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Monday Overreactions: Kentucky, Kansas State are not top 25 teams

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Admiral Schofield, Tennessee

Have yourself a day, Admiral.

You may have missed it while watching the Miami Dolphins somehow land a win over the New England Patriots or trying to figure out whether or not Patrick Mahomes is actually human, but the most entertaining game of the day on Sunday was No. 7 Tennessee’s win over then-undefeated No. 1 Gonzaga.

And the hero of the afternoon was Schofield, Tennessee’s overlooked, 6-foot-5 pro wrestler of a wing.

Schofield had a career-high 30 points against the Zags. He scored 25 of those 30 points in the second half. He scored 11 of those 25 second half points in the final 3:18, all of Tennessee’s points as they closed the game on an 11-5 surge. His three with 22.1 seconds left gave the Vols the win.

The narratives abound after this performance, and I touched on most of them here. This was a statement win for a Tennessee team that most had yet to put into the same conversation as the Dukes, Gonzagas and Michigans of the world. This was a statement performance for Schofield, whose defensive versatility, toughness, professionalism and ability to bang home threes makes him an awfully intriguing NBA prospect. There’s the rise of Barnes at Tennessee coming at the same time as Shaka Smart, his replacement after getting fired at Texas, is struggling to win in Austin.

But mostly, this was just a thrilling basketball game that was capped by a tremendous performance for a guy that doesn’t get enough credit.

It’s really not all that different from the title game of the Maui Invitational, when Brandon Clarke’s performance against Duke thrust him into the national spotlight.

Myles Cale (22) and Myles Powell (13), Rich Schultz/Getty Images

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Seton Hall Pirates

Exactly one week removed from losing at home to a Louisville in a game where the Pirates blew a double-digit first half lead, Seton Hall made the trek up to Madison Square Garden to take on that other team from the Commonwealth, as the No. 9 Kentucky Wildcats played away from Rupp Arena for the first time since they were embarrassed by Duke at the Champions Classic.

And despite both of the Myles’ — Powell and Cale — playing like they were shaving points for the first 35 minutes, and despite Keldon Johnson hitting a halfcourt prayer at the buzzer in regulation to force overtime, Seton Hall finished the job and their fans were able to hop on NJ Transit to head back to Newark with a smile on their face.

I do think it is important here to reiterate just how bad both Myles Powell and Myles Cale were for the majority of this game. Powell finished with 28 points, but he scored 17 of those 28 points in the final five minutes of regulation and also buried a three in overtime. He had been totally held in check by Ashton Hagans until then.

Cale was even worse. He finished with 17 points — that number is still shocking when I see it — but he shot just 4-for-18 from the floor and had one of those nights were everything seemed to roll off the rim. He was visibly frustrated, punching the air and cursing to himself on more than one occasion.

And then, with 9.5 seconds left in overtime, he casually pump-faked Keldon Johnson out of his shoes and buried the three that gave Seton Hall an 84-83 win.

Winning a game when you don’t play all that well is impressive, especially when it lands you a win that could end up looking as impressive as this one does come March.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

1. KENTUCKY IS NOT A TOP 25 TEAM

The Wildcats have now played two games outside of Lexington this season. One of them was an absolute beatdown at the hands of Duke, a 118-84 drubbing that served warning of just how good Duke is this season and just how far Kentucky has to go.

The other came on Saturday, when the Wildcats couldn’t put away a Seton Hall team whose two best players were struggling, losing in overtime to the same team that lost to
Nebraska by 23 points and Saint Louis on their home court.

Frankly, that’s not the end of the world. We’re just nine games into the season. Kentucky still plays Utah, North Carolina and Louisville before the start of SEC play, and they do play Kansas in January. Backloaded non-conference schedules can create for weird resumes early in the year. That said, the bigger issue here is that Kentucky has not actually looked all that impressive in the games they’ve actually won at home this year. They struggled with Southern Illinois. They struggled with VMI. They needed a late run to make the win over UNC Greensboro look respectable. They’re allowing opponents to shoot 40 percent from three. They have three five-star point guards on the roster and still manage to turn it over on 20.8 percent of their possessions.

