Rob Dauster

Baylor's Johnathan Motley goes up for a shot after getting past Southern's Jared Sam (12) and Shawn Prudhomme, rear, in in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

CBT Roundtable: College Basketball’s Biggest Surprises

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Rob Dauster: Be honest with me for a second, I promise I won’t tell anyone. Before the season started, how many players on Baylor could you name? I’m guessing you probably knew Scott Drew because everyone knows Scott Drew – he’s the running joke that pulled a hammy. If you’re a fan of a Big 12 team, you probably knew Johnathan Motley’s name, too. Motley is a talented dude that has never found the consistency to live up to his potential. Beyond that, however, unless you played high school ball with someone on that roster, you Baylor was probably an afterthought for you back in October.

Hell, they were an afterthought for me entering the year.

And man, what a difference a month makes, right? The Bears have put together what is, to date, the most impressive résumé in college hoops. They beat Oregon by 17. They beat Xavier by 15. They have wins over VCU and Michigan State. They beat Louisville despite trailing by 22 points in the first half. Point guard Manu Lecomte is one of the nation’s most improved players. Jo Lual-Acuil, one of the nation’s leading shot-blockers, has teamed with Motley to give Scott Drew one of the longest and most athletic front lines in college basketball. Baylor myriad of wings – Ish Wainwright, Al Freeman, Jake Lindsay, King McClure – have all played their roles well. The Bears are justly ranked in the top five and look like they will actually give Kansas a run for the league title. If you say you saw this coming a month ago, you’re a liar and we all know it.

Travis Hines: The season Luke Kennard is having for Duke. We all knew he was good. The kid was a five-star recruit who played over 25 minutes a game as a freshman for Mike Krzyzewski. That doesn’t happen on accident. The thinking went, though, that potential National Player of the Year Grayson Allen might have to take a backseat to freshmen phenoms Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden, let alone Kennard. But with those three youngsters sidelined due to injury, Kennard has emerged as perhaps the Blue Devils’ best player of the year candidate. He’s shooting 52 percent from the floor and 40.9 percent from 3-point range while averaging 20 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists for a team, despite being shorthanded or feeling its way through lineup changes this season, looks to be, maybe, head-and-shoulders above the rest of the country. Kennard being good is certainly no surprise. His being one of – if not the – frontrunners for National Player of the Year is shocking given the situation we expected him to be inhabiting.

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Terrence Payne: Notre Dame has reached the Elite Eight in back-to-back seasons, yet when the ACC preseason poll was released in October, the Fighting Irish were pegged to finish seventh in the conference. A month later, Mike Brey’s team finds itself in the top-25 nationally, sitting on a 9-1 record with the only blemish coming to No. 1 Villanova. Despite going undefeated through the first nine games – its best wins were over Colorado and Northwestern – Notre Dame didn’t prove it was the real deal until its first loss of the season, falling to No. 1 Villanova 74-66 on a neutral floor. The game was closer than the final score indicated, as the Irish had an 11-point lead at one point over the reigning national champions.

A big part of this is the play of experienced upperclassmen. Junior Bonzie Colson, the undersized forward, is having a breakout year averaging 16.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem, two seniors, are averaging 16.6 and 15.5 points per game, respectively. But the biggest surprise has been the emergence of Matt Farrell. When Jerian Grant graduated in 2015, Brey was left with the assurance that he had another future NBA Draft pick, Demetrius Jackson, to fill the void. When Jackson left, it was up to Matt Farrell, a junior guard who was in-and-out of the rotation last season.

Not only is Farrell averaging 13.0 points and 5.5 assists per game (an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3:1), his best games have been against Villanova and sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson and during the Legends Classic, where he earned MVP honors. It’ll be a tall feat to unseat Duke atop the standings this season, but Notre Dame looks the part of a top-five team in the loaded ACC.

Scott Phillips: To me, the story – not just the biggest surprise – of the 2016-17 college basketball season is UCLA. We knew they had as good of a shot to be good as they did to crash and burn again. Some people had them ranked in the preseason, many others didn’t. But nobody except Lavar Ball could have predicted this. The father of UCLA’s star freshman point guard, Lonzo Ball, predicted a national championship for a team that finished 15-17 last season, and then the Bruins back up that sentiment by going into Rupp and winning. This UCLA team is changing the way we watch college basketball by playing a blistering, three-point oriented attack that is overwhelming opponents. They could, statistically, turn out to be the best three-point shooting team ever. UCLA passes my patented “Friends and Family Test” with wild outlet passes and flying colors. If someone I know shows even the slightest bit of interest in an orange bouncing ball, I force them to watch this team play. They never regret it.

