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Surprise: Perfect Furman hoping to end NCAA tourney drought

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Furman forward Clay Mounce has a simple question in the team video before the Paladins take the court each home game: “Haven’t you heard of us?”

Not many college basketball fans have.

Though it’s a question fewer people are ask ing about Furman, which is in the Top 25 for the first time. The undefeated Paladins (12-0) have road wins over last year’s Final Four participant Loyola Chicago and defending national champ Villanova.

Nonetheless, most college basketball fans probably haven’t bought into the plucky Paladins yet and Furman forward Matt Rafferty said with a grin, “I don’t know if they will.”

But Furman, which won two games last week and still dropped a spot to No. 24, has an opportunity for another resume-building road win when the Paladins travel to LSU on Friday night, the Paladin final game before starting Southern Conference play.

“It’s a big one,” Furman coach Bob Richey said.

The Paladins are among nine undefeated teams left out of 353 Division I programs through Saturday. They made their first-ever appearance in the Top 25 earlier this month and see LSU as a next step toward ending a 38-year NCAA Tournament drought.

Richey expects his players will be ready for the moment as they were when they trailed Loyola Chicago by 13 points in the second half and won 60-58 on Mounce’s one-handed jam with 1.6 seconds to go. Or when they opened overtime at Villanova with a 7-0 run in the 76-68 win.

“In life, most of the time, when you get big opportunities, it still comes back to the simplest fundamentals,” Richey said. “There’s not going to be anything that we’ve got to go do different than what we’ve done in order to try and play our best.”

Here’s a quick introduction to Furman basketball:

THE COACH

Richey, 35, joined Furman as an assistant in 2011 and earned the head coaching job after the 2017 season after former coach Niko Medved left for Drake. Ever since, Richey’s led a revival at Furman, which hasn’t enjoyed this sort of basketball attention since the 1970s when it played in six NCAA Tournaments from 1971-80.

NOT A FLUKE

Furman tied its school record with 23 victories last season, Richey’s first as a fulltime coach. The Paladins are already more than halfway to that mark.

THE PLAYERS

— Jordan Lyons, a junior, is the team’s leading scorer who had 54 points in defeating North Greenville earlier this season. He’s joined in the backcourt by Andrew Brown, who along with Rafferty, are Furman’s only two seniors in d its main rotation.

— Rafferty is a 6-foot-8 forward — Furman has no players taller than 6-8 — who’s adept and relentless in post, whether it’s backing down opponents for a layup and grabbing a rebound to keep the Paladins possession alive. He’s had six games with double figure points and rebounds this season, including 15 points and 17 rebounds at Villanova.

— Mounce is a dynamic, 6-7 sophomore comfortable with playing inside and outside. His cut toward the basket from the three-point line sprung him for the game-winning dunk at Loyola Chicago. He had six of Furman’s 17 3-pointers this past Saturday in the blowout win over UNC Wilmington.

It all has added up to high expectations for Furman basketball.

The Paladins’ early run has electrified the well-respected private school that has had a few stellar athletic moments. In 1954, Frank Selvy became the school’s “Man of the Century” when he scored 100 points in a game against Newberry and remains the only Division I player to accomplish the feat.

Sam Wyche may be Furman’s most recognizable athletic alum. He was Furman’s quarterback in the late 1960s before he helped revolutionize the game with the no huddle offense. The Paladins football program also won a national Football Champion Subdivision title in 1988 and has been runner-up two other times.

Former U.S. men’s soccer captain Clint Dempsey played at Furman before his accomplished international career.

These days, however, the hype around Greenville, South Carolina is about hoops.

Brown, a senior guard, said professors and students who hadn’t paid much attention to the team now congratulate him regularly and ask for updates. Selvy and Wyche both attended Saturday’s win against UNC Wilmington.

“They seem like they get better every year,” said Selvy, also a former head coach at Furman.

Selvy would love to see the Paladins back in the NCAAs since their last appearance in 1980 as would students who filled 3,500-seat Timmons Arena with chants of “We Want Kansas” as time ran down in the UNC Wilmington win.

Rafferty believes Furman’s successful ride will continue.