Kentucky has been here before. Need I remind you that last season we were having these very same conversations about the program, and that actually turned out pretty well. If P.J. Washington could make free throws Kentucky probably would have ended up in the Final Four.

No one will be shocked to see John Calipari figure this thing out.

But right now, Kentucky is just not all that good …

Bruce Weber (Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

2. KANSAS STATE IS NOT A TOP 25 TEAM, EITHER

… and neither is Kansas State. The Wildcats lost a road game for the second straight Saturday, this time going into Tulsa and falling to a team that is middle-of-the-pack at best in the American.

The Wildcats have a serious offense problem. As it stands, they rank 102nd in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They mustered all of 46 points in the loss at Tulsa. As a team, they are shooting just 28.2 percent from three, which is good for 313th nationally. Their effective field goal percentage is a horrid 47.7 percent. They’re shooting 65.6 percent from the free throw line, and somehow manage to give away live-ball turnovers as much as anyone at the high-major level.

This is a concern because these are all things that are not supposed to happen to a team that has a stable of talented, veteran guards. Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes, Cartier Diarra. These guys have been serious disappointments, to say nothing of what we’ve gotten out of preseason all-american Dean Wade.

And it creates an interesting conundrum for Bruce Weber.

There’s been some longstanding angst in Manhattan over his tenure. Kansas State has been fine, but they haven’t risen to the levels that they were at during Frank Martin’s heyday. They had to watch as Weber was given an extension as Kansas State alum Brad Underwood was hired by both Oklahoma State and Illinois since 2016. Last year’s run to the Elite Eight could end up being the worst thing that could have happened to him, because it created massive expectations this season on a team that really wasn’t all that good last year.

If K-State can’t get this thing figured out, how are the folks in Manhattan, Kansas, going to feel about him?

If he can’t make a team that is coming off an Elite Eight and was ranked in the top 15 in the preseason relevant, will he ever?

3. THE TOP SEVEN TEAMS IN THE COUNTRY SHOULD BE CONSENSUS

The elite tier of teams have set themselves apart already this year. They are: Kansas, Tennessee, Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan, Virginia and Nevada.

How you rank them will differ based on what you value when ranking teams. Kansas has the best resume of the seven, but they have struggled the most over the course of the first month of the season and are currently without starting center Udoka Azubuike. The Jayhawks also beat Tennessee, who beat Gonzaga, who beat Duke, with all of those games coming on neutral courts, but if you were forced to bet your left arm on one of those four teams winning a national title, you’d probably rank them the other way: Duke, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Kansas.

Michigan has been utterly dominant at times this season. Virginia, too. Nevada is probably the x-factor, but it’s hard to ignore that they just one six straight games away from home, including trips to USC, a game against Arizona State in LA and a de factor road game against Grand Canyon on Sunday night.

If you have an argument for why someone other than these seven teams should be ranked in the top seven, I’d love to hear it.

4. SYRACUSE IS BACK TO BEING THEMSELVES

Less than a month after the sky was falling on Syracuse, the Orange appear to have righted the ship.

Syracuse has won five straight games. They knocked off Ohio State in Columbus. They dismantled a good Northeastern team. They erased a 13 point halftime deficit in a rivalry game against Georgetown, winning when Tyus Battle knocked down a jumper with just 2.5 seconds left on the clock.

And at this point, Syracuse is more or less exactly what we thought they would be this season. They’re an elite defense. Tyus Battle is getting buckets, and the load he’s had to carry has been eased by the emergence of Eli Hughes and Jalen Carey. They are still struggling to shoot the ball from three, and their games are hardly aesthetically pleasing, but they are back to their winning ways and I cannot see a way that changes.

5. INDIANA IS GOING TO BE JUST FINE

At this point in the year, Indiana’s offense is a work in progress. That’s what you should expect from a program that starts two freshmen, two sophomores and a banged up Juwan Morgan. There were always going to be some growing pains early in the year.

