2017-18 NBC Sports Mid-Major Preseason Power Rankings

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The question of what programs qualify as “high-majors” and which are “mid-majors” has been one that’s been up for argument since the late-1990’s (a gift given to us by the Bowl Championship Series).

For the sake of this post, members of the following conferences will be excluded: ACC, American, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-12, SEC.

We’ll also be leaving out BYU and Gonzaga of the WCC, which is likely to fire up our readers with Saint Mary’s’ interests.

While it can certainly be argued that some teams within some of these conferences would qualify as mid-major, the split described above makes the below list a little easier to navigate.

While this portion of college basketball has taken some hits in recent years due to conference realignment, with Wichita State now in the American and many of the Atlantic 10’s gains (to make up for the losses of Butler, Temple and Xavier) coming at the expense of the CAA, there are still incredibly talented teams and players to keep an eye on.

Below are some of the best mid-major programs in the country entering the 2017-18 season.

1. Saint Mary’s

After winning 29 games and going 16-2 in WCC play, Randy Bennett’s Gaels are viewed as the preseason favorites to win the conference in 2017-18. And given the talent that’s returning to Moraga, that line of thinking makes sense. Senior center Jock Landale, who averaged 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, is one of the top big men in the the country and will once again lead the way for the Gaels. In total Saint Mary’s returns its top three scorers from last season, with forward Calvin Hermanson (13.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and guard Emmett Naar (9.4 ppg, 5.6 apg) being the others, and four starters are back with forward Evan Fitzner completing the quartet.

Saint Mary’s will have to account for the losses of assist co-leader Joe Rahon and their second-best rebounder in Dane Pineau. The Gaels have multiple front court options who can provide depth beyond Landale, Hermanson and Fitzner, and the addition of Ole Miss transfer Cullen Neal will help on the perimeter.

2. UT-Arlington

Scott Cross’ Mavericks won 27 games and the Sun Belt regular season title in 2016-17, with one of their wins being an impressive 65-51 conquest at Saint Mary’s. UTA may only return two starters from that team, but one happens to be a front court player who deserves more attention nationally in senior Kevin Hervey. Hervey averaged 17.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game last season, and along with guard Erick Neal will lead the way offensively for the Mavericks. As a junior Neal averaged 10.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game, and he’s also led UTA in steals in each of his first three seasons with the program.

With a total of six seniors among the nine returnees, including another quality guard in Kaelon Wilson, UTA has the experience needed to not only hit the ground running come November but be the kind of team you don’t want to see in an NCAA tournament matchup. Likely motivated by missing out on the NCAA tournament last season, UT-Arlington is a team to keep an eye on this season.

Kevin Hervey (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

3. Missouri State

With Wichita State having moved on to the American Athletic Conference, the question in the Missouri Valley is which team (or teams) can step forward and carry the conference banner nationally. Paul Lusk’s Bears are one possibility, as Missouri State will be led by a senior forward in Alize Johnson who was not only the top newcomer in the Valley but a first team all-conference selection as well. In his first season with the program Johnson averaged 14.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, posting 17 double-doubles while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from three.

Johnson is one of four starters back from a team that won 17 games last season, and in total six of the team’s top seven scorers are back. The front court tandem of Johnson and Obediah Church should be one of the best in the Valley, and senior Ronnie Rousseau III and junior Jarred Dixon among the players on the perimeter who will look to help account for the loss of second-leading scorer Dequon Miller.

4. Oakland

Four starters return from a team that won 25 games and a share of the Horizon League regular season title a season ago, with guard Martez Walker (17.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and forward Jalen Hayes (15.9, 8.0) leading the way for Greg Kampe’s squad. In total nine contributors from that team are back, and of the five newcomers four will be eligible to compete immediately with former Illinois guard Kendrick Nunn being one of those four.

If there’s an area where Oakland can stand to improve from last season it would be their perimeter shooting, as they made just 33.3 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. That’s an area where the aforementioned Nunn can help, as he shot nearly 38 percent from three in his three seasons at Illinois. Under Kampe the Golden Grizzlies have been able to incorporate transfers into their rotation and reap the rewards more often than not, and that could once again be the case in 2017-18.

