TRACKING THE UNBEATENS: We’re down to four

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After Iowa downed No. 1 Michigan State on Tuesday night, there are now just four teams left in college basketball without a loss on their record. When will they lose, and is there any chance we see an undefeated team this season?

The most interesting remaining member of the Undefeateds is No. 2 Oklahoma (11-0) for a couple of reasons:

  • For starters, this is a team that rarely gets mentioned when we’re talking about the best teams in college basketball. For the most part, that title usually falls to one of North Carolina, Kansas, Maryland or Michigan State, when the latter is healthy. Part of that is because Oklahoma’s elite win this season came over a Villanova team that has a reputation for not being all that good. Part of it is because this is basically the same team as last season minus TaShawn Thomas. Part of it is because Oklahoma doesn’t the star power. Part of it is because Oklahoma is, well, Oklahoma.
  • But the other side of this is that the Sooners are not even the favorite to win their league right now. No. 2 Kansas is, because Kansas has won 11 straight Big 12 regular season titles and only a fool would pick them to do anything but win their 12th this season. And depending on your view of No. 11 Iowa State, you may think that Oklahoma is the third-best team in the league.

And that’s where this thing takes a serious left turn, because we’re going to find out right away whether or not the Sooners are truly the kind of team that can contend for a national title. Their first two games in Big 12 play? They host the Cyclones on Saturday and follow that up with a trip to Lawrence to take on Kansas for Big Monday.

That’s a fitting name, by the way.

Because that battle in Phog Allen Fieldhouse could very well end up being between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country.

Who will be ranked where is yet to be determined. Oklahoma is No. 3 in the AP Poll and No. 2 in the Coaches Poll, and vice versa for Kansas. Both teams still have a game to get through this weekend before the new polls come out.

But if they get through them unscathed, Monday night should give us a matchup of the two top-ranked teams in college basketball, and that’s always a good thing for the sport.

First Loss?: Jan. 4 at No. 2 Kansas
Next Game: Jan. 2 vs. No. 11 Iowa State

No. 6 Xavier (13-0): Like the Sooners, Xavier is going to be tested right away in Big East play. The Musketeers pay a visit to two-time reigning champions No. 16 Villanova on New Year’s Eve Day, following that up 48 hours later by hosting No. 9 Butler. At this point, I do think that Xavier is the best team in the Big East and the most likely team to end Villanova’s reign at the top of the conference. I do not know, however, if they are good enough to go on the road in their first league game and beat the Wildcats in their own building.

I will say this: I think Xavier matches up as well with Villanova as anyone. They have the big bodies inside that can pound the offensive glass and they have the dynamic back court playmaker in Edmond Sumner that can take advantage of the limited size and athleticism of Villanova’s guards.

First Loss?: Dec. 31 at No. 16 Villanova
Next Game:Dec. 31 at No. 16 Villanova

No. 17 SMU (12-0): I’m not even going to try to hide it, man.

I’m rooting for the Mustangs.

In every game they enter with an undefeated record, I want them to leave with an undefeated record. I want them to end the season with an undefeated record. I want them to be ranked No. 1 in the country without a blemish to their name when they are left out of the tournament because of the cruel and absurd postseason that was handed down by the NCAA. I want their athletic department to have to come face-to-face with the idea that they did not appeal the ban in a year where they fielded the only team in SMU history truly capable of reaching the Final Four.

That’s certainly not going to make it any easier for Nic Moore, Jordan Tolbert and Markus Kennedy to sit out the postseason during their senior season, but it won’t be a bad consolation prize to be the first team since Bobby Knight’s 1976 Indiana team to finish the year undefeated.

They might actually have a shot.

KenPom is projected SMU to finish the season at 27-3, but the only game he isn’t currently favored the Mustangs to win is a Feb. 18th visit to UConn. That’s projected as a one-point SMU loss.

So we’re not exactly talking about SMU capturing a live Bigfoot here. There’s a real chance this could happen.

First Loss?: Never!
Next Game: Jan. 2 vs. South Florida

No. 25 South Carolina (11-0): I see the undefeated record. I’ve spoken with coaches that have prepped for the Gamecocks who say this team is legit. I think P.J. Dozier has a tremendous future under Frank Martin. I’m just not ready to fully buy-in on a team whose best wins are Tulsa, Clemson and … Hofstra?

First Loss?Jan. 9 vs. Vanderbilt
Next Game: Dec. 30 vs. Francis Marion

Michigan St. rallies to win after giving up lead to Maryland

Maryland v Michigan State
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EAST LANSING, Mich. – Joey Hauser scored 20 points and Tyson Walker had 17 and Michigan State rallied after scoring the game’s first 15 points to beat Maryland 63-58 on Tuesday.

