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Ivy League Preview: Can Yale outlast Harvard and Princeton?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Ivy League.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that has paid any attention to the Ivy League over the course of the last half-decade that the top three teams in the league this season look to be Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

Princeton is coming off of a dominant 2016-17 season that wasn’t really expected. The Tigers rolled through conference play with a 14-0 record, earning the league’s first Ivy League tournament title, on the shoulders of Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook, both of whom were seniors; Weisz was the league’s Player of the Year. Those losses, as well as the loss of Henry Caruso and Hans Brase, both of whom suffered season-ending injuries, are even bigger than they seem, as Weisz and Cook allowed Mitch Henderson to switch everything defensively.

The Tigers will still have a chance. The combination of Devin Cannady, Myles Stephens and Amir Bell is as good of a top three as you’ll find in the Ivy. The question Princeton will has to answer is depth. There are a lot of unproven guys returning, and while there are some talented freshmen joining the program – Sebastian Much and Jerome Desrosiers – Henderson is going to have his work cut out for him developing a rotation.

Which is why Yale appears to be the favorite to win the league this year.

Well, maybe that’s the wrong way to phrase it, because the Elis have a shot to be special this season. It starts with Makai Mason, who was the star of Yale’s upset win over Baylor in the 2016 NCAA tournament, who returns to the floor this season after missing all of last year with a foot injury. Due to an Ivy League rule that forbids redshirts, Mason has already committed to Baylor to play as a grad transfer next season.

A dynamic lead guard that hung 31 on the Bears 18 months ago, Mason will be joined in the back court by Miye Oni, a 6-foot-6 sophomore that is starting to generate some NBA attention. That back court is as good as any in the Ivy and better than many high major back courts. Throw in Jordan Bruner, a former top 150 prospect that picked the Elis over Clemson and spent his freshman season battling a knee injury, and James Jones has the pieces to make another run at winning a game in the NCAA tournament.

RELATED: Big Ten PreviewACC Preview | Perry Ellis All-Stars | Contender Series

Harvard is a little more difficult to figure out. Losing Siyani Chambers and Zena Edosomwan is going to hurt, but there certainly are pieces at Tommy Amaker’s disposal. Sophomores Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns look like future all-Ivy first team players, while sophomore Chris Lewis and senior Chris Egi are more than talented enough to make up for the enigmatic Edosomwan.

With Justin Bassey and Robert Baker getting another year of seasoning under their belt, the Crimson have the pieces to make some noise.

If there is a team that can crack the top three this year, it’s Penn. A.J. Brodeur is a stud and the Quakers return just about everyone from a team that won six of their last eight games a season ago and came within a missed front-end of beating Princeton in the Ivy League tournament. Columbia lost two starters, but they bring back a talented back court headline by sophomore Mike Smith.

Both Cornell and Dartmouth struggled last season, but both also happen to have a first-team all-Ivy caliber star in Matt Morgan and Evan Boudreaux. Morgan averaged better than 18 points in each of his first two seasons while Boudreaux, whose mother was a three-time Ivy Player of the Year, an all-american in basketball and a four-time league champion in the shot put for Dartmouth, has averaged better than 17 points and nine boards the last two years.

Brown is something of an unknown. They lost their top two scorers from last season, including Steven Speith, Jordan’s brother, but return some promising youngsters and add a Junior College transfer in Zach Hunsaker that could end up being an all-league player.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON IVY LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Makai Mason, Yale

The key for Mason this season is going to be his health. After a dominating NCAA tournament performance and receiving this award last season, Mason suffered a foot injury that forced him out for the entire season. As a sophomore, he averaged 16.0 points and 3.8 assists for the Bulldogs.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-IVY FIRST TEAM

  • Bryce Aiken, Harvard: The big question with Aiken is going to be the position he plays. He’s a natural scorer, but with Chambers gone, will he slide over and handle lead guard duties?
  • Miye Oni, Yale: Oni has a shot to be one of the best players to ever come through the Yale program. His length, physical tools and shooting ability has him on the radar of NBA teams already.
  • A.J. Brodeur, Penn: If anyone is going to be able to carry the Quakers into the top three of the league this year, it’s Brodeur, who averaged 14 points as a freshman last season.
  • Myles Stephens, Princeton: Cannady will end up being the guy that makes most of these lists, but Stephens should capably fill the role vacated by the likes of Weisz and Cook.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Yale
2. Harvard
3. Princeton
4. Penn
5. Columbia
6. Cornell
7. Brown
8. Dartmouth

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Creighton, Kentucky, Illinois earn big road wins

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College basketball saw some big results in the Big East and Big Ten on Tuesday night. Road wins from Illinois and Creighton left a big impression. Kentucky, meanwhile, kept the strong road-win theme of the night going with a strong win at LSU in the SEC.

