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No. 16 Buffalo holds off upset-minded WMU 88-79

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) — Buffalo was finally challenged in conference play — and coach Nate Oats wasn’t thrilled with how his team handled it.

Jeremy Harris had 22 points and 11 rebounds, and the 16th-ranked Bulls held off upset-minded Western Michigan 88-79 on Tuesday night, but this game was close throughout after Buffalo won its first three Mid-American Conference games by a combined 70 points.

“It’s as close as we’ve had in a while,” Oats said. “It’s not the worst thing to happen to us, but we’ve got to fix some stuff. We’re not headed the right direction.”

Nick Perkins added 14 points for the Bulls (16-1, 4-0), who trailed by 11 in the first half and struggled to shake free of WMU until the very end. The Bulls led by just four when star guard CJ Massinburg — who had been scoreless in the second half — connected from 3-point range to make it 86-79 with under 90 seconds remaining.

The Broncos (6-11, 0-4) went on a 15-0 run in the first half and led 33-22, but Buffalo rebounded quickly and led 43-39 at halftime.

“When they needed to, they got to the free throw line, or they got to layups,” WMU coach Steve Hawkins said. “Kudos to them. They did what they had to do.”

The Bulls led 69-68 when Perkins and Ronaldo Segu made consecutive 3-pointers. Buffalo pushed the lead to nine, but WMU answered with seven straight points to make it 77-75.

Josh Davis scored 24 points for WMU.

BIG PICTURE

Buffalo: The Bulls were probably due for a closer game, especially on the road, and they committed 14 turnovers, their highest total in six games. But they did not look overly rattled toward the end in their first tight game in a while.

The Bulls are 16-1 for the first time in program history. Buffalo went 15-1 in a 16-game season in 1929-30, and went 15-0 in 1930-31. Tuesday’s game could be valuable if the Bulls take the right lessons from it.

“The MAC is a very competitive league. If we don’t play our best, any team in the MAC is going to take us down to the wire, if not beat us,” Massinburg said. “We’ve just got to bring it every night and never get complacent.”

WMU: The Broncos weren’t afraid to push the pace against Buffalo, and although they gave up the double-digit lead quickly in the first half, they hung tough throughout the second.

“This is a tough, hard-nosed group,” Hawkins said. “I told them afterward that I was really proud of their fight.”

RECOVERED

Perkins hobbled off with a sprained left ankle in his team’s previous game, but he was back and looked no worse for wear. He played 31 minutes and had a big part in an important stretch for Buffalo.

After sinking a 3-pointer to push the lead to four, he blocked a shot, brought the ball up the court and assisted on Segu’s 3 that made it 75-68.

BIG NAME

There was at least one celebrity fan in attendance for WMU’s home game against a ranked team. The matchup was intriguing enough for Darius Slay of the Detroit Lions, who came to watch. The star defensive back spent plenty of time posing for pictures with young fans.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

A win is a win, but this one didn’t have much in the way of style points for Buffalo.

UP NEXT

Buffalo: The Bulls return home to face Eastern Michigan on Friday night. Buffalo beat EMU 74-58 earlier this month.

WMU: The Broncos play at Bowling Green on Saturday night.

NBC Sports Top 25: Buh-bye Iowa State, hello Ole Miss?

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The #DausterCurse strikes again!

After going all-in on Iowa State, taking them from outside the top 25 to No. 10 in the country based on a dominant win against Kansas and buying into the (what I thought was an accurate) eye-test, the Cyclones never stood a chance. They lost by three at Baylor on Tuesday night and followed that up by blowing a late lead and losing at home to Kansas State on Saturday.

So much for that.

While I still do believe that Iowa State is really, really good and that they may actually be the second-best team in the Big 12 this season — two one possession losses are just that, one possession losses — I can’t justify ranking them in the top 25 today and keep any shred of credibility that I have remaining.

Beyond that, there isn’t anything to talk about in the top ten. Duke won on the road against Florida State despite playing without Zion Williamson for an entire half, further solidifying by belief that they are the best team in the country. Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia all logged impressive wins at every turn. Michigan State, Kansas, Texas Tech and Virginia Tech took care of business, and Gonzaga survived what may be the toughest test they face in league play, a trip to San Francisco.

Things get weird outside the top nine, as Ole Miss beating Auburn at home and Mississippi State on the road threw things for a loop. So did North Carolina. The Tar Heels went into Raleigh and beat N.C. State before turning around and getting blown out at home against Louisville, but I could only drop them one spot because A) they still beat N.C. State on the road, and B) everyone in that group of teams directly behind them lost at some point this week, too.

The only really notable development near the bottom of the top 25 was that Villanova jumped back into my rankings. The Wildcats have won five in a row, just handled Creighton in Omaha fairly easily and now sit as the lone undefeated team in the Big East at 4-0.

