A viewer’s guide to the SEC/Big East Invitational

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Finally, the SEC and the Big East made the decision to expand to an all-out, full-fledged conference battle.

But the leagues did mess up. For starters, both Kentucky and UConn are playing teams from the bottom of the opposing conference. St. John’s and Arkansas appeared to be on the rise a year ago, but let me give you schedule-makers a tip — when you are manufacturing a competition, it’s best to pit two of the best teams taking part against each other.

Who doesn’t want to see the Huskies play the Wildcats in a rematch of last year’s Final Four? Um, everyone.

Miss this game for a wedding, but only if you’re getting married:

No. 1 — Friday 7 p.m.: No. 9 Florida at No. 3 Syracuse
In a week that gave us three games pitting top 10 teams, Syracuse and Florida may actually have the most intrigue. For starters, there is the obvious — the Bernie Fine scandal. With the speed at which this story has transformed, who knows what will happen between now and Friday night. And, making the story all the more interesting, who knows what questions are going to have to be asked of coach Jim Boeheim in the press conference after the game? Given his history with the media, the postgame may have more fireworks than the game itself.

For Florida, this will be the first time that they take the court against a real opponent without Erik Murphy. Murphy was the x-factor entering the season. Through four games, he looked like he was primed to be a serious weapon for the Gators. There aren’t many 6-9 forwards that can shoot the ball and spread the floor like he can. He would have been especially valuable against a team like Syracuse that plays strictly zone.

In terms of who will actually be on the court, we get one of the most exciting back court matchups that we’ve seen this young season. Florida boasts three upperclassmen in Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Mike Rosario, but the best of the bunch may be freshman Brad Beal. It feels like we are saying this every year about the Gators, but keep an eye on the way that Boynton and Walker play. The knock on them throughout their career has been mediocre shot selection. Walker’s making better decisions, and Boynton has hit 22-45 from beyond the arc. Watching them attack the 2-3 zone should be fun.

For Syracuse, their back court starts with Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche and continues with the dynamic Dion Waiters coming off of the bench. But the key for the Orange in this one will have little to do with their guard play. Boeheim’s team is loaded up front with size and athleticism, something that the Gators lack behind Patric Young. Players like CJ Fair and James Southerland will be a tough matchup for Florida. Also keep an eye on Kris Joseph. Florida is going to have difficulty dealing with his length on the wing.

Pick: Syracuse

No. 2 — Friday 8:30 p.m.: No. 19 Vanderbilt at No. 6 Louisville
Injuries have diluted what could have been one of the season’s best matchups. Vandy is without their hoss in the paint, as Festus Ezeli is still battling his eye back from a sprained knee. Louisville? We may be better off listing the players that are healthy with the number of injuries that Rick Pitino’s team has had to deal with already this year. Peyton Siva is banged up. Rakeem Buckles and Stephen Van Treese are out. Elisha Justice has a broken nose. Mike Marra and Wayne Blackshear are out for the season. Roll call — did I miss anyone?

Louisville has thrived this season thanks to defense, though Pitino has kept the team in check to prevent further injuries. Against Long Beach State, Pitino finally let the reins out a bit, and the Cardinals ran LBSU off the court, at least until their legs caught up to them. The biggest issue for Vanderbilt is going to be how they defend Louisville’s back court. Siva, Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith are an impressive trio, and Russ Smith has been a pleasant surprise for Louisville fans. (Card Chronicle has the best line I’ve read on Russ Smith this year, referring to the Smith’s questionable shot selection as “Russ things”.)

I’m concerned about Vanderbilt’s ability to defend Louisville’s perimeter attack, but I am also worried about how Vandy is going to be able to break the Louisville press. Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins can both shoot the heck out of the ball, but they have a tendency to struggle against pressure defense. Kevin Stallings is going to want to take advantage of the mismatch that Jeff Taylor creates. He is too big and too athletic for any of Louisville’s perimeter players.

Pick: Louisville

These games are worth TiVoing the season finale of “Sons of Anarchy:”

No. 3 – Thursday, 9:30 p.m.: Georgetown at No. 12 Alabama
This one should be fun. Alabama defense features a physical and athletic frontline in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. Georgetown, on the other hand, has been one of the surprises of the young season. Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson have both been terrific, while Henry Sims will get a real test going up against the bigs of the Crimson Tide. I like Alabama’s young perimeter attack, but the key to this game is where it’s being played — Alabama doesn’t lose in Tuscaloosa.

Pick: Alabama

No. 4 – Saturday, 9 p.m.: West Virginia at Mississippi State: The frontcourt matchup will be entertaining. Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie, for all of the effort and conditioning issues that are present, are as big and as talented as anyone in the country. But West Virginia has their own pair of quality big men in Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli. The rebounding battle is going to be important, but it will be interesting to see how West Virginia’s freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds will handle Mississippi State’s Dee Bost.

Pick: Mississippi State

No. 5 – Saturday, 5:15 p.m.: No. 17 Pitt at Tennessee
Last year, Tennessee went into Pittsburgh and knocked off the Panthers in impressive fashion. This year, however, both teams are way down. Pitt is struggling mightily on defense, while Tennessee is plain old struggling. After losing to both Duke and Memphis in Maui, Tennessee dropped a roadie to Oakland this week. But the Vols have a talented pair in Trae Golden and Jeronne Maymon, the latter of which will get a chance to showcase his skills against one of the country’s biggest frontlines.

Pick: Pitt

Watch the “Sons of Anarchy” finale, but TiVo the “Law and Order” reruns:

No. 6 – Thursday, 7:30 p.m.: St. John’s at No. 1 Kentucky
Kentucky is probably the country’s most talented team. But its point guard, Marquis Teague, has turnover issues. St. John’s loves to press, and it could cause some issues for the Wildcats. That said, St. John’s is very, very young. And heading into Rupp. This could easily turn into a massacre.

Pick: Kentucky

No. 7 — Saturday 3:15 p.m.: Arkansas at No. 10 UConn
The Huskies have major question marks: When will Alex Oriakhi show up? Is Andre Drummond ever going to become consistent? Will Shabazz Napier or Jeremy Lamb ever take the reins of this team? How good is Ryan Boatright? UConn has much more talent than Arkansas, but they also had much more talent than Central Florida.

Pick: UConn

Follow a beat writer on twitter for the game:

No. 8 – Friday, 7 p.m.: Cincinnati at Georgia
The Bearcats were supposed to be a contender to finish in the top five of the Big East. But they’ve already lost to Presbyterian and Marshall. When will Yancy Gates become the star he was supposed to be this year? Georgia does have some talent, in particular guard Gerald Robinson.

Pick: Cincinnati

No. 9 – Thursday, 9 p.m.: Ole Miss at DePaul
This game looks ugly on paper, but there is some intrigue. Ole Miss has some talent on their roster — they just knocked off Miami in overtime — and DePaul has been impressive thus far. Can Brandon Young, Cleveland Melvin and company pull of the win?

Pick: Ole Miss

Checking the box score in the morning may be too much:

No. 10 — Friday, 9 p.m.: Auburn at Seton Hall: Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore are finally playing up to their potential. Auburn is improved, but they had nowhere to go but up.

Pick: Seton Hall

No. 11 – Saturday, 7 p.m.: LSU at Rutgers: LSU has been awful. That’s enough for Rutgers.

Pick: Rutgers

No. 12 – Thursday, 7 p.m.: Providence at South Carolina: South Carolina is terrible. Providence looks to be better this season, and guys like Vincent Council and Gerald Coleman has been putting up some impressive performances.

Pick: Providence

And the winner is? The Big East, 8-4.

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

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

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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.