College hoops storylines to watch this season

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OK, enough chatter. The 2010-11 college hoops season is finally here.

Well, maybe a little more chatter. How about the storylines to follow this season? Call it your last-second primer.

Is everyone really chasing Duke?
That’s the general consensus. The AP, coaches, most every writer and even the fine folks at Basketball Prospectus expect the Blue Devils to be the lead horse in this season’s race.

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But it’s not because they’re “Duke.” It’s because they’re talented (Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving all will be in the running for All-America honors, while Mason Plumlee’s beloved by NBA scouts), they’re deep (Coach K can bring Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, Josh Hairston and Ryan Kelly off the bench) and have fewer questions than the rest of the field.

Still, Duke isn’t perfect. And there will be contender to the would-be throne. Among national media writers, Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News tabs Michigan State to win it all, while Ohio State, Pitt and Kansas all have enough depth and talent to match the Blue Devils.
Put it this way: Duke’s not a “sure-thing” like Kansas was last season. And look how that ended up.

The Big Ten is the best
Like it or lump it – yes, the conference’s style occasionally can be painful to watch – no conference can match the Big Ten. The league has more Final Four contenders (Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois), rock-solid teams (Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota) and big Dance hopefuls (Northwestern, Penn State, Indiana) than anyone else.

The Big East may put more teams in the Big Dance, but that’s a factor of size, not overall strength. The Big 12 could come close, but the bottom dwellers (Oklahoma, Iowa State) are more pitiable than the Big Ten’s. The ACC is full of good, not great teams. The SEC needs more than five schools to focus on basketball.  And the Pac-10? Hah! Good one!

If Robbie Hummel were healthy, this wouldn’t even be a topic. It’d be fact.

The best out West
Yeah, so about the Pac-10. Other BCS conference kicked it around and spat on it last season. Thing won’t be that different this time around. Washington will win the league again, but the Huskies were supposed to dominate from the start last year, too. We’ll see how it goes.

Kenny Crookston/AP

That leaves regional bragging rights wide open. San Diego State, BYU, UNLV and Gonzaga (who the Huskies have no desire to play), all could stake claims as the top team west of the Rockies. In fact, I think all four should be in the Top 25 most of the season, but how it plays into March remains to be seen.

After all, New Mexico tore through the Mountain West last season, snagged a 3 seed in the Big Dance, then got routed by Washington. So stay tuned.

Eligibility’s an issue
Kansas, Kentucky and Missouri – three schools with designs on the Final Four – are all waiting on NCAA clearance for players crucial to those would-be runs. The longer the wait, the tougher it’ll be to thrive later on.

Kansas has its fingers crossed on Josh Selby, who’ll replace Sherron Collins at point guard. The Jayhawks need a physical guard who can get to the basket and finish, and the 6-3 Selby’s just that. The NCAA is still investigating his relationship with Carmelo Anthony’s business manager.

Tony Mitchell, a 6-8 power forward, is out until at least the second semester due to academic issues. If he does suit up for Missouri, he’ll give the Tigers a much-needed boost to their frontcourt, which is usually their Achilles’ heel. Only Laurence Bowers and junior college transfer Ricardo Ratliffe have any interest playing down low.

That leaves Enes Kanter. Big Blue Nation has long wished for the NCAA to “Free Enes” only to be ignored thus far. At issue is Kanter’s compensation with his former Turkish club, Fenerbache Ulker. Until he’s able to suit for the Wildcats, John Calipari’s going to emphasize small-ball, a la Villanova in 2006.

Freshmen will be the difference for three programs
North Carolina’s coming off a rare non-NCAA tournament year. Kentucky’s returning minutes are lacking because it placed five guys in the NBA. And Memphis relinquished its control of Conference USA during Josh Pastner’s rebuilding season.

AP

Enter the newcomers.

The Tar Heels will merely ask Harrison Barnes, 2010’s top recruit, to led them back to the NCAAs. Judging from his preseason acclaim – even the AP tossed him an All-America nod – it should be a snap. The 6-7 wing merely has to boost UNC’s perimeter game, rebound and defend, or basically be this year’s John Wall/Kevin Durant. He’ll have help, though. Fellow fine frosh Reggie Bullock can score and Kendall Marshall will push Larry Drew II for the starting point guard job.

Pastner’s Tigers have the best recruiting class of anyone not located in Lexington, Ky. Between Will Barton, Joe Jackson, Jelan Kendrick and Tarik Black, Pastner has enough talented young players not only to send Memphis back to the Big Dance, but to make a Final Four run. Laugh at that notion all you want. You don’t have to guard these guys.

Which brings us to Kentucky. Remember what John Calipari did with a handful of talented freshmen (and a few upperclassmen) last season? Get ready for an encore. The Wildcats may fall short of 35 wins and a spot in the Elite Eight, but there’s no shortage of NBA-caliber players in Lexington. And when it comes to making noise in March, don’t ever ignore talent.

A bigger dance, a bigger bubble
Did you hear? The NCAA tournament expanded. By three teams. That means three fewer coaches get to piss and moan about the NCAA tourney seeding committee – and fans get to watch four games on Tuesday instead of just one.

That’s the good part. The downside is it’ll make for a more confusing bracket (who advances to which region to play which seed again?) and critics bemoaning the further degradation of quality teams playing for the national title.

To which I say pish. More games + more teams = more fun in March. Like you’re really gonna get mad about having to watch more basketball.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty

This year’s Butler
When the NCAA tournament rolls around, which non-BCS school is going to surprise the big boys by making a run to the Final Four? Well, the Bulldogs are one of ’em. Gordon Hayward’s gone, but Butler remains a doggedly tough team thanks to guys like Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and Ronald Nored. Another Final Four is a longshot, but a possibility.

Also keep your eye on teams like SDSU, BYU, Gonzaga, Temple and Wichita State.

As for the schools most likely to stage early upsets in the tourney, try this link. Trust me. The guy knows what he’s talking about.

Fading powers
Don’t expect much out of Louisville, Connecticut or UCLA this season. All three are dealing with talent gaps or off-court issues and all three could miss the NCAA tournament.

The Cardinals are waiting for next season when Rick Pitino welcomes a much-need influx of talent. Until then, they’re a middle-of-the-road Big East team. They might finish ahead of UConn, but that’s only because Kemba Walker doesn’t have anyone to pass to. And that’s not a forgiving conference when it comes to rebuilding.

If Ben Howland’s Bruins make the Big Dance, it’ll be because the Pac-10’s weak competition boosted their overall record to a respectable level. Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, along with freshmen Tyler Lamb and Josh Smith would beg to differ about the talent gap. The rest of us are skeptical.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

Houston reaches No. 1 in AP poll for first time since 1983

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Make some room, Phi Slama Jama. Another Houston team has reached the top of men’s college basketball.

Nearly four decades after Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon took the Cougars to No. 1, the latest bunch led by Marcus Sasser and star freshman Jarace Walker took over the top spot in the AP Top 25. They received 45 of 63 first-place votes from the national media panel, easily outdistancing second-place Texas and third-place Virginia.

“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for a response back. We’ve been working for this,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team is coming off a Final Four and Elite Eight trip the past two seasons. “But remember, it’s a rental. You don’t own it. You’re just renting it because someday somebody else is going to be No. 1.”

North Carolina had been No. 1 all season, but the Tar Heels lost to Iowa State and in a four-overtime thriller to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational to cede the top spot to Houston, which beat Kent State in its only game last week.

The last time the Cougars ascended to No. 1 was the final poll of the 1982-83 season, when “The Glide” and “The Dream” along with coach Guy Lewis were the favorites to win it all. They rolled through the NCAA Tournament before falling to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in an iconic championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I’ve never been ranked No. 1,” said Sampson, now in his 34th season as a college basketball coach. “We were ranked all 12 years at Oklahoma. I’m sure we were ranked at Indiana. Then we’ve been ranked five or six straight years. We’re used to having a high level of success.”

Texas received eight first-place votes and Virginia received two. Arizona climbed from 14th to fourth after emerging from a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational. Purdue jumped from 24th all the way to fifth and scooped up eight first-place votes after beating West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke at the Phil Knight Legacy tourney.

“Our guys are competitive. They’re fun to coach. They get along. They’re out there playing with purpose and that’s what you have to have,” said Boilermakers coach Matt Painter, whose team was briefly No. 1 about this time last season.

“Early in the season, very few teams play with the purpose collectively,” he said. “I thought our guys played with a purpose.”

Baylor was sixth, Creighton seventh and U Conn climbed from 20th to eighth after beating Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State to win the Phil Knight Invitational. Kansas fell from third to ninth after losing to Tennessee in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, while Indiana rounded out the top 10.

There was a tie for 11th between SEC rivals Alabama and Arkansas with the Volunteers, another conference foe, right behind them. Gonzaga dropped from sixth to 14th, its first time outside the top 10 since Feb. 5, 2018, and Auburn was 15th.