Here is the full NBC Sports Top 25:

1. Duke (14-1, Last Week: 1)
2. Michigan (17-0, 2)
3. Tennessee (14-1, 3)
4. Virginia (15-0, 4)
5. Gonzaga (16-2, 5)
6. Michigan State (15-2, 6)
7. Kansas (14-2, 7)
8. Texas Tech (15-1, 8)
9. Virginia Tech (14-1, 9)
10. Kentucky (12-3, 11)
11. Nevada (16-1, 14)
12. Marquette (14-3, 19)
13. North Carolina (12-4, 12)
14. Florida State (13-3, 13)
15. Ole Miss (13-2, NR)
16. N.C. State (14-2, 15)
17. Auburn (12-3, 16)
18. Mississippi State (12-3, 17)
19. Buffalo (15-1, 20)
20. Maryland (14-3, NR)
21. Villanova (13-4, NR)
22. Houston (16-1, 21)
23. Oklahoma (13-3, 25)
24. Indiana (12-4, 24)
25. Louisville (11-5, NR)

New Additions: 15. Ole Miss, 20. Maryland, 21. Villanova, 25. Louisville
Dropped Out: No. 10 Iowa State, No. 18 Ohio State, 22. St. John’s, 23. Wisconsin

Jeremy Harris leads No. 19 Buffalo in 88-64 win over Miami (Ohio)

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AMHERST, N.Y. (AP) — With Jeremy Harris and the rest of Buffalo’s offense misfiring, the senior guard took comfort in knowing the Bulls could still rely on their defense.

“I think that’s the reason why we’re so good, is because we’ve got so many good players that can break out any given night,” Harris said. “It’s fun playing with these guys. We’re all unselfish.”

Harris scored 17 points and No. 19 Buffalo shook off a cold-shooting start to cruise past Miami (Ohio) 88-64 on Saturday.

The Bulls (15-1, 3-0 Mid-American Conference) extended their school-best home winning streak to 19, dating to a 73-62 loss to St. Bonaventure on Dec. 2, 2017. Buffalo has won 15 of its first 16 games for the second time in school history after going 15-1 in a 16-game season in 1929-30.

The Bulls won despite their leading scorer, C.J. Massinburg, hitting 2 of 7 for 10 points, and an offense that missed 12 of its final 13 shots over the final 10:49 of the first half.

The difference was Dontay Caruthers coming off the bench to shut down the RedHawks’ top threat, Nike Sibande, in the first half. Caruthers then helped seal the game by scoring six consecutive points — two off steals — to cap a 19-2 run that put Buffalo ahead 63-42 with 8:34 left.

“When I started Caruthers in the second half, I thought he completely turned the game around,” coach Nate Oats said. “He comes downhill at you so hard on offense. He creates turnovers, gets us out in transition. And that’s when we’re at our best.”

Caruthers had 11 points, six assists, six rebounds and finished with a game-high three steals. Nick Perkins scored 12 points before hobbling off with what Oats called a Grade 1 sprained left ankle.

Sibande finished with 18 points, seven coming in the first three minutes before Caruthers entered the game. Darrian Ringo had 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the RedHawks (8-8, 0-3).

Miami coach Jack Owens said the difference was experience. While he has a rebuilding team starting three sophomores, Buffalo features a senior-laden lineup.

“They started the second half with five seniors on the court at once, where they really turned up the heat, where we have to get better is executing against that pressure,” he said.

The RedHawks were the last MAC team to beat Buffalo, with an 84-81 win at Oxford, Ohio, on Feb. 20. Owens got a firsthand glimpse of how much better the Bulls are this year.

“I think they have a team that can get to a Final Four,” he said.

Miami kept the game close by hitting 50 percent of its shots through the first 26 minutes, which slowed the pace of the game and prevented Buffalo from turning to its potent transition attack.

The wheels fell off the RedHawks after Mekhi Lairy scored on layup to cut Buffalo’s lead to 44-40 with 14:29 remaining.

The Bulls responded with Perkins taking control down low at the offensive end. He scored seven of Buffalo’s next 10 points over a 3 1/2-minute span before leaving the game with 10:30 left. Perkins had just scored a contested layup at the left post when he had his leg kicked out from behind him by Sibande.

Perkins returned to the bench with about eight minutes left. Oats said there’s a possibility he can return to practice on Monday and play the following day at Western Michigan.

HI MOM

Four days after scoring a career-best 34 points in a 110-80 win over Toledo, Harris was in for a family reunion. His mother, Nancy, traveled from North Carolina for the game Saturday and spent the pre-game warmup hiding in Oats’ office so she could surprise her son following the game.

