College Basketball’s X-Factors: 12 storylines that will determine national title

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The college basketball season will finally be here in two weeks, meaning that the time for previewing the year is just about over. 

But we’re not there yet.

So before things officially kick off, let’s take a closer look at the 12 things will could end up deciding how the season plays out.

League titles.

Final Four trips.

Even the national title.

You can call them story lines, you can call them positional battles, you can call them whatever you like.

Here are the x-factors to monitor as we enter the 2018-19 college basketball season. 



ARE WE READY TO TRUST JOSH PERKINS?

I love everything about Gonzaga’s frontcourt.

I’m all-in on the Rui Hachimura bandwagon. I think it’s only a matter of time before he is a college basketball star, and he already is the biggest name in basketball in his native Japan. Killian Tillie proved his merit during the WCC tournament last March, and Brandon Clarke is the guy that no one is talking about enough. Those three together are as good as any frontcourt trio in college hoops this season.

I also have little doubt that Zach Norvell Jr. and Corey Kispert will take a step forward this season. Norvell is one of the most dangerous shooters in the sport, while Kispert is a former four-star recruit that is going to see a bump in minutes this season. Throw in Geno Crandall’s arrival from North Dakota, and there should be an issue with scoring on the perimeter.

The question mark, for me, is Perkins.

In a vacuum, he’s fine. He’ll lead Gonzaga to a WCC title. They’ll end up as a high seed in the NCAA tournament. They’ll win 25 or 30 games. But at this point, is that enough for the Zags? They’ve been to a national title game. They’ve been a No. 1 seed. Anything short of a Final Four this year will probably be looked at as a disappointment, and to get to a Final Four, Gonzaga is going to have to beat the best teams in the country.

And my issue is whether or not Perkins, who averaged 12.3 points and 5.1 assists as a redshirt junior, can be as effective as he needs to be against the best teams in the country. Can he create against the best point guards in the sport? Is he improved as a decision-maker? Is he the leader on the floor that, say, Nigel Williams-Goss was?

If he is, then the Zags are a good bet to get back to the national title game.

Coby White (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

IS COBY WHITE THE POINT GUARD THAT NORTH CAROLINA NEEDS?

The thing that we always talk about with North Carolina is that Roy Williams is one of the few coaches in the country that would still prefer to play with two physically-imposing big men at the same time. His coaching philosophy centers around dominating the glass — the more rebounds he gets, the more shots his team takes and the fewer shots his opponents take.

This year’s North Carolina team will look nothing like that. They are going full small-ball, with a lineup that could feature Nassir Little, Cam Johnson and Luke Maye as their starting frontcourt. That is already going to place a priority on being more efficient offensively, and that’s before we consider the fact that UNC lost the guy that was their point guard by title — Joel Berry II — and the guy that was actually their point guard — Theo Pinson.

This is a concern for two reasons:

  1. Roy Williams’ best teams have always had an elite point guard. Raymond Felton, Ty Lawson, Kendall Marshall, Marcus Paige and Berry.
  2. UNC’s point guard this season will likely be Coby White, a low-end five-star prospect that is known as one of the best scorers in the class.

There is going to be a lot of responsibility put onto his plate this season. Can he handle what is going to be asked of him?

Gonzaga and North Carolina aren’t the only schools with point guard concerns:

  • KANSAS: The Jayhawks may have the most interesting point guard battle this season. Charlie Moore is the redshirt freshman that transferred in from Cal and spent last season learning the system and Bill Self’s offense. Devon Dotson, a top 20 recruit, is the best pure point guard on the roster, but he’s also a freshman. So is Quentin Grimes, a combo-guard that might end up being a top ten pick. I’m sure someone from that group is going to turn out to be really good for the Jayhawks, I’m just not quite sure who it is going to be or how long it is going to take for that position to get settled.
  • FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles saw their starting point guard transfer out of the program this offseason, meaning that the preseason top 15 team is going to have two guys battling it out for the job: Junior Trent Forrest, who is more of a combo than a pure point guard, and David Nichols, a grad transfer that spent the last three seasons at Albany.
  • UCLA: With Aaron Holiday off to the NBA, Jaylen Hands looks like he is going to be taking over the point guard duties. As a former five-star prospect, Hands is, on paper, someone that should thrive in this role. But there are plenty of red flags. He’s not a good defender, he can be selfish at times and there are real concerns about whether or not he’s a point guard or a scorer that likes to dribble the ball up the floor. Combine that with Tyger Campbell, a steadying presence on the ball, tearing his ACL, and Steve Alford is going to have is work cut out for him.
Tyler Herro; Chet White/UK Athletics

