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Player Of The Week: Kevin Knox, Kentucky

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The big question for Kentucky this entire season has been whether or not this team has a star.

Part of what has made John Calipari’s so good despite having to rely so heavily on freshmen is that he almost always has one freshman that he can rely on to be better than everyone else. Whether it is John Wall or Jamal Murray, Karl Towns or Anthony Davis, he’s always had a rock that he knew he would be able to build around; a foundation, if you will.

He hasn’t had that this year. Not until this week, at least, when Kevin Knox, the guy on this roster with the highest-upside, decided to finally look like a player that deserved consideration as a top ten pick. Knox had 19 points in a win over Mississippi State during the week before going absolutely bonkers at No. 7 West Virginia. He had 34 points, making five thees and shooting 11-for-17 from the floor as he sparked a comeback from 17 points down in the second half.

It was Kentucky’s first great win of the season.

The question now becomes whether or not it was the turning point.

THE ALL-‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: Coming off of back-to-back losses, No. 14 Texas Tech needed a good week. And they got it, sweeping Oklahoma State and South Carolina (on the road) thanks to Evans returning to form. He averaged 29.5 points and 4.0 assists while shooting 56 percent from the floor and 7-for-10 from three.
  • MO BAMBA, Texas: The offensive side of things is starting to come around for the player that may be the best defensive prospect we’ve seen come through the college ranks. In two wins this week, Bamba averaged 24.5 points, 13.5 boards and 3.5 blocks, setting a career-high for points twice.
  • JUSTIN JAMES, Wyoming: The Pokes landed two huge wins this week, including knocking off No. 23 Nevada at home in double-overtime. James had 33 points in both games, averaging 9.0 boards and 3.0 assists on the week.
  • JAREN JACKSON, Michigan State: After putting 21 points, 11 boards and six blocks on Illinois, Jackson followed that up with 12 points, eight boards and four blocks in a come-from-behind win at Maryland.
  • TONY CARR, Penn State: Carr averaged 22 points, 5.0 boards and 4.5 assists in two wins this week, including a 28-point outburst and this game-winner at No. 13 Ohio State:

VIDEO: Tom Izzo grilled at press conference after Maryland win

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Following Michigan State’s close win at Maryland on Sunday, head basketball coach Tom Izzo was grilled by reporters about the university’s scandal involving sexual assault and student-athletes. Here is what he said.

College Basketball Power Rankings: The top three remain the same, but in a new order

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For my money, Villanova is still the best team in the country.

But it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that Virginia is right there with them.

Last week, I wrote a long feature on Purdue and their new star Carsen Edwards, how he has gone about replacing Caleb Swanigan as the best player on that roster. When I wrote that, I was all-in on Purdue being the second-best team in the country.

Then Virginia went out and beat Duke at Duke and … well … what else is there to say?

Virginia has one loss on the season, which came at West Virginia. Purdue lost to Western Kentucky. Virginia has won on the road against the No. 6 team in the country. Purdue’s best win is at Michigan.

Those three teams aren’t sexy.

But you don’t have to be flashy to win at this level.

Here is the rest of the top 25.

1. Villanova, 20-1 (Last Week: No. 1)
2. Virginia, 20-1 (3)
3. Purdue, 21-2 (2)
4. Kansas, 17-4 (4)
5. Michigan State, 20-3 (5)
6. Duke, 18-3 (6)
7. Arizona, 18-4 (8)
8. Xavier, 19-3 (9)
9. Auburn, 19-2 (15)
10. Cincinnati, 19-2 (13)
11. West Virginia, 16-5 (7)
12. Texas Tech, 17-4 (12)
13. Tennessee, 15-5 (16)
14. Oklahoma, 15-5 (10)
15. Wichita State, 17-4 (17)
16. Saint Mary’s, 21-2 (19)
17. Gonzaga, 19-4 (20)
17a. North Carolina, 16-6 (Where I would have had them if I didn’t forget to put them in)
18. Ohio State, 18-5 (14)
19. Clemson, 17-4 (18)
20. Rhode Island, 17-3 (23)
21. Nevada, 18-4 (21)
22. Kentucky, 16-5 (NR)
23. Florida State, 16-5 (NR)
24. Florida, 15-6 (22)
25. Creighton, 17-5 (NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 24 Arizona State, No. 25 TCU

