A post-withdrawal deadline, but still early preseason Top 25

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One more deadline’s in the past — and now we’re that much closer to the start of the 2011-12 season. Well, a little closer anyway.  Here’s an updated Top 25 projection to tide you over in the meantime.

1. North Carolina

Record: 29-8 (Elite Eight)
Key returnees
: SF Harrison Barnes, PF John Henson, C Tyler Zeller , PG Kendall Marshall, SG Leslie McDonald, SG Dexter Strickland, SF Reggie Bullock
Key losses: None
Incoming recruits: PF James McAdoo, SG P.J. Hairston

The skinny: The Tar Heels hit the jackpot when their stars skipped out being NBA draft lottery picks. No team has more overall talent (thought Kentucky’s close) mixed with experience. But don’t pencil in a national title just yet. Marshall must stay healthy and the Heels’ perimeter shooting needs to improve.

2. Kentucky

Record: 29-9 (Final Four)
Key returnees
: PF Terrence Jones, SG Doron Lamb, SF Darius Miller, C Eloy Vargas, SF Jon Hood.
Key losses: PG Brandon Knight, C Josh Harrellson, SF DeAndre Liggins
Incoming recruits: PG Marquis Teague, SF Michael Gilchrist, PF Anthony Davis, PF Kyle Wiltjer

The skinny: Once again, the Wildcats are loaded with talent. And once again, many of those talented players are freshmen. Given that Kentucky beat UNC for a Final Four spot in 2011, you could argue they should be the top team. The biggest concerns: The frontcourt depth and Teague as the primary ball-handler. They’ll struggle if he gets hurt.

3. Duke

Record: 32-5 (Sweet 16)
Key returnees
: PF Mason Plumlee, SG Seth Curry, PF Miles Plumlee, G Andre Dawkins, SF Ryan Kelly
Key losses: PG Kyrie Irving, SG Nolan Smith, SF Kyle Singler
Incoming recruits: SG Austin Rivers, PG Quinn Cook, C Marshall Plumlee, SF Michael Gbinije

The skinny: Irving bolted, but the Devils are primed to replace him and Smith with Rivers and Cook. No incoming player can match Rivers’ scoring, while Cook thrives as a creator and floor leader. The bigger questions might be if Duke can fill Singler’s role as a versatile scorer and defender. That means more time for the Plumlees and Kelly, and perhaps Gbinije.

4. Syracuse

Record: 27-8 (Third round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: PG Scoop Jardine, SF Kris Joseph, SG Brandon Triche, SG Dion Waiters, SF C.J. Fair, C Fab Melo, PF Baye Moussa Keita
Key loss: PF Rick Jackson
Incoming recruits: C Rakeem Christmas, SG Trevor Cooney, SG Michael Carter-Williams

Jim Boeheim loses just one starter and adds two impact recruits in Christmas and Carter-Williams. The Orange will miss Jackson’s reliable rebounding and post defense, but he’s hardly irreplaceable. They’ll need Jardine to be more consistent and for Joseph and Melo to finally deliver on their tantalizing skills, but all the pieces are there for Syracuse to post yet another outstanding season.

5. Ohio State

Record: 34-3 (Sweet 16)
Key returnees
: C Jared Sullinger, PG Aaron Craft, SG William Buford, SF Deshaun Thomas, SG Jordan Sibert
Key losses: SG Jon Diebler, SF David Lighty, C Dallas Lauderdale
Incoming recruits: C Amir Williams, C Trey McDonald, SF Sam Thompson, SF LaQuinton Ross, PG Shannon Scott, transfer Evan Ravenel.

The skinny: Once Sullinger decided to return, the Buckeyes became a top 10 team. Buford and Thomas should have more prominent roles, but with the addition of solid freshmen such as Williams and Ross, expect Ohio State to remain a balanced, inside-outside team. But they’ll dearly miss Diebler and Lighty.

