Harry Giles (AP)

SIGNING DAY: 25 Class of 2016 players you need to know

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(The post has been contributed to by Corey Evans, Managing Editor of HoopSeen.com.)

THE STUDS? Here are the ten best players in a class that may be better than 2013

Harry Giles, 6-foot-10 forward: The best player in all of high school basketball, while Giles will sit out his senior year at Oak Hill Academy this winter with a torn ACL, it still doesn’t take away from the immense potential, production, and alpha-dog mentality from the 6-foot-10 forward. Giles recently called Duke his college home and should be a one-and-done type and future lottery draft pick come 2017. (CE)

Josh Jackson, 6-foot-7 wing:  There’s an argument to be made that the native of Detroit is the No. 1 overall prospect in the class and some firmly believe that he is. The 6-foot-7 Jackson is as athletic as it gets on the wing and he’s well-rounded as a defender, rebounder and passer besides being a high-level scorer. Still uncommitted, expect Jackson to be one of the last prospects to make a commitment as he’ll likely sort through who declares for the NBA draft before making his decision. Arizona, Kansas, Maryland and Michigan State have been getting the most chatter with Jackson recently. (SP)

De’Aaron Fox, 6-foot-3 point guard: Fox will make his college decision on Thursday evening and all signs point to Kentucky grabbing the 6-foot-3 lefty from Texas. Regardless of where he calls fit, Fox had one of the best senior summers that I can recall and because of it, is an elite, blueblood recruit and a potential one-and-done prospect. An excellent two-way ballplayer, Fox can score it, facilitate, distribute, finish, and defend, all things that make him a top shelf prospect in the 2016 class. (CE)

Jayson Tatum, 6-foot-8 wing: Part of a loaded recruiting class at Duke, Tatum is a smooth and natural wing scorer who can also do a lot of damage as a passer in the pick-and-roll. Adept at drawing a lot of fouls, the 6-foot-8 Tatum has an advanced mid-range game and has improved on straight-line drives this fall. Another potential one-and-done candidate in Duke’s loaded Class of 2016. (SP)

Dennis Smith, 6-foot-3 point guard: Just like Giles where Smith hails from North Carolina and also sitting out his senior year due to a torn ACL, when healthy, there aren’t many more athletic and explosive guys around. He has received Russell Westbrook and Baron Davis comparisons and whichever way you see up, Dennis Smith is a top of the line recruit who will be playing out his college days at NC State. A lethal athlete who has gotten better as a facilitator within the half-court setting, Smith sets the bar at the lead guard spot within the high school realm. (CE)

RELATED: HoopSeen.com’s National Signing Day coverage

Malik Monk, 6-foot-4 guard: Perhaps the most electric scoring guard in all of high school basketball, the uncommitted Monk can put up points in a hurry from anywhere on the floor. Whether its deep 3-pointers or high-flying dunks, Monk is capable of going for 50 points if he heats up. Arkansas and Kentucky are the main schools involved for Monk, the younger brother of former Razorback star wide receiver Marcus Monk. (SP)

Thon Maker, 7-foot-0 center: Polarizing is an easy way to describe the way that many within the basketball industry view Thon Maker over the years. After settling upon remaining within the 2016 class, Maker had quite the summer campaign winning the MVP of the famed NBPA Camp in June and ever since, had matched the production with all that the buzz that the 7-footer has received. Maker competes with unlimited energy levels, has gotten better with his decision-making abilities, and because of it, the Athlete Institute senior big man has seen his numbers on the stat sheet improve vastly; Arizona State, Indiana, St. John’s, and Notre Dame seem to be among the top four for Maker at the current moment. (CE)

Miles Bridges, 6-foot-6 wing: A powerful and versatile wing who can score from all three levels, Bridges gives Michigan State a talented wing to help build around. The lefty can play multiple spots on the floor thanks to his size and skill level and he’s physical enough to be a very good rebounder from the wing as well. (SP)

