Programs on the rise, decline in 2015-16

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Several teams have struck gold on the recruiting trail over the past few summers, which hopefully leads to breakthrough seasons in 2015-16. Other programs are dealing with injuries, coaching changes, or in some cases, complete roster overhauls. Some teams enter the 2015-16 season with hopes of tournament runs, while others face the harsh reality that this year is nothing more than the start of a rebuilding effort.

PROGRAMS ON THE DECLINE

Florida: Mike White is 101-40 in four years as a head coach, but the former Louisiana Tech coach will have his work cut out for him replacing Kevin Durant’s new head coach Billy Donovan. Donovan won two national championships, went to two more Final Fours and will be a Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in four years.

The Gators are coming off their first losing season in 16 years. While they add a pair of four-star recruits, they also lost Michael Frazier II, Eli Carter and Jon Horford.

The first year will not necessarily be a struggle for White and the Gators, even with the recent additions of Bruce Pearl (Auburn), Ben Howland (Mississippi State) and Rick Barnes (Tennessee) to the conference make the SEC a much more competitive league. But it’s never, ever easy to be the guy that follows “the guy”, and White enters a situation where he’s following the man that was arguably the best coach in the sport.

VCU: Ram fans saw their worst fears come true this spring when Shaka Smart received the offer he couldn’t refuse from Texas. VCU was quick to hire former assistant Will Wade (2009-13), who turned a Chattanooga program into one of the Southern Conference favorites in two years.

While the cupboard is far from bare for VCU with Melvin Johnson, Jordan Burgess and Mo-Alie Cox all returning, it’s not unfair to say the Rams should slip in 2015-16. Treveon Graham and Briante Weber both graduated. Terry Larrier, the highest recruit to commit to VCU since 1990, transferred and Smart’s top-100 prospects, Tevin Mack and Kenny Williams, both elected to go elsewhere, with Mack following him to Texas and Williams going to North Carolina.

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AP Photo

But roster turnover happens with every coaching change. The biggest question for Wade, who landed a commitment from four-star De’Riante Jenkins, Smart’s presence. The x’s-and-o’s aren’t going to be an issue for Wade — the man can coach Havoc, he proved it at Chattanooga — it’s whether he can maintain the aura that Smart created for VCU in Richmond, Virginia. Smart was more than just a basketball coach. He was a presence that could connect with his players on a level that many coaches can’t.

There’s little doubt that Wade will be in a bit of a rebuilding mode in his first season, but the most interesting matter will be just how high he can build the program back up. Only time will tell.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Harvard: The Crimon’s quest for a fifth straight trip to the NCAA tournament was in jeopardy even before Siyani Chambers tore his ACL. Yale and Columbia were primed to take down Harvard, which had seen three-time all-Ivy League selection Wesley Saunders graduate last spring. The Ivy has long been one of the most underrated conferences in college basketball, and it’s depth will shine through this season.

Arkansas: Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls, the top scorers and rebounders who left early for the NBA Draft, are two of four starters Mike Anderson needs to replace. In an improved SEC, the Razorbacks are going have to rebuild the fastest 40 minutes.

Kansas State: It’s full rebuild mode in Manhattan.

The Wildcats began last season as a preseason top-25 team. Marcus Foster, the team’s top scorer and two freshmen were dismissed from the team. Two more transferred. And a pair of starters graduated. It could be a long season for K-State.

St. John’s: It’s also full rebuild mode in Queens.

Chris Mullin returns to St. John’s for his first season as a head coach at any level. The Red Storm graduated four players, including D’Angelo Harrison and Sir’Dominic Pointer. The two key holdovers, Rysheed Jordan and Chris Obekpa, didn’t last long under the new regime. Mullin has seen some early success on the recruiting trail, but Year 1 will likely end up at the bottom of the Big East.

Two more teams on the decline

  • Nebraska
  • St. Mary’s
Cuonzo Martin (AP Photo)
Cuonzo Martin (AP Photo)

PROGRAMS ON THE RISE

Cal: Success on the recruiting trail and Tyrone Wallace deciding to return for his senior season makes Cal a darkhose Final Four pick in Cuonzo Martin’s second season. Wallace, a candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year, is back along with Jordan Mathews and Jabari Bird on the perimeter while Martin landed one of the premier freshmen classes in the country in five-star forward Ivan Rabb, followed by late commitment from top three prospect Jaylen Brown.

