2018 NCAA Tournament Power Rankings: The Field of 68, from 1-to-North Carolina-Central

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Who doesn’t love a good set of Power Rankings?

Everyone does.

There isn’t a person in the world that doesn’t love rankings things.

So with that in mind, let’s dive into the field of 68 Power Rankings, but instead of breaking down who the best teams in the field are, let’s take a look at the most like teams to win the national title. It’s not simply about how good they are. How good is their path to the Final Four? How likely are they to get picked off by the No. 10 seed that didn’t deserve to be a No. 10 seed? Who was given the gift of being the No. 1 seed guaranteed to face a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16?

The best part about this?

I think you can make an argument for any of the top five to be No. 1, any of the top eight teams on this list can win the national title and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least, and there are a good 17 or 18 teams that I think have a good shot to get to the Final Four.

The tournament this season is going to be a whole lot of fun.

Here are the Power Rankings:

68. NORTH CAROLINA-CENTRAL: For the third time in five seasons, LeVelle Moton have NCCU heading to the NCAA tournament. What might be the most impressive part about getting it done with this team is that the Eagles are, frankly, not all that good.

67. LIU-BROOKLYN: One season after getting fired by UMass, Derek Kellogg is back in the NCAA tournament with the Blackbirds. They will got as far as Joel Hernandez and Raiquan Clark carry them, and for a team that entered the NEC tournament under .500, that may only be out of the play-in game.

66. CAL ST.-FULLERTON: Fullerton is better known for their baseball team, but the Titans have reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008 and for just the second time in program history. The Titans are led by Brooklyn native Kyle Allman, a 6-foot-3 guard that poured in 19.4 points a night.

65. TEXAS SOUTHERN: Mike Davis is heading back to the NCAA tournament after losing his first 13 games of the season. The Jaguars are led by three transfers from high-major programs and Damontrae Jefferson, who averaged 23.7 points and 4.4 assists this season.

64. RADFORD: The Highlanders had the most memorable entrance to the NCAA tournament, as they advanced to the dance on a the most memorable buzzer-beater from Championship Week.

63. UMBC: The Retrievers got 27 points and a game-winning three from VCU transfer Jairus Lyles to get into the Big Dance. Lyles can light things up, and UMBC’s head coach, Ryan Odom, has high-major pedigree. His father, Dave, coached Wake Forest and South Carolina.

62. LIPSCOMB: Lipscomb wants to run as much as any team in the country, averaging more than 75 possessions per game. Garrison Matthews is a stud. But my favorite part about this team is that their head coach, Casey Alexander, is a Rick Byrd disciple and a longtime Belmont assistant coach. Belmont and Lipscomb are arch-rivals. It would be akin to Jon Scheyer replacing Roy Williams at North Carolina.

61. IONA: This group is somewhat different than past Iona teams. They don’t have a superstar in their back court this season. They don’t have a monster on the block this season. They finished fourth in the MAAC, and this season was the lowest that the Gaels have been ranked on KenPom in Tim Cluess’ tenure, and none of that mattered. They’re back in the tournament for the fifth time in seven seasons.

60. MONTANA: The Grizzlies took over the Big Sky regular season and tournament titles, and they are led by one of the best backcourts in the mid-major ranks. Ahmaad Rorie is a former top 100 prospect that started his career at Oregon and leads the team in scoring and in assists. The Grizzlies have been one of the best programs in the league, but this is the first time in four seasons that DeCuire has reached an NCAA tournament in Missoula.

59. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN: The Lumberjacks are back in the NCAA tournament with the Southland’s automatic bid after a one-year hiatus. In his second season as head coach, Kyle Keller won 28 games, including a game at LSU. As always, SFA is one of the most aggressive defenses in college basketball, leading the nation in turnover percentage.

58. PENN: Penn was long considered to be the class of the Ivy League, reaching 11 NCAA tournaments in a 15-year span from 1993-2007. This is their first trip to the Big Dance in 11 years. It’s worth noting that in the last eight years, the Ivy League has won five NCAA tournament games, including a trip to the Sweet 16 for Cornell. That Cornell team was coached by Steve Donahue, who is currently … Penn’s head coach. All the dots are connecting here.

(Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

57. BUCKNELL: This is the second straight season that Nathan Davis has led his team to the NCAA tournament and the third year that he’s won the Patriot League regular season title in three seasons as a head coach. And this may be surprising for a team whose best players are both big men, but the Bison play some uptempo basketball; they’re 38th nationally is possessions per game.

