Tuesday’s Things To Know: Kansas loses again, Nebraska losing luster and Kentucky ramping up

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It was a great night of hoops with a bunch of ranked teams on the road and plenty of important games for conference races and high-level NCAA tournament seeding. Here are the highlights from Tuesday’s action:

IS THE BIG 12 UP FOR GRABS?

We’ve been here before.

You tend to get repeats after 14 years, after all. That’s a lot of time to go without new material. There’s been mid-season cliffhangers before, only for the finale to finish the same. With Kansas winning the Big 12.

After the 11th-ranked Jayhawks lost their second-straight and third of four games in a 73-63 setback at Texas on Tuesday, maybe – just maybe – that teaser may actually foreshadow a different ending. Or death still waits for us all, taxes stay due April 15th and the sun will come up tomorrow to better illuminate Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.

But maybe not.

The evidence is starting to pile up that these Jayhawks may not have what it takes to extend the program’s run of Big 12 championships to 15 in a row. It starts with personnel.

Dedric Lawson is awesome. The Memphis transfer has absolutely lived up to the sky-high expectations that followed him from his hometown to Lawrence. He’s putting up 19.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the floor. He is exactly the caliber of player that Jayhawks so often have rode to a Big 12 championship – and more.

The problem seems to be everybody else.

There’s no Frank Mason, Josh Jackson, Joel Embiid, Devonte Graham, Wayne Selden, Andrew Wiggins, Svi Mykhailiuk or any of the multitudes of players that Kansas has had either as co-stars or members of a highly-capable supporting cast. Udoka Azubuike probably would have been that alongside Lawson in what would have been a monster of a frontcourt, but he’s on the bench with a season-ending wrist injury. Maybe Silivio De Sousa could have been that guy, but he’s in NCAA eligibility limbo.

Lagerald Vick has shown glimpses of being the type of player that can help lead Kansas, but he’s also prone to clunker performances and doesn’t have the take-over-the-game mentality of guys like Mason or Graham of recent years. Cal transfer Charlie Moore hasn’t provided the boost many expected while five-star freshmen Quinton Grimes and Devon Dotson have had their moments, but no one is going to be mistaking them for Duke’s freshmen foursome as the no-doubt, one-and-done, All-American freshmen they’d need to be to truly elevate the Jayhawks. Marcus Garrett, KJ Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot are hardly the answer for major production, either.

The pieces are there, though. Even considering Azubuike, we all looked at this roster in November and were enamored with the talent and experience. It could all still click into place. Would it really be all that surprising to see Grimes or Dotson mature into their five-star hype? Or Vick embracing his final months of college with improved consistency? The answer to that is not totally, but it doesn’t become more likely the longer Kansas languishes in this area between good and really good. Especially in the Big 12, where really good – and maybe great – is what it’s going to take to win the conference. Iowa State, Texas Tech, Kansas State and maybe even Baylor look capable of pushing this thing to the brink.

Maybe Bill Self will solve the personnel shortcomings with scheme, finding a way to squeeze enough offense out of a team that isn’t particularly strong shooting 3s, taking care of the ball or hitting the offensive glass while making the defense truly elite. He’s done some remarkable work in his tenure at Kansas. Just look at last year’s Final Four team. Plus, all the Jayhawks’ losses have come on the road, so it’s possible the schedule is simply as big a part of this as anything.

Kansas’ streak has been in peril before. There have been true threats to their crown – they’ve even shared a couple during this run. The Jayhawks still have Allen Fieldhouse in their corner and the Big 12 always seems to cannibalize itself in just the perfect way to clear the path for Kansas. That’s probably what will happen again this season.

Right?

NEBRASKA IS FADING

It wasn’t too long ago that Nebraska was basking in some well-deserved spotlight. Tim Miles’ team started the season 11-2 with wins over Seton Hall, Clemson, Creighton, Illinois and Oklahoma State with its only setbacks coming on a neutral to Texas Tech and at Minnesota. Things looked to be good in Lincoln after a nice season a year ago was derailed by a Big Ten that wasn’t good enough to deliver enough quality opponents to help the Huskers’ NCAA tournament resume after a non-conference schedule that was highlighted – which feels like a generous designation – by a home win against Boston College.

It’s now starting to all fall apart.

The Huskers dropped their fourth straight and sixth of eight in a 62-51 loss to Wisconsin on their home floor to fall to 13-8 overall and 3-7 in the B1G.

The calendar hasn’t yet flipped to February, but it’s hard to view Nebraska at anything other than a critical juncture of their season. They’ve got the Illini in Champaign on Saturday followed by No. 21 Maryland at home and then No. 17 Purdue in West Lafayette. The schedule then eases up some with Minnesota and Northwestern at home before a trip to Penn State, but the homestretch looks daunting with Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa the final four games.