5. Middle Tennessee

Kermit Davis has led the Middle Tennessee program to 24 wins or more in five of the last six seasons, and in each of the last two campaigns not only have the Blue Raiders reached the NCAA tournament but they’ve won a game once there as well. In what should be a competitive race at the top of Conference USA, the Blue Raiders are one of the teams that will at the very least contend for the league’s automatic bid.

Losing two of their top three scorers in JaCorey Williams and Reggie Upshaw Jr. is something that Middle Tennessee will have to account for, but three starters return led by senior guard Giddy Potts. In addition to averaging 15.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game last season, Potts shot 48.2 percent from the field and 38.4 percent from three. The key for the Blue Raiders will be to get scoring from players other than Potts, but with a number of the team’s supplementary contributors back (including point guard Tyrik Dixon) and some talented newcomers they could make a third straight NCAA tournament.

Makai Mason (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

6. Yale

After earning the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1962 in 2016, the Bulldogs won 18 games and reached the title game of the first Ivy League tournament last season. Head coach James Jones welcomes back the top two scorers from that team in junior guard Alex Copeland and sophomore forward Miye Oni, and Yale will also have point guard Makai Mason. Mason, who key in the team’s win over Baylor in the 2016 NCAA tournament, missed all of last season with a broken foot.

The losses of forward Sam Downey and guard Anthony Dallier is something that Yale will have to account for, but rotation players Blake Reynolds and Jordan Bruner should be ready to take a step forward for the Ivy League favorites.

7. College of Charleston

Since Earl Grant took over as head coach in 2014 the Cougars have made significant strides, going from nine wins in his first season to 17 in 2015-16, and from 17 to 25 wins last season. And with the top five scorers from a season ago, led by preseason CAA Player of the Year Joe Chealey (17.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.2 apg), the Cougars are well-positioned to earn the program’s first NCAA tournament bid since 1999. Forward Jarrell Brantley and guard Grant Riller were also double-digit scorers last season, with Brantley ranking third in the CAA with an average of 8.2 rebounds per game.

Under Grant’s tutelage the Cougars have taken better care of the basketball, and they’ve also made significant strides offensively. And with the scoring options that this team has, the College of Charleston could prove to be a team worth avoiding come March.

8. Vermont

John Becker’s Catamounts ran the table in America East last season, going 19-0 against conference competition to earn the program’s first NCAA tournament bid since 2012. Four starters return from last season, led by the conference’s top freshman in Anthony Lamb. The 6-foot-6 sophomore averaged 12.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season, shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from beyond the arc. Senior guard Trae Bell-Haynes was named America East Player of the Year for his efforts, and forward Payton Henson and guard Ernie Duncan will once again be key contributors as well.

If there’s one concern for UVM heading into the season, it has to be how they’ll account for the loss of guard Dre Wills. While he averaged just 6.4 points and 3.6 assists per game, Wills was the player they called upon for their toughest defensive matchups on the perimeter. While other teams in an improved America East will make things tougher for Vermont, the Catamounts remain the favorites to win the conference title.

Anthony Lamb (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

9. Bucknell

Bucknell may not have gone undefeated in its run to the Patriot League crown last season, but the Bison left no doubt as they won the regular season title by three games before claiming the automatic bid. Head coach Nathan Davis welcomes back his top nine scorers from last season, led by forward Zach Thomas (15.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Patriot League Player of the Year Nana Foulland (15.0, 7.8, 2.1 bpg).

Guards Kimbal McKenzie and Stephen Brown were also double-digit scorers for the Bison, who ranked 20th in the nation in effective field goal percentage (55.3 percent). Bucknell led the Patriot League in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season, and given all of the returnees it would not come as a shock if the Bison duplicated that feat in 2017-18.

