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Mike Lopresti | | November 15, 2019

Michigan State vs. Seton Hall was the best of the star-studded Gavitt Tipoff Games

Michigan State's Malik Hall joins Andy Katz after Spartans' victory over Seton Hall

The NCAA senior vice president of basketball was on the phone and assured he was watching a lot of the Gavitt Tipoff Games this week. Why not, when his name is Dan Gavitt?

“He’d love it,” Gavitt was saying of his father Dave — coach, basketball lifer, father of the Big East. Dave has been gone for eight years but his name is on this annual Big East/Big Ten event. "He was a people person. He’d be in his glory going to these games and sitting around an hour before the game just visiting with everybody that’s part of it.

"One of the things that makes it particularly special is that, like many in the game, he was always focused and somewhat concerned about how the season started, and trying to bring more attention to the games, the players, the coaches. So he would be particularly thrilled to know these high level intraconference matchups happen a week after the start of the season."

High level? Gee, would Dave Gavitt have gotten a kick out of the Cassius Winston-Myles Powell Show on Thursday night, otherwise known as Michigan State 76, Seton Hall 73. That might be the best game of the season so far. The Big Ten ended with a 5-3 edge in games for the second consecutive year, but there was much for Dan Gavitt and everyone else to take from all eight games. In chronological order:

DePaul might be in rebirth mode . . .

The Blue Demons had not beaten a Big Ten team outside the Chicago area since 1995. Consider the surprise value then, when they showed up in Iowa City on Monday and led the Hawkeyes 19-2. The 93-78 romp that opened the Gavitt Games made DePaul 4-0 for the first time in 11 years, and was the second-worst November home loss ever for Iowa. Paul Reed, named the most improved player in the Big East last season, scored 25 points with 12 rebounds against Iowa, so he’s still trending up. The program might be, too.

Juwan Howard passed his first serious coaching test at Michigan

Nothing easy about the Wolverines’ 79-69 win over Creighton Tuesday, requiring 56.6 percent shooting, a career-high 22 points from Isaiah Livers, and lots of in-game coaching adjustments. So it was a good victory for the new man on the bench. "As a coach I will just continue to try to put our team in the best position to win," Howard said. "When I’m not doing my job, I’ll be the first to admit areas I need to improve to get better."

Minnesota has assigned itself a tough beginning

Three of the first four Gophers’ games are on the road against high majors. That hasn’t happened since 1956. First, a loss at Oklahoma, then Tuesday’s 64-56 defeat at Butler, when Minnesota was outscored 25-2 in points off turnovers. The Butler Way — stressing sound defense — is still The Butler Way. "It’s what Butler’s been for years,” coach LaVall Jordan said. "We’re not doing anything magical." And next for Minnesota, a trip to Utah. "We’ve gotten challenged, which is a good thing," coach Richard Pitino said. "Now we’ve got to win some of these games."

Maybe the Gophers could have used the man who coached the Super Bowl champion Colts, six miles down the road from Butler. Minnesota’s last trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse was a 79-68 three-overtime win in 1973, and included a basket by a two-sport man named Tony Dungy.

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The Big Ten is Big Trouble lately for Villanova

The Wildcats have played three Big Ten teams the past 12 months and trailed by 30, 35 and 32 points. To repeat, this is Villanova we’re talking about. Last season, the Wildcats were drilled by Michigan 73-46 in the Gavitt Games, then blown away by Carsen Edwards and Purdue in the NCAA Tournament second round 87-61. Ohio State hit four 3-pointers in the first three minutes Wednesday, and the next thing anyone knew, it was 40-14. Ended 76-51. Nice first-ever trip to Columbus, hey Villanova? Now the Wildcats know how a lot of visiting football teams feel.

Clearly, Villanova — starting two freshmen for the first time in 17 years, with not a single four-year scholarship player on the roster — has developing to do. "We’ve got a lot of guys playing major minutes for the first time, and that was a great lesson for them," Jay Wright said. "I knew we’d have a lot to learn. I didn’t think we would be that far behind at this point, but it looks like we are."

Ohio State looks very for real

The 3-0 Buckeyes have limited opponents to 56, 56 and 51 points, and won a couple of early trophy games in Cincinnati and Villanova. But this request just in from the coach: It’s a small sample size, so hold the adulation. Chris Holtmann remembers how Ohio State started 12-1 last season and then had to claw its way off the bubble to barely get into the NCAA Tournament.  "I shouldn’t need to pump the brakes on people who understand basketball, and understand how long the season is," he said. "You’re not guaranteed anything. There are oddities in college basketball.

"I think there’s perspective required in this. But early season wins, they do validate what you’re doing. I was reminded of that when I was an interim coach at Butler. You’re really looking for validation there early in the year. It creates more buy-in. But . . . my college coach said you really learn about a team when you lose. So we’ve got a lot of learning to do with this group."

Purdue misses Carsen Edwards already

The Boilermakers led Marquette by 18 points Wednesday and it looked as if one of the more curious series dominations — a win would've made Purdue 10-0 all-time against the Golden Eagles — would continue. But the Boilermakers offense stalled, and Marquette rode a 40-17 second half to a 65-55 victory. The Boilermakers went the last six minutes without a field goal. When he was rolling, Edwards could score 17 in a half by himself, and barely perspire.

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Marquette is more than Markus Howard

With Howard getting a quiet, for him, 18 points, someone else had to help lead the counter-attack against Purdue. That would be transfer Koby McEwen and his 23 points. A very good sign for Marquette, before opponents started playing a box-and-1 defense. The box on Howard and the one on everybody else.

Merrimack bounce back

Northwestern’s 72-63 win over Providence Wednesday is the early frontrunner for bounce-back of the year, since the Wildcats opened the season losing to Merrimack, which was playing only its second game as a Division I team. Chris Collins’ youth movement at Northwestern could have taken an early confidence hit had the bad taste from that embarrassment not been quickly washed away. "Obviously, this was a huge win for us," he said. "Probably the understatement of the year."

Penn State can beat Georgetown

The last Nittany Lions’ victory over the Hoyas came in 1973, when Georgetown had a first-year coach named John Thompson. Patrick Ewing was in elementary school. The Hoyas won the next five meetings, but Penn State put a stop to that Thursday night with 13 3-pointers and an 81-66 victory. That gave the Nittany Lions a 3-0 start, breaking 80 points in all of them. That hadn’t happened in 24 years.

Nothing is more fun in basketball than watching two player-of-the-year candidates go at it

The best of the week was saved for last. Powell scored 37 points on an iffy ankle for Seton Hall, occasionally quick-releasing from the next township over. But it wasn’t enough as 17 of Winston’s 21 points came after halftime, seemingly always at just the right moment. This not a week after his brother was killed by a train. Then there was Michigan State freshman Malik Hall off the bench. He was 0-for-3 with no points the first two games of the season. He was 7-for-7 with 17 points Thursday, all in the second half.  Glittering stars, an unlikely hero, 10 lead changes in the second half. The game was a sizzler. "It sure felt a lot like March," Tom Izzo said afterward.

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So the Gavitt Games did what these made-for-TV conference duels are designed to do — give the teams good early competition and raise the profile of the young season amid the clamor of college football and the NFL and NBA.

"I think it’s really important," Dan Gavitt said. "The sports landscape is chock full in November and December. To get the attention of fans, especially causal fans, it takes more than just a mediocre matchup between teams. Fans to want to see, players want to play in and coaches I think generally want to coach in games that really matter and that are competitive and make teams and players better."

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