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Player of the Year Power Rankings: Powell vs. Pritchard vs. Howard vs. Toppin

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At this point, I do feel like we have reached a point where there is finally a top tier in the College Basketball Player of the Year race.

Myles Powell. Payton Pritchard. Markus Howard. Obi Toppin. That’s the order that I have it in, but there is a strong and legitimate argument for all four to be No. 1 on this list. I wouldn’t call any of them wrong.

This doesn’t mean that the players from outside those ranks cannot win the award — it is so wide open this year, anyone with a couple of big weeks will be in the mix — but as of this moment in time, those are the likely favorites.

Anyway, here is the definitive Player of the Year power rankings:

1. MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

Stats: 22.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 34.9 3PT%

Powell had his best week of the season last week, averaging 29.0 points — including 21.0 points in the second half — as he led the Pirates to a pair of come-from-behind wins at Butler and at Saint John’s. It took Powell a while to get to this point, as he dealt with an ankle injury and a concussion, but there is no questioning the fact that he is the leader and the go-to guy for a Seton Hall team that is currently sitting at No. 10 in the AP poll and in sole possession of first place in the Big East.

And here’s the ironic part in all of this: It took a Powell injury for Seton Hall to really find themselves as a team. They made their leap on Dec. 19th, when the Pirates beat Maryland at home without Powell in the lineup. That’s when the supporting cast found their confidence. That’s when Seton Hall became a team, not just a bunch of guys playing next to Myles Powell.

2. PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon

Stats: 19.5 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.4 rpg, 41.2 3PT%

No one in college basketball has had more, or bigger, moments this season. He scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half and overtime, including 15 in the final five minutes, in a win at Michigan. He had 16 points and six assists in a come-from-behind win against Seton Hall in the Battle 4 Atlantis. He hit a number of big shots late as Oregon knocked off Memphis in November, the only game against a quality opponent that James Wiseman played. Then there was Saturday’s game at Washington, when Pritchard hit a 30-footer to tie the game and force overtime then made a pair of big shots in the extra frame, including this ridiculous game-winner:

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He has carried the Ducks this season. He’s the reason this team is a top ten team.

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

Stats: 28.2 ppg, 2.9 apg, 43.1% 3PT, 9.8 3PAs

The numbers themselves are ridiculous.

Howard is leading the nation in scoring at 28.2 points. He’s shooting better than 43 percent from three on nearly 10 threes attempted per game. He’s doing it while posting a significantly higher offensive rating than Myles Powell and a significantly higher usage rate than Payton Pritchard.

To put his season into context, there is one other high-major player since 1992 that has made better than 42 percent of his threes while shooting more than nine threes per game: J.J. Redick during his college basketball Player of the Year season in 2005-06. Stephen Curry did the same during the 2007-08 season, when he led Davidson to within one shot of the Final Four.

Markus Howard has been the most lethal offensive weapon in college basketball, and if Marquette was a title contender this season, he’s easily be No. 1 on this list.

4. OBI TOPPIN, Dayton

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 35.3% 3PT

What Obi Toppin provides for Dayton cannot be overstated. He’s putting up massive numbers this season, and he’s doing it while being the piece that makes everything Anthony Grant wants to run work so well. The breakdown below explains it all:

The thing that’s tough about placing Toppin on this list is that he is not the go-to guy for Dayton. Jalen Crutcher is going to be the player that takes and makes all of the big shots. See: Kansas, when he forced overtime, and Saint Louis, when he won the game in overtime.

But the reason Dayton is in a position to do things like take Kansas to overtime, get ranked in the top ten and have a shot at winning a national title is because of what Toppin opens up for them every possession other than the final one.

He may not have the moments we all remember, but Dayton is as good as they because of him. That matters.

5. LUKA GARZA, Iowa

Stats: 22.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg

Garza has been relentless this season, and he is absolutely one of the most improved players in the country. The reason that he’s just outside the top four, for me, is because of the defensive side of the ball. I talk through that more in this piece.

6. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

Stats: 18.1 ppg, 6.1 apg, 2.4 rpg

Winston has been really, really good this year. He has not been quite as good as expected — he was the consensus preseason college basketball player of the year — and neither has Michigan State, which hurts him a bit. I think he’ll be back in the mix by the time the season ends, particularly if the Spartans play their way back into being one of the nation’s elite teams.