Don’t be surprised if Cal has a few bumps in the road, especially with early road games against San Diego State and Virginia. But the talent on the roster is enough for a run in March.

Florida State: Speaking of recruiting success, Leonard Hamilton was able to bolster his perimeter around Xavier Rathan-Mayes with the additions of Dwayne Bacon, Malik Beasley and Terance Mann.

The Seminoles could very well be the team in this group that’s “one year away,” but it’s not unrealistic to think they can’t finish in the top-5 in the ACC. Either way, Florida State will be fun to watch in 2015-16.

Marquette: The last time Steve Wojciechowski was part of a losing team was his freshman year at Duke … 20 years ago. That likely won’t be the case for the second-year coach. Wojo landed Henry Ellenson, a projected lottery pick, and Traci Carter to play alongside key returners Duane Wilson, Luke Fischer and Sandy Cohen. The Golden Eagles should rack up the wins in the non-conference, before heading into Big East play. Marquette has the potential to finish in the top half of the league, although it won’t be easy.

Oregon State: The Beavers were eying a 20-win season in Wayne Tinkle’s first season in Corvallis, but seven losses in the final eight games put a sour note on an otherwise surprisingly good season for Oregon State.

Gary Payton II, the son of the Hall of Fame point guard, proved to be a worthy of the name. Malcolm Duvivier saw his production increase in an expanded role as well. Tinkle adds some talent around those two returnees with a recruiting class that includes top-100 players Stephen Thompson and Tinkle’s son, Tres.

Purdue: The Boilermakers have a monster frontline that returns 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 7-foot A.J. Hammons and adds five-star big man Caleb Swanigan. Vince Edwards and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Rapheal Davis also come back, but the focus will be on the point guard play and newcomer Johnny Hill.

Rhode Island: On paper, this looks to be the year the Rams wrestle away the Atlantic 10 title and reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. Four starters — E.C. Matthews, Hassan Martin, Jared Terrell and Jarvis Garrett – return from 23-win team in 2014-15 and are joined by Kuran Iverson, a top-30 recruit in 2013.

Texas A&M: Despite 21 wins, Texas A&M missed out on the NCAA tournament due to a poor finish to the regular season and lack of quality wins. That could change this year with this group in College Station. Daneul House, Jalen Jones and Alex Caruso are all back and are joined by four-star recruits Tyler Davis, D.J. Fogg, Elijah Thomas and Admon Gilder.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores ended the season as one of the nation’s hottest teams, bouncing back from a 1-7 start to conference play by going 11-4 in February and March. With Damian Jones, Wade Baldwin IV and Riley LaChance all back, Kevin Stallings has a team that could head toward the top of the SEC standings in 2015-16.

Three more to look out for

  • Boise State
  • Creighton
  • LSU

Preseason No. 1 North Carolina drops out of AP Top 25

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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Houston and Texas remain firmly entrenched atop The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll, while preseason No. 1 North Carolina has dropped out entirely after a fourth straight loss.

The Cougars earned 37 of 62 first-place votes in the poll, extending the program’s first stay at No. 1 since the “Phi Slama Jama” days in the 1980s for another week. Houston (8-0) beat Norfolk State and Saint Mary’s in its first week at the top.

“I don’t dwell on it,” coach Kelvin Sampson said last week about the No. 1 ranking. “We’re not running around here pushing our chest out, thinking we’re something we’re not.”

The Longhorns received 14 first-place votes. No. 3 Virginia got three votes and No. 4 Purdue got the remaining eight.

Connecticut (9-0) climbed to No. 5, the program’s highest ranking since early in the 2011-12 season. Other than the top five, there are three other teams in the AP Top 25 that are undefeated (No. 11 Auburn, No. 13 Maryland and No. 23 Mississippi State).

SWIFT FALL

North Carolina is only the sixth team to go from preseason No. 1 to unranked since at least the 1961-62 season, most recently with Michigan State during the 2019-20 season.

Of that group, the Tar Heels had the swiftest exit from the poll to start the season (four weeks) excet for UCLA in 1965-66. The Bruins fell out of the poll after just three weeks back when only 10 teams were ranked.

Ranked No. 18 last week, the Tar Heels (5-4) l ost their fourth straight game over the weekend at Virginia Tech while playing without banged-up big man Armando Bacot. They appeared on a single ballot this week from the 62-member panel that votes on the AP Top 25.

