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Four-Point Play: Creighton's magical offense, Bryce Cotton's incredible stretch

Ethan Wragge and Creighton had a legendary shooting night against Villanova. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)Ethan Wragge and Creighton had a legendary shooting night against Villanova. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Four-Point Play is One and One’s attempt to highlight the best team, player, game and GIF/video from the past seven days of college hoops. We reserve the right to tweak the formula on a weekly basis. Expect this column every Sunday.

Creighton torches No. 4 Villanova 

Lovers of defense, click away.

You may not want to relive the horrible misdeeds Creighton committed Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center. It’s probably best Villanova fans skip over this section of the column, too.

There is a difference between basketball teams being “hot” and being so scorching that sportscenter audibles to make you its lead story and one announcer is saying things like, “What a joke. I mean, it’s absolutely comical.” There was perhaps no better way to describe the offensive onslaught Creighton launched against the No. 4 Wildcats on their home floor.

The Bluejays hit a Big East record-setting 21 threes on 35 attempts and scored 96 points on one of the better defensive teams in the conference (one that still ranks in the league’s top 5 in points allowed per possession during league play). Ethan Wragge’s nine #Wraggebombs, the hashtagged moniker for the senior forward’s long-range makes, tied Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver’s school record.

“My teammates do an unbelievable job of once I get one,” Wragge said afterward. “They know I'm hunting for two and three. It's a hard feeling to describe once you get one. You kind of just let it fly, don't think about it and you have to shoot it to make so you just let it go."

Wragge connected seven times from beyond the arc before seven minutes had elapsed, staking Creighton to a 27-8 lead. His last three came around the 14-minute mark of the second half, at which point Creighton held a commanding 68-45 edge. Wragge finished with 27 points on 9-of-14 shooting in 28 minutes. He did not attempt a single two-point field goal, par for the course with Wragge; over his three-plus years with the Bluejays, the senior has attempted 47 shots from inside the arc. Wragge has already fired 154 threes this season.

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(Via the Omaha World-Herald)

Hoops nerds had long known about Wragge’s long-range wizardry, but Monday night might have officially elevated him to cult hero status. The Bluejays are holding a “Lumerback night” to honor the bearded long-range gunner.

"It was a start like I’ve never seen before but I can’t say I’m surprised because I’ve seen it in practice," Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said of Wragge. "I've seen this kid do this before and I’ve said to a lot of people I think he’s as good a shooter as there is in the country. Now I think people may believe me.”

Wragge had the hot hand, but he wasn’t the only Bluejay who found his groove against the Wildcats. National Player of the Year frontrunner Doug McDermott shot 8-for-13 and 5-for-8 from three-point range for 23 points. Senior guard Jahenns Manigat hit four threes and finished with 19 points. Nine of Creighton players converted at least one field goal.

There are almost too many eye-popping statistics that highlight how special Creighton’s offensive bombardment was. The Bluejays scored 1.45 points per possession, shot 60 percent from three-point range and, as a result, jumped 11 spots (from No. 13 to No. 2) in Ken Pomeroy’s team ratings. It was, quite simply, the most impressive offensive display any team has produced this season.

“That was one of the more incredible things I’ve been ever been a part of as a coach,” Greg McDermott said.

While Creighton’s offense came back to earth in Saturday’s 76-63 win over Georgetown – in which it scored a “ho-hum” 76 points in 67 possessions – the Bluejays’ offense could go down as one of the most prolific of the past decade. After Monday night, Creighton’s 1.282 points per possession ranked well ahead of 2004-05 Chris Paul-led Wake Forest’s 1.24 PPP – the highest number for any team over a full season dating to 2003, when kenpom.com began tracking tempo-free statistics.

The Bluejays are still putting up a ridiculous 1.273 points per possession and rank among the nation’s leaders in several categories, including first in three-point field goal percentage (43.3) and effective field goal percentage (which weighs three-point shots more heavily than two-point shots). And only one team, San Jose State, scores a higher percentage of its points from beyond the arc than the Bluejays.

