The legacy of Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls will live on at Indiana

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Started from the bottom …

Christian Watford committed to Indiana on September 9th, 2008. That was six-and-a-half months after Kelvin Sampson was bought out of his contract by Indiana in the throes of Big Ten play while Indiana was going through an NCAA investigation for illegal phone calls Sampson made.

When Jordan Hulls committed to Indiana on May 20th, 2008, it was just two months after the Hoosiers, a team that had ridden Eric Gordon and DJ White to a No. 8 ranking earlier that season, bowed out in the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed.

Neither player wavered from their commitment to Tom Crean’s program despite the fact that they stood idly by as high school seniors, watching the 2009 version of the Hoosiers finish with all of six wins, going just 1-17 in the Big Ten. They didn’t transfer after going 10-21 as freshmen or 12-20 as sophomores. Those two laid the foundation for the rebuild of Indiana, taking a program that had been napalmed by Sampson as he departed and turning it back into one of the elite.

One day, whether it’s in a week or a month or a decade, those two will be able to look back on what they accomplished and be proud of it. They will be able to pride themselves on the sheer determination that it took to grow an outright Big Ten champion and a No. 1 seed out of the smoldering ashes of that 2008 team.

But that won’t happen quickly, not when Indiana’s season came to a screeching halt on Thursday night. No. 4 seed Syracuse simply overwhelmed the Hoosiers with their zone, forcing 19 turnovers and holding Indiana to one of their worst offensive performances of the season in a 61-50 win.

“There will be a time to celebrate ’em, but they’ve done things that have not been done in Indiana in a long, long time,” head coach Tom Crean said after the game. “They did it from scratch. I think that every once in a while it’s easy to forget that.”

As talented as Indiana is, Syracuse simply provided the kind of length and athleticism that Indiana had never seen before. “Not too may teams are used to our zone,” Cuse guard Brandon Triche said after the game, and he’s right. Michael Carter-Williams is 6-foot-6 with go-go-gadget arms. Brandon Triche is 6-foot-4. Those two play at the top of the patented Syracuse 2-3 zone. Baye Moussa-Keita and Rakeem Christmas are both pushing seven-feet and man the middle while 6-foot-8 physical specimens CJ Fair, James Southerland and Jerami Grant take up residence on the wings.

Hulls and Yogi Ferrell are 6-foot-nothin’. There’s a reason they combined to go 0-8 from the floor with six turnovers and not a single point.

Cody Zeller struggled with the Syracuse length as well. He finished with ten points and ten boards, but he shot 3-11 from the floor and was completely overwhelmed by the Syracuse front line. The Orange played him an interesting way. When Syracuse got lit up by Georgetown in this very building three weeks ago, it was because they collapsed on Otto Porter every time he touched the ball in the middle of that zone, freeing up the Hoyas sharp-shooters. Jim Boeheim knew that he wouldn’t be able to beat Indiana if he allowed them to get open look after open look from the perimeter, so he opted to let Zeller try to go 1-on-1 with his center.

And it worked.

“[Zeller] got the ball a little bit away from the basket,” Boeheim said. “We forced him where he wasn’t underneath the basket, and we could get help back to him. You know, when one guy stood him up, now he doesn’t have the step to get up in the air so we can come back and get a block in that situation.”

Here’s the irony: Indiana, the best offensive team in the country all season long, according to Kenpom, played well enough on the defensive end of the floor to win. They forced 14 turnovers, they didn’t allow Southerland to get anything going offensively and they only gave up 0.968 PPP. If I told you that heading into Thursday night, few would have guessed that Indiana would have lost that game.

And that has to be the most frustrating part for Indiana.

By picking the wrong night to play their worst offensive game of the season, Indiana cost themselves a chance to cap off a pair of story book careers with the perfect ending: a national title.

“It’s been full of ups and downs,” Watford said, “but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love my team and I’m happy to be an Indiana Hoosier.”

This team could have won it all, and with the way that Indiana is recruiting and the talent that they are bringing into the program, that national title may not be all that far off.

