NCAA

Maryland remains No. 9 in AP Poll after a quiet week for the Top 25

Maryland remains No. 9 in AP Poll after a quiet week for the Top 25

The NCAA initial rankings had little impact at the top of the AP Top 25, but a three-game losing streak knocked preseason No. 1 Michigan State out of the poll.

Baylor remained No. 1 in The Associated Press men's college basketball poll released Monday, two days after being the top overall seed in the NCAA Division I Basketball Committee's preliminary rankings. The Bears received 48 first-place votes from a 64-person media panel.

Gonzaga remained at No. 2 and received 15 first-place votes despite being the No. 3 overall seed behind Kansas in the NCAA rankings released Saturday.

The Jayhawks had one first-place vote and San Diego State, the lone remaining undefeated team in Division I, stayed at No. 4 after being slotted as the No. 1 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament.

Louisville remained No. 5 during a week in which No. 10 Seton Hall, which moved up two places, was the only addition to the top 10.

The biggest change: Preseason No. 1 Michigan State dropped out of the poll from No. 16, thanks to a three-game losing streak.

The Spartans have struggled with Joshua Langford out because of a foot injury and star Cassius Winston grieving after his brother was killed just before the season started.

Michigan State lost to rival Michigan on Saturday to become the first team since Kentucky in 2013-14 to drop out of the poll after being the preseason No. 1.

"We've been in every game but one," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "And yet, we get close like that, cut big leads ... it's almost like we go brain dead then, and that's got to change."

The NCAA created the initial rankings as a sneak peek into the selection process ahead of Selection Sunday on March 13.

The basketball committee had Baylor (21-1, 10-0 Big 12) as the No. 1 seed in the South Region based on games through Friday. The Bears beat Oklahoma State 78-70 on Saturday and became the first team in this season of parity to remain at No. 1 four straight weeks.

Baylor is the first Big 12 team since Kansas in 2008 to win 20 consecutive games and has its longest conference winning streak since opening 10-0 in 1948.

The NCAA slotted Kansas as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region and the Jayhawks followed with a 14-point victory over TCU on Saturday.

Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed in the West, turned its rivalry game against Saint Mary's into a laugher, handing the Gaels their worst home loss in 19 years with a 90-60 victory in Moraga. The Zags have won 17 straight since losing to Michigan on Nov. 29.

San Diego State earned a No. 1 seed from the NCAA, but because the Aztecs were slotted behind Gonzaga, they were No. 1 in the East Region across the country in New York.

HALL RISING

No. 10 Seton Hall has matched its highest ranking since climbing to No. 7 in 2000-01.

Myles Powell and a huge win over then-No. 10 Villanova had something to do with it.

Powell, a senior, has lived up to the billing as one of college basketball's best players this season, averaging 21.9 points and 4.8 assists. He had 19 points in the Pirates' 70-64 victory over Villanova, snapping a 17-game road losing streak to the Wildcats.

Seton Hall moved up two spots to slide into the top 10 for the second time this season.

ROARING NITTANY LIONS

Penn State was given little chance in a loaded Big Ten before the season, picked to finish ninth in the preseason poll.

The Nittany Lions have proven the skeptics wrong so far, stretching their winning streak to six games with wins over then-No. 16 Michigan State and Minnesota.

Penn State had the week's biggest climb in the AP Top 25, moving up nine spots to No. 13, its highest ranking since 1995-96.

MOVING IN/OUT

Marquette is ranked for the first time this season, climbing to No. 18 after routing No. 19 Butler.

Texas Tech returned to the AP Top 25 following a two-week absence, moving in at No. 24 following wins over Oklahoma and Texas.

Arizona dropped out from No. 23 after a home loss to UCLA on Saturday.

RISING/FALLING

Colorado had the biggest climb behind Penn State, moving up eight spots to No. 16 following wins over California and Stanford. Houston was up five places to No. 20.

LSU dropped eight places to No. 25 after losses to Vanderbilt and No. 11 Auburn. No. 15 Villanova fell five places.

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Here’s why the NCAA is not giving winter sports an additional year of eligibility like spring sports

Here’s why the NCAA is not giving winter sports an additional year of eligibility like spring sports

On Monday, the NCAA announced that it will allow schools to grant student-athletes an additional year of eligibility for spring sports but not for winter sports. This means there will not be an additional year granted to men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes. 

While the move may be disappointing for seniors and fans alike of several basketball programs, this move is the correct one as the NCAA navigates through the impact of the coronavirus. 

Four days before the selection of the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament field, and five days before the women’s, the NCAA canceled all winter and spring sports championships. In addition to no March Madness and no national champion, there are several conference titles left undecided with the regular season completed. 

Many teams across the country, though, had already wrapped up their seasons. The week prior to cancelation had wrapped up over half of the men’s and women’s 2019-20 campaigns with losses in respective conference tournaments. This was primarily the men’s mid-major conferences and most of the women’s high-major (Power 5) leagues. A select few were waiting on their postseason fate, but many were either home or on their way there and making offseason plans. 

This is the lone reason cited in the Division I Council’s release. But that is only part of the reason why the NCAA isn’t granting an additional year.

Logistically this would be a nightmare. Already, the NCAA revealed as much in its announcement of another year of competition for spring sports. It leaves the discretion of giving the additional year to each institution instead of a broader relief. 

“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” council chair and Penn athletics director M. Grace Calhoun said in the release. “The Board of Governors encouraged conferences and schools to take action in the best interest of student-athletes and their communities, and now schools have the opportunity to do that."

