Purdue Boilermakers

Illinois forward Michael Finke and Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan (50) vie for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in West Lafayette, Ind., Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
AP Photo/Michael Conroy

No. 21 Purdue dominates Illinois

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — When Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas are in sync, it’s difficult trying to name a better power forward-center combination in college basketball.

No. 21 Purdue’s two interior players certainly were in sync on Tuesday night against outmanned Illinois.

Haas had 24 points and six rebounds, and power forward Swanigan added 22 points and 10 rebounds in the Boilermakers’ dominating 91-68 victory.

Haas scored 13 points in the second half when the Boilermakers (15-4, 4-2 Big Ten) led by as many as 27. Swanigan had a four-point first half but was almost unstoppable during the second half, accounting for 18 points and five rebounds.

“It was Illinois’ game plan not to double us,” Swanigan said. “You could hear their coaches yelling to them to pressure the ball. That was their game plan, and we had success with it.”

Purdue placed five players in double figures, also getting 14 from freshman guard Carsen Edwards, 11 from forward Vince Edwards — no relation — and 10 from point guard P.J. Thompson.

“We have to have balance, and we did that tonight,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “When Isaac got the ball deep like he did tonight, that’s hard to stop. When Isaac is good and efficient, it really puts the other team in a bind.”

Illinois (12-7, 2-4) got 15 points from Maverick Morgan and 12 from Malcolm Hill but had no answer for the Boilermakers’ two post players, each of whom had his way around the basket.

With this victory, Purdue leads the all-time series with Illinois, 100-87.

Purdue made 9 of its first 14 field goal attempts, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range, built a 19-5 lead with 13:01 to play in the first half and led 44-30 through 20 minutes, shooting 60 percent from the field (15 of 25).

“With that team, you kind of have to pick your poison,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “They have two great post players, and then they surround them with good shooters. We let them get loose from 3 early, and the 3-point line got them out front and eventually into a double-digit lead.”

Haas was grateful for the 3-point help.

“I don’t think the 3-point success made the game easy, but it gave us confidence and definitely let us get our heads up,” Haas said. “It wasn’t like we were taking contested 1-on-1 shots. We were moving the ball and getting open looks.”

Carsen Edwards had 12 first-half points for Purdue, and Haas had 11. The two were a combined 9 of 10 from the field before halftime. The Boilermakers outrebounded Illinois 20-13 during the opening 20 minutes, although they did not get a single offensive rebound.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini never recovered from the early 19-5 deficit and fell to 0-4 in games against Top 25 competition. Illinois had trouble coping with Purdue’s size and watched as the Boilermakers made five 3-pointers during the first 7 minutes. If Illinois loses Saturday at Michigan, it will be 2-5 in the Big Ten.

Purdue: As the Boilermakers have done every time after a regular-season loss in the past two seasons, they won the next game, getting a nice balance of perimeter play from Carsen Edwards and Haas.

DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE

With 22 points and 10 rebounds, Swanigan has nine double-doubles in the past 10 games, missing only this past Thursday with 17 and eight in an 83-78 loss at Iowa.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

If the 21st-ranked Boilermakers beat Penn State on Saturday in Mackey Arena and improve to 16-4, 5-2, chances are solid that they will move up a bit in the AP Top 25.

ROAD WOES

Including Tuesday’s loss, Illinois is 0-3 in Big Ten road games, losing by 25 at Maryland, by 16 at Indiana and by 23 at Purdue.

“It’s a lot about being inconsistent,” Groce said.

UP NEXT

Illinois: The Illini travel to Ann Arbor on Saturday to play Michigan.

Purdue: The Boilermakers are at home again Saturday for a game with Penn State.

Four things we learned from No. 20 Purdue’s win over No. 13 Wisconsin

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 17:  Caleb Swanigan #50 of the Purdue Boilermakers dunks the ball during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 17, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Caleb Swanigan notched yet another double-double, finishing with 18 points and 13 boards as No. 20 Purdue picked up a critical win in their pursuit of a Big Ten title, knocking off No. 13 Wisconsin, 66-55.

Here are four things that we learned from Sunday’s win:

1. Maybe Wisconsin isn’t the clear favorite in the Big Ten title race: Because that’s the way that it seemed entering the weekend. Indiana had lost three straight games, including a game to Wisconsin in Assembly Hall. Purdue already had a loss on to their name, falling at home against Minnesota. If the Badgers had managed to win in Mackey Arena, they would have a two game lead on the two other ranked teams in the conference which would have included wins on both of their home floors.

