Weekend preview: Oregon, Belmont, Michigan St. primed to pull upsets

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UPSET SPECIAL: Fri. 10:00 pm: Oregon @ No. 7 Vanderbilt

This sounds silly, right? I mean, Oregon is a team that is only a year removed from a mass exodus from the program stemming from the firing of Ernie Kent and the subsequent, embarrassing 37 day coaching search. But that search was more-than-successful, as Oregon stole Dana Altman away from Creighton. Altman led a team expected of next-to-nothing to seven league wins and the CBI title. And while Oregon lost three of their top four scorers from last season, this year’s team will be better.

Why?

Because Dana Altman cleaned up on the recruiting trail. Not only did he land talented front court transfers in Olu Ashaolu, who averaged 14.2 ppg and 9.4 rpg from Louisiana Tech last season, but he also brought in the troubled big-man Tony Woods, who sat out last season after leaving Wake Forest. Throw in returners EJ Singler (the second leading scorer on the Ducks last season), Jeremy Jacobs and Tyrone Nared, and the Ducks have a really talented front line. Why is this significant? Because Vanderbilt will be without their star center Festus Ezeli, who was suspended for the first six games before spraining knee ligaments, which will keep him out until December.

Oregon is more than just a big front line, however. Jonathon Loyd was a dynamic playmaker in the limited minutes he saw at the point last season. Garrett Sim will once again start in the back court as well, but the x-factor will end up being freshman Jabari Brown. He comes in with quite a bit of hype, but hype doesn’t always yield immediate results. Will he be the kind of big-time scoring threat in his first game that most expect him to be before his career is over in Eugene?

The Ducks are a major sleeper in the Pac-12, but there is legitimate reason for Vanderbilt being in the top ten. Even without Ezeli, this is a group with quite a bit of experience, some capable-to-good big men and a veteran perimeter attack that includes future first round picks John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor. But the Commodores better come out ready to play.

UPSET ALERT:

Fri. 7:00 pm: No. 1 North Carolina vs. Michigan State: We all know about how talented North Carolina is. You don’t need me to tell you that in this space. But for the first time in recent memory, Michigan State heads into the season with almost no expectations. But I like this Spartan team. They have the makeup of the perennially over-achieving teams that Tom Izzo is known so well for. I’m expecting a big year out of Keith Appling, Izzo has had success with modified point guards (see Drew Neitzel), but I also think that Brandon Wood and Branden Dawson are the perfect, tough-minded kind of perimeter players that thrive under Izzo. Draymond Green is going to have to have a big game, and big men Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne are going to need to play up to their potential and not down to their history, but given the unusual conditions of this game, don’t be surprised if a scrappy Michigan State team pulls off the shocker.

Fri. 9:00 pm: Belmont @ No. 6 Duke: Belmont is a very good basketball team. They won 30 games last year and return nine of the 11 players from that team’s rotation. They have a couple of quality back court pieces, headlined by junior Ian Clark, and have two quality big men in Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders. In fact, I don’t think its crazy to say that Belmont’s posts are better than the three Plumlees. The Bruins run a pressing system that forces turnovers, and with Duke having two combo-guards in their back court — neither Seth Curry nor Austin Rivers is a true point guard — I can see Belmont giving Duke some issues defensively. Most importantly, the Bruins won’t be scared. This is the same program that lost to Duke by one in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament.

Fri. 10:30 pm: Loyola Marymount @ No. 20 UCLA: Last year was a bit of a disaster for LMU as they finished 2-12 in the WCC, but that record doesn’t reflect the amount of talent that is in this program. The Lions struggled keeping their players healthy last season and couldn’t win a close game, going 2-7 in games that were decided by one possession or went to overtime. Even with star Drew Viney out following foot surgery, the Lions have enough size on their front line to matchup with a UCLA team that is headlined by a potentially-injured Reeves Nelson and an overweight Josh Smith. Point guard Anthony Ireland, who really came on strong late in his freshman season, may be the best point guard on the floor on Friday as well. If Nelson doesn’t play, or plays at less than 100%, and Edgar Garibay and Godwin Okojoni can hold their own against the Bruin front line, the Lions, who are a sleeper in a very good WCC, should give the Bruins all they can handle.