No. 19 Arizona outlasts Grand Canyon 64-54

TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 14:  Rawle Alkins #1 of the Arizona Wildcats slam dunks against the Grand Canyon Lopes during the first half of the college basketball game at McKale Center on December 14, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona bumped DeWayne Russell, followed him wherever he went, made it difficult for the nation’s second-leading scorer all night long.

Russell still managed to score 19 points, but the 19th-ranked Wildcats earned the victory.

Arizona overcame a rash of turnovers and a disjointed-at-times offense with a hounding defense, making Russell work for everything he got in a 64-54 win over Grand Canyon on Wednesday night.

“It was just knowing what he wants to do, where he wants to go and eliminating that,” Arizona’s Kobi Simmons said of stopping Russell.

Russell entered the game scoring 25.4 points per game and had 42 against No. 11 Louisville , one of the nation’s best defensive teams.

The slightly built senior guard is the focal point of every team’s defense and it was no different against Arizona.

The Wildcats (9-2) used a physical tactic against Russell, chasing and bumping him all over McKale Center while holding him to 8-of-21 shooting and 1 of 7 from 3-point range.

“DeWayne’s unbelievable,” Grand Canyon coach Dan Majerle said. “To be keyed on, especially with the team we have, they know he’s going to be the guy getting all the shots and he finds a way to get some shots up.”

Arizona needed that kind of effort on a night filled with turnovers and shots that wouldn’t fall.

The Wildcats built a 16-point lead in the first half, but allowed the short-handed Antelopes to claw most of the way back due to a rash of turnovers.

Arizona had 19 turnovers overall and struggled shooting in the second half before wearing down Grand Canyon for its 39th straight non-conference home win.

Simmons scored 13 points, and Rawle Alkins added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats.

“I thought it was a great challenge for our players, especially our freshmen,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “We’re going to run into some of this moving forward and some of the teams that play with their style, are that physical and that tough-minded are also going to be much bigger.”

Grand Canyon (5-5), which is in the final year of its transition to Division I, kept Louisville within reach until late last week and did the same against Arizona.

Russell almost singlehandedly kept the Antelopes in the Louisville game, but had help against Arizona in one of college basketball’s toughest road arenas.

Russell had 11 points in the first half, helping Grand Canyon trim a 16-point deficit to 32-25 by halftime.

Arizona had 12 turnovers in the first half and struggled to make shots early in the second, allowing the Antelopes to trim the lead to 44-40. Arizona tried to pull away after that, but Oscar Frayer stayed aggressive as the Wildcats keyed on Russell, scoring all of his 16 points in the second half to keep the game from being a blowout.

“We played really hard tonight,” Russell said. “That’s one thing we can definitely hang our hats on: We play hard.”

BIG PICTURE

Grand Canyon played well against a Top 25 team for the second time in a week and should be set up well for when the WAC season starts.

Arizona was not nearly as crisp as it was in a blowout win over Missouri the last time out, playing disjointedly on offense at times but well on defense.

FREE THROWS

Arizona’s size advantage led to a big disparity in free throws. The Wildcats went to the line 27 times and made 20, while the Antelopes took just 12, hitting six.

SCHEDULING TOUGH

Majerle has been aggressive about scheduling top-quality opponents for the Antelopes, hoping to prepare them for the jump to Division I next season while giving the program exposure.

Grand Canyon opened this season at top-ranked Duke, hosted Louisville earlier this season, and previously had games against Kentucky and Indiana.

“This should only help us,” Majerle said.

UP NEXT

Grand Canyon hosts Mississippi State on Saturday to kick off a four-game home stand.

Arizona plays at Texas A&M on Saturday, its final road game before the Pac-12 season starts.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

No. 2 UCLA cruises over UC Santa Barbara

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 14:  TJ Leaf #22 of the UCLA Bruins dunks during a 102-62 win over the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at Pauley Pavilion on December 14, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES — Two freshmen almost managed something in one game that’s been accomplished only four times in UCLA’s storied history — a triple-double.

Forward T.J. Leaf and guard Lonzo Ball each finished only a few assists shy of a triple-double in No. 2 UCLA’s dominating 102-62 victory over UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday night.

