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College Basketball Catchup: College football’s title game is done, so here’s all you need for hoops season

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Now that Clemson has knocked off Alabama to win the 2017 National Title, college football is officially over and college basketball can now take center stage on campuses around the country.

And look, I get it. Football is a big deal, there are only so many free hours we have in a week and, until the bowl games are over and done with, they’ll take center stage. I can forgive you for your trespasses … as long as you’re now turning into college hoops.

I’m not just saying that as a college hoops fan, either. This is the most exciting season of college basketball in a long, long time. Duke is super-talented and a mess at the same time. UCLA is awesome and as entertaining as anyone this side of the Warriors. Kentucky is loaded with the most enjoyable back court I can remember watching. Kansas is loaded but playing in a league where Baylor is the No. 1 team in the country. North Carolina can beat anyone, but the ACC is so good they can also lose at Georgia Tech. Gonzaga hasn’t lost yet. Villanova can repeat. 

There’s so much happening.

To help you get ready for the final three months of the basketball season, we’re here to get you caught up on everything that has happened and prep you for that is about to happen.

So without further ado … :

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Duke Blue Devils drives the ball up the court against the Florida Gators in the second half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WE’VE LEARNED THIS SEASON?

Rob Dauster: Duke is not the team that we thought they were going to be this season. That could change – when completely healthy, I would still argue that this group more talented than the Kentucky team that started the year 38-0 – but through two months, we’ve seen Duke play with all five members of their ideal starting lineup just twice in 17 games while losing Coach K to back surgery and dealing with another tripping incident involving Grayson Allen. Throw in the issues they’ve had defensively and sharing the ball, and this Duke team has had the look of a Ferrari that can’t get out of second gear.

Scott Phillips: There are no clear-cut favorites at this point in the season. Things are really wide open. There are really good veteran teams like Villanova and there are really good freshmen-laden teams like Kentucky. But they are all beatable teams with flaws. I’m excited to see how the rest of the season unfolds.

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Terrence Payne: That is this is an opening act to a March Madness for the ages. How many good games have we seen so far: Duke-Kansas, Kentucky-UCLA, Kentucky-North Carolina, Kansas-Indiana. And those are just the blue bloods. Hell, did you see what Nevada just did?! As Scott mentioned above, there are no clear-cut favorites. Add in a number of talented mid-major programs, and this could make for a memorable NCAA Tournament.

Travis Hines: It may not be the most important thing about this but it is the most important thing from this season: Scott Drew is a good coach. Baylor probably isn’t the best team in the country, but they might be. That’s a testament to Drew, who is the most ridiculed coach in the sport. This season is proving that his prior success was no fluke or the product solely of high-level recruiting.

WACO, TX - DECEMBER 21: Head coach Scott Drew of the Baylor Bears leads the Baylor Bears against the Texas Southern Tigers at Ferrell Center on December 21, 2016 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Scott Drew (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST STORYLINE MOVING FORWARD?

Rob Dauster: It is not going to be the story that gets the most coverage, but the single biggest storyline over the next three months is whether or not Villanova will be able to repeat as National Champions. Through the first two months of the season, they’ve looked the part of a national title contender. Josh Hart has been better than expected, the Wildcats are just as unguardable as they were a year ago and they are still waiting for Phil Booth to be the guy that he was last season. It’s been a decade since anyone has repeated, and it may be another ten years before we see a team that’s able to mount another challenge as serious as this one.

Scott Phillips: How does Duke handle all of the drama and injuries to become the team we all believed we’d see? With the Grayson Allen issues and Coach K’s surgery there are some new twists to a team that was already acclimating freshmen in late because of injuries. Will this team rally together to win a ridiculous ACC and become the national title favorite we all saw before the season?

Terrence Payne: It may not be the biggest storyline, but I feel like it’s getting no attention when, at this point, it should be picking up steam: Can Gonzaga pull off an undefeated regular season? The Zags are 15-0 and are one of the more balanced teams in the nation with guard play led by Nigel Williams-Goss and the frontcourt being anchored by Przemek Karnowski. They have two tough tests against No. 21 Saint Mary’s (the first of two meetings slated for Saturday), and sure, the Bulldogs aren’t safe from having an off night, but outside of a road trip to Moraga they’ll be favored to win the rest of their games this season.

Travis Hines: It’s not ideal but it’s not arguable that Grayson Allen is it. And I don’t mean Duke at large. It’s Allen, and the saga of how his season unfolds after his third tripping incident. It would be better if we could focus on Gonzaga or the other of the sport’s best teams but it’s the drama surrounding Allen.