“I told them also that I’m not panicked, I’m not any of that,” coach Hubert Davis said afterward. “I’m convinced we’re going to be a great basketball team by the end of the season.”

Last year’s Tar Heels were on the bubble to even make the NCAA Tournament well into February in Davis’ debut season. They went on a final-month tear all the way to the NCAA championship game before falling to Kansas.

THE TOP TIER

Kansas climbed to No. 6, followed by three Southeastern Conference teams in Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas. For the Volunteers and Crimson Tide, it marked their first appearances inside the top 10 this year. Arizona rounded out the top 10, falling six spots after a loss at Utah.

RISING

No. 13 Maryland had the biggest jump of the week, vaulting nine spots after wins against Louisville and Illinois last week in the Terrapins’ first year under Kevin Willard. That marks the program’s highest ranking since pushing into the top 10 during the 2019-20 season.

Tennessee was next up with a six-spot climb, while No. 11 Auburn rose four spots.

In all, 13 teams climbed from last week.

SLIDING

Creighton had the week’s biggest fall, tumbling 14 spots to No. 21 after losing at Texas and at home to Nebraska last week.

No. 12 Baylor fell six spots after a loss to Marquette, though the Bears responded by beating Gonzaga on Friday in a rematch of the 2021 NCAA championship game won by Baylor.

The Zags, now No. 18, fell four spots to their lowest ranking since checking in at No. 20 on Christmas Day in 2017.

In all, four teams slid from last week.

STATUS QUO

Beyond the top three, No. 25 Ohio State remained in place after a tough loss at No. 15 Duke last week.

WELCOME

No. 23 Mississippi State and No. 24 TCU were the new additions to the poll, with the Bulldogs (8-0) earning their first AP Top 25 ranking under first-year coach Chris Jans since January 2019.

The Horned Frogs were ranked 14th and 15th, respectively, in the first two polls before falling out for two weeks.

FAREWELL (FOR NOW)

In addition to UNC, Michigan State (No. 20) fell out after losses to Notre Dame and Northwestern.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The SEC led the way with six ranked teams, including No. 16 Kentucky. The Big Ten and Big 12 each had five ranked teams, followed by two each for the Atlantic Coast, Pac-12 and Big East conferences.

The American Athletic, West Coast and Mountain West conferences each had one.

Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer tops women’s AP Top 25 appearances

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Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer stands atop The Associated Press women’s basketball poll with the most appearances all time, breaking a tie with the late Pat Summitt.

VanDerveer’s Cardinal remained No. 2 behind top-ranked South Carolina, giving her 619 weeks with one of her teams in the AP Top 25: 592 weeks with Stanford and 27 with Ohio State when she was in charge of that program. Summitt’s 618 weeks in the poll all came with Tennessee.

The Hall of Fame coach downplayed the achievement.

“Fortunate to be here for 36 years. We have great players and have been successful,” VanDerveer said. “I don’t pay attention to (records). People bring it up and I’m like `OK, great.”‘

Louisville fell out of the Top 25 for the first time since 2016, a span of 127 weeks. That was the fifth longest active streak. The Cardinals (5-4) started the season ranked seventh and have struggled to find consistency this year, dropping their last two games to Ohio State and Middle Tennessee.

They are the third preseason top 10 team to fall out of the poll, joining Texas (this week) and Tennessee (last week). Before this year, only 10 preseason top 10 teams had fallen out of the rankings at some point during the year since the AP Top 25 became a writers’ poll in 1994-95.

Even more rare has been a preseason top five school dropping out. Only five teams had done that prior to this year and none before January. Tennessee was the last to do it, starting the 2015-16 season at No. 4 before falling out of the rankings Feb. 22.

Now Texas and Tennessee are both out before the New Year.

“Two factors are at play here. One of them is more parity with more good teams,” said Rebecca Lobo, the former UConn star, ESPN analyst and Top 25 voter. “The other factor at play is the transfer portal. I think those three teams all have multiple players who start who weren’t in their program a year ago. It’s a reflection that you can’t just assemble teams and right away expect them to be good. I think all those teams will in the poll by the end of the season.”

Ohio State moved up to No. 3 after, the Buckeyes’ best ranking since Nov. 30, 2009, when they also were third. Indiana and Notre Dame round out the top five.

UConn fell three spots to sixth with Virginia Tech seventh, the best ranking ever for the school. North Carolina and N.C. State were tied in eighth and Iowa State is 10th.

