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No. 4 Wichita State clears biggest hurdle to undefeated season

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We have officially reached the point in the year where No. 4 Wichita State running the table with an undefeated regular season now seems like a probability, not just a possibility.

The Shockers survived their toughest road test in conference play, going into Terre Haute and knocking off Indiana State, 65-58. The Sycamores got 15 of Cleanthony Early’s 19 points in the second half and Ron Baker shut down Manny Arop, holding him to three second half points after he went for 13 in the first 20 minutes.

The hero ended up being big man Chadrack Lufile, as he hit four free throws in the final 43 seconds to ice a game that the Shockers seemed intent on keeping interesting.

The Shockers play four of their last seven regular season games on the road, with the toughest test being a visit to Northern Iowa on Saturday. Get past Saturday unscathed, however, and the Shockers only have one game remaining against a team in the top four in the league with all of their road games coming against teams in the bottom four in the conference.

At this point, the biggest question isn’t whether or not Wichita State is good enough to go undefeated.

They are.

This team is better than the team that made the Final Four last season, and they’re playing in a Missouri Valley that would be considered down even if Creighton was still a member of the conference.

The issue is going to be whether or not they can handle the pressure. Every game they play is going to be the single biggest game of the year for their opponent. A win can define a team’s season, maybe even a player’s career. Each time they take the court, they are going to be the biggest story of the day in college hoops.

This team went to the Final Four last season. They should know what pressure feels like. They should be familiar with the crush that comes with the attention of the national media. They should be prepared to make this run.

Now all they have to do is win the games.

USC athletic director Pat Haden to step down in June

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LOS ANGELES (AP) University of Southern California athletic director Pat Haden says he will retire on June 30.

USC President Max Nikias made the announcement Friday.

Haden has run the athletic department for 5 1/2 years, leading the Trojans through a multiyear stretch of NCAA sanctions against its vaunted football program. He created a large NCAA compliance program and improved graduation rates and grade point averages across the athletic department.

The former USC quarterback also received criticism for the football program’s relative underachievement and for his handling of coach Steve Sarkisian, who has sued the school over his termination last year.

Nikias says Haden’s department also raised over $400 million during his tenure.

Nikias says Haden will start a one-year job guiding the renovation of the Coliseum after he retires.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ivy League’s best meet in New Haven

Columbia guard Maodo Lo, right, steals the ball from Northwestern forward Aaron Falzon, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Evanston, Ill.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Columbia at Yale, 5:00 p.m.

The two best teams in the Ivy League, with matching 4-0 league records, meet for the first time this season. The Lions were close to suffering their first loss last weekend, but an Alex Rosenberg jumper as time expired gave the Lions the win at reigning champion Harvard. Rosenberg’s one of four players averaging at least 12.2 points per game for Kyle Smith’s team, with senior guard Maodo Lo leading the way at 15.8 per contest.

They’ll face a Yale rotation led offensively by point guard Makai Mason (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), and the front court tandem of Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod has been outstanding. The winner get a leg up in the Ivy race, with the rematch scheduled for March 5 in New York City (regular season finale).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Central Michigan at Akron, 8:00 p.m.

Two of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference meet at the JAR, as Akron looks to extend its win streak to six straight. The Zips’ balanced offensive attack has been led by forward Isaiah Johnson (12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who currently leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. As for the visiting Chippewas, guards Braylon Rayson and Chris Fowler combine to average 32.7 points per game, with Fowler also responsible for a MAC-best 6.3 assists per contest. CMU’s had some struggles on the defensive glass in league play, ranking 11th in that category, but they’ve done a better job defensively than they did in non-conference play.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • MAAC leader Monmouth is back in action, as they host a Fairfield team led by one of the conference’s best players in senior forward Marcus Gilbert. The Hawks have a deep lineup led by junior guard Justin Robinson, who at this point in time is the likely frontrunner for MAAC Player of the Year honors.
  • Looking to catch Monmouth is Iona, which is a game behind the Hawks at 9-3. A.J. English and the Gaels visit Canisius in a matchup that should not lack for offense. Iona’s more inclined to run, but Canisius doesn’t lack scorers either with guard Malcolm McMillan leading four players averaging double figures.
  • Given the fact that they’re 1-3 in Ivy League play, Harvard’s essentially in the spoiler role unless some chaos breaks out at the top end of the standings. The Crimson can help in that regard with a win at Princeton, with the Tigers (2-1) a game behind Columbia and Yale in the loss column. Princeton’s been the better offensive team this season, thanks in large part to junior forward Henry Caruso who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.