But that didn’t happen.

Purdue got the win, which, when combined with Nebraska’s loss to Northwestern on Sunday afternoon, means that the Boilermakers actually sit on top of the conference.

2. But it wasn’t just the fact that Purdue won: Purdue is good. We know that. Mackey Arena is a tough place to win. The Boilermakers were favored. No one should be surprised when Matt Painter’s club protects its home floor.

It was how Purdue won that made a statement. After outplaying the Badgers in the first half, Purdue jumped all over Wisconsin to open the second half, as a 14-2 run pushed their lead to as many as 16 points. The Badgers had looked terrific since they got back from the Maui Invitational, when the adjustment was made to use Nigel Hayes as a point forward. We knew losses were coming at some point in league play, but seeing Purdue beat them so soundly was a good sign.

3. Purdue is more versatile than you think: The Boilermakers have used a few different starting lineups this season, and the most recent features Isaac Haas coming off the bench with Vince Edwards, who is more of a small forward, playing at the four. But Edwards was not all that effective on Sunday, which gave Haas, who finished with 13 points, a chance.

I say all that to say this: Most people think of Purdue as a team with the twin towers, and that’s certainly a look that has been effective for them. But it’s not the only way they can play. They go four-around-one (Swanigan, who has been playing at an all-american level). They can play with two points guards, Carsen Edwards and P.J. Thompson. They shoot, as a team, 40.5 percent from three, which is ninth nationally, and are in the top 100 in pace.

In other words, for a team with a reputation for having such a dominant front line, Purdue certainly isn’t just a one-trick pony.

4. You shouldn’t be worried about Wisconsin: So the Badgers aren’t quite good enough to run away with the Big Ten title, but did you ever really think that they were? Because I didn’t. That supposed gap between the Badgers and the rest of the Big Ten said more about the Big Ten than it did Wisconsin.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like this Wisconsin team. I still think they’re the best team in the conference. I still think they’re somewhere in the top 10-15 teams in America. I still think that they should make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and have a shot at getting to the Final Four.

They’re a good team.

But there is a big difference between being good and being good enough to coast through a conference like the Big Ten.

What Sunday told us was that Purdue will be in the mix – with Wisconsin – when it comes to winning the league title.

Team of the Week: Butler Bulldogs

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 17:  Kelan Martin #30 of the Butler Bulldogs dribbles the ball during the 83-78 win over the Indiana Hoosiers during the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 17, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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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. 15 Purdue goes small, lands comeback win over No. 21 Notre Dame

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 17:  Caleb Swanigan #50 of the Purdue Boilermakers dunks the ball during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 17, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Purdue went to a “small” lineup in the second half and made a big comeback to after trailing by 14 at halftime as they rallied to beat No. 21 Notre Dame 86-81.

The No. 15 Boilermakers (9-2) rarely used 7-foot-2 junior center Isaac Haas in the second half, instead opting to play 6-foot-9 forward Caleb Swanigan at center and 6-foot-8 junior Vincent Edwards at forward. The duo came up huge on the interior against Notre Dame and Swanigan was still effective as a rim protector and post scorer to help give Purdue the win. Swanigan finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds while Edwards had 20 points and 10 rebounds.

The Irish (9-2) had another strong outing from Bonzie Colson (23 points, 10 rebounds) and junior point guard Matt Farrell (22 points, 10 assists) but senior Steve Vasturia was cold as he was 1-for-8 from the field for three points. Purdue’s smaller lineup in the second half allowed for them to defend Notre Dame’s perimeter-oriented attack more effectively in the second half. Vasturia had a bad game and senior V.J. Beachem was also held to 10 points.

This was a great comeback win for Purdue as they pick up the program’s first win over Notre Dame since 1966. By being able to go with the lineup without Haas the Boilers played with more urgency and speed as freshman guard Carsen Edwards’ aggressive style has helped the team’s offense. Edwards finished with 11 points and his speed gives Purdue’s offense a gear it hasn’t had the last few seasons.

The Purdue defense also switched on the perimeter and made driving tougher for Notre Dame’s guards like Farrell who were dominating in the first half.