6. Arizona

Record: 30-8 (Elite Eight)
Key returnees
: PG Momo Jones, SG Kyle Fogg, SF Solomon Hill, SF Kevin Parrom, SF Jesse Perry, PG Jordin Mayes
Key losses: PF Derrick Williams, PF Jamelle Horne
Incoming recruits: PG Josiah Turner, SG Nick Johnson, PF Angelo Chol, PF Sidiki Johnson

The skinny: Williams is gone, but that’s no reason to write off the Wildcats. Every other starter is back along with one the nation’s top recruiting classes. That’s more than enough to offset the loss of one player, no matter how good he may be (Read: Evan Turner/Ohio State). Arizona handled Duke in the NCAA tournament because it finally started to play defense hit shots. The biggest boost? When Sean Miller decided to stay put.

7. Vanderbilt

Record: 23-11 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: SG John Jenkins, SF Jeff Taylor, C Festus Ezeli, PG Brad Tinsley, PF Lance Goulbourne, PF Steve Tchiengang
Incoming recruits: SG Dai-Jon Parker, PG Kedren Johnson, PF Shelby Moats

The skinny: Only North Carolina got a bigger gift from players passing on the NBA. This might be a bit high for the Commodores given they were never this good with the same group last year, but having Jenkins, Taylor and Ezeli is enough for an early push to the Top 10.

8. Louisville

Record: 25-10 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: PG Peyton Siva, SG Chris Smith, PF Jared Swopshire, SF Kyle Kuric, SF Rakeem Buckles, PF Gorgui Dieng
Key losses: SG Preston Knowles, PF Terrence Jennings
Incoming recruits: SG Wayne Blackshear, PF Chane Behanan, C Zach Price

The skinny: The Cards overachieved in 2010-11, winning 25 games and finishing tied for third in the Big East. Expect more. Siva’s primed for a breakout, Kuric and Smith developed into key players and Buckles and Swopshire will both be healthy. Knowles’ departure will be offset by Blackshear’s addition and Jennings’ production will be displaced by Buckles and Dieng. Still a talented team.

9. Wisconsin

Record: 25-9 (Sweet 16)
Key returnees
: PG Jordan Taylor, SG John Gasser, SF Mike Bruesewitz, SF Ryan Evans, PF Jared Berggren
Key losses: PF Jon Leuer, SF Keaton Nankivil, SF Tim Jarmusz
Incoming recruits: PF Jarrod Uthoff, SG Traevon Jackson, C Frank Kaminsky

The skinny: Write off the Badgers if you like. But with a solid core returning, a 4-star prospect in Uthoff coming in and Taylor – a national player of the year candidate – running the show, Wisconsin’s going to be what it always is under coach Bo Ryan: Fantastic at home, solid on the road and brutally efficient on offense.

10. Pitt

Record: 28-6 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees: SG Ashton Gibbs, SF Nasir Robinson, PG Travon Woodall, PF Dante Taylor, SG J.J. Moore, SF Lamar Patterson, PF Talib Zanna
Key losses: SG Brad Wanamaker, SF Gilbert Brown, C Gary McGhee
Incoming recruits: PF Khem Birch, SG Durand Johnson, C Malcolm Gilbert, PF Jaylen Byrd, SG John Johnson.

The skinny: The Big East champs are out three starters, but Gibbs’ return gives them a solid scorer in which their young, talented roster can thrive. There’s every reason to think that coach Jamie Dixon can put together another 25-win season and vie for the Big East title.

11. Kansas

Record: 35-3 (Elite Eight)
Key returnees
: PG Tyshawn Taylor, PF Thomas Robinson, PG Elijah Johnson
Key losses: SF Marcus Morris, PF Markieff Morris, SG Josh Selby, SG Brady Morningstar, SG Tyrel Reed
Incoming recruits: PG Nadir Thorpe, SG Ben McLemore

The skinny: The latest talent drain for coach Bill Self might be a rougher transition than in 2009. Kansas added one late recruit in McLemore, but bringing in PF DeAndre Daniels would be a welcome addition. Still, if the Jayhawks are to stay atop the Big 12, they’ll need Robinson and Johnson to boost their games as starters.