56. WRIGHT STATE: My favorite part about this Wright State team is that their best player is probably Loudon Love, a 6-foot-9, 275 pound former offensive lineman that is coming off of a torn ACL and changed his last name to Love from Vollbrecht. How can you not root for a team with a guy like that?

55. GEORGIA STATE: The Panthers have a future NBA player in D’Marcus Simonds on their roster and a head coach in Ron Hunter that has won a game in the NCAA tournament before. I actually think they’ll have a puncher’s chance against Cincinnati if they can find a way to score the ball.

54. UNC GREENSBORO: Not only did UNCG go 15-3 in a SoCon that is probably better than you realize, but the Spartans also went into N.C. State this season and picked up a win in Raleigh. Former North Carolina point guard Wes Miller is building something pretty impressive in Greensboro, and unlike his alma mater, it’s built around controlling tempo and playing tough, physical defense.

53. BUFFALO: For the second time in three seasons, Nate Oats is heading to the NCAA tournament. His Buffalo team won both the MAC regular season and tournament titles. C.J. Massinburg is the star of this team, but the name to keep an eye on is Wes Clark, a transfer from Missouri that went for 26 points in the MAC title game.

52. MARSHALL: Coached by Dan D’antoni, the brother of Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’antoni, the Thundering Herd play at one of the fastest paces in all of college basketball. They love firing up threes, they love slinging the ball all over the court and they are going to be the perfect combination of a nightmare scout and a thrilling watch. They swept CUSA’s best team, Middle Tennessee State, this season, and their best player, Jon Elmore, averaged 22.8 points, 6.9 assists and 6.0 boards. Those are the same numbers that Markelle Fultz posted last season.

51. NEW MEXICO STATE: The Aggies are led by Zach Lofton, who has played at three different Division I programs and is averaging 19.8 points as college basketball’s ultimate journeyman, while 6-foot-5 guard Jemerrio Jones averages 13.2 boards. This is a fun team.

50. CHARLESTON: The Cougars have one of the best back courts in the mid-major ranks with Joe Chealey and Grant Riller. They also have one of the big forwards in mid-major hoops in Jarrell Brantley. Oh, and should I mention that Earl Grant is one of the best young coaches in mid-major basketball? There’s some potential here.

49. MURRAY STATE: The Racers cruised to an Ohio Valley regular season title and, after winning their last 13 games, enter the NCAA tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country. But what really makes them dangerous is that their star point guard Jonathan Stark, who averaged 21.8 points and 3.9 assists this season, is good enough to win a first round game all by myself.

48. SYRACUSE: The Orange are the one team in the NCAA tournament that you can put together a pretty strong argument does not belong. But this same argument was made about the Orange in 2016, the year that they came back from 15 points down in the final 10 minutes to beat No. 1 seed Virginia in the Elite 8. Play-in game to the Final Four again? I doubt it.

47. ARIZONA STATE: The Sun Devils are a dangerous team because of the amount of talent they have in their back court, but they also have not looked dangerous during the 2018 calendar year. We’ll see if they can get past Syracuse and their 2-3 zone in the play-in game.

(David Becker/Getty Images)

46. TEXAS: The Longhorns made it to the Big Dance with a defense that is anchored by a dinosaur that plays center for them named Mo Bamba. But they cannot score, and Bamba has not been healthy for the last couple of weeks. Teams that can’t score are teams that you can’t trust in March.

45. LOYOLA-CHICAGO: The Ramblers are currently ranked 41st on KenPom, which is quite impressive for a team in the Valley not named Wichita State. Then throw in these three fun facts: Loyola has not lost since January 31st, they have won 17 of their last 18 games and they went into Florida and picked up a win on the road. They can lock you up and, with five players averaging in double-figures, you never quite know where the offense is coming from. This is a good, dangerous basketball team.

44. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE: The Jackrabbits are one of the sneaky-good mid-major teams in the field this year. They stormed through the Summit League this season, they have a potential NBA player in center Mike Daum and they do the three things that teams need to do to pull an upset: They don’t turn the ball over, they clean the defensive glass and they shoot it well from three.

43. UCLA: I don’t know if there is a player in college basketball that was better over the course of the final month of the season than Aaron Holiday was for the Bruins. But the rest of that roster is not all that impressive, and they do have to start things off in a play-in game against …

42. ST. BONAVENTURE: … which will give us the best individual matchup of the first four days of the tournament: Holiday vs. Jaylen Adams. I think the Bonnies have a better supporting cast, but if Courtney Stockard isn’t healthy that would be a major blow.