7. JARED BUTLER, Baylor

Stats: 16.1 ppg, 3.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 38.1% 3PT

It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that the sophomore point guard is the best player on the best team in college basketball. That’s worth something in the Player of the Year race.

8. JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 42.7% 3PT

On the plus side, Louisville once again looks like a team that can win the ACC, get to a Final Four and win a national title now that David Johnson has taken the point guard reins, and Nwora is unquestionably the best player on the roster. On the down side, he really hasn’t shown up in Louisville’s biggest games. That’s a delicate balance.

9. VERNON CAREY, Duke

Stats: 17.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg

Carey looked like a much bigger player in this race before Duke lost two games last week in large part due to the ability to Miami and Louisville to expose Carey on the defensive end of the floor. Coach K has fixed issues like this before. We’ll see what he has up his sleeve this year.

10. MALACHI FLYNN, San Diego State

Stats: 16.5 ppg, 5.0 apg, 3.6 rpg, 40.4% 3PT

Malachi Flynn is the best player, the leader, of the only team in college basketball that remains undefeated. And the reason they are still undefeated is because of him: It was his three that allowed the Aztecs to avoid defeat at the hands of San Jose State back in December.

Bracketology: Welcome to the top line, San Diego State

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Welcome to the top line, San Diego State.  The Aztecs join Baylor, Gonzaga, and Kansas as No. 1 seeds in our latest bracket update.  SDSU remains the only unbeaten team in college hoops, buoyed by wins over tournament teams Iowa, Creighton and BYU.

The West-leaning geographical slate of top seeds means someone has to go East.  As SDSU is the fourth overall seed, that adventure belongs to them.  Several additional power conference teams are pushing for the top line, too – including Florida State, Michigan State and surging Seton Hall.  And let’s not forget about Louisville, a preseason top seed.  The Cardinals put together an impressive road win at Duke on Saturday.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 20, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Virginia Tech vs. Georgetown
WEST REGION NC State vs. VCU
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW-AM vs. NORFOLK ST
WEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. ST. FRANCIS (PA)

SOUTH Houston                           WEST – Los Angeles
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) PV-AM / NORFOLK ST 16) MONMOUTH / ST. FRANCIS (PA)
8) Arkansas 8) Illinois
9) Memphis 9) HOUSTON
Tampa Sacramento
5) Colorado 5) Arizona
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) NC State / VCU
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) S.F. AUSTIN 13) NEW MEXICO ST
St. Louis Greensboro
6) Marquette 6) Michigan
11) NORTHERN IOWA 11) Saint Mary’s
3) LOUISVILLE 3) Duke
14) NORTH TEXAS 14) LITTLE ROCK
Albany Spokane
7) Wisconsin 7) LSU
10) USC 10) Oklahoma
2) SETON HALL 2) Oregon
15) WILLIAM-MARY 15) UC-IRVINE
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) RADFORD 16) MONTANA
8) Rutgers 8) Indiana
9) STANFORD 9) Florida
Albany Cleveland
5) Kentucky 5) Creighton
12) LIBERTY 12) YALE
4) Villanova 4) DAYTON
13) AKRON 13) VERMONT
Greensboro St. Louis
6) Penn State 6) Auburn
11) Virginia Tech / Georgetown 11) BYU
3) West Virginia 3) Butler
14) COLGATE 14) WRIGHT STATE
Tampa Cleveland
7) Ohio State 7) Wichita State
10) DePaul 10) Texas Tech
2) Florida State 2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) NORTH DAKOTA ST

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
USC Virginia Tech Purdue Washington
DePaul NC State Minnesota Saint Louis
Saint Mary’s Georgetown Arizona State St. John’s
BYU VCU Xavier Richmond

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
ACC (5)
SEC (5)

Big 12 (5)
Pac 12 (5)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Baylor and Gonzaga lead the way

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A new college basketball top 25 is now live.

Baylor is not the No. 1 team in my poll, and I suspect that they are going to be the No. 1 team in the country when the AP poll is released on Monday morning. The only reason they weren’t No. 1 last week is because four people (like me) had Duke at No. 1, stealing votes from the Bears. That … did not go well, so here we are.

