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The 68 things we can’t wait to see this season

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College basketball officially kicks off on Friday night. Here are the 68 things we’re looking forward to the most this season.

1. Just how good Duke is going to be this season. Let’s say that, come January, Harry Giles III is healthy enough to play 20 minutes a night, Jayson Tatum and Marquese Bolden have shaken off the nagging injuries they’re dealing with and Grayson Allen is playing like last year’s Grayson Allen. Is that team more talented than the Kentucky team that started the 2014-15 season 38-0 …

2. … and if they are, who gives Duke the most trouble in March? Kentucky and Kansas both match up extremely well with the Blue Devils, while Oregon, Villanova and a handful of ACC rivals will have the talent to pick off Coach K’s club.

3. Speaking of Kansas, they have a freshman named Josh Jackson who is nearly as good of a prospect as Andrew Wiggins was when he entered Kansas …

4. … and he may not even be the best freshman in college basketball this season, which is as loaded with high-level talent as we’ve seen it since the one-and-done era started.

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5. There’s Washington point guard Markelle Fultz, a smooth, athletic 6-foot-5 guard that is the trendy pick to go No. 1 in the 2017 NBA Draft …

6. … but he may not even be the best point guard in this draft class. Some will give that title to Dennis Smith Jr., a powerfully-athletic, 6-foot-2 playmaker that has N.C. State fans in a tizzy.

7. Kentucky may have the two most entertaining freshmen in the country in Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo, and there’s an argument to be made that a third freshman, De’Aaron Fox, is actually UK’s best player.

8. Speaking of Kentucky, I cannot wait to see how John Calipari puts the pieces on his roster together. There’s talent there, but I wonder just how well that talent fits.

9. A healthy Dillon Brooks. Oregon has a chance to repeat what they did last season – dual Pac-12 titles, No. 1 seed in the tournament – but I cannot see that happening if their all-american cannot bounce back from a foot injury.

10. Villanova’s title defense, and how they overcome the loss of Daniel Ochefu in the middle.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

LOUISVILLE, KY - FEBRUARY 20: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils dribbles the ball during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on February 20, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Grayson Allen (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

11. The Champions Classic. It kicks off on Tuesday night, and features Kentucky and Michigan State while, in my opinion, the two best teams in the country – Duke and Kansas – square off.

12. The Armed Forces Classic. It’s not going to get as much hype as the Champions Classic, but it will feature Arizona playing Michigan State and Indiana squaring off with Kansas.

13. Kansas vs. Kentucky. They play in January at Rupp Arena. Both could be in the top five. That will be a tough ticket to get.

14. Kentucky vs. Louisville. They play on a Wednesday in December. I can’t imagine anyone in the state will be productive at work that Thursday.

15. The ACC. The conference is as loaded as any league we’ve seen since the Big East produced three No. 1 seeds in 2009, and the ACC may still be better than that.

16. Is this the year that Gonzaga finally puts together a Final Four run?

17. Speaking of Gonzaga, they play Fultz and Washington in Spokane this season. That’s one of the nation’s most under appreciated rivalries.

18. UConn-Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. Non-conference basketball just doesn’t get any better than that.

19. Speaking of Syracuse, do they have the point guard play they need to compete at the top of the ACC?

20. … and what about the Huskies, who will be counting on Jalen Adams to play like Shabazz Napier, the last superstar point guard to come out of Roxbury, Ma.

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Connecticut guard Jalen Adams (2) celebrates a 3-pointer from half court at the end of the triple overtime to tie the NCAA college basketball game against Cincinnati in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference men's tournament Friday, MArch 11, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. UConn won104-97 in quadruple overtime. (Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Connecticut guard Jalen Adams (Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant via AP)

21. What is going to happen with UCLA? They have the talent to be a national title contender, but between their defensive issues and incompatibility offensively, this team could end up finishing below .500 for the second straight season.

22. Miles Bridges. He’s as physical and as athletic as any player that’s entered college basketball in some time.

23. Greg Gard’s second season. He took Wisconsin from being a 9-9 team to a No. 7 seed last year. What can he get done with Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ all returning?

24. Figuring out who is the second-best team in the SEC and whether or not they are actually a tournament team.

25. Just how healthy is E.C. Mathews’ knee? If it’s healthy, Rhode Island will be dangerous.

26. Edmond Sumner’s sophomore year. He was downright dominant at times as a freshman.

27. What can Sean Miller do with this Arizona team? He’s lost so many piece, but he’s as good of a coach as their is in college basketball.

28. Pissed off Melo Trimble.

29. What kind of growth did Louisville’s guards – Donovan Mitchell, Deng Adel, etc. – make this offseason, and will the Cards be a top ten team as a result?