10. FGCU

The Eagles have made two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances under head coach Joe Dooley, and the pieces are in place to extend that streak to three. Four starters return from last season’s team, led by last season’s A-Sun Newcomer of the Year in guard Brandon Goodwin. In his first season on the court for FGCU after transferring in from UCF, Goodwin averaged 18.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, shooting 51 percent from the field. Goodwin’s ability to produce in an efficient manner makes him, and by extension FCGU as a whole, a difficult team to defend.

Guards Zach Johnson and Christian Terrell and forward Antravious Simmons are also back, and in the front court the addition of transfers Ricky Doyle (Michigan) and Michael Gilmore (VCU; eligible in December) will give FGCU additional depth inside. Also worth keeping an eye on inside are freshman Brian Thomas and redshirt sophomore Brady Ernst, with the latter beginning his collegiate career at Iowa State before averaging 9.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game at Indian Hills CC last season.

11. San Francisco

With so much attention being paid to the triumvirate of Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU from a national standpoint, some of the other programs in the WCC can be overlooked on occasion. Get familiar with Kyle Smith’s USF Dons, because he welcomes back all five starters from a team that won 20 games in his first season as head coach. Senior forward Chase Foster is the top returning scorer as he averaged 10.1 points per game, and the Dons also have two WCC All-Freshman Team honorees back in guards Jordan Rahtino and Charles Minlend.

Forwards Matt McCarthy and Nate Renfro provided additional experience in the front court, with juniors Mladen Djordjevic and Frankie Ferrari doing so on the perimeter. Don’t be surprised if USF finds a way to crack the predicted top three of Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU in the WCC this season.

12. Belmont

Since making the program’s first Division I NCAA tournament appearance in 2006, Belmont has failed to win at least 20 games in a season just once. Last year’s group won 23 games, but for the second consecutive campaign Rick Byrd’s squad fell short of the NCAA tournament. Despite losing their top two scorers in Evan Bradds and Taylor Barnette, Belmont is once again considered to be the favorite to win the OVC. Amanze Egekeze, who averaged 11.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season, is back as are guard Austin Luke and guard/forward Dylan Windler.

Guard Kevin McClain and center Seth Adelsperger are among the returnees who will look to earn more minutes, and a freshman class that includes guards Gray Murphy and Pedro Bradshaw will have the opportunity to contribute as well. Losing Bradds, Barnette and Nick Smith will have an impact, but at this point it’s more than reasonable to trust Coach Byrd and his staff to figure things out.

13. Mercer

After winning 19 games in each of the program’s first two seasons in the Southern Conference, Mercer finished below .500 (15-17) for the first time since the 2010-11 season in 2016-17. Bob Hoffman’s program appears poised for a bounce-back campaign however, as the Bears return all five starters from that team led by senior guards Ria’n Holland, Jordan Strawberry and Demetre Rivers. In his first season with the program Holland, whose career began at Wichita State before spending a season at Indian Hills CC, averaged 17.2 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, shooting 37.3 percent from three and posting an effective field goal percentage of 52.7 percent.

In the front court, seniors Desmond Ringer and Stephon Jelks will lead the way, as they combined to average 14.9 points and 12.5 rebounds per contest in 2016-17. With the talent and experience on this roster Mercer is more than capable of winning what should be a tight SoCon race with Furman, Samford and ETSU in the mix as well.

14. Albany

Vermont is the preseason favorite in America East, but the Catamounts will not lack for challengers with Will Brown’s Great Danes leading the charge. UAlbany is led by a very impressive backcourt tandem in juniors David Nichols and Joe Cremo, with the former being a first team all-conference selection last season and the latter landing on the second team. Nichols and Cremo combined to average nearly 34 points and seven assists per game, and when a team has guards this good they’ll be in the mix more often than not.

Also in the perimeter rotation is Devonte Campbell, one of America East’s top defenders who also averaged 7.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in 2016-17. In the front court seniors Travis Charles and Greg Stire both return, which should help the Great Danes account for the loss of their leading rebounder from a season ago in Mike Rowley.