Lonzo Ball, 6-foot-5 point guard: Has there been a better passer in the past 5-10 years of high school ball than Lonzo Ball? I am not totally sure. His outlet passes rival only Kevin Love and funny as it seems, the 6-foot-6 guard will play out his college days at UCLA, just as well. Not afraid to let it go from deep either, Ball is a very entertaining but productive lead guard who makes other better but can also score the ball via the pull-up jumper and should be an immediate presence as one of the best guards throughout the college realm during the 2016 basketball season. (CE)

Bam Adebayo, 6-foot-9 power forward: One of the top uncommitted forwards left in the Class of 2016, Adebayo formed a ridiculous one-two punch with point guard Dennis Smith on the grassroots circuit this spring. Adebayo could follow his former teammate to N.C. State, but Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Wake Forest are also doing everything they can to get Bam on campus. (SP)

Terrance Ferguson (Getty Images)
Terrance Ferguson (Getty Images)

THE NEXT D’ANGELO RUSSELL? Here are five guys from outside the top ten that have the ability to be a top five NBA Draft pick one day

  • Jonathan Isaac, 6-foot-10 wing: If we are talking about breakouts, no one has gone from a relative unknown and into the picture as a top-10 recruit nationally within the past calendar year than Jon Isaac. The 6-foot-10 forward is the closest thing that we have seen since Kevin Durant due to his slender frame, quality length, and impeccable shooting touch from off the deck. Heading to Florida State, Isaac could be the scoring replacement on the wings if Xavier Rathan-Mayes and/or Dwayne Bacon leave after this upcoming college basketball season. (CE)
  • Terrance Ferguson, 6-foot-6 wing: One of the most naturally gifted players in the Class of 2016, the Alabama commit could win the NBA dunk contest or 3-point contest someday if he maximizes his potential. While Ferguson is known best for his ridiculous mixtapes filled with impossible dunks, he’s also a fluid shooter with deep range. (SP)
  • Marques Bolden, 6-foot-10 center: With great length, a body that should blow up once it hits a college weight room, and an excellent, low-block skillset, there aren’t many more at the 5-spot in the 2016 class that have a better future ahead of them than Marques Bolden. The Texas native can score over either shoulder, is deceptively bouncy around the basket, and when engaged, can put up 20-20 numbers on the stat sheet. There have been mixed reports of when Bolden will commit but it looks like things are down to the likes of Kansas, Alabama, Kentucky, and Duke, with the Jayhawks and Tide as the favorites heading into the winter months. (CE)
  • Rawle Alkins, 6-foot-4 shooting guard: As one of the best players to come from New York City in recent memory, Alkins carries a big reputation and a big game to match. The scoring guard gets it done in a number of different ways as he can attack the basket or knock down jumpers. Alkins recently moved to North Carolina to play his senior year of high school and he’s taken multiple visits to N.C. State and North Carolina. St. John’s and head coach Chris Mullin are hoping Alkins comes back to New York. (SP)
  • Markelle Fultz, 6-foot-4 guard: From a jayvee performer and now a McDonald’s All-American shoe-in within a matter of 16 months, Markelle Fultz took the country by storm and has yet to stop improving. More of a scorer from off the bounce with progressing athleticism at the basket, the DeMatha standout has now taken on the task of becoming a lead guard who can score it and pass it. Headed to Washington next year, a quality coup and steal for the Huskies, Fultz might have the best shot at being the next D’Angelo Russell out of anyone within the 2016 class. (CE)

THE NEXT BONZIE COLSON? They may not be Burger Boys, but here are five players that may play a major role in March as freshman