RANKED RAZORBACKS

Arkansas (10-0) vaulted into the poll at No. 21. The Razorbacks have a difficult month ahead with games against No. 18 Creighton and a tournament in San Diego that has Oregon, South Florida and Ohio State.

“I do think we know a lot about our team,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said.

He was also happy his team made the poll as every sports team on campus that has played this year has been ranked, including football, men’s basketball, soccer and cross country.

“We didn’t want to be the team that stops that streak,” he said..

FALLING LOUISVILLE

The Cardinals had been ranked ever week since Jan. 11, 2016. That was the same season they started the year at No. 8 before falling out on Nov. 30, the earliest a top 10 team had fallen out of the poll until last week. Things got better for Louisville as the Cardinals finished that regular season 24-6 and went 15-1 in the ACC.

HISTORIC WEEK

With Louisville, Texas and Tennessee all out of the Top 25, it marks only the second time in the poll’s history that none of those three teams were ranked. The only other time was the first-ever poll in 1976.

COMING AND GOING

Oklahoma and Kansas State also returned to the Top 25 this week, coming in at No. 23 and No. 24. Marquette dropped out after losing to Seton Hall.

Northwestern beats No. 20 Michigan State in Big Ten opener

Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK
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EAST LANSING, Mich. – Boo Buie scored 20 points and Northwestern beat No. 20 Michigan State 70-63 on Sunday night in the Big Ten opener for both teams.

Chase Audige added 15 points and Ty Berry had 13 for Northwestern (6-2), which ended a two-game losing streak.

“Needless to say, this was a huge win for us,” coach Chris Collins said. “Coming off our performance in the ACC-Big Ten challenge, where we lost badly on our home floor (to Pittsburgh), I was really pleased with our resolve the past couple days.”

Mady Sossoko and A.J. Hoggard each had 12 points for Michigan State (5-4) and Joey Hauser added 10. The Spartans have lost two in a row, falling to Notre Dame earlier in the week.

Hoggard cut Northwestern’s lead to 64-63 with 46 seconds left. After a timeout, Buie scored on a layup with 23 seconds left.

“We got out-toughed,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

Northwestern took the lead late in the first half on a layup by Buie and never relinquished it, leading by as many as nine points.

“We put (the loss to Pittsburgh) under the rug,” Buie said. “We turned the page, just like we do with any win or loss. The season is so long you can’t get caught up on one single game. Just like tonight. We’re super happy with the win, but after tonight it’s over. You can’t dwell on things.”

The Wildcats went 21 of 24 on free throws, while the Spartans were 9 of 12.

“I was concerned about a knockout punch early,” Collins said. ‘I knew they would be revved up after the Notre Dame loss. They hit us early and got a seven-point lead, and then we settled down.”

UP NEXT

Northwestern: Hosts Prairie View A&M on Dec. 11

Michigan State: At Penn State on Wednesday night.

Miles, No. 7 Notre Dame women beat No. 3 UConn; Fudd hurt

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Olivia Miles had 21 points and eight rebounds for No. 7 Notre Dame, and UConn star Azzi Fudd suffered a knee injury in a collision with a teammate, as the Fighting Irish handed the third-ranked Huskies their first loss of the season, 74-60 on Sunday.

“I think she’ll be all right,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said afterwards of Fudd, who went into the day averaging 24.0 points, but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes.

Fudd exited in the final minute of the first quarter after teammate Aaliyah Edwards fell on her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way as a precaution, according to Auriemma.

Maddy Westbeld had a season-high 17 points and nine rebounds for Notre Dame (7-1), which bounced back from a 74-72 loss to No. 20 Maryland three days earlier.

“I think Thursday’s loss really fueled us today,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “We learned a lot from that game. We have incredible scorers on our team, a lot of balance offensively, but it’s our defense that’s gonna win games, so that was our focus the last 48 hours. (The players) took the challenge and came out and played with heart and defensive intensity. I feel like if we can play that way, we can beat anyone in the country.”

Notre Dame shot 56% from the field while limiting the Huskies to 37%.

“We played very badly (Thursday), but we were still two points away,” Miles said, “so it’s kind of scary what we can do when we play really well.”

Led by Miles, the Irish roared to a 41-24 lead by intermission, outscoring the Huskies 30-11 over the final 11 minutes of the first half.

Miles scored 13 of Notre Dame’s 18 first-quarter points, going 6 of 7 from the field. Westbeld provided her scoring punch after averaging 5.2 points over her previous five outings.

