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COLLEGE BASKETBALL TALK TOP 25: Oklahoma or North Carolina at No. 1?

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There are a number of fascinating conversations to have about the Top 25 this week, not the least of which is who should be ranked No. 1 in the country.

If you subscribe to the idea that losing should automatically drop you down, than it would make sense to move Oklahoma out of the top spot. But consider that A) The Sooners at Iowa State in a building called Hilton Magic because of how difficult it is for opponents to win, and B) Followed that up by going into Waco and totally dismantling the team that had been in sole possession of first place in the conference.

That’s not to say that it’s wrong to rank North Carolina No. 1. They’re still my pick to win the national title. They’re the only team that was ranked in the top eight last week that didn’t lose. They’re all alone in first place in the ACC with their only two losses this season coming by a combined six points, both of which were on the road.

[MORE: The latest NBC Sports College Basketball Talk Podcast]

But that’s just the beginning.

Where do we rank Iowa? They’re the hottest team in college basketball — I don’t even think that’s arguable — but are we really ready to rank the Hawkeyes as high as the top three? What about Texas A&M? Are they truly a top ten team? What should we make of the top two (Villanova and Xavier) in the Big East losing at home this week? Kansas and SMU got pounded on the road. Maryland lost but played their best basketball in weeks at Michigan State who snapped their own three-game losing streak with the win. West Virginia played their worst game of the season against Texas.

[RELATED: New Bracketology | Team of the Week | Player of the Week]

And then there are the likes of Providence, and Virginia, and Louisville.

Don’t even get me started on the back end of the top 25.

My point is that the various rankings that you’ll see for teams this week are going to be all over the pace.

That’s what happens in a year where no one seems to be all that good. Here’s the NBC Sports Top 25:

1. Oklahoma (16-2, LW: No. 1): We’re sticking with Oklahoma as the No. 1 team in the country this week. There’s not shame in losing at Iowa State, even if Iowa State hasn’t been quite as good as we expected this season, and what the Sooners did to Baylor on Saturday afternoon is illegal in 37 states. Here’s the most impressive part: Oklahoma has the inside track to the Big 12 regular season title.

2. North Carolina (18-2, LW: No. 2): The Tar Heels are cruising along in the ACC, although they have yet to play one of the other contenders in the conference. The big question now: Getting Marcus Paige’s shooting stroke figured out. Since he went for 30 points at Florida State two weeks ago, he’s scored 15 points in the last four games while shooting 5-for-35 from the floor. That’s not good.

3. Iowa (16-3, LW: No. 8): Yeah.

I’m doing it.

I’m now all-in on the Hawkeyes, who have started out Big Ten play with a sweep of Michigan State and a sweep of Purdue. Jarrod Uthoff is playing like a first-team all-american, Peter Jok is on a roll right now and Mike Gesell looks like the kid we’ve been waiting to see for three years. They’re tough, they actually defend and they’re not blowing leads this season. Can it last?

4. Kansas (16-3, LW: No. 3): The Jayhawks lost by 19 at Oklahoma State during the week, but they regrouped and came back from an early 12-point deficit in a fairly convincing win over Texas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Something to watch going forward: Bill Self cut his rotation after the loss in Stillwater.

Who got benched?

Cheick Diallo.

5. Villanova (17-3, LW: No. 4): When Kris Dunn is playing well, Providence’s supporting cast is hitting threes and Ben Bentil is playing like he’s Dwight Howard, the Friars can beat anyone in any gym in America. They did all of that to the Wildcats on Sunday. For my money, Villanova is still the best team in the Big East.

6. Xavier (17-2, LW: No. 5): Getting pushed around by Georgetown at home was not exactly a good look, but A) It was just Xavier’s second loss of the season and B) It came on a night where a sophomore point guard with 15 make field goals on the season popped off for 21 points and five threes. I’m not backing off the Musketeers yet.

7. Maryland (17-3, LW: No. 6): The trend of the Terps playing up — or down — to the level of their competition continued as Mark Turgeon’s team was taken to overtime at home by Northwestern and followed that up by giving Michigan State one helluva fight in East Lansing. Consistency out of Diamond Stone and Rasheed Sulaimon will be a key moving forward.

8. Texas A&M (17-2, LW: No. 11): The Aggies are probably the most underrated team in the country right now. Not in the sense that they should be ranked higher than this but in the fact that no one seems to be talking about them. This is a balanced, veteran group that is currently the favorite to win the SEC. Stay woke, fam.

9. West Virginia (16-3, LW: No. 7): The Mountaineers were awful in their loss to Texas at home on Wednesday, but they got eight points in 56 seconds from Tarik Phillip to avoid losing to Texas Tech on the road.

10. SMU (18-1, LW: No. 9): Here’s the question about SMU moving forward: Will they still have something to play for? Their motivation, without an NCAA tournament to look forward to, was a perfect season. That’s over, thanks to Temple.