A.J. Hoggard had 10 rebounds and eight assists for Michigan State.

Jahmir Young scored 17 points for Maryland, Hakim Hart 12, Julian Reese 11 and Donta Scott 10 for the Terrapins.

The Spartans (15-9, 7-6 Big Ten) used an 8-0 run in which Walker made a layup and 3-pointer wrapped around a 3 from Jaden Akins for a 52-48 lead with 7:44 remaining and Michigan State led for the remainder.

The Terrapins erupted for a 12-0 run in less than three minutes in the second half turning a 38-26 deficit into a 38-all tie. Young and Hart posted back-to-back three-point plays, and Hart’s 3-pointer with 13:01 knotted it at 38. Prior to that 3, Hart was 3-for-last-27 shooting from beyond the arc. Maryland finished shooting 3 of 22 from distance.

Michigan State started the game with a 15-0 run and led 31-22 at halftime. Coming off an 81-46 win over Maryland (16-8, 7-6 Big Ten) on Saturday, the Terrapins have yet to win back-to-back contests in almost three years.

The Terrapins host Penn State on Saturday. Michigan State travels to play Ohio State on Sunday.

Arkansas pulls away from Kentucky in 2nd half, wins 88-73

Arkansas v Kentucky
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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ricky Council IV scored 20 points, Anthony Black had 19 and Arkansas used a blazing second half to pull away and beat Kentucky 88-73 on Tuesday night, giving coach Eric Musselman his 200th collegiate victory.

Black added five assists and five steals. Makhel Mitchell and Davonte Davis scored 15 points each and Jordan Walsh 13 for the Razorbacks (17-7, 6-5 SEC) who have won five straight conference games, including three in a row. It was Arkansas’ third straight win over the Wildcats (16-8, 7-4). The teams meet again in Fayetteville in a regular-season finale on March 4.

Cason Wallace scored 24 points to lead Kentucky, which had won six straight conference games. Chris Livingston added 13 points and Jacob Toppin and Antonio Reeves 11 each.

After a first half with 11 lead changes, there were none in the second when Arkansas shot 72% and Council and Black combined for 25 points.

Three steals, including two by Black who turned them into consecutive dunks, fueled an 11-3 run to begin the second half for a 52-43 lead. A basket by Black made it a double-digit lead with eight minutes left as the Razorbacks sank 7 of 9 over that span to finish the game. They made 8 of 10 free throws over the final two minutes.

Kentucky coach John Calipari was given a technical foul with 33 seconds left in the first half. Black sank the resulting free throws for a three-point lead before Daimion Collins’ midrange jumper made it 41-40 at halftime.

Both teams shot over 50% in the first half with Wallace leading all scorers with 11 points. Kentucky dipped under 50% for the game while Arkansas finished at 63% and outscored the Wildcats 46-28 in the paint.

Arkansas is home against Mississippi State and Kentucky is at Georgia, both games on Saturday.

Tulane secures 101-94 OT win over Cincinnati

Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW ORLEANS – Kevin Cross and Jalen Cook scored 27 points each as Tulane took down Cincinnati 101-94 in overtime on Tuesday night.

Cross added 15 rebounds and six assists for the Green Wave (16-7, 9-3 American Athletic Conference). Cook added 14 assists. Jaylen Forbes scored 24 points and shot 6 for 15 (3 for 6 from 3-point range) and 9 of 9 from the free throw line.

Landers Nolley II finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists for the Bearcats (16-9, 7-5). Ody Oguama added 16 points and 13 rebounds for Cincinnati. In addition, David Dejulius finished with 12 points, eight assists and three steals.

Tulane entered halftime down 37-28. Cross paced the team in scoring in the first half with 10 points. Forbes scored 18 second-half points and hit the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:02 remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime.

Tulane scored seven unanswered points to break a tie and lead with 42 seconds left in overtime.

No. 16 Oklahoma women take 1st lead in OT, rally past Baylor

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WACO, Texas – Ana Llanusa and Skylar Vann each scored 20 points and No. 16 Oklahoma took its first lead of the game in overtime before rallying past Baylor 98-92 on Tuesday night.

The Sooners trailed for 39 minutes in regulation and were down 75-63 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Baylor turned it over twice on inbounds plays in the closing seconds of regulation and Taylor Robertson tied at 83-all on a wide-open 3-pointer with 14 seconds left.