BIG PICTURE

Miami: A young rebuilding team that starts three sophomores showed resolve in playing Buffalo tough into the second half. Junior forward Bam Bowman particularly caused Buffalo’s problems from scoring in the paint.

Buffalo: The Bulls deserve credit for leaning on their defense to keep them in a game until their offense finally found its legs. Buffalo has now outscored its first three MAC opponents by a combined 272-202, putting the Bulls in a position to inch up in the rankings.

UP NEXT:

Miami: At Toledo on Tuesday night.

Buffalo: At Western Michigan on Tuesday night.

NBC Sports Top 25: Duke remains No. 1, Iowa State into the top ten

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Nothing changed in the top five this week, as Duke, Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia and Gonzaga all won the games that they were supposed to win, some in more impressive fashion that others.

Where things changed began with Kansas at No. 6 and Nevada at No. 7.

Let’s start with the Jayhawks: I only dropped them from fifth to sixth despite the fact that A) they lost by 17 points to Iowa State, and B) they lost Udoka Azubuike for the season. That’s because the Jayhawks lost Azubuike the day before a game where they had to go into Hilton Coliseum and take on an Iowa State team that is both very good and matched up perfectly with the short-handed Jayhawks. And yes, Kansas will be different without their star 7-footer, but they also have a coach in Bill Self who knows how to tweak lineups and has spent the last two seasons coaching up a team that had to play four guards. I’m still in wait and see mode here.

And then there is Iowa State, who is right there with Texas Tech as the second-best team in the Big 12. I bumped them all the way up to No. 10 this week, and my reasoning as to why can be found here.

There were some other tweaks as well — Michigan State seems to be really flying under the radar right now, as does Virginia Tech — but the other major change was dropping Nevada from No. 7 to No. 14. I’m still in on the Wolf Pack as a threat to make a run in March, but as their schedule starts to look less and less impressive (they’ve only beaten one KenPom top 50 team, and that was No. 47 Utah State at home) and they continue to play like the regular season doesn’t matter all that much to them, it’s hard to rank them any higher than this.

I still think they can beat just about anyone on any given night given their talent and the way they like to play, but they proven with a 27 point loss to New Mexico that their floor is lower than anyone realized.

Anyway, here is the full top 25:

1. Duke (12-1, Last Week: 1)
2. Michigan (15-0, 2)
3. Tennessee (12-1, 3)
4. Virginia (13-0, 4)
5. Gonzaga (14-2, 5)
6. Michigan State (13-2, 10)
7. Kansas (12-2, 6)
8. Texas Tech (13-1, 8)
9. Virginia Tech (13-1, 11)
10. Iowa State (12-2, 25)
11. Kentucky (10-3, 12)
12. North Carolina (11-3, 13)
13. Florida State (12-2, 9)
14. Nevada (14-1, 7)
15. N.C. State (13-1, 14)
16. Auburn (12-2, 15)
17. Mississippi State (12-1, 19)
18. Ohio State (12-2, 16)
19. Marquette (12-3, 17)
20. Buffalo (13-1, 20)
21. Houston (14-0, NR)
22. St. John’s (14-1, NR)
23. Wisconsin (11-4, 18)
24. Indiana (12-3, 23)
25. Oklahoma (12-2, 24)

New Additions: 21. Houston, 22. St. John’s
Dropped Out: 21. Nebraska, 22. Iowa

Bracketology: Duke leads opening field of 68

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With a new year upon us, the countdown to Selection Sunday is officially underway.

Through two months of play, Duke reigns over the NCAA’s new NET rankings (No. 1 through games on January 1) and also reigns over our opening in-season bracket.

The Blue Devils are joined on the top line by Kansas (Midwest), Michigan (South), and Tennessee (West).

Virginia, Gonzaga, Nevada, and Michigan State are next in line.

With conference play just beginning, we’re at an awkward stage.

Some teams have tested themselves against tough schedules.

Others have largely filled up their resumes with holiday cupcakes.

We’ll learn lot more about both groups in the next two months.

UPDATED: January 3, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION VCU vs. UCF
SOUTH REGION Purdue vs. Temple
EAST REGION Morgan State vs. Niagara
MIDWEST REGION Abilene Christian vs. St. Francis (NY)