30. Did Thad Matta forget how to coach basketball or did Ohio State just need to shuffle out a few of the bad apples in their program?

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MORGANTOWN, WV - JANUARY 09: Jawun Evans #1 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys drives to the basket during the game against Jonathan Holton #1 of the West Virginia Mountaineers at the WVU Coliseum on January 9, 2016 in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Jawun Evans (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

31. The best back court you’re paying no attention to: Phil Forte and Jawun Evans at Oklahoma State.

32. Has Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan or Vince Edwards taken the step forward needed for the Boilermakers to be a real Big Ten title contender?

33. Is Andrew White the point guard that Shaka Smart needs this season?

34. Austin Nichols transforming into an all-american at Virginia.

35. … and Joel Berry II doing the same at North Carolina.

36. Virginia Tech and Buzz Williams proving to everyone that last year’s run in the ACC – 10-8 record, wins over Virginia and Miami – wasn’t a fluke.

37. Quinndary Weatherspoon reminding everyone why Mississippi State wasn’t worried about Malik Newman transferring out of the program.

38. Just how good Jonathan Isaac is at Florida State. He has as much long-term potential as anyone in college basketball this season.

39. We’ve talked about a lot of Pac-12 teams and talent, but we haven’t yet mentioned Ivan Rabb. Does he get more attention during the season?

40. Saint Mary’s reminding everyone that Gonzaga isn’t the only program in the WCC.

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LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 05: Emmett Naar #3 of the Saint Mary's Gaels brings the ball up the court against the Loyola Marymount Lions during a quarterfinal game of the West Coast Conference Basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on March 5, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Saint Mary's won 60-48. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Emmett Naar of the Saint Mary’s Gaels (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

41. … and BYU, led by Nick Emery and the returning Eric Mike, reminding everyone that the WCC isn’t a two-team race.

42. Jack Gibbs making a run at the nation’s scoring title while reminding everyone at Davidson of Stephen Curry.

43. Will USC avoid being a victim of their own success?

44. The VCU fan base’s never-ending trolling of our Terrence Payne, who still believes that the program is heading in the wrong direction.

45. Alec Peters’ snubbing the NBA and every high-major program in the country to return to Valparaiso for his senior season.

46. Is Florida head coach Mike White the real deal?

47. Seeing how the college students attending – and, frankly, playing in – these games respond to the current political climate. We’ve seen what Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig have done. Who joins them in their activism?

48. Creighton guards Mo Watson and Marcus Foster proving to the world just how good they are.

49. The first annual Ivy League tournament, which will be held at the Palestra.

50. Siyani Chambers’ return to Harvard after sitting out last year with a torn ACL.

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FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2016, file photo, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall directs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Drake, in Des Moines, Iowa. At this time of year college basketball coaches often sound like political candidates looking for votes as they tout their teams' NCAA tournament worthiness. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

51. Wichita State no longer has Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet on the roster. Will that program be able to survive? (Hint: Yes. Yes it will.)

52. The return of the Monmouth Bench Mob, and the chance for the Hawks to pick off the likes of South Carolina (Nov. 15th), Syracuse (Nov. 18th), Memphis (Dec. 13th) and North Carolina (Dec. 28th).

53. Chris Beard at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have a better roster than you realize, and Beard’s path to his dream school – Little Rock to UNLV for a few weeks to Lubbock – was as weird as any you’ll see at this level.

54. The Player of the Year race. The early, trendy pick is Grayson Allen, who could end up being the third-best player on that Duke team.

55. Kansas matching John Wooden’s UCLA teams by winning their 13th straight Big 12 regular season title.

56. Tubby Smith has consistently been one of the best coaches in college basketball, and now he’ll take over a struggling Memphis program that John Calipari had rolling less than a decade ago.

57. Suits. From John Calipari and Jay Wright in Armani suits to Bobby Huggins in sweat suits.

58. Does Charles Cooke of Dayton play his way into being an NBA Draft pick?

59. At what point will people realize just how good Cincinnati’s Troy Caupain really is?

60. O.G. Anunoby and Thomas Bryant ushering in Indiana’s post-Yogi era.

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DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 17: OG Anunoby #3 of the Indiana Hoosiers shoots a reverse dunk over Chuck Ester #0 of the Chattanooga Mocs in the second half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 17, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
OG Anunoby (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

61. Will Iowa State be able to remain relevant in the Big 12 without Georges Niang, and will Monte’ Morris be the guy that makes it happen?

62. Clemson forward Jaron Blossomgame turning into a household name.

63. The Frank Mason anthem going viral every time that he does something good for Kansas.

64. Arkansas big man Moses Kingsley winning the SEC Player of the Year award.

65. Malcolm Hill carrying Illinois back to the NCAA tournament.

66. Can Peter Jok get up more than 25 shots a night for Iowa?

67. Every time a broadcast shows a replay of Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hitting his national title-winning, buzzer-beating three and the Marcus Paige jumper that led up to it.

