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Ivy League Preview: Can Yale outlast Harvard and Princeton?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Ivy League.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that has paid any attention to the Ivy League over the course of the last half-decade that the top three teams in the league this season look to be Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

Princeton is coming off of a dominant 2016-17 season that wasn’t really expected. The Tigers rolled through conference play with a 14-0 record, earning the league’s first Ivy League tournament title, on the shoulders of Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook, both of whom were seniors; Weisz was the league’s Player of the Year. Those losses, as well as the loss of Henry Caruso and Hans Brase, both of whom suffered season-ending injuries, are even bigger than they seem, as Weisz and Cook allowed Mitch Henderson to switch everything defensively.

The Tigers will still have a chance. The combination of Devin Cannady, Myles Stephens and Amir Bell is as good of a top three as you’ll find in the Ivy. The question Princeton will has to answer is depth. There are a lot of unproven guys returning, and while there are some talented freshmen joining the program – Sebastian Much and Jerome Desrosiers – Henderson is going to have his work cut out for him developing a rotation.

Which is why Yale appears to be the favorite to win the league this year.

Well, maybe that’s the wrong way to phrase it, because the Elis have a shot to be special this season. It starts with Makai Mason, who was the star of Yale’s upset win over Baylor in the 2016 NCAA tournament, who returns to the floor this season after missing all of last year with a foot injury. Due to an Ivy League rule that forbids redshirts, Mason has already committed to Baylor to play as a grad transfer next season.

A dynamic lead guard that hung 31 on the Bears 18 months ago, Mason will be joined in the back court by Miye Oni, a 6-foot-6 sophomore that is starting to generate some NBA attention. That back court is as good as any in the Ivy and better than many high major back courts. Throw in Jordan Bruner, a former top 150 prospect that picked the Elis over Clemson and spent his freshman season battling a knee injury, and James Jones has the pieces to make another run at winning a game in the NCAA tournament.

RELATED: Big Ten PreviewACC Preview | Perry Ellis All-Stars | Contender Series

Harvard is a little more difficult to figure out. Losing Siyani Chambers and Zena Edosomwan is going to hurt, but there certainly are pieces at Tommy Amaker’s disposal. Sophomores Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns look like future all-Ivy first team players, while sophomore Chris Lewis and senior Chris Egi are more than talented enough to make up for the enigmatic Edosomwan.

With Justin Bassey and Robert Baker getting another year of seasoning under their belt, the Crimson have the pieces to make some noise.

If there is a team that can crack the top three this year, it’s Penn. A.J. Brodeur is a stud and the Quakers return just about everyone from a team that won six of their last eight games a season ago and came within a missed front-end of beating Princeton in the Ivy League tournament. Columbia lost two starters, but they bring back a talented back court headline by sophomore Mike Smith.

Both Cornell and Dartmouth struggled last season, but both also happen to have a first-team all-Ivy caliber star in Matt Morgan and Evan Boudreaux. Morgan averaged better than 18 points in each of his first two seasons while Boudreaux, whose mother was a three-time Ivy Player of the Year, an all-american in basketball and a four-time league champion in the shot put for Dartmouth, has averaged better than 17 points and nine boards the last two years.

Brown is something of an unknown. They lost their top two scorers from last season, including Steven Speith, Jordan’s brother, but return some promising youngsters and add a Junior College transfer in Zach Hunsaker that could end up being an all-league player.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON IVY LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Makai Mason, Yale

The key for Mason this season is going to be his health. After a dominating NCAA tournament performance and receiving this award last season, Mason suffered a foot injury that forced him out for the entire season. As a sophomore, he averaged 16.0 points and 3.8 assists for the Bulldogs.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-IVY FIRST TEAM

  • Bryce Aiken, Harvard: The big question with Aiken is going to be the position he plays. He’s a natural scorer, but with Chambers gone, will he slide over and handle lead guard duties?
  • Miye Oni, Yale: Oni has a shot to be one of the best players to ever come through the Yale program. His length, physical tools and shooting ability has him on the radar of NBA teams already.
  • A.J. Brodeur, Penn: If anyone is going to be able to carry the Quakers into the top three of the league this year, it’s Brodeur, who averaged 14 points as a freshman last season.
  • Myles Stephens, Princeton: Cannady will end up being the guy that makes most of these lists, but Stephens should capably fill the role vacated by the likes of Weisz and Cook.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Yale
2. Harvard
3. Princeton
4. Penn
5. Columbia
6. Cornell
7. Brown
8. Dartmouth

Bracketology: Purdue on a dominant run

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How good has Purdue been?