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 03: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after making a three-point basket against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half of the game at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA defeated Kentucky 97-92. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Lonzo Ball (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE MOST OVER THE NEXT MONTH?

Rob Dauster: Can I say everything? Is that OK? Because more than anything, I’m just fired up for what is going to be an awesome stretch run for college basketball.

But if I had to pick a specific storyline, I’m going with the Baylor Bears and whether or not they can actually mount a challenge to Kansas in the Big 12 regular season title race. The Jayhawks have won 12 straight, but this Baylor team is legit and currently ranked No. 1 in the country.

Scott Phillips: I’m really excited to see the ceiling for Lonzo Ball and UCLA because the way they play can draw a lot of eyeballs in March. If casual fans (and coaches) see how good this uptempo Bruins offense can be then I hope that college basketball will shake some old labels because UCLA is awesome to watch.

Terrence Payne: How the ACC unfolds. We knew going in that this league would be stacked, pegging 12 teams as possible NCAA Tournament at-large bids. But Wake Forest is better than we thought, Georgia Tech and Boston College aren’t pushovers either, and that’s the bottom of the conference. With six ranked teams (Virginia Tech and Clemson both receiving votes in the latest poll) and the uncertainty surrounding heavy preseason favorite Duke, the ACC has an endless amount of outcomes.

Travis Hines: I really am excited to see if Gonzaga can finish the year undefeated. The schedule means they’ll be tested but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility they’ll make it unscathed. How cool would it be if Mark Few’s first Final Four came in an undefeated season?

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Nigel Williams-Goss #5 and Josh Perkins #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs celebrate a victory over the Iowa State Cyclones at HP Field House on November 27, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Wednesday’s Three Things To Know: No. 8 Texas Tech, No. 19 Seton Hall get dropped on the road

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The nights where there aren’t any marquee games are always the nights where college basketball goes absolutely batty.

Wednesday night was no different.

Here are the three things you need to know.

1. TEXAS TECH BLEW THE ADVANTAGE THEY HAD IN THE BIG 12 RACE

It’s a talking point that never really caught on, but prior to Wednesday night’s trip to Austin, No. 8 Texas Tech had the inside lane in the race for the Big 12 regular season title.

There is a clear-cut top four in the conference: Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma and the Red Raiders. The way to win the league was simple: Beat the teams outside of the top four and protect your home court against the other three contenders. Entering Wednesday, Texas Tech and Kansas were sitting one game ahead of West Virginia, who had lost at home to Kansas, and Oklahoma, had lost on the road to Kansas State. Texas Tech already had a leg up on the Jayhawks as well, as they won in Phog Allen Fieldhouse earlier this year.

I would hesitate to call anyone a favorite in the Big 12 that isn’t named Kansas, but the Red Raiders had certainly put themselves in a position where they had the easiest path.

And then the Texas game happened.

Mo Bamba went for 15 points, 11 boards and five blocks and Kerwin Roach poured in 20 in a return to the lineup as Texas beat No. 8 Texas Tech, 67-58. We knew losses were likely coming for the Red Raiders – no one is going to make it through this league without taking some lumps – but it has to be frustrating that those losses came when the program had a chance to keep pace with Kansas.

Credit to Texas. Their defense played as well as it has in weeks, they showed some toughness to get the win against a physical Tech team and they landed a résumé win that should age well.

Texas Tech also did a really cool thing for Andrew Jones prior to the game.

2. SETON HALL GOT BLOWN OUT ON THE ROAD AND DESI RODRIGUEZ GOT BENCHED

Twice in the last eight days, No. 19 Seton Hall has lost by at least 17 points on the road after they fell, 80-63, at Creighton on Wednesday night.

Creighton is a good team. They were playing at home in an arena that routinely puts 17,000 butts in seats. When they get it going they are tough to beat, so there really isn’t all that much to be concerned about here in a vacuum.

But we’re not in a vacuum.

Creighton lost by 20 points at Marquette last Tuesday. Marquette is not as good as Creighton and they do not play in as tough of an atmosphere as there is in Omaha.

What’s worse, however, is that Desi Rodriguez – the guy that has probably been Seton Hall’s Player of the Year – played just six minutes. Here is Kevin Willard’s explanation:

“He had that look in his face where he just didn’t want to be out there. When he gets that way, you just got to let him regroup and refocus. And it just never happened.”

That’s probably a cover for something else, but the concern for Seton Hall fans was that Rodriguez was hurt.