What’s promising is that even with those growing pains, Indiana is still winning basketball games. The Hoosiers are 8-2 on the season. They’re 3-1 in games decided by one possession. They’ve landed four wins against teams that are ranked in the top 50 on KenPom. The only losses that they’ve taken this season came at Duke (everyone is going to lose at Duke this year) and at Arkansas, a 73-72 loss where the Hoosiers missed a layup and a tip-in in the final five seconds of a tie game before committing an over-the-back foul that sent the Razorbacks to the free throw line for the winning point.

The Big Ten is loaded, so it will be interesting to see where the Hoosiers finish within the league, but it will be a major disappointment if Archie Miller can’t get this team to the tournament and win at least one game.

Zach Norvell leads No. 5 Gonzaga over Loyola Marymount 73-55

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Zach Norvell Jr. scored 17 points and No. 5 Gonzaga used a stout defense to beat Loyola Marymount 73-55 on Thursday night, the eighth consecutive win for the Bulldogs since a pair of losses knocked them out of the top spot in The AP Top 25.

Brandon Clarke added 13 points, Corey Kispert 12 and Rui Hachimura 10 for Gonzaga (17-2, 4-0 West Coast), which beat Loyola Marymount for the 20th straight time. The Zags have won 18 straight games at home.

James Batemon led Loyola Marymount (13-5, 1-3) with 12 points.

Loyola used a slow-down offense and stingy defense to keep the scoring low, and it mostly accomplished that goal.

Gonzaga, which averages 92 points a game, led just 17-16 midway through the first half.

The Zags went on a 19-6 run the rest of the half to take a 36-22 lead at halftime. The Lions shot only 36 percent in the first and committed 11 turnovers.

A 3-pointer by Norvell highlighted a 14-2 Gonzaga run to open the second half that lifted the Bulldogs to a 50-24 lead. Meanwhile, the Lions were missing eight of their first 10 shots.

Loyola Marymount made just five of its first 20 shots in the second half, and fell behind 61-35 with less than 8 minutes left.

BIG PICTURE

Loyola Marymount: The Lions opened the season 11-1, but have dropped off since … The Lions ranked 13th in the NCAA in defense at 61.2 points per game … Their last win in this lop-sided series was in 2010. They have not won in Spokane since 1991 … The Lions have already surpassed last season’s 11 wins.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are cruising toward another WCC title, outscoring conference foes by nearly 30 points per game… The Zags suffered back-to-back losses to No. 3 Tennessee and at No. 13 North Carolina in mid-December and have not lost since … They lead the nation in field goal shooting at 52.6 percent and are second in scoring at 92.2 points per game … Gonzaga and Marquette are the only programs with both men’s and women’s teams in the Top 15.

UP NEXT

Loyola Marymount hosts Pepperdine on Saturday.

Gonzaga plays at last place Portland on Saturday.

Cassius Winston’s career-high 29 lifts No. 6 Spartans over Huskers

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Four nights after Tom Izzo called out Cassius Winston for his poor play in Michigan State’s previous game, the Spartans’ star point guard responded better than his coach would have expected.

Winston scored a career-high 29 points to go over 1,000 for his career, had six assists and played tough defense on Glynn Watson Jr. while leading No. 6 Michigan State past Nebraska 70-64 on Thursday night.

“I told him before the game, ‘You’re going to get measured on how you bounce back,’ ” Izzo said.

Winston more than passed the test.

“Cassius, the way he ran that whole thing, he was like a quarterback dissecting a defense,” Izzo said.

In a win at Penn State on Sunday, Winston had seven turnovers, and his 11 points were his fewest since Florida held him to 10 on Dec. 8. Izzo told reporters it was one of the worst games Winston had played in his three seasons.

Of the Spartans’ first 18 field goals against Nebraska, Winston scored eight of them and had assists on five others. He held Watson, the Huskers’ hottest player the last week, to 3-of-13 shooting from the field and eight points.

Izzo’s criticism motivated him, he said.

“Just get back on track, playing at the level I was playing at,” Winston said. “I want to play at the highest standard, my best ability. I’ve got to do that for this team and put us in the best situation.”