WHO IS KENTUCKY’S GO-TO GUY?

The biggest concern I have with this Kentucky team isn’t really a concern, it’s more of a question: Do they actually have a star?

We know that they have enough good basketball players to absolutely steam-roll some pretty good competition during their trip to the Bahamas, and anyone with the ability to google “college basketball recruiting rankings” will know that the talent on this team isn’t lacking. There are multiple NBA players on this team, and they go two-deep at just about every position on the floor.

I wonder about how their rotation is going to pan out, but I’m not really all that concerned about it. John Calipari has proven over and over again that he is as good as anyone in college basketball at getting his guys to buy into playing the role he needs them to play. I also wonder about whether or not Kentucky will actually be able to find a lineup that can be elite offensively and defensively — they need shooting on the floor, but their best defenders can’t shoot and their best shooters can’t defend — but Cal has enough pieces that he should be able to mix-and-match based on opponent and matchup.

Those aren’t red flags as much as they are a natural progression for a team.

The red flag for me is that I’m not sure there is a go-to guy on this roster. Who is getting the rock at the end of a clock? Who is Cal calling plays for in crunch time? I’m not sure it’s Reid Travis; he can be double-teamed too easily on a team that doesn’t have great shooting. I don’t know if P.J. Washington or Quade Green is ready to handle that load. Kentucky’s freshmen point guards are both talented and will play in the NBA, but neither, at this point, is necessarily known for what they can do with the ball in their hands. The same can be said about Keldon Johnson.

Frankly, Tyler Herro is the guy that would make the most sense. He led the team is scoring in the four games in the Bahamas and he thrives running off screens the same way that Jamal Murray and Malik Monk did before him, but he also might be the fifth-best perimeter player Kentucky has.

There are going to be some big games that are decided by whether or not Kentucky can score on critical possessions, and finding a guy Cal can trust will be so important.

Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB

CAN DUKE SHOOT WELL ENOUGH TO GO FULL SMALL-BALL?

Duke is going to spend this season trying to run out their version of the death lineup.

Tre Jones, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are all going to start. I’d assume one of Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden will join them, and I fully expect those four to spend a lot of time on the floor together with Alex O’Connell, which would be a thrilling way to get Zion some minutes at the five.

That would look an awful lot like the lineup Golden State has made so popular, the one with Draymond Green at the five.

But what makes that Warriors five — what made last year’s Villanova starting five — so dangerous was that everyone on the floor was a good-to-great three-point shooter. No one could be left open lest you want to give a 40+ percent three-point shooter an open, rhythm jumper.

This Duke team, as talented as they are, just does not have the guys that can shoot it like that. In fact, each of the four freshmen on this team are at their best when they have the ball in their hands; it’s a roster that, in a way, is made up of a point guard, two point forwards and Zion, who has made a name for himself by being a grab-and-go big. Individually, I love the pieces on this roster, but I do have questions about how well this roster actually fits together.

IS ‘THE VILLANOVA WAY’ STRONG ENOUGH TO OVERCOME THE LOSS OF FOUR NBA PLAYERS?

Villanova had four players get picked in the top 33 picks of the 2018 NBA Draft. That is an unbelievable amount of talent for ay program to try and replace, particularly one like the Wildcats, which isn’t exactly known for churning out one-and-done five-star talent on an annual basis.

What Villanova is known for is their ability to develop players and ensure that their ‘next-man-up’ is always ready for the role he is going to be asked to play.