“It’s really coming together for us,” Rafferty said. “That’s one of biggest things if we’re going to keep this thing going, we’ve got to stay confident and stay humble.”

No. 5 Butler loses second straight as DePaul gets first Big East win

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Paul Reed scored 23 points and shot 8-for-9 from the floor and 5-for-5 from the line as DePaul finally found a way into the win column on Saturday, pounding No. 5 Butler at home, 79-66.

The Blue Demons jumped out to a 22-6 lead early in the first half, and outside of a late first half surge that cut the lead to five, were never really threatened by the Bulldogs. Jalen Coleman-Lands finished with 19 points and Romeo Weekms added 11 as Dave Leitao’s club was able to land their biggest win of the season despite the fact that leading scorer Charlie Moore finished with just nine points to go along with his eight assists.

It helps that Moore was the only player that did not shoot the ball well for the Blue Demons. He was 3-for-13 from the floor and 1-for-4 from three. The rest of the team shot 18-for-30 from the field and 9-for-13 from three.

The truth is that DePaul, who entered the game in sole possession of last place in the conference with an 0-4 record, has been much closer to being this good than they have been to being a typical, winless DePaul program. They won non-conference road wins at Iowa and Minnesota — and we know how hard it is to win on the road in the Big Ten — while beating Texas Tech in overtime in Chicago. Their four losses have come by a total of 20 points, one of which came in overtime at Villanova.

Put another way, DePaul has taken as many tough losses as anyone in league play.

They were never going to be an easy out.

Butler found that out the hard way.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start asking questions about the Bulldogs, who have now been outscored 123-88 in the last three halves of basketball that they have played. For a team that prides themselves on their defense, their execution and their ability to prepare for an opponent, this is worrisome.

The Bulldogs aren’t winning based on talent. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that is willing to say that Butler is more talented than DePaul. Where they make up the difference is in being able to blow up anything that a team wants to run against them while executing well enough offensively to be able to land a win.

They haven’t been able to do that since the first half of the loss to Seton Hall.

Now, this could be as simple as the Bulldogs shooting poorly and running into a couple of tough, athletic teams that got hot at the right time.

Or it could be a sign that Butler has been figured out.

Either way, the truth is that the Bulldogs needed to find an answer, because things do not get easier for them this week.

They head to No. 14 Villanova next.

No. 2 Baylor pushes winning streak to 15 with come-from-behind win at Oklahoma State

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STILLWATER, Okla. — Devonte Bandoo hit four threes in the final 11 minutes, including two in the last three minutes, as No. 2 Baylor rallied past Oklahoma State 75-68 for the Bears’ 15th straight victory. Oklahoma State has now lost five in a row.

Jared Butler scored 19 points and had six assists.

Baylor (15-1, 5-0 Big 12) has the second-longest active streak in the nation and the third longest in school history.

Freddie Gillespie had 17 points and four rebounds and Devonte Bandoo scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half for Baylor, which overcame a 12-point deficit in the last 20 minutes.

Isaac Likekele scored 16 points and added nine rebounds and five assists for Oklahoma State (9-8, 0-5). Cameron McGriff had 16 points and five rebounds while Thomas Dziagwa and Lindy Waters each scored 14. Oklahoma State shot 41%, the highest allowed by Baylor since Nov. 24, a span of 10 games.

The Bears trailed 47-35 with 14 minutes remaining but used an 18-4 run over the next four-plus minutes to get back in the game. When MaCio Teague hit a 3-pointer 8:41 left, Baylor had its first lead.

The teams exchanged leads four times down the stretch before the Bears sank seven of eight free throws in the final minute to seal it.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The Bears entered the day having trailed for a total of just 22 minutes, 13 seconds, over their previous nine games. Their largest deficit in that span was a 20-15 margin in the first half of a 67-55 win over then-No. 3 Kansas on Jan. 11. Oklahoma State led 36-27 at the half, just the fourth time this season Baylor wasn’t up at halftime.

Oklahoma State: After shooting just 30% or less in three of their previous four outings, the Cowboys found their mojo. Their shooting percentage was the highest in five games.