Let’s take a quick peek … the Boilermakers haven’t lost since returning from Atlantis in November.  They are 5-0 in true road games, own a 6-2 mark against the NCAA’s new “Group 1” category, and have won 19 games by an average margin of 22.6 points.  This morning, Purdue ranks No. 1 on the Sagarin index and No. 2 at Ken Pom.  The Boilers also have a favorable Big Ten schedule; they only play Ohio State (home) and Michigan State (road) once.  In other words, without a slip up, Purdue is well on its way toward a potential No. 1 seed come March.

UPDATED: January 22, 2018

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Kansas State vs. USC | South Region
  • Houston vs. Missouri West Region
  • WAGNER vs. NC A&T | East Region
  • FLA GULF COAST vs. ARK-PINE BLUFF | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

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

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

Last Four Byes (at large): Butler, Texas AM, SMU, Washington

Last Four IN (at large): Houston, Missouri, USC, Kansas State

First Four OUT (at large): Boise State, NC State, Baylor, Notre Dame

Next four teams OUT (at large): Syracuse, Maryland, UCLA, LSU

Breakdown by Conference …

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

ACC (7): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Louisville, Miami-FL, Florida State

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

BIG 12 (7): KANSAS, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, TCU, Texas, Kansas State

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

American (4): CINCINNATI, Wichita State, SMU, Houston

Pac 12 (4): ARIZONA, Arizona State, Washington, USC

West Coast (2): SAINT MARY’S, Gonzaga

Atlantic 10 (1): RHODE ISLAND

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Canisius (MAAC), Middle Tennessee (C-USA), Louisiana (SBELT), Penn (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), S.F. Austin (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), Hawaii (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), Wagner (NEC), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (SWAC)

Bracketing principles: read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com.

Team Of The Week: Kansas Jayhawks

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Remember all that stuff we said about how this is the year the streak ends and how Kansas is no longer the favorite to win the Big 12 regular season title?

LOL

J/K

Kansas is awesome again, apparently.

The Jayhawks managed one of the most impressive comebacks of the season on Monday, erasing a 16-point deficit at West Virginia to pick up a massive road win before hanging on against Baylor at home. Bill Self’s club now holds sole possession of first place in the Big 12 and a win on the home court of the only team that’s within a game of first-place: West Virginia.

Not even losing Billy Preston can put a damper on a week like that.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • KANSAS STATE: The Wildcats thrust themselves into the NCAA tournament picture by knocking off both No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 24 TCU at home this week. The win over the Sooners was particularly impressive, as TCU held Trae Young to his worst game of the season.
  • SAINT MARY’S: Remember when we said that Saint Mary’s was the favorite to win the WCC this season? That seemed crazy for a while. Not so much now that the Gaels own a win over Gonzaga in Spokane.
  • PROVIDENCE: The Friars are working their way back into the NCAA tournament picture. This week, they picked off Butler and Creighton at home. The Friars have now won four straight – including Xavier – and currently sit just a game out of first place in the Big East.
  • NEVADA: The Wolf Pack moved into sole possession of first place in the Mountain West after they knocked off Boise State in Reno late on Saturday night. Eric Musselman is looking more and more like a guy that can take his team on a run in the NCAA tournament.
  • ALABAMA: The Crimson Tide extended their winning streak to four games after back-to-back wins this week, including a win over Auburn. Most impressive, however, is that both of those wins came without Collin Sexton healthy.

Player Of The Week: Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

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Prior to this week, Saint Mary’s season had been defined by a slump at the most inopportune time.

The Gaels lost to both Washington State and Georgia in the Wooden Legacy, the only two non-conference games they played against relevant opponents, and it put the program behind the eight-ball when it came to trying to earn  bid to the NCAA tournament.

What Saint Mary’s needed to do was win at least won – and quite likely two – games against Gonzaga during the WCC regular season. Consider the first step complete. Landale finished with 24 points, 12 boards, three assists and two blocks on Thursday night as Randy Bennett took his team into Spokane and picked off the No. 13 Zags. Saint Mary’s followed that up with a tougher-than-expected win over Pacific where Landale finished with 32 points and seven boards.

All told, Saint Mary’s is now in sole possession of first place in the league and in the midst of a 14 game winning streak, the final four of which all came on the road.

And Landale, who has quietly been one of the most productive and efficient big men in college basketball, led the way once again. He’s now averaging 22.4 points and 10.2 boards for a team that should get ranked in the top 25 this week. He’s very much in consideration for an All-American team now, and I’m not sure that would have been the case without that win on Thursday night.