Notre Dame has dropped two consecutive games to quality opponents when they held a lead in the second half. The Irish are clearly talented enough to be a team that once again makes a deep NCAA tournament run but they need to figure out some second-half defensive lapses while also finding a consistent offensive closer to get them through games. The Irish have a balanced offense that can score from all over but who is their go-to guy? Colson seems to be the team’s most consistently productive player but he’s also limited from three if Notre Dame is playing down.

Weekend Preview: Kentucky-UNC, Crossroads Classic highlight great weekend

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 07:  De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at Rupp Arena on December 7, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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SATURDAY’S SHOWDOWNS

No. 7 North Carolina vs. No. 6 Kentucky, Sat. 5:45 p.m.: Before we get into what this game means, we need to talk about the x-factor in this game: the health of Joel Berry II’s ankle. Berry has missed the last two games after injuring the ankle two weeks ago and it’s unclear if he will be able to play on Saturday; if he does play, who knows how healthy he’ll be.

That’s an enormous issue for the Tar Heels, not only because we learned just how valuable Berry is to that team last weekend, but because of who North Carolina is playing. The way that Kentucky plays defense is that they overwhelm teams with their athleticism and ball pressure. They force turnovers, they force bad shots and they turn those empty possessions into layups at the other end of the floor. You need strong point guard play to run offense and get good shots against them, and an absent or hampered Berry would clearly hurt their chances of doing so.

And that’s frustrating, because this is a game that was supposed to tell us something about both of these teams. Kentucky’s been dominant for long stretches this season, but the only time they played a team that was anywhere near their caliber was when they lost at home to UCLA. North Carolina has been just as impressive, particularly as they cruised to a title in the Maui Invitational, but they were beaten pretty good by Indiana in Assembly Hall.

It will be tough to take too much out of this result if Berry is out. It won’t, however, affect what that win looks like on NCAA tournament profiles, which is why Kentucky won’t mind if Berry sits. Both of these teams are in contention for a No. 1 seed. UNC has the win over Wisconsin on their résumé and a full ACC slate to play. Kentucky doesn’t have a marquee win and won’t have any chances in league play to pick up a win this good.

A win is more important to Kentucky than it is to UNC.

  • Prediction: Joel Berry II is expected to play, but I don’t think he’s healthy. I’m on Kentucky (-5).

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No. 18 Butler vs. No. 9 Indiana, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: It looks like the Hoosiers are going to have O.G. Anunoby available on Saturday, and if they do, that’s a problem for Butler’s Kelan Martin, who will have to deal with one of college basketball’s best defenders. The concern for this Indiana has been what they will do against defenses that can bog them down, and while Butler, on paper, is a team that can do that, they don’t have the kind of stoppers in the back court that will make life miserable for the likes of Robert Johnson and James Blackmon Jr.

The Big East has done a lot of good things in non-conference play this season, and this is another chance for the conference to make a statement. Indiana is one of the favorites to win the Big Ten.

  • Prediction: With Anunoby on the floor I think Indiana (-2.5) is the play. If it turns out that Anunoby doesn’t play, take Butler plus the points.

No. 21 Notre Dame vs. No. 15 Purdue, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: This will be an interesting matchup of styles. The Irish play small-ball and roll out a starting lineup that features Bonzie Colson, who is generously listed at 6-foot-6, at the power forward spot. Purdue? Their front line consists of 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 6-foot-10 Caleb Swanigan.

The question will be this: Can Notre Dame take advantage of the perimeter ability of their front court players, pulling Haas and Swanigan away from the rim, or will the Boilermakers pound the ball into the paint. Worth noting: Purdue is fifth nationally in three-point shooter while taking more than 42 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. You’ll pay if you pack your defense in too much.

