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College Basketball Talk’s Latest Top 25

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When it’s late-February, you play in the ACC and you’re undefeated, you’re the No. 1 team in the country.

That’s just the way that it works.

But does that mean that Syracuse is the best team in the country? Well, that’s a different story.

I hate using the term “luck” when it comes to sports. There’s nothing lucky about the fact that Tyler Ennis has been absolutely dominant in crunch-time. There’s nothing lucky about the fact that he’s a terrific basketball player with the mental toughness to handle the pressure that comes with the final minutes of close games. The numbers that he was putting up weren’t sustainable — against N.C. State, he missed just his second shot and committed his first turnover in the last five minutes of a one-possession game — but calling that kind of execution “lucky” is wrong.

What is “lucky”, however, is winning a game because you hit a running 35-footer, as Syracuse did at Pitt. It might also be considered lucky when you beat N.C. State at home thanks to the refs deciding against giving T.J. Warren an and-one and the Wolfpack turning the ball over on the ensuing possession.

The last three bigs wins for the Orange have come by a combined five points. That’s not exactly sustainable.

THE TOP 25

1. Syracuse (25-0, LW: No. 1): The Orange stay in the top spot thanks to a pair of one possession wins. Given the number of games that Tyler “Ennions” Ennis has won for the Orange down the stretch, he’s vaulted himself into the conversation for National Player of the Year.

2. Florida (23-2, LW: No. 3): For my money, right now, I think Florida is the best team in the country. They can give you so many different looks defensively and Scottie Wilbekin has spent the last month doing his best Tyler Ennis impression in close game.

3. Wichita State (27-0, LW: No. 6): The Shockers are that much closer to finishing the regular season undefeated. They beat Southern Illinois and Evansville this week.

4. Duke (20-5, LW: No. 10): We’re going to find out just how good the Blue Devils are next week. They pay a visit to North Carolina, a game that was snowed out last week, on Thursday before hosting Syracuse on Saturday.

5. Arizona (23-2, LW: No. 2): The Wildcats lost at Arizona State on Friday night, a game where they scored just 66 points in double-overtime. This team has some serious question marks offensively without Brandon Ashley.

6. Kansas (19-6, LW: No. 5): The Jayhawks bounced back from a loss to Kansas State by blowing out TCU. Joel Embiid’s scheduled to play on Tuesday as well.

7. San Diego State (22-2, LW: No. 4): SDSU lost at Wyoming, which is always a tough road trip to make given that Laramie is in the middle of nowhere and the elevation there is problematic for the sea level-bound Aztecs. But that doesn’t change the fact that this team relies too heavily on Xavier Thames for offense.

8. Cincinnati (23-3, LW: No. 9): The Bearcats handled Houston on Saturday thanks to another ridiculous performance from Sean Kilpatrick.

9. Creighton (21-4, LW: No. 19): The Bluejays now own a pair of wins over Villanova by a combined 49 points. That’s … ridiculous.

10. Michigan State (21-5, LW: No. 7): The Spartans still are not healthy, but that doesn’t exactly excuse them from a home loss to Nebraska on Sunday.

11. Kentucky (19-6, LW: No. 11)
12. Villanova (22-3, LW: No. 8)
13. Saint Louis (23-2, LW: No. 13)
14. Virginia (21-5, LW: No. 14)
15. Louisville (21-4, LW: No. 15)
16. Iowa State (19-5, LW: No. 12)
17. Wisconsin (21-5, LW: UR)
18. Iowa (19-6, LW: No. 16)
19. Texas (20-5, LW: No. 18)
20. UConn (20-5, LW: No. 22)
21. Memphis (19-6, LW: No. 21)
22. Ohio State (20-6, LW: No. 25)
23. Michigan (18-7, LW: No. 17)
24. North Carolina (17-7, LW: UR)
25. UCLA (20-5, LW: UR)

Whitehead to stay in NBA Draft

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) shoots past Xavier forward Sean O'Mara (54) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.

Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.

The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Michigan St. at Duke highlights ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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A matchup in Durham of likely top-10 teams is the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, whose schedule was released Tuesday.

Michigan State, expected to open the season in the top-10, and Duke, the presumptive preseason No. 1, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the most intriguing contest of the 14-game event.

The Spartans are losing Denzel Valentin, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, but the recruiting class of Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward is one of coach Tom Izzo’s best and has Michigan State positioned as one of the Big Ten’s favorites.

Izzo’s recruiting class, though, pales in comparison to what coach Mike Krzyzewski is bringing to the Blue Devils, with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier in their 2016 class, which is why, when paired with the likes of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard, make Duke nearly everyone’s No. 1 heading into next season.

Krzyzewski is 9-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans.

Among the other highlights of the conference competition is Syracuse at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) Pittsburgh at Maryland (Nov. 29), Purdue at Louisville (Nov. 30) and Ohio State at Virginia (Nov. 30).  

Monday, Nov. 28

Minnesota at Florida State

Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Syracuse at Wisconsin

Michigan State at Duke

Pittsburgh at Maryland

Iowa at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Penn State

N.C. State at Illinois

 

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Purdue at Louisville

North Carolina at Indiana

Ohio State at Virginia

Virginia Tech at Michigan

Rutgers at Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska at Clemson