  • Bruce Brown, 6-foot-3 guard: A tough and capable guard with a lot of experience, Brown is physical enough to be able to compete from the moment he sets foot on campus. Indiana, Miami and Xavier have already hosted Brown for official visits while he’s also scheduled to check out Purdue. There is some speculation that Brown could end his recruitment during signing week, but he could wait until the spring as well. (SP)
  • James Banks, 6-foot-10 center: The task is a bit of a daunting one for Shaka Smart and his coaching staff this recruiting cycle as they may have to replace possibly four big men within the interior in the 2016 class. With just one in the hopper in the frontcourt, James Banks is definitely a good start and the opportunity ahead of him in Austin is there for the taking. A quickly improving big man with the ideal tangibles already at hand, the Peach State native can score from 15-feet and in, cleans his area on the glass, and is a fine rim protector who should fit in from the day one under Smart’s  newly established culture and system at UT. (CE)
  • Braxton Key, 6-foot-7 wing: Five-star guard Terrance Ferguson is the centerpiece of Alabama head coach Avery Johnson’s recruiting efforts, but the 6-foot-7 Key gives the Crimson Tide a versatile wing who can score, pass and rebound. As part of a talented perimeter trio in Alabama’s Class of 2016, Key could be counted on to do a lot of the little things among that group. (SP)
  • Tony Carr, 6-foot-5 guard: While Penn State basketball hasn’t been at the forefront of many national rankings, Pat Chambers has had success with his lead guards in past years. With Tone Carr now set on attending PSU next fall, the native of Philadelphia should step right in and lead the Big 10 squad from the get-go. Carr showcases great size and length at the point guard spot, an improving perimeter jumper, and should have solid assets around him that might make the Nittany Lions a darkhorse candidate for some runs in the NCAA Tournament in the years ahead. (CE)
  • Alterique Gilbert, 6-foot-0 guard: The jet-quick point guard can touch the paint nearly any time he wants and head coach Kevin Ollie has to be thrilled that UConn has Gilbert in the fold. Although he’s a tad undersized, Gilbert makes up for it with a solid repertoire of floaters in the lane. If his perimeter jumper becomes more consistent, Gilbert could be an immediate scoring force for the Huskies. (SP)

KEY LATE ADDITIONS? Here are the five best prospects that have yet to decide when or where they’ll be going to school

  • Kobi Simmons, 6-foot-5 guard: One of the more interesting recruitments that we have seen in the 2016 class, Simmons came out a few weeks ago stating that he was down to a final three of Kentucky, UNLV, and Ohio State. However, his father also recently stated that the senior guard would wait until the spring to sign, making his recruitment even more intriguing. Regardless, the 6-foot-5 lead guard oozes with potential, has added some consistency to his perimeter jumper, and continues to improve as a facilitator of his team’s offense in the half-court setting. (CE)
  • Jarrett Allen, 6-foot-10 center: Recruiting in the case of the talented native of Texas has been interesting, as local program Houston tries to go against juggernauts like Kansas and Kentucky. Whoever ends up with Allen is getting a talented post scorer with good length and a high motor. A tremendous rebounder with good hands, Allen is a very good long-term prospect who could make a big impact in college. (SP)
  • Dewan Huell, 6-foot-10 forward: Huell is down to the likes of Florida State, Miami, and South Carolina and the 6-foot-9 center should produce wherever he calls fit. He competes with a mean streak and has really improved his face-up game from 15-feet and in. He has the body that should really take off once he hits a college weight room and though he might not be seen in the top-20 of most rankings, he could outperform many others due to his size, motor, and toughness down low. (CE)
  • Udoka Azubuike, 6-foot-11 center: A bruising center who nearly brings down the hoop when he dunks, Azubuike’s power game is incredibly difficult to stop at the high school level. Although he’ll need to work on his scoring moves outside of five feet, once the 270-pound big man establishes low post position, it’s game over for opposing defenses. Azubuike has taken official visits to Florida State, Kansas, N.C. State and North Carolina and many consider the Seminoles the team to beat. (SP)
  • Andrew Jones, 6-foot-5 shooting guardAt this time last year, Jones was primarily being coveted by Louisiana Tech. Now, the 6-foot-3 guard could pick from any school that he might choose where Texas, Baylor, Arizona, and Kansas look to have the best shot at him. The Texas native can play both on and off the ball and sure doesn’t mind contact on the attack to the basket. With a fine motor, good toughness, and an ever-improving skillset in the backcourt, Jones continues to flourish as a well-tracked and prioritized blue chip recruit who won’t sign until the spring. (CE)

