Arizona Wildcats

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Five-star point guard picks Arizona

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Arizona just landed the first five-star of its 2018 class and its potential starting point guard for that season.

Brandon Williams, a top-20 recruit, chose the Wildcats on Tuesday over the likes of Gonzaga, UCLA, Kansas and USC.

The 6-foot-1 Los Angeles-area native missed much of his junior season after a knee injury required surgery. He’s optimistic, though, that he’ll return to the court this summer and have a full year to prepare before starting his tenure in the collegiate ranks.

Williams will be arriving on campus as current starter Parker Jackson-Cartwright exhausts his eligibility, meaning the Wildcats will an opportunity for Williams to step right in on Day 1.

Arizona previously received a commitment from four-star forward Shareef O’Neal, son of NBA legend Shaquille, in its 2018 class. Five-star wing Emmanuel Akot was slated to be part of this Wildcat group, but he re-classed to 2017 in order to join Arizona for this season.

Beyond any joy that comes with landing a five-star recruit, Arizona fans are likely breathing even easier regarding Sean Miller’s potential interest in the Ohio State opening. Miller leaving Arizona, a potential preseason No. 1 team, to take the recently vacated Buckeyes job seemed unlikely immediately after the announcement that Thad Matta would not be retained, but getting a 2018 commitment the caliber of Williams the following day seems to be a pretty strong indicator that the conventional wisdom regarding Miller and the Buckeyes is probably close to being on the money.

Arizona’s Kobi Simmons declaring for draft

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Arizona freshman Kobi Simmons will declare for the NBA and sign with an agent, the school announced Wednesday.

“Kobi Simmons, with the support of his family, has decided to declare for the 2017 NBA Draft,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller in a statement released by the school. “All of us here at Arizona thank him for his freshman season and wish him continued success as he pursues his professional career.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 8.7 points and 2.0 assists per game for the Wildcats with his lone season in Tucson. Currently, he’s projected as a second-round pick in June’s draft by most scouting services.

“I have enjoyed my time at Arizona very much,” said Simmons in a statement. “I would like to thank my teammates, coaches and our great fans for their support and effort in making my year truly a special one. Bear Down.”

Team of the Week: Butler Bulldogs

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Butler put together a fairly dominating performance on Saturday, beating No. 9 Indiana 83-78 in a game they lead by 14 at halftime. Kelan Martin led the way with 28 points for the Bulldogs, who suddenly look like a team that we need to talk about at the top of the Big East this season.

They’re one of just two teams this season to beat the Hoosiers, who own wins over top ten teams North Carolina and Kansas. They’re one of just two teams to beat Arizona this season. They’ve beaten Cincinnati. They’ve beaten Vanderbilt and Northwestern. They won at Utah. Their lone loss on the season came on the road to an in-state rival that will likely finish in the top four of one of the best mid-major leagues in the country.

They have a star in Martin. They have a pair of talented point guards, Tyler Lewis and Kamar Baldwin, who compliment each other so well. Andrew Chrabacsz and Tyler Wideman makeup an underrated front court. Chris Holtmann has proven to be one of the best young coaches in the game.

Look, I don’t think anyone believes Butler is going to win the Big East barring some kind of season-altering injury to Villanova.

But is there really any reason to believe that the Bulldogs can’t finish second in the Big East?

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THEY WERE GOOD TOO

  • Purdue: The Boilermakers came back from 17 points down in the first half to knock off Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic on Saturday. Caleb Swanigan was the star, but credit has to be given to Vince Edwards as well. He played his best basketball of the season, finishing with 20 points and 10 boards.
  • Arizona: Give Sean Miller and Arizona credit. This team, with Ray Smith done for the year, Parker Jackson-Cartwright injured and Allonzo Trier out, just keeps winning. On Saturday, they handed Texas A&M a loss in Houston in the Lone Star Shootout, and while Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins all have continued to improve this season, it was Dusan Ristic who was the star on Saturday.
  • Seton Hall: The Pirates landed a key win in their push to get a bid to the NCAA tournament by handing South Carolina their first loss of the season. The Pirates may be without Isaiah Whitehead this season, but they still have a roster full of scrappy, athletic veterans that are not going to back down from anyone. I don’t know if anyone plays as hard as Angel Delgado.
  • Oklahoma State: The Cowboys picked up their biggest win of the season on Saturday, as they went into Wichita and knocked off the Shockers in a dominating performance. Brad Underwood has had this group playing better this season, but this was really the first time that the Pokes have landed a resulted that backs that up.
  • Northwestern: Is this going to be the year that the Wildcats finally make it to the NCAA tournament? They still have a ton of work left to do, but the job got a little bit easier on Saturday as Northwestern knocked off Dayton in the United Center in Chicago. Chris Collins has that team sitting at 9-2 on the season, with the losses coming by a total of six points against Butler and Notre Dame. They’ve beaten Texas, DePaul and Wake Forest already this year, but Dayton has a chance to be a top 25 win come Selection Sunday.