12. Cincinnati

Record: 26-9 (Third round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: C Yancy Gates, SG Sean Kilpatrick, SG Dion Dixon, PG Cashmere Wright, G Jaquon Parker, SF Justin Jackson, C Anthony McClain
Key losses: SF Rashad Bishop, C Ibrahima Thomas
Incoming recruits: SF Shaquille Thomas, SF Jermaine Sanders, SG Jeremiah Davis, SG Ge-Lawn Guyn

The skinny: A solid core mixed with talent gives Mick Cronin a legitimate Big East contender. When Cincinnati’s offense finally matches its defense – and when Gates plays consistently – it’ll be a Top 10 team.

13. Connecticut

Record: 32-9 (Won national championship)
Key returnees
: PF Alex Oriakhi, SG Jeremy Lamb, PG Shabazz Napier, PF Roscoe Smith, C Tyler Olander
Key losses: PG Kemba Walker, SF Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, SG Donnell Beverly, C Chuck Akwandu
Incoming recruits: PG Ryan Boatright

The skinny: There’s no lack of talent in Storrs, and 5-star prospect Boatright only adds to that mix. More impressive was that the Huskies didn’t play like a young team in 2010-11. But … that was with Kemba running the show and making plays when needed. When he struggled, the Huskies struggled, thus their 9th place finish in the Big East. They’ll miss him at times.

14. Baylor

Record: 18-13
Key returnees: C Perry Jones, SF Quincy Acy, PF Anthony Jones, PG A.J. Walton, C J’Mison Morgan.
Key loss: SG LaceDarius Dunn
Incoming recruits: SF Quincy Miller, SG Deuce Bello, PG Pierre Jackson (and Cal transfer Gary Franklin)

The skinny: Jones’ return to Waco may have been the biggest individual surprise of the offseason. The immensely talented post player started slow last season, but seemed to finally be comfortable by year’s end. And the additions of Miller and Bello give the Bears two explosive talents. Now. Can the play defense?

15. Memphis

Record: 25-10 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: SG Will Barton, PG Joe Jackson, PF Tarik Black, SF Drew Barnham, SG Antonio Barton, SG Charles Carmouche, SF Wesley Witherspoon.
Key loss: PF Will Coleman
Incoming recruit: SF Adonis Thomas

The skinny: Will Barton’s return gave the Tigers as much talent as any team in the nation when you include Thomas, one of the elite 2011 recruits. Next up? Improving that predictable offense and so-so-defense.

16. Temple

Record: 26-8 (Third round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: SG Ramone Moore, PG Juan Fernandez, SG Khalif Wyatt, PF Michael Eric, SF Rahlier Jefferson, SF Scootie Randall
Key loss: PF Lavoy Allen
Incoming recruits: PG Will Cummings, SF Jimmy McDonnell

The skinny: The Owls will miss Allen inside, but he’s the only guy gone from a team that thrived at the end of the year. They won’t turn the ball over, they’ll hit 3-pointers and they’ll win games. That gets you in the Top 20.

17. Michigan

Record: 21-14 (Third round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: SG Tim Hardaway, C Jordan Morgan, SF Zack Novak, SG Stu Douglass, PF Evan Smotrycz, PF Jon Horford
Key loss: PG Darius Morris
Incoming recruits: SG Carlton Brundidge, PG Trey Burke

The skinny: Morris’ departure hurts. A lot. Michigan’s still a Big Ten contender, but they don’t have much room for error without their point guard. Hardaway and Morgan are a solid duo. But they’re chasing Ohio State and Wisconsin. And maybe Purdue.