Getting benched isn’t ideal. But it’s better than getting hurt.

3. ALABAMA ENDED NO. 17 AUBURN’S 14-GAME WINNING STREAK

But what is more impressive is that they did it without Collin Sexton, who was sitting out with an injury.

That is a massive win for the Crimson Tide’s NCAA tournament hopes, which our Scott Phillips detailed here.

No. 24 TCU snaps 3-game skid with 96-73 over Iowa State

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Vladimir Brodziansky had 26 points and No. 24 TCU snapped a three-game losing streak with a 96-73 win over Iowa State on Wednesday night, when the Horned Frogs played for the first time without injured starting point guard Jaylen Fisher.

Alex Robinson, who started at point guard, scored eight points and had a school-record 17 assists for the Horned Frogs (14-4, 2-4 Big 12), who never trailed and shot 60 percent from the field. He had only one turnover in 38 minutes.

Brodziansky shot 11 of 13 for his third 20-point game in five games. JD Miller added 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting with five 3-pointers. Kouat Noi scored 16 points and Kenrich Williams had his eighth double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Donovan Jackson had 19 points for Iowa State (10-6, 1-5). Cameron Lard and Lindell Wigginton each had 16.

Fisher was scheduled to have surgery Thursday, two days after injuring his right knee during practice. The sophomore guard missed the team’s trip to Australia in August after tearing meniscus in his left knee during practice then, but was back for the start of the season after surgery.

Robinson’s 12th assist, surpassing his previous career high of 11, was on pass to Brodziansky for a slam dunk that made it 70-53 with 11:36 left before an Iowa State timeout. That was among many plays applauded by Fisher, who sat in a chair near the TCU bench.

TCU jumped out to a 14-4 lead in the game’s first 5 minutes, and led by as many as 17 in the first half.

BIG PICTURE

Iowa St.: Even while they shot 51 percent from the field (30 of 59), the Cyclones couldn’t gain any momentum coming off their first Big 12 victory Saturday against Baylor. Wigginton, the freshman who was the Big 12 newcomer of the week after games with 30 and 27 points last week, had only two points at halftime after he got two fouls in the first 9 minutes.

TCU: After so many close games, including consecutive overtime losses on the road last week, the Frogs finally had a game in which they didn’t have to press in the closing minutes. Their four Big 12 losses are by a combined 11 points, and their only previous conference win was by three points in overtime.

UP NEXT

Iowa St.: Another ranked opponent for the Cyclones, who host No. 8 Texas Tech on Saturday.

TCU: The Horned Frogs play three of their next four games on the road. They are at Kansas State (13-5, 3-3) on Saturday.

No. 14 Arizona overcomes slow start, runs past Cal 79-58

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BERKELEY, Calif. — Deandre Ayton had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 14 Arizona overcame a slow, sloppy start to beat California 79-58 on Wednesday night.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright scored 14 points with three 3-pointers during a decisive stretch spanning halftime as the Wildcats won their third straight since losing at Colorado on Jan. 6.

Dylan Smith made all four of his 3s and added 14 points and Allonzo Trier scored 15 as Arizona (15-4, 5-1 Pac-12) played without sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, held out as a precaution with what the school said was mild right foot soreness.

Justice Sueing scored 19 points to lead Cal (7-12, 1-5) but missed all six of his 3-point attempts for the cold-shooting Golden Bears, held to 35.3 percent and outrebounded 36-22. Don Coleman had 11 points but shot just 3 of 13.

Ayton made 9 of 11 shots and Arizona shot 62 percent, going 11 for 19 from deep.

Arizona connected on six straight 3-pointers from the 9:20 mark until 2:32 left before halftime to take control, three by Parker Jackson-Cartwright, then seven in all spanning halftime. Cal got within single digits, down by nine, for all of 17 seconds in the second half.

The Wildcats went four possessions until getting their first shot off while committing three quick turnovers and falling behind 6-0. They had turnovers on six of their initial nine possessions and 21 overall but still wound up shooting 70 percent in the opening half.

Arizona won its fourth straight in the series.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: The Pac-12’s top team from the free throw line, the Wildcats followed up a 34-of-37 showing at the line against Oregon last Saturday — the program’s first time at 90 percent or higher with at least 35 attempts since going 38 of 40 (.950) vs. Washington on Jan. 27, 2005, a span of 454 games — by shooting just 13 free throws and making six. Arizona came in shooting 85.3 percent at the line. … The Wildcats are 18-11 in Pac-12 road games played in the state of California under Sean Miller since 2009. Miller also is 12-4 vs. Cal.