68. … and waiting to see what will happen this season that tops this:

Texas’ Jones out with a broken wrist

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Texas may be without its leading scorer heading into conference play.

Longhorns coach Shaka Smart announced Monday that sophomore Andrew Jones suffered a hairline fracture in his right wrist and will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.

“Fortunately it’s not one of those injuries where he should be out for an extended long period of time,” Smart said at his news conference Monday, “but he’s going to miss at least the next few games before Christmas. They decided not to put it in a cast, which is good news.”

Jones suffered the injury last week against VCU when he took a number of tumbles to the floor. He’s averaging 15.3 points while shooting 52.4 percent from the floor and 43.2 percent from 3-point range.

“It’s a tough injury for us because he’s our leading scorer and has done a phenomenal job for us this year,” Smart said. “We’re going to need everyone on our team, not just guards, but everyone on our team to step up and take a little more responsibility.

“Your margin for error is a little smaller.”

The Longhorns, who are 6-2 with losses to Duke and Gonzaga, face Michigan on Tuesday, Louisiana Tech on Saturday and Alabama next week. Jones is certainly out for those games, and his availability for Texas’ first Big 12 games – Dec. 29 vs. Kansas and Jan. 1 at Iowa State – would seem to be in question.

“We don’t have an exact timeframe,” Smart said. “It’s really good news they didn’t put it in a cast.

“We’re hopeful that we can get him back in three, four weeks, but that’s not a set timetable.”

 

Coaches Poll: Villanova climbs to the No. 1 spot

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The new top 25 coaches poll is out, and the No. 1 team in college basketball is now Villanova.

Michigan State, who received 10 of a possible 32 first-place votes, came in at No. 2 while Duke, last week’s No. 1 team, fell to No. 4 with a loss to Boston College.

After winning at Kansas this week, Arizona State vaulted up to the No. 6 spot, while the Jayhawks fell to No. 12.

Here is the full coaches poll.

1. Villanova (22 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (10)
3. Wichita State
4. Duke
5. Kentucky
6. Arizona State
7. North Carolina
8. Miami
9. Xavier
10. Texas A&M
11. West Virginia
12. Kansas
13. Gonzaga
14. TCU
15. Seton Hall
16. Virginia
17. Purdue
18. Notre Dame
19. Florida State
20. Tennessee
21. Baylor
22. Florida
23. Arizona
24. Oklahoma
25. Creighton

Villanova hops over Michigan State for No. 1 in AP Top 25

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Villanova’s unbeaten start now includes a No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25 , while Arizona State is making a rapid rise into the top 10 under third-year coach Bobby Hurley.

After a tumultuous week in which unanimous No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Kansas lost, the Wildcats (10-0) earned 41 of 65 first-place votes to hop over Michigan State and reach the top for the third straight season.

Villanova and Michigan State were the favorites to take over at the top after the Blue Devils’ weekend loss at Boston College, though there was far less certainty for voters about who was now the nation’s top team. The Spartans (9-1) earned 19 first-place votes to climb from third to second, while the other five first-place votes went to the Sun Devils — who leapt 11 spots to No. 5 after Sunday’s win at Kansas.

Arizona State (9-0) is off to its best start since the 1974-75 season. Now the Sun Devils — who also have a win against Xavier this season — have their highest ranking since reaching third during the 1980-81 season.

Wichita State climbed three spots to No. 3, followed by Duke and Arizona State. Unbeaten Miami climbed four spots to No. 6, followed by North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Xavier to round out the top 10.

Villanova helped itself with an impressive win against No. 12 Gonzaga last week in New York, though the Wildcats had to fight to the final minute Sunday to close out a La Salle team that entered at 5-5.

“It’s always an honor to be ranked No. 1,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “It’s great for the Nova Nation and we appreciate the respect of the writers. We know it’s early, though, and we need to get a lot better.”

KANSAS’ FALL

The Jayhawks (7-2) slid 11 spots to No. 13 after two losses last week, the first coming against Washington in Kansas City, Missouri, before losing to the Sun Devils in Allen Fieldhouse.

SHUFFLE UP

Only two teams — No. 8 Kentucky and No. 12 Gonzaga — stayed in the same spot. Thirteen teams rose in the poll, while four of the seven teams that fell slid at least eight spots.

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Arizona State’s leap was the biggest, though No. 11 West Virginia (9-1) moved up seven spots after beating then-No. 15 Virginia. No. 14 TCU (10-0) climbed six spots after a win against a then-ranked Nevada team.

Miami, UNC, No. 15 Seton Hall, No. 17 Purdue and No. 20 Tennessee all climbed four spots.