18. Texas A&M

Record: 24-9 (Second round of NCAA tournament
Key returnees
: SF Khris Middleton, PF David Loubeau, PF Kourtney Roberson, SG Dash Harris, SF Naji Hibbert, SF Ray Turner
Key losses: PG B.J. Holmes, SF Nathan Walkup
Incoming recruits: PG Jamal Branch, SG Jordan Green, SF Elston Turner (transfer)

The skinny: The Aggies don’t win any beauty contests, but that’s by design. They’re here because of their defense. Simple as that. It also helps to return four of five starters and to plug in a recruit like Branch. If Middleton’s offense continues to develop, A&M will be more than defensive show.

19. Purdue

Record: 26-8 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: SF Robbie Hummel, PG Lewis Jackson, SF D.J. Byrd, SG Ryne Smith, SF John Hart, SG Terone Johnson, SF Kelsey Barlow, PF Patrick Bade, PF Travis Carroll
Key losses: SG E’Twaun Moore, C JaJaun Johnson
Incoming recruits: PF Jacob Lawson, PF Donnie Hale

The skinny: Johnson and Moore are gone, but the Boilermakers have three key pieces returning: Hummel – who sat out the entire 2010-11 season – Jackson and coach Matt Painter. Painter, who spurned Missouri’s efforts to lure him away from West Lafayette, may be the most crucial piece, too. Few coaches get more out of their teams.

20. Marquette

Record: 22-15 (Sweet 16)
Key returnees
: SG Darius Johnson-Odum, PF Jae Crowder, PG Junior Cadougan, SG Vander Blue, C Davante Gardner, PF Jamil Wilson
Key losses: SF Jimmy Butler, SG Dwight Buycks
Incoming recruits: SF Juan Anderson, SG Todd Mayo, PG Derrick Wilson

The skinny: Coach Buzz Williams is back and he’s got his roster of solid, underrated players with him. That Sweet 16 berth wasn’t a fluke because the Golden Eagles were always a team that was far better than its record indicated. That’ll be true again in 2011-12 when Johnson-Odom, Crowder and Cadougan get a boost from Anderson.

21. Belmont

Record: 30-5 (Second round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: SG Ian Clark, PF Mick Hedgepeth, PG Kerron Johnson, PF Scott Saunders, PG Drew Hanlen, SF J.J. Mann
Key losses: SG Jordan Campbell, SF Jon House

The skinny: The A-Sun champs lose two starters, but that’s just a technicality. The Bruins used so many guys last season, everyone logged significant minutes during their 30-win season. Besides, their top players – Clark, Hedgepeth and Saunders – are all back, along with that full-court pressing defense.

22. Florida

Record: 29-8 (Elite Eight)
Key returnees
: SG Kenny Boynton, PG Erving Walker, PF Erick Murphy, PF Patric Young, SF Casey Prather, SG Scottie Wilbekin
Key losses: PF Vernon Macklin, SF Chandler Parsons, PF Alex Tyus
Incoming recruits: SG Brad Beal, SG Mike Rosario (transfer)

The skinny: The Gators are loaded – with shooters. Boynton and Walker can hoist their share of shots, but how will it work with the additions of Beal and Rosario? Someone’s gonna have to pass and defend. They’ll certainly miss the steady play of Macklin, Parsons and Tyus, though. So why are they ranked? There’s too much talent to ignore.

23. Xavier

Record: 24-8 (First round of NCAA tournament)
Key returnees
: PG Tu Holloway, SG Mark Lyons, C Kenny Frease, SF Jeff Robinson, SG Brad Redford, F Justin Martin, F, Travis Taylor
Key losses: PF Jamel McLean, SF Dante Jackson
Incoming recruits: PF Jalen Reynolds, SF Dezmine Wells, PG Dee Davis

The skinny: That was a massive sigh of relief coming from Xavier coach Chris Mack once Holloway withdrew from the NBA draft. They have questions up front, but welcome two solid guards in Wells and Davis. Pair them with Holloway, a national player of the year candidate, and the Musketeers will again be a Top 25 team.

