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Furman Paladins

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Bracketology: Kentucky returns to top line

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Kentucky began its bracket journey last October as the projected No. 1 seed in the South Region.  As March nears, the Wildcats return to the top line, holding the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region.  For context, UK has lost just twice since the start of 2019, by a combined four points.

Duke continues as the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Virginia and Gonzaga.  Tennessee, North Carolina, Michigan State and Michigan remain in the top-seed discussion.  All eight have a lot at stake these next three weeks.

The cutline is equally compelling.  Will some early contenders make late runs to regain a look?  Will teams like Texas, Minnesota, and Ohio State hold on?  Will this be the year we see an at-large bid or two granted to deserving mid-majors?  The Madness is about to begin.

BRACKET UPDATE: February 25, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Temple vs. Alabama
MIDWEST REGION UCF vs. Utah State
EAST REGION ST. FRANCIS (PA) vs. NORFOLK ST
WEST REGION PRAIRIE VIEW vs. RIDER

EAST Washington, DC   SOUTH – Louisville                           
Columbia Columbus
1) DUKE 1) Virginia
16) ST. FRANCIS / NORFOLK ST 16) SAM HOUSTON ST
8) Ole Miss 8) St. John’s
9) Oklahoma 9) TCU
Salt Lake City San Jose
5) Iowa 5) Maryland
12) Temple / Alabama 12) BELMONT
4) Kansas 4) KANSAS STATE
13) OLD DOMINION 13) VERMONT
Jacksonville Hartford
6) Louisville 6) Virginia Tech
11) Arizona State 11) Texas
3) LSU 3) Purdue
14) YALE 14) TEXAS STATE
Des Moines Columbia
7) BUFFALO 7) Villanova
10) VCU 10) Ohio State
2) Michigan 2) Tennessee
15) LOYOLA-CHICAGO 15) WRIGHT STATE
MIDWEST – Kansas City WEST – Anaheim
Columbus Salt Lake City
1) KENTUCKY 1) GONZAGA
16) BUCKNELL 16) PR VIEW / RIDER
8) Baylor 8) WOFFORD
9) Syracuse 9) Auburn
San Jose Tulsa
5) Florida State 5) NEVADA
12) UCF / Utah State 12) LIPSCOMB
4) Wisconsin 4) Texas Tech
13) UC-IRVINE 13) NEW MEXICO ST
Hartford Tulsa
6) Iowa State 6) Mississippi State
11) Minnesota 11) Seton Hall
3) MARQUETTE 3) HOUSTON
14) HOFSTRA 14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
Jacksonville Des Moines
7) Cincinnati 7) WASHINGTON
10) Florida 10) NC State
2) North Carolina 2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) RADFORD 15) MONTANA

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Texas Temple Butler Dayton
Minnesota Alabama Clemson UNC-Greensboro
Arizona State UCF Georgetown Davidson
Seton Hall Utah State Furman Murray State

TOP SEED LINE: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Virginia, Gonzaga, and Kentucky

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (8): DUKE, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Syracuse, NC State

Big 10 (8): MICHIGAN STATE, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota

BIG 12 (8): KANSAS STATE, Texas Tech, Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Texas

SEC (8): KENTUCKY, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Florida, Alabama

Big East (4): MARQUETTE, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall

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

Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State

Mountain West (2): NEVADA, Utah State

Southern (1): WOFFORD

Atlantic 10 (1): VCU

Mid American (1): BUFFALO

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Rider (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), Sam Houston State (SLND), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Radford (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), St. Francis (PA) (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

Bracketing principles: read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com.

Tracking Undefeateds: When will each team lose?

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Thanks to Buffalo’s win at Syracuse on Tuesday night, there are still nine college basketball teams in America that are still undefeated as of today. 

By the end of the week, that number will likely be down to six. By the end of the year, I would be shocked if there were more than five unbeatens remaining. And if we get through January with more than one team with an unblemished record, it will be quite the feat. 

Here is a look at each of those nine teams and a prediction on when they will lose their first game, starting with something that will happen on Thursday night. 

No. 12 TEXAS TECH

RECORD: 10-0
NEXT GAME: 12/20 vs. No. 2 Duke (Madison Square Garden)
CHANCE TO GO UNBEATEN*: 0.01%
FIRST LOSS?: 12/20 vs. No. 2 Duke (Madison Square Garden)

*Data via KenPom.com

I’m all in on the Red Raiders this season. They have been the nation’s best defensive team this season, Chris Beard is a star in the making and Jarrett Culver is going to be a lottery pick when it is all said and done. The addition of Tariq Owens and Matt Mooney has been underrated nationally. They are, for my money, the second-best team in the Big 12 and the only team with a real chance at unseating Kansas from the top run of the conference.

