Houston reaches No. 1 in AP poll for first time since 1983

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Make some room, Phi Slama Jama. Another Houston team has reached the top of men’s college basketball.

Nearly four decades after Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon took the Cougars to No. 1, the latest bunch led by Marcus Sasser and star freshman Jarace Walker took over the top spot in the AP Top 25. They received 45 of 63 first-place votes from the national media panel, easily outdistancing second-place Texas and third-place Virginia.

“It’s not like we went online and applied for it and waited for a response back. We’ve been working for this,” said Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team is coming off a Final Four and Elite Eight trip the past two seasons. “But remember, it’s a rental. You don’t own it. You’re just renting it because someday somebody else is going to be No. 1.”

North Carolina had been No. 1 all season, but the Tar Heels lost to Iowa State and in a four-overtime thriller to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational to cede the top spot to Houston, which beat Kent State in its only game last week.

The last time the Cougars ascended to No. 1 was the final poll of the 1982-83 season, when “The Glide” and “The Dream” along with coach Guy Lewis were the favorites to win it all. They rolled through the NCAA Tournament before falling to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in an iconic championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I’ve never been ranked No. 1,” said Sampson, now in his 34th season as a college basketball coach. “We were ranked all 12 years at Oklahoma. I’m sure we were ranked at Indiana. Then we’ve been ranked five or six straight years. We’re used to having a high level of success.”

Texas received eight first-place votes and Virginia received two. Arizona climbed from 14th to fourth after emerging from a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational. Purdue jumped from 24th all the way to fifth and scooped up eight first-place votes after beating West Virginia, Gonzaga and Duke at the Phil Knight Legacy tourney.

“Our guys are competitive. They’re fun to coach. They get along. They’re out there playing with purpose and that’s what you have to have,” said Boilermakers coach Matt Painter, whose team was briefly No. 1 about this time last season.

“Early in the season, very few teams play with the purpose collectively,” he said. “I thought our guys played with a purpose.”

Baylor was sixth, Creighton seventh and U Conn climbed from 20th to eighth after beating Oregon, Alabama and Iowa State to win the Phil Knight Invitational. Kansas fell from third to ninth after losing to Tennessee in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, while Indiana rounded out the top 10.

There was a tie for 11th between SEC rivals Alabama and Arkansas with the Volunteers, another conference foe, right behind them. Gonzaga dropped from sixth to 14th, its first time outside the top 10 since Feb. 5, 2018, and Auburn was 15th.

Illinois was next followed by Duke and North Carolina in a tough week for Tobacco Road. The Blue Devils fell from eighth after their 75-56 loss to the Boilermakers.

Kentucky and Michigan State joined UCLA, Maryland, Iowa State, San Diego State and Ohio State in rounding out the poll.

RISING AND FALLING

Purdue made a rare 19-spot jump as the poll underwent a massive shakeup. UConn climbed 12 spots, Arizona moved up 10, Tennessee climbed nine and Alabama seven. On the flip side, the Tar Heels tumbled 17 spots, Duke dropped nine, Gonzaga fell eight and San Diego State fell seven.

IN AND OUT

Despite all the movement, Iowa State was the only newcomer this week, checking in at No. 23 after beating Villanova and North Carolina before falling to UConn. The Cyclones replaced Iowa, which dropped out after a one-week stay following its loss to TCU in the title game of the Emerald Coast Classic.

CONFERENCE WATCH

There are six difference conferences represented in the first seven teams in the poll. The Big Ten leads the way with six in the Top 25 while the SEC has five and the Big 12 has four, though three of them are in the top 10.

North Carolina, Gonzaga are 1-2 atop AP Top 25 men’s poll

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North Carolina didn’t have a dominating start at No. 1. The Tar Heels open their second week atop the Associated Press men’s college basketball poll with coach Hubert Davis reminding his players it will take time to find a flow like the one that carried them to last year’s NCAA championship game.

UNC (2-0) earned 44 of 63 first-place votes to finish ahead of No. 2 Gonzaga in Monday’s first regular-season AP Top 25, which featured only slight changes from the preseason poll released Oct. 17.

The Tar Heels return four starters from last year’s team, including AP preseason All-American Armando Bacot inside. But they labored through wins last week, first against UNC Wilmington and then against College of Charleston.