41. OKLAHOMA: Here’s the question that you need to ask about this Oklahoma team: Do they still enjoy playing together? Trae Young has not been the same player for the final two months of the season because teams have figured out that you can throw everything you have at Trae Young and they don’t have an answer. But Young was at his best when they didn’t have to play Big 12 opponents, so maybe this is his chance to get right?

40. FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles are just so uninspiring this season. They are the definition of a high-major team that got into the tournament because they were able to land a couple good wins at home in close games against conference opponents. Does a one-point win against Clemson or a two-point win against UNC in Tallahassee really move the needle for you?

39. KANSAS STATE: The Wildcats do check some boxes. They play defense and they have good guards, but just how healthy is Dean Wade? He missed the game against Kansas in the Big 12 tournament and he is the best player Bruce Weber has.

38. DAVIDSON: The Wildcats will enter the NCAA tournament as one of the hottest teams in college basketball after winning the Atlantic 10 tournament, beating both St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island in the process. They’ve now won 11 of their last 13 games, including three wins in their last four games against the best two teams in the A10. The nation is going to learn just how good Peyton Aldridge and Kellan Grady are.

37. SAN DIEGO STATE: There might not be a hotter team in college basketball right now than the Aztecs, who won their last nine games losing six of eight to drop to 13-10 on the season and 5-7 in the Mountain West. They absolutely blasted Nevada in the MWC tournament, beat Gonzaga in San Diego and closed the regular season with wins over the two best teams in their conference. Malik Pope, Trey Kell and Jeremy Helmsley are the names people know, but Jalen McDaniels is going to be the next Aztec star.

 

36. VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies drew Collin Sexton in the first round, and while that’s a winnable game is Sexton doesn’t happen to have one of those nights, they would get Villanova in the second round. And Villanova has beaten better teams that Virginia Tech when they’ve had off-nights. Tough draw for Buzz Williams and company.

(Lauren Rakes/Getty Images)

35. N.C. STATE: I don’t think anyone could have envisioned a scenario where the Wolfpack were this good this soon under Keatts. So credit them for just getting here in the first place. I also think that it is going to be tough sledding for N.C. State to get out of the first round, and then they would run into a Kansas team that is more than happy to play with them at their pace. It is what it is.

34. TCU: TCU had a fantastic season. No one is saying they didn’t. But their path to the Final Four would include Michigan State, Duke and Kansas. That’s before they would play in the Final Four. That’s a nightmare scenario.

33. ARKANSAS: There are two things that make me hesitant about Arkansas: 1. I don’t think teams with good guards are going to be flustered by their pressure, and 2. They are not going to be playing these NCAA tournament games in Fayetteville.

32. BUTLER: I actually like the Bulldogs to get past Arkansas, but I just don’t see either of these team being able to beat Purdue in the second round. The first time Purdue played Butler, they won by 15 points. And I can’t see a veteran group like the Boilermakers being bothered by pressure.

31. MISSOURI: I know Michael Porter Jr. is back, but we don’t yet know if Jordan Barnett is going to play or if the elder Porter actually fits with this team. It’s impressive that Cuonzo Martin got them here, but I can’t see a way they can make a run in March.

30. CLEMSON: I don’t see it with Clemson and I haven’t really seen it all season long with them. I think they get caught by Chris Jans and New Mexico State in the first round.

29. RHODE ISLAND: The Rams have been a fun team to watch this season and are probably good enough, from a talent perspective, to be a top four or five seed. But they’ve struggled of late, with a pair of losses to Davidson and a blowout loss at home against a bad St. Joseph’s team. Now they’re a No. 7 seed without much size that is probably going to get Duke in the second round if they can beat Oklahoma. Good luck with that.

28. NEVADA: Like URI, I want to like Nevada more than I do because they are a team that plays the way I love to see teams play: No bigs, spread the floor, let it fly. But they just have not been the same team since Lindsay Drew went down with that achilles injury.

27. TEXAS A&M: I bet on talent in the NCAA tournament. The Aggies have plenty of it, and their size up front is makes them a difficult matchup for just about anyone. But their issues in the back court have been well-documented, and I just don’t know how they are going to deal with Providence and Kyron Cartwright in the first round.

26. ALABAMA: I don’t know that I trust Alabama to show up away from home the way they showed up away from home in the SEC tournament, but if they can get by Virginia Tech, they get the best matchup they could have gotten with a No. 1 seed. Villanova has struggled with dynamic lead guards, and I’m not sure there is a more dynamic lead guard in the country than Collin Sexton.

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25. CREIGHTON: The Bluejays are a dangerous team because of their ability to make shots and the fact that they probably have two pros on the roster in Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, the latter of whom can take just about anyone out of a basketball game. That said, a second round date with Virginia is … not ideal.