And they play Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium’s New York wing — Madison Square Garden — on Thursday night.

Heading into league play with one loss is still impressive …

Jarrett Culver (Elsa/Getty Images)

No. 14 BUFFALO

RECORD: 11-0
NEXT GAME: 12/21 at No. 20 Marquette
CHANCE TO GO UNBEATEN*: 1.4%
FIRST LOSS?: 12/21 at No. 20 Marquette

Buffalo has the second-best chance to go undefeated this season, according to KenPom, at 1.4% because they play in a league that only has one other team that is ranked higher than 99th, according to KenPom. The Bulls also get an added bonus of only playing Ball State once; at home, to boot. They’ll have a puncher’s chance of getting this thing done if they can get past Marquette on the road on Friday night, and I don’t think they will. As impressive as wins at West Virginia and Syracuse are, and as good as the win over San Francisco on a neutral court is going to look in March, the truth is that Marquette is the best team Buffalo will play this year.

West Virginia isn’t the West Virginia we’ve come to know and love. Syracuse is now 7-4 on the season. Marquette might be the best team in the Big East, and I think they’ll get the job done.

No. 24 FURMAN

RECORD: 12-0
NEXT GAME: 12/21 at LSU
CHANCE TO GO UNBEATEN*: 0.02%
FIRST LOSS?: 12/21 at LSU

Furman has road wins over half of last year’s Final Four. They beat Loyola in the first week of the season and they won at Villanova a week later. Those are nice wins! Their other 10 games this season have come against seven teams ranked outside the top 180 on KenPom and three teams that aren’t Division I programs. It’s been a fun run for the Paladins. They’re not getting out of Baton Rouge unscathed.

ST. JOHN’S

RECORD: 10-0
NEXT GAME: 12/19 vs. St. Francis (NY)
CHANCE TO GO UNBEATEN*: 0.00%
FIRST LOSS?: 12/29 at Seton Hall

The Johnnies are undefeated this season. Their best wins? A 5-4 Georgia Tech teams and a 7-4 VCU team. Or maybe it was the win at 5-5 Rutgers? Or a neutral court win over 4-5 Cal? Or maybe it’s a win over a Princeton team that was leading Duke midway through the first half before losing by 51 points?

The Johnnies haven’t beaten anyone worthwhile, and the wins they do have against those mediocre teams weren’t very impressive. I can’t seen them winning in the Prudential Center against a team that Kentucky couldn’t beat.

(Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

No. 1 KANSAS

RECORD: 10-0
NEXT GAME: 12/22 at No. 18 Arizona State
CHANCE TO GO UNBEATEN*: 0.1%
FIRST LOSS?: 1/5 at Iowa State

The Jayhawks have had one of the weirdest starts to a season that I can remember. They have lost their starting center to an ankle injury and their backup center to an NCAA investigation. They are left with essentially a two-man offense and, until Tuesday’s win over South Dakota, had yet to put together a truly dominant performance for 40 minutes. And yet, six weeks into the season, they are undefeated and have the best resume of any team in college hoops. If they win the Big 12 regular season title — they’re going to, we all know this — the Jayhawks have probably locked themselves into a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday.

So good from them.

But I’m not sure it is going to be quite so easy once league play kicks off, and I cannot see them escaping some early Hilton Magic. Iowa State has been better than we expected through the start of the season, and that is despite the fact that they have been missing Lindell Wigginton and Cameron Lard. Assuming those two play, I think the Jayhawks get picked off in their second game of the Big 12 season.

No. 21 HOUSTON

RECORD: 10-0
NEXT GAME: 12/20 vs. Utah State
CHANCE TO GO UNBEATEN*: 0.06%
FIRST LOSS?: 1/9 at Temple

I’m not totally sold on the Cougars yet, but I think that it has become abundantly clear that they are better than anyone thought they would be. Their 10-0 record does include wins at BYU and Oklahoma State and home wins over Oregon, LSU and Saint Louis. That’s pretty good.

Houston plays their next five games at home, but their first road game in the league is at Temple. If they can get past that game, then Houston could make it all the way into early February — when they play at UCF, Cincinnati at home and at UConn in the span of a week — before they lose.

No. 6 NEVADA

RECORD: 11-0
NEXT GAME: 12/22 vs. Akron
CHANCE TO GO UNBEATEN*: 10.3%
FIRST LOSS?: 1/12 at Fresno State

Nevada is far and away the favorite to head into the post season with an undefeated record. There was a chance that games at Loyola, at USC or against Arizona State on a neutral floor would trip them up, but Eric Musselman’s team is through the most difficult part of their schedule. On paper, they should win every game they play until the NCAA tournament with relative ease. They are projected to be at least a five-point favorite in every game left on their regular season schedule, including road trips to Utah State, Fresno State and San Diego State. KenPom is giving them a 10.3% chance to finish the season undefeated and at least a 69% chance to win every game the rest of the way.

To be totally frank, the key to Nevada having a shot at entering the NCAA tournament without a loss is going to be on them. Will they show up for every game? The last four, they’ve struggled for the first 20 minutes. They trailed USC by six at the half. They trailed Arizona State by 12 points in the first half. They only led Grand Canyon by a bucket at halftime and they trailed South Dakota State for much of the first half.

If they keep playing with fire, eventually they are going to get burned.

(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

No. 4 MICHIGAN

RECORD: 11-0
NEXT GAME: 12/22 vs. Air Force
CHANCE TO GO UNBEATEN*: 0.1%
FIRST LOSS?: 1/19 at No. 16 Wisconsin

The Wolverines are really, really good. What they’ve done this season is not a fluke. They have come back to earth a little bit over the course of the last two weeks, but this defensive mindset is not going anywhere and so long as Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis remain weapons from the perimeter, this team has the good to win the Big Ten and a national title.

For my money, Wisconsin is the second-best team in the league right now, and the Wolverines will pay a visit to the Kohl Center on January 19th. If they can get past that game … they still aren’t going undefeated. The Big Ten has just two teams ranked outside of the top 60 on KenPom, and Michigan plays each of them (Illinois and Rutgers) once. We saw how tough life can be on the road in this league when Michigan struggled to beat Northwestern in Evanston. With four games against Wisconsin and Michigan State, an undefeated year is a pipe dream.

No. 5 VIRGINIA

RECORD: 9-0
NEXT GAME: 12/19 at South Carolina
CHANCE TO GO UNBEATEN*: 0.03%
FIRST LOSS?: 1/19 at No. 2 Duke

This prediction is complicated by the fact that Kihei Clark is out with an injured wrist. There is no official timetable for his return. The diminutive freshman is the player that gets this defense going and allows the Cavaliers to play both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter in the position that best suits them. So that’s an important piece that’s missing, and with three of their next six games on the road, Tony Bennett will have his work cut out for him.

But I think they can win those road games — it’s South Carolina, Boston College and Clemson — and I think they can still take care of Florida State and Virginia Tech at home. And while I think that Virginia, when they are healthy, matches up better with Duke than anyone else in the country, I’m not going to be the one predicting that Duke is going to lose at home.

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.”

College Basketball AP Top Poll: Kansas, Duke, Tennessee stay 1-2-3

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kansas, Duke and Tennessee were 1-2-3 Monday in the AP Top 25 men’s college basketball poll for the second straight week, while reigning national champion Villanova fell out for a second time.

The Jayhawks earned 56 of 65 first-place votes to stay at No. 1, a perch they held in the preseason before being overtaken by Duke and later Gonzaga. Kansas returned to the top last week then beat Villanova at home.

The Blue Devils earned five first-place votes to stay at No. 2, while the Volunteers had two. Michigan and Virginia each claimed one first-place vote, helping them climb into the top five.

Gonzaga, which lost the No. 1 ranking after a loss to Tennessee, fell four spots to eighth after Saturday’s loss at North Carolina. The Tar Heels jumped three spots to ninth after the 103-90 win against the Zags.

No. 25 Nebraska was the only addition to this week’s poll, though the Cornhuskers were ranked No. 24 earlier this month.

As for Villanova, the Wildcats was ranked 17th last week before losing to Penn — snapping a city-record 25-game winning streak against its Philadelphia “Big 5” rivals — and then at Kansas to fall out of the poll again. The Wildcats were ranked eighth in November before losses to Michigan and Furman knocked them out of the poll, though that turned out to be merely a one-week absence.

Kansas State and Syracuse were the other teams to fall out of the poll. They were both tied with Indiana at No. 25 last week — the first three-way tie in the AP Top 25 since three teams shared the No. 13 ranking in 1991.

The Wildcats beat Georgia State in their only game last week and were among the leading vote-getters just outside the rankings. The Orange lost at home to Old Dominion.

Here is the entire poll:

1. Kansas (56 first-place votes)
2. Duke (5)
3. Tennessee (2)
4. Michigan (1)
5. Virginia (1)
6. Nevada
7. Auburn
8. Gonzaga
9. North Carolina
10. Michigan State
11. Florida State
12. Texas Tech
13. Virginia Tech
14. Buffalo
15. Ohio State
16. Wisconsin
17. Mississippi State
18. Arizona State
19. Kentucky
20. Marquette
21. Houston
22. Indiana
23. Iowa
24. Furman
25. Nebraska

No. 23 Furman tops Charleston Southern 77-69, stays unbeaten

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — No. 23 Furman took another step in its remarkable early-season journey, one coach Bob Richey expects will benefit his team the rest of the way.

The perfect Paladins (11-0) used a late run to pull away from Charleston Southern for a 77-69 victory Tuesday night in their first-ever home game as a Top 25 team.

Richey felt the jitters of his young team before the game, the desire to show the home crowd their rise was legitimate.

“The fear of if we lose, does all this go away,” Richey said. “And I think that’s normal for a young player — ‘Man, we want to keep this going.'”

Noah Gurley scored 17 points, and Alex Hunter and Andrew Brown had 16 points apiece to lead Furman in a game where leading scorer Jordan Lyons had zero points.

“We’ve got to continue to keep our pulse on these players,” Richey said. “We’ve got to continue to help them out.”

So far, so good.

The Paladins have been one of college basketball’s biggest surprises with their school-record run to start the season — a stretch that included defeating defending national champs Villanova and a second Final Four team from last year in Loyola-Chicago.

It took a late charge to break away from the Buccaneers (4-5).

Charleston Southern trailed 54-52 on Dontrell Shuler’s layup with less than 10 minutes left. After that, the Paladins went on a 14-4 run. Tre Clark had four points during the surge and when Gurley nailed a 3-pointer with 5:51 to go, Furman was up 68-56.

Charleston Southern could not respond and college basketball’s feel-good story of the season remained on track.

Lyons, averaging 20.2 points a game, missed all seven of his shots.

Matt Rafferty had 14 points and 14 rebounds for Furman.

“We’ve got to stay even-keeled,” Hunter said. “That’s something we’ve been practicing every day.”

Deontaye Buskey and Duncan LeXander had 13 points each for Charleston Southern.

Buccaneers coach Barclay Radebaugh said his team made too many mistakes to hang in at the end.

“You can’t do that against a team like Furman,” he said.

Furman, which joined the AP Top 25 last week for the first time in school history, had to wait another week — and make it through road wins at Elon and South Carolina Upstate — before it could celebrate its achievement on its home court. And it looked like the Paladins would have plenty to cheer about after they used a 17-8 run midway through the opening period to build a 26-18 lead.

But Furman went cold after that, missing seven straight shots as the Buccaneers of the Big South Conference tightened things up.

BIG PICTURE

Charleston Southern: The Buccaneers are nearing the end of a brutal opening stretch with seven of their first 11 games on the road. Those have included losses at Florida, Middle Tennessee and Marquette. Charleston Southern’s run ends with games at North Florida and Clemson in the next week. Radebaugh hopes the time away from home toughens the Bucs for Big South play.

Furman: The Paladins looked edgy in their first home appearance as a ranked team. They looked ready to take charge with a 51-42 lead before helping Charleston Southern’s comeback with four straight turnovers. Furman probably won’t win many games where Lyons struggles as he did against the Bucs.

STREAKING PALADINS

Furman is off to its most consecutive wins since winning 11 in a row in 1979. That’s back when the Paladins were one of the Palmetto State’s most successful teams, going to six NCAA Tournaments between 1971 and 1980. Furman has not played in the tournament since then.

RICHEY’S START

Richey was grateful to Radebaugh, who hired Richey as a 23-year-old and gradually gave him control of the Bucs’ offense. “Without Barclay, I wouldn’t be here today,” Richey said.

UP NEXT

Charleston Southern is at North Florida on Saturday.

Furman finishes a two-game homestand by hosting UNC Wilmington on Saturday.

Furman adds Duquesne transfer Isaiah Watkins

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Furman picked up a late transfer addition on Monday as the school announced the addition to of former Duquesne forward Isaiah Watkins.

The 6-foot-8 Watkins will have to sit out the 2014-15 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but he’ll have three years of eligibility left.

“We are very excited to add Isaiah to the program,” Furman head coach Niko Medved said in the release. “Isaiah brings a lot of versatility with his size. He can stretch the defense with his shooting, can go down in the paint and finish and rebound. Isaiah has also had the luxury of playing with and against some of the best competition in the country during his time with the Nike CIA Bounce travel team out of Toronto and St. Benedict’s Prep School in New Jersey. Isaiah has the ability to play a major role in the years to come for Furman Basketball.”

Watkins missed the first six games of his freshman season at Duquesne after getting arthroscopic knee surgery in October, but appeared in 16 games and averaged 1.4 points and 1.4 rebounds per game.

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