(You can read Corey’s work at HoopSeen.com and you can follow him on twitter @CoreyEvans_10)

Weekend Preview: Big East showdown headlines an interesting slate of games

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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

*(NOTE: Lines are not posted for Saturday or Sunday games as of publication. Spreads referenced are via Kenpom.com)

No. 11 XAVIER at No. 19 SETON HALL (-1), Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)

The only game this weekend featuring two teams that are currently ranked in the top 25, Xavier and Seton Hall square off in a battle of programs trending in opposite directions. Now that Trevon Bluiett has rediscovered his shooting stroke, the Musketeers have reeled off back-to-back wins, including a beatdown of then-No. 25 Creighton. Seton Hall, on the other hand, lost by a combined 37 points at Marquette and Creighton in the last 11 days and struggled with a Georgetown team that was down 44 points at home against Villanova.

  • PREDICTION: Xavier’s new starting lineup will be interesting. The Musketeers are much more offensively oriented right now, but Kerem Kanter and Naji Marshall are not exactly known for their defense and physicality. Seton Hall has a big, old, tough and strong front line. I think they get this win they badly needed in front of a packed out. Seton Hall (-1)

No. 14 ARIZONA (-5) at STANFORD, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (CBS)

First place in the Pac-12 is on the line as 5-1 Arizona squares off with 5-1 Stanford. And yes, you read that correctly. In their last five games in league play, the Cardinal have swept the LA schools at home, the Washington schools on the road and beaten Arizona State in their place. Now they get the best team in the Pac-12. Stanford is healthy and playing the best basketball they’ve played in a long, long time.

  • PREDICTION: If Stanford is getting five points at home I am all over the Cardinal. The problem is that I don’t think they will be. KenPom’s projections don’t factor in that Stanford is healthy and hot. I think the line will be closer to Stanford (-2), and I would still probably take them. Stanford (-5)

FLORIDA at No. 18 KENTUCKY (-3), Sat. 8:15 p.m.

This matchup is fascinating. Two teams that still have quite figured things out that play polar opposite styles of basketball. Florida is loaded with quick, veteran guards that fire up threes. Kentucky is loaded big, athletic forwards that can’t really shoot. Coming off of a loss at South Carolina, I think this game is probably more important for Kentucky, who finally looks like they are going to be healthy.

  • PREDICTION: Can Kentucky overwhelm Florida with their size or will the Gators exploit the mismatches with their guards? That answer really comes down to whether or not the Gators get hot from deep. I’m going to guess that they will since they have a tendency to show up in big games. Florida (+3)

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WATCH?

  • No. 1 Villanova (-17) at UConn, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (CBS): The big question in this game for me, beyond “Will UConn lose by enough for UConn to fire Kevin Ollie on the spot?”, is whether or not Villanova is the elite team in college basketball that we swear doesn’t exist. Villanova (-17)
  • No. 7 Wichita State (-1) at Houston, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPNU): The Shockers have turned into a defensive liability out of nowhere, and on Saturday they will be traveling to visit a Houston team that badly needs this win. Wichita State (-1)
  • No. 4 Oklahoma (-3) at Oklahoma State, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN): Trae Young hasn’t been right for a couple of weeks, and now he gets a rival on the road. Is this the game that he figures it out? Oklahoma (-3)
  • BAYLOR at No. 10 KANSAS (-8), Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN): Kansas has actually had some issues at home this season, more than they’ve had on the road. Baylor tends to play the Jayhawks tough. Is this a letdown spot after that massive win at West Virginia? Kansas (-8)

No. 10 Jayhawks back on top of Big 12 with fresh approach

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The hallmarks of Kansas under Bill Self over the years have been inside-outside post play and gritty defense, the kind of in-your-shorts man-to-man that leaves opponents gasping for air.

