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Kansas moves to No. 7 in AP college basketball poll; Larry Brown's SMU checks in at No. 23

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No college basketball team has played better in the month of February than the one coached by a man who was 11 when Kansas won its first of three NCAA Tournament titles.

Larry Brown was 48 and coaching the Jayhawks when Kansas won its second NCAA tournament in 1988. He was in the stands in San Antonio when KU won its third title, in 2008.

Now, at the age of 73, Brown has his SMU team in the Associated Press college basketball Top 25 poll, ranked 23rd, and playing so well that it’s not out of the question he could reach a third Final Four with his third team in a span of 35 years. SMU had not been ranked for longer than that. The most recent ranking came in the second-to-last week of the 1985 poll.

By the way, Brown’s second school, Kansas, is ranked seventh.

Brown, 73, coached UCLA to the national-title game in 1980, when the Bruins lost to Denny Crum’s Louisville Cardinals, then known as the “Doctors of Dunk,” led by Dr. Dunkenstein himself, Darrell Griffith.

Brown was head coach of six different ABA teams and nine different NBA squads. And here he is now resuscitating a basketball program that had not scored a victory over a ranked opponent since 2003.

Brown’s Mustangs defeated No. 7 Cincinnati, 76-55, Saturday, their third victory in four tries against ranked opponents. They have won their three February games by an average margin of 19.7 points, the first a 15-point victory against then-No. 22 Memphis.

SMU (19-5, 8-3 in the American Athletic Conference) has won 8 of 9 and three of its losses this season (Virginia, at Cincinnati, at Louisville) have come against teams now in the top 25.

The top 25 teams in The Associated Press' college basketball poll, with first-place votes in parentheses, records through Feb. 9, total points based on 25 points for a first-place vote through one point for a 25th-place vote and last week's ranking:

         Record Pts Prv
  1. Syracuse (65) 23-0 1,625 1
  2. Arizona 23-1 1,525 2
  3. Florida 21-2 1,477 3
  4. Wichita St. 25-0 1,445 4
  5. San Diego St. 21-1 1,373 5
  6. Villanova 21-2 1,288 6
  7. Kansas 18-5 1,234 8
  8. Duke 19-5 1,130 11
  9. Michigan St. 20-4 1,025 9
  10. Cincinnati 22-3 970 7
  11. Iowa St. 18-4 925 16
  12. Saint Louis 22-2 908 13
  13. Louisville 19-4 866 14
  14. Kentucky 18-5 769 18
  15. Michigan 17-6 702 10
  16. Iowa 18-6 686 17
  17. Virginia 19-5 608 20
  18. Creighton 19-4 552 12
  19. Texas 18-5 417 15
  20. Memphis 18-5 333 24
  21. Wisconsin 19-5 242 NR
  22. Ohio St. 19-5 214 NR
  23. SMU 19-5 205 NR
  24. UConn 18-5 194 22
  25. Pittsburgh 20-4 175 25
    Others receiving votes: Oklahoma 99, Gonzaga 44, UCLA 43, New Mexico 23, Oklahoma St. 10, George Washington 6, Southern Miss. 6, Stephen F. Austin 3, Arizona St. 1, Kansas St. 1, North Carolina 1.

My top 25 AP ballot:

1 - Syracuse: Teams in foul trouble often shift to zones to slow down their rate of fouls, so it’s no surprise that Syracuse, which plays a 2-3 zone, averages just 15.9 fouls per game, eighth-lowest number in the country.

2 - Arizona: Power forward Brandon Ashley (11.5 points per game, 5.8 rebounds) suffered a broken foot that sidelined him for the season, a big loss, but not as big as it would be for less talented teams. Not many schools could replace Ashley with a freshman as talented as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a McDonald’s All-American averaging 15 points and 7.5 rebounds in two starts since the injury.

3 - Wichita State: Trivia question: What does Shockers coach Gregg Marshall have in common with Jud Heathcote, who coached Michigan State team led by Magic Johnson to 1979 national title, and Phil Jackson, coach of 11 NBA champions? They all are members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Or would calling them fraternity “brothers” be the correct terminology? Or do they have to live in same house to be considered “brothers?” It’s all Greek to me.