UP NEXT

Baylor: The Bears have a quick turnaround, hosting Oklahoma on Monday.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys play at Iowa State on Tuesday.

No. 14 Villanova survives UConn, 61-55

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In a game with ever-changing momentum, Villanova’s Jermaine Samuels stepped up to make crucial shots as the Wildcats held on for a narrow 61-55 win over the Huskies.

In crunch time, the Wildcats turned to their experienced players — juniors Samuels and Collin Gillespie.

Samuels hit a three with 31 seconds left to give ‘Nova a four-point lead, ending the game with a team-high 19 points and going 4-of-6 from long. Collin Gillespie helped the Wildcats turn around a slow second-half start, scoring 10 straight after going scoreless for almost 27 minutes.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl played an important role in the Wildcats’ win as well, knocking down four critical free throws to extend the lead at the end of the game. The freshman crashed the boards for a total of seven rebounds, including three huge offensive boards.

Villanova (14-3) closed the game on an 18-7 run to pull off the victory, as UConn (10-7) gave it everything they had, keeping it close to the very end.

The Huskies got out to an early lead over the Wildcats, with Akok Akok making impressive plays on both sides of the court — turning a blocked shot into a three-pointer on the other end. Akok led the team with three blocks, grabbing two of five first-half blocks. UConn made clear why it is one of the nation’s best shot-blocking teams, totaling six blocks on the game and forcing Villanova to hit perimeter shots by taking away the paint.

After getting off to a slow start, Villanova shot lights out from beyond the arc in the first half, going 6-of-11 and utilizing spacing to avoid UConn’s high-level shot blocking. Six different Wildcats sank one from deep as ‘Nova finished 11-of-23 on the day.

After the game, Villanova coach Jay Wright commented on the team’s two slow starts on the day, saying the team had to learn how to play every possession intently.

While UConn wasn’t able to keep up from beyond the arc — shooting only 2-of-15 — the Huskies took advantage down low, with a whopping 36 points coming from inside the paint compared to the Wildcats’ 12.

Turnovers also plagued the Huskies, as they lost the ball 17 times, which the Wildcats capitalized on to score 23 of their 61 points.

UConn is clearly on the rise under the coaching of Dan Hurley and made it a tough game for Villanova. The Huskies will rejoin the Big East next season, making this a rivalry to watch moving forward.

Gators guard Andrew Nembhard has flu, could miss Auburn game

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida could be without point guard Andrew Nembhard against No. 4 Auburn on Saturday.

Coach Mike White said Nembhard has the flu and missed practice Thursday and Friday. The sophomore and Canadian national team player has started all 52 games in two seasons.

“We all better be ready to play potentially without him,” White said.

Nembhard is averaging 11.1 points, 5.9 assists and 2.8 rebounds this season. He also ranks second on the team with 21 steals. If he doesn’t play, the Gators (11-5, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) would start one of two freshmen: Tre Mann or Ques Glover.

Neither option seems ideal against Auburn (15-1, 3-1), which starts four seniors including two in the backcourt.

“Great opportunity for freshmen guards,” White said. “All these guys want opportunities. They have to take advantage of it. We have to be ready.”

Although Florida has plenty of time remaining to bolster its postseason resume, White acknowledged that his team could use a victory against an Auburn team that sits 11th in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings. The Gators have only one win against a team currently ranked in the NET top 50.

You’ve got to start taking advantage of some of them,” White said. “You want to play postseason and you want to play in that one tournament as opposed to the others, and you’ve got to win some of these.

“I don’t think any of them are do or die. I don’t think you put your team – especially this team – in the right mindset to execute (by saying that). But our guys also have to understand and we all have to understand that at this time of year – really from now to finish, really from the first game to finish – you’ve got to take advantage of some of these opportunities.”

It might be without Nembhard, who’s assist-to-turnover ratio is slightly better than 2 to 1.

“He’s one of the best guards in our league,” senior forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. said. “He’s somebody who calms us down on both ends of the plays, accountable on both ends. But I think we have some guys ready to step up, been really good in practice these last few days.

“I think we got a good chance of winning this one.”

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Best Bets: Where is the value in college basketball this weekend?