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Kentucky, No. 23 Florida State, No. 25 Creighton

Emmert defends NCAA effort to address campus sexual assaults

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A day after a report suggested the NCAA could have years ago looked into problems at Michigan State, President Mark Emmert said Saturday that sexual assault allegations against Spartans athletes in 2010 were “widely reported” and already being investigated by law enforcement and the school.

Emmert made the comments in an email to the NCAA Board of Governors and other university presidents. Spokeswoman Stacey Osburn provided Emmert’s email to The Associated Press. It was in response to a request for comment about a report by The Athletic that cited a letter sent to NCAA leadership by the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes.

The coalition letter, dated Nov. 17, 2010, and also provided to the AP, detailed what the group described as a “growing epidemic” of sexual assaults by male athletes against women, and used “recent reports” of sexual violence involving two Michigan State basketball players as an example. The letter also referenced an “earlier report of similar violence” involving Michigan State basketball players and “37 reports of sexual assault by MSU athletes” that had been reported in the previous two years.

Michigan State’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations has come under increasing scrutiny since former university sports doctor Larry Nassar was charged with assaulting scores of girls and young women for years . Nassar, who has been sentenced to decades in prison, also worked for USA Gymnastics, where some of the top gymnasts in the sport have accused him of molesting them.

Both school President Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis stepped down in the past week and Michigan State is facing investigations from the state attorney general as well as the NCAA. An ESPN report on Friday about the handling of sexual assault allegations against athletes put football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo under scrutiny as well.

Emmert noted he met with the coalition’s Katherine Redmond and legal expert Wendy Murphy in November 2010. A letter sent by Emmert, dated Dec. 6 and addressed to Redmond and Parker, was also provided to AP. It detailed programs the NCAA was helping to implement on campuses to address sexual violence and student behavior, though it made no specific reference to Michigan State.

As for his role, Emmert told the NCAA board in his email: “The MSU cases were widely reported in the press and already being investigated by law enforcement and university officials. Kathy did not imply that these were unreported cases or that she was acting as a whistleblower to report unknown information to the letter’s recipients.”

Redmond said Saturday she never intended to act as a whistleblower, and she recalled the cases and numbers cited in the letter by the NCAVA were compiled from researching media reports.

Emmert made a point in his email that Redmond’s letter made no mention of Nassar.

“As I often have said, even one act of sexual violence is too many. Yet, it is extremely important to know that in no way was I ever notified of Larry Nassar’s abhorrent acts,” Emmert wrote. “I only learned of his crimes when they were reported by the media in August 2016.”

Redmond said the Nassar case is uncommon, but the goal of NCAVA is to encourage deeper NCAA involvement in a more common problem.

“With regard to athlete violence on a college campus, we see it constantly,” Redmond said.

Emmert’s email to the board laid out numerous steps the NCAA has taken to address sexual violence in recent years, including the 2014 publication of the Handbook on Addressing Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence.

“Our work to prevent sexual assault on campuses has much further to go,” Emmert wrote to the board. “There can be no room for this scourge anywhere in higher education. The assertion that I and the NCAA are not reporting crimes, however, is blatantly false. We cannot let stories of this kind deter us from our important work.”

Follow Ralph D. Russo on Twitter @ralphDrussoAP

Brunson, No. 1 Villanova hold on, beat Marquette 85-82

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Called on to start, Donte DiVincenzo supplied Villanova with a lift from the opening tip and never let up.

The top-ranked Wildcats avoided another upset in Milwaukee by surviving an injury scare to preseason All-American Jalen Brunson and getting key contributions from DiVincenzo in place of sidelined guard Phil Booth.