I also want to talk through something else: Last week, I wrote extensively about why I think that it’s foolish to allow the result of one possession games to have a significant impact on the way that you view a team. One shot in a 70 possession game that is just one of more than 30 games that will be played this season is insignificant when determining the quality of a team, and I truly believe that.

But I also think it is important to consider how and why teams are winning close games, not just games that are one-possession games.

So let’s use Duke and Baylor for this example once again.

One thing that the Bears have proven over and over this season — at Texas Tech, at Kansas, at Oklahoma State — is the ability to close out a tough game, particularly on the road. That’s because they have a number of players on the roster that are capable of taking and making clutch shots. Against Tech, it was Jared Butler. Against Oklahoma State, it was Devonte Bandoo. The Bears may not look as good in the metrics because they haven’t obliterated the mediocre teams they have played, but they are 15-1 because they come through in the clutch.

Now, some of that may eventually regress. I believe in the clutch gene because I think life — not just sports, but everything every human being does — is confidence. Baylor has confidence in clutch situations, as much as anyone in the country. They do not get rattled by the moment, and they have a number of different options they can go to down the stretch.

Duke, on the other hand, does not. Their three losses this season have all been close games where the Blue Devils have struggled to find an outlet for offense in the final minutes. Maybe that will come with more experience — Duke is loaded with freshmen, Baylor is as old as anyone in the country — but as it stands, that’s the difference between these two teams.

Baylor won their close games.

Duke did not.

And I don’t think that’s a fluke.


The other thing that I want to discuss in this space is where I have San Diego State and Dayton ranked in the college basketball top 25. They are currently sitting and eighth and ninth in my poll, exactly where they have been for a couple of weeks now. And that is where they are going to stay for the foreseeable future.

The reasoning for me is simple: I don’t want to fall into the trap where I’m bumping a team up in the rankings simply because they keep winning in a league that is not as tough as the leagues where the rest of the teams in consideration for the top ten are playing, and losing.

I’m sure there are going to be people in San Diego and Dayton that call me a hater for this, and that’s fine. Maybe I am being a hater.

But the truth is this: I love both of these teams. SDSU is so tough defensively and Malachi Flynn has proven himself to be a flat-out winner at the point, while Dayton runs a pro-style, aesthetically-pleasing offense heavy on three-balls and Obi Toppin.

I just don’t believe they are one of the top six or seven teams in the country, and beating the likes of Nevada and Saint Louis is not going to change my mind.

Anyway, here is the rest of the NBC Sports college basketball top 25.



1. BAYLOR (15-1, Last Week: 2)
2. GONZAGA (20-1, 3)
3. KANSAS (14-3, 6)
4. FLORIDA STATE (16-2, 12)
5. LOUISVILLE (15-3, 13)
6. SETON HALL (14-4, 15)
7. DUKE (15-3, 1)
8. SAN DIEGO STATE (19-0, 8)
9. DAYTON (16-2, 9)
10. MICHIGAN STATE (14-4, 7)
11. BUTLER (15-3, 4)
12. AUBURN (15-2, 5)
13. OREGON (15-4, 10)
14. KENTUCKY (13-4, 11)
15. WEST VIRGINIA (14-3, 14)
16. TEXAS TECH (12-5, 17)
17. VILLANOVA (14-3, 18)
18. IOWA (13-5, 22)
19. ARIZONA (13-5, NR)
20. HOUSTON (14-4, NR)
21. MEMPHIS (14-3, 25)
22. MICHIGAN (11-6, 20)
23. MARYLAND (14-4, 21)
24. ILLINOIS (13-5, 24)
25. CREIGHTON (14-5, 23)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 19 Arizona, No. 20 Houston
DROPPED OUT: No. 16 Ohio State, No. 19 Wichita State

Ten Things You Need To Know: Catch up on all of Saturday’s college hoops action

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College basketball went insane on Saturday.

Well, it was insane all week.

But Saturday was really nuts.

Here’s everything you need to know.

1. NO. 3 DUKE LOST THEIR SECOND GAME THIS WEEK

David Johnson exploded on to the scene with 19 points, seven assists, four boards, three steals and two blocks.