Cal: Kingsley Okoroh, a 7-foot-1 center, scored 10 points to post his first game in double figures scoring since Nov. 16 against Wofford. … Cal has beaten ranked Arizona teams 11 times, including No. 1 four years ago at Haas Pavilion. While the Bears averaged 54.5 points over their recent road trip to Washington and Washington State last weekend, they hurt their chances with a 1-for-13 shooting performance from 3-point range but made 21 of 30 free throws.

UP NEXT

Arizona: At Stanford on Saturday afternoon.

Cal: Hosts Arizona State on Saturday night.

Holtmann makes Big Ten history as Ohio St. tops Northwestern

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ROSEMONT, Ill. — Chris Holtmann became the first coach in 95 years to win his first seven Big Ten games as No. 22 Ohio State defeated Northwestern 71-65 on Wednesday night.

C.J. Jackson had 12 points, eight assists and three steals, Micah Potter scored 13 points off the bench, Jae’Sean Tate added 12 and Keita Bates-Diop had 10 points and eight rebounds for the Buckeyes (16-4, 7-0), who won their sixth straight overall.

Holtmann is the third Big Ten coach to win his first seven conference games, joining Wisconsin’s Walter Meanwell (1911-12) and Iowa’s Sam Barry (1922-23). Holtmann replaced Thad Matta, the program’s all-time wins leader, this season.

Vic Law scored 14 points and Scottie Lindsey added 13 for Northwestern (11-9, 2-5) as the Wildcats suffered their second straight double-digit loss.

Picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten in a preseason media poll, the Buckeyes have been the story of the conference so far this season.

Coming off successive routs of then-No. 1 Michigan State, Maryland and Rutgers, Ohio State led Northwestern by as many as 15 in the second half before holding off a late Wildcats charge.

Northwestern got within three at 68-65 on a 3-pointer by Lindsey with 43 seconds left, but Jackson sealed the the victory from the foul line.

BIG PICTURE

Ohio State: The Buckeyes won on the road without a big game from Bates-Diop. The reigning two-time Big Ten Player of the Week, Bates-Dio entered the game leading the Big Ten in scoring (20.3) and third in rebounding (8.8).

Northwestern: With four starters back from the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance, the Wildcats have fallen far short of expectations and are going to have turn things around in a hurry to make a case for another invitation to the dance.

UP NEXT

Ohio State: The Buckeyes host Minnesota on Saturday.

Northwestern: The Wildcats host Penn State on Saturday.

Reserve Harrell leads Creighton past No. 19 Pirates 80-63

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OMAHA, Neb. — Marcus Foster scored 25 points and reserve Ronnie Harrell Jr. had a career-high 18, and Creighton never trailed in an 80-63 win over No. 19 Seton Hall on Wednesday night.

The Bluejays (15-4, 5-2 Big East) split the season series with the Pirates (15-4, 4-2), avenging a 90-84 road loss last month in which they blew a double-digit lead and failed to score the last 3 1/2 minutes.

Creighton led by 16 points early but saw the Pirates pull to 39-32 at half. Harrell scored seven points during a 17-9 run to open the second half that put Creighton up 58-43.

Harrell later brought the sellout crowd to its feet with a behind-the-back move as he drove to the basket, and Foster urged on the fans to make more noise when Angel Delgado elbowed Toby Hegner for a flagrant-1 foul on the other end. It was Delgado’s fourth personal, and Hegner made the free throws for a 67-47 lead with 8 minutes to play.

Delgado, who came into the game off seven straight double-doubles and had 18 points and 14 rebounds in the first meeting with Creighton, was in foul trouble all night. He was limited to four points and four rebounds in 20 minutes. Desi Rodriguez, the Pirates’ season scoring leader, did not play in the second half and finished with four points.

Myles Powell led the Pirates with 19 points.

Seton Hall shot a season-low 38.1 percent, committed 17 turnovers and scored its fewest points of the season.

Creighton shot 51.7 percent, making it the first Seton Hall opponent to hit more than half its shots.

BIG PICTURE

Seton Hall: This was a debacle from the beginning for the Pirates. Time to forget this one and get ready for the showdown with Xavier on Saturday.

Creighton: The Bluejays bounced back from a 22-point road loss to Xavier in resounding fashion.

UP NEXT

Seton Hall: hosts No. 11 Xavier on Saturday.

Creighton: visits Providence on Saturday.