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Duke is No. 1 in the Preseason Coaches Poll once again

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The first Coaches Poll of the season was released on Thursday as Duke is the No. 1 team for the second consecutive season. Despite overhauling the roster with new freshmen talent, the Blue Devils received 20 first-place votes while Michigan State, Arizona and Florida also drew first-place consideration.

The top five isn’t too much of a surprise, although Florida getting a No. 1 vote while finishing at No. 7 in the poll is a bit puzzling. For a mid-major team, Oakland also received a considerable amount of votes just outside of the top 25.

  1. Duke (20 first place votes)
  2. Michigan State (9)
  3. Kansas
  4. Kentucky
  5. Arizona (2)
  6. Villanova
  7. Florida (1)
  8. Wichita State
  9. North Carolina
  10. West Virginia
  11. USC
  12. Miami
  13. Cincinnati
  14. Notre Dame
  15. Minnesota
  16. Louisville
  17. Xavier
  18. UCLA
  19. Gonzaga
  20. Northwestern
  21. Purdue
  22. St. Mary’s
  23. Seton Hall
  24. Baylor
  25. Alabama

Others receiving votes: Texas A&M 76; Virginia 57; Butler 43; Missouri 35; TCU 32; Rhode Island 31; Providence 21; Wisconsin 21; Maryland 20; Oakland 19; Oklahoma 19; Michigan 13; Texas 13; Virginia Tech 12; Oregon 12; Southern Methodist 6; Creighton 6; Georgia 3; Georgia Tech 3; Harvard 2; Arkansas 2; Florida State 1; South Carolina 1; Nevada 1.

Best Bets: Previewing Duke vs. North Carolina

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No. 8 NORTH CAROLINA at No. 1 DUKE, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • VEGAS LINES: Duke (-9), 166
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Duke 87.5, North Carolina: 78.5
  • KENPOM PROJECTION: Duke 90, UNC 79
  • TORVIK PROJECTION: Duke 93, UNC 82
  • HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Duke 94, UNC 82

The first battle between the two biggest brands in the ACC will take place on Wednesday night, and it promises to be one of the most entertaining games of the season even if it’s hard to imagine the Tar Heels walking into Cameron Indoor Stadium and picking up a win.

Before we even think about getting into the matchups, let’s dive into the projections. KenPom, Torvik and Haslametrics all project Duke to win by double digits with totals somewhere between 169 and 176. The line opened at Duke (-9) with a total of 166, and while that may seem like a massive number to get to, what we have to keep in mind here is that both of these teams want to run, run, run.

North Carolina plays at the fifth-fastest tempo in the country, according to KenPom. Duke ranks 18th in pace. North Carolina plays with the third-shortest offensive possessions in college basketball. Duke ranks 11th in that category. North Carolina’s offense is entirely built around their primary break which leads into a secondary break, where the Tar Heels look for quick actions out of an offense that are dictated by what Coby White decides to do with the ball when he gets it over halfcourt. Duke’s pace numbers are so high because of how many live-ball turnovers they force and how often those turnovers lead to easy layups at the other end of the floor.

Long story short, I think the over here is the best bet, although I will be curious to see if and where the line moves. Part of me hopes that people will see that number, assume that there is no possible way that number can hit and bet it down.

In terms of what to do with the line, I still tend to lean Duke.

For starters, so much of the success North Carolina has had this season has come from Coby White being awesome. There really isn’t much analysis that needs to be done when a potential top 20 pick finds a rhythm and pops off for 25 points. That’s what he did in the win over Virginia Tech. It’s what he did to save UNC against Miami. He’s going to be asked to deal with the defense of Tre Jones, and while the legend Jones’ defensive ability has reached a level that I’m not sure even he can attain — ask Jay Bilas, and he’ll tell you Tre is the best on-ball defender since humans began walking upright — he is an absolute menace that has the ability to completely take an opposing point guard out of the game.

And White has been taken out of games before. He was dreadful in the 21 point loss to Louisville in January. In December, Ashton Hagans turned Coby White into Cobie Smulders (NOBODY ASKED YOU PATRICE!) as Kentucky beat UNC in Chicago.

Who wins that matchup will be pivotal.