24. PROVIDENCE: Ed Cooley + Kyron Cartwright + a one-game knockout tournament = the Friars making a run to the Big East title game and giving Villanova a fight there. Don’t be surprised if they are again a tough out against North Carolina.

23. SETON HALL: The Pirates actually got a pretty good draw for being a No. 8 seed. They are a tough, physical and old team going up against an N.C. State team that isn’t. Get past that game and they get Kansas in the second round. If the Jayhawks are without Udoka Azubuike the first weekend of the tournament, will Angel Delgado set the college basketball record for rebounds in a game or just tie it?

22. MIAMI: I was all-in on Miami early on this season and they’ve gotten better throughout the year and still might get Bruce Brown back for the tournament. That said, they are going to be in for a fight in their first round game against Loyola-Chicago.

21. OHIO STATE: Chris Holtmann has done a phenomenal job with this team, but South Dakota State is a really, really difficult matchup for the Buckeyes. They don’t have the mobile bigs to chase around Mike Daum.

20. AUBURN: The Tigers are higher on this list that I was going to rank them because they got a pretty good draw. They get beaten by teams with a ton of size, and no one in their pod has a ton of size, I think Clemson gets upset by New Mexico State and they get Kansas in the Sweet 16 if seeds hold.

19. TENNESSEE: I want to like Tennessee this season, but I just cannot get on the bandwagon. They had an unbelievable year, but I am a firm believer that talent wins out in March and I just don’t think that the Vols have enough of it to make a run this season. I think they could end up getting picked off by Miami in the second round.

18. WICHITA STATE: I think Wichita State can handle Marshall, but a team that has one ball-handler and lacks the toughness that the Shockers typically play with strikes me as a terrible matchup for a team like West Virginia.

17. HOUSTON: The Cougars have been scorching hot of late, and if it wasn’t for an ill-timed turnover on the final possession of the AAC tournament title game, we might be talking about Kelvin Sampson and a conference champion. One major red flag here: Zavier Simpson might be able to completely take away Rob Gray in the second round.

16. WEST VIRGINIA: I think West Virginia has a relatively easy path to get to the Sweet 16. I also think that West Virginia drew the worst possible matchup they could have drawn in the Sweet 16, assuming that Villanova gets there.

(Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

15. GONZAGA: Here’s a hot-take for you — the fact that Gonzaga returned to the NCAA tournament this year as a top 10ish team in college basketball is more of a statement for the strength of their program than reaching the national title game was. They lost two key seniors and two players to the draft with eligibility remaining and, with the likes of Johnathan Williams III, Killian Tillie and Josh Perkins, they are a team that can threaten for the Final Four again. That’s impressive.

14. PURDUE: I think that Purdue has been figured out. As good as this team is and as much as I enjoy watching them play, I don’t know that I trust them to be able to beat teams that are going to allow Isaac Haas to go one-on-one on the block with a talented lead-guard defender that can cut of Carsen Edwards’ penetration. I like them to get beat by Texas Tech in the Sweet 16.

13. MICHIGAN: The Wolverines were the hottest team in the country a week ago, as they ran through the Big Ten tournament. But did they run through the Big Ten tournament because they were that good or because the Big Ten wasn’t? The other problem? I don’t like the matchups they have in the Sweet 16 (UNC) or the Elite 8 (Xavier).

12. FLORIDA: I can totally see the Gators getting bounced in the first round by either St. Bonaventure or UCLA. But I can also see them getting on one of those runs where they just cannot miss no matter how hard they try to miss and average 100 points through four games. The hardest team to project in this tournament, which is what makes them so dangerous.

11. KENTUCKY: Which Kentucky team is going to show up? Because the one that played in the SEC tournament looked damn good even without Jarred Vanderbilt. But the one that we saw entirely too often during the regular season — including in the regular season finale against Florida — might not have the firepower to get past Davidson. I think the former is the answer, which would set up a fascinating matchup in the second round with …

10. ARIZONA: I just cannot quit you, Arizona. When Deandre Ayton is playing the way that he has been playing of late, it’s hard to count the Wildcats out of any game. And while they have a nightmare road trying to get to the Elite 8, I think that Arizona will have the two best players on the floor in every game that they play until at least the Final Four.

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

9. CINCINNATI: I don’t love this Cincinnati team, but I do think that their section of the bracket shakes out nicely for them. I can’t see Nevada, Texas, Miami or Tennessee really giving them a fight. That said, I have a hard time trusting a team when their best player — Jacob Evans — doesn’t realize that he needs to be their best player.