15. Louisiana Tech

The Bulldogs have won 23 games in each of Eric Konkol’s first two seasons at head coach, and similar success could be in the offing for this program in 2017-18. Three starters, all guards, return led by one of Conference USA’s top defenders in senior Jacobi Boykins, and sophomores DeQuan Bracey and Derric Jean. In addition to his abilities as a defender (2.0 spg), Boykins averaged 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in earning third team all-conference honors as a junior.

Bracey and Jean were two of C-USA’s top newcomers last season, with Bracey earning a spot on the All-Freshman team. Another sophomore guard, Jalen Harris, averaged 10.1 points per game in a reserve role and joined Bracey on the All-Freshman team at season’s end. The losses of forwards Erik McCree, who led the team in scoring and rebounding, and Omar Sherman do hurt, but the Bulldogs won’t lack for options with juniors Joniah White and Pensacola State CC product Harrison Curry among the players who will fight for minutes. If Louisiana Tech can solidify its front court rotation, the guards are good enough to lead the Bulldogs to a Conference USA title.

16. Harvard

Tommy Amaker’s Crimson were the preseason pick to win the Ivy League in the official poll, edging out Yale and Princeton for that honor. Four of the team’s top five scorers from a season ago return, led by first team All-Ivy selection and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Bryce Aiken. As a freshman the 6-foot tall Aiken averaged 14.5 points, 2.8 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game, starting just nine of the 26 games in which he played. With Siyani Chambers having graduated, Aiken stands to figure even more prominently in the Harvard offensive attack.

Forwards Seth Towns and Chris Lewis and guard Corey Johnson all return as well, with the 6-foot-7 Towns looking to build on a freshman season in which he averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. With the aforementioned Chambers and forward Zena Edosomwan being the most noteworthy departures, Harvard will at minimum contend for the Ivy League crown. It’s also worth noting that the program has just three seniors on the roster, meaning that a program that went to four straight NCAA tournaments from 2012 to 2015 could go on another run if they reach the Big Dance this season.

17. Grand Canyon

After spending four years as a provisional Division I member, Dan Majerle’s Antelopes are finally eligible to earn an NCAA tournament bid. GCU’s roster is well-stocked to do just that, with guard Joshua Braun (17.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg) leading the way. With leading scorer Dewayne Russell gone, Braun will be the feature offensive option for a team that also returns the likes of guards Oscar Frayer and Gerard Martin, and forward Keonta Vernon.

The loss of Russell hurts, but GCU should be fine when it comes to the point guard position due to the arrival of Oregon transfer Casey Benson. Part of the rotation on a team that reached the Final Four last season, Benson is immediately eligible to compete. The question mark for GCU, which will have to deal with New Mexico State and CSU Bakersfield at the top of the WAC, comes in the front court. If some options step forward alongside Vernon, the Antelopes could earn a tournament bid in their first season of eligibility.

18. Furman

As noted above the SoCon race is expected to be a tight one, with Furman in the mix along with Mercer, Samford and ETSU. As for the Paladins, they return the conference’s top player in senior guard Devin Sibley. Sibley, who averaged 17.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game last season, is one of four starters back from a team that won 22 games. That experience should help first-year head coach Bob Richey, who in addition to Sibley has another talented senior guard to work with in Daniel Fowler.

The key for Furman will be to account for the production lost due to the departure of forward Kris Acox, who averaged 13.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a senior. Matt Rafferty (7.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Geoff Beans (6.3, 2.5), with the latter shooting 39.1 percent from three last season, are among the front court options who will look to fill the void left by the loss of Acox.

19. Western Michigan

Steve Hawkins’ Broncos went just 16-16 overall last season, but WMU’s 11 conference wins were good enough to gain a share of the MAC West top spot. Four starters from that team return, led by senior guard Thomas Wilder. Wilder averaged 19.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game last season, shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three. Simply put, he’s one of the top shooters in college basketball.