To make this possible, the NCAA adjusted financial aid rules, is providing funding and is extending the five-year clock of competition by a year. Most importantly, it also expanded the roster limit for baseball teams to allow incoming high school seniors to not occupy roster spots for those who wish to return. No other sports have roster limits. 

Div. I basketball programs are allowed no more than 13 full scholarships. Giving seniors the opportunity to come back would complicate how schools would make decisions on which players can do so, and which ones couldn’t. Any spot that a school would allow a senior to come back could take away a scholarship from a recruit that already committed to the program. 

Not every school would make the same decisions either. The scholarship limit would have to be lifted, but then for how much and for how long? Would the extra year be given to the underclassmen too? 

Allowing those programs to get that season back would create more problems in a trying time for many across the world. Administrators, coaches, fans, players, recruits; there would be no easy solution that would be fair to all parties. 

At least a canceled March Madness stinks for everyone. Fans included. 

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March Madness Revisited: When 16-seed Mount St. Mary's pushed 1-seed Villanova

March Madness Revisited: When 16-seed Mount St. Mary's pushed 1-seed Villanova

As March winds down without its usual flurry of March Madness moments, NBC Sports Washington takes a look back at some smaller DMV schools who made a big impact during their most recent NCAA Tournament appearances.  

A season removed from winning the national championship in 2016, Villanova found itself trailing by a point with less than five seconds to play in the first half of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

At the time, no No. 16 seed had ever beaten a No. 1 seed. That would come a year later. The Wildcats’ opponent that March evening in Buffalo, N.Y.? Mount St. Mary’s.

The little school from Emmitsburg, Md. had been to the Big Dance before. Legendary coach Jim Phelan, who ran the program for 49 years and is in the College Basketball Hall of Fame, shepherded the Mountaineers from Division II to Division I in the early 1990s. They won the Northeast Conference tournament in 1995 and 1999 to reach the tournament and made it twice more in 2008 and 2014 even after Phelan retired. 

But it was its fifth trip the NCAA Tournament, under current George Washington coach Jamion Christian, where The Mount put a scare into the defending champs and heralded what UMBC would do a year later against No. 1 seed Virginia.     

The road to becoming Northeast Conference champions did not get off to an easy start. The Mountaineers opened the 2016-17 campaign with nine straight road games. But that was by design.  

“I knew when we built that schedule we had a great team,” Christian told NBC Sports Washington. 

Entering a Dec. 22 showdown with Coppin State, the Mountaineers were 1-11. Mount St. Mary’s won its final non-conference game with ease, 87-49, and went 14-4 in NEC play en route to claiming the conference’s regular season championship. 

“I bet on their ability to rally around one another when it got tough and I bet on their ability to be great,” Christian said. “We got it spot on that year.”

Christian had played four years for Phelan and his successor, Milan Brown, from 2000-2004. But a three-year starter and captain, his teams at The Mount never reached the NCAAs. He did take them there as head coach in 2014, a 71-64 loss to Albany in a First Four game in Dayton.  

But 2016-17 was different. Until that season, Mount St. Mary’s had never won the NEC regular season title and tournament in the same year. The Mount defeated St. Francis (Pa), 71-61, at home at Knott Arena to earn the school’s fifth trip to the tournament. 

On Selection Sunday, the Mountaineers learned that they would be headed to Dayton again for the second time in four years as part of the First Four. This time they were a little offended, not just happy to be going at all. 

“We didn’t feel like we should have been in Dayton,” Christian said. “We felt like we should have been a 15 - or even a 14 seed with our numbers that year. And we went into that game bringing back the underdog mentality that we wanted to prove and show the world how good of a team we had.”

The 2014 loss to Albany had prepared Christian’s group for what was to come in 2017. They weren’t worried about escaping Dayton this time around. 

“It was a perfect scenario for us with all of that,” Christian said. “We had played in Dayton before. We had made some mistakes playing in Dayton the first time just because you don’t know.”

Led by a 23-point performance from Junior Robinson, the Mountaineers defeated New Orleans, 67-66, in Dayton. 

Next up? Villanova less than 48 hours later in Buffalo. Christian said he learned a lot from a 90-59 loss to the Wildcats in 2013 and knew exactly what his game plan was going to be. 

“The number one thing was we wanted to be aggressive. We wanted to be in attack mode,” Christian said. 

Top seeded teams were 130-0 against No. 16 seeds entering that game. But following an Elijah Long 3-pointer, the Mount led Villanova 10-2 with 13:27 to play in the first half. The Mountaineers led the majority of that first half and owned a 29-28 lead in the closing seconds of the half before a Jalen Brunson backdoor layup put Villanova in front heading into the locker room.

“When we got to the half, I remember walking in and the guys were breathing really hard and I said, ‘Oh boy,’” Christian recounted. “It was one of those moments where you want to try to continue to give them confidence, but you’re also letting them take a moment to take a deep breath so they can play to their full potential.”

Villanova eventually pulled away in the second half and won 76-56. But the game did leave Wildcats head coach Jay Wright impressed. For a large part of that game, The Mount made Wright and the Wildcats uncomfortable. 

“It’s in the back of your mind,” Wright said after the game. “It hits you for a second. ‘This could be one of those nights.’ You’ve got to knock it out and concentrate on the next play. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t come up.”

It didn’t end quite the way they wanted it to. The really big upset would have to wait until the following season when UMBC stunned Virginia 74-54. But after its 1-11 start, Mount St. Mary’s won 20 games in a season for the first time in two decades and showed everyone the blue print for how a 16 could finally beat a 1. 

“The best don’t look at winning and losing as a finale, they look how hard you compete,” Christian said. “And I felt [Villanova] had a great level of respect for how hard our team competed that day.”

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