After the opener, Davis said he hoped it was “first-game anxiousness and nervousness.” After the second, he said he had talked to his team about dealing with expectations.

“One of the things I’ve sensed in them – I just felt not a nervousness, but maybe a little bit of a burden of the expectations,” Davis said. “And I tried to get them to understand that though those are expectations are noise, it means nothing.

“I felt like on every play, they were trying to make it look like the way we looked in April. That’s just not possible. That just can’t happen. This is this year’s team.”

THE TOP TIER

The second-ranked Bulldogs (2-0) picked up 14 first-place votes after wins against North Florida and Michigan State, the latter coming on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Third-ranked Houston (2-0) and fourth-ranked Kentucky (2-0) picked up the remaining five votes.

Baylor and Kansas were tied for fifth previously. This time, Baylor is alone at No. 5, followed by Kansas and Duke. UCLA, Arkansas and Creighton round out the top 10.

THE NEW ERAS

Duke and Villanova both are starting with young coaches replacing retired Hall of Famers. One had an early stumble that carried it right out of the poll.

The Blue Devils beat Jacksonville and USC Upstate – surrendering 82 combined points – in their first two games under Jon Scheyer, who has taken over for Mike Krzyzewski in that program’s first coaching change since 1980.

The Wildcats have turned to Kyle Neptune, who took over in the spring after the retirement of Jay Wright. They won their opener against La Salle then lost to Temple, which dropped them from 16th to unranked for the first time since February 2019.

RISING

Illinois (2-0) had the biggest jump, climbing four spots to No. 19 after two easy home wins. No. 14 Arizona and No. 21 Dayton each rose three spots. In all, 12 teams moved up from the preseason poll.

SLIDING

Tennessee (1-1) took the biggest tumble, falling 11 spots to No. 22 after losing to Colorado in its home state.

Kansas – which fell out of the voting tie at No. 5 – Creighton and No. 15 TCU fell one spot each to round out the four teams that slid from their preseason rankings.

STATUS QUO

Seven teams, all inside the top 10, held their preseason position.

WELCOME

No. 24 Texas A&M and No. 25 Connecticut are the week’s new additions. The Huskies spent most of last season in the AP Top 25, though the Aggies joined the poll for the first time under fourth-year coach Buzz Williams. Texas A&M was last ranked in February 2018, a season that ended with an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance.

FAREWELL (FOR NOW)

Oregon (No. 21) joined Villanova as the two teams to fall out from the preseason poll. The Ducks opened with a home win against Florida A&M but lost at home to UC Irvine four days later.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Southeastern Conference led the way with six ranked teams, with No. 13 Auburn and No. 18 Alabama joining Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M.

The Big 12 was next with five, with No. 11 Texas and No. 23 Texas Tech joining Baylor, Kansas and TCU.

The Atlantic Coast Conference had three, with No. 16 Virginia joining UNC and Duke; while the Big Ten had three with No. 12 Indiana and No. 20 Michigan joining Illinois.

The Pac-12 and Big East each had two ranked teams, followed by the West Coast, American Athletic, Mountain West and Atlantic 10 conferences each having one.

Kansas suspends Self for 4 games in ongoing infractions case

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas suspended Hall of Fame coach Bill Self and top assistant Kurtis Townsend for the first four games of the season Wednesday, along with imposing several recruiting restrictions, as part of the fallout from a lengthy FBI investigation into college basketball corruption.

Norm Roberts will be the acting coach for the defending national champions beginning with their opener Monday night against Omaha. Self and Townsend also will miss games against North Dakota State and Southern Utah along with a high-profile showdown between the No. 5 Jayhawks and No. 7 Duke in the Champions Classic.

Self and Townsend will rejoin the team to face North Carolina State at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas on Nov. 23.

The school already had barred the two coaches from off-campus recruiting this past summer. It will also reduce the number of official visits during the 2023-24 academic year, reduce the total number of scholarships by three over a three-year span and reduce the number of permissible recruiting days during the upcoming year by 13 days.

There were no official visitors this year for Late Night at the Phog, the annual celebration to kick off the season.

