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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

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

Happ helps No. 22 Badgers withstand NC State in 79-75 win

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Ethan Happ had 19 points and 11 rebounds, D’Mitrik Trice hit a long jumper with 23.6 seconds left and No. 22 Wisconsin withstood North Carolina State’s in-your-face defense to rally for a 79-75 win on Tuesday night.

Wisconsin’s Brad Davison drew a charging call on Markell Johnson on the perimeter with 16 seconds left. The emotional Davison let out a furious yell and pumped his arms after forcing a critical turnover with the Wolfpack trailing by three.

Davison hit two foul shots with 8 seconds left for a four-point lead for Wisconsin (6-1), and a last-gasp 3-point try for the Wolfpack sailed harmlessly off the backboard at the other end.

Johnson had 21 points to lead N.C. State (6-1), while C.J. Bryce added 18 and seven rebounds.

The Wolfpack controlled tempo for much of the game and answered nearly every run after Wisconsin fell behind 41-29 early in the second half.

The Badgers finally broke through in the end, with Happ leading the way in the paint.

They got boosts from the 3-point line from Trice, who had 18 points and went 4 of 5 from behind the arc; and Aleem Ford who had 12 points on four 3s.

BIG PICTURE

N.C. State: The game had a choppy flow in the first half before opening up in the second. In between the whistles, the Wolfpack mostly dictated the pace with its man-to-man defense and occasional full-court pressures. Coach Kevin Keatts’ team had feasted on lower-division opponents in getting off to a 6-0 start, though a close loss to the Badgers on the road proved that the Wolfpack were on the right track. They forced 14 Wisconsin turnovers, seven in the first half, against a team that was averaging nine a game.

Wisconsin: Happ had some decent looks in traffic around the bucket but was just 3 of 11 from the field in the first half. The preseason All-American also found open shooters on the perimeter when he got doubled, but Brevin Pritzl and Ford missed a couple opportunities. Shooting improved in the second half, when the Badgers were 62 percent overall and 54 percent (6 of 11) from 3-point territory.

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

NBC Sports Top 25: Duke is No. 1, Kentucky to 18

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With all the hand-wringing and excitement about the return of college basketball this week, you might be surprised to learn that just three teams ranked in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 lost.

Two of those losses came in the Champions Classic, as Kentucky and Michigan State fell to the top two teams in this week’s NBC Sports Top 25, Duke and Kansas, respectively. The third? Then-No. 17 West Virginia losing at home to now-No. 25 Buffalo on Friday night.

I say all that to say this: There really isn’t all that much to change about the Top 25 this week. There are really only three questions that need to be answered, so I’ll walk you through my thought process for each one:

  1. Can Kansas fall out of the top spot with a win over a top 15 team?: Hell yes they can. The Jayhawks were the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason based on projections and feelings we had about how good they might end up being. Now we have actual, actionable results to evaluate, and there really should be all that much of a discussion. I’m not even sure there are Kansas fans will sit here and say that, after watching Duke beat Kentucky by 34 points, they believe the Jayhawks are better than the Blue Devils.
  2. How far should Kentucky fall?: I dropped the Wildcats to 18th. I’ve seen other top 25s that have Kentucky at the back-end of the top ten. I don’t think that’s crazy, but I also think that we have much more to worry about with this Wildcat team that those folks realize. Kentucky still has top ten potential, but for my money they are much further from reaching their ceiling than anyone realized. I ended up with them 18th because I couldn’t justify dropping them below LSU or Mississippi State.
  3. What do we do with West Virginia and Buffalo?: I was already lower on West Virginia entering the season than the public, so dropping them out of the top 25 with a loss at home against Buffalo was pretty easy for me to do. I know that loss came as a result of a once-in-a-career blow-up game from C.J. Massinburg and that the Mountaineers didn’t have Beetle Bolden down the stretch as he dealt with cramping issues, but it seemed pretty evident that Press Virginia has some kinks to work out. Buffalo, on the other hand, entered the season as one of the best mid-majors in the country after smoking Arizona in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament. They lived up to that billing, so why not reward them?

Anyway, here is the entire NBC Sports Top 25:

1. Duke (2-0, Last week: 4)
2. Kansas (1-0, 1)
3. Gonzaga (2-0, 3)
4. Villanova (2-0, 5)
5. Nevada (2-0, 6)
6. Tennessee (2-0, 7)
7. Virginia (2-0, 8)
8. North Carolina (2-0, 9)
9. Auburn (2-0, 10)
10. Kansas State (1-0, 11)
11. Virginia Tech (1-0, 12)
12. Florida State (2-0, 14)
13. Michigan State (1-1, 13)
14. TCU (2-0, 15)
15. UCLA (2-0, 16)
16. Oregon (2-0, 18)
17. Syracuse (2-0, 19)
18. Kentucky (1-1, 2)
19. LSU (2-0, 20)
20. Mississippi State (2-0, 21)
21. Clemson (2-0, 22)
22. Michigan (2-0, 23)
23. N.C. State (2-0, 24)
24. Marquette (2-0, 25)
25. Buffalo (2-0, NA)

New Additions: 25. Buffalo
Dropped Out: 17. West Virginia

N.C. State commit Jalen Lecque considering jump straight to NBA

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Top N.C. State recruit Jalen Lecque will consider making the leap straight from high school to the NBA next spring.

In a report from ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, Lecque, who is currently doing a fifth year of high school at Brewster Academy, is weighing his basketball future as he begins an important final season of prep ball. A five-star prospect, and widely considered to be one of the best athletes in the national Class of 2019, Lecque is already drawing NBA scouts to see him play early this season.

“I am interested in everything because the NBA is my goal at the end of the day,” Lecque said to Givony. “I want to be a great college player, but my end goal is to help my family. I want to be a concrete Round 1 player if I do make that decision. If I’m guaranteed a Round 1 position, then you never know. I could see myself doing it if I am in a good position at the end of the year. A college education is so important and making that jump is really hard, so I really gotta think about that, but if I’m Round 1, then that’s different.”

As Givony notes in his report, since Lecque didn’t technically receive a high school diploma from Christ School, his previous stop, he will likely need to petition the NBA to enter the draft. That process involves submitting paperwork to the league office and declaring himself eligible for the draft by the early entry deadline of April 21. But since Lecque turns 19 during the calendar year of the draft, while also being a year removed from his original high school graduating class, that he would likely be allowed into the draft.

Regarded as the Rivals’ No. 28 overall prospect in the national Class of 2019, Lecque is N.C. State’s only commitment so far. While Lecque has a lot of positive tools to work with for his basketball future, including elite leaping ability and athleticism, he is still transitioning into attempting to play more on the ball. Lecque’s shaky perimeter jumper — he went 9-for-57 from three during Nike EYBL play this spring and summer — will also be something to monitor during his season at Brewster.

If Lecque can show scouts that his jumper is workable, then he could be an intriguing player during the NBA Draft process. Even if Lecque opts to test the NBA draft waters, he could always back out of the pro commitment and still go to the Wolfpack for his freshman season — similar to what Hamidou Diallo did before his freshman season at Kentucky.