That trusted formula has produced 13 straight Big 12 championships.

But if the No. 10 Jayhawks are going to break a tie with the UCLA teams of the 1960s and ’70s for the most consecutive conference titles, their formula will look quite different this season: They are going to pour in 3-pointers, race around the court and simply outscore their foes.

“I do think you can get tougher. I do think you can get harder. I do think you can become more competitive and learn how to compete as you go,” Self said, “but the reality of it is we’re not changing right now playing four guards. Our second-best rebounder is 6-foot-5, 180 pounds. We’re not changing that. We’re not changing our next-best rebounder weighs 200 pounds. We’re not changing that fact.

“We’re playing four really average-sized guards,” Self said. “We’re not going to change that.”

So, best to adapt to it.

It helps that those four guards — Devonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman — form one of the best backcourts in the nation. Graham is a do-everything floor general, Mykhailiuk one of the best sharpshooters in the nation, Vick the most athletic of the bunch and Newman is capable of getting to the rim with as quick of a first step as anybody in the league.

It also helps that they’re experienced: Graham and Mykhailiuk are seniors with three title rings on their fingers, Vick is a junior and Newman is a third-year sophomore who redshirted last season.

Together, they’ve led the Jayhawks (15-3, 5-1) to four consecutive wins, including road wins over then-No. 16 TCU and sixth-ranked West Virginia. They’ve pushed Kansas back to the top of the league standings headed into Saturday’s game against Baylor, and back into the discussion of a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament when the bracket is revealed in about six weeks.

In other words, they have Kansas right where it is accustomed to being.

But the route has been much different, and that was evident in the Jayhawks’ comeback victory over the Mountaineers on Monday night. Graham and Mykhailiuk combined for 20 of their final 26 points, most of them on 3s and pull-up jumpers — each of them knocked down three from beyond the arc.

The comeback in years past would have featured a big man such as Darrell Arthur or Thomas Robinson in the post, or an elite guard such as Frank Mason III going right to the rim.

Different styles, even if the results have been the same.

“I think we assume some things because of the past,” Self said. “You look at the past, I mean, Landen Lucas was tough. We’re not replacing him with the same toughness. Josh Jackson was a monster. He was an assassin. We’re not replacing him with the same type of mentality. Certainly, you can’t match Frank’s mentality in that area. Which is OK. We were so spoiled with that in the past.”

Those past teams may have had bruising big men, tough guard play and pure scorers all over the floor, and they may have been one of the best defensive teams in the country. But they also had deficiencies, and in many cases, they are the same areas where this year’s team excels.

The Jayhawks have already hit 195 shots from beyond the arc, tops in the Big 12, and are shooting 41 percent from that range. They are among the league leaders in assists and shooting percentage, numbers that help to offset the fact that Kansas ranks ninth out of 10 teams in the league in rebounding.

“We’re going to be scrappy, tough. We got to do a way better job of rebounding, obviously,” Graham said. “But yeah, basically we’ve just got to get way tougher, like I’ve been saying.”

That toughness could get a boost now that Silvio De Souza, a five-star prospect from Florida’s IMG Academy, has been cleared to play. He graduated in December and promptly joined the Jayhawks, and Self is hopeful the big man will be up to speed by the time February rolls around.

It could get another boost if Billy Preston, another five-star prospect, is ever cleared. The school and NCAA have been looking into the ownership of a car he was driving on campus last fall.

In the meantime, the Jayhawks head into their game against the Bears on Saturday riding a win streak, winning high-scoring affairs thanks to 3-pointers and an offensive flair.

“We don’t have the same team we’ve had in the past,” Self said, “and we have to understand that.”

TCU PG Jaylen Fisher to miss rest of season following knee surgery

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FORT WORTH, Texas — TCU point guard Jaylen Fisher had surgery Thursday to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season for the No. 24 Horned Frogs.