Michigan State (16-2, 7-0) won its 11th straight game overall and extended its school-record Big Ten winning streak to 19 games. The Cornhuskers (13-5, 3-4) had their school-record 20-game home win streak end.

Nick Ward added 15 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double. He also made his first 3-pointer of the season and second of his career.

“That should keep him happy for a week or 10 days,” Izzo said.

The Spartans led by 12 points in the final 2 minutes, but Nebraska cut the lead to four twice before Matt McQuaid made a pair of free throws for his first points with 14.2 seconds to put the game away.

Nebraska shot a season-low 32.8 percent and was just 5 of 26 on 3-pointers, 1 of 12 in the second half.

“I wasn’t very pleased with our offense in any way, shape or form,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said.

James Palmer, who led Nebraska with 24 points, struggled mightily from the field, going 6 of 21, but he made all 11 of his free throws.

“Palmer’s a good player, and I feel like I did a pretty good job on him,” McQuaid said. “I just tried to do what I could. He’s a bigger, more physical guard. I tried to get a couple charges, but things weren’t going my way. So I had to figure out different ways to guard him.”

Nebraska had hoped to build off its win at No. 25 Indiana on Monday night but couldn’t get going. The Huskers were trying for their first win over a top-10 opponent in nine tries.

“You need to build and play from the front against these teams,” Miles said.

He found no consolation in playing the Spartans close for most of the game, which had 11 lead changes and six ties.

“There are no moral victories,” Miles said. “I’m utterly mad and disappointed.”

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: This was a gut-check win for the Spartans, who were without Joshua Langford (ankle) for a fifth straight game and Kyle Ahrens (back) for a second in a row.

Nebraska: The Huskers were feeling pretty good about themselves after an impressive win at No. 25 Indiana on Monday, and they had an amped standing-room crowd on hand. But they could never find rhythm until it was too late against the nation’s No. 3 team in field-goal defense.

HE SAID IT

“We were paranoid of this game. They didn’t make shots tonight. Those things happen sometimes. Tim’s got a great team that’s going to be an NCAA Tournament team, and I hope they keep on winning now.” — Izzo.

UP NEXT

Michigan State hosts No. 19 Maryland on Monday.

Nebraska visits Rutgers on Monday.

WATCH: Ja Morant can’t be stopped

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The Ohio Valley Conference is just not equipped to deal with Ja Morant.

The Murray State guard just keeps dunking on anyone and everyone that stands in his way, the latest victim coming Thursday night at Eastern Illinois.

There’s just so much to love about this dunk. The athleticism. The explosiveness. The aggressiveness. The ferocity. It’s thunder meeting lightning at the rim.

If there’s someone who can stop Morant, a likely top-10 pick in June, it sure ain’t in the OVC.

UCLA, USC meet amid rocky seasons for crosstown rivals

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A fired coach. A transfer. Suspensions. Injuries. UCLA and Southern California have experienced it all barely halfway through the season.

Things began promisingly enough for the Bruins. They were an AP Top 25 team and were predicted to finish second in the Pac-12 before early consecutive losses to ranked Michigan State and North Carolina knocked them out. Then came stunning defeats at home to mid-majors Belmont and Liberty. Those precipitated the biggest shocker of all: coach Steve Alford’s firing on New Year’s Eve.

Murry Bartow was quickly tabbed as interim coach for the Bruins (10-7, 3-1 Pac-12). They’ve won three out of four games under him.

“We had a lot of ups and downs,” UCLA freshman Moses Brown said, “but I think we caught our stride and the sky is the limit for us.”

USC was predicted to finish fifth in a weakened Pac-12. The Trojans got off to a 5-2 start before dropping four in a row. They regrouped to reel off four straight wins, including a home sweep to open conference play. But they dropped a pair on the road, where freshman Kevin Porter Jr. got suspended last weekend.

In the midst of rocky seasons, the crosstown rivals meet Saturday at Galen Center. The Bruins have won four in a row in the series and are 8-4 at USC’s arena since it opened.

