as the other four players on the floor spread themselves around the perimeter. If Brunson’s pass to the corner or wing doesn’t find a wide-open shooter, the swing pass does. This exact scenario played out multiple times per game against West Virginia and Texas Tech this weekend. Brunson also doesn’t have to drive the ball to be successful. He posted up and backed down his Texas Tech defender multiple times today — most of the time he was looking for his own shot there, but he also had ample opportunity to pass out if anyone even hinted at helping off their man.
  3. Keenan Evans didn’t provide the spark Texas Tech needed from its best offensive player. Evans, who disclosed after the game that he has been playing for the last month with a broken big toe, wound up shooting 3-of-14 from the field, missing all four of his attempts from three. He was able to get to the line, which is another place the Red Raiders struggled, but when Texas Tech cut it to five points with five minutes left in the game, it seemed like the moment when Evans might step up. It’s hard to say how painful that injury was for him, but you can bet that it affected his explosiveness and balance with the ball throughout the postseason this year.

Player of the Game. Eric Paschall finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds (six on the offensive ends) today, and was really the guy who stymied both of Texas Tech’s best opportunities to come back in the second half. When Brandone Francis hit a three-pointer to cut the deficit to five with six minutes remaining, it was Paschall who blocked Zach Smith’s subsequent layup that would have made it a one-possession game. With four minutes to play and the deficit again five points, it was Paschall who hauled in Brunson’s missed three while getting fouled.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 90, #5 West Virginia 78

Posted by Matt Patton on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Matt Patton (@pattonm08) is in Boston for the East Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Jalen Brunson was the best player in the country Friday night. (Photo credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. West Virginia controlled the first 30 minutes of the game. Villanova was uncharacteristically sloppy. Donte DiVicenzo and Mikal Bridges were totally lost. Even when the Wildcats avoided turnovers, they took contested (often rushed) shots. If Jalen Brunson was the best player on the floor — keeping the Wildcats within striking distance — it was his former teammate on the other side, Jevon Carter, who set the tone for the game. With 11:08 remaining, the Mountaineers were up six and looked like they had seized control. To that point Villanova was 2-of-11 in the half with a whopping zero points in the paint. Then everything fell apart for Bob Huggins’ team.
  2. And then Villanova settled down. From that point, Villanova outscored West Virginia 36-18 the rest of the way. Brunson started things off, as he always seems to do, with an and-one, and the Wildcats ripped off 11 points in a row to regain control of the game. The Mountaineers missed nine straight shots over the next five minutes before finally getting something to drop at the 6:25 mark. Villanova, on the other hand, made 10 of their last 14 field goal attempts while committing only two turnovers (both of which came when the outcome was effectively decided). But even so, the game felt much closer than the final score. West Virginia compounded their closing woes with missed layups, open threes and free throws.
  3. Villanova is the favorite to cut down the nets in San Antonio. The Wildcats looked rattled at times against West Virginia’s relentless press, but they also run the prettiest offense in college basketball, bar none. They space the floor as well as an NBA team, and Brunson will be the best player on the floor no matter the possible remaining opponent (even against Duke). And considering that Villanova looked totally rattled (apart from Brunson), they were only down six to West Virginia tonight. Their ceiling is as high as any team remaining, but their floor is quite a bit higher than the rest of the field.

Star of the Game. Jalen Brunson, Villanova. Brunson kept the Wildcats from being run out of the gym during the first 30 minutes of the game. He looked every bit the National Player of the Year candidate that he is, creating opportunities for himself as well as his teammates. He broke the West Virginia press with ease for most of the night. He drew fouls when necessary. It felt like he never missed an open look. His closing line was 27 points and four assists in 37 minutes of floor generalship.

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