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NBC Sports Top 25: Duke back to No. 1, Tennessee hops Gonzaga

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Here’s the conundrum that is going to face voters in the top 25 this week: What do you do with Kansas?

When it comes to resume, Kansas probably has the strongest one of any team in the top seven. They’ve beaten Michigan State on a neutral court. They’ve beaten Tennessee on a neutral court. They’ve beaten Marquette on a neutral court. Every win they have in Phog Allen Fieldhouse this year comes against teams ranked in the top 135 on KenPom.

And then there is this: Kansas has beaten Tennessee. Tennessee has beaten Gonzaga. Gonzaga has beaten Duke. Duke, according to some, can beat the Cavs, which officially means that Kansas is a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.

Or something like that.

The point is that it makes total sense to rank Kansas No. 1 based on what they’ve accomplished this season, but I think that even the most irrational Kansas fans will cop to the fact that these Jayhawks haven’t come close to hitting their stride yet this season, and that’s before you factor in the loss of Udoka Azuibuike to an ankle injury.

The difference between the top seven teams this season is marginal, particularly if you are not as high on Duke as I am, and while that means there really isn’t all that much difference between Nevada at No. 7 and whoever it is that you are going to rank No. 1, it does mean that a team like Kansas — who is in a bad run of form — drops to sixth in this ranking.

And to be frank, as long as your top seven is, in some order, the same as my top seven, your ranking is probably going to be just fine. I’d quibble with ranking Nevada in the top four, and I think it’s probably silly to have Duke, Tennessee or Gonzaga outside the top four, but there are arguments to justify it all. I’m sure Kansas fans will call me a Duke homer and say that Bill Self must ignore my calls, but the truth of it is that there are a lot of really good teams at the top this year. Parsing through a jumbled mess like that is never easy.

I dropped Kentucky all the way out of the top 25, as I did Kansas State, but I’ll go more in depth on that in the Monday Overreactions column.

Here is the full top 25:

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

New Additions: 19. Villanova, 20 Syracuse, 21. Marquette
Dropped Out: 12. Kentucky, 16. Kansas State, 21. Creighton

Savoy scores 16 as No. 11 Florida State beats Troy 83-67

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — P.J. Savoy scored 16 points, knocking down four 3-pointers, and No. 11 Florida State shook off a sluggish performance to put away Troy 83-67 on Monday night.

M.J. Walker added 14 points, while Trent Forrest had 13 points and five rebounds for the Seminoles (7-1), who committed 16 turnovers and had just 13 assists.

Troy (3-5) was worse, recording only 10 assists while committing 22 turnovers. Jordon Varnado scored 15 points and Darian Adams had 14.

The Trojans closed to 42-40 after B.J. Miller’s 3-pointer with 17:16 left, but the Seminoles quickly went on a 13-2 run and maintained a comfortable lead the rest of the second half.

Savoy had gone 5 of 24 from beyond the 3-point arc in his previous five games. But on Monday, he was 4 of 10 — including 3 for 6 in the second half.

Mfiondu Kabengele came off the bench to score 10 points and contribute seven rebounds for Florida State, which shot 29 of 69 (42 percent) from the floor.

Troy was 23 for 52 (44.2 percent).

The Seminoles won despite an off night from one of their star players. Senior guard Terance Mann scored just three points on 1-of-6 shooting. Mann, who is 11 points shy of 1,000 for his career, led Florida State with eight rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Troy: The Trojans had a chance to pull off the upset but were undone by turnovers and poor 3-point shooting.

Florida State: Even on a night when the Seminoles were struggling, their depth was too much for Troy to handle. Florida State scored 31 bench points.

UP NEXT

Troy hosts Carver College on Wednesday.

Florida State plays UConn in New Jersey on Saturday.

NBC Sports Top 25: Michigan rising, Kansas falling

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The hardest thing for me to do when ranking teams is to decide between who looks the best when you are watching a team play and who has the most impressive body of work to date.

Because they are, in essence, two different things.

Rankings based off of the body of work that a team has put together is fine, but in essence those rankings are essentially a replacement for NCAA tournament seedings. Think about it like this — Furman won at Villanova, which means that Furman will get credit for that win should they find their way into the NCAA tournament, but how many people truly believe that Furman is the better basketball team?

Put another way, if Furman and Villanova played tomorrow on a neutral court and you had to bet your rent money on one of those two teams winning, you’re betting on Villanova.

Because you think they’re the better basketball team.

This is why I think that ranking Duke No. 1 was and still is valid, but that’s not a fight I’m going to fight anymore. We live in a world where people demand a two-point win on a neutral floor to be definitive proof one team is better than another, and I just don’t have the time or the energy to argue about it anymore. Y’all won.