LONGEST SLIDES

While Kansas’ losses stood out, No. 22 Florida had the biggest fall of the week.

The Gators (6-3) slid 17 spots after home losses to Florida State and to Loyola Chicago — a game in which they led for all of 93 seconds. Florida salvaged a win against Cincinnati in the Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, New Jersey, to avoid a four-game skid.

No. 18 Notre Dame (8-2) fell nine spots after an upset loss to Ball State, while the No. 25 Bearcats (7-2) slid eight spots.

NEWCOMERS

There were three newcomers to this week’s poll, though one is more of a welcome back.

The list included No. 19 Florida State (9-0) and No. 24 Texas Tech (7-1), while Arizona returned to the rankings at No. 23.

Arizona’s 0-3 showing at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas made the Wildcats the first team in three decades to go from No. 2 in the AP Top 25 to unranked in a week. But four straight wins have the preseason Final Four favorite back in the poll.

SLIDING OUT

Minnesota (No. 14 last week), Nevada (No. 22) and Southern California (No. 25) all fell out of the poll.

1. Villanova (41 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Wichita State
4. Duke
5. Arizona State (5)
6. Miami
7. North Carolina
8. Kentucky
9. Texas A&M
10. Xavier
11. West Virginia
12. Gonzaga
13. Kansas
14. TCU
15. Seton Hall
16. Virginia
17. Purdue
18. Notre Dame
19. Florida State
20. Tennessee
21. Baylor
22. Florida
23. Arizona
24. Texas Tech
25. Cincinnati

Expelled Yale captain has enrolled at Belmont University

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Former Yale basketball captain Jack Montague, who was expelled from the Ivy League school in 2016 for sexual misconduct, has enrolled at Belmont University in Tennessee.

Montague, who is still suing to be readmitted to Yale, complained in a court deposition last spring that he was unable to apply to other schools. He said Yale would not release his transcript until he paid a disputed tuition bill.

Karen Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for Montague, says Yale later released the transcript, allowing Montague to enroll at Belmont this fall. She says not all of his credits transferred and he will need two semesters to graduate.

He exhausted his basketball eligibility at Yale.

Montague denies the sexual misconduct allegations. No criminal charges were ever sought.

Yale’s attorneys have said the school and its officials acted appropriately.

The lawsuit, which also seeks monetary damages, is expected to go to trial next year.

Player of the Week: Tayler Persons, Ball State

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In a week where Jy Bowman put 30 on Duke, Tra Holder had 29 in Phog Allen Fieldhouse and Mikal Bridges popped off for 28 in Madison Square Garden, the Player of the Week this week was shockingly easy to pick.

Tayler Persons, Ball State.

And I know what you’re saying. “Who?”

That was my reaction, too, when I found out that Persons was the man that hit the game-winning 25-footer to give the Cardinals a victory at No. 9 Notre Dame on Tuesday. When he hit another game-winner against Valpo on Saturday, I knew who he was.

And when I realized that, in those two games, Ball State’s leading scorer had averaged 23.5 points, 5. boards and 4.0 assists in those two wins, it made sense.

If you’re going to hit the game-winning shot in the two biggest wins of the season for your team, chances are that you’re a pretty good player.

I do have some advice for young Tayler, however.

He left 1.5 seconds on the clock at Notre Dame and 3.3 seconds on the clock against Valpo. Next time, make the shot at the buzzer. It’s cooler that way, and you’ll probably get on Sportscenter.

THE ALL-‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • KY BOWMAN, Boston College: Bowman damn near had a triple-double on Saturday, finishing with 30 points, 10 boards and nine assists to lead Boston College to a 89-84 upset win over No. 1 Duke. His partner in crime, Jerome Robinson, was pretty good as well. He finished with 25 points, including a pair of massive threes in the final five minutes of the game.
  • MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova: Bridges has been having a terrific season, but he finally had his moment on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic. Bridges went for 28 points and six boards, including an emphatic dunk, as the Wildcats knocked off No. 12 Gonzaga is fairly uneventful fashion.
  • TERANCE MANN, Florida State: Mann has been Florida State’s best player this season, and he was certainly their best player on Monday, when the Seminoles went into the O-Dome and knocked off their rival, Florida, by 17 points. Mann went for 25 points in that one.
  • TRA HOLDER, Arizona State: Holder had 29 points and seven assists as the Sun Devils went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and knocked off No. 2 Kansas, 95-85, and you can make the argument that it wasn’t one of his two-best performances of the season. That’s pretty good.
  • LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State: After going for 21 points and eight assists to lead the Shockers past South Dakota State on Tuesday night, Shamet had a career-high 30 points to help Gregg Marshall’s club come from behind to beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater.