10 Takeaways: Big East oddities, a buzzer-beater and the final No. 1 seed

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Who wants that last 1?

Duke stumbled. Purdue was shocked. And Texas barely got by Baylor. Those three are the popular candidates to join Ohio State, Pitt and Kansas as the top seeds for the NCAA tournament but can’t seem to get it together down the stretch.

The Devils lost their chance at the ACC crown when rival North Carolina put on an impressive display at home. Even if they win the ACC tournament, Duke’s odds for a 1 seed took a hit given their average résumé. (Not to mention the ACC’s sub-par season dings them.)

The Boilermakers had a gimmie game at Iowa, yet somehow lost to the Big Ten’s worst team. Best they’ll get now seems to be a 2. And the Longhorns? Get back to me when they snap out of their funk (I’m looking at you Jordan Hamilton.)

Meanwhile, BYU and San Diego State stayed kept their places (2 and 3) with the chance to move up thanks to workmanlike wins.

That leaves … Notre Dame.

The Irish won at UConn – even more impressive considering they didn’t have point guard Ben Hansbrough for most of the stretch run – boosting their profile even more. It’s looking more and more like they’ll be the fourth No. 1 seed. Here’s a team comparison:

How to lock it up? Avoid a one-game exit from the Big East tournament. Given that tourney’s unpredictable nature, that’s not a given. But why would that be any different from the rest of this crazy season?

Big East? More like the Big Two
If the 1 seed discussion wasn’t enough indication, here’s more. It wasn’t pretty, but Pitt clinched the conference crown by beating Villanova. Notre Dame won at UConn. Those two have a combined seven conference losses. Third place has six. Here’s what I mean:

Louisville lost to West Virginia, Cincinnati crushed Georgetown, and Seton Hall dumped Marquette, further bunching the conference’s middle class together. St. John’s struggled at home vs. South Florida. Syracuse rolled, but it played DePaul. At home. So it should’ve won by 48. The Panthers (27-4) and Irish (25-5) are the class of a league that’s bound for 11 NCAA tournament bids. And they might be the only ones capable of making the Elite Eight.

They punched their tickets
Belmont did what it’s done all season and rolled past an Atlantic Sun opponent, clinching its fourth title in six years. UNC Asheville upended the Big South’s top seed, Coastal Carolina, for its first NCAA bid since 2003. And Morehead State rode its rebounding fiend, Kenneth Faried, to the Ohio Valley crown. (Princeton missed its chance when it lost to Harvard, setting up a possible playoff for their tourney bid.) Welcome to the Big Dance, you three. May you stay as long as you can.

Beware those bid thieves
When Butler plays Milwaukee for the Horizon League championship, it’s gonna make teams like Virginia Tech, Washington State and Alabama very nervous. The Bulldogs should make the field of 68, but if Milwaukee takes the title, it could result in two bids for the conference and boot one of those other bubble teams. (Of course, it could boot Butler, too, but hey, go with me.) Another to watch? VCU in the CAA. George Mason and ODU are in the field now, but VCU could join ‘em by pulling off two more victories.

Are you a believer?                      
Florida won its first outright SEC title since 2007, the same year it repeated as national champs. Arizona clinched the Pac-10 outright, the first time the Wildcats have done that since 2005, when it also reached the Elite Eight. Both teams are ranked in the Top 15, but neither have much support when it comes to making a deep NCAA tournament run. Much of that comes from winning conferences that are having down years and a lack of truly impressive wins. Yet the Gators are laden with experience and talent, while Arizona has a future NBA lottery pick in Derrick Williams. That makes them two of the bigger wild cards in March. And two of the more tantalizing teams.

BYU not back in business yet
The Cougars’ rough week – the public outcry over Brandon Davies’ dismissal was probably more frustrating than the home loss to New Mexico – nearly got worse. BYU lead MWC cellar dweller Wyoming by just three points at halftime, raising fears that the team might drop to a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Jimmer Fredette and Charles Abouo solved that problem by going off in the second half for a102-78 victory (Fredette scored 38, while Abouo opened the second half on a tear), but questions remains about BYU. It’s 28-3 but still not the same team without Davies. It’ll need a strong MWC tournament to quiet any naysayers before the Big Dance.

Jayhawks ‘D’ up
Kansas outlasted No. 22 Missouri, 70-66, on Saturday, clinching its seventh straight Big 12 regular-season title outright. Combine that outcome with the Tigers’ road issues, and there’s concern for their odds of winning a couple NCAA tournament games. The other NCAA tournament spin? No. 2 Kansas won a game with its defense. The Jayhawks have killed it on offense this season thanks to their absurdly consistent offense, yet the defense got it done Saturday. The Tigers missed 20 3-pointers, shot 29 percent from the field, a season worst. Credit a defense that forced Missouri into rushed shots and dumb decisions. Not that Kansas played smart, but that’s another post…

The best tourney going
If you’re ever in St. Louis for the first weekend of March, get tickets to Arch Madness. You’re guaranteed to see close games and upsets. Three of Friday’s four games were decided by three points or less, while Wichita State – the conference’s best team in terms of efficiency marginfell in the semis. Now it’s Indiana State vs. Missouri State for the title. And the Big Dance ticket.

Maybe C-USA isn’t a one-bid league
UAB clinched its first outright league title when it crushed East Carolina on Saturday night, putting it in the driver’s seat for the conference tournament. More promising for C-USA is that Memphis beat Tulane, giving the Tigers 22 wins and perhaps the best non-conference NCAA tournament résumé. If those two meet in the conference championship game, it’s possible they could both go dancing.

And finally, some Madness!
Selection Sunday is still days away, but VCU’s Jamie Skeen gave us a taste of what’s to come. His buzzer-beater – a spinning, off-the glass shot – capped a 62-60 win over Drexel that sent the Rams to the CAA tournament semifinals. It’s not Bryce Drew, but it’s still fabulous. Watch and love.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDYPdt76SlM]

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

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

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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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.