Louisville exorcised some demons.

Duke looked like a team that is banged up, can’t guard the four and lacks a go-to scorer.

A full breakdown of this game can be found here.

2. NO. 4 AUBURN LOST THEIR SECOND GAME THIS WEEK, TOO

Auburn entered this seek as one of just two undefeated teams left in college basketball, but there were question marks.

The Tigers don’t have a single win over a team ranked in the top 40 on KenPom. They have only played three Quad 1 games this season. Their only Quad 1 win is barely a Quad 1 win: It came at Mississippi State, who currently ranks 70th in the NET; the cutoff for Quad 1 road wins is top 75.

The other two Quad 1 games that Auburn has played this season?

They were both this week.

And they were both ugly losses.

On Tuesday, it was Alabama that ran over Auburn in the basketball version of the Iron Bowl, 83-64. On Saturday, it was Florida doing the damage, as they held Auburn to 25.5 percent shooting from the field, 4-for-23 shooting from three (17.4%) and to just a single point during an eight-minute stretch late in the second half that saw the Gators push their lead from 47-43 to 69-44. They won 69-47.

Suddenly, those concerns look prescient.

The truth is this: Auburn is dangerous. They are a team that can make a lot of threes, that can force turnovers and play in transition and has the ability to play big (with Austin Wiley) or small (without Austin Wiley). They have a lottery pick in Isaac Okoro and they have a couple of guards on their roster capable of taking games over in J’Von McCormick and Samir Doughty.

But they haven’t consistently played up to the level of a top five team, and their 15-0 record was inflated by feasting on teams that are just good enough to make us believe.

Auburn is still good.

They’re just not a top five team.

3. OH, AND NO. 5 BUTLER LOST THEIR SECOND GAME THIS WEEK AS WELL!

But this game said a whole lot more about DePaul than it did about Butler.

I explained why right here.

4. PAYTON PRITCHARD REALLY WANTS TO BE NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR

The reason Payton Pritchard is one of the frontrunners for National Player of the Year is the fact that he is putting up terrific numbers this season for a top ten team and doing so while putting together some incredibly impressive performances in crunchtime.

Saturday might have been his statement game.

Oregon erased a 13-point second half deficit thanks in large part to Pritchard, who hit a huge three with a minute left to tie the game. In overtime, he hit a floater to give the Ducks the lead before burying this insane three to win the game with 3.2 seconds left:

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Payton Pritchard called game!!!!!!

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No. 8 Oregon avoided going 0-2 on the Washington road trip with a 64-61 win. Pritchard finished with 22 points. The Ducks are now 3-0 in overtime games this season largely due to the fact that Pritchard is arguably the most clutch player in college basketball.

Is there anyone that you would want taking a big shot in a big game more than him?

5. BUT SO DOES MYLES POWELL

Seton Hall capped off an absolutely stellar week by going into Madison Square Garden and knocking off their biggest regional rival, St. John’s, on the road despite trailing by 13 points at the half.

That’s a big time win.

And Powell was, as you might expect, once again a big time player.

He scored 23 of his 29 points in the second half and made big shot after big shot down the stretch. This came just three days after he went for 29 points as Seton Hall erased a 10 point halftime deficit on the road against No. 5 Butler.

In fact, the Pirates are currently sitting at 6-0 in the Big East after a slow start to their season, and they already have won at DePaul, at Xavier, at Butler and at St. John’s.

And now they get three straight home games.

Kevin Willard’s club has put themselves in a great position to make a run at the 2020 Big East regular season title.

6. KENTUCKY RALLIES AFTER COACH CAL GETS TOSSED

This was awesome.

Coach Cal was ejected on Saturday in the most mild-mannered way I’ve ever seen.

He was arguing with the refs about the way they were implementing the flop rule against his team, and — I think — he was given two technicals for being out of the coach’s box and staying out of the coach’s box to curse at the refs. Look at this:

The best part?

Kentucky was up 11 early in the first half, but they blew that lead. After going 3-for-4 on technical free throws, Arkansas held a 47-44 lead on a coach-less Kentucky team.

And how did the Cats respond?

A cool 17-2 run to put the game to bed in a 73-66 win.