Can this strategy work in the NCAA Tournament’s single-elimination format, where cold shooting can doom long range-dependent teams? Maybe. Maybe not. What should not go overlooked is that the Bluejays’ defense has been excellent during conference play, relative to other Big East teams.’ They rank first in points allowed per possession and are allowing opponents to grab just 26.5 percent of their missed shots.

The Bluejays own a half-game lead over the Wildcats in the Big East standings and are on track to earn a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"We weren’t here to make a statement," Greg McDermott said. "So it was a huge opportunity for our team and we had to step up to the moment."

As prolific as Creighton’s offense is, it’s unlikely the Bluejays will ever approach what they did Monday night. So if you haven’t yet, watch their game against the Wildcats. Creighton’s offensive effort is one college basketball fans won’t soon forget.

Nik Stauskas continued his stellar play with a strong game against Michigan State. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)Nik Stauskas continued his stellar play with a strong game against Michigan State. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

No. 21 Michigan ascends Big Ten ladder

It has been over a month since preseason All-American center Mitch McGary last played in a game for No. 21 Michigan. Losing such a pivotal player for that long would be a huge setback for most teams, but the Wolverines have won nine consecutive games and, in beating No. 3 Michigan State 80-75 on Saturday, became the first team since Iowa in 1987 to win three straight against top-10 teams.

With forwards Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson sidelined with injuries, the Spartans weren't playing at full strength, but Michigan's win at the Breslin Center still counts as one of the best any team has notched this season. The Wolverines shot 45-percent from the field and 58-percent from three-point range, rebounded 35.5-percent of their missed shots to Michigan State’s 30.3 and broke the game open on a 10-2 run late in the second half triggered by one of sophomore guard Nik Stauskas’s five treys.

“The rankings right now are the rankings,” Beilein said afterward.“You don’t know who’s going to be there in March -- it’s just projections. I know we beat three really good teams. It’s three teams that I think will be in the top four or five in the Big Ten. To beat those, that’s what really means a lot because now you’ve beat them, you have a game up on them in some regard for the Big Ten Championship, which every coach in this league – that’s what we’re trying to get.”

Stauskas’ offensive prowess is receiving due attention. He is a legitimate candidate for the Big Ten player of the year award, the catalyst of Michigan’s post-McGary run. But the most promising takeaway for the Wolverines from Saturday’s win is the play of freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. Walton played his best game of the season, scoring 19 points on 4-of-7 shooting and 9-of-10 from the free throw line, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out four assists.

If Walton continues to get better, Michigan’s already potent offensive attack – it ranks first among Big Ten teams in conference play and third nationally in points scored per possession – will be even more dangerous.

“One of the reasons that I know Derrick embraced going to Michigan is some of the tremendous games he was going to be able to play in the Big Ten,“ Beilein said. “And this is a great environment, like all of the environments are.”

Earlier in the week, Michigan took down No. 10 Iowa at Crisler Arena, which followed the Wolverines’ win last Saturday at No. 9 Wisconsin. That Michigan could go undefeated against that stretch would have seemed unthinkable when it was announced on December 27 that McGary would be out indefinitely after having lower back surgery.

That’s not as important as what Michigan has – and will continue to try to – accomplish without their star forward. The Wolverines have beaten every top Big Ten contender to move into first place in the conference standings and hold at least a two-game lead over every team besides Michigan State.

Michigan has an excellent chance to move to move to 10-0 in conference play, as it faces games against Purdue and Nebraska and at Indiana over the next 10 days.

The latest numbers from the bracket matrix, a compilation of bracket projections from around the web, project Michigan as a five-seed. If they keep winning, the Wolverines, who have an RPI of 12 and five wins over teams ranked in the top 50, could push for a top-three seed. In the more immediate future, a conference championship is within reach.