11. Michigan State (17-4, LW: No. 10)
12. Providence (17-3, LW: No. 16)
13. Miami (15-3, LW: No. 14)
14. Virginia (15-4, LW: No. 15)
15. Baylor (15-4, LW: No. 13)
16. Iowa State (15-4, LW: No. 21)
17. Louisville (16-3, LW: No. 17)
18. Arizona (17-3, LW: No. 19)
19. Purdue (16-4, LW: No. 20)
20. Indiana (17-3, LW: No. 25)
21. Kentucky (15-4, LW: No. 23)
22. Oregon (16-4, LW: UR)
23. Wichita State (14-5, LW: UR)
24. USC (15-5, LW: No. 18)
25. Duke (15-5, LW: No. 25)

DROPPED OUT: No. 12 Butler, No. 22 South Carolina
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Oregon, No. 23 Wichita State

No. 19 Wichita State upends No. 5 Cincinnati 76-72

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) — Dave Stallworth was running the show the last time Wichita State beat a Top 5 team on the road. Landry Shamet took the lead as the Shockers did it again 54 years later.

This one, too, will be a reference point, given all that was at stake.

Shamet scored 19 points, and No. 19 Wichita State ended the nation’s longest home-court winning streak, beating No. 5 Cincinnati 76-72 on Sunday to leave the American Athletic Conference race wide open.

The Shockers (21-5, 11-3) beat a Top 5 team on the road for the first time since 1964. They led most of the way, building an 11-point lead midway through the second half and holding on. Shaquille Morris’ dunk with 5 seconds left finished it off.

The Shockers ran onto the floor for congratulatory chest bumps. Coach Gregg Marshall got a celebratory dunking in the locker room, leaving his light-colored shirt clinging to him.

“It’s tremendous,” Marshall said. “Look at my shirt. College basketball has such tremendous parity. The games are decided by great players making great plays. Landry is a tremendous player.”

The Bearcats (23-4, 12-2) had won their last 39 home games. In their first real home challenge of the season, they wound up playing catch-up and coming up short. Cincinnati hasn’t beaten a ranked team all season, falling to 0-3 with losses to Xavier and Florida.

Cincinnati and Wichita State were expected to contend for the title in the Shockers’ first season in the AAC. Wichita State gave itself a chance with a solid all-around game led by its point guard. Shamet had 16 points in the first half, when the Shockers shredded the nation’s second-ranked defense to take control.

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was bothered by his team’s “gross, mind-boggling defensive breakdowns,” including allowing the Shockers to get open for those two late layups. Wichita State shot 53 percent from the field, getting open 3-pointers in the first half and layups in the second half.

“We’re just not in a good place right now,” Cronin said. “I hadn’t slept much. We’re not in a good place for a lot of reasons.”

Wichita State closes the regular season by hosting Cincinnati on March 4. Houston (21-5, 11-3) also is in the running for the league title after beating Temple on Sunday.

The Shockers hit seven of eight shots during a 17-3 run that gave them a 34-23 lead. Cincinnati responded by turning up its full-court defense, forcing three quick turnovers, and going on a run that cut the deficit to 42-40 at halftime.

The Shockers showed a little defense of their own, forcing five turnovers while rebuilding their lead to 59-48 with 11 minutes left, matching its biggest of the game. Cincinnati closed to 72-70 on Trevon Scott’s dunk with 13 seconds left, but the Shockers scored on a pair of inbound passes by Landry, the last a full-court heave to Morris for a dunk that provided the final margin.

“This is what we do,” said Austin Reaves, who made the first of the two decisive layups. “We stick together on the road.”

BIG PICTURE

Wichita State: The Shockers needed a win to maintain their chances of a regular season title, and they got it with another good showing on the road. The Shockers are the most successful road team in the nation over the past five years at 47-8, including 7-2 this season.

“This is like our 50th red-out or white-out or black-out,” Marshall said. “We feel comfortable when that happens.”

Cincinnati: The Bearcats moved into the Top 5 even though they hadn’t beaten a ranked team all season. Losses at Houston and at home to Wichita State left them prepared for a plummet.

“As it gets later in the season, every team is better,” said Jacob Evans III, who had 16 points. “It’s not the beginning of conference or the season. Every team knows us well. We’ve got to be able to go to second options when they take away the first ones.”

NO LONGER A SWEET HOME

The Bearcats hadn’t lost at home since a 77-70 defeat against Temple on Dec. 29, 2015. They went 18-0 at Fifth Third Arena last season and were 13-0 at Northern Kentucky’s BB&T Arena, where they’re playing this season while their on-campus arena is renovated.

LONG TIME NO SEE

The Shockers and Bearcats played regularly as members of the Missouri Valley Conference from 1958-70, but it was their first game since 1981.

TOP 5 HISTORY

It was only the fourth time the Shockers have beaten a Top 5 team on the road. They beat No. 5 Oklahoma A&M in 1954 and topped No. 3 Loyola in 1963 and again in 1964 behind Stallworth.