24. Wichita State

Record: 29-8 (Won NIT)
Key returnees
: PG Toure’ Murry, C Garrett Stutz, SG David Kyles, PG Joe Ragland, SF Ben Smith, SG Demetric Williams
Key losses: PF J.T. Durley, PF Gabe Blair, SG Graham Hatch
Incoming recruit: SG Evan Wessel

The skinny: The NIT probably deserved an NCAA tourney bid. That’ll be rectified in 2012 when Murry and Kyles ensure the Missouri Valley’s best team flirt with the Top 25 all season. The Shockers got a big boost when coach Gregg Marshall stayed put over the offseason, too.

25. Alabama

Record: 25-12 (Lost in NIT championship)
Key returnees
: PF JaMychal Green, SF Tony Mitchell, PG Trevor Releford, SG Andrew Steele
Key losses: SG Senario Hillman, SG Charvez Davis, PF Chris Hines
Incoming recruits: PF Nick Jacobs, C Moussa Gueye, SF Rodney Cooper, SG Levi Randolph

The skinny: Green, Mitchell and Releford are an underrated trio and the Tide should get a boost with Jacobs and Randolph. Both can be immediate contributors and vie for starting roles. Of course, this assumes the defense picks up where it left off in 2011.

Best of the rest: Gonzaga, George Mason, UCLA, Clemson, Michigan State, New Mexico, Arkansas, Villanova,  Florida State, West Virginia.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

No. 15 Xavier’s win over Wisconsin should, and will, be rewarded by Selection Committee

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This Wisconsin team is probably not going to end up being quite as good as past Wisconsin teams.

That’s inevitable when you lose the players that they lost to graduation, but it also doesn’t change the fact that No. 15 Xavier went into the Kohl Center and snagged a win that is going to look quite good on Selection Sunday.

The Musketeers took care of the Badgers, 80-70, thanks to 25 points and nine boards from Trevon Bluiett and 20 points from J.P. Macura. Bluiett struggled to find a rhythm for much of the game, but he hit a pair of critical jumpers midway through the second half to stem a Wisconsin run and, with the game tied and just over a minute left on the clock, buried three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to lock up the win.

For a stretch midway through the second half, it looked like Wisconsin was getting ready to run away with this game. Ethan Happ – who finished with 21 points and eight assists and who Xavier head coach Chris Mack referred to as “one of the best post players in the entire country” – was in the midst of taking the game over and Wisconsin’s sold out Kohl Center was in full voice. That’s when Bluiett went into takeover mode, quieting the crowd and getting Xavier out of Madison with a win.

That shouldn’t be overlooked, and if there is any justice in the world, it will be the kind of thing that the Musketeers get rewarded for come Selection Sunday.

I enjoy the neutral site tournaments that pop up every year. They create some drama every November, and there are always some fun matchups over the weekend and afternoon basketball during the week. That’s great. But the best part of college hoops is the environment of playing a big game on campus. The crowd, the student section, players like Macura doing the Gator Chomp at the Wisconsin fans – the Badgers lost to Florida in the NCAA tournament last year – after they spent the entire second half bombarding him with ‘a******’ chants every time he touched the ball.

It was great.

And it will be better if that kind of a win, even against a Wisconsin team that is probably closer to being top 40-good than top 25-good, is something that the Selection Committee values. Those changes are supposedly coming, and it will be a good thing for the sport. Give top 15 teams an incentive to play road games in November.

Because Thursday night’s clash in the Kohl Center was everything that is great about college hoops.

Kentucky finds an answer in Kevin Knox while questions about point guards still linger

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CHICAGO – The most interesting part of Kentucky’s 65-61 loss to Kansas came after the game, in the press conference, as the Wildcats publicly projected an air of satisfaction.

John Calipari, Kevin Knox, they spoke as if hanging with Kansas, as if pushing the No. 4 team in the country, a team with 6.5 scholarship players available on Tuesday night, was a moral victory.

And no one batted an eye.

Kentucky had struggled in their season-opening win over Utah Valley, trailing by as much as 12 points early in the second half before coming alive and winning by ten. They only beat Vermont by four, as the Catamounts slowly and methodically chipped away at a Kentucky lead in the second half, missing two shots to tie the game in the final minute.