What will be more interesting, however, is going to be how Roy Williams decides to lineup.

It’s no secret that Williams wants to play two bigs as often as possible. That’s his bread and butter, it’s a style that has won him three national championships — including one just two years ago. What he does have worked over the course of a three decade Hall of Fame career, why wouldn’t he try to find a way to make it work with the roster that he has now.

The problem with that is that his most talented lineup this season does not feature two bigs. It features Luke Maye at the five with Nassir Little and Cam Johnson playing alongside him, and I bring that up because that is the lineup that I think UNC is going to have to play if they want any chance of hanging with this Duke team in Cameron.

Think about it this way: If Luke Maye is playing the four alongside Sterling Manley or Brandon Huffman or whoever, then Maye is going to be guarding one of Zion Williams, Cam Reddish or R.J. Barrett, and that would not be a good thing for Mr. Maye.

But if Maye is at the five, it means that Marques Bolden is going to have to chase him around the perimeter while Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams and Nassir Little get matched up with Duke’s Big Three.

(Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

Little is an interesting case because there are multiple reasons he hasn’t been playing as much as you might expect. Part of it is that the skillset that makes him so attractive in the NBA — the versatility, the switchability, the fact that he can play the three or the four — just doesn’t work in a system that defines players as bigs or as wings. He’s not Justin Jackson and he’s not Kennedy Meeks, but he’s also not as well-rounded offensively as someone like Theo Pinson, so he’s like forcing a square peg in a round hole right now.

He also gets lost on the offensive end of the floor way too often for a kid that’s near the end of his freshman season, and he would be asked to slot into a position that he isn’t necessarily used to playing. But I don’t think that is what’s important here. What is going to matter is having someone that can get as close to matching Zion’s athleticism as possible, and that is Little. He may not have a clue, but his motor isn’t going to stop, and in a game like this, the athleticism and the effort are going to be two things that are really, really valuable.

PICKS: To me, the over is the clear bet. The way to beat Duke is to control tempo, to play a gapping defense that forces jumpers over the top and to keep them out of transition by fading the offensive glass. UNC wants to run more than Duke does, they pound the offensive glass harder than just about anyone — which means easy second chances when it works and easy runouts for Duke when it doesn’t — and they don’t have the horses to defend the way that a Louisville or a Virginia does.

But all signs here are also pointing me towards Duke (-9).

Kabengele leads No. 16 Florida State to 77-64 win at Clemson

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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Trent Forrest said Florida State entered the season hoping to make history. The 16th-ranked Seminoles certainly did that at Clemson.

Mfiondu Kabengele had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Florida State set a program record with its eighth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference victory in a 77-64 win over the Tigers on Tuesday night.

The Seminoles (21-5, 9-4 ACC) had not won this many consecutive league games since joining the conference before the 1991-92 season. They won 11 straight Metro Conference games in 1977-78.

“It shows how locked in we’ve been,” said Forrest, a junior guard. “Our seniors came into the year wanting to make history and I feel like we’re helping them with that.”

Florida State used its size, strength and speed to keep the run going against the Tigers, holding on after seeing an 18-point edge cut to 59-52 with eight minutes left. That’s as close as Clemson (15-11, 5-8) would get in dropping its third in a row and getting swept by Florida State for the second time in three seasons.

Kabengele led the way on both sides of the ball. He hit 9 of 13 from the field, blocked two shots, and his rebounds were a season high. Then again, Clemson had trouble stopping much of anything Florida State did around the basket. The Seminoles’ starting center in 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje went 4-of-6 shooting for 10 points with seven rebounds and a pair of blocks.

“Our coaches emphasize us bigs being a major factor in games,” said Kabengele, the 6-10 sophomore. “To have me and Christ to both have good parts to the game helps us get good wins.”

That wasn’t the case early on in ACC play as Florida State started 1-4 with losses at Pitt and Boston College. It got things in gear against Clemson with a 77-68 win on Jan. 22 and has not lost since.

“The streak continues,” Kabengele said with a smile.

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton is grateful for his team’s successful run. He’s even happier that his players are gelling so well and improving their play every time out. The streak? It won’t help a bit, he said, in his team’s next contest at No. 8 North Carolina on Saturday.