Well, they are going to have a team full of guys being asked to do just that. Eric Paschall and Phil Booth should be up for the challenge. They are both redshirt seniors that have been with this program through two national title runs. They’ll be fine. It’s the sophomore class — Collin Gillispie, Jermaine Samuels, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree — and the incoming freshmen — specifically Cole Swider and Jahvon Quinerly — that are going to be rushed along.

If Jay Wright can fast-track them to being able to handle a major role right away, the Wildcats should once again be a national title favorite come March.

Kyle Guy (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

HOW DOES VIRGINIA HANDLE WHAT MAY BE THE WORST LOSS IN COLLEGE BASKETBALL HISTORY?

This one is really, really simple: Virginia entered the 2017-18 season as a team with a reputation for choking in March.

Fair or not, the truth is that Virginia had been a No. 1 seed twice and a No. 2 seed once in the four years before the start of last season, and those tournament trips resulted in a loss in the Sweet 16, a loss in the second round and, in 2015-16, a loss in the Elite 8 where the Wahoos blew a 15-point lead in the final ten minutes to No. 10-seed Syracuse.

That’s the kind of thing that can get in the head of a player, and I don’t think I’m being presumptive when I say that it probably played a role in Virginia suffering what might be the most embarrassing loss in the history of college basketball. UVA not only became the first No. 1-seed to ever lose to a No. 16-seed, they were run out of the gym, losing 74-54.

There are myriad Hall of Fame coaches that could never win the big one until they won the big one — Jim Calhoun, Bill Self, Lute Olson, even Jay Wright was thought to be a choke artist before winning two out of three NCAA tournaments — but they never had to deal with the weight of trying to get their team to forget something that history will never, ever forget.

IS BOL BOL AWESOME? OR IS HE OVERRATED?

This will be the question that determines who wins the Pac-12 this season. Bol Bol is unique. He is a 7-foot-3 center that can be as dominant of a shot-blocker as his father, Manute, was. He also shot 46 percent from three on more than four attempts per game on the EYBL circuit in 2017.

The issue with Bol Bol is that his motor runs far too hot and cold. When he wants to be, he is absolutely dominant in the paint, something of a forcefield around the rim. But he has yet to prove that he wants to be great every time he steps on the floor.

Then there is the Kenny Wooten factor. A few years back, Chris Boucher became something of a sensation for the Ducks, as he was a shot-blocking, three-point shooting center. But as it turns out, Oregon was actually a better basketball team when Jordan Bell took over at center full-time, as evidenced by their run to the Final Four in 2017 after Boucher tore his ACL.

Wooten, like Bell, is active and switchable at the five. Bol Bol is not. Will this saga play out like that one?

Bruce Pearl (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

DOES AUBURN’S TEAM-BUILDING GET BROKEN DOWN BY THE RETURN OF AUSTIN WILEY AND DANJEL PURIFOY?

Auburn is coming off of a season where they won a share of the SEC regular season title despite losing two starters and an assistant coach prior to the first game as fallout from the FBI’s investigation.

That surprise run to a league title happened because everything that Auburn did worked in concert. They were able to play small and play fast, they had guys that bought into the system and the style of play, Bruce Pearl was able to get his kids playing with a chip the size of Alabama on their shoulder.

This year, the Tigers will be getting back Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, the two players that were suspended for last season, and it’s worth questioning whether their addition is going to help or hurt matters. Will team chemistry still be there? Can Wiley — a lumbering, 6-foot-11 center — play at the pace Auburn wants to play at? Can Purifoy accept where he fits into the team’s rotation?

The collective was better than the sum of the parts for Auburn last season, and that’s a delicate balance to maintain.

IS THIS THE YEAR MICHIGAN STATE’S JUNIORS BECOME STARS?

Michigan State enters this season as the No. 10 team in the preseason AP Poll.

If they are going to live up to that hype, they are going to need their trio of juniors — Cassius Winston, Nick Ward and Joshua Langford — to live up to the hype they had entering their freshmen year.

