TOP 25 THIS WEEK: Furman plays for 1st time with ranking
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Furman coach Bob Richey wants his players to savor the program’s first appearance in the AP Top 25 poll, yet also remember how much work it took to get there.
He’s hoping that approach will keep the 25th-ranked Paladins building toward something bigger, starting with Tuesday night’s trip to Elon and a weekend visit to USC Upstate.
“The reality of it is this was not just something that was created by this team,” Richey told The Associated Press. “There’s a lot of people that are involved in this and have paved the way for this to happen.”
The Paladins (8-0, 1-0 Southern Conference) had a marquee upset in November by beating reigning national champion Villanova in overtime on the road to grab some national attention. They also won at Loyola-Chicago , last year’s surprise Final Four team.
And there was Jordan Lyons’ 54-point showing , with 15 3-pointers to tie an NCAA record, against North Greenville on Nov. 15.
Then came Monday, when Furman grabbed the final spot in this week’s poll and entered the week as one of 11 unbeaten teams left in Division I. Located in Greenville, South Carolina, Furman has tied a program record with 23 wins in each of the past two seasons and has won 15 of 16 dating to last season.
Richey, in his second season as head coach after six seasons on the Furman coaching staff, said the team addressed the ranking in a Monday meeting. That included first-year recruiting director Daniel Fowler, a four-year starter for the Paladins who recalled that his freshman team hoped just to reach 10 wins.
Now a team picked to finish fourth in the Southern Conference is chasing much more, such as its first Southern Conference Tournament title and NCAA Tournament berth since 1980.
“The responsibility is we focus on the task at hand, we focus on improvement, we focus on getting better,” Richey said. “We focus on being the best version of ourselves that we can. And we keep it about that.
“The second you get away from that and start falling in love with all the things that come with this exposure, then I think that’s when you’re going to quickly find yourself on your back.”
There’s a marquee matchup to headline the week ahead for AP Top 25 teams when top-ranked and unbeaten Gonzaga meets No. 7 Tennessee on Sunday in Phoenix.
The Zags (8-0) already have one of the season’s most impressive wins against then-No. 1 Duke . As for the Volunteers (6-1), it’s their second big nonconference game in the season’s opening month; they lost in overtime to No. 2 Kansas in the NIT Season Tipoff over Thanksgiving week.
RANKED VS. RANKED
There’s another matchup of ranked teams out west Friday night. This one features No. 6 Nevada meeting No. 20 Arizona State in Los Angeles with both teams trying to stay unbeaten.
There was no change at the top of Monday’s latest poll, with Gonzaga, Kansas, No. 3 Duke and No. 4 Virginia at the top again. The Zags had 43 of 64 first-place votes, the Jayhawks had 19, the Blue Devils had one and the Cavaliers had one.
Michigan has gone from No. 19 in the preseason to No. 5 with a series of impressive wins .
The Wolverines (8-0, 1-0 Big Ten) have won every game by at least 17 points, including against Villanova, North Carolina and Purdue. That has them off to their best start since winning the first 16 games of the 2012-13 season, with a league game at Northwestern on Tuesday and a home game against South Carolina on Saturday.
The Big Ten has a national-best seven ranked teams, led by the Wolverines, No. 10 Michigan State and No. 12 Wisconsin. The list includes No. 24 Nebraska, which entered Monday’s poll for the first time since November 2014, and visits Minnesota on Wednesday.
The Atlantic Coast Conference is second with five teams — Duke, Virginia, No. 11 Florida State, No. 14 UNC and No. 15 Virginia Tech — while the Southeastern Conference has four in Tennessee, No. 8 Auburn, No. 9 Kentucky and No. 22 Mississippi State.
Purdue (5-3) fell out of the poll from No. 19 after losses to ranked FSU and Michigan teams, but finished one point behind Furman for the final spot and could make it a brief absence by beating No. 23 Maryland on Thursday and Texas on Sunday.
Iowa State (6-1) was also among the top vote-getters just outside the Top 25 and has a game at No. 18 Iowa on Thursday.