Illinois was next followed by Duke and North Carolina in a tough week for Tobacco Road. The Blue Devils fell from eighth after their 75-56 loss to the Boilermakers.

Kentucky and Michigan State joined UCLA, Maryland, Iowa State, San Diego State and Ohio State in rounding out the poll.

RISING AND FALLING

Purdue made a rare 19-spot jump as the poll underwent a massive shakeup. UConn climbed 12 spots, Arizona moved up 10, Tennessee climbed nine and Alabama seven. On the flip side, the Tar Heels tumbled 17 spots, Duke dropped nine, Gonzaga fell eight and San Diego State fell seven.

IN AND OUT

Despite all the movement, Iowa State was the only newcomer this week, checking in at No. 23 after beating Villanova and North Carolina before falling to UConn. The Cyclones replaced Iowa, which dropped out after a one-week stay following its loss to TCU in the title game of the Emerald Coast Classic.

CONFERENCE WATCH

There are six difference conferences represented in the first seven teams in the poll. The Big Ten leads the way with six in the Top 25 while the SEC has five and the Big 12 has four, though three of them are in the top 10.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Stanford, UConn next

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South Carolina remained the unanimous No. 1 choice in The Associated Press women’s poll, as the Gamecocks keep close watch on the foot injury of reigning Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.

The Gamecocks received all 29 first-place votes in the poll, a day after Boston left a game with her injury. Coach Dawn Staley said Boston was “questionable” going forward but added that the “team doctor wasn’t too, too concerned.”

South Carolina’s next game is at home against No. 15 UCLA.

Stanford remained No. 2 after cruising through a tournament in Hawaii. It’s the 618th appearance for Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer, tying the late Pat Summitt for most all-time. Summitt’s teams only missed being in the poll 14 times during her Hall of Fame career at Tennessee.

UConn, Ohio State and Indiana rounded out the top five.

The Huskies are one of four Big East teams to be ranked this week as Marquette entered the poll at No. 24. It’s the first time the Big East has four ranked teams since the conference realigned in 2014. The league is 56-14 so far this season, including going 8-2 against ranked teams.

“We’ve been trying to earn a little more respect,” Marquette coach Megan Duffy said of the Big East. “Tried to schedule tougher non-conference (games). ‘Nova’s playing people. Us going to the Bahamas was great. Creighton’s doing what they’ve been doing since last season. Getting some of those quality wins is everything.”

North Carolina moved up two spots to No. 6 after rallying to beat then-No. 5 Iowa State in the Phil Knight tournament. The Cyclones fell to eighth.

The Tar Heels visit the Hoosiers on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Indiana returns home after winning two games in Las Vegas at a subpar venue that lacked basic necessities.

Notre Dame remained No. 7 while Virginia Tech and Iowa finished off the top 10. At No. 9, Virginia Tech has matched its best ranking ever and is in the top 10 for the first time since 1999.

Tennessee fell out of the poll this week marking the 56th time in the 827-week history of the poll that the Lady Vols weren’t ranked. Kansas State also fell out with Gonzaga moving in at No. 23.

FALLING CARDINALS

Louisville dropped to 18th in the poll this week after falling to South Dakota State in the fifth place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. It’s the Cardinals lowest ranking since Jan. 11, 2016.

Louisville entered the top 10 in the preseason poll in 2017 and hadn’t been out since, a span of 98 consecutive weeks. It was the longest active streak.

“It’s a compliment to the consistency that we built here,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of being ranked in the top 10 for so long. “Obviously are goal would have been to stay in the top 10, but it’s a new team and growing.”

Edey scores 21 as No. 24 Purdue beats No. 8 Duke 75-56

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Zach Edey and No. 24 Purdue shook off a slow start. When No. 8 Duke tried to rally in the second half, the Boilermakers finished strong.

Edey had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Purdue beat Duke 75-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Fletcher Loyer scored 18 points for Purdue (6-0), and reserve Caleb Furst finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“I feel like we weren’t getting the looks we wanted early. As we settled into the game, we kept our poise and kept getting the shots that we wanted,” Edey said. “They were making some tough twos at the beginning of the game, shots we’re OK with all season.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey was 7 for 13 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line. He was named tournament MVP.

“They have the most unique player in the country,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Edey. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”

Duke (6-2) shot 36.2% (21 for 58) from the field. Tyres Proctor scored 16 points for the Blue Devils. Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach each had 14.

Ethan Morton had a steal and a dunk to help Purdue open a 58-41 lead with 15:37 left in the second half.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two foul shots by Dariq Whitehead. But Furst made a layup and a jumper to help hold off the Blue Devils.