Sophomore wing Reggie Jones earned MAC All-Freshman Team honors after averaging 9.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest, with fellow sophomore Brandon Johnson starting all 32 games and averaging 8.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Add in the team’s best defender in junior guard Bryce Moore, and centers Seth Dugan and Drake LaMont, and Western Michigan has the talent needed to make a run at the MAC title.

20. Western Kentucky

Rick Stansbury’s Hilltoppers are a bit of a wild card in this, as they’ll be counting on multiple transfers to have an immediate impact. There’s also the question of “what could have been” regarding the Mitchell Robinson, but his departure given the circus that came with his short time on campus could prove to be a blessing in disguise for WKU. Former Buffalo guard Lamonte Bearden is eligible after sitting out last season, and grad students Dwight Coleby (Kansas) and Darius Thompson (Virginia) will be eligible immediately.

WKU also adds Northwest Florida State transfer Moustapha Diagne, a one-time four-star recruit who signed with Syracuse before not being cleared academically. The newcomers will help Stansbury fill holes on a roster that lost four starters from a season ago, with leading scorer Justin Johnson (14.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg) being the lone returnee. There’s no question that WKU has a talented roster. But will all of the pieces mesh and make the Hilltoppers contenders in a Conference USA race that won’t lack for quality programs? That remains to be seen.

Others considered (in alphabetical order): CSU Bakersfield, East Tennessee State, Iona, Louisiana, New Mexico State, Northern Iowa, Old Dominion, Samford, Santa Clara, South Dakota State, UAB, UNC Asheville, UNC Wilmington.

Gardner, No. 3 Virginia rally for 70-68 win at Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Tony Bennett’s team passed all its tests in the opening month of the season.

Jayden Gardner made a go-ahead jumper with 39.9 seconds left and blocked Jett Howard’s 3-point shot just before the buzzer, allowing No. 3 Virginia to stay undefeated with a 70-68 win over Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (6-0) won their first true road game against a team that was ranked in the first two polls this season, a little more than a week after beating then-No. 5 Baylor and then-No. 19 Illinois in Las Vegas.

“It got pretty intense in here,” Bennett said.

Virginia trailed by 11 points at halftime, rallied to go ahead with 7:25 left and built a five-point lead that didn’t last.

The Wolverines (5-2) went ahead 66-65 at the 1:42 mark when Hunter Dickinson made one of two free throws.

Michigan missed chances to stay or go ahead when Dickinson missed a hook shot with 1:01 to go and Princeton transfer Jaelin Llewellyn turned the ball over with 16 seconds left.

“Hunter has made that running hook before,” coach Juwan Howard said. “The turnover, yes, down the stretch, it hurt, but overall that’s not the reason we lost the ballgame.

“We could’ve easily put our heads down when they came out in the second half and made a run.”

Reece Beekman, who finished with 18 points, stepped in front of Llewellyn’s pass in the final minute and made one of two free throws.

Virginia’s Armaan Franklin missed two free throws with 5.7 seconds left, giving Michigan a chance to extend or win the game. Howard took a contested shot beyond the 3-point arc on the right wing – near his father, Michigan’s coach – and Gardner came up with the block against the freshman guard while Wolverines coaches and players screamed for a foul call.

It appeared that Gardner got all ball on the block.

Kihei Clark scored 16 points, Gardner had 12, Kadin Shedrick fouled out with 12 points and Ben Vander Plas added 10 for the balanced Cavaliers.

“You need different guys, and that’s what it takes, to make plays offensively and defensively,” Bennett said.

Dickinson scored 23 points, Jett Howard had 11 of his 15 in the first half and Kobe Bufkin added 11 points for Michigan.

“Jett is a gamer, he’s going to compete no matter what,” Juwan Howard said. “He’s loved basketball since he was a little baby boy.

“He’s going to help us win a lot of games this year.”

The Wolverines started slowly, trailing 9-2 in the opening minutes, before Howard scored eight points to lead a 13-2 run. Michigan led 45-34 at halftime when Bufkin made a layup after a steal.

“We can’t be sloppy like that on the defensive end, but we did battle hard in the second half,” Bennett said.