THE ALL-‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • SHAKE MILTON, SMU: Milton played the best game of his career in the most important game of the season for the Mustangs, putting 33 points on 11-for-14 shooting and five assists on No. 7 Wichita State and Landry Shamet in a road win. He followed that up with 20 points, five boards and five assists in a win against Tulane.
  • JAMES PALMER, Nebraska: Palmer scored 24 points and hit a game-winning, buzzer-beating three against Illinois, following that up with 19 points, four boards and a pair of assists in a blowout win over No. 23 Michigan.
  • DEAN WADE, Kansas State: The Wildcats put themselves firmly in the NCAA tournament picture with a pair of wins over ranked teams this week, beating No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 24 TCU. Wade, in those two games, averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 boards and 6.5 assists with four steals and two blocks.
  • J.P. MACURA, Xavier: Macura scored 16 points on Wednesday night to help Xavier put away St. John’s before leading the Musketeers with 27 points and five boards in a 73-64 win at No. 19 Seton Hall. The Musketeers had lost their previous two games on the road.
  • PARKER JACKSON-CARTWRIGHT, Arizona: Jackson-Cartwright has gotten plenty of stick this season for his issues on the defensive end of the floor, and it’s not necessarily unfair. But in a game at Stanford with first place in the Pac-12 on the line, Jackson-Cartwright made two massive defensive plays down the stretch to help seal the win.

College Basketball Power Rankings: Kentucky drops out of the Top 25

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I’m not sure that this Kentucky season can be considered a worst-case scenario.

Kentucky fans have seen a worst-case scenario.

That came during the 2012-13 season, when a Wildcat team that was trending towards the back end of the top 25 lost their star center Nerlens Noel to a torn ACL in February, dooming them to the NIT, where they lost in the first round to Robert Morris.

That is a worst-case scenario, and barring something totally unforeseen, this Kentucky team is not going to turn into that Kentucky team.

This group looks much more like the team we saw the following year, the one that featured Julius Randle, James Young, the Harrison twins and Willie Cauley-Stein and entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed with a 24-10 record before making a run to the national title game. That team had plenty of talent, but they never quite gelled until March.

This year’s team does not have that same level of talent, but they are running into some of the same problems.

The question is whether or not this group actually has the potential to come together and make a run like that 2014 team.

RELATED: Kentucky just is not that good

And frankly, I still think they do. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has emerged as a go-to guy while Kevin Knox had seemingly regained his confidence before a poor performance in the home loss to Florida. Quade Green has returned to the lineup, as has Jarred Vanderbilt, who might be the key to unlock the potential on this roster.

In an ideal world, Kentucky’s length and athleticism allows them to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams while the playmaking of Vanderbilt and Green makes their offense fluid enough that they overcome some of their shooting issues. I can still tell myself a story where Kentucky finds a way to put it all together for six straight games in March.

But that’s not who they are right now.

And with each passing game, I grow less and less confident that the elite will ever come out of this group.

Kentucky is not a top 25 basketball team right now. They are nowhere near one of the favorites to win a national title right now. And, at this point, Kentucky fans would do well to adjust their expectations, as a trip out of the Sweet 16 should be considered a success.

Here is the full top 25.

1. Villanova, 18-1 (Last Week: No. 1)
2. Purdue, 19-2 (2)
3. Virginia, 18-1 (5)
4. Kansas, 16-3 (13)
5. Michigan State, 17-3 (7)
6. Duke, 17-2 (10)
7. West Virginia, 16-3 (4)
8. Arizona, 16-4 (8)
9. Xavier, 18-3 (11)
10. Oklahoma, 14-4 (6)
11. North Carolina, 16-4 (17)
12. Texas Tech, 15-4 (3)
13. Cincinnati, 17-2 (19)
14. Ohio State, 17-4 (22)
15. Auburn, 17-2 (18)
16. Tennessee, 13-5 (23)
17. Wichita State, 15-4 (9)
18. Clemson, 16-3 (20)
19. Saint Mary’s, 19-2 (NR)
20. Gonzaga, 17-4 (16)
21. Nevada, 18-3 (NR)
22. Florida, 14-5 (NR)
23. Rhode Island, 15-3 (NR)
24. Arizona State, 15-4 (14)
25. TCU, 14-5 (25)

DROPPED OUT: No. 12 Seton Hall, No. 15 Kentucky, No. 21 Michigan, No. 24 Miami

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 19 Saint Mary’s, No. 21 Nevada, No. 22 Florida, No. 23 Rhode Island

VIDEO: Northern Colorado wins game with halfcourt buzzer beater

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Northern Colorado knocked off North Dakota on Saturday night thanks to a half court buzzer-beating three from Andre Spight.

Spight is averaging 20.3 points on the season and finished with 34 points and six assists in the 94-91 win.