Winston should be ready. He was already one of the best point guards in the country last season, a slick passer and uber-efficient playmaker that shoots the cover off the ball. Ward and Langford, however, are bigger question marks. Ward has yet to find a way to stay on the floor for extended minutes while playing for Izzo, while Langford has turned into something of a mid-range jump-shooter, which is the antithesis of efficiency.

CAN MICHIGAN OR SYRACUSE SCORE?

Again, this one is really simple.

Syracuse returns everyone from a team that reached the Sweet 16 and finished as the nation’s fifth-best defensive team, according to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. They also finished 135th in adjusted offensive efficiency. That’s not good.

Michigan reached the national title game last season as a top three defense nationally, but they struggled to score for long stretches last season and lost their top three offensive weapons — Mo Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson.

Both teams will enter the season in the top 25, but they may not stay there for long if they can’t figure out a way to score.

CAN PURDUE SCORE IF CARSEN EDWARDS ISN’T THE ONE SHOOTING?

Purdue lost four starters off of last year’s team, and while they return Carsen Edwards — a preseason all-american that might just end up leading the nation in scoring — that’s really the only guy they bring back that is a proven threat to score.

Ryan Cline, Nojel Eastern, Matt Haarms. Will any of these guys be able to take some of the weight off of Edwards’ shoulders?

CAN WEST VIRGINIA BE PRESS VIRGINIA WITHOUT JEVON CARTER AND DAXTER MILES?

I don’t think that it is a coincidence that Press Virginia became a thing when Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles were freshmen, or that Bob Huggins was able to have success with it over the course of the last four years with those two playing heavy backcourt minutes.

They were perfectly designed to play basketball that way.

So what happens to West Virginia and this style when they are gone? Can Beetle Bolden and Brandon Knapper continue to apply pressure the way that their backcourt predecessors did?

No. 9 Kansas blows lead, then holds off No. 5 Texas, 88-80

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Dajuan Harris Jr. was willing to acknowledge that Kansas was facing something rare when fifth-ranked and Big 12-leading Texas arrived at Allen Fieldhouse.

The defending national champs played like it.

Gradey Dick scored 21 points, Harris had 17 points, six rebounds and five assists, and the ninth-ranked Jayhawks held on after blowing a 14-point first-half lead to beat the Longhorns 88-80 and tighten the league race.

Kevin McCullar Jr. added 16 points, Joseph Yesufu scored 14 off the bench and KJ Adams finished with 10, helping the Jayhawks (19-5, 7-4) overcome an off night from Jalen Wilson. The league’s leading scorer at 21.5 points per game battled foul trouble and was held to just two, ending his streak of 25 straight double-figure games.

“We knew we had to come in here and get a win,” said Dick, who had the Jayhawks’ only two 3-pointers. “The big thing, just in preparation for the week, was coming out with energy. When we do that, we’re a scary team.”

The Jayhawks needed everyone’s help holding off the Longhorns’ Marcus Carr.

The Minnesota transfer, who had a game-high 29 points, kept answering Kansas baskets down the stretch. His 3-pointer got the Longhorns within 77-68 with 2:25 left, three free throws made it 78-71 with 1:31 to go, and his three-point play got the Longhorns (19-5, 8-3) within 86-80 with 23.5 seconds remaining.

Texas quickly fouled Dick at the other end, and his free throw with 18 seconds left helped to put the game away.

“It was as close to a must-win as you could have this early in the season to win the league,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “You go down three games with seven left, you’d have to win out and get a lot of help from others. Now, we still have as hard a schedule as everybody, but we can kind of control our own destiny where if we play well, we have a shot.”

Timmy Allen finished with 18 points for the Longhorns. Sir’Jabari Rice had 12 before fouling out.

“It was their night tonight in terms of what they got done,” Texas interim coach Rodney Terry said.

The Longhorns have made a habit of overcoming double-digit deficits: 18 down to beat TCU, 12 down to beat Texas Tech and 14 down to beat No. 12 Kansas State last Saturday in a game played just down the road.

So it wasn’t that surprising when Texas dug another 14-point hole Monday night.