7. HOUSTON BLEW OUT WICHITA STATE TO TAKE CONTROL OF THE AMERICAN

The Houston we expected to see all season long showed up in Wichita on Saturday night.

The Cougars beat the No. 16 Shockers in their own building, 65-54, and it wasn’t really that close. Wichita State was down 49-27 at one point, allowing just one player to crack double-figures.

The Shockers lost two games this week and now sit a game off the pace in the American, behind Houston and Tulsa, who are tied for first.

8. WEST VIRGINIA SOMEHOW GAVE UP 84 POINTS TO KANSAS FREAKIN’ STATE

Kansas State entered Saturday ranked 198th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric. James Madison, the 275th-best team in college basketball, and VMI, the 291st-best team in college basketball, ranked directly behind them. The only “high-major” players worse than Kansas State offensively this season?

Temple, South Florida, Virginia, East Carolina and Boston College.

West Virginia, on the other hand, entered Saturday ranked as the single-best defensive team in the entire sport. They were playing defense at a level that would rank among the very-best defensive teams that we have ever seen. Their four Big 12 opponents were averaging 51 points against them.

Kansas State had 42 points at halftime. They scored 84 points on the night. They won 84-68 to drop the Mountaineers two games out of first place in the Big 12 title race, because …

9. … BAYLOR ERASED A 12 POINT DEFICIT ON THE ROAD

The Bears looked like they were going to be the top five team to blow a win they should not be blowing on Saturday.

Oklahoma State threw a 2-3 zone on the Bears, doing the exact same thing that Washington did to Baylor late in the only game that they lost thus far this season, and Baylor was lost for the first half. They trailed 36-24 at one point late in the half before slotting MAtthew Mayer at the high post and thwarting all of Oklahoma State’s plans.

In the end, however, the Cowboys still had a shot to win late, but that was until Devonte Bandoo banged home three threes in the final eight minutes, including two in a one minute span after the final TV timeout, to secure a 75-68 win.

Bandoo scored 14 points off the bench. He is the fourth-best guard on this Baylor roster.

Put another way, this team is deep, they are loaded, and the guys all the way down their bench can make the shots that beat you.

That’s scary.

10. SAN DIEGO STATE IS STILL UNDEFEATED

The Aztecs trailed at the half but ran Nevada off the court after halftime, taking home a 68-55 win.

Myles Powell leads No. 18 Seton Hall past No. 5 Butler

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Seton Hall earned another monster road win by knocking off No. 5 Butler, 78-70, on Wednesday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Myles Powell had another exceptional effort to pace the No. 18 Pirates in the Big East win. The All-American candidate finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and three steals. For the second time in Big East play, the Pirates found themselves trailing by double digits on the road. And, for the second time, they turned to their senior leader to close down the stretch. Powell lifted Seton Hall with 19 second-half points when the Pirates desperately needed offense.

The guard’s veteran savvy, three-point marksmanship and big-game mentality are a huge reason why Seton Hall is now atop the Big East at 5-0. The Big East’s young season has already seen Powell will Seton Hall to multiple victories. Powell also outdueled fellow preseason All-American Markus Howard and Marquette for a Pirates win.

It’s still early in the Big East season. But Powell is making a massive case for Big East Player of the Year — if not more.

Powell is the obvious engine that drives Seton Hall. But the Pirates have turned into an elite team during this seven-game winning streak thanks to the continued development of role players. Senior big man Romaro Gill has come up big on both ends of the floor. The 7-foot-2 Gill finished with 17 points, four rebounds and three blocks. After only one double-figure scoring game the first 13 games of the season, Gill now has four straight double-figure games in Big East play.

Gill’s rapid improvement has also established him as the preferred center in Seton Hall’s big-man rotation ahead of Ikey Obiagu. Even when Gill fouled out, Obiagu’s ability to fill in and protect the rim was a factor in the Pirate closing Wednesday’s win.

Jared Rhoden (13 points) and Quincy McKnight (11 points) also have flourished during this recent stretch. Rhoden’s critical three-pointer with under a minute left gave the Pirates a two-possession lead. McKnight has proven himself to be an adequate scorer and distributor when teams overload on Powell.