“Coach Townsend and I accept and support KU’s decision,” Self said in a statement. “We are in good hands with Coach Roberts, and I am confident that he will do a great job on the bench leading our team. I am proud of the way our guys have handled this situation and I look forward to returning to the bench for our game against N.C. State.”

The infractions case against Kansas stems from a federal investigation in 2017 that led to the conviction of shoe company executives, a middleman who worked with them and several assistant coaches.

Kansas was among the schools named in the case, along with Arizona, LSU, Louisville and N.C. State.

The Kansas case hinged on whether representatives of apparel company Adidas were considered boosters – the school contends they were not – when two of them arranged payments to prospective recruits. The school never disputed that the payments were made, only that it had any knowledge that the inducements were happening.

Auburn received four years of probation through a traditional NCAA infractions process for a similar case, but Kansas joined other schools in appealing its case to an Independent Accountability Review Panel, which was among the proposals made by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2018 to reform the sport.

The panel works outside the purview of the NCAA and was designed to handle particularly complex cases. But its work has been painfully slow – NCAA president Mark Emmert acknowledged the process takes “way too long” – and Kansas decided to self-impose restrictions while continuing to wait for the IARP to announce its decision.

“We are hopeful these difficult self-imposed sanctions will assist in bringing the case to a conclusion,” Kansas athletic director Travis Goff said in a statement, and declining any additional comment. “Until then, we will continue to focus on supporting our outstanding men’s basketball student-athletes and coaches.”

Kansas had already doubled down on Self by signing him to a new contract in April 2021.

Under the terms of the five-year deal, Self gets one additional year after the conclusion of each season – in effect, making it a lifetime contract. It guaranteed him $5.41 million per year with a base salary of $225,000, a professional services contract of $2.75 million and an annual $2.435 million retention bonus.

The contract includes a clause that states the school cannot fire Self for cause “due to any current infractions matter that involves conduct that occurred on or prior to” the signing of the deal. And while he would have to forfeit half of his base salary and professional services pay while serving any Big 12 or NCAA suspension, it’s unclear whether that includes any self-imposed suspensions such as the one handed down Wednesday.

“Throughout this process, we have had ongoing conversations with all the involved parties,” Kansas chancellor Douglas A. Girod said in a statement. “We believe the actions we are announcing today move us closer to resolving this matter.”

Making the Kansas case more complex, though, is the rapidly shifting landscape of college sports. Some of the alleged infractions from the 2017 investigation would no longer be against the rules following name, image and likeness legislation, which has allowed athletes in all sports to begin making money from endorsements and other off-the-field business arrangements.

Meanwhile, the days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions as punishments appear to be ending.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation in August and slapped with a public reprimand and fine for violations in the recruitment of James Wiseman, now with the Golden State Warriors. But the Tigers escaped any scholarship penalties or postseason bans because the IARP said it did not want to punish current athletes.

Even as the IARP continues to work on several cases, the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year put forth a recommendation to end the process. The proposal was swiftly adopted by the Division I Board of Directors.

“We look forward to commenting further when this process is fully resolved,” Girod said of the IARP process. “Until then, I want to reiterate our unwavering support of Coach Self and our men’s basketball program.”

Kentucky favored to win 50th SEC regular-season crown

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Kentucky is the favorite to win its 50th Southeastern Conference regular-season championship.

The Wildcats, who open the season ranked fourth, were followed by Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn and Alabama in voting by a panel of SEC and national media members. The results, without vote totals, were released Wedesday at the league’s media day.

Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, the reigning national player of the year, was picked to win the honor again. The other first-team picks were Arkansas freshman Nick Smith Jr., Florida’s Colin Castleton, Kentucky’s Sahvir Wheeler and Tennessee’s Santiago Vescovi.

“We have more veterans than I’ve had in a long time, and those veterans are speeding up practice,” Wildcats coach John Calipari said. “Like, we’re doing more than we normally would do in the first couple weeks because we’ve been there, plus the Bahamas, that trip (over the summer) helped us.”

The Wildcats’ last regular-season title came in 2020, when the postseason wasn’t held because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

LSU and Tennessee are tied for a distant second-place with 11 SEC regular-season championships.