Sun. 9:30 pm: George Washington @ No. 24 Cal: Let me say this before I go any further — I am high on Cal. There is a reason that I picked them to finish second in the Pac-12 this season. That said, I’m also a big fan of George Washington. I know they have undergone a coaching change and I know that their 10-6 record and fourth place finish in the A-10 last season was partially the result of an easy league schedule, but this is still a team that returns their entire roster — including all-conference point guard Tony Taylor — and finally gets a healthy Lasan Kromah back.

BEST MATCHUPS:

Fri. 8:00 pm: Bucknell @ Minnesota: This should be one of the better matchups between a high-major and a low-major program this weekend. Bucknell is the consensus favorite to win the Patriot League after returning the majority of their roster from last season. Minnesota has some talent and will definitely have a major athleticism advantage over the Bison, but the Gophers don’t have a true point guard on their roster; freshman Andre Hollins will be sliding over and playing the point this season. If anything, this game will be worth the watch if, for nothing else, to see Mike Muscala, the reigning Patriot League Player of the Year, go up against Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson.

Fri. 9:00 pm: Oral Roberts @ West Virginia: This will be a big game for Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles bring back essentially their entire roster, headlined by star forward Dominique Morrison, and have a team that is good enough that they can feasibly make a push for an at-large bid if they make enough statements during a tough non-conference schedule. West Virginia is a potential tournament team, but they may be a long way from reaching that potential. Their roster is basically made up of Truck Bryant, Kevin Jones, Deniz Kilicli and a bunch of freshmen. The Mountaineers are coming off of a loss in an exhibition and reportedly got worked by Xavier in a closed-door scrimmage.

Fri. 9:05 pm: BYU @ Utah State: The rivalries between the Division I programs in Utah is intense, and this game is no different. Utah State fans have been camping out for days to get tickets to the game. Both programs appear to be down this season, but its worth noting that both Dave Rose and Stew Morrill are terrific at developing talent. While, on paper, it appears as if both schools lose a tremendous amount of talent from last season, I feel confident saying that the drop-off both teams experience won’t be as dramatic as most expect. When it comes to rivalry games, record don’t matter. This game is no different.

BEST STORYLINES:

Friday:

7:00 pm: Marist @ No. 2 Kentucky: This will be the first time we get to see Kentucky’s talented freshmen — and a new-and-improved Terrence Jones in a real game, although it won’t necessarily come against “real” competition.

9:00 pm: Wright State @ No. 3 Ohio State: Just how good is the slimmed-down Jared Sullinger going to be? Tonight is our first glimpse.

7:00 pm: Columbia @ No. 4 UConn: With the amount of athleticism on the UConn roster, I feel confident saying that there are going to be some impressive highlights coming out of this game. Also, Andre Drummond anyone?

7:00 pm: Tennessee-Martin @ No. 8 Louisville: Just how good Louisville will end up being this season will likely be a direct result of two things: a) how healthy they are and b) just how good Peyton Siva ends up being.

7:00 pm: Jackson State @ No. 10 Florida: I can’t be the only one curious as to how Billy Donovan is going to split minutes — and shots — between the four talented back court players he has on his roster.

7:00 pm: Albany @ No. 11 Pitt: Any time Ashton Gibbs is playing, I’m watching. Basketball purists should agree.

10:00 pm: Texas Southern @ No. 12 Baylor: Baylor’s first game without Perry Jones and our first glimpse at who will operate the point guard spot for the Bears.

8:00 pm: Towson @ No. 13 Kansas: Towson may lose by fifty, and while most will be focused on just how good Thomas Robinson is, I’m more concerned with a first look at a team that claims Tyshawn Taylor as its leader.

7:00 pm: Morgan State @ No. 15 Xavier: Xavier will be playing this game without Tu Holloway. Could that mean the Musketeers are primed for an upset?