8. KANSAS: There are a couple of reasons that Kansas is this low for me, and they kind of stem from the same root cause: a lack of front line depth. As good as the Jayhawks looked in the Big 12 tournament this weekend, they are still waiting on word on whether or not Udoka Azubuike will be healthy enough to play this postseason. Without him, can they beat a team like Duke or Michigan State, who has that much size on the interior?

7. TEXAS TECH: Keenan Evans is my pick to go all Shabazz Napier this season. When UConn won the title in 2014, their profile was eerily similar to that of Texas Tech this year. They were very good defensively, they tended to struggle on the offensive end of the floor and they had a superstar senior point guard that could take over games and loved having the ball on key possessions. Evans is the go-to guy that assuages my fear of elite defensive teams in March.

6. MICHIGAN STATE: Maybe I’m buying into the hype too much, but if you are telling me that I can take Tom Izzo with two weeks worth of practice time to try and figure out what, exactly, was going on with his team, I’m going to like them to make a run, even if they aren’t one of the top two seeds in their region.

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

5. XAVIER: I don’t love Xavier this year. I think they have a major issue in the fact that their best offensive team is very different than their best defensive team. Teams like that concern me. That said, I don’t know if there are three guys in college basketball that can get hot, stay hot and carry a team the way Trevon Bluiett can. Throw in Chris Mack, who may be coaching this Musketeer program for the final time, and you have a team that can make a run.

4. NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels have been to the national title game the last two seasons. They have more Quadrant 1 wins than anyone in the sport. They have a veteran roster that has won more games — and more often in March — than anyone else in the sport right now. And, after getting to the ACC title game, I think it’s safe to say that they are hitting their stride. Roy Williams is playing an entirely different roster than what we are used to seeing from the Tar Heels, and it hasn’t really mattered yet. Their matchup with Michigan in the Sweet 16 might will be tough.

3. VIRGINIA: While I am not yet convinced that Virginia is the best team in college basketball, I can’t find any way to justify leaving them off of the No. 1 spot on their side of the bracket. I’m still worried about the same things with this group — can a team with an elite defense that plays at a slow pace without a go-to guy win a national title? — but at this point it’s impossible to look at their absurd body of work and think that there is anyone else in the country that has a better shot of winning six more games this season than they do.

My favorite part of this team right now? Speaking with them last night, it’s impossible to think that thye are anything other than ready to prove that they are a program capable of making a run to the final weekend of the college basketball season.

2. DUKE: I know they’re not a No. 1 seed and I know that they have lost seven games and just fell at the hands of North Carolina in the ACC tournament, but I just can’t quit this narcotic. They are the only team in college basketball to be ranked in the top seven in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom, and it’s inarguable that they have been playing elite-level defense since switching to the zone. And that’s why, despite losses at Virginia Tech and to North Carolina in their last four games, I still think Duke is very much one of, if not the best team in college basketball.

1. VILLANOVA: I’m struggling with where to put Villanova on this list. On the one hand, when they are making their threes and Mikal Bridges plays the way that he did in the Big East tournament this weekend, they are very, very tough to best. On the other hand, their question marks on the defensive end of the floor — particularly against teams with play-making guards — combined with the fact that so much of their offense depends on how well they shoot it makes me think that they could be ripe for an upset.

The Wildcats got the easiest draw of any No. 1 seed. They also might end up getting Collin Sexton and Jevon Carter or Landry Shamet before the Elite 8. That’s tough.

My pick to win the national title is whoever wins the Final Four game between Duke and Villanova, and I have not decided who I want to pick to win that game. Today, I’m leaning Villanova. Tomorrow, I might not be.

(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Flagler, No. 6 Baylor rally late, top No. 14 Gonzaga 64-63

Baylor vs. Gonzaga
USA Today
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — In a rematch of the 2021 national championship game, Adam Flagler hit a pair of 3s as No. 6 Baylor scored the final eight points to rally past No. 14 Gonzaga 64-63 Friday night.

Gonzaga’s Rasir Bolton missed a wild, driving layup try at the buzzer.

Two seasons ago, Baylor beat the then-undefeated Zags 86-70 to win its first title. This time, the Bears didn’t take the lead for good until Jalen Bridges made two free throws with 16 seconds left.

“Adam is a great leader, but no one knew he wasn’t feeling well today,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “To be honest, some players wouldn’t have played. He played through the pain and left it all out on the court. As a coach, I appreciate that.”