EAST Washington, DC              MIDWEST – Kansas City
Columbia, SC Tulsa
1) DUKE 1) KANSAS
16) MORGAN ST / NIAGARA  16) AB-CHRISTIAN / ST. FRANCIS 
8) Villanova 8) Iowa
9) Maryland 9) LSU
San Jose Des Moines
5) Mississippi State 5) North Carolina
12) OLD DOMINION 12) UNC-GREENSBORO
4) HOUSTON 4) Wisconsin
13) LIPSCOMB 13) TEXAS STATE
Tulsa Hartford
6) NC State 6) BUFFALO
11) VCU / UCF 11) Kansas State
3) Texas Tech 3) Ohio State
14) SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 14) PENN
Columbus Salt Lake City
7) SETON HALL 7) Louisville
10) Clemson 10) Florida
2) Michigan State 2) GONZAGA
15) NORTHERN KENTUCKY 15) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
WEST – Anaheim SOUTH – Louisville
Columbia, SC Columbus
1) TENNESSEE 1) MICHIGAN
16) TEXAS SOUTHERN 16) LEHIGH
8) Minnesota 8) St. John’s
9) Iowa State 9) TCU
Salt Lake City Des Moines
5) Marquette 5) Virginia Tech
12) CHARLESTON 12) Purdue / Temple
4) Oklahoma 4) Kentucky
13) NEW MEXICO ST 13) BELMONT
Jacksonville Jacksonville
6) Auburn 6) Cincinnati
11) Texas 11) SAINT LOUIS
3) Indiana 3) Florida State
14) UC-IRVINE 14) VERMONT
Hartford San Jose
7) ARIZONA STATE 7) Nebraska
10) Creighton 10) Washington
2) Virginia 2) NEVADA
15) RADFORD 15) MONTANA

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Clemson VCU Vanderbilt Butler
Washington UCF Syracuse Ole Miss
Texas Purdue Arizona Notre Dame
Kansas State Temple Missouri Alabama

TOP SEED LINE: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed followed by Kansas, Michigan, and Tennessee.

Breakdown by Conference …

Big 10 (10): Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Maryland, Purdue

ACC (8): Duke, Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, NC State, Louisville, Clemson

SEC (6): Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Auburn, LSU, Florida

BIG 12 (6): Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, TCU, Texas, Kansas State

Big East (5): Seton Hall, Marquette, St. John’s, Villanova, Creighton

American (4): Houston, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple

Pac 12 (2): Arizona State, Washington

Atlantic 10 (2): Saint Louis, VCU

Mountain West (1): Nevada

West Coast (1): Gonzaga

ONE BID LEAGUES: Southern Illinois (MVC), Niagara (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Penn (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Northern Kentucky (HORIZON), Abilene Christian (SLND), UNC-Greensboro (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Charleston (CAA), Radford (BSO), Morgan State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Lehigh (PAT), St. Francis-NY (NEC), Texas Southern (SWAC)

NBC Sports Top 25: No Pac-12 teams anywhere to be found

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Another week where we don’t really have all that much to talk through.

Wisconsin takes a hit because they lost a game where they were favored by 7.5 points, but it’s hard to get too up in arms about Wisconsin losing on the road to a Western Kentucky team that has a first round pick in Charles Bassey and is stocked with high-major talent; I don’t think it’s crazy to say the more talented team won that game.

Arizona State also lost, but their situation was different: They dropped a home game, not a road game, and they lost to an Ivy League team that no one considers to be a top three team in that conference. That should give you a sense of just how good that league actually is, but it’s also a bad sign for the one team thought was any good in the Pac-12. So they’re out of the top 25.

I didn’t move Kentucky at all after the win at Louisville, but I wouldn’t argue against it. For me, they can be slotted anywhere in that second tier of teams — from No. 8 to No. 13 — justifiably, but I am not yet ready to put them in the same conversation as the elite group of teams this season.

Other than that, the only other change was moving Iowa State into the top 25. They probably don’t have a top 25 resume, but I want to be in on them early. They will be right there with — and yes, this is weird to type — Texas Tech and Oklahoma in the race to finish second in the Big 12.

Here is the full top 25:

1. Duke (11-1, Last Week: 1)
2. Michigan (13-0, 2)
3. Tennessee (11-1, 3)
4. Virginia (11-0, 4)
5. Gonzaga (11-2, 5)
6. Kansas (11-1, 6)
7. Nevada (13-0, 7)
8. Texas Tech (11-1, 8)
9. Florida State (11-1, 9)
10. Michigan State (11-2, 10)
11. Virginia Tech (11-1, 11)
12. Kentucky (10-2, 12)
13. North Carolina (9-3, 13)
14. N.C. State (12-1, 15)
15. Auburn (11-2, 16)
16. Ohio State (12-1, 17)
17. Marquette (11-2, 18)
18. Wisconsin (10-3, 14)
19. Mississippi State (12-1, 19)
20. Buffalo (12-1, 20)
21. Nebraska (11-2, 22)
22. Iowa (11-2, 23)
23. Indiana (11-2, 24)
24. Oklahoma (11-1, 25)
25. Iowa State (10-2, NR)

New Additions: 25. Iowa State
Dropped Out: 21. Arizona State