Llanusa started overtime with a 3-pointer, and she finished with eight points during the extra session. Baylor never led in overtime, shooting 2 of 6.

Robertson, who tied Danielle Robinson’s program record of 140 starts, finished with 14 points and three 3s for Oklahoma (19-4, 9-3 Big 12), which trails Texas (18-6, 9-2) in the hunt for its first conference title since 2009. Nevaeh Tot added 13 points, Liz Scott added 11 points and eight rebounds and Madi Williams had nine points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

The Sooners, the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense at 86.5 points per game, have scored at least 88 points 14 times this season, seven in conference.

Caitlin Bickle scored a career-high 30 points with four 3s and Sarah Andrews added 20 points for Baylor (16-7, 7-4). Freshman Darianna Littlepage-Buggs had 14 points and 17 rebounds and Ja’Mee Asberry scored 11. Jaden Owens had 14 of Baylor’s 25 assists on 32 field goals.

Bickle was 8 of 11 from the field, including 4 of 7 from distance, and Littlepage-Buggs recorded her sixth double-double in the last seven games.

It was the first time in 20 years the Sooners were ranked in game against an unranked Bears squad. Oklahoma continues its road trip at Kansas State on Sunday. Baylor plays at Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Newton has triple-double, No. 21 UConn tops No. 10 Marquette

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HARTFORD, Conn. – UConn appears to have its mojo back.

Jordan Hawkins scored 20 points and Tristen Newton recorded his second triple-double of the season as No. 21 Connecticut ran away from No. 10 Marquette 87-72 on Tuesday night.

Newton had 12 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for the Huskies (19-6, 8-6 Big East), who won their third straight game after losing six of eight. They started the season 14-0, rising to No. 2 in the AP Top 25.

“Teams go through tough stretches during the course of the season,” coach Dan Hurley said. “The bottom line is we’re 19-6. You know, we beat some of the best teams in the country.”

Adama Sanogo added 18 points, while Alex Karaban and Nahiem Alleyne each chipped in with 13 for Connecticut, which never trailed.

Tyler Kolek had 17 points to lead Marquette (19-6, 11-3), which had its five-game winning streak snapped. Ben Gold and Stevie Mitchell each scored 12.

The Huskies outrebounded Marquette 48-24 and used 21 offensive boards to help them get 27 second-chance points. The Huskies also had 20 assists on 31 baskets, while holding Marquette to just seven assists.

UConn opened the game on a 22-6 run, highlighted by a fast-break lob from Newton to Andre Jackson for a dunk that brought the crowd to its feet. The Huskies made their first four 3-point shots, three by Hawkins, who had 14 points in the first half.

A hook shot by Sanogo gave UConn its first 20-point lead at 32-12 .

A late first-half run by Marquette cut the margin to 43-29, but Alleyne hit a 3-pointer from almost half court to send UConn into the break with a 17-point cushion.

Another 3-pointer from Alleyne gave the Huskies a 59-38 lead in the second half.

UConn led by 25 before Marquette went on an 8-0 run to pull within 17. But the Golden Eagles never threatened to get back in the game.

“We won two or three games in January,” Hawkins said. “It was definitely a tough stretch, definitely going to shake your confidence. But you just have to stay the course, trust the process and that’s what we did and that’s what we’re going to continue to do during this last stretch.”

BIG PICTURE

Marquette: The Golden Eagles had won nine of 10. They are trying to win a regular-season conference title after being picked ninth in the preseason poll by the league’s coaches.

UConn: Entered 1-5 against the top five teams in the Big East and 1-3 versus ranked opponents. UConn lost 82-76 at Marquette on Jan. 11 after leading by 11 points in the first half.

“The rankings mean nothing,” Marquette coach Shaka Smart said. “It’s amazing the disparity – no disrespect to anyone here – between what the ranking means to media and fans in the middle of a season and what it means to players and coaches. It just doesn’t mean anything.”

BACK FROM INJURY

Marquette’s Sean Jones, who missed the previous three games with a wrist injury, had 11 points in just over 19 minutes. He came down hard on the wrist in the second half, but appeared to shake it off and continued playing.

REPEAT PERFORMANCE

Newton’s first triple-double came in November against Buffalo, when he had 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. He joined Shabazz Napier as the only Huskies players to get more than one.

“My amigos right here, they were going crazy hitting shots,” Newton said. “They were boxing out and I was getting the rebound, so I just had the easy job, just get them the ball.”

UP NEXT

Marquette: At last-place Georgetown on Saturday.

UConn: Will visit No. 23 Creighton on Saturday.