No. 15 Creighton takes down No. 19 Marquette

Perhaps the night’s biggest win went to No. 15 Creighton. The Bluejays held off No. 19 Marquette for a crucial Big East road win.

Ty-Shon Alexander shook off a first-half shot to the jaw to finish with 22 points. And Creighton did a strong job of defending Markus Howard. The nation’s leading scorer was limited to 13 points in the loss.

The win gives Creighton a legitimate shot to win at least a share of the Big East title. I examined more on the Bluejays here.

NBC SPORTS BRACKETOLOGY

Ayo Dosunmu’s return lifts Illinois over No. 9 Penn State

The night started with Illinois snapping a four-game Big Ten losing streak. Sophomore Ayo Dosunmu’s return fueled a critical 62-56 road win for the Illini at No. 9 Penn State.

After a scary knee injury against Michigan State last Tuesday, Dosunmu missed the Illinois loss to Rutgers over the weekend. The guard looked healthy in his return to the Illinois lineup. Dosunmu paced the Illini with 24 points. With the shot clock winding down with under a minute left, Dosunmu buried a runner to help seal the win.

Dosunmu’s return also helped Illinois immensely on the defensive end. Penn State only shot 36 percent from the floor and 21 percent from three-point range. The Illini threw length at the Nittany Lions on the perimeter. And the size of Kofi Cockburn (15 points) enabled Illinois to defend Mike Watkins (eight points) one-on-one. Life was also tough for Lamar Stevens during a 3-for-11 night. In a grind-it-out game where both teams went scoreless for minutes at a time, Illinois looked like a top-30 defense in a huge road game.

At this point in the season, Illinois is still a full three games out of the Big Ten lead. It’s unlikely the Illini can jump four or five teams to vault into first. But this is also a very dangerous team if they can get hot.

Starting Big Ten play at 8-2, Illinois already showed they’re capable of running off six or seven wins in a row in the deepest conference in the country. Although one win at Penn State doesn’t put Illinois back in contention it gives a dangerous team confidence.

The next two for Illinois are winnable games against bottom feeders in Nebraska and Northwestern. From there, it’s a three-game sprint to the finish with Indiana, at Ohio State and Iowa. With only one road game against a top Big Ten team, Illinois will be a fascinating team to track the next few weeks.

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No. 10 Kentucky gets past LSU

In the SEC, the Wildcats kept their lead with a strong road win at LSU. The win gives Kentucky a two-game lead in the loss column on LSU. Auburn remains in second in the league at a game behind Kentucky.

The road win also gives the Wildcats another quality win. Winners of nine of their last 10 games, Kentucky looks like a team that is figuring things out down the stretch. Sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley has turned into the team’s most consistent scorer the past several weeks.

Quickley led Kentucky with 21 points on Tuesday night to lead the Wildcats. Establishing Nick Richards on the interior is still Kentucky’s best route to earning a win. But Quickley scoring at least 12 or more points in 14 straight games is something to track going forward.

Richards dominating on the inside and Quickley’s consistent scoring on the perimeter has given the Wildcats more of an established identity during the stretch run.

No. 15 Creighton takes down No. 19 Marquette

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Creighton earned a massive Big East road win by holding off No. 19 Marquette 73-65 on Tuesday night.

Ty-Shon Alexander fought through an early-game throat injury to finish with a team-high 22 points to pace Creighton. The Bluejays did an admirable job defending Marquette star Markus Howard as well. Holding the nation’s leading scorer without a point in the first half, Howard struggled to 13 points on 4-for-14 shooting on the night.