But it does create something of a conundrum when dealing with Michigan, Kansas and Virginia. Michigan has made this decision a bit easier by sandblasting North Carolina and Purdue this week, so the argument can be made that their overall resume is now stronger than that of Kansas. That said, the Jayhawks have neutral court wins over a top six team in Tennessee, a top 15 team in Michigan State and over Marquette, who just beat a top 15 Kansas State team by double-figures on Saturday.

That resume is better than Virginia’s. It’s better than Duke’s. Hell, it’s probably better than Gonzaga’s.

But I am going to rank them fifth this week because — and I do believe Jayhawk fans will agree with me here — Kansas has not looked right yet this season. I’m not sure if Quentin Grimes has actually made a shot since the first half of the Champions Classic. Udoka Azubuike can’t seem to stay out of foul trouble, and when he’s not on the floor Kansas doesn’t look the same. Charlie Moore hasn’t been great. The bench is looking less and less like it’s all that deep. If it wasn’t for the heroics of Lagerald Vick, who has repeatedly had absolutely massive games and hit clutch shots to keep Kansas undefeated.

Winning ugly is still winning, and there is something to say for that. Those concerns haven’t cost them yet, but this is something that Bill Self is going to have to figure out.

And until he does, Kansas is going to drop in my top 25.

Anyway, here is the rest of the top 25:

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

New Additions: 21. Creighton, 24. Nebraska
Dropped Out: 15. Oregon, 23. Clemson

Forrest defense, late bucket lifts Florida St past Purdue

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Trent Forrest forced a turnover with 16 seconds left and drove the lane to hit a pull-up jumper with 5.2 seconds remaining as No. 15 Florida State stormed back to beat No. 19 Purdue 73-72 on Wednesday night.

The basket was Forrest’s only one of the second half, but the defensive play was part of a critical sequence as the Seminoles (6-1) held on after Purdue led by eight points with 3:43 left.

Purdue (5-2) didn’t score after holding that eight-point lead. That included a pair of missed free-throw attempts by Carsen Edwards, who led the Boilermakers with 24 points on 7 of 19 shooting.

After Forrest gave Florida State the lead, he stole the ball on Purdue’s final possession to seal the victory.

Ryan Cline added 21 points, including four 3-pointers after halftime, for Purdue. Cline made 7 of 11 3-pointers as Purdue stormed back from a 16-point deficit late in the first half. Cline and Edwards provided the spark in a 14-2 run and the Boilermakers made 7 of 8 3-pointers to open the half.

M.J. Walker scored 13 points to lead the Seminoles. Forest, Terance Mann, P.J. Savoy and David Nichols had nine points apiece. Mann led Florida State with eight rebounds.

Both teams battled foul trouble. Purdue starting forward Grady Eifert sat on the bench with four fouls, didn’t score and played just 16 minutes. Florida State forward Mfiondu Kabengele fouled out, scoring seven points.

Florida State has won three straight games in the ACC-B1G Ten Challenge, knocking off Minnesota, Rutgers and Purdue in consecutive seasons.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: The Boilermakers were playing the first of a rigorous five-game stretch that began with Florida State and includes road games against No. 7 Michigan and No. 17 Texas as well as a home game with No. 24 Maryland and a neutral-site game vs. Notre Dame.

Florida State: The Seminoles finish a tough schedule in which they defeated LSU and UAB but lost to Villanova in the AdvoCare Invitational tournament title game. Now FSU can recharge with four days before the next game.

UP NEXT

Purdue travels to Michigan on Saturday.

Florida State plays host to Troy on Monday.

Wednesday’s Things to Know: Florida State, Michigan earn big home wins

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Wednesday’s college basketball slate was mostly dominated by the ongoing ACC/Big Ten Challenge as road wins turned out to be a big theme of the night. While No. 7 Michigan and No. 15 Florida State made major statements, it was road teams who made the most of the annual non-conference showcase.

1. No. 15 Florida State comes back to beat No. 19 Purdue

The most compelling finish to any game on Wednesday night was Florida State’s back-and-forth win over Purdue in a fun nightcap. The Seminoles had the game-winning bucket from guard Trent Forrest with 5.6 seconds left as they went from up 12 at halftime to being down by two possessions for much of the second half.

This is the kind of comeback win that should give the Seminoles a lot of confidence. On a somewhat weird night where they squandered a lead, Florida State was still able to forge a comeback against a top-25 team playing arguably its best stretch of ball during the season.