Brunson scored 31 points despite leaving briefly with an ankle injury, while DiVincenzo added 23 and a key bucket late in an 85-82 win Sunday over Marquette.

The Wildcats (20-1, 7-1 Big East) turned away surge after surge from Marquette (13-8, 4-5) in front of a rowdy crowd at the Bradley Center.

It was a year ago that Marquette upset a then-No. 1 Villanova team in another down-to-the-wire thriller .

The Wildcats dodged another takedown despite some sloppy stretches of play.

“We found out what it is to play 40 minutes of Villanova basketball, not have another team play that hard, harder than us for 40 minutes,” DiVincenzo said.

Mikal Bridges beat DiVincenzo to an offensive rebound off a missed 3 but fed his teammate under the hoop for a layup with 15 seconds to go and a five-point lead for Villanova. It capped a critical swing that began after Collin Gillespie stripped a driving Sacar Anim under the bucket at the other end for a steal with 49 seconds remaining.

“In the first half, we couldn’t stop anything,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Second half, we stopped them a little bit and that was the difference.”

Andrew Rowsey led Marquette with 27 points, including a deep 3 from the wing that pulled the Golden Eagles to 83-80 with 1:30 left.

They couldn’t get any closer and repeat last season’s heroics.

“I thought our guys gave a winning effort even if we didn’t win,” coach Steve Wojciechowski said.

Foul trouble plagued Marquette for much of the afternoon, with Big East-leading scorer Markus Howard (13 points) picking up his fourth foul with about 13 minutes left.

“We were trying to do the same thing to them,” Rowsey said about playing aggressively in the backcourt to draw fouls. “It was both of us going against each other, trying to playing a game of chess, you would say.”

Villanova went up by three possessions several times in the second half. The Golden Eagles still managed to stay in the game through the end because of sloppy play or rushed empty possessions by Villanova.

Brunson went to the bench briefly in the second half after hurting his left ankle while falling to the floor in the paint. He scored 15 in the first half, matching his output for the entire game against Providence, and closed a 7-0 run over the final 1:21 by faking defender Jamal Cain and hitting a jumper for a 49-44 lead at the half.

TIP INS

Villanova: Booth broke his right hand late in the 89-69 win Tuesday over Providence. The junior and team’s fourth-leading scorer (11.6 points) is out indefinitely after starting the season’s first 20 games. DiVincenzo replaced Booth in his second start of the season.

Marquette: The 6-foot-11 Froling made his first start of the year at center after the transfer from SMU gained eligibility at midseason. He had 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting. … Rowsey picked up his third foul of the game with 1:21 in the first half. … Howard did not score in the second half, finishing 5 of 18 from the field and 3 of 8 from the 3-point line.

ANKLE SCARE

Brunson turned his left ankle about midway through the second half and asked to come out of the game. He came back 2 minutes later, but not before some nervous moments as he first walked off the floor. Wright said Brunson apologized to him after the game.

“When it happened I thought I was in trouble,” Brunson told Wright.

FOULED UP

Marquette was called for 22 fouls, compared with 14 for Villanova, and the Golden Eagles’ student section voiced its displeasure with the officials for the disparity numerous times.

Wojciechowski called Brunson one of the country’s best guards but stuck up for his backcourt, too, particularly Howard. He went to the foul line once, missing his only attempt.

“I have to do a much better job of figuring out how to put him into possessions to be fouled, because he’s not ever shooting a free throw,” Wojciechowski said. Howard was averaging 22.1 points coming into the afternoon.

Langford scores 19 as No. 6 Michigan St beats Maryland 74-68

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Surely, there will come a time in the near future when Michigan State coach Tom Izzo will allow himself to savor another 20-win season and look forward to competing in the NCAA Tournament.

For now, however, the Hall of Fame coach has other things on his mind.