The win keeps the No. 15 Bluejays firmly in the Big East title race. Creighton remains one game behind Seton Hall in the loss column with two weeks to go in the regular season. And with four games left on the schedule, Creighton only plays one game away from home — a winnable game at St. John’s. The regular season closes in Omaha with the Bluejays facing a Pirates team they just beat on the road last week.

NBC SPORTS BRACKETOLOGY

Creighton has gone early-season afterthought to potentially winning one of the toughest top-to-bottom leagues in the country. It’s come with a roster that is continually evolving as the season moves along.

Once transfer forward Denzel Mahoney entered the mix for Creighton the Bluejays turned into a different team. Mahoney became eligible for Creighton after missing the first 10 games of the season after sitting out from Southeast Missouri State.

The 6-foot-5 junior isn’t recognized as one of Creighton’s most talented offensive players. Mahoney only scored nine points and collected five rebounds in the win over Marquette on Tuesday. Alexander, point guard Marcus Zagorowski and veteran shooter Mitchell Ballock are all more gifted offensive weapons than Mahoney.

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But Mahoney gives the Bluejays something they’ve greatly lacked in recent seasons: a junkyard dog who can defend up to all five spots on the floor. In the modern small-ball world of basketball, Mahoney is versatile enough to do damage without anything getting run for him. He’s the Big East equivalent to Draymond Green during the Warriors’ dynasty.

Greg McDermott is known for his offensive-minded approach as Creighton’s coach. The man tailored an entire college offense around his son. Doug McDermott became one of college basketball’s greatest modern scorers.

Creighton teams don’t often feature rugged and physical players like Mahoney. With Mahoney’s added edge, however, Creighton has been one of the best teams in the country after the first month of the season.

The Bluejays can bury you offensively at multiple spots. This team moves the ball as well as anybody in the country. And now Creighton has unique lineup versatility that is very tough to prepare for. Mahoney can play small-ball five and give the Bluejays all sorts of different combinations. It’s helped make Creighton one of the best teams in college basketball that nobody is talking about.

Very quietly, the Bluejays are in position to play themselves for a share of the Big East title with a final home game against Seton Hall.

Illinois outlasts No. 9 Penn State

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Ayo Dosunmu felt well enough during warm-ups to return to lineup. That was enough for Illinois against No. 9 Penn State.

Dosunmu, the Fighting Illini’s leading scorer who missed the previous game with a knee injury, scored 24 points, and Illinois snapped a four-game losing streak with a 62-56 victory over Penn State on Tuesday night.

“He knows we struggled without him,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “He did what really, really good players do. He elevated his game.”

Kofi Cockburn added 14 points for the Fighting Illini (17-9, 9-6 Big Ten), who led most of the way and ended Penn State’s eight-game winning streak.

NBC SPORTS BRACKETOLOGY

The win also snapped Illinois’ six-game losing streak against Penn State.

Lamar Stevens scored 13 points for the Nittany Lions (20-6, 10-5), who entered with their highest ranking in the AP Top 25 since they were No. 9 at the same point of the 1996 season.

Izaiah Brockington added 10 points for the Nittany Lions, who trailed 30-26 at halftime and by as many as nine points with 5:35 to play.

Penn State got a pair of free throws from Seth Lundy that cut its deficit to 58-56 with a minute left, but Dosunmu iced it with a layup 30 seconds later.

The Nittany Lions made just 21 of 58 shots, well below their 45% average. Penn State shooters made just 4 of 19 3-pointers.

“We haven’t shot this poorly the way we’ve been playing,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “Obviously, that was shocking to me.”

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It was back-and-forth early as teams swapped the lead five times in the first. The Illini controlled play for 9:06 and Griffin gave them their biggest lead of the half when he hit a 3-pointer, drew a foul and hit the ensuing free throw to put the Illini up 21-16 with 8:54 before halftime.

Penn State used an 8-1 run, capped by a steal and dunk by Lundy, to retake the lead 4:22 later.

But Illinois got eight straight points from Dosunmu before a put-back by Giorgi Bezhanishvili to go up 30-26 at the break.

“This is definitely a reality check,” Penn State guard Myles Dread said. “We’ve been on cloud nine for eight games. As good as it feels to win, it feels much worse to lose.”

EXHALE AND EXALT

Illinois players hooted, shrieked and hollered as they filed off the court and into the Bryce Jordan Center’s visiting locker room.