Fisher got hurt Tuesday, the second time in less than six months he injured a knee in practice. He had surgery after a meniscus tear in his left knee in early August.

The sophomore guard missed the team’s trip to Australia after the previous surgery, but was ready for the regular season. He averaged 12.1 points and was fifth in the Big 12 with 5.4 assists while playing the first 17 games. He had a career-high 22 points in an overtime loss Saturday at No. 4 Oklahoma, and he made 11 of 20 shots from 3-point range his last four games.

Fisher will need three to four months of recovery.

“I feel bad for him. We all feel bad for him,” coach Jamie Dixon said.

Even with his knee locked in a bent position and having to use crutches, Fisher attended TCU’s 96-73 home win over Iowa State on Wednesday night. He sat in a chair near the TCU bench.

Bracketology: Searching for No. 1 seeds

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That search for No. 1 seeds?  It may take a while.  We have some very good basketball teams.  But, at least to this point, we’re absent that handful of elite teams we’ve seen in recent years.  So if you’re writing teams on seed lines – including the top line – you might want to use a pencil.

Kansas is squarely back in the race after beating West Virginia in Morgantown.  And keep eye on North Carolina, too.  The Tar Heels are quietly putting together the type of profile that Selection Committee members traditionally like.  They currently own the No. 1 overall SOS (strength of schedule) in the nation, and have six wins over “tourney” teams in today’s bracket update.

Here’s the latest:

UPDATED: January 19, 2018

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • LSU vs. SMU | Midwest Region
  • Texas AM vs. UCLA West Region
  • ROBERT MORRIS vs. NC A&T | East Region
  • FLA GULF COAST vs. JACKSON ST | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION

EAST Boston                           MIDWEST – Omaha     
Pittsburgh Detroit
1) VILLANOVA 1) PURDUE
16) NC A&T / ROB MORRIS 16) FL GULF CST / JACKSON ST
8) Louisville 8) Miami-FL
9) Georgia 9) Providence
San Diego Boise
5) RHODE ISLAND 5) Arizona State
12) SOUTH DAKOTA ST 12) NEW MEXICO ST
4) Ohio State 4) CINCINNATI
13) BUFFALO 13) LOUISIANA
Dallas Nashville
6) Tennessee 6) TCU
11) Notre Dame 11) LSU / SMU
3) Texas Tech 3) Clemson
14) VERMONT 14) WILLIAM & MARY
Nashville Wichita
7) Michigan 7) Florida
10) Missouri 10) Butler
2) North Carolina 2) KANSAS
15) IONA 15) MONTANA
WEST – Los Angeles SOUTH – Atlanta
Charlotte Charlotte
1) Duke 1) VIRGINIA
16) PENNSYLVANIA 16) BUCKNELL
8) Texas 8) SAINT MARY’S
9) Arkansas 9) Marquette
Boise Dallas
5) Seton Hall 5) Michigan State
12) Texas AM / UCLA 12) MISSOURI STATE
4) Wichita State 4) AUBURN
13) BELMONT 13) E. TENNESSEE ST
San Diego Detroit
6) Creighton 6) Gonzaga
11) WESTERN KENTUCKY 11) NC State
3) ARIZONA 3) Xavier
14) S.F. AUSTIN 14) WRIGHT STATE
Wichita Pittsburgh
7) NEVADA 7) Kentucky
10) Alabama 10) Florida State
2) Oklahoma 2) West Virginia
15) CS-FULLERTON 15) RADFORD

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed – followed by Purdue, Virginia, and Duke

Last Four Byes (at large): Florida State, Missouri, NC State, Notre Dame

Last Four IN (at large): LSU, Texas AM, SMU, UCLA

First Four OUT (at large): Washington, Houston, Baylor, Boise State

Next four teams OUT (at large): Syracuse, Maryland, USC, St. Bonaventure

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Louisville, Florida State, Miami-FL, Notre Dame, NC State