“In reality, it doesn’t mean anything other than people are probably going to play us a little bit harder,” he said.

The Seminoles took control after Clemson closed to 23-21 on Marcquise Reed’s 3-pointer with 6:18 left in the half. Florida then went on a 15-2 surge the rest of the half with Kabengele hitting three buckets and Walker landing a 3-pointer.

When Trent Forrest got his off-balance push shot on a drive to the basket to go right before the buzzer sounded, Florida State went to the locker room ahead 38-23. The lead grew as large as 18.

Forrest finished with 14 points.

Reed had 20 points to lead Clemson, which was coming off two gut-wrenching, one point defeats at Miami (65-64) and at Louisville (56-55) before this. Tigers coach Brad Brownell said his team was deflated when it returned to campus Sunday after the Louisville loss, but thought they had rebounded enough that this game should have been more competitive.

“I thought our energy was good,” Brownell said. “They were just better than us.”

BIG PICTURE

Florida State: The Seminoles’ offense was relentless with guard Trent Forrest and Terance Mann pushing the ball at the basket where their bigger teammates like Kabengele and Koumadje took control. It’s a formula that works well in the postseason where Florida State reached the NCAA’s round of eight last year.

Clemson: The Tigers came into the season ranked and with high expectations after their NCAA Tournament run to the Sweet 16 a year ago. But the team of four senior starters appeared way out of synch in this one. Clemson has had two three-game losing streaks in ACC play and may have to do something remarkable for make another appearance in the Big Dance.

TURNAROUND

Hamilton said his team’s early ACC troubles were in part blending in newcomers along with injuries to mainstays like Phil Cofer, who missed the first win over Clemson last month. Hamilton was confident his team would recover and anyway, “there was a high probability we wouldn’t go undefeated in ACC play,” he said.

OLD SCHOOL

With all the focus on fabulous freshmen, Florida State and Clemson had a throwback game with a combined seven players in the two starting lineups as seniors. The Seminoles’ senior starter were Cofer, Mann and Koumadje. Clemson had four starters in Elijah Thomas, David Skara, Reed and Shelton Mitchell.

UP NEXT

Florida State ends a three-game road swing at North Carolina on Saturday.

Clemson plays Boston College at home Saturday.

___

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Kentucky’s Reid Travis exits Missouri win with sprained knee

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Kentucky earned an SEC road win over Missouri on Tuesday night, but in the process, the Wildcats could be without senior forward Reid Travis for the next several games.

Travis exited Tuesday’s game in the second half with what’s being called a sprained right knee after teammate Keldon Johnson fell into Travis’ leg with a little more than 10 minutes left in the game. The fall sent Travis to the locker room, as he didn’t return to the contest as Kentucky held a comfortable second-half advantage.

Postgame, Kentucky head coach John Calipari told Jerry Tipton that there was no definite prognosis on Travis’ injury as Calipari “threw out the possibility of [Travis] being sidelined two weeks.”

Without Travis in the lineup, Calipari has the luxury of turning to two McDonald’s All-American bigs off the bench in freshman E.J. Montgomery and sophomore Nick Richards. Montgomery has earned consistent minutes of late while Richards was a promising 3-for-3 for seven points in Tuesday’s win.

Travis entered Tuesday averaging 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for the Wildcats as he’s been one of the team’s leaders this season. While Kentucky can likely withstand the loss of Travis for a few weeks, they will need him at full strength if they want to make a potential Final Four run.

No. 4 Kentucky beats Missouri 66-58

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — PJ Washington and Tyler Herro scored 18 points each as fourth-ranked Kentucky slogged past Missouri 66-58 on Tuesday night.

Ashton Hagans added 12 points for the Wildcats (22-4, 11-2 Southeastern Conference), who looked a little sluggish three days after beating then top-ranked Tennessee. But Kentucky was good enough defensively to hold the Tigers to 37 percent shooting from the field.

Ronnie Suggs scored 13 and Jordan Geist finished with 11 for Missouri (12-13, 3-10 SEC).

After Missouri took an 11-10 advantage with 12:35 left in the first half, Herro scored seven points in a 42-second span to give Kentucky the lead for good. The Tigers got into foul trouble as Kevin Puryear and Jeremiah Tilmon each picked up two quick ones and Mitchell Smith was knocked out of the game after being hit in the head with an inadvertent elbow. Washington racked up 15 first-half points as the Wildcats opened a 41-23 halftime lead.