The Bears (6-2) trailed 63-56 before Flagler hit a 3-pointer with 1:33 left. Flagler’s 3 with just over a minute to play cut Baylor’s deficit to 63-62.

After a Gonzaga shot clock violation, Flagler’s 3-point attempt for the lead was off the mark, but Bridges was fouled by Drew Timme on the rebound attempt. Bridges hit two foul shots to put Baylor ahead.

The Zags (5-3) had a final chance when Bolton caught an inbounds pass near his own foul line with 4.6 seconds remaining. He drove the lane, but his off-balance shot went high off the glass and missed as the buzzer sounded.

“We took two balls down hill and tried to make plays at the rim. At that point in the game, those are tough,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “It’s very disappointing. They made plays, man.”

Freshman Keyonte George had 18 points and seven rebounds for Baylor. Flagler had 11 points and Langston Love added 10.

“I trust my work. I was able to knock them down,” George said. “My teammates believe in me each and every day. They give me that confidence in a big game to make big shots like that.”

Malchi Smith scored 16 points for Gonzaga. Anton Watson added a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Timme had nine points.

Baylor led by as many as 12 in the first half before Gonzaga closed to five at the break.

Watson’s basket put Gonzaga ahead 41-40. From there, the teams swapped leads over the next 13 minutes as the second half featured two ties and 14 lead changes.

A thunderous dunk from Smith gave Gonzaga its seven-point lead with under two minutes to go.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The win was a big rebound for Baylor after its 26-point loss to Marquette earlier in the week. The loss was the Bears’ most lopsided since they fell to Kansas 82-56 in 2007

Gonzaga: After opening the season ranked No. 2 in the AP preseason poll, the Zags have now lost two of three.

STAR WATCH

Timme began the night leading the Bulldogs in scoring at 20 points per game. He was hampered by foul trouble against Baylor and got his first field goal with six minutes remaining. He fouled out with 16 seconds to play.

REMATCH PLAYERS

Four players on the floor Friday night had significant minutes in the championship game two years ago including Flagler, Timme and Watson, along with Baylor’s Flo Thamba.

UP NEXT

Baylor: The Bears return home to host Tarleton on Tuesday before playing Washington State on Sunday in Dallas for the Pac 12 Coast-to-Coast Challenge.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs return to Spokane for three straight beginning Monday when they face Kent State for the first time in school history.

Carr scores 19, No. 2 Texas beats No. 7 Creighton 72-67

Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas had pressured Creighton’s shooters into a miserable night, only to watch a late flurry of 3-pointers start swishing.

An 11-point Longhorns lead was down to three.

That hardly rattled Marcus Carr and the second-ranked Longhorns, who stepped up with big late shots of their own and steady free-throw shooting to secure another impressive early-season victory, 72-67 over the seventh-ranked Bluejays on Thursday night.

Carr scored 19 points and made two free throws with 10 seconds left as Texas held off Creighton’s furious late-game rally.

Creighton struggled through a wretched 3-point shooting night, but pulled within 62-59 thanks in part to five points in a row by Baylor Scheierman. Carr’s baseline jumper and an easy layup by Tyrese Hunter when Creighton lost him on an inbound pass with 46 seconds left stretched the Longhorns’ lead again.

That didn’t quite close the door on Creighton, which got two more 3-pointers from Scheierman, who had missed his first nine attempts. That forced Texas to finish it from the free-throw line behind Carr and Brock Cunningham. Cunningham’s two free throws with 4 seconds left were his only points of the game.

“There’s going to be a bunch of times one of us has to go down there and knock down a bunch of free throws,” Carr said. “We talk about it all the time.”

The matchup was part of the Big 12-Big East Battle and Texas earned its second win over a top-10 opponent in its new arena. The Longhorns (6-0) beat then-No. 2 Gonzaga on Nov. 16 and have their highest ranking since they were No. 1 during the 2009-2010 season.

“I don’t think we’ve proven anything,” Texas coach Chris Beard said. “We’re just a team that’s trying to get better.”

Hunter scored 15 points for Texas.

Ryan Kalkbrenner had 20 points and 13 rebounds for Creighton (6-2), and Ryan Nembhard scored 17 points. The Bluejays were 4 of 27 on 3-pointers.

Scheierman, a 44% shooter from beyond the arc this season, made three 3s in a row late. His off-balance shot from the right corner over a defender pulled the Bluejays within 68-65 with 11.4 seconds left.

Scheierman finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

“The reality is you are gonna have nights,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “It just happens. We don’t ever want him to stop shooting.”