SEC (9): AUBURN, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri, LSU, Texas AM

Big East (7): VILLANOVA, Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton, Marquette, Providence, Butler

BIG 12 (6): KANSAS, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech, TCU, Texas

Big 10 (4): PURDUE, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan

Pac 12 (3): ARIZONA, Arizona State, UCLA

American (3): CINCINNATI, Wichita State, SMU

West Coast (2): SAINT MARY’S, Gonzaga

Atlantic 10 (1): RHODE ISLAND

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Missouri State (MVC), Iona (MAAC), Western Kentucky (C-USA), Louisiana (SBELT), Penn (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), S.F. Austin (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Fullerton (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), William & Mary (CAA), Radford (BSO), North Carolina A&T (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Robert Morris (NEC), Jackson State (SWAC)

New coach, healthy star push Buckeyes to unexpected heights

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State’s elimination from the Big Ten tournament by lowly Rutgers last March showed the depths to which Buckeyes basketball had fallen in a just few short seasons.

First-year coach Chris Holtmann showed his players video cuts of that debacle before Sunday’s game, the first against the Scarlet Knights since the tournament. Ohio State then went out and routed Rutgers 68-46 .

On Monday the Buckeyes cracked the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in nearly three years. On Wednesday night they beat Northwestern to improve to 7-0 in the Big Ten — matching the number of conference wins they had all of last season.

Ohio State, 16-4 overall, is tied for first place in the conference with No. 3 Purdue and has forced its way into the NCAA Tournament conversation. Holtmann is the first coach in 95 years to win his first seven Big Ten games.

Who would have thought?

The Buckeyes missed the tournament for the second straight season last year. The loss of three of the top four scorers, transfers and a thin recruiting class led to a gloomy forecast for 2017-18. Thad Matta , who oversaw the rebuilding of Ohio State basketball in his 13 seasons, was fired and Holtmann, who had success at Butler, was brought in.

Holtmann managed to pull some pieces together but Ohio State lacked depth, especially at point guard. The coach did his best in the preseason to keep expectations low for what looked like another lost season.

He’s still trying to temper expectations, but the Buckeyes haven’t yet taken the lumps that he or anybody else were sure would come.

“Any coach that, through a third of the season, went undefeated would have to say they’re surprised,” he said. “I just think fortunately our team in general has played well and our really good players have led the way with that, both at home and on the road.”

None of those players has been better than Keita Bates-Diop , who missed all of the Big Ten schedule last season with a left leg injury that required insertion of a steel rod in his shin. He didn’t play again after Jan. 5 and not much went right for the Buckeyes after that.

Averaging 19.8 points per game, the 6-foot-7 forward has earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors for the past two weeks in a row.

Jae’Sean Tate, last year’s leading scorer, again is a major contributor. Point guard C.J. Jackson is second on the team in scoring, averaging 13.3 points per game. Freshman Kaleb Wesson, 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds, is providing needed bulk inside while averaging 11.2 points per game. His brother Andre, a sophomore, missed all of the summer and the first few weeks of fall practice with an illness but is contributing again.

Center Micah Potter, slowed by ankle injury this season, stepped up with a season-high 13 points on Wednesday as Northwestern applied pressure on Bates-Diop and Tate.

And Andrew Dakich, a graduate transfer who was a bit player for three years at Michigan, has been a bulldog at guard. His career high 11 points against Maryland Jan. 11 included three 3-pointers at the end of the first half that helped propel the Buckeyes to a 91-69 blowout. He is 12 of 18 for the season from 3-point range.

Holtmann, with an emphasis on defense and proper response to adversity, continues to publicly promote the theme that his team can’t possibly keep scoring at this pace and having this kind of success.

Don’t tell his players, though.

“I think it’s been all about approach,” Tate said. “Our approach every day in practice, our approach pregame. We always say we were picked (to be) one of the last teams in the Big Ten. We’re going to continue to play with that chip on our shoulder.”