NEW COACHES

Six SEC programs turned to new coaches during the offseason, most of them arriving with terrific track records at lower levels. The exception: Mike White went from Florida to Georgia.

The Gators replaced him with 37-year-old Todd Golden, fresh from leading San Francisco to its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1998. LSU hired Matt McMahon from Murray State, Missouri turned to Dennis Gates (Cleveland State), Mississippi State hired Chris Jans from New Mexico State and South Carolina brought in Lamont Paris from Chattanooga.

“I think you see the rise of the SEC as a basketball league,” McMahon said. “Obviously, for me that was very appealing. As a competitor, you want the opportunity to go and compete against the best every night, and you’re certainly going to get that opportunity here in the SEC.”

Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams called Gates “an absolute star.”

“I think he’ll do great at Missouri,” Williams said. “I think he’s an absolute star, always have.”

Paris has a head start with the program’s highest-rated recruit. GG Jackson, a former North Carolina commitment, was the No. 6-rated prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings.

“Well, it doesn’t hurt the rebuild process,” Paris said. “I can say that with 100% certainty.”

Jackson had high praise for his coach, too. “He’s the smoothest, cleanest and good-smelling coach that I know so far. He’s always going to have on some good type of fragrance. He’s the perfect balance between a hard-headed coach and also a compassionate coach that can talk to you on all different type of levels.”

TOP FRESHMEN

Jackson has played with or against some of the other top freshmen entering the league. But he’s already had one intense run-in with one of Kentucky’s five-star recruits, Chris Livingston.

Apparently, Livingston’s coach had said that Jackson had been trash-talking him.

“Coach (Steve) Smith at Oak Hill told him before the game that I was talking trash, which I wasn’t,” the South Carolina freshman said. “He came out before tip-off. He said something to me and I was like, `What?’ From that point on, we were just going back and forth.”

He said Livingston’s teammate and current Duke freshman Christian Reeves later informed Jackson: “Coach told him that you said some nasty things about him.”

SEC teams landed eight of the top 20 prospects in the country, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Headlining that group were: Smith (No. 3), Kentucky’s Cason Wallace (8), Livingston (12), Tennessee’s Julian Phillips (13) and Alabama’s Brandon Miller (15).

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said Smith, a projected NBA draft lottery pick, has an “incredible bright future.”

“I think he’s used to playing with expectations,” Musselman said. “Throughout his high school career he’s had high expectations. He’s a player that kind of moves on the floor effortless, almost like he’s on skates.”

North Carolina No. 1 in preseason AP Top 25 men’s basketball

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North Carolina surprised just about everyone last year when a talented team led by first-year coach Hubert Davis parlayed a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament into a run to the national title game.

The Tar Heels won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year.

With four starters back from the team that lost to Kansas in New Orleans, the Tar Heels are the runaway pick as the preseason No. 1 in the AP Top 25. They earned 47 of 62 first-place votes from a national media panel to easily outdistance Gonzaga, the top preseason team the past two years.

“As they opened up their lockers for the first practice of last year, there was a picture of the New Orleans Superdome in there. I wanted them to see where we were headed in April,” Davis recalled last week. “The hard work and preparation, the practice that had to be put into place to put ourselves in position to do that. t’s the same approach this year compared to last year. The only difference this year is the outside noise.

“Last year,” Davis said, “the outside noise didn’t think we had a chance. The outside noise this year thinks we do.”

Gonzaga received 12 first-place votes while No. 3 Houston had one and fourth-ranked Kentucky the other two. Houston has its highest preseason ranking since 1983, when the third of the Cougars’ Phi Slama Jama teams reached its second consecutive title game. Kentucky has its best preseason rank since 2019, when the season ended amid the pandemic.

There was a tie at No. 5 between the Jayhawks, who raised their latest national title banner inside Allen Fieldhouse earlier this month, and Big 12 rival Baylor, which raised its own championship banner the previous season.

It is the 10th time that North Carolina has been preseason No. 1, breaking a tie with Duke for the most in the history of the AP poll. Of those 10, two Tar Heels teams have gone on to win the NCAA title: the 1981-82 team coached by Dean Smith and featuring James Worthy, Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan, and the 2008-09 team coached by Roy Williams and featuring Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson.