BIG PICTURE

Creighton: Kalkbrenner was all but unstoppable on a 9-of-10 shooting night for the Bluejays, who kept launching from long range instead of looking for their 7-foot-1 center.

Texas: The Longhorns couldn’t force their usual numbers of turnovers and fast-break points, but were exceptionally clean with the ball on offense. Texas had just three turnovers that Creighton turned into three points.

FORMER TEAMMATES

Texas senior forward Christian Bishop played three seasons at Creighton before transferring prior to last season. He finished with six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes.

“We understood what this game was, not just for our team but for Christian,” Carr said.

TIRED TEAM

McDermott suggested his team maybe just wore out. The Bluejays went 2-1 in the Maui Invitational last week and then played their first game of the season on an opponent’s home court.

“Three games in three days against ranked teams (in Hawaii) and then to come in here,” McDermott said. “That’s a lot to ask of my team.”

UP NEXT

Creighton hosts in-state rival Nebraska on Sunday.

Texas plays No. 16 Illinois in New York City on Dec. 6 in the Jimmy V Classic.

No. 20 Maryland upsets No. 7 Notre Dame at the buzzer, 74-72

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Diamond Miller scored 31 points, including the game-winner at the buzzer, to lead No. 20 Maryland to a 74-72 victory over seventh-ranked Notre Dame on Thursday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Irish guard Sonia Cintron’s layup had tied the game with 15 seconds left off before Maryland held for the last shot. Miller hit a contested mid-range jumper just before time expired to give the Terrapins a victory over a top-10 opponent. It was the 15th lead change of the game.

Miller also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with five assists. Shyanne Sellers added 17 points.

Maryland (7-2) picked up its first win over Notre Dame (6-1) since 2007.

Cintron’s double-double led the Irish with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Notre Dame’s leading scorer Olivia Miles got off to a slow start on Thursday due to foul trouble. She scored 12 of her 14 points in the final 15 minutes of the game to go along with seven assists and two steals.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: The Terrapins picked up their second top-20 win of the season ahead of the upcoming Big Ten opener.

Notre Dame: The Irish have had issues with foul trouble this season, a problem that persisted on Thursday. Miles played just 25 minutes, including the majority of the fourth quarter, due to picking up her fourth foul late in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Maryland: Returns to College Park for the program’s Big Ten opener Sunday against Nebraska.

Notre Dame: Stays home to host No. 3 UConn Sunday.

Virginia’s depth helping its rapid climb in the AP Top 25

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The starting five is the same, but that is where comparisons between the Virginia team that has climbed to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and last year’s NIT quarterfinalists ends.

Yes, one more year together and a trip to Italy has made the first five significantly better, but part of the credit for that surely goes to another group: the reinforcements. They’ve helped the Cavaliers (6-0) already knock off No. 6 Baylor, No. 16 Illinois and Michigan.

Virginia has scored 70 points or more in its first six game for the first time since the 2003-04 season, and coach Tony Bennett said it was the offense – and not UVA’s signature relentless defense – that saved them in a 70-68 victory this week at Michigan in the ACC/Bg Ten Challenge.

“Our offense kind of kept us in it in the first half,” Bennett said, before the team put it all together, erasing an 11-point halftime deficit to disappoint a raucous Wolverines crowd.

Reece Beekman was the offensive catalyst, scoring 15 of his 18 points before halftime, but four others joined him in double figures, including Jayden Gardner. His foul-line jumper with 39.9 seconds left provided the last of his 11 points, and the winning margin.

Gardner, who led Virginia in scoring last season (15.3 ppg), is averaging 11.5 this year.

“We’ve got a lot of capable scorers and we’re just gonna keep playing together. And we’re playing very unselfish basketball right now,” Gardner said after scoring 24 against Maryland Eastern Shore. He went into the game with 31 points through four games.

“He’s not the most jumping type of guy, but he’s got so much power,” Hawks coach Jason Crafton said of Gardner, an East Carolina transfer with 2,068 career points. “That low center of gravity and the flexibility that he has to be able to get under people and hold his position is elite. When he wants the ball at a certain spot, he can get it there.”

The leader remains guard Kihei Clark, who already has a place in Virginia history, having retrieved a loose ball and fed Mamadi Diakite for a jumper that sent the Cavs’ Elite Eight game against Purdue into overtime on the way to winning the 2019 national championship.

Newcomers Ben Vander Plas, a transfer from Ohio, and freshman Isaac McKneely have given Bennett more options, and more scoring power than a year ago.

As a junior, Vander Plas had 17 points for No. 13 seed Ohio when the Bobcats upset Virginia 62-58 in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

He scored seven straight in the second half against the Wolverines, twice scoring inside and then swishing a 3-pointer while trying to slow down bruising big man Hunter Dickinson.