It wasn’t a surprise, not with the overwhelming amount of youth on the Kentucky roster and the simple fact that none of those youngsters fall into the same class as Michael Porter Jr., Deandre Ayton or Marvin Bagley III. We all knew that Kentucky was going to go through growing pains this season, that the product they put on the floor in March will be markedly different than the one we’ve seen through the first week of the season, but it is still odd to see a program the caliber of Kentucky qualifying a loss with ‘we played hard.’

“We were just fighting. I give it to my teammates. We really fought,” Kevin Knox, the most celebrated member of Kentucky’s freshman class, said. “A lot of people ha us losing this game by 20, 30 points, but we said before the game that we’re not having it. They’re a veteran team, we’re a real young team. A lot of people thought they’d have the advantage, but tonight we really fought our butts off. We played really hard in the second half, and we could have won the game. We only lost by four points.”

I couldn’t agree with that statement more, and there were a lot of positives to take out of that game.

And it may have answered one of the two biggest questions hanging over the program this season: Who is Kentucky’s closer? Who is Kentucky’s go-to guy?

Kevin Knox, or so it seems.

Knox struggled through the first two games of the season. He was 6-for-23 from the floor, he was 2-for-8 from three and he was averaging 11.5 points. Against Kansas, however, Knox was terrific, finishing with 20 points, banging how three threes and showing off a perimeter game that I wasn’t sure that he had in his arsenal yet; he made a couple pull-ups and he was able to create offense off of the dribble.

He’s not where he needs to be yet, but I left the United Center feeling much better about where Kentucky stands this season than I did entering.

“I still don’t know how we’re going to play late in a close game,” head coach John Calipari said, adding that “late in the game, that’s not on those kids. We haven’t worked on late-game situations.”

“I knew it was going to be tough, but I need to put these kids into those situations. I need to see who can make a shot, who can make a free throw. You can only learn about your team in games like this.”

They’ll get there eventually.

The bigger concern is at the point guard spot. Kentucky has two on their roster this season, and neither of them appear to be the answer. Quade Green, who has started the last two games after coming off the bench, is better on the offensive end of the floor but struggles defensively. Vermont’s Trae Bell-Haynes ate him up in the second half of Kentucky’s win. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a much better defender, but when he’s on the floor and Green isn’t, Kentucky’s only effective means of generating offense comes in transition or on the offensive glass. Against Kansas, Gilgeous-Alexander turned the ball over six times.

The way Calipari wants to run his program is clear: Go get one of the best incoming freshman point guards to run his team. Whether it’s Tyreke Evans or Derrick Rose or John Wall or De’Aaron Fox or Marquis Teague, the trend is clear. This year, he didn’t get a player on that level. Green and Gilgeous-Alexander both fall in that second tier of point guard, and the only other year where that was the case for Cal was back in 2012-13, when N.C. State transfer Ryan Harrow ran the show and Kentucky ended up in the NIT.

I don’t think the Wildcats are in danger of repeating that season, particularly if Knox keeps growing into that go-to guy role. They’re still going to be very good defensively and they’re still going big enough to get to dominate the glass on most nights, which should help them mitigate the fact that their perimeter shooting is not quite where it needs to be.

But the difference between Kentucky being good and Kentucky genuinely being considered among the nation’s best teams is at the point, and unless Calipari can find a way to fuse Green’s ability on the offensive end of the floor with Gilgeous-Alexander’s skill as a defender, I’m not quite sure what the answer is going to be.

Michael Porter Jr.’s injury growing more concerning, misses trip to Utah

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The injury to Michael Porter Jr., Missouri’s star freshman and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, seems to be a little more concerning that many initially believed.

The 6-foot-10 forward will not play tonight as the Tigers visit Utah, and he reportedly did not even travel with the team.

“I think it’s day-to-day,” head coach Cuonzo Martin told reporters when asked about Porter’s injury on Monday night. “That’s the best assessment for me to say right now. It’s day-to-day.”