Indiana is back on the college basketball map. Watford and Hulls may never play another game in Assembly Hall, but their legacy at Indiana will live on.

now the whole team here.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 11 North Carolina beats No. 10 Virginia Tech 103-82

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Freshman Coby White scored 27 points and No. 11 North Carolina knocked down a season-high 16 3-pointers to beat No. 10 Virginia Tech 103-82 on Monday night.

Fellow rookie Nassir Little added a season-high 23 points for the Tar Heels (15-4, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who struggled out of the gate to fall behind by nine while making just 1 of their first 12 3s.

But it wasn’t long before just about everything started falling from behind the arc, an avalanche that sparked a game-turning 20-0 run that pushed UNC to a 45-31 lead by halftime.

UNC made 15 of its last 22 3-pointers, finished the game shooting 54 percent and led by as many as 27 points.

Ahmed Hill scored 20 points for the Hokies (15-3, 4-2), who made 6 of 7 3-pointers in a fast start only to end the half by going nearly 6 minutes without a basket.

BIG PICTURE

Virginia Tech: This was the Hokies’ second road game against a ranked opponent in the past week. Things went poorly in the first at No. 3 Virginia, with the Hokies struggling at both ends in a woeful first half en route to a 22-point loss. They had a better start by moving the ball crisply (seven assists on their first eight baskets) and knocking down a barrage of outside looks. But they cooled a bit then had little answer for the Tar Heels’ game-turning flurry, which came after starting point guard Justin Robinson headed to the bench with his third foul at the 9:52 mark.

UNC: The Tar Heels were coming off a win at Miami that pushed them to 3-0 on the road in ACC play for only the fourth time in 16 seasons under Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams. This time they shook off that flat start once they started knocking down all the looks they were missing in the opening minutes. It helped, too, that the Tar Heels’ touted freshmen only got hotter as the game wore on. White finished with seven rebounds and six assists, while Little had his third straight double-figure scoring output with six rebounds.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: The Hokies host Syracuse on Saturday night.

UNC: The Tar Heels visit Georgia Tech on Jan. 29.

This story has been corrected to show UNC’s game at Georgia Tech is Jan. 29, not Saturday.

More AP college basketball: http://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 6 Michigan State beats No. 13 Maryland 69-55

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Aaron Henry made the most of his opportunity to play in place of injured starter Joshua Langford.

The freshman forward had a season-high 12 points, helping No. 6 Michigan State beat No. 13 Maryland 69-55 on Monday night with balanced offense and stifling defense.

“The Henry kid, he’s really good,” Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said. “Great defender, hard to box out. And, he makes shots. That was a key.”

The Spartans (17-2, 8-0 Big Ten) have won 12 straight this season and are in sole possession of first in the conference. They have won a school-record 20 consecutive Big Ten regular season games dating to last year. The run ties the fifth-longest winning streak in Big Ten history and is conference’s longest since Illinois won 25 straight during the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons.

“I don’t think they give a trophy for it,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

Cassius Winston and Kenny Goins each scored 14 points while Matt McQuaid and Xavier Tillman had 10 points apiece for the Spartans.

The Terrapins (16-4, 7-2) had a shot to move into first place in the conference, but couldn’t extend their seven-game winning streak.

“We couldn’t guard them,” Turgeon said. “We went a few possessions with zone, but that’s not who we are.

“We let our offense affect our defense.”

Maryland’s leading scorer, Anthony Cowan, was held to a season-low seven points.

“That was huge,” Henry said. “We looked at him on film and said, `He’s the guy we’ve got to lock down.’ I felt we did that.”

The Terrapins connected on just 34.4 percent of their shots and matched their season low against the Spartans. They shot 58 percent of in their previous game, a 14-point win at Ohio State.

Bruno Fernando had 12 points and 13 rebounds, freshman Aaron Wiggins had a season-high 15 points and Darryl Morsell added 10 points.

The Spartans missed their first six shots then surged to an 18-6 lead while holding Maryland to 3-of-18 shooting.

Maryland started making shots to pull into 20-all tie.

“I thought we could win at that point,” Cowan said. “We just didn’t get enough stops.”

Michigan State closed half with an 11-0 run to lead 31-20.

Winston, who had just five points in the first half, opened the second half with a 3-pointer to put the Spartans ahead by 14. He had a three-point play a couple minutes later, giving Michigan State a 43-26 lead. Goins made a 3-pointer to push the lead to 22 with 15:28 left.