Just like the Longhorns did in Manhattan, though, they began to rally. Texas shook off 10 first-half turnovers to get within 42-35 by the break, then kept coming in the second half. Hunter hit a 3-pointer, Carr added a couple of buckets and it was 43-all when Self called a timeout to slow Texas’ momentum.

Unlike the Horned Frogs, Red Raiders and Wildcats, the Jayhawks rose to the challenge.

McCullar’s three-point play while they were clinging to a 49-48 lead gave them a boost, and Dick added a couple of free throws. But it was back-to-back buckets by Harris, who is known more as a distributor than as a scorer, that pushed the lead to 58-50 with about 12 minutes to go.

Texas closed within 66-60 but, after the Jayhawks pulled down two offensive boards, Dick hit another 3-pointer. And when Yesufu bookended a couple of free throws by Harris, the lead had stretched to 75-62 with 3 minutes to go.

The Jayhawks were able to fend off Carr and the Longhorns from there.

“Give those guys credit. They came in and played at a very high level,” Terry said, “and we knew that would be the case.”

BANGED-UP BIRDS

The Jayhawks were missing several backups. Zack Clemence has a hurt knee, Bobby Pettiford Jr. is dealing with a hamstring injury and Zuby Ejiofor a foot injury. Kyle Cuffe Jr. (knee) and Cam Martin (shoulder) also were out.

“I thought the bench was great. As good as they’ve been all year,” Self said. “We had nine guys we could put in the game.”

BIG PICTURE

Texas has struggled to get off to good starts this season, and it seemed the energy the Longhorns expended climbing back into Monday night’s game was missing by the end. Carr tried to carry them but he needed more help.

Kansas got the production it needed from the bench. Yesufu provided the scoring pop but big man Ernest Udeh Jr. and guard MJ Rice, both seldom-used freshmen, also provided important minutes for the Jayhawks.

UP NEXT

Texas heads home after its Sunflower State swing to play West Virginia.

Kansas has a two-game trip next with Oklahoma on Saturday and Oklahoma State.

No. 19 Miami rolls past Duke 81-59, moves to 13-0 at home

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Miami guard Isaiah Wong pointed to the crowd, waving his arms, asking for noise, asking for the celebration to start.

The lead, at that point, was 3-0.

Didn’t matter. From start to finish, the Hurricanes were in total control — and got a rare rout over Duke.

Norchad Omier had 17 points and 10 rebounds, Jordan Miller added 16 points and No. 19 Miami never trailed on the way to a 81-59 win over Duke on Monday night.

Wooga Poplar scored 14 and Wong scored 11 for Miami (19-5, 10-4 Atlantic Coast Conference). The Hurricanes led by as many as 26 and improved to 13-0 at home.

“That was a great performance, from start to finish,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “There was a lot of energy. And all I can tell you is, everybody who came tonight’s game is invited back – because that’s the kind of environment that we’d love to have every night.”

Ryan Young and Dereck Lively II each scored 11 points for Duke (17-7, 8-5), which saw its three-game winning streak snapped. Jeremy Roach added 10 points for the Blue Devils, who were outrebounded 38-31 and committed 21 turnovers.

It was the second game this season where Duke never led, and the 22-point loss was its second-worst this season. The Blue Devils lost to N.C. State by 24 on Jan. 4.

“Congratulations to Miami. There’s a reason they haven’t lost here at home,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said. “They’re really good. They obviously had it clicking on all cylinders right away.”

It was the second-biggest Miami victory margin in the series between the schools, topped only by the Hurricanes’ 90-63 win over then-No. 1 Duke on Jan. 23, 2013. Miami also enjoyed huge edges in points off turnovers (23-9), second-chance points (24-9) and fast-break points (17-7).

And Miami got payback for a 68-66 loss at Duke earlier this season.

“We had something to prove,” Miller said. “They beat us last time. We were revved up for this game and we got it done.”

Duke fans started leaving with 4:24 left and Miami up by 26, the Hurricanes’ student section serenading them as they departed.