Kentucky had some attrition up front, also, as starting forward Reid Travis left the game in the second half with a sprained right knee. Missouri did most of its offensive damage late, narrowing its deficit to six points on Torrence Watson’s 3-pointer with 14 seconds left.

BIG PICTURE

Missouri: Derrick Chievous, who starred for the Tigers from 1985-88, had his No. 3 jersey retired at halftime. Chievous, who was known for always wearing a Band-Aid during games for no medical reason, is Missouri’s career leading scorer with 2,580 points. He is the seventh Missouri player to have his jersey retired, joining Bill Stauffer, Norm Stewart, Willie Smith, Steve Stipanovich, Jon Sundvold and Doug Smith.

Kentucky: With his 297th victory in 10 years at Kentucky, John Calipari tied Joe B. Hall for second place in wins at the school. Calipari has some work to do to catch the man at the top of the list — Adolph Rupp won 876 games in 42 years leading the Wildcats.

UP NEXT

Missouri: The Tigers play Saturday at Florida.

Kentucky: The Wildcats play host to Auburn on Saturday.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Baylor upends Iowa State; Purdue, Maryland score Big Ten road wins

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Tuesday night in college hoops had some games to monitor for both the bubble, and the Big Ten, as road teams winning tight games was a bit of a theme. One team looks to have solidified their at-large bid while two more teams made major moves in the Big Ten standings. 

Baylor potentially punches NCAA ticket with road win at Iowa State

The bubble didn’t have many important wins on Tuesday. Most of the bubble lost, or, at best, earned wins over underwhelming competition. That wasn’t the case for Baylor though as the Bears might have earned their way into the Field of 68 with a notable 73-69 road win at No. 19 Iowa State.

Struggling a bit over the last few games, Baylor earned the very important sweep over the Cyclones as they stayed in the tight Big 12 race by continuing to earn unlikely wins. Depleted by injury, the Bears had strong outings from Jared Butler (17 points) and Makai Mason (14 points). But it was the play of former Division III transfer Freddie Gillespie that made the difference for Baylor. Playing 31 minutes, Gillespie was 7-for-8 from the floor as he finished with 14 points, 10 rebound and two blocks — including a key swat in the game’s final minutes.

While Baylor has some work to do if they want to stay in the crowded Big 12 race, they can rest a little bit easier tonight knowing that they are likely safely in the NCAA tournament.

No. 15 Purdue outlasts rival Indiana to tie for Big Ten lead

One of college basketball’s most heated rivalries took center stage on Tuesday night as the Boilermakers needed a late tip-in from big man Matt Haarms to beat Indiana with a 48-46 road win. Tying for the Big Ten lead with Michigan and Michigan State, this is one of Purdue’s most impressive wins of the season, as they stepped up and won on the road despite an awful night from star guard Carsen Edwards.

Shooting only 4-for-24 from the floor, Edwards was bailed out by a stout Purdue defense as well as 11-second half points from senior shooter Ryan Cline. It also didn’t hurt that Indiana freshman Romeo Langford (14 points, nine rebounds) missed the go-ahead free throw with less than 30 seconds left. Not many believed the Boilermakers could win games with Edwards missing 20 shots. But it shows how strong Purdue is defensively and it’s a testament to why they are surprisingly tied for the Big Ten lead at this point in the season.

No. 24 Maryland escapes with Big Ten road win at No. 21 Iowa

The night’s only matchup between top-25 teams was another exciting finish in the Big Ten as the Terrapins got the best of Iowa thanks to a late tip-in from big man Bruno Fernando (11 points). After a back-and-forth game that saw the Hawkeyes take the lead thanks to a late run, Maryland charged back and made critical plays on both ends to get the important road win. Anthony Cowan Jr. paced the Terps with 17 points while Eric Ayala also chipped in 11 points.

This win for Maryland is crucial because they own any potential tiebreaker over Iowa in the Big Ten standings. That could definitely come into play as the Terps, Wisconsin and the Hawkeyes are all in the mix for the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament — the final double-bye.