Vander Plas scored nine points during an 11-2 run that put Virginia ahead 65-60. The Cavaliers then went 4 1/2 minutes without a basket before Gardner’s big shot.

THE TAKEAWAY

Virginia: The Cavaliers have their highest ranking since the 2018-19 season – which ended with a national title – and are off to their best start since being 7-0 three years ago. The team continues to honor the memory of three football players who were fatally shot on campus earlier this month, wearing warmup jerseys with their names.

Michigan: Juwan Howard’s team matched up well in its first game against a ranked opponent this season.

“When we come out with the effort like we did today for 40 minutes, I love our chances against any college team in the country,” he said.

UP NEXT

Virginia: Hosts Florida State (1-7) on Saturday.

Michigan: Plays No. 19 Kentucky (5-2) on Sunday in London.

Marquette’s defense overwhelms No. 6 Baylor in 96-70 win

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MILWAUKEE – Marquette has developed a habit under Shaka Smart of saving its top performances for the best opponents on its schedule.

Olivier-Maxence Prosper scored 24 points and Marquette capitalized on a dominant start from its defense to roll past No. 6 Baylor 96-70 on Tuesday night in the Big 12-Big East Battle. This was the highest-ranked team Marquette (6-2) has beaten under Smart and the Golden Eagles improved to to 7-6 against AP Top 25 squads in his tenure.

“Most of the time against these great teams, they don’t have us winning that game,” said David Joplin, who scored 19 points. “We just come out, we want to go out and prove everybody wrong. And that feeling, that chip makes us play so much better.”

Marquette nearly produced its most lopsided victory against a Top 25 team. The Golden Eagles trounced No. 16 Providence 88-56 on Jan. 4 in Smart’s debut season.

“When you go into a game and the game is bigger in the minds of your players than anything else, to me that’s the best recipe for winning,” Smart said. “It should be that way all the time, but human nature sometimes messes with that.”

Marquette’s defense embarrassed a highly regarded Baylor backcourt.

The Golden Eagles raced to a 51-25 halftime lead thanks to a 24-0 edge in points off turnovers. Baylor (5-2) already had a season-high 16 turnovers by halftime.

Baylor entered Tuesday ranked third among Division I teams in assist-turnover margin. The Bears had 20 turnovers and 12 assists against Marquette.

“I didn’t see that coming,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Credit the crowd. Credit them for building momentum. Credit Shaka for having them prepared and how hard they played. At the end of the day, we fed to the fire by turning it over and making some uncharacteristic mistakes.”

Prosper scored 10 points and sank two 3-pointers during a 23-2 run that turned an early 7-2 deficit into a 25-9 advantage. Chase Ross capped the spurt by getting a steal and throwing down a left-handed dunk.

Baylor never cut Marquette’s lead below 22 points in the second half.

Kam Jones had 20 points as Marquette shot 58.3% overall to win its third straight. The Golden Eagles shot 12 of 25 from 3-point range, with Jones going 4 of 7 and Prosper and Joplin each going 3 of 4.

Baylor’s LJ Cryer had 17 of his 19 points, in the second half. Adam Flagler had 16 and Keyonte George added 12 for the Bears.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears shot 48.2% (27 of 56) but had no answers for Marquette’s defense and dug too deep a hole. Baylor rallied from a 25-deficit to force overtime in an NCAA Tournament loss to North Carolina last season, but the Bears never mounted any kind of comeback Tuesday.

Marquette: After losing to Purdue and Mississippi State earlier this season, the Golden Eagles delivered the kind of performance that showed they’re capable of beating anyone. Marquette will try to prove that again when it hosts Wisconsin on Saturday.

BIG 12 VS. BIG EAST

The Big 12-Big East Battle started Tuesday and runs through Sunday. Last season’s Big 12-Big East Battle ended in a 5-5 tie.

HONORING THOMPSON

Marquette came out of its locker room wearing shirts with No. 24 to honor George Thompson, who died in June of complications from diabetes. Thompson played for Marquette from 1967-69, and he was the school’s career scoring leader for 40 years.

