Un­de­feated Auburn, San Diego St rise in Top 25; But­ler No. 6

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By JOHN MAR­SHALL AP Bas­ket­ball Writer

San Diego State sur­vived a big test by beat­ing a tal­ented Utah State team on the road. Auburn kicked off the SEC sea­son by win­ning at Mis­sis­sippi State for the third time in its last 18 tries.

As the cal­en­dar flipped to a new year, the Aztecs and Tigers

are the only un­de­feated Divi­sion I teams left.

Both moved up in The As­so­ci­ated Press poll re­leased Mon­day.

The top three spots re­mained un­changed. No. 1 Gon­zaga re­ceived 54 first­place votes from a 65-mem­ber me­dia panel, with No. 2 Duke get­ting nine and No. 3 Kansas two. Bay­lor was No. 4.

Auburn (13-0) climbed three spots to No. 5, its high­est rank­ing since reach­ing No. 2 in 1999-00. San Diego State (15-0) moved up six places to No. 7, the Aztecs’ high­est rank­ing since hit­ting No. 5 six years ago.

The Tigers have a new cast of char­ac­ters this sea­son af­ter a sur­pris­ing Fi­nal Four run

a year ago. Even with­out Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke, Auburn has con­tin­ued to find ways to win.

The Tigers blew through their non­con­fer­ence sched­ule be­fore open­ing SEC play at Humphrey Coli­seum, where they’ve strug­gled since 2001. Auburn pulled away in the sec­ond half of the 80-68 vic­tory and was led by J’Von McCormick, a bit player on last year’s team who scored 28 points.

“I think we’re a good team. I don’t think we’re a very good team yet and it’s not crit­i­cism,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said last week. “It’s just that I know how much we’ve got to do of­fen­sively, de­fen­sively to get there. We’re im­prov­ing. We’ve got a long way to go.”

San Diego State is off to its best start since the Kawhi Leonard-led team in 2010-11 won its first 20 games. The Aztecs have been stingy de­fen­sively in their third sea­son un­der Brian Dutcher, al­low­ing teams to score 70 points just twice this sea­son.

San Diego State went to Lo­gan, Utah, on Satur­day and ended Utah State’s 15game home win­ning streak with a 77-68 vic­tory. The Aztecs are No. 1 in the NCAA’s NET rank­ings based on the na­tion’s best ad­justed ef­fi­ciency mar­gin and a top-50 strength of sched­ule.

“They’re re­ally, re­ally good,” Utah State coach Craig Smith said.

YOUNG KWAK

Gon­zaga guard Joel Ayayi (11) ges­tures af­ter scor­ing a 3-pointer dur­ing the sec­ond half of the team’s NCAA col­lege bas­ket­ball game against Pep­per­dine in Spokane, Wash., Satur­day, Jan. 4, 2020. Gon­zaga won 75-70.

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