TOUGH WEEKEND IN CINCY

Cincinnati had two teams in the Top 5, and both of them lost at home over the weekend. No. 4 Xavier lost to No. 3 Villanova 95-79 on Saturday at Cintas Center.cincinnati

Andy Kennedy resigns from Ole Miss effective immediately

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Andy Kennedy announced that, effective immediately, he will be stepping down as the head coach at Ole Miss. Tony Madlock will serve as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

The reason is simple: Kennedy wanted to “relieve any external pressure being felt by our current players” and he did not believe that last week’s announcement that this would be his final season in Oxford accomplished that.

“It has become readily apparent to me that my continued presence as the head coach is proving detrimental to these players finishing the season in a fashion that is representative of The Standard for this program that has been clearly established and maintained for over a decade,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Yherefore, I believe that it is in everyone’s best interest that I exit my role as head coach effective immediately. We all know that “clean breaks” are always best, and I should have realized this last Monday. My apologies.”

On Saturday, Ole Miss lost by 17 points at Mississippi State. That came two days after Kennedy went viral for a brutally honest criticism of what his team was going through.

“I can’t get to them,” he said. “I can’t reach them.”

It’s sad that this is the way that it had to end for the best basketball coach that Ole Miss has ever had. But it had to be done.

No. 12 Duke beats No. 11 Clemson as defensive resurgence continues

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Grayson Allen finished with 19 points, four assists and four steals, scoring 17 of his points in the first half, and Wendell Carter added 15 points, 10 boards and three blocks as No. 12 Duke won their fourth straight game without Marvin Bagley III, 66-57.

No. 11 Clemson was short-handed as well, and that’s something that needs to be noted. Not only are they playing without Donte Grantham, who tore his ACL earlier this year, but Shelton Mitchell was not in the lineup after suffering a nasty concussion at Florida State on Wednesday.

The Tigers were a No. 3 seed when the bracket reveal occurred last Sunday, but like Ohio State and Oklahoma, they have now lost back-to-back games; 11 of the top 16 teams have lost a game in the last week.

But the story here more than anything is Duke.

Yes, Allen finished with 19 points and continues to play well without Bagley on the floor. Getting him into a rhythm is critically important for this team. He was averaging 14.7 points in 24 games with Bagley. He is averaging 22.3 points in the last three games that Bagley has missed, and that does not include the 37-point outburst he had when Bagley went down with an injury against Michigan State.

Coach K also has had a chance to develop some confidence in his bench. Javin DeLaurier had 10 boards on Sunday. Marques Bolden didn’t play a done of minutes, but he still finished with five points, three boards and a pair of blocks. He was, generally speaking, a positive influence on the game.

But here is the most important and perplexing nugget: Duke, for the third straight game, was excellent defensively. They’ve now allowed fewer than 1.0 points-per-possession in each of the last three games. They are clearly not the same time offensively without Bagley’s presence on the floor, but it is impossible to ignore what they have been defensively in the last 10 days without him.

To put it into context: For all the talk about how much of a problem Duke’s defense has been, the Blue Devils are now ranked 43rd in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They were 79th after they lost to North Carolina, the last game that Bagley played. Villanova, who many believe is the best team in the country when healthy, is 42nd.

The question we need to ask is whether or not that will continue once Bagley makes his return.

Because the only thing standing between Duke and a Final Four is their inability to defend.

No. 8 Ohio State falls at No. 22 Michigan, Michigan State moves into first in Big Ten

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After all of the drama and the speculation about whether or not Ohio State or Purdue was the best team in the Big Ten, water has seemingly found its level.

On Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor, No. 8 Ohio State lost their second straight game, falling 74-62 at No. 22 Michigan and allowing No. 2 Michigan State — who had one of college basketball’s greatest comebacks on Saturday at Northwestern — to slide into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with just one week left of the regular season.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the way with 17 points while Jordan Poole added 15 off the bench in the win.

The Wolverines did a good job of slowing down Ohio State’s all-american forward, Keita Bates-Diop. KBD finished with 17 points and seven boards, but he shot just 5-for-17 from the floor. Jae-Sean Tate led the way with 20 points and 15 boards for the Buckeyes.

There was a special moment before this game even started as Austin Hatch, a two-time survivor of plane crashes that killed his entire immediate family, took part in the team’s Senior Day.

VIDEO: Michigan celebrates plane crash survivor Austin Hatch’s Senior Day

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If you don’t know the story of Michigan senior Austin Hatch, you should.

He’s survived two plane crashes in his life. The first, in 2003, robbed him of his mother, 11-year old sister and five-year old brother. In 2011, to celebrate his commitment to the Wolverines, Hatch’s father flew them up to the family’s vacation home, but the plane crashed into a garage killing Hatch’s dad and his stepmom and leaving Austin critically injured.

He had a severe brain trauma, a punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken collarbone, and in order to manage the swelling in his brain, he was put into a medically-induced coma for eight months.

He managed to return and even played for the Wolverines during the 2014-15 season, but he eventually made the decision to retire from basketball at the end of the year. He did, however, remain a part of the program and on Sunday, during Michigan’s Senior Day, he warmed up with the team and was introduced to the crowd as a starter and no, I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying: