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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

Marquette beats No. 12 Wisconsin 74-69 in OT; Howard has 27

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MILWAUKEE — Markus Howard scored 27 points, freshman Joey Hauser added 15 and hit big, late-game shots and Marquette grinded out a 74-69 win in overtime over No. 12 Wisconsin on Saturday.

Sam Hauser had 13 points and 14 rebounds for the Golden Eagles (8-2). But it was his little brother, Joey, who came up clutch playing in his first game in the heated in-state rivalry.

He scored four in the opening two minutes of overtime, including both free throws after Wisconsin’s Brad Davison was called for a flagrant foul with 3:35 left.

Tighter defense and a decided edge at the foul line boosted Marquette at the end.

The Golden Eagles were 22 of 34 from the charity stripe, with Howard going 12 of 15. Howard and Sacar Anim each missed twice at the line in the final 30 seconds to give Wisconsin extra chances.

But Ethan Happ was called for an over-the-back foul at the other end with 9.2 seconds. Ed Morrow’s two free throws gave Marquette a six-point lead to finally ice the game.

It made for a thrilling finish in the rivalry’s first game at Fiserv Forum, Marquette’s new downtown home.

Wisconsin, which was shooting 70 percent from the foul line this season, was 10 of 21 (48 percent) on Saturday. The Badgers were just 5 of 24 from 3-point range (21 percent).

Wisconsin wasted a terrific effort from Happ, who had 34 points on 16-of-21 shooting, along with 11 rebounds.

Marquette beat a team ranked 12th in the AP Top 25 for the second straight week, having defeated Kansas State the previous week.

BIG PICTURE

Wisconsin: The Badgers couldn’t balance Happ’s inside presence with outside shooting, which had been a strength this season. They missed 14 of their last 15 shots from beyond the arc. D’Mitrik Trice, who finished with 10 points, was just 1 of 6 from 3-point range. Davison went scoreless, missing all three of his 3s.

Marquette: The way the Golden Eagles won was another sign of the team’s renewed focus on defense. The Badgers broke through Marquette’s defensive wall early in the game, but had trouble getting off good shots late in the game. The presence of 6-foot-9 Theo John late, after he was mired by foul trouble, helped in the lane against Happ, a preseason All-American.

Howard scores 45, Marquette beats No. 12 K-State 83-71

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MILWAUKEE — Markus Howard scored 45 points and went 19 of 21 from the foul line, and Marquette used tight defense to counter Kansas State’s in-your-face play in an 83-71 victory on Saturday, handing the 12th-ranked Wildcats their first loss.

Sacar Anim added 16 points for the Golden Eagles (6-2), who didn’t back down from the physical Wildcats. Marquette outrebounded Kansas State 34-25 and kept attacking the rim in holding a double-digit lead for most of the second half.

Howard’s productive day from the field (11 of 17) helped Marquette overcome 20 turnovers. The quick junior drew a foul on a drive with 7:57 left to send Kansas State leading scorer Dean Wade (16.2 points) to the bench with five fouls and 11 points.

It was a disappointing homecoming for Wildcats coach Bruce Weber, who was born in Milwaukee and watched Marquette games in the 1970s when the team was led by Hall of Fame coach Al McGuire.

Playing its first true road game against its toughest foe of the young season, Kansas State saw its defense falter. Marquette shot 57 percent from the field, about 20 points higher than what Kansas State (6-1) was allowing coming into the afternoon.

Marquette used runs of 10-0 and 9-0 to build an 11-point lead after the first half, when Kansas State went without a field goal for a 10-minute stretch. A poor-shooting team from the perimeter, the Wildcats allowed too many points on the break, where they were outscored 17-6, to keep up with the Golden Eagles.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State: Barry Brown, the team’s second-leading scorer (15.7 points) and steals leader (13), was limited to nine minutes after picking up three fouls, including a technical, in a tightly called first half. Leading 20-17 at the time, the Wildcats were outscored 27-16 the rest of the half with Brown on the bench. Forward Xavier Sneed, who finished with 12 points, played only five minutes in the first after picking up two fouls. The pace picked up for Kansas State early in the second half before Howard spearheaded more runs to keep the Wildcats at bay.

Marquette: Howard scored 26 points in the first half, pacing the team with aggressive play. His quickness and 3-point shooting prowess made him tough to defend, going 6 of 7 from the field alone in the first half, including 3 of 4 from behind the arc, along with 11 of 12 from the foul line. Howard didn’t let up after halftime, scoring eight points in 4 minutes with Carter Diarra trying to guard him.

Wednesday’s Things to Know: No. 3 Gonzaga beats No. 1 Duke; No. 2 Kansas survives scare

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The day before Thanksgiving always features a full day of college hoops as this year had plenty of memorable games. The Maui Invitational closed out with a memorable potential future Final Four matchup that saw No. 1 Duke fall while No. 2 Kansas also had a scare while playing in Brooklyn. And, of course, there were plenty of other tournaments going on, including the Battle 4 Atlantis. 

1. No. 3 Gonzaga upsets No. 1 Duke to win the Maui Invitational

The must-see matchup of Wednesday involved two potential Final Four juggernauts taking part in an instant classic in the finals of the Maui Invitational.

Although Duke was heavily favored, and Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett had big dunks, it was Gonzaga that mostly took it to the Blue Devils in a two-point win. The Bulldogs led for nearly the entire game as Rui Hachimura paced them with 20 points while Zach Norvell Jr. (18 points) and Brandon Clarke (17 points) also had strong efforts.

CBT’s Travis Hines has been in Maui all week as he was there to witness Hachimura’s national statement game while CBT’s Rob Dauster put together some takeaways from this one.

2. No. 2 Kansas survived a sluggish first half to take down Marquette in Brooklyn

Finding themselves down by nine at halftime, it looked like the Jayhawks might join Duke in the loss column. Marquette had a blistering first half. The Golden Eagles’ usually leaky defense did a great job of slowing down the Kansas offense after a hot start.

Then halftime ended and the floodgates opened for the Jayhawks.

Kansas started getting comfortable in transition and in the half court as they outscored Marquette 39-21 in the second half to runaway for a 77-68 win. The Jayhawks defense also swarmed in the second half after a less-than-inspiring first half.

Dedric Lawson looked like an All-American with 26 points and 12 rebounds. He was helped by three other Kansas players in double-figures as the Jayhawks showcased a ton of weapons in the second half. Kansas looked like the Final Four contender many pegged them for in the second half.

Things get really interesting on Friday at the NIT Season Tip-Off as Kansas advances to face No. 5 Tennessee. The Volunteers handled Louisville earlier in Brooklyn on Wednesday night as Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield had big games. After we just got No. 1 vs. No. 3 on Wednesday, we get No. 2 vs. No. 5 on Friday. College basketball is delivering in a big way during this holiday weekend.

3. The Battle 4 Atlantis tipped off 

It’s sad to wave, “Aloha” to the Maui Invitational after such a fun week of hoops. But with the final day of Maui also came the opening day of the always competitive Battle 4 Atlantis. Perhaps the finest ballroom-based basketball tournament in the world, this year’s field featured some top-25 teams getting early wins. Others proved themselves with opening-round wins.

No. 4 Virginia raced past Middle Tennessee, 74-52, to advance behind its trademark defense and balanced scoring. De’Andre Hunter looked tremendous with 15 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Kyle Guy also finished with 15 as Virginia was in total control of this one.

No. 25 Wisconsin earned a win over Stanford as the Badger defense locked down the Cardinal to only 27 percent shooting. Ethan Happ earned a double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds) as he had plenty of help from guards Demetrick Trice (16 points) and Brad Davison (14 points) as the Badgers are 4-0.

Oklahoma knocked off favored Florida, 65-60, as they crushed the Gators on the glass (48-34). Slowing down Florida’s perimeter threats, Oklahoma was led by Christian James’ 18 points as they improved to 4-0. Dayton also advanced with a win over Butler to move to 4-0 on the season. The Flyers got 20 points from Jalen Crutcher and 18 points from Josh Cunningham.

If you’re not interested in football then Thursday features four more games from this event as Oklahoma vs. Wisconsin and Dayton vs. Virginia will be the matchups in the winner’s bracket.

No. 2 Kansas rallies past Marquette 77-68

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NEW YORK — Dedric Lawson had a double-double with 26 points and 12 rebounds to lead No. 2 Kansas to a 77-68 win over Marquette in the second semifinal of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Wednesday night.

Marquette (3-1) led by as many as 12 in the first half before taking a 47-38 lead into the break. Then came the Jayhawks 22-0 run.

Marquette went 0-of-10 from the field to start second half as Kansas (4-0) retook the lead in commanding fashion. The Golden Eagles finally scored a basket nine minutes into the second half on Joey Hauser’s 3-pointer to make it 60-50. His brother, Sam Hauser, led the Golden Eagles with 20 points while Markus Howard had 18 points.

The Jayhawks got 16 points from Legerald Vick while Devon Dotson chipped in with 10 points, four assists and three steals.

Kansas will face No. 5 Tennessee in the final on Friday night, while Marquette will play Louisville in the consolation game.

Three Takeaways from Indiana’s blowout win over No. 24 Marquette

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Indiana earned a blowout win over No. 24 Marquette with a 96-73 home win on Wednesday night. The Hoosiers made this one look easy thanks to a balanced offense and a solid defensive effort as they earned the Big Ten another win in the annual Gavitt Games.

Here are three takeaways from this one.

1. Indiana is potentially deeper and more talented than anticipated

Coming into this season, Indiana was expected to have plenty of depth. A top-ten freshman class headlined by a five-star recruit will help with that sort of thing.

But even without upperclass vets like guard Devonte Green and forward Zach McRoberts in the lineup on Wednesday night, Indiana had plenty of options in scoring at will on Marquette. While it’s true that Marquette’s defense has been underwhelming since last season, Indiana’s balanced offensive outburst was pretty impressive.

Shooting 63 percent from the field, Indiana had five double-figure scorers led by freshman Romeo Langford’s 22 points (more on him in a moment). Graduate transfer big man Evan Fitzner provided a great offensive lift by scoring inside or knocking down three-pointers as he chipped in 16 points on 4-for-4 three-point shooting. Forward Juwan Morgan (13 points), guard Al Durham (13 points) and freshman guard Robert Phinisee (12 points) also had solid outings.

While returning veterans like Morgan and Durham are expected to have nights like this, Indiana has to be enthusiastic about its newcomers. The freshman backcourt of Langford and Phinisee was outstanding on Wednesday. Fitzner shouldn’t be expected to be that hot on a nightly basis, but he provides a nice floor-spacing option at the five when Indiana needs to change things up.

Once Indiana gets Green and McRoberts back in the rotation, they’ll be able to throw waves of bodies at opposing teams. Freshman Jerome Hunter is another potential rotation piece who is also currently missing. A top-65 defense (via KenPom) from a year ago should be even better. And Indiana has to be thrilled that a young backcourt is playing so well on both ends so early in the season.

Indiana is going to have off-nights with some of their younger players. That sort of thing happens during a long season. But we just saw the type of output this team is capable of. And it’s definitely better than anticipated.

2. Marquette needs to figure out a defensive identity

It’s no secret that defense was going to be Marquette’s big question entering the season. The Golden Eagles missed the NCAA tournament last season in large part because they had the No. 12 offense and No. 182 defense in the nation (via KenPom). When the Golden Eagles needed critical stops in big games last season, they struggled to bear down and get a stop.

Things didn’t look much better for Marquette’s defense on Wednesday night. Surrendering over 90 points on 60-plus percent shooting, the Golden Eagle defense was abused by a balanced Indiana offense that scored however they wanted. The Hoosiers were 9-for-20 from three-point range, as Marquette didn’t do a particularly effective job of limiting quality perimeter looks.

With Marquette maintaining much of its rotation from last season, the major question is going to be how will this defense get better? New pieces like Joseph Chartouny are supposed to help defend on the perimeter. Others like Joey Hauser and Brendan Bailey aren’t exactly known for their defensive prowess. Although known as more defensive-minded than many of the team’s newcomers, Nebraska transfer forward Ed Morrow has struggled to find consistent minutes early in the season.

That means, at some point, Marquette’s returning veterans need to look in the mirror and figure out how they’re going to get stops. We know this team has the capability to put up tons of points thanks to Howard and the Hauser brothers. All three players finished with 18 points each against Indiana. But Marquette has to improve on the other end of the floor if they want to make any kind of splash in the Big East.

3. Romeo Langford is living up to the preseason hype

Entering the 2018-19 season perhaps no freshman in the country faced more pressure than Romeo Langford. While Duke’s R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson are more highly-touted, they aren’t in-state heroes tasked with bringing a basketball-crazy program back to respectability.

Langford proved on Wednesday night that he’s living up to his lofty preseason expectations with a very good game against the Golden Eagles. Finishing with 22 points, five rebounds, three steals, two assists and two blocks, Langford filled up the stat sheet in a number of different ways. Known as a scorer during his prolific prep career, Langford’s length and natural timing was impressive on the defensive end, as he helped trap Marquette point guard Markus Howard on multiple occasions.

The scary thing is that Langford didn’t even shoot the ball particularly well in this one. Langford was 8-for-15 from the floor and only 1-for-5 from three-point range. It helps immensely that Langford can create offense for himself by consistently getting to the charity stripe, as he was 5-for-7 from the free-throw line. If Langford can find his perimeter shot, then he has the potential for 30- and maybe even 40-point outbursts.

The good news for Langford is that he still had a great all-around game against a top-25 team with big expectations. There’s still room for Langford to grow and get better. But this is the kind of start Indiana fans were looking for out of their new star.