There’s opportunity there, but a much smaller margin for error than Nebraska would have liked given how strong its non-conference work was. If they can’t pull out of this nosedive, they’re looking at a fifth-straight year and sixth in seven without an NCAA tournament under Miles.

KENTUCKY IS A BUZZSAW RIGHT NOW

That embarrassing loss to Duke in the Champion’s Classic seems like a million years ago. At least all the takes about Kentucky taking a step back seem like they were about a different team.

The Wildcats won their seventh-straight game Tuesday, following up Saturday’s win over Kansas with an absolute beatdown of an 87-52 defeat of Vanderbilt. They shot 55.6 percent from the floor and connected on 10 of 17 (58.8 percent) from 3-point range. P.J. Washington had 26 points and 12 rebounds.

Kentucky has it absolutely rolling right now, beating good teams like Auburn, Kansas and Mississippi State while dominating inferior ones like Vandy. John Calipari’s teams have often had a knack for figuring things out around this time of the season, and suddenly the Wildcats are starting to look like they might be a part of that club.

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.

BYU erases 23-point deficit, beats Dayton in overtime 79-75

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NASSAU, Bahamas – Gideon George scored 21 points and combined with Jaxson Robinson and Rudi Williams for BYU’s 15 overtime points as the Cougars came back from a 23-point deficit to beat Dayton 79-75 in overtime Friday.

BYU’s victory came in the seventh-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

George’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left in regulation gave BYU (4-3) its first lead after Dayton scored the first 10 points of the game and led 32-9 with six minutes left in the first half.

Mike Sharavjamts’ basket gave the lead back to Dayton but George’s free throw with a minute left sent the game into overtime.

Dayton got the first points in overtime but Robinson’s 3-pointer gave BYU the lead for good halfway through the extra period.

Robinson had 14 points, Dallin Hall 12 and Williams 11 to join George in double figures for BYU.

DaRon Holmes II scored 21 points and Sharavjamts 15 for Dayton (3-4). The Flyers lost starting guards Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith to lower-body injuries in the second half, Smith with with just seconds left in regulation.

Portland beats Villanova 83-71 in Phil Knight Invitational

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Moses Wood scored 16 points and Portland beat Villanova 83-71 on Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational.

Villanova (2-4) has lost three straight games, including an overtime loss to Iowa State on Thursday to drop below .500 for the first time since March 7, 2012.

Vasilije Vucinic’s layup with 4:16 remaining in the first half gave Portland the lead for good. The Pilots had an eight-point lead at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half.

Wood added six rebounds and three blocks for the Pilots (5-3). Tyler Robertson scored 15 points while shooting 6 for 12 (1 for 5 from 3-point range) and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Kristian Sjolund recorded 14 points and shot 5 for 7 (2 for 3 from 3-point range).

Caleb Daniels finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Villanova also got 14 points from Jordan Longino. Brandon Slater had 11 points.

Caleb Grill, Iowa State topples No. 1 North Carolina 70-65

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Grill has followed T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota State to UNLV and now back to Iowa State hoping the pair could share a moment like they did Friday.

Taking down the No. 1 team in the country was another bookmark moment in a long journey for the pair.

“I’m actually really enjoying sitting next to him from this moment right now just thinking about how long we’ve known each other and how cool this really was,” Otzelberger said.

Grill hit seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points and Iowa State rallied in the final five minutes to stun No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.

Iowa State (5-0) picked up just its third win over a team ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25. The Cyclones are 3-22 against No. 1 teams, with the other wins coming against Kansas in 1957 and Oklahoma in 2016.

The Cyclones can now add North Carolina (5-1) to the list.

“I was just staying the course of the game. I never really thought about it and the game just kind of came to me,” Grill said.

Grill was averaging 7.3 points and had made just 4 of 24 3-point attempts for the season entering Friday. But he couldn’t be stopped from beyond the arc, hitting a pair of big 3s to spark Iowa State’s late rally. His deep fadeaway jumper just inside the 3-point line with 1:40 left gave Iowa State a 63-61 lead and the Cyclones did just enough at the free throw line in the final minute to close out the upset victory.

Grill’s previous career high was 27 points while playing for UNLV in the 2020-21 season against Alabama. He also hit seven 3-pointers in that game.

Grill originally signed with South Dakota State when Otzelberger was the coach there. He was released from his commitment when Otzelberger took the head job at UNLV and started his career at Iowa State before deciding to join his coach in Las Vegas.

When Otzelberger returned to Ames, Grill followed again.