Minutes after the sixth-ranked Spartans rallied past Maryland 74-68 on Sunday, Izzo spoke softly about what it’s been like to prepare his team to play in the wake of an investigation of the program and the school involving sexual assaults by athletes and staff.

“It’s been hard to focus in on basketball,” Izzo said, “because when I do, I feel guilty.”

Michigan State’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations has come under increasing scrutiny since former university sports doctor Larry Nassar was charged with assaulting scores of girls and young women for years. Nassar has been sentenced to decades of prison time.

In the wake of that case, Izzo, his program and his current squad have received plenty of unwanted attention.

“I’ve been through a lot more than my guys have been through,” he said. “Yes, this is something that affects them, but not nearly as much. Don’t feel sorry for me or them. There’s 140-something women that we all feel more sorry for.”

Izzo would not discuss the specifics of any case, but noted: “We will cooperate with any investigation and always have. We’ve done it before and will do it moving forward. That’s all I’m going to say on it.”

Joshua Langford scored 19 points to lead a second-half surge that the Spartans to their fourth straight victory. Down by 13 at halftime, Michigan State (20-3, 8-2 Big Ten) returned to outscore the Terrapins 20-4 in the opening 5½ minutes and held on.

“We all know it’s been a time when there’s a lot of distractions,” Izzo said. “I think sometimes guys just have to focus on their job and then deal with the other stuff after, and that’s what they did.”

Izzo now has seven straight 20-win seasons at Michigan State and 18 in his 23 years at the school. This season, however, has been different than most.

“It’s been crazy,” guard Cassius Winston said. “We keep it tight in here. This is really a family. We’ve got coach Izzo’s back, he has ours. Out there, that was just us proving it.”

Winston scored 13 and Jaren Jackson Jr. added 12 for the Spartans, who shot 53 percent after halftime and finished with a 46-29 rebounding advantage.

After Maryland closed to 63-61 with 1:43 left, Langford grabbed the rebound of a miss by teammate Miles Bridges, and Winston subsequently made two free throws to all but seal the win.

Kevin Huerter led Maryland with 17 points, and Anthony Cowan Jr. and Darryl Morsell each had 12. The Terrapins (15-8, 4-6) have lost five of seven, a skid that began with a 91-61 defeat at Michigan State on Jan. 4.

“We’re getting better and I’m having fun coaching them,” coach Mark Turgeon insisted. “We’ve practiced really well. I want to continue to do that. See where it leads us.”

Maryland seemed upset-bound until the start of the second half, when the Spartans got a pair of 3-pointers from Jackson and two baskets from Langford in an 11-2 spurt that made it 39-35.

After Bruno Fernando scored in the lane for Maryland, Michigan State rattled off nine straight points to go on top for the first time.

In the first half, the Spartans went 9 for 33 from the floor, including 1 for 10 from beyond the arc.

Maryland delighted the sellout crowd of 17,950 by bolting in front 8-0, getting two 3-pointers from Dion Wiley and an alley-oop dunk by Morsell.

After missing eight of their first nine shots, the Spartans closed to 18-16 before Michal Cekovsky made three baskets in a 10-2 run that gave the Terps their first double-digit lead.

As it turned out, that wasn’t a problem for Izzo and his squad.

“A lot of things could have went wrong, but we found a way to stick together and fight through that,” Winston said.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: Despite scoring only 24 points in a horrid first half, the Spartans appear to have recovered from a temporary lapse earlier this month, when they sandwiched two losses around an overtime win over Rutgers. With three strong wins this week, two on the road, Michigan State has established itself as a worthy fixture in the Top 10.

Maryland: The Terrapins’ hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament for a fourth successive season are sinking quickly. “I’ve had teams in situations like this that just got it done,” Turgeon said.

VASQUEZ RETURNS

Former Maryland star Greivis Vasquez returned to promote a drive to provide school supplies for underprivileged youth. He sat courtside next to another Maryland alum, sportscaster Scott Van Pelt.