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Friday night’s lines have been released, but Saturday’s have not yet been put out by the fine folks running sportsbooks. Until they are, we will be using projections from KenPom, Torvik and Haslametrics to analyze Saturday’s games.

FRIDAY

No. 13 DAYTON (-7) at SAINT LOUIS, 137.5 (7:00 p.m.)

  • KENPOM: Dayton 73, Saint Louis 65
  • TORVIK: Dayton 73, Saint Louis 64
  • HASLAM: Dayton 76, Saint Louis 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Dayton 72.25, Saint Louis 65.25

I love this Dayton team. They are so efficient and so hard to guard on the offensive end of the floor because of their spacing, they number of quality perimeter weapons that they have and the fact that Anthony Grant has implemented a pro-style offense with a roster of upperclassmen.

Oh, and they happen to have this guy, Obi Toppin, who just so happens to be a perfect fit at the five for what they want to run.

But I think I lean Saint Louis here. Chaifetz Arena is always a tough place to play, and the Billikens have been playing well of late. They have talent, too, and they have traditionally been one of the better defensive teams in the Atlantic 10 under Travis Ford. They also happen to have Hasahn French on the roster, and he is about as good of a matchup as you can ask for with Toppin. They can play small, and they actually do have some high-level talent on the roster — Jordan Goodwin is a first-team all-Atlantic 10 player.

BEST BET: Here’s the catch: Saint Louis (+7) feels like a very sharp line. At (+6.5), I think there’s an argument to be made that the value is on Dayton. So I’ll probably stay away unless it gets to (+7.5) or, ideally, (+8).

WISCONSIN at No. 15 MICHIGAN STATE (-9.5), 130.5 (7:00 p.m.)

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 69, Wisconsin 62
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 68, Wisconsin 62
  • HASLAM: Michigan State 69, Wisconsin 61
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan State 70, Wisconsin 60.5

Michigan State is the play for me here. They’re in a perfect spot. Wisconsin has won two games in a row and six of their last seven, they are coming off of a somewhat fluky win over Maryland at home on Tuesday night and now have to turn around and head on the road to take on the best team in the league.

The Spartans?

They were just humiliated at Purdue, losing by 29 points in Mackey Arena, before having a full week off to prep for the Badgers.

BEST BET: I liked this line significantly more when it opened at Michigan State (-8), but I think the Spartans run away with this so I will be on Sparty (-9.5), as well.

No. 19 MICHIGAN at IOWA (-4.5), 149.5 (9:00 p.m.)

  • KENPOM: Iowa 76, Michigan 72
  • TORVIK: Iowa 76, Michigan 72
  • HASLAM: Iowa 76, Michigan 71
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Iowa 77, Michigan 72.5

The last time these two teams got together, Iowa beat Michigan 103-91 in a game where the Hawkeyes got 44 points from Luka Garza. After that game, the Hawkeyes ranked 175th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Torvik.

Since that game, Iowa has ranked 28th nationally in AdjDE. The under has hit in seven of their last eight games. The total in this game opened at 148, spiked at 151 and has come down to 149.5.

Should I mention that Isaiah Livers, Michigan’s leading scorer and most talented player, is not going to be available?

BEST BET: I like Iowa (-4.5). I love under 149.5. I would probably take the under all the way down to 147, which is the lowest total among any of the projections I use.

SATURDAY

No. 3 DUKE at No. 11 LOUISVILLE, 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Duke 72, Louisville 64
  • TORVIK: Duke 71, Louisville 64
  • HASLAM: Duke 76, Louisville 63
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

The biggest game of the weekend feels like a prime bounceback spot for Duke.

The Blue Devils are coming off of a loss at Clemson on Tuesday night where their perimeter defense was exposed. The Tigers played four guards and a perimeter-oriented five in Aamir Simms that pulled Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt away from the paint and made them guard in space. It did not go well.

Louisville is playing their third-straight road game, and the first two were not exactly statement wins. The Cardinals blew a double-digit lead at Notre Dame in a 67-64 win and they needed overtime (and this controversial call) to beat Pitt.