Leaf finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, while Ball had 13 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

UCLA coach Steve Alford took both players out with several minutes still to play, uninterested in individual accomplishments.

“It all centers around our guys being unselfish,” Alford said. “I’m not going to leave our guys in for something like that in a 40-point game.”

UCLA (11-0) scored at least 100 points for the fifth time this season.

The Gauchos outrebounded the Bruins 50-46, but UCLA held Santa Barbara to 30.1 percent shooting (25 of 83).

“We let the boards get away from us in the second half (34-23), but we did have 10 blocks,” Alford said.

Ami Lakoju had 12 rebounds and 11 points, and Gabe Vincent added 10 points for the Gauchos (1-7).

Santa Barbara struggled to find consistency against the Bruins, shooting just 25 percent (13 of 52) in the second half.

Gauchos coach Bob Williams was left almost in awe of the Bruins’ effort.

“They are incredibly gifted, very long and they shoot really well,” Williams said. “They really run effortlessly and they’re playing and making the game easy. They pass and move and cut hard.

“At times out there, they have five guys who can shoot the 3. Their length is something you don’t see at our level.”

Leaf and Ball said they were both unconcerned at just missing a triple-double.

“We really didn’t notice it,” Leaf said. “We’re trying to play unselfish basketball, and we were able to do that tonight.”

Five Bruins scored in double figures. Aaron Holiday had 20 points, Bryce Alford added 15 and Isaac Hamilton had 13 (all in the first half).

The Bruins played their second consecutive game without starting center Thomas Welch, who is out with a bruised right heel.

BIG PICTURE

UC Santa Barbara: The Bruins were the highest-ranked team the Gauchos have faced since meeting No. 1 North Carolina on Nov. 21, 2008. The Tar Heels won 84-67.

UCLA: Coming off Saturday’s 102-84 victory over Michigan, the Bruins were ripe for a letdown but had too much talent to ever be in trouble against Santa Barbara.

STAR WATCH

Holiday, who lost his starting spot with the arrival of Ball, continued his torrid scoring pace off the bench. He is averaging 13.9 points per game. Alford said Holiday had been disappointed in his 73 percent free throw shooting and had been spending extra time on it.

“I was just concentrating,” Holiday said. “Nine of nine? That’s pretty good.”

TURNING POINT

The Bruins trailed once, slipping behind 12-11. They responded with a 17-0 run — all but three points scored by Leaf.

TRIPLE-DOUBLES

The four triple-doubles in the UCLA record book belong to Kyle Anderson (2013), Toby Bailey (1995), Jelani McCoy (1995) and Bill Walton (1973). The assist became an official NCAA stat in 1983-84.

POLL IMPLICTIONS

The Bruins looked very much the No. 2 team in the country, the spot they have held since upsetting then-No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 3.

UP NEXT

UC Santa Barbara: The Gauchos meet Iona on Wednesday in Las Vegas in the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic.

UCLA: The Bruins meet Ohio State on Saturday in Las Vegas as part of the CBS Sports Classic. The Buckeyes will have been off a week.

Charge dropped against Kansas’ Carlton Bragg, woman charged

DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 19:  Carlton Bragg Jr. #15 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after scoring in the first half against the Connecticut Huskies during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 19, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Douglas County district attorney’s office on Wednesday dropped the battery charges against Kansas forward Carlton Bragg Jr. stemming from an altercation with his girlfriend on Friday.

The woman that was the alleged victim in that case, 19-year old Saleeha Soofi, had a battery charge filed against her.

Bragg had been suspended indefinitely by Kansas, missing a win over the weekend against Nebraska, but was reinstated Wednesday, according to a statement released by Kansas coach Bill Self.

“As we have said since this incident occurred, it was important for us to take this issue seriously and to allow the process to play out,” Self said in the statement. “We appreciate the authorities handling this issue in a timely manner. Now that they have made their decision, Carlton is no longer suspended from competition.

“I’m proud of the way Carlton has handled this situation, considering all the negative publicity he has received both locally and nationally. He knew all the facts and knew that he needed to refrain from comment while the investigation took place.

“We are glad this situation is resolved.”

According to a release from the prosecutor’s office, a surveillance video was obtained that showed the two arguing near a stairwell. In the video, Soofi can be seen “shoving and slapping [Bragg]in the chest numerous times and placing her hands near the neck of [Bragg] on at least two occasions.” Bragg’s reaction, according to the release was to “forcefully shove her away from him causing [Soofi] to fall backwards up the ascending stairs behind her.”