Miami ran out to a 13-1 lead and stretched it to 34-17 later in the first half, putting Duke in unfamiliar territory quickly. The Blue Devils had trailed by more than 15 in just two other games – by 29 to N.C. State, and by 19 to Purdue.

“When you have 21 turnovers, you can’t expect yourself to have a good game,” Lively said.

It was 40-26 at the half. When Miami opened the second half on a 9-0 run to build a 23-point lead, the outcome quickly became academic.

“The crowd fueled us to keep it going,” Larranaga said.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: Maybe it’s too difficult to quickly reset after a rivalry game. This is the third consecutive year the Blue Devils have lost the game immediately following their first matchup of the season with North Carolina. “It’s tough. It’s not easy. But it’s what you have to do. … It’s part of playing in the ACC,” Scheyer said.

Miami: The Hurricanes remained one of six teams from major conferences to be unbeaten at home – the others being Alabama, UCLA, Providence, Iowa State and Duke. Across Division I, 20 teams entered Monday with perfect home marks.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Miami has been in the poll for nine straight weeks, the program’s longest such run since being ranked in each of the first 11 polls of the 2017-18 season – and figures to stay there if it tops Louisville on Saturday. Duke has been out of the AP Top 25 for the last four weeks; the Blue Devils were two slots away in the poll released Monday, behind only Florida Atlantic on the “also receiving votes” list.

BARRY HONORED

Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry, Miami’s all-time leading scorer, was presented with a customized basketball during a first-half stoppage of play.

UP NEXT

Duke: Visits No. 8 Virginia on Saturday.

Miami: Hosts Louisville on Saturday.

Minnesota-Illinois postponed for COVID-19 in Gophers program

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MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota’s game at Illinois that was scheduled for Tuesday has been postponed because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols within the Gophers’ program.

The announcement was made Monday by Minnesota, which didn’t specify how many players would have been unable to play.

The Gophers (7-15, 1-11) had only eight available scholarship players for their last game, an 81-46 loss to Maryland on Saturday. Dawson Garcia (ankle) has missed the last four games, and Braeden Carrington (leg) has missed the last six. Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen will not play this season while recovering from knee injuries.

The game will be rescheduled by the Big Ten, with input from both schools.

Minnesota is next scheduled to host Iowa on Sunday. Illinois (16-7, 7-5) will host No. 24 Rutgers on Saturday.

Purdue stays No. 1 in AP Top 25; NC State in at No. 22

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Purdue’s unquestioned grip on No. 1 in The Associated Press poll is gone after a weekend loss. That didn’t stop the Boilermakers from remaining at the top anyway.

The Boilermakers earned 38 of 62 first-place votes in the poll to remain at No. 1 for a third straight week and seventh time this season. Purdue was the unanimous choice last week, the first for any team this season, before falling at Indiana over the weekend for only its second loss.

The Boilermakers (22-2, 11-2) have a leading candidate for national player of the year in Zach Edey and KenPom’s No. 1-ranked offense (121.1 points scored per 100 possessions) to go with a top-25 defense. But they got down big, committed 16 turnovers and allowed the Hoosiers — up to No. 18 this week — to shoot nearly 53% in a 79-74 loss Saturday.

“When we go to Zach and we make some perimeter shots, the defense gets better sometimes when the offense flows,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said at his postgame news conference. “And you can’t do that. You can always rebound, you can always take care of the ball, you can always make your free throws, those things there.”

The loss meant Houston collected 22 first-place votes as it rose one spot to No. 2, followed by No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Arizona in each claiming one.

THE TOP TIER

Texas jumped five spots to No. 5, shooting past Tennessee, which fell four spots to No. 6 after losing last week at Florida.

UCLA, Virginia, Kansas and Marquette rounded out the top 10, with Shaka Smart’s Golden Eagles cracking the top 10 for the first time since 2019.

RISING

The Longhorns’ jump marked the biggest of the week, followed by Marquette and Miami each rising four spots. No. 13 Xavier, No. 15 Saint Mary’s and No. 21 UConn joined Indiana in each moving up three positions.