No. 19 Arizona outlasts Grand Canyon 64-54

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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.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: UT Arlington Mavericks

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The Mavericks entered the season as one of the mid-majors on every watch list, but they struggled early on.

They lost at Minnesota, at Arkansas and at FGCU in the first two weeks of the season, but for a team that spends the majority of their non-conference schedule on the road, it’s impressive to note that they haven’t lost since then.

They won at Fordham and North Texas. Then they won at Texas. Thursday, however, was their most impressive win of the season, and one of the most impressive that anyone has landed during non-conference play: The Mavericks went into Moraga and picked off then-No. 12 Saint Mary’s.

And they didn’t just win. They were up by double-figures for the last 25 minutes. They controlled the tempo and they totally flummoxed a really efficient and well-coached team, and they did it despite the fact that their best player, Kevin Hervey, is still feeling the effects of a torn ACL suffered last season.

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Wichita State: The Shockers lost Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker this offseason, but it looks like Gregg Marshall’s team hasn’t lost a beat. With wins over Saint Louis and Oklahoma this week, the latter of which came in Oklahoma City, Wichita State moved to 9-2 on the season and put themselves into a good position to get back to the NCAA tournament. Picking off Oklahoma State next week in the Koch Arena would be huge.
  • Middle Tennessee State: If UT Arlington has been one of the best mid-majors in college basketball this season, the Blue Raiders aren’t all that far behind. This week, they won at South Alabama and beat Vanderbilt by 23 points at home. This came two weeks after they mollywhopped Ole Miss in Oxford, winning by 15 in a game they led 48-19 at the half. Believe it or not, this team might be better than the one that beat Michigan State last year in the NCAA tournament.
  • BYU: The Cougars needed to get a couple of wins this week, and they got them, beating in-state rival and Big Sky favorite Weber State and following that up with a win over Colorado (who was fresh off upsetting Xavier) over the weekend.
  • Florida State: The Seminoles not only got a win over in-state rival No. 21 Florida, they also got Johnathan Isaac back from a hip flexor injury that had held him out of the lineup for two games.
  • Arizona: The Wildcats have had a rough go of things early on this season. They’re working through a rash of injuries and a suspension to the guy that would probably be the best guard on their roster in Allonzo Trier. The good news? It looks like Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons are starting to figure things out. They both had 19 points in a win at Missouri on Saturday.

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Duke is back in the No. 1 spot

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I made some changes in my top 25 this week, and I did it for one reason and one reason only: I think Duke is the best team in college basketball.

And I get it. I might be the only one that ranks Duke No. 1 this week, because there are so many other teams with valid argument to be ranked above Duke.

  • Villanova was No. 1 last week and all they did was beat a city rival and then knock off No. 21 Notre Dame.
  • Kansas has already beaten Duke this season on a neutral court.
  • UCLA owns the most impressive win of the season, picking off Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Duke has beaten Florida, Rhode Island and Michigan State and played Kansas tough.
  • Baylor has the best résumé of anyone to date.

But these rankings are supposed to be used to determine who is the best team in the country, right?

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

And I think that Duke is the best team in college basketball. We all had them there in the preseason, before all of the injuries. Now that they’re getting back to full strength, we’re just going to ignore that fact because Frank Mason II hit a jumper and Villanova hasn’t given us a reason to drop them?

I guess I understand the logic, but it just seems silly to rank someone else No. 1 when you don’t think they’re the best team in the country.

Anyway, here is the NBCSports.com Top 25:

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1. Duke (10-1, Last Week: 4)
2. Villanova (10-0, 1)
3. UCLA (10-0, 2)
4. Kansas (9-1, 3)
5. Kentucky (9-1, 5)
6. North Carolina (10-1, 6)
7. Gonzaga (10-0, 7)
8. Baylor (8-0, 8)
9. Creighton (10-0, 9)
10. Indiana (8-1, 10)
11. Wisconsin (9-2, 11)
12. Louisville (9-1, 12)
13. West Virginia (8-1, 15)
14. Purdue (8-2, 14)
15. South Carolina (8-0, 17)
16. Xavier (8-2, 13)
17. Saint Mary’s (7-1, 14)
18. Virginia (8-1, 18)
19. Butler (9-1, 19)
20. USC (9-0, 21)
21. Notre Dame (9-1, 24)
22. Cincinnati (7-2, 19)
23. Oregon (9-2, NR)
24. Arizona (8-2, NR)
25. Texas A&M (7-2, NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 21 Florida, No. 23 Syracuse, No. 25 Iowa State
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 Oregon, No. 24 Arizona, No. 25 Texas A&M