The Terrapins rallied to cut their deficit to 11 with 5:42 remaining, but couldn’t get closer.

“I didn’t think it was the prettiest game, but I was really impressed by our defense,” Izzo said.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: Cowan crumbled against Michigan State’s defense, which included a player guarding him closely while a post player lurked nearby in case he got into the lane. He had scored 20-plus points in four straight games and was averaging 17.9 points entering the game before being held nearly 11 below his average on 3-of-12 shooting. Cowan made a shot early in the game then was held scoreless for 26-plus minutes.

“They really did a good job of closing the gaps,” he said. “And, we just didn’t make plays and that made their defense look a lot better.”

Michigan State: In its only home game during a five-game stretch, the Spartans showed they can win without Langford and basically without struggling starter Nick Ward. Langford missed his sixth straight game with an ankle injury. Ward was held scoreless for the first time in his career, limited to 14 minutes at least in part because he was in foul trouble. Kyle Ahrens, who has started seven games this season, returned from a two-game absence with a back injury and made a reverse layup to help hold off Maryland in the second half.

INJURY REPORT

Izzo said Langford will miss at least one more game.

“He shot some (Sunday) and that was encouraging,” Izzo said. “Now that the boot has been taken off periodically, now that he can work out a little bit, we’re starting to see some progress.

Langford averaged 15 points in 13 games this season, including an 18-point performance in the opening loss to No. 9 Kansas and a career-high 29 points in a win over Texas later in November.

BRIDGES COMES BACK

Charlotte Hornets rookie Miles Bridges , who left Michigan State after his sophomore season, returned to the Breslin Center to kiss the school’s logo on the court before the game. The program’s departing seniors have done that since Shawn Respert did it in 1995. Izzo wants his former players, who enter the NBA draft early, to come back to be a part of the tradition.

UP NEXT

Maryland: Gives up home game to play Illinois at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

Michigan State: Plays at No. 19 Iowa on Thursday night and at Purdue on Sunday afternoon.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

AP Poll: Tennessee moves to No. 1 in Top 25, Duke drops to No. 2

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Top-ranked Duke went down early in the week. No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Virginia, the last of Division I’s unbeaten teams, both fell over the weekend. In all, six top-10 teams lost.

Tennessee kept rolling amid chaos across the AP Top 25.

The Vols are the new No. 1 in The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll on Monday, climbing three spots to earn their first top ranking since the 2007-08 season.

Tennessee received 48 of 64 first-place votes from a media panel in the poll released Monday, well ahead of No. 2 Duke with 11. No. 3 Virginia received three first-place votes and No. 6 Michigan State two. Gonzaga and Michigan rounded out the top five.

“The guys playing right now built this thing,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.

Expectations followed the Vols into the 2018-19 season. With its top six scorers back from a team that shared the SEC title, Tennessee had its highest preseason ranking at No. 6 and was eyeing a deep NCAA Tournament run in Barnes’ fourth season.

The Vols have lived up to the forecast so far, bouncing back from an overtime loss to then-No. 2 Kansas to win 12 straight games. Tennessee knocked Gonzaga from atop the AP Top 25 with Barnes’ first win over a No. 1 team in early December and won its two games last week, rolling over Arkansas and holding off Alabama .

The only other time Tennessee (16-1, 5-0) was No. 1, it lost the next night to Vanderbilt — the Vols’ opponent on Wednesday.

“Tennessee basketball hasn’t been ranked No. 1 in a long time,” Vols guard Jordan Bone said. “That’s a good feeling, but we can’t be so locked in on that. We have to continue to stay hungry. We can’t be so focused on that. It’s so fleeting. It can change really quick.”

The changes in the AP Top 25 came quickly after a wild week.

Duke started by losing to Syracuse in overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils played without a sick Cam Reddish and lost point guard Tre Jones to a shoulder injury in the first half.

Reddish returned against Virginia on Saturday and Duke responded with a superb game, knocking Virginia from the unbeaten ranks with a 72-70 victory despite playing without Jones.

Michigan lost to Wisconsin by 10, also on Saturday, leaving the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers as the last Division I team to go undefeated.