  • Prediction: I think Notre Dame wins outright, so if you can get the Irish (+2.5) you’re getting rich.
Notre Dame's Steve Vasturia (32), Bonzie Colson (35) and V.J. Beachem (3) talk during the second half of a first-round men's college basketball game against Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 18, 2016, in New York. Notre Dame won 70-63. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia, Bonzie Colson and V.J. Beachem (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • Georgetown at Syracuse, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: The most intense rivalry from the Old Big East will be reignited this weekend in the Carrier Dome. The game will honor former Syracuse guard Pearl Washington, passed away due to complications from brain cancer. Pick: Georgetown (+6.5)
  • Texas A&M vs. No. 19 Arizona, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This game will be played in Houston as part of the Lone Star Shootout. Both Texas A&M and Arizona are, on paper, NCAA tournament teams, but neither of them have landed the kind of non-conference wins that would make them feel comfortable about getting an at-large bid. Pick: Texas A&M (-3.5)
  • Ohio State vs. No. 2 UCLA, Sat. 3:00 p.m.: Ohio State is not all that good this year, but there are two things worth noting here: They weren’t all that good last season when they beat Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic in New York, and anytime UCLA is on TV should be appointment television for anyone basketball fan with a pulse. Pick: UCLA (-9)
  • Wake Forest at No. 17 Xavier, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: The Skip Prosser Classic. Prosser, an extremely popular coach that spent his time at Xavier and Wake Forest, passed away in the summer of 2007 while employed as the head coach of Wake. In terms of hoops, this is a game that Xavier needs to win after they lost at Baylor and at Colorado earlier this month. Pick: Xavier (-10)
  • No. 8 Gonzaga at Tennessee, Sun. 4:00 p.m.: Tennessee gave North Carolina all that the Tar Heels could handle last weekend in Chapel Hill. This time, they’ll get Gonzaga in Thompson-Boling Arena. The big worry for the Vols are the bigs. Gonzaga has a lot of good ones. Tennessee, not so much.

FOUR STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

1. Are the stars healthy?: It seems like this is a topic that we have been discussing far too often this season, but once again, the best players on two of the best teams in action this weekend will likely not be at 100 percent if they play at all. Indiana’s O.G. Anunoby has missed the last three games after spraining his ankle late in a win over North Carolina. Ironically enough, it’s UNC’s Joel Berry II that is also dealing with an ankle injury that has kept him out of the last two games. As I mentioned earlier in this column, both of those players are key to their team’s matchups with Butler and Kentucky, respectively.

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)

2. Kentucky needs all the good wins that they can get: As of today, Kentucky has just one win over a KenPom top 80 team, and that’s Michigan State, who is currently ranked 43rd, a number that will likely drop as the site’s preseason expectations are phased out of the formula; that usually happens right around the new year. Kentucky will get their chances – they play UNC this weekend, Louisville next week and Kansas in January – but it’s important for the Wildcats to capitalize on those non-conference opportunities, because elite wins don’t look like they exist in the SEC. With Duke, Villanova, Kansas, UCLA, Indiana and Baylor all compiling résumés that look like they will be strong enough to put them in contention for a No. 1 seed, a lack of league wins will come back to bite Kentucky on Selection Sunday.

3. Are neutral site games good for the sport?: That’s the big question we always ask, and it’s relevant to bring up this weekend because of the overlord of neutral site events. There’s the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas featuring UK vs. UNC and UCLA vs. Ohio State. The Lone Star Shootout in Houston has Texas A&M vs. Arizona and Texas vs. Arkansas. The Crossroads Classic pits Indiana’s four best teams against each other: Indiana vs. Butler and Purdue vs. Notre Dame. The same event takes place in Iowa, where Iowa State squares off with Drake and Northern Iowa gets Iowa.

The argument goes two ways. On the one hand, if we don’t have neutral site events we probably aren’t seeing these games happen. The typical knock on neutral site games is that the environments are sterile, empty and not what college basketball is about. That may be true in the event in Texas, but the Crossroads Classic should be packed with fans from each of those fanbases. The event in Iowa should be crowded as well, and while UCLA and Ohio State may not draw a huge crowd, it would be shocking if North Carolina and Kentucky wouldn’t fill up an arena anywhere, let alone in Vegas.

So while, in general, I think neutral site games aren’t always good for college hoops, I don’t think this weekend will be an accurate representation of that.

4. There are some fairly important bubbles games this weekend, and no, it’s not too early to start talking about these things:

Arkansas vs. Texas, Sat. 12:30 p.m.
Davidson vs. No. 3 Kansas, Sat. 7:00 p.m.
Middle Tennessee State at VCU, Sat. 7:00 p.m.
Oklahoma State at Wichita State, Sat. 7:00 p.m.
Dayton at Northwestern, Sat. 7:00 p.m.
BYU at Illinois, Sat. 9:30 p.m.
Clemson at Alabama, Sun. 4:00 p.m.

North Carolina's Joel Berry II (2) drives to the basket against Long Beach State's Gabe Levin (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
North Carolina’s Joel Berry II (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 10: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils watches as he sinks a 3-point shot against the UNLV Rebels during their game at T-Mobile Arena on December 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Duke won 94-45. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
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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