The kicker here is that Louisville cannot spread the floor the way that Miami can — they typically always have one low-post banger on the court in Steve Enoch and Malik Williams — and their questionable point guard play has been an issue in every game they’re lost. Tre Jones is as good of a defender at the point of attack as anyone.

BEST BET: We’ll see where the line opens, but if you can get Duke (-8.5) or lower, that seems pretty tasty.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Duke opened at (-7) and is still available at (-7.5) for me. This is my favorite bet of the day.

No. 10 KENTUCKY at ARKANSAS, 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Arkansas 69, Kentucky 66
  • TORVIK: Arkansas 69, Kentucky 65
  • HASLAM: Arkansas 73, Kentucky 65
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

This is the toughest game on Saturday’s slate to get a good feel for. Kentucky is coming off of a loss at South Carolina where they held a big lead early in the second half and choked it away on a banked-in, buzzer-beating three.

Arkansas, on the other hand, is 14-2 on the season and their two losses have come on the road at LSU by two and at Western Kentucky in overtime (before WKU’s best player hurt his knee).

The Razorbacks basically run everything through Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones offensively, and I do think that Kentucky has the perimeter defenders to be able to deal with them, but I think it’s worth noting that Arkansas is the best in the country at running opponents off of the three-point line and Kentucky has been shooting the three at a 41.4 percent clip in SEC play, which leads the league.

BEST BET: I lean Arkansas (-3) here, and I will take a gander at the under if it gets to 139 or higher. If you want to bet on Kentucky, take the ML.

BYU at NO. 1 GONZAGA, 10:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 82, BYU 73
  • TORVIK: Gonzaga 81, BYU 73
  • HASLAM: Gonzaga 87, BYU 73
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

I felt like I needed to mention this game because BYU is probably the second-best team in the Mountain West and, when they have a healthy Yoeli Childs, might be a top 25 team nationally.

The problem is that they don’t have a healthy Yoeli Childs, and that creates a bit of a problem when projecting this line.

I do think that BYU has the horses to run with Gonzaga even without him, and their ability to shoot and space the floor could give a bigger Gonzaga team some issues. The Cougars have also had some success playing at Gonzaga in past seasons — they won in the Kennel in 2015, 2016 and 2017. So I’m not necessarily going to get scared of by the opponent here.

BEST BET: It’s impossible to say without knowing where the line is going to open, so check back on Saturday morning when we have that info.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: BYU (+13) is not going to feel comfortable, but I think we have to take the points here.

No. 20 COLORADO at ARIZONA, 2:30 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Arizona 73, Colorado 68
  • TORVIK: Arizona 71, Colorado 67
  • HASLAM: Arizona 70, Colorado 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Both Colorado and Arizona played late on Thursday night, meaning that there will be a 36-hour turnaround between games, which makes me lean towards the home team.

I also think it’s worth noting that these two teams have been trending in opposite directions. Prior to beating Utah on Thursday night, Arizona has lost four of their last five and five of their last seven and were coming off of a sweep at the Oregon schools. Colorado, on the other hand, is currently sitting in second place in the Pac-12 race.

BEST BET: Assuming this line opens at Arizona (-4.5), I think the value is on the Wildcats. Playing two road games in three days is never easy, and you know the McKale Center is going to be rocking with a ranked team coming to town.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: At Arizona (-6), I am going to stay away. If you have to bet this, I like the Arizona side more.

PURDUE at No. 17 MARYLAND, 2:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Maryland 62, Purdue 58
  • TORVIK: Maryland 59, Purdue 58
  • HASLAM: Maryland 59, Purdue 56
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

This is a perfect spot play.

Maryland has lost their last two games on the road, the latter of which was an L because of a fluky turnover with 12 seconds left in a game the Terps were leading. Purdue, on the other hand, is riding high after they beat Michigan State by 29 points at home.

The Boilermakers are 0-3 on the road in the Big Ten this season and also lost at Marquette. Maryland is 0-4 on the road but they have not lost at home this season.

BEST BET: If the line is Maryland (-4), I love it. If the line is lower than that, I love it even more.

*SATURDAY UPDATE: Maryland opened at (-5) and has moved to (-5.5). The Terps are my second-favorite bet of the day.

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