“Just having him be the first person that really had belief in me, it’s just really special what he’s done for me and my family and everything we’ve done,” Grill said.

Jaren Holmes added 22 points and the Cyclones withstood off shooting games from Aljaz Kunc and Gabe Kalscheur, who combined for three points and missed all eight of their shot attempts. Both were averaging double figures scoring for Iowa State.

RJ Davis led North Carolina with 15 points, Armando Bacot added 14 and Caleb Love scored 12. But the Tar Heels will lament a series of mistakes in the closing minutes that allowed Iowa State to rally.

“We had wide open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted, we just didn’t make those shots,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.

North Carolina led 57-49 after Leaky Black’s layup with 5:43 left, but missed four of its final six shots and had four turnovers during that span.

“We turned the ball over a couple of times and you just can’t do that in late-game situations,” Davis said. “You have to be sound and discipline and you have to do that on both ends of the floor and we just didn’t do it.”

NO. 1 LOSSES

North Carolina lost as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since Nov. 21, 2015 when it lost 71-67 at Northern Iowa. The Tar Heels also lost as No. 1 to UNLV in 2011 at a Thanksgiving tournament.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: Pete Nance wasn’t able to contribute in the same way he did in Thursday’s opening round. Nance, who tied his career high with 28 points against Portland, didn’t score for the first 27 minutes and finished with seven points.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were playing a No. 1 team from outside their conference for the first time since 1999 when they faced Cincinnati in the championship game of the Big Island Invitational.

UP NEXT

Iowa State will face either No. 18 Alabama or No. 20 UConn in the championship game while the Tar Heels will face the loser for third place.

No. 8 Duke locks down late, holds off Xavier 71-64

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PORTLAND, Ore. – After a shaky offensive performance in the opening round of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, Duke coach Jon Scheyer wanted to see Jeremy Roach get back to playing more instinctively, especially at the offensive end of the floor.

Roach responded with a season-high 21 points, Mark Mitchell added 16 and No. 8 Duke withstood Xavier’s second-half comeback for a 71-64 win on Friday.

The Blue Devils (6-1) advanced to the championship game thanks to the play of their standout guard and another strong defensive effort. Roach came one point shy of matching his career high, and the Blue Devils rebounded after an unexpectedly tight victory over Oregon State in the opening round of the event.

Roach was 3 of 14 shooting against Oregon State as the Blue Devils scored a season-low 54 points. He made 9 of 15 shots and had five assists against Xavier.

“There’s a lot that falls on your shoulders so you can end up overthinking it a little bit,” Scheyer said. “The thing that I love for him today is he just was him. And when he’s that way, he is to me the best guard in the country.”

The Musketeers (4-2) were held to two points over the final five minutes and missed their last four shot attempts. Souley Boum scored 23 points and Adam Kunkel had 13. Kunkel didn’t play the last 11 minutes after taking a hard fall committing a foul.

Xavier leading scorer Jack Nudge was 1 of 13 shooting and finished with five points.

“Jack played a great effort. He really did. He was ready for the game. He just had one of those nights where the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said.

At the same time, Miller was disappointed in what he called the “fracturing” he saw from his team.

“There were spurts and segments of the game where I thought we reflected our style, how we’re trying to play, whether it be defense and offense. But there were way too many segments of the game, if not most of the game, where we were at times in our own way,” Miller said.

Mitchell scored seven points in the opening minutes of the second half, including a pair of layups, and he hit a 3-pointer from the wing that gave Duke a 49-36 lead, its largest of the game.

That’s when Xavier’s comeback started. The Musketeers pulled within three points on several occasions, but Duke answered each time. Desmond Claude’s driving layup pulled Xavier within 63-60 with 5:51 left, but Ryan Young scored for Duke and Xavier didn’t make another basket.

Roach’s jumper with 2:40 left pushed Duke’s lead to 69-62.

“We like to play inside out but I mean, when guys are hitting shots it just opens up for everybody else,” Roach said. “Just try to continue to be consistent hitting shots and I think we’ll be fine.”

Kyle Filipowski had 12 points and was not Duke’s leading scorer for the first time in five games.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils’ dominance on the backboards finally came to an end. Duke had outrebounded each of its first six opponents by double figures, the longest such stretch in school history. But Xavier’s interior size limited Duke to a 33-32 advantage on the glass. The Blue Devils had 12 second-chance points.

Xavier: The Musketeers played an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the first time since beating Virginia Tech in last year’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Xavier dropped to 0-2 against ranked opponents this season, having lost to Indiana last week. The Musketeers will play another ranked foe in Sunday’s third-place game.

UP NEXT

Duke will face the Gonzaga-Purdue winner in the championship game on Sunday, while Xavier will play the loser.