According to Missouri, the injury was suffered during warmups prior to Missouri’s first game. Porter played the first two minutes of that opener against Iowa State last week so as to avoid a technical foul – he was already listed in the starting lineup – but he did not return to the game, sitting with an icepack on his hip on the bench. Porter was not on the bench when Missouri beat Wagner by 44 points earlier this week, but Porter was not on the bench during the game. Missouri said that was due to the fact that is was more comfortable for Porter to sit elsewhere.

Thomas’ career-high 24 leads Creighton over No. 20 Northwestern

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ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) — Khyri Thomas had a career-high 24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, Martin Krampelj added a career-high 17 points and Creighton beat No. 20 Northwestern 92-88 on Wednesday night in a Gavitt Tipoff Games matchup.

Ty-Shon Alexander had 14 points and Marcus Foster had 12 for the Bluejays (3-0).

Vic Law had a career-high 30 points and Bryant McIntosh added 24 for Northwestern (2-1).

Creighton senior Toby Hegner went down in the first half with a high ankle sprain and was on crutches at the end of the game.

The Wildcats rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit to take the lead in the second half, but couldn’t maintain the momentum as Creighton answered the run and took the lead for good with 14 minutes to go.

Law scored 12 straight Northwestern points early in the second half to lead a furious comeback from a 51-43 halftime deficit. Included in that run was a four-point play 3 minutes into the half to put the Wildcats on top 56-55 — their first lead since early in the first half.

Creighton is 12-1 against teams from the Big Ten since November 2011. The Bluejays had four wins over teams ranked in the Top 25 last season.

THE BIG PICTURE

Creighton: The Bluejays scored 109 points in their previous game against Alcorn State and were on a pace for 120 or more in racing out to a 44-29 lead 15 minutes into the game. But after Northwestern picked up its defensive intensity, they managed just 11 points over the next 8 minutes in losing the big lead. The players, though, responded and reclaimed control.

Northwestern: The Wildcats are coming off their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season and were ranked in the AP preseason poll for the first time. But Wednesday night showed that nothing is going to come easy this season just because expectations are high — especially if they don’t play with the same intensity on the defensive end as last season.

UP NEXT

Creighton: The Bluejays face No. 23 UCLA on Monday night in the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

Northwestern: The Wildcats face La Salle on Saturday in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn.

Berry struggles in return, but North Carolina tops Bucknell

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If Joel Berry was playing a videogame Wednesday as Joel Berry, he may have wanted to break his other hand.

The North Carolina senior struggled mightily in his return from injury into the Tar Heels’ lineup as UNC narrowly outlasted Bucknell, 93-81, to improve to 2-0 on the season.

The final result and Berry’s actual performance probably matters less than simply getting him back on the court after his infamous injury, but it was a difficult night for the 6-foot senior guard. Berry made his first shot of the game, but missed his next 10 to finish 1 of 11 with eight points in his return to the lineup.

Berry missed North Carolina’s season-opening win against Northern Iowa because he broke his hand in frustration while playing videogames against teammate Theo Pinson and a UNC manager in what was surely an embarrassing – not to mention painful – moment for Berry, but that will undoubtedly be enshrined in Tar Heel lore for a generation or nine. You’ve also got to give him credit for working his way back from injury early, even if the rust was incredibly apparent.

Still, it ended up only costing Berry, who averaged 14.7 points and 3.6 assists in UNC’s national championship season, a game and North Carolina nothing as they’re off to a 2-0 start, though the Tar Heels’ showing against Bucknell wasn’t exactly inspiring. UNC struggled to get any kind of separation from Bucknell until very late. The Bison shot 46.8 percent from the floor and 40.7 percent on 28 3-point attempts. Luke Maye had a big night for the Tar Heels, putting up 20 points while Pinson added 19 (besting Berry like, presumably, he did to provoke the injury in the first place).

It wasn’t pretty, but getting Berry back is huge for the Tar Heels. They maybe just need to let him win in 2K or whatever to keep him healthy and on the floor.