8:00 pm: North Florida @ No. 17 Alabama: The Crimson Tide heads into this season with quite a bit of hype. Will it be justified?

9:00 pm: Mt. St. Mary’s @ No. 21 Marquette: The x-factor for Marquette this season may end up being Davante Gardner. Is the big fella in shape?

11:05 pm: Eastern Washington @ No. 23 Gonzaga: Which Elias Harris shows up this season? The potential lottery pick or the banged-up, out-of-shape player from last season.

10:30 pm: UC Irvine @ No. 24 Cal: Are the Bears really a team that can compete for the Pac-12 title? Or Mike Wilder’s hair?

8:00 pm: SE Missouri State @ No. 25 Missouri: The biggest question in the Big 12: how good will Missouri be without Laurence Bowers?

7:00 pm: Jacksonville @ Florida State: We all know that Florida State is going to be a stalwart defensive team once again this season, but the question is, without Ian Miller, how is this team going to create points?

7:00 pm: Tennessee Tech @ Miami FL: The Hurricanes are playing very shorthanded thanks to injuries and suspensions. Tennessee Tech is good team, led by star Kevin Murphy and the most clutch player in college hoops in Zac Swansey.

7:30 pm: Rhode Island @ George Mason: If only this game could have been played in January, when Billy Baron and Andre Malone are eligible for URI and Andre Cornelius is back from his suspension for GMU.

8:00 pm: Texas A&M-CC @ Oklahoma State: LeBryan Nash. That is all.

9:00 pm: Loyola (IL) @ Illinois: I’m not necessarily in the minority when I say I think that Illinois could be better this year without the headaches that came along with Jereme Richmond and Demetri McCamey.

10:00 pm: Missouri State @ Nevada: A terrific mid-major matchup. Kyle Weems tries to lead a MSU team back to an MVC title with a new roster and coaching staff, while Nevada looks to live up to the talent on their roster.

Saturday:

4:00 pm: Fordham @ No. 5 Syracuse: This should be a blowout, but it will be interesting to see Fordham star Chris Gaston go up against the huge front line of Syracuse. Also: Fab Melo? You showin’ up this year, bro?

4:30 pm: Presbyterian @ No. 6 Duke: Will Presbyterian have a shot with Duke playing two games in two d … yeah, no.

1:00 pm: Kennesaw State @ No. 14 Wisconsin: Kennesaw State knocked off Georgia Tech last year. Can they pull off another upset?

3:00 pm: Butler @ Evansville: Evansville knocked off Butler in Hinkle last year. Can a new-look Butler team return the favor this year? Also: just how good are Butler’s youngsters?

7:00 pm: Northern Iowa @ Old Dominion: Two very good mid-major programs square off in a battle of rebuilding years.

Sunday:

1:00 pm: No. 1 North Carolina @ UNC-Asheville: JP Primm and Matt Dickey gives Asheville a solid starting backcourt.

2:00 pm: Cleveland State @ No. 7 Vanderbilt: No more Norris Cole for Cleveland State.

4:00 pm: Lamar @ No. 8 Louisville: The Pat Knight era at Lamar gets their first true test.

6:00 pm: Rider @ No. 11 Pitt: Remember what I said about Ashton Gibbs?

7:00 pm: Jackson State @ No. 12 Baylor: Quincy Miller enters the collegiate ranks with quite a bit of hype, but he’s also coming off of a torn ACL. Will he be healthy?

6:00 pm: Ball State @ No. 16 Arizona: This will be the third time we get to see Arizona play. They have yet to answer the question marks about the youth in their back court.

4:00 pm: Southern @ No. 19 Texas A&M: Will Billy Kennedy be on the bench?

7:00 pm: Alabama State @ No. 22 Cincinnati: Is Yancy Gates actually in shape? Will Sean Kilpatrick be a star? If both answers are year, the Bearcats have a shot at being very, very good.

7:00 pm: Boston U. @ Texas: Texas kicks off the Myck Kabongo era. Can this freshman point guard carry the Longhorn team?

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.