4 - Florida: Coach Billy Donovan bringing along slowly 6-10 freshman Chris Walker, ineligible the first 12 games for receiving impermissible benefits. Two games into his college career, he has played 11 minutes and totaled eight points, three rebounds and two blocked shots and has made 4 of 5 shots. He’s doing his best to speed up the coach’s plan.

5 - San Diego State: Point guard Xavier Thames big reason Aztecs, winners of 20 in a row, close games so well. For one thing, he makes his free throws and has made 30 of 32 of late.

6 - Villanova: Four of the top seven schools on my ballot have either an Ennis or Wiggins in the rotation. Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis and Villanova’s Dylan Ennis of Brampton, Ontario, Canada, combine to average 17.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists. KU’s Andrew Wiggins and Wichita State’s Nick Wiggins of the same Canadian province combine to average 20.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists.

7 - Kansas: In the 14 games since his rough performance at Florida, freshman Frank Mason has 33 assists and 11 turnovers and for the most part has played tough defense.

8 - Michigan State: Games lost to injury by top four players: Adreian Payne (seven), Branden Dawson (six), Gary Harris (three), Keith Appling (two).

9 - Duke: Quietly, Blue Devils playing terrific basketball. Only loss in past eight games came at Syracuse in overtime. Last six victories by average margin of 22.3 points.

10 - Iowa: Roy Devyn Marble made 6 of 10 three-pointers to lead rout of Michigan.

11 - Michigan: Spike Albrecht averaged 2.2 points a game last season, 3.5 this season and neither number can change his remarkable storybook moment. He played 11 minutes and scored 17 points in the first half vs. Louisville. Nobody can ever take that away from him.

12 - Cincinnati: Bearcats suffered 21-point loss to SMU, but can take comfort in knowing they won’t face coaching legend every time they lace up their sneakers.

13 - St. Louis: Once upon a time, this wasn’t such a shocking sentence: Five senior starters.

14 - Kentucky: Best victory: Louisville. Second-best: At Missouri. Needs another big victory to ensure high seed.

15 - Louisville: Best victory: At UConn. Second-best: Home game vs. SMU. Needs another big victory to ensure high seed.

16 - Creighton: No shame in losing to very talented, just-now-jelling St. John’s team that has won six of past seven games.

17 - Texas: Jonathan Holmes left Kansas State loss with knee injury after just nine minutes of action.

18 - Iowa State: UCLA’s Bill Walton in 1973 national-title game vs. Memphis: 21 of 22 field goals, 2 of 5 free throws, 44 points, 13 rebounds. . Melvin Ejim 41 years later in Big 12 game vs. TCU: 20 of 24 field goals, 6 of 6 free throws, 2 of 2 threes, 48 points, 18 rebounds.

19 - Oklahoma: Give sophomore Buddy Hield any breathing room and he’ll give you three reasons to regret that. Has made 17 of 34 threes in Sooners past five games, increasing his season accuracy rate to .399.

20 - Virginia: Two leading scorers are three-point marksmen: Malcolm Brogdon (12. 1 points, .405 from three), Joe Harris (11.3, .424). Their coach, Tony Bennett, shot .497 on 584 long-ball attempts in four years playing for his father, Dick Bennett, at Wisconsin-Green Bay.

21 - Ohio State: Toss out January and Buckeyes might be No. 1. Record by month: November: 6-0; December: 8-0; January: 2-5; February: 3-0.

22 - SMU: Nick Russell, in his second season playing for Brown after two seasons at Kansas State, scored season-high 15 points in blowout victory vs. Cincinnati.

23 - UCLA: Coach’s son Bryce Alford shoots better percentage from three (.400) than two (.393). He plays 22.3 minutes per game.

24 - New Mexico: Australian Cameron Bairstow, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound senior forward from Australia who scored 24 points in loss to KU, averages 20.2 points and 7.1 rebounds and shoots .561 from the field, .740 from the line. He never averaged double figures in scoring before this season, which makes him one of the nation’s most improved players.

25 - Wisconsin: Traevon Jackson, the junior point guard who hit a jumper with 2.1 seconds left to defeat Michigan State, is son of Ohio State two-time All-American Jim Jackson, who now does color commentary for the Big Ten Network. The elder Jackson wore the uniform of 12 different NBA organizations. Father and son would have made a good backcourt tandem since son is a pass-first guard, father a gunner.

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