Tuesday would have been Thompson’s 75th birthday. A No. 24 banner with Thompson’s name hangs from the Fiserv Forum rafters.

“I really felt like we needed to win tonight to honor George,” Smart said. “If you make it George Thompson Night, you couldn’t lose.”

UP NEXT

Baylor: Faces No. 14 Gonzaga on Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Marquette: Hosts Wisconsin on Saturday.

Houston reaches No. 1 in AP poll for first time since 1983

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Make some room, Phi Slama Jama. Another Houston team has reached the top of men’s college basketball.

Nearly four decades after Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon took the Cougars to No. 1, the latest bunch led by Marcus Sasser and star freshman Jarace Walker took over the top spot in the AP Top 25. They received 45 of 63 first-place votes from the national media panel, easily outdistancing second-place Texas and third-place Virginia.

“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for a response back. We’ve been working for this,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team is coming off a Final Four and Elite Eight trip the past two seasons. “But remember, it’s a rental. You don’t own it. You’re just renting it because someday somebody else is going to be No. 1.”

North Carolina had been No. 1 all season, but the Tar Heels lost to Iowa State and in a four-overtime thriller to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational to cede the top spot to Houston, which beat Kent State in its only game last week.

The last time the Cougars ascended to No. 1 was the final poll of the 1982-83 season, when “The Glide” and “The Dream” along with coach Guy Lewis were the favorites to win it all. They rolled through the NCAA Tournament before falling to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in an iconic championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I’ve never been ranked No. 1,” said Sampson, now in his 34th season as a college basketball coach. “We were ranked all 12 years at Oklahoma. I’m sure we were ranked at Indiana. Then we’ve been ranked five or six straight years. We’re used to having a high level of success.”

Texas received eight first-place votes and Virginia received two. Arizona climbed from 14th to fourth after emerging from a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational. Purdue jumped from 24th all the way to fifth and scooped up eight first-place votes after beating West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke at the Phil Knight Legacy tourney.

“Our guys are competitive. They’re fun to coach. They get along. They’re out there playing with purpose and that’s what you have to have,” said Boilermakers coach Matt Painter, whose team was briefly No. 1 about this time last season.

“Early in the season, very few teams play with the purpose collectively,” he said. “I thought our guys played with a purpose.”

Baylor was sixth, Creighton seventh and U Conn climbed from 20th to eighth after beating Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State to win the Phil Knight Invitational. Kansas fell from third to ninth after losing to Tennessee in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, while Indiana rounded out the top 10.

There was a tie for 11th between SEC rivals Alabama and Arkansas with the Volunteers, another conference foe, right behind them. Gonzaga dropped from sixth to 14th, its first time outside the top 10 since Feb. 5, 2018, and Auburn was 15th.

Illinois was next followed by Duke and North Carolina in a tough week for Tobacco Road. The Blue Devils fell from eighth after their 75-56 loss to the Boilermakers.

Kentucky and Michigan State joined UCLA, Maryland, Iowa State, San Diego State and Ohio State in rounding out the poll.

RISING AND FALLING

Purdue made a rare 19-spot jump as the poll underwent a massive shakeup. UConn climbed 12 spots, Arizona moved up 10, Tennessee climbed nine and Alabama seven. On the flip side, the Tar Heels tumbled 17 spots, Duke dropped nine, Gonzaga fell eight and San Diego State fell seven.

IN AND OUT

Despite all the movement, Iowa State was the only newcomer this week, checking in at No. 23 after beating Villanova and North Carolina before falling to UConn. The Cyclones replaced Iowa, which dropped out after a one-week stay following its loss to TCU in the title game of the Emerald Coast Classic.

CONFERENCE WATCH

There are six difference conferences represented in the first seven teams in the poll. The Big Ten leads the way with six in the Top 25 while the SEC has five and the Big 12 has four, though three of them are in the top 10.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Stanford, UConn next

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South Carolina remained the unanimous No. 1 choice in The Associated Press women’s poll, as the Gamecocks keep close watch on the foot injury of reigning Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.