The celebration continued when Underwood and the rest of the coaches entered. They praised their team’s resilience and highlighted Da’Monte Williams’ defensive efforts against Stevens, who was 3 for 11 from the floor.

“We had won seven in a row and you become the hunted,” Underwood said. “We’re not desperate. I think there was some urgency, but desperate is never in my vocabulary.”

ROUGH PLAY

Watkins picked up a technical foul for shoving Dosunmu shortly after the whistle as both had been jostling for a loose ball.

Watkins’ temper had been rising in the moments leading up to their confrontation. Penn State’s big forward was surly after he had drawn physical coverage down low on his previous two shot attempts and failed to get foul calls

The sequence drew the ire of Penn State fans who booed the officiating crew as they disappeared into the tunnel for halftime and again when they emerged for the second half.

THE BIG PICTURE

Illinois: For the Illini, getting Dosunmu back certainly helped. The sophomore guard had missed Saturday’s loss at Rutgers after suffering an injury to his left knee is a win over Michigan State on Feb. 11. Despite their recent shooting woes, they looked confident against a strong Penn State defense that’s been nearly flawless at home.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions entered a game behind Maryland in the hunt for the Big Ten’s top seed. There’s still plenty of time for them to recover and make up ground.

UP NEXT

Illinois: Hosts Nebraska on Monday.

Penn State: Visits Indiana on Sunday.

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

All-out brawl mars the end of Jackson State-Prairie View A&M game

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After a chippy end to Prairie View A&M’s 70-61 win over Jackson State on Monday night, several players were involved in a fight that came after the buzzer sounded and knocked over fans sitting courtside.

The skirmish started during the handshake line, when Jackson State’s Dontelius Ross appeared to take exception to something that was said by Prairie View’s Darius Williams. He was initially held back, but the melee continued elsewhere on the floor.

Here is another angle of the brawl:

Monday’s Things To Know: Kansas is ready for Baylor, UNC drops another heartbreaker

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Monday was a slow night for college basketball, but we did get a couple of fun finishes around the country.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. NORTH CAROLINA’S HEART-BREAKING SEASON CONTINUES

No team in the country has suffered more soul-crushing losses than the Tar Heels have this season.

Remember when they lost to Virginia Tech in double-overtime? Remember when they lost to Clemson in the Dean Dome for the first time ever because Roy Williams forgot to tell his team to foul up three? What about the time they lost to Boston College because Brandon Robinson sprained his ankle while “fouling” a three-point shooter with 17 seconds left? We all remember the collapse against Duke, but did you see Tomas Woldetensae’s game-winning three for Virginia on Saturday?

And if that wasn’t enough, the Tar Heels lost at Notre Dame on Monday night when Nate Laszewski hit a three with 1.8 seconds left for a 77-76 win in South Bend.

That is now six straight losses for the Tar Heels, if you’re scoring at home. Four of the six are one possessions losses. They lost by six at Florida State in a game they led by eight late in the first half, too. They are really not all that far away from being a team with a pretty good record, but as it stands, they are now going to finish the season under .500.

It’s been a tough, tough season for the Tar Heels.

2. ZACH FREEMANTLE SAVES XAVIER

Zach Freemantle, a freshman forward for the Musketeers, scored four points in the final 10.4 seconds as Xavier landed a key win at St. John’s on Monday night.

The Musketeers are still fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament. They do have some room to spare right now, but if they can find a way to win out during the regular season, the Musketeers will have a shot of climbing up past the 8-9 game. They’ve now won four of their last five games.

3. DEVON DOTSON SHOWS OUT AS KANSAS IS FINDING A RHYTHM OFFENSIVELY

Kansas has picked a great time to get hot.

On Saturday, the Jayhawks put up 87 points — the most points they have scored in regulation against a high-major opponent this season — in a 17 point win over Oklahoma on Saturday. They shot 11-for-22 from three in that game.

On Monday, they Jayhawks put up 91 points after shooting 12-for-27 from three against Iowa State. Marcus Garrett scored 24 points on Saturday. Devon Dotson scored 29 points on Monday.

Why is this important?

Because the Jayhawks play No. 1 Baylor in Waco on Saturday. When these two teams last faced off, the Bears beat the Jayhawks 67-55 in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. They’ll be ready for the rematch.