Bragg is a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward averaging 7.8 points and 5.3 boards in 16 minutes this season.

“This has been a difficult and humiliating experience for me,” Bragg said in a statement, “and I’m glad it’s over. I appreciate the authorities taking the time to get this right. I also appreciate the support of my teammates and coaches, and I’m glad I can put this behind me and move forward.”

 

Marquette sophomore guard to transfer

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 18:  Traci Carter #21 of the Marquette Golden Eagles drives past Jamel Artis #1 of the Pittsburgh Panthers in the first half of the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 18, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Marquette announced on Wednesday afternoon that sophomore guard Traci Carter “has left the program, effective immediately, and will transfer.”

Carter was a key contributor for the Golden Eagles as a freshman, but he saw his playing time cut this season. He did not see any action in the last two games for Marquette and only played nine minutes in the team’s win at Georgia last Saturday.

Carter is the second Marquette player to transfer this season. Sandy Cohen left the program in November.

Yurtseven set for NC State debut after sitting out 9 games

TREVISO, ITALY - JUNE 07:  Omer Yurtseven in action during the adidas Eurocamp at La Ghirada sports center on June 7, 2015 in Treviso, Italy.  (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Omer Yurtseven’s wait to play for North Carolina State is finally over.

The NCAA required the Turkish 7-footer and five-star freshman to sit the Wolfpack’s first nine games after examining his amateur status following an overseas career. But the 18-year-old is set to play Thursday against Appalachian State, a big addition for a young team still taking shape.

“I’m looking forward to playing, just stepping out on the court for real,” Yurtseven said. “It’s not seen as a big game, but it’s a big game for me.”

Yurtseven’s arrival, along with that of touted freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr., created a buzz for a team picked to finish in the upper half of the Atlantic Coast Conference. But while Smith has started every game as a potential one-and-done NBA talent, Yurtseven – also mentioned as a one-and-done possibility – has been limited to playing in two exhibition games, working through practices and watching from the bench during regular-season games for the Wolfpack (7-2).

“Sitting on the bench, like, how can I say it: it’s like you always smell the food but you never get to eat it,” Yurtseven said.

Coach Mark Gottfried wouldn’t commit to a specific role or minutes for the Istanbul, Turkey native Thursday.

“It would’ve been great for him to only sit out a couple of games … but it is what it is,” Gottfried said. “I keep telling myself and my staff: I’ve got to be patient too because I kind of want him to be a finished product on Day One. And that’s not going to happen. It’s going to take a little bit of time.”

The school announced the NCAA ruling Oct. 31. It required Yurtseven to sit the first 30 percent of the regular season and pay $1,000 to a charity of his choice before becoming eligible to play.

Yurtseven had played the past three years for the Fenerbahce club team in Turkey, the same team as another prominent international prospect: Kentucky recruit Enes Kanter. Kanter was ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA in 2010 for receiving more than $33,000 in improper benefits, never played for the Wildcats and now plays for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

NCAA rules enacted in 2013 permit college prospects playing overseas to receive compensation for “actual and necessary” expenses tied to games and practices, such as lodging, equipment, travel, meals and medical treatment.

Don Jackson, Yurtseven’s Alabama-based attorney who has worked on numerous college eligibility cases, said Yurtseven didn’t sign a professional contract nor with an agent as he “made every effort not to professionalize himself.” Jackson also criticized the way the NCAA measures allowable expenses during its case reviews, saying the process doesn’t fairly evaluate higher cost-of-living demands in pricier regions.

“As you can probably tell, I’m not happy with the outcome,” Jackson said. “I’m happy that he’ll be on the floor this week. I’m happy that this part, that he’s moved on from that. . But the reality of his matter is he should not have missed one game. There was no justification for him missing any time whatsoever.”

NCAA spokeswoman Emily James declined to comment on Yurtseven’s case Wednesday.

Yurtseven is a skilled big man who had a 91-point, 28-rebound performance in a Turkish Under-18 game in the spring. But it was clear he’d need time to adjust to college basketball when he fouled out in 11 minutes during an exhibition game against Division II Barton.

“I think the most important thing is to get him to feel comfortable, to play,” Gottfried said. “He’s learning American basketball. . It’s not going to happen overnight, but I’m certainly going to play him and get him in and see if we can get him comfortable pretty quick.”

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25