Seton Hall has run off seven straight wins despite missing junior forward Sandro Mamukelashvili. The Pirates are continuing to establish new role players and secondary pieces to play around Powell. And what happens if Mamukelashvili returns to form once he’s healthy from a wrist injury? He’s scheduled to potentially return within the month as his presence would make Seton Hall even more dangerous.

Butler (15-2, 3-1) made an admirable push to nearly win this game after blowing the lead. A 7-0 run gave the Bulldogs a one-point lead at the under-four timeout. The lead was short-lived, however, as Powell and the Pirates closed them down. This isn’t a bad loss by any means for Butler. But losing at home to a team in the mix for the Big East title definitely stings in the conference race.

Kamar Baldwin paced Butler with 19 points. Jordan Tucker’s hot first half fueled his 14-point outing as his scoring uptick helped give the Bulldogs the first-half advantage. Butler looked strong and their pieces fit well together. They just don’t have the type of player who can keep up with a player like Powell when he gets rolling.

Ten Things to Know: Long road losing streaks end during wild day of college hoops

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College basketball was all about big road wins.

The Big 12 and ACC saw two huge road losing streaks end. The rest of the day saw some upsets along with an injury to keep tabs on.

BAYLOR GOT ITS FIRST-EVER WIN IN PHOG ALLEN FIELDHOUSE

Everything you need to know about the biggest game of the day can be found right here.

CLEMSON GOT ITS FIRST-EVER WIN (IN 60 TRIES!) IN CHAPEL HILL

Clemson basketball kicked off a big sports weekend for the school. The Tigers snapped their 0-59 mark in Chapel Hill with a 79-76 double-overtime win over North Carolina.

Brad Brownell’s team celebrated in euphoric fashion.

This isn’t your typical ACC road win. It was one of the premier streaks in college basketball. Clemson and North Carolina first played men’s basketball during the 1925-26 season. Both programs are founding members of the ACC.

Same conference.

Since 1953.

So for the Tigers to FINALLY earn a win in Chapel Hill, even if North Carolina happens to be down right now, is a monumental accomplishment.

For North Carolina, the recent freefall continues. The Tar Heels have lost three straight and dropped to 1-4 in ACC play. Following the loss, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams made some emotional remarks blaming himself.

Even though North Carolina is well outside of the top 25, they remain one of the most compelling teams in college hoops.

WEST VIRGINIA SHUTS DOWN TEXAS TECH

Things weren’t particularly pretty in Morgantown on Saturday night. Using seemingly its whole roster to wear down the Red Raiders, West Virginia earned an impressive Big 12 home win.

Despite only making three shots from three-point range on the night, West Virginia held a comfortable advantage thanks to one of the nation’s best defenses. The Mountaineers held Texas Tech to 28 percent shooting. The Red Raiders simply had no answer for the swarm of West Virginia defenders.

While West Virginia has continued to climb up the national rankings with an underrated array of quad one wins, this is one of the program’s best wins this season. The Mountaineers are surely a contender in the Big 12. The major question becomes if they are more than just a conference title contender. And more of a potential national title contender.

NICK RICHARDS IS THE KEY TO KENTUCKY’S SEASON

Over the course of the last four games, No. 14 Kentucky has asserted themselves as one of the best teams in college basketball once again. They’ve knocked off Louisville, Missouri, Georgia and Alabama during that run, and it should come as no coincidence that the best stretch of Kentucky’s season has come at the same time that Nick Richards has played the best basketball of his career.

In those four games, Richards is averaging 16.0 points, 10.0 boards and 2.5 blocks, but more importantly, he’s staying on the floor for more than 29 minutes per game. He’s starting to figure things out, and that, in turn, has helped build his confidence, his belief in himself.

“You can’t coach a kid’s confidence,” a source close to Kentucky said. “He needs to build it himself.”

He’s posting harder, he’s demanding the ball, he’s doing all of the things that Kentucky has been waiting for him to two do two-and-a-half years. And it hasn’t only helped Richards, the guards that feed him the rock have confidence in him as well. If you’re a point guard and you know Richards doesn’t want the ball, are you going to give him a post touch? Are you going to throw a post entry when you don’t think anything good will happen?

Saturday proved my point.