“Ben, yeah. Just his poise and composure in the post, took advantage of some mismatches and he really gave us a great lift,” Bennett said. Vander Plas is the son of a teammate of Bennett’s at Green Bay, and his first name is a tribute to Bennett’s father, Dick.

McKneely scored 15 and made 4 of 6 3-point tries in an 89-42 victory against Monmouth

“He was standing in front of our bench. I’m like, `Listen, we’re not helping off him,”‘ Monmouth coach King Rice said he told his team, pointing at McKneely, a two-time player of the year in West Virginia. “And he kind of looked at me and I said, `Yeah, you, because you make all of them,’ and he started laughing.”

Ryan Dunn also made quite the impression on Rice in his first collegiate appearance, scoring 13 points with six rebounds and three blocks in almost 27 minutes.

“I was in the building when De’Andre Hunter came off the bench and had a breakout game,” Rice said of Hunter, now with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. “Dunn reminds me a lot of Hunter, and you can tell he’s young. But when he grows into that body with that skill set, he’ll be giving people problems for a long, long time.”

The Cavaliers open Atlantic Coast Conference play against Florida State, then host top-ranked Houston, which beat them 67-47 last season, a week later.

“A good schedule for sure and it tests you, it kind of shows you, win or lose, you see where you’ve got some holes,” Bennett said.

So far, the Cavaliers have been able to fill them all.

No. 4 Arizona turning heads early in the season

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd knew there was talent on his roster. He wasn’t exactly sure how good the team would be.

The former longtime Gonzaga assistant had a similar view of last year’s team and that one turned out to be pretty good, running all the way to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

This year’s team could end up being even better.

Buoyed by transfers and improved returning players, Arizona has rolled through the early part of its schedule, climbing to No. 4 in this week’s AP Top 25 after winning the Maui Invitational.

“I learned that we’re good,” Lloyd said. “We’re tough. We’re gritty. I think there’s going to be some great things for us to really double down on and some things to show our guys where we went the wrong way.”

Lloyd had a superb first season in the desert, earning coach of the year honors last season with a team that lost three players to the NBA.

The Wildcats (6-0) had to replace three NBA players again this season. Again, they made a seamless transition.

Improvement on the part of the returning players has been a big part of it.

Oumar Ballo, considered a project as a freshman at Gonzaga, has transformed into one of the nation’s best big men. The 7-foot, 260-pound center from Mali has vastly improved his footwork and developed patience in the post, setting himself up for good shots instead of trying to bull his way to the basket.

Ballo is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 76.7% from the field, fourth-best nationally. He was named Maui Invitational MVP after finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds against No. 7 Creighton in the title game.

Not bad for a player who averaged 2.5 points and 6.3 minutes per game two years ago at Gonzaga.

“When he struggled, I still believed in him,” Lloyd said. “I didn’t need for him to be instantly successful for me to reaffirm my belief in him. When he struggled, we continued to love him and work with him and then he continued to hang in there and I think it is a great story.”

Fellow big man Azuolas Tubelis has made a few strides of his own, adding strength and toughness to his athletic, fluid game. The 6-10 forward leads Arizona with 19.3 points per game while grabbing 8.0 rebounds.

Fiery point guard Kerr Kriisa has rounded into a reliable floor leader, averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 assists while shooting 51% from the 3-point arc.

“I don’t pay attention to the antics because they don’t mean anything to me,” Lloyd said. “I know maybe that draws attention to him from other people but when it comes to just pure basketball, I mean he is doing a good job and I think he is really showing something.”

So is Courtney Ramey.

The Texas transfer has given the Wildcats a huge boost in his first season in Tucson, providing hounding defense, leadership and another scoring option. He’s averaging 16 points per game and has hit 10 of 16 from 3-point range so far this season.

Campbell transfer Cedric Henderson Jr. has provided an athletic lift off the bench and 7-foot Estonian Henri Veesaar has given Arizona solid minutes.

The mix of new and old has helped Arizona lead the nation with 97.5 points a game and rank second with 21.8 assists per game. The Wildcats climbed 10 spots in this week’s poll after wins over Cincinnati, No. 24 San Diego State and Creighton.

Arizona opens Pac-12 play Thursday at Utah.

“It was good to get the recognition, but we’re not satisfied,” Ramey said. “Our ultimate goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the season and be the final two teams playing, so I think the regular season matters but it’s not the ultimate goal for us.”

The Wildcats are certainly off to a good start.