A hook by Edey and a 3-pointer by Loyer made it 68-56 with 5:03 remaining.

Duke got off to a 14-7 start before Purdue worked its way back into the game.

“I don’t feel like we came out bad today, but they matched our energy,” Edey said.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Newman pushed the Purdue lead to 46-28. A late run by Duke cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 46-35 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It looked as if Roach had an issue with his left foot at one point, but he went back into the game. Scheyer said Roach had hurt his toe.

Purdue: Although neither team had great offensive games, Purdue was the better team from range. Purdue made seven 3-pointers to just two for Duke.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue: Visits Florida State on Wednesday.

No. 18 Alabama beats No. 1 North Carolina 103-101 in 4 OTs

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Mark Sears had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, and No. 18 Alabama sent top-ranked North Carolina to a second straight loss with a 103-101 victory in a quadruple-overtime thriller on Sunday in the third-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational tournament.

Jahvon Quinerly added 21 points off the bench for the Crimson Tide (6-1), who knocked off the top-ranked team for the first time since upsetting Stanford in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

“I was losing track of how many overtimes we were in there at the end,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said. “A lot of credit to our guys. I thought they showed a lot of character when we could have folded.”

Charles Bediako had 14 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks, while Brandon Miller also scored 14 points.

Caleb Love led the Tar Heels (5-2) with 34 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Armando Bacot contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds, and R.J. Davis had 19 points and nine rebounds in the second four-overtime game in North Carolina history. The other was a victory over Tulane in 1976.

“At the end of the day, Alabama made one more play than we did,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “I walked in the locker room and a number of the guys had their head down and I told them to pick their head up. I’m just as disappointed (as the players) in terms of the final outcome, but I couldn’t be any more proud about the way they competed.”

Bediako gave the Crimson Tide the lead for good on a layup with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime.

The Tar Heels, who lost to Iowa State in the semifinals, led by as much as eight in the second half before Alabama came back to tie it. The Crimson Tide retook the lead on a pair of free throws from Gurley with 2 minutes remaining, and later tied with another free throw from Sears with 51 seconds remaining in regulation.

Alabama starting forward Noah Clowney took a hard fall on a dunk attempt four minutes into the first half and had to be helped off the court. He did not return.

The Crimson Tide were 16 for 38 (42.1%) from 3-point range, with Sears making seven.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: The Tar Heels figure to take a deep drop in the Top 25 poll.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide bounced back nicely following their loss to No. 20 UConn in the semifinals, beating a top-ranked team in the regular season for the first time since a 66-64 victory over eventual national champion Arkansas on Jan. 8, 1994.

UP NEXT:

North Carolina: The Tar Heels travel to Bloomington to face No. 11 Indiana on Wednesday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide return home to face South Dakota State on Saturday.

Clingan lifts UConn past Iowa State for Phil Knight title

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Donovan Clingan had 15 points and 10 rebounds to power No. 20 UConn to a 71-53 win over Iowa State in the championship game of the Phil Knight Invitational on Sunday night.

Tristen Newton scored 13 points for the Huskies (8-0), who went 20 for 25 at the free-throw line. Alex Karaban and Andre Jackson, Jr. each had 10 points.

Osun Osunniyi led Iowa State (5-1) with 14 points. Tamin Lipsey had 12 points and Jaren Holmes finished with 11.

“They were the more aggressive team,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We wanted a physical game. We didn’t want a physical game with them getting the rebounds and then also us putting them on the foul line. Lesson that we’ve got to learn is we need to embrace being the aggressor at both ends of the floor at all times.”

The Huskies had more offensive rebounds (20) than the Cyclones had total rebounds (19), and capitalized on that disparity with 20 second-chance points.

“Those guys are tough,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “T.J.`s an excellent coach. They grind people up. To outrebound them, it just speaks to how tough we were.”

Clingan, who was named tournament MVP, scored eight points to help UConn to a 38-28 lead at the break.

Iowa State closed to 53-48 on Holmes’ 3-pointer midway through the second half. But Karaban made a 3 and a dunk, and Newton’s jumper made it 60-48 with 7:13 remaining.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies couldn’t have asked for a better showing in Portland, winning all three of their games.

Iowa State: The Cyclones picked up nice wins over Villanova and top-ranked North Carolina in the earlier rounds but ended with their first loss of the season.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies return home to face Oklahoma State on Thursday.

Iowa State: The Cyclones return home to face North Dakota on Tuesday.