The Seminoles had eight different players score at least seven points in this one as they remain one of the most deep and athletic teams in the country. Even if someone doesn’t go bananas for Florida State, they have enough in the rotation to wear you down over the course of 40 minutes.

2. No. 7 Michigan makes a big statement in win over No. 11 North Carolina

Another major statement from Michigan as the Wolverines knocked off another potential Final Four team by double-digits. Even after going down early, the Wolverines quickly rallied to fly by the Tar Heels behind 24 points from freshman Iggy Brazdeikis and 21 points from junior guard Charles Matthews.

We know that Michigan’s defense is going to be nearly elite on most nights. But if Michigan is shooting 11-for-22 from behind the three-point line, they’re going to be nearly impossible to beat this season.

CBT’s Rob Dauster has more on this one here.

3. Syracuse, Virginia, Rutgers earn important road wins

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge had a lot of road teams picking up wins on Wednesday night. The biggest one of note is Syracuse taking down No. 16 Ohio State to earn an important victory. The Orange dominated most of the second half of this one as I have more takeaways on this game here.

Elsewhere, No. 4 Virginia held off No. 24 Maryland to earn another solid win. Although the Terps put up a valiant effort with a good offensive effort, the Cavaliers earned the win thanks to solid nights from Kyle Guy (18 points) and Ty Jerome (17 points).

And Rutgers quietly picked up one of its biggest wins in years by knocking off Miami for a road win. The Scarlet Knights defense held the Hurricanes to 34 percent shooting as Geo Baker led the way with 16 points. This win is important for Rutgers as they have back-to-back games against ranked Big Ten teams within the next week.

The only home team to win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge besides Michigan on Wednesday was Northwestern. The Wildcats put together a 67-61 win over Georgia Tech.

NBC Sports Top 25: Is Duke, Kansas or Gonzaga the No. 1 team?

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The way that I see it, there are three teams that have a legitimate case to be made to be the No. 1 team in the country: Gonzaga, Kansas and Duke.

Let’s walk through the argument in support of each, starting with the Blue Devils.

Duke was the consensus No. 1 team in the country last week. We were talking about whether or not this team had the goods to go undefeated, and while that conversation was happening far too early in the calendar to make any rational sense, it was happening. Duke may have the two best players in the country on their roster and, with Tre Jones and Cam Reddish available, are the single-most difficult team to matchup with in the game.

This isn’t all theoretical, either. Duke beat Kentucky — a top ten team that entered the season ranked No. 2 nationally — by 34 points. They beat Auburn in a game where the Tigers never really challenged them. Their only loss on the season came against one of the three teams that we have in contention for the top spot in a two-point game where Duke had four shots in the final 30 seconds that could have forced overtime.

Are you telling me that Barrett’s inability to score (or make the right read) on the final possession is what definitively tells us that Gonzaga, and potentially Kansas, are better basketball teams?

Put another way, Duke would be favored by at least five points, give or take a few, on a neutral court against team in college basketball. That’s not the No. 1 team in the country?

The argument for Kansas is similarly strong. This was the preseason No. 1 team in the country, a team that everyone had ranked above both Gonzaga and Duke almost without question, and they have done absolutely nothing since the season started to convince us otherwise. They beat Michigan State, a top 10 team, in their season-opener. They followed that up with a couple of games where they struggled and still managed to put up double-digit wins over Vermont and Louisiana, both of whom could end up in the NCAA tournament. They played horribly for a half in the semifinals of the preseason NIT and beat Marquette by nine. They never looked right against Tennessee, a top five team, and still managed to beat the Volunteers in overtime.

The Jayhawks have the best resume of any of the three teams in contention for the top spot. As the preseason No. 1 team. That’s worth something.

But it’s not worth as much as what Gonzaga did last week, when they went into Maui and made a statement by knocking off Duke in the title game of the Maui Invitational.

The Zags don’t have a bad resume, per se. In addition to beating the team that Jay Williams seriously thought could beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, Gonzaga has wins over Texas A&M, Illinois and Arizona. The names make those wins sound more impressive than they probably are, but a win is a win is a win.

This goes beyond simply looking at a resume, however.

We knew the Zags would be good this season. What we didn’t know was whether or not they would be able to beat the best teams with Josh Perkins starting at the point, or what kind of impact Brandon Clarke would have, or if Killian Tillie’s absence would be a killer, or if Rui Hachimura actually made the leap like we all expected him to.

Well, we know the answer to those questions now.

And when you combine that with the fact that they just beat Duke, you get the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports Power Rankings.

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

New Additions: 19. Texas Tech, 20. Wisconsin, 24. Arizona State
Dropped Out: 15. UCLA, 18. LSU