In the first half against Alabama, Richards had 11 points, six boards and four blocks, and Kentucky went into the break with a 45-35 lead. He finished with just two points in the second half, and Alabama cut the lead to one in the final two minutes.

OHIO STATE HAS NOW LOST FOUR STRAIGHT GAMES

The 12th-ranked Buckeyes dropped to 11-5 on the season and 1-4 in the Big Ten after losing their fourth straight game on Saturday, 66-54, to Indiana.

During that four game losing streak, Ohio State has shot 28-for-97 from three, a cool 28.9 percent. Prior to the start of this losing streak, after they beat Kentucky in Las Vegas and when they were sitting at No. 1 in KenPom and splitting votes with Gonzaga for No. 1 in the AP poll, the Buckeyes were shooting 41.5 percent from three as a team.

The reason why they are struggling from beyond the arc is a bigger question. Part of it is just regression — water eventually finds itself — and part of it is that as D.J. Carton has struggled, who had seven turnovers on Saturday, Ohio State’s offense has struggled. They don’t have the individual playmakers to create offense for themselves, and if Carton (and C.J. Walker) are struggling to create easy shots for their teammates, Ohio State becomes really limited offensively.

Oh, and should I mention that Ohio State’s second-leading scorer, Duane Washington, didn’t take a single shot and was benched for the final 30 minutes. He’s either hurt or Chris Holtmann is fed up with his defensive lapses.

Either way, what was clicking for the first month of the season is clearly no longer working.

AUBURN AND SAN DIEGO STATE ARE STILL UNDEFEATED

The No. 5 Tigers cruised past Georgia at home, winning 82-60, while the No. 7 Aztecs took care of business against Boise State at home, 83-65.

Auburn’s biggest tests of the season to date will come next week, as they travel to take on Alabama and Florida. SDSU heads to Fresno State on Tuesday and then will host Nevada next weekend.

OBI TOPPIN ROLLED HIS ANKLE

The star big man for No. 15 Dayton stepped on someone’s foot early in the second half of an 88-60 win over UMass and had to leave the game. He ended up leaving the game and returning to his team’s bench with a boot on his left foot.

Toppin told reporters after the game that, “it’s good.” Head coach Anthony Grant, speaking in his press conference after the game, said that he thought it was a sprained ankle and that the team would know more in the next 24 hours, but he did not sound overly concerned.

VIRGINIA DROPS SECOND STRAIGHT TO UNRANKED OPPONENT

It’s looking like defending national champion Virginia will fall out of the top 25 next week. A second consecutive loss to an unranked team on Saturday likely sealed the Cavaliers’ new fate.

After falling on the road at Boston College last game, Virginia fell to Syracuse at home.  The Orange earned an unlikely overtime win while also avenging its season-opening home loss to the ‘Hoos.

Hitting some massive three-pointers once overtime started, the Orange played completely free and with a lot of confidence once the extra session started. It also pointed to a continuing glaring issue Virginia has faced. Who is this team’s go-to player when they need a bucket?

Things don’t get easier for Virginia when they head on the road to Florida State next game. With three of their next four coming on the road, the Cavaliers have some work to do to stay with the ACC’s best.

GONZAGA AND DUKE CRUISE TO VICTORY

Easy day for No. 1 and No. 2 on Saturday.

Gonzaga made quick work of Loyola Marymount. The Bulldogs won by 25 on the road.

In the ACC, Duke ran past Wake Forest. The Blue Devils were fueled by Tre Jones in a 31-point victory.

MYLES POWELL, SETON HALL OUTDUEL MARKUS HOWARD, MARQUETTE

CBT’s Preseason All-America Team featured Myles Powell and Markus Howard both on the first team.

So Saturday’s Big East clash between Seton Hall and Marquette was must-see TV. Both stars finished an identical 8-for-22 from the field as Howard dropped 27 points and Powell delivered 23 points.

Most importantly, however, was the Pirates claiming the 69-55 Big East win. Seton Hall has six straight wins since Powell returned to the lineup from a concussion. Saturday’s win gives the Pirates a leg up on the rest of the league and Powell a leg up on Howard with one matchup to go.

Not many people seem to be talking about Seton Hall. That’s a mistake. This team is playing really well over the last several weeks and look like the possible team to beat in the Big East.