In all, 12 teams rose from last week’s rankings.

SLIDING

Kansas State took the week’s biggest tumble, falling five spots to No. 12 after losing at Kansas and at home to Texas last week. No. 16 Gonzaga joined Tennessee in falling four spots after its overtime loss at Saint Mary’s.

In all, nine teams fell from last week’s rankings.

STATUS QUO

Purdue was the only team to remain in the same position this week.

WELCOME

North Carolina State earned its first AP Top 25 ranking in four years, checking in at No. 22.

The Wolfpack (19-5, 9-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) spent six weeks in the poll during the 2018-19 season. N.C. State already has surpassed the win total for each of the last two seasons and is in contention for the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2018.

Creighton and Rutgers joined N.C. State as this week’s new additions to the poll, though both were ranked earlier this season. The Bluejays were No. 9 in the preseason poll and peaked at No. 7 before falling out by mid-December, while the Scarlet Knights spent a week at No. 23 in mid-January.

FAREWELL (FOR NOW)

Florida Atlantic (No. 19), Clemson (No. 20) and Auburn (No. 25) fell out of this week’s poll.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big 12 leads all leagues with six ranked teams, including No. 11 Iowa State, No. 14 Baylor and No. 17 TCU. The Big East is next with five ranked teams, followed by the Big Ten and ACC with three each.

The Pac-12, Southeastern and West Coast conferences each have two ranked teams, while the American Athletic and Mountain West each have one.

Indiana reaches No. 2 in women’s AP Top 25; South Carolina still No. 1

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South Carolina beat a top opponent to remain No. 1 in the women’s poll and now has a showdown with another one looming this weekend.

The Gamecocks (23-0) topped then- No. 5 UConn 81-77 to remain unbeaten and stay the unanimous choice atop the poll from the 28-member national media panel. After facing Auburn, South Carolina will play No. 3 LSU in a matchup of the last two unbeatens in Division I women’s college basketball.

Dawn Staley’s team has won 29 consecutive games and has been No. 1 in the poll for 33 consecutive weeks. That’s one week short of tying the Huskies for the third-longest streak atop the poll. Only UConn (51 weeks) and Louisiana Tech (36) have had longer runs at No. 1.

While South Carolina has had a stranglehold on No. 1 for more than a year, Indiana is making its first appearance ever at No. 2 after Stanford lost to Washington.

“I’m going to relish this for a minute, knowing where the program was to where it is,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “We’ve made a lot of history since we’ve been here in our nine seasons and it’s one of the more historical things we’ve been able to accomplish. Give our players credit, I don’t want to discount what a big achievement this is. We’re more than humbled to be No. 2.”

Indiana has won 10 straight since suffering its lone loss of the season to Michigan State. The Hoosiers have a tough stretch coming up, starting with a home game against No. 5 Iowa. Indiana, which hadn’t been ranked higher than fourth, then plays No. 13 Ohio State and 12th-ranked Michigan.

“That’s why we take it one game at a time, but you understand the magnitude of what’s ahead of us. I tell the kids all the time we’re in control of our own destiny,” Moren said.

LSU remained at No. 3 after close wins over Tennessee, Georgia and Texas A&M. The Tigers have a week to prepare for the Gamecocks.

UConn moved up one spot to fourth after its close loss to the Gamecocks and Iowa was fifth.

The Cardinal fell to sixth with Utah, Maryland, Duke and Notre Dame rounding out the top 10. The Blue Devils beat the Irish to take over sole possession of first in the ACC and vault up six spots in the poll. It’s Duke’s best ranking since the team finished the 2017 season ranked ninth.

FALLING CYCLONES

It was a rough week for Iowa State, which lost to Kansas by one point and Baylor by six. The Cyclones fell nine spots in the poll from 12th to 21st.

RE-ENTRY

Colorado came back into the poll at No. 25 after beating Oregon and Oregon State over the weekend. The Buffaloes were ranked for four weeks before falling out last week. Middle Tennessee dropped out of the poll after losing both its games last week.