A third team, Williams’ 2015-16 squad, lost the final to Villanova on Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for our team’s potential,” Davis said of securing the top spot in the poll, “but the only way for us to reach any of our dreams and goals will be to improve each and every day by our commitment to preparing, practicing and playing to the best of our ability.”

Caleb Love, one of the four returning starters for North Carolina along with R.J. Davis, Leaky Black and Armando Bacot, said the focus will be on getting better daily ahead of the ACC grind.

Duke, where Jon Scheyer replaced Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, was ranked seventh and UCLA eighth. Creighton has its best preseason ranking at No. 9, followed by Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas, Indiana, TCU and Auburn.

“You don’t pay a lot attention to it when you’re picked ninth,” Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said of their preseason ranking in the Big East last season. “You go to work every day and try to get better every day. It’s important we approach it the same this year.”

The No. 13 Hoosiers have their first ranking since January 2019 and highest in the preseason since 2016.

Villanova, where Kyle Neptune is taking over for Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright, is No. 16, the lowest preseason ranking for the Wildcats since 2008. They were followed by Arizona, Virginia, San Diego State and Alabama.

The final five are Oregon, Michigan, Illinois, Dayton and Texas Tech.

“When I was in school as a player, I never bought into the rankings, what the media would say about our ball club. You still got to go out and play the game,” Hoosiers coach Mike Woodson said. “Hell, my senior year we were ranked No. 1 and we didn’t get it done. So at the end of the day I guess it’s kind of nice for our players who haven’t experienced that. Again, you got to go out and play. I mean, you got to prove it on the basketball floor. That’s when it counts.”

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big 12 and SEC lead the way with five ranked teams. The Big Ten, Pac 12 and ACC have three apiece and the Big East has two. The West Coast, Atlantic 10, Mountain West and American Athletic conferences each have one team in the poll.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Texas A&M was the first team outside the poll, followed by UConn, which appeared on 24 of 62 ballots. Miami, Purdue and Saint Louis were also eyeing a spot in the Top 25 when the first regular-season poll is released Nov. 14.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR

The season begins for most teams Nov. 7, but as usual, the first meeting of heavyweights will be the Champions Classic on Nov. 15 in Indianapolis: No. 4 Kentucky plays Michigan State, unranked in the preseason poll for the second year in a row, before No. 5 Kansas plays No. 7 Duke in the nightcap.

Senators Tuberville, Manchin working on bill to tackle NIL

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Sens. Tommy Tuberville and Joe Manchin have reached out to college sports leaders, including the Southeastern Conference commissioner, for feedback and ideas on how to regulate the way athletes are compensated for their names, images and likenesses.

Tuberville (R-Ala.), a former college football coach who led Auburn to an undefeated season in 2004, and Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced Wednesday that their staffs have already begun drafting a NIL bill that they said would will be in compliance.

“The lack of meaningful leadership and a lack of clarity in this area resulting from Alston (Supreme Court decision) means that the U.S. Congress must act to set clear ground rules for student-athletes and institutions alike,” the senators wrote in a letter to Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey. “Like you, we have the common goals of protecting student-athletes, ensuring fair competition and compensation, and preserving the time-honored traditions of college sports.”

Manchin is friends with Alabama football coach and West Virginia native Nick Saban.

Sankey and Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff met with Tuberville, Manchin and other lawmakers during a lobbying trip to Capitol Hill in May.

College sports leaders, including outgoing NCAA President Mark Emmert, have repeatedly called for help from Congress in regulating name, image and likeness compensation since even before the NCAA last summer lifted its restrictions on athletes cashing in on their fame.

The NCAA removed its ban on NIL compensation for athletes without setting detailed, uniform rules. A patchwork of state laws has created a complicated landscape for college athletic departments and allowed boosters to become involved in ways that challenge the NCAA’s ability to enforce the broad rules that are in place.

At least eight bills related to college sports have been filed by federal lawmakers over the past four years – some more narrowly addressing NIL and others targeting other athlete benefits and issues. There has been no substantive movement on any of them.

One of them, the College Athlete Bill of Rights put forth by Democrats Cory Booker and Richard Blumenthal in 2020, is set to be reintroduced by the senators, SI.com reported Wednesday.