Lou Lopez Senechal led UConn (6-1) with 21 points. Edwards added 14.

“We didn’t win the rebound battle and that hurt us,” said Auriemma, whose club was outboarded 39-26 and outscored in the paint. 46-16. “We just didn’t have enough scoring on the court and enough people playing at a real high level to get enough buckets when we needed them.”

The Huskies got as close at 49-44 at the 3:44 mark of the third quarter, but the Irish stretched their lead back to as high as 70-53 at the midway mark of the fourth period.

Notre Dame ended a seven-game head-to-head losing streak against UConn in regular-season play, prevailing for the first time since a triple-overtime decision in March 2013.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies faced a top-10 opponent for the fourth time this season, but this one was their first true road game. If Fudd’s injury doesn’t turn out to be serious, UConn ought to still have a chance to do what it’s done for decades: craft a resume that will make them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Notre Dame: The Irish, coming back from that loss at the buzzer to Maryland, showed that Thursday’s outcome may just be a blip on their promising season. Notre Dame matched last season’s win over No. 3 North Carolina State for the highest-ranked team it has beaten in its third year under Ivey.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies host Princeton on Thursday before visiting Maryland next Sunday.

Notre Dame: The Irish have a couple apparent mismatches coming up as they visit Lafayette (2-7) on Thursday and host Merrimack (1-6) on Saturday.

Brink leads No. 2 Stanford women over No. 23 Gonzaga 84-63

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STANFORD, Calif. – Gonzaga may be rolling out an injury-depleted roster, but the Bulldogs nevertheless left a lasting impression on their West Coast rival in Stanford.

And that leads the Cardinal to wonder if the two power programs might meet again on college basketball’s biggest stage come March.

“This is a team that is a Top-25 team,” Hall of Fame Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I think if we can do it, they’re going to be in Seattle (for the NCAA Tournament).”

Cameron Brink had 14 points and a season-high 16 rebounds and Brooke Demetre made a career-high five 3s and scored 17 points, leading second-ranked Stanford past No. 23 Gonzaga 84-63 on Sunday.

The Cardinal (10-1) have now won five straight games after falling to top-ranked South Carolina in overtime on Nov. 20.

“I kind of call Brooke my secret weapon,” VanDerveer said. “She is a really special young lady, and when you have both Cam out there and Brooke, it’s a two-headed monster.”

“She has one of the highest releases I’ve ever seen, one of the quickest releases,” Brink said of Demetre. “She can shoot it, and we’ve always had confidence in her.”

Hannah Jump hit four 3s and scored 14 points, and Haley Jones had 12 points for Stanford.

Short-handed Gonzaga (7-2), limited to seven players because of illness and injuries, had won three in a row.

The Zags kept the pressure on Stanford early in the game, thanks to a 20-point first half from Kaylynne Truong.

Truong shot 4 of 9 from deep and finished with a career-high 22 points.

Brynna Maxwell contributed 19 points. Yvonne Ejim, Gonzaga’s leading scorer, was held to two points in the first three quarters but added six points in the fourth.

“We try to focus on a leading scorer and try to limit them,” VanDerveer said. “But you can’t just focus on (Ejim) because they’ve got Truong, they’ve got Maxwell. . I think we did a much better job (on defense) in the second half.”

STAT OF THE GAME

The Cardinal were able to pull away due to a strong game from beyond the arc, making 15 3-pointers on 15 of 28 (53.6%) shooting. A season-high eight different Stanford players made a 3, led by Demetre’s five and Jump’s four.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: Lost its fourth straight in the series with Stanford and dropped to 1-7 on the Cardinal’s home floor. The Zags haven’t won any matchups since a 79-73 victory at home on Dec. 2, 2018. … Despite playing short-handed, Gonzaga did not yield an easy win to its higher-ranked opponent, trailing by just one point after the first quarter before fading in the second half.

Stanford: Held a 37-23 rebounding advantage. … This win marked the beginning of a crucial stretch in the Cardinal’s season. Stanford’s next two games come against Tennessee – receiving votes in The Associated Press Top 25 poll – and No. 13 Creighton, followed by the start of Pac-12 Conference play against rival California on Dec. 23.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs return to McCarthey Athletic Center to start a five-game homestand, starting with a Tuesday matchup vs. Queens University of Charlotte.

Stanford: After a two-week break for final exams, the Cardinal will continue their seven-game homestand vs. Tennessee on Dec. 18.