The Gamecocks received all 29 first-place votes in the poll, a day after Boston left a game with her injury. Coach Dawn Staley said Boston was “questionable” going forward but added that the “team doctor wasn’t too, too concerned.”

South Carolina’s next game is at home against No. 15 UCLA.

Stanford remained No. 2 after cruising through a tournament in Hawaii. It’s the 618th appearance for Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer, tying the late Pat Summitt for most all-time. Summitt’s teams only missed being in the poll 14 times during her Hall of Fame career at Tennessee.

UConn, Ohio State and Indiana rounded out the top five.

The Huskies are one of four Big East teams to be ranked this week as Marquette entered the poll at No. 24. It’s the first time the Big East has four ranked teams since the conference realigned in 2014. The league is 56-14 so far this season, including going 8-2 against ranked teams.

“We’ve been trying to earn a little more respect,” Marquette coach Megan Duffy said of the Big East. “Tried to schedule tougher non-conference (games). ‘Nova’s playing people. Us going to the Bahamas was great. Creighton’s doing what they’ve been doing since last season. Getting some of those quality wins is everything.”

North Carolina moved up two spots to No. 6 after rallying to beat then-No. 5 Iowa State in the Phil Knight tournament. The Cyclones fell to eighth.

The Tar Heels visit the Hoosiers on Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Indiana returns home after winning two games in Las Vegas at a subpar venue that lacked basic necessities.

Notre Dame remained No. 7 while Virginia Tech and Iowa finished off the top 10. At No. 9, Virginia Tech has matched its best ranking ever and is in the top 10 for the first time since 1999.

Tennessee fell out of the poll this week marking the 56th time in the 827-week history of the poll that the Lady Vols weren’t ranked. Kansas State also fell out with Gonzaga moving in at No. 23.

FALLING CARDINALS

Louisville dropped to 18th in the poll this week after falling to South Dakota State in the fifth place game at the Battle 4 Atlantis last week. It’s the Cardinals lowest ranking since Jan. 11, 2016.

Louisville entered the top 10 in the preseason poll in 2017 and hadn’t been out since, a span of 98 consecutive weeks. It was the longest active streak.

“It’s a compliment to the consistency that we built here,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of being ranked in the top 10 for so long. “Obviously are goal would have been to stay in the top 10, but it’s a new team and growing.”

Edey scores 21 as No. 24 Purdue beats No. 8 Duke 75-56

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Zach Edey and No. 24 Purdue shook off a slow start. When No. 8 Duke tried to rally in the second half, the Boilermakers finished strong.

Edey had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Purdue beat Duke 75-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Fletcher Loyer scored 18 points for Purdue (6-0), and reserve Caleb Furst finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“I feel like we weren’t getting the looks we wanted early. As we settled into the game, we kept our poise and kept getting the shots that we wanted,” Edey said. “They were making some tough twos at the beginning of the game, shots we’re OK with all season.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey was 7 for 13 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line. He was named tournament MVP.

“They have the most unique player in the country,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Edey. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”

Duke (6-2) shot 36.2% (21 for 58) from the field. Tyres Proctor scored 16 points for the Blue Devils. Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach each had 14.

Ethan Morton had a steal and a dunk to help Purdue open a 58-41 lead with 15:37 left in the second half.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two foul shots by Dariq Whitehead. But Furst made a layup and a jumper to help hold off the Blue Devils.

A hook by Edey and a 3-pointer by Loyer made it 68-56 with 5:03 remaining.

Duke got off to a 14-7 start before Purdue worked its way back into the game.

“I don’t feel like we came out bad today, but they matched our energy,” Edey said.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Newman pushed the Purdue lead to 46-28. A late run by Duke cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 46-35 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It looked as if Roach had an issue with his left foot at one point, but he went back into the game. Scheyer said Roach had hurt his toe.

Purdue: Although neither team had great offensive games, Purdue was the better team from range. Purdue made seven 3-pointers to just two for Duke.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue: Visits Florida State on Wednesday.