BYU erases 23-point deficit, beats Dayton in overtime 79-75

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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NASSAU, Bahamas – Gideon George scored 21 points and combined with Jaxson Robinson and Rudi Williams for BYU’s 15 overtime points as the Cougars came back from a 23-point deficit to beat Dayton 79-75 in overtime Friday.

BYU’s victory came in the seventh-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

George’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left in regulation gave BYU (4-3) its first lead after Dayton scored the first 10 points of the game and led 32-9 with six minutes left in the first half.

Mike Sharavjamts’ basket gave the lead back to Dayton but George’s free throw with a minute left sent the game into overtime.

Dayton got the first points in overtime but Robinson’s 3-pointer gave BYU the lead for good halfway through the extra period.

Robinson had 14 points, Dallin Hall 12 and Williams 11 to join George in double figures for BYU.

DaRon Holmes II scored 21 points and Sharavjamts 15 for Dayton (3-4). The Flyers lost starting guards Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith to lower-body injuries in the second half, Smith with with just seconds left in regulation.

Portland beats Villanova 83-71 in Phil Knight Invitational

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Moses Wood scored 16 points and Portland beat Villanova 83-71 on Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational.

Villanova (2-4) has lost three straight games, including an overtime loss to Iowa State on Thursday to drop below .500 for the first time since March 7, 2012.

Vasilije Vucinic’s layup with 4:16 remaining in the first half gave Portland the lead for good. The Pilots had an eight-point lead at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half.

Wood added six rebounds and three blocks for the Pilots (5-3). Tyler Robertson scored 15 points while shooting 6 for 12 (1 for 5 from 3-point range) and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Kristian Sjolund recorded 14 points and shot 5 for 7 (2 for 3 from 3-point range).

Caleb Daniels finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Villanova also got 14 points from Jordan Longino. Brandon Slater had 11 points.

Caleb Grill, Iowa State topples No. 1 North Carolina 70-65

Syndication: The Des Moines Register
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Grill has followed T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota State to UNLV and now back to Iowa State hoping the pair could share a moment like they did Friday.

Taking down the No. 1 team in the country was another bookmark moment in a long journey for the pair.

“I’m actually really enjoying sitting next to him from this moment right now just thinking about how long we’ve known each other and how cool this really was,” Otzelberger said.

Grill hit seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points and Iowa State rallied in the final five minutes to stun No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.

Iowa State (5-0) picked up just its third win over a team ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25. The Cyclones are 3-22 against No. 1 teams, with the other wins coming against Kansas in 1957 and Oklahoma in 2016.

The Cyclones can now add North Carolina (5-1) to the list.

“I was just staying the course of the game. I never really thought about it and the game just kind of came to me,” Grill said.

Grill was averaging 7.3 points and had made just 4 of 24 3-point attempts for the season entering Friday. But he couldn’t be stopped from beyond the arc, hitting a pair of big 3s to spark Iowa State’s late rally. His deep fadeaway jumper just inside the 3-point line with 1:40 left gave Iowa State a 63-61 lead and the Cyclones did just enough at the free throw line in the final minute to close out the upset victory.

Grill’s previous career high was 27 points while playing for UNLV in the 2020-21 season against Alabama. He also hit seven 3-pointers in that game.

Grill originally signed with South Dakota State when Otzelberger was the coach there. He was released from his commitment when Otzelberger took the head job at UNLV and started his career at Iowa State before deciding to join his coach in Las Vegas.

When Otzelberger returned to Ames, Grill followed again.

“Just having him be the first person that really had belief in me, it’s just really special what he’s done for me and my family and everything we’ve done,” Grill said.

Jaren Holmes added 22 points and the Cyclones withstood off shooting games from Aljaz Kunc and Gabe Kalscheur, who combined for three points and missed all eight of their shot attempts. Both were averaging double figures scoring for Iowa State.

RJ Davis led North Carolina with 15 points, Armando Bacot added 14 and Caleb Love scored 12. But the Tar Heels will lament a series of mistakes in the closing minutes that allowed Iowa State to rally.

“We had wide open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted, we just didn’t make those shots,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.