No. 7 Kansas, No. 8 Texas Tech and No. 9 Virginia Tech also lost. The Jayhawks fell two spots after losing to West Virginia. The Red Raiders dropped six spots to No. 14 after losses to Iowa State and Baylor. The Hokies were down one to No. 10 following a loss to Virginia.

In all, 13 ranked teams lost last week.

HERE IS THE FULL POLL

1. Tennessee (48 first-place votes)
2. Duke (11)
3. Virginia (3)
4. Gonzaga
5. Michigan
6. Michigan State
7. Nevada
8. Kentucky
9. Kansas
10. Virginia Tech
11. North Carolina
12. Marquette
13. Maryland
14. Texas Tech
14. Buffalo
16. Auburn
17. Houston
18. Villanova
19. Iowa
20. Ole Miss
21. N.C. State
22. Mississippi State
23. Louisville
24. Iowa State
25. LSU

KENTUCKY RISING

Kentucky saw a steady slide down the AP Top 25 after opening the season with a blowout loss to Duke. The preseason No. 2, the Wildcats were down to No. 19 just a month ago, but started climbing again.

Kentucky is up to No. 8 after beating No. 14 Auburn and Georgia this week, with games against No. 22 Mississippi State and No. 9 Kansas coming up.

RISING AND FALLING

No. 13 Maryland moved up six spots after beating Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Kentucky, No. 17 Houston and No. 18 Villanova each moved up four spots.

Florida State after stretching its losing streak to three games with losses to Pittsburgh and Boston College, falling out of the poll from No. 11.

MOVING IN

Louisville moved into the AP Top 25 for the first time this season at No. 23 following wins over Boston College and Georgia Tech.

Iowa State’s wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State put the Cyclones back in at No. 24 after they dropped out from No. 20 last week.

LSU beat then-No. 19 Mississippi and South Carolina last week to return to the poll at No. 25.

MOVING OUT

Oklahoma joined Florida State in dropping out of the poll following losses to Kansas State and Texas. The Sooners were No. 20 last week.

Indiana, No. 25 last week, did not receive a single vote after lopsided losses to Nebraska and Purdue.

Tre Jones ‘doubtful’ for game vs. Pitt

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It does not appear that Duke will be getting their freshman point guard back for Tuesday’s game against Pitt.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters on Monday morning that Tre Jones is “doubtful” to play in the next game for the Blue Devils.

“He’s not going to play unless something miraculous happens,” Krzyzewski said.

Jones injured his shoulder six minutes into Duke’s loss to Syracuse last Monday. He did not return to the floor and Duke later announced that Jones had suffered a sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder. He did not play in Saturday’s win over No. 4 Virginia, but earlier in the week Coach K told The Athletic that the injury was not expected to keep Jones out for an extended amount of time.

Zion Williamson on sitting out: ‘If I was going to sit out, I wouldn’t have gone to college’

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Zion Williamson is not going to be taking Scottie Pippen’s advice anytime soon.

After putting up 27 points and nine boards in Saturday night’s win over No. 4 Virginia, Williamson spoke to reporters and put an end to any speculation that he would listen to the NBA Hall of Famer and cut his college career short by sitting out the rest of the season.

“I can’t just stop playing,” he told Yahoo Sports on Saturday. “I’d be letting my teammates down. I’d be letting Coach K down. I’d be letting a lot of people down.”

Earlier in the week, Pippen had posed the theory that Williamson needed to shut it down, that risking injury by playing for free when he’s already sewn up being the No. 1 pick in June’s draft and ensured himself millions and millions (and millions) in marketing dollars was the wrong decision.

Frankly, it’s not the worst idea that I’ve ever heard. Zion has a chance to make a billion dollars during his basketball career. If you don’t believe me at face value, think about it like this: He is two months into his college career, and you already unequivocally know exactly who I am talking about when I say the name “Zion”.

That’s a lot of risk to take on even if the chances of a career-ending injury actually occurring is so low.

So I get it.

And I’m sure Pippen isn’t the only one saying as much to to him.

But rest easy, Duke fans.

It’s not happening.

“If I was going to sit out, I wouldn’t have gone to college,” he said. “I’m thankful that Coach K gave me the opportunity.”