“Coming off a two-game losing streak, we’re kind of hoping this is a game that we can bounce back,” USC’s Nick Rakocevic said. “We want to be put in a good position for the rest of the Pac-12.”

Both teams would likely need to win the Pac-12 tournament title to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Last March, the Bruins played in the First Four for the first time in school history and lost. The Trojans were snubbed by the selection committee despite finishing second in the Pac-12 for the first time in 25 years after losing twice to UCLA.

“We play UCLA twice, but there’s 16 other games. You have to do well the rest of the league,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Whether you win or lose these games, yes, it’s great for a rivalry, it’s great for another win in your conference, but it’s a long Pac-12 season. We try to keep that in perspective no matter who we play even if it’s UCLA.”

The Trojans (9-8, 2-2) have played over half their games with eight or fewer scholarship players because of injuries and the recent transfer of Jordan Usher, who was suspended before he left.

“Nothing surprises us at this point,” Enfield said. “The injuries and distractions have had a significant impact on our team.”

Porter was back practicing with the Trojans this week, but he hasn’t been cleared to play in games.

“He’s working on some things off the court. He has very clear expectations that he has to meet,” Enfield said. “As he progresses, we will reevaluate his status.”

Bartow said the Bruins will prepare as if Porter will play Saturday. Before his suspension, Porter missed time with a leg injury.

USC’s Bennie Boatwright, a local product who was recruited by UCLA, has been on an offensive tear in his last seven games. He scored a career-high 37 points in an overtime loss at Oregon State and is averaging a team-leading 17.1 points. The Bruins are led by Kris Wilkes at 17.3 points a game.

“Inside, they’ve got some really, really good players,” said Bartow, who has the Bruins playing at a faster pace and zipping the ball around.

One of the intriguing matchups on Saturday will be the 6-foot-11 Rakocevic and Brown, who at 7-1 is the tallest player at UCLA in decades. Rakocevic averages 14.9 points and a league-leading 9.5 rebounds. Brown averages 11.9 points and 9.0 rebounds

“It’s going to be fun going against somebody like that,” Rakocevic said.

A famous name associated with the rivalry won’t be on the court.

USC’s Chuck O’Bannon, the son of former UCLA star Charles O’Bannon, is expected to seek a medical redshirt. The sophomore broke his pinky finger in practice in November, had surgery, got the cast off in December and it hasn’t healed properly. He’s still has pain, too, Enfield said.

Report: Cam Reddish cleared for Saturday’s showdown with Virginia while Tre Jones’ injury isn’t as severe as feared for Duke

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Duke may not be at full strength for its showdown with Virginia on Saturday, but the Blue Devils are on their way to that eventuality.

Cam Reddish is expected to play after missing Monday’s loss to Syracuse with an illness while Tre Jones will not miss an extended amount of time and is not initially ruled out for Saturday after suffering a shoulder injury, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told The Athletic on Thursday.

Reddish absence wasn’t expected to be a lengthy one, but there was fear that Jones’ might be after he suffered an AC sprain in a collision with Syracuse’s Frank Howard. Jones initially told coaches he thought he broke his collarbone, but x-rays revealed a sprain slightly more significant than a grade one.

“I don’t know if it’s for this game or the next game, but it’s not going to be long term, where it’s a month or something,” Krzyzewski told Dana O’Neil of The Athletic.  “He’s going to be back.”

While Jones hasn’t been ruled out for Saturday, he is unlikely to play against the Cavaliers, Krzyzewski said. That will diminish some of the luster for a game that pits The Associated Press’ top-ranked team vs. the coaches’ poll top team, but it’s ultimately fantastic news for the Blue Devils.

Losing Jones for any significant length of time would have been a significant blow to Duke. While Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Reddish headline the highlight reels and mock drafts, Jones’ skill, leadership and tenacity at the point guard position plays no small part in allowing that trio – and Duke at large – flourish. Without him, the machine doesn’t run as smoothly, as evidenced by the overtime home loss to the Orange.

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