North Carolina led 57-49 after Leaky Black’s layup with 5:43 left, but missed four of its final six shots and had four turnovers during that span.

“We turned the ball over a couple of times and you just can’t do that in late-game situations,” Davis said. “You have to be sound and discipline and you have to do that on both ends of the floor and we just didn’t do it.”

NO. 1 LOSSES

North Carolina lost as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since Nov. 21, 2015 when it lost 71-67 at Northern Iowa. The Tar Heels also lost as No. 1 to UNLV in 2011 at a Thanksgiving tournament.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: Pete Nance wasn’t able to contribute in the same way he did in Thursday’s opening round. Nance, who tied his career high with 28 points against Portland, didn’t score for the first 27 minutes and finished with seven points.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were playing a No. 1 team from outside their conference for the first time since 1999 when they faced Cincinnati in the championship game of the Big Island Invitational.

UP NEXT

Iowa State will face either No. 18 Alabama or No. 20 UConn in the championship game while the Tar Heels will face the loser for third place.

No. 8 Duke locks down late, holds off Xavier 71-64

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – After a shaky offensive performance in the opening round of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, Duke coach Jon Scheyer wanted to see Jeremy Roach get back to playing more instinctively, especially at the offensive end of the floor.

Roach responded with a season-high 21 points, Mark Mitchell added 16 and No. 8 Duke withstood Xavier’s second-half comeback for a 71-64 win on Friday.

The Blue Devils (6-1) advanced to the championship game thanks to the play of their standout guard and another strong defensive effort. Roach came one point shy of matching his career high, and the Blue Devils rebounded after an unexpectedly tight victory over Oregon State in the opening round of the event.

Roach was 3 of 14 shooting against Oregon State as the Blue Devils scored a season-low 54 points. He made 9 of 15 shots and had five assists against Xavier.

“There’s a lot that falls on your shoulders so you can end up overthinking it a little bit,” Scheyer said. “The thing that I love for him today is he just was him. And when he’s that way, he is to me the best guard in the country.”

The Musketeers (4-2) were held to two points over the final five minutes and missed their last four shot attempts. Souley Boum scored 23 points and Adam Kunkel had 13. Kunkel didn’t play the last 11 minutes after taking a hard fall committing a foul.

Xavier leading scorer Jack Nudge was 1 of 13 shooting and finished with five points.

“Jack played a great effort. He really did. He was ready for the game. He just had one of those nights where the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said.

At the same time, Miller was disappointed in what he called the “fracturing” he saw from his team.

“There were spurts and segments of the game where I thought we reflected our style, how we’re trying to play, whether it be defense and offense. But there were way too many segments of the game, if not most of the game, where we were at times in our own way,” Miller said.

Mitchell scored seven points in the opening minutes of the second half, including a pair of layups, and he hit a 3-pointer from the wing that gave Duke a 49-36 lead, its largest of the game.

That’s when Xavier’s comeback started. The Musketeers pulled within three points on several occasions, but Duke answered each time. Desmond Claude’s driving layup pulled Xavier within 63-60 with 5:51 left, but Ryan Young scored for Duke and Xavier didn’t make another basket.

Roach’s jumper with 2:40 left pushed Duke’s lead to 69-62.

“We like to play inside out but I mean, when guys are hitting shots it just opens up for everybody else,” Roach said. “Just try to continue to be consistent hitting shots and I think we’ll be fine.”

Kyle Filipowski had 12 points and was not Duke’s leading scorer for the first time in five games.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils’ dominance on the backboards finally came to an end. Duke had outrebounded each of its first six opponents by double figures, the longest such stretch in school history. But Xavier’s interior size limited Duke to a 33-32 advantage on the glass. The Blue Devils had 12 second-chance points.

Xavier: The Musketeers played an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the first time since beating Virginia Tech in last year’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Xavier dropped to 0-2 against ranked opponents this season, having lost to Indiana last week. The Musketeers will play another ranked foe in Sunday’s third-place game.

UP NEXT

Duke will face the Gonzaga-Purdue winner in the championship game on Sunday, while Xavier will play the loser.