“I don’t like to be the killjoy here, but I end up saying, ‘Alright, let’s enjoy this, and you know on Monday we’ll make you in practice forget all about this, cuz we have very dangerous Purdue team coming in Thursday,’” Beilein said. “Just enjoy it. We’ve played seven games. Heck, there’s 11 more games to go in this league and this is a tough league.”

A three-game stretch against Iowa, No. 17 Ohio State and Wisconsin from February 8 to 16 will be tough, but Michigan has proven it can beat the Big Ten’s best. This team is rolling right now.

Bryce Cotton has helped make Providence a legitimate threat in the Big East. (Nate Shron/Getty Images)Bryce Cotton has helped make Providence a legitimate threat in the Big East. (Nate Shron/Getty Images)

Bryce Cotton pushes Providence into NCAA Tournament contention

Providence announced in the preseason that two of its most talented recruits, Rodney Bullock and Brandon Austin, would be suspended indefinitely. About a month later, the Friars lost point guard Kris Dunn to a season-ending shoulder injury. At that point it seemed reasonable to dismiss their chances of competing for a Big East championship.

But the Friars have lost just four games without Dunn in the lineup and point guard Bryce Cotton has led them to a 5-2 start in the Big East. The senior guard is averaging 22.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game while playing a mindboggling 99.3-percent of available minutes during conference play. Cotton’s 94.9 minutes percentage over the entire season ranks first in the country.

“If you tell me a guy in the last month that’s played better than him in the country, I wanna know who that person is,“ Friars coach Ed Cooley said Saturday of Cotton, who scored 25 points and handed out seven assists in their win over Xavier. “He is so undervalued by the national people.”

Four days after leading his team to an 81-68 win over Creighton last Saturday, Cotton scored 18 points on 5-of-12 shooting in a 65-56 win over Butler. The Friars sit just a game and a half back of the Bluejays for first place in the conference, but they could fall back in the coming weeks. Providence plays four of its next five games on the road, including a return trip to Xavier on Feb. 8.

Cotton has been brilliant, but this team may not have enough energy to endure the tough stretch of games ahead. The Friars’ rotation basically runs six deep, and both Cotton and junior forward LaDonte Henton are averaging more than 40 minutes per game during conference play (two of the Friars’ league games, on Dec. 31 against Seton Hall and Jan. 16 at Saint John’s, went into double overtime).

As of Saturday morning, 44 of the 67 brackets used for the Bracket Matrix’s projections had Providence making the Field of 68. Providence has an RPI of 41 and a record of 2-3 against the top-50. If Cotton keeps playing well and gets enough help from Henton and others, the Friars can contend for an at-large bid.

“Excited for my group and let’s continue to play well,” Cooley said.

The next five games will be telling. Providence has won just two road tilts so far this season. It will need to win a few more to stay in the hunt for a tourney bid.

Jonathan Holmes wins it for Texas at the buzzer 

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(GIF source: SB Nation)

It took Texas until March 13, in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament against TCU, to win its 16th game in 2012-13. The Longhorns reached that number for 2013-14 on Saturday, when they won at No. 24 Baylor.

Earlier in the week, junior forward Jonathan Holmes pushed Texas past No. 22 Kansas State with this buzzer-beating three.

Holmes set a screen for teammate Javan Felix and flared out to the left corner for a contested fadeaway.

“I knew since they were worried about Javan, my man was going to go with him, so I just slipped to the ball and I was open and made the shot,” Holmes said afterward.

The Rick Barnes hot seat talk has officially cooled, as Texas, after losing its top four scorers in the offseason, has far exceeded expectations.

“I guess I went from being dumb to being smarter,” Barnes said after Saturday’s win, which marked the first time in program history that Texas has won three straight games over ranked teams.

It’s been fun to watch Texas battle some of the best teams in the Big 12. The Longhorns will face their toughest conference test yet on Saturday, when they host No. 8 Kansas.
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