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Top topics for college basketball this week . . .

By Joe Juliano The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT) • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:01 PM

In this space last week, we thought Syracuse would suffer its first loss of 2013-14 before Wichita State did because of its difficult road schedule. But never in our wildest dreams did we see downtrodden Boston College, a team that had defeated one Division I squad (Virginia Tech) since Nov. 26, going into the Carrier Dome and recording the shocker of the season. Now the schedule really gets tough for Syracuse, which must play its next three at Duke, at Maryland, and at Virginia. “We can’t think about” the loss, Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. “We’ve got to think about what we have to do going forward.”

Gator grab

Syracuse’s loss means that with a victory Saturday at Mississippi, Florida should ascend to No. 1 in the rankings next week. The Gators’ 71-66 win Wednesday night over Auburn was a shaky one, but it nonetheless extended their run to 18 consecutive victories and put them in position to gain the top spot for the first time since Feb. 12, 2007. But coach Billy Donovan wants to see his team start better; Florida has trailed at the half in four of its last five games. “We’re going to enjoy the (Auburn win),” Donovan told the Gainesville Sun, “but we’re certainly going to have to make some corrections and get better.”

Sizing up the Shockers

We hear some of you yelling, “Hello? Wichita State is the only unbeaten team left in Division I. They should be No. 1.” Yes, the Shockers have defeated everyone they’ve played. but the quality of their opposition is lacking. They have beaten just three teams in the top 50 — St. Louis, Brigham Young, and Tennessee. Their strength of schedule, a healthy 39 in the nonconference, is a lowly 216 in the Missouri Valley Conference, where the best RPI team not named Wichita State is Indiana State (No. 55). However, if the Shockers run the table through the regular season and MVC tournament, they deserve a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.

B.C.’s inspiration

We can’t appreciate Boston College’s upset of Syracuse without thinking of Dick Kelley, the Eagles’ longtime basketball media contact and all-around good guy who died last week after a two-year battle with ALS. B.C. players and coaches attended Kelley’s funeral Tuesday before taking a seven-hour bus ride to Syracuse, and rallied from 13 points down the next day to win in overtime. “I think Dick’s way of how he handed (ALS) and the courage that he dealt with really resonated with our guys,” Eagles coach Steve Donahue — a native of Springfield, Delaware County, and a former Penn assistant — said in an Associated Press story.

Check out the Heels

After a 1-4 start in ACC play, North Carolina has surged to eight consecutive victories, the latest coming Thursday night over archrival Duke, when the Tar Heels rallied from 11 points down. It marked the Heels’ third win over a team ranked in the top 5 when they played them, and may mean a return to the national rankings if they win Saturday over Wake Forest. “I’m not going to say we’re a finished product,” guard Marcus Paige told the AP, “but man, we’re playing really well right now and we’re winning games in a lot of ways.”

Smart to the rescue?

It’s quite a coincidence that, following his three-game suspension, Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart will return to action Saturday for a home game against Texas Tech. It was a Feb. 8 game on the road against the Red Raiders in which Smart shoved a fan in a courtside seat. Smart returns just in time to a Cowboys team that has lost seven straight and is in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament after being ranked as high as No. 5 this season. “We’ve had a lot of distractions,” Smart said. “The distractions are over with, so hopefully, we can get back on track.”

Lights-out shooting

There’s no crying in baseball and there are no ties in basketball, or that’s what you thought before Wednesday night. A player from Johnson C. Smith College of Charlotte, N.C., fired a full-court heave at the regulation buzzer that knocked out two lights — leaving one of them hanging — with the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association game against Winston-Salem State tied at 76. Because of safety concerns, the game ended in a draw. The two schools, which are 78 miles apart, and CIAA officials will determine whether the game will be finished.

Expatriate of the week

Sophomore guard Marcus Watson Jr., a graduate of Boys Latin High School, is the leader in scoring and assists for Boston University, the first-place team in the Patriot League. The 5-foot-10 Watson, who finished his high school career with 2,356 points, second-most in Public League history, averages 13.6 points and 6.7 assists for the Terriers, who are coached by former Villanova assistant Joe Jones. Other area players on the B.U. roster are seniors D.J. Irving (Archbishop Carroll) and Travis Robinson (Friends Central).


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