No. 8: Louisville Cardinals

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Midnight Madness is Friday. So we’re kicking off our college basketball coverage with our men’s preseason Top 25. Look for five teams posted a day, all this week.

2010-11 record: 25-10 (12-6), 3rd in Big East (tied)
Lost in NCAA tournament first round

Coach: Rick Pitino, 245-96, 11th year (597-220 overall)

Last NCAA miss: 2006

2011-12 roster [click here]
2011-12 schedule [click here]
2010-11 team stats [click here]

The good: The Cardinals are healthy. Few teams dealt with more injuries last season than Louisville, which welcomes back a healthy Rakeem Buckles and forward Jared Swopshire, who missed all of last season with a groin injury. Both will vie for starting spots.

Even better? Those injuries gave others more playing time. That meant senior Chris Smith went from a former walk-on to starter and 3-point threat. Same for senior Kyle Kuric, who’s game isn’t as well-rounded as Smith’s but is a better shooter. And freshman Gorgui Dieng became a likely bench-warmer to shot-blocking menace.

Then there’s a fantastic group of incoming freshmen, led by guard Wayne Blackshear and forward Chane Behanan. They’ll be in the mix for starting spots and ample playing time

And leading them all is junior point guard Peyton Siva, who assumes Kemba Walker’s title as quickest guard in the Big East. He’ll create shots for others, for himself and torment defenses too slow to stop him.

The bad: There isn’t much to fret about … except that interior defense.

Louisville’s pressure defense did its usual thing in 2010-11: Created turnovers, harassed teams into poor shots. The result was one of the nation’s most efficient defenses, which usually resulted in easy transition baskets.

But one past that host of pressuring guards, opponents were able to score more easily and grab plenty of offensive rebounds. But hey, maybe that was Terrence Jennings’ fault. Regardless, if the interior defense, Pitino’s got a Final Four team.

The unknown: The freshmen might be more talented than guys like Smith, Kuric and Mike Marra. But those guys know Pitino’s system and play their roles within that system. Does Pitino stick with what’s worked or try his hand with guys who present a greater upside.

This is hardly the first time Pitino’s had loaded team. He’ll know how to manage the talent and any egos that emerge. The Cardinals have some decent tests before Big East play (Vandy and Memphis), but it’s mostly a batch of opponents that’ll let him find the right mix just before the real tests come along.

Counting down the preseason Top 25

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Drexel sets Division I record with 34-point comeback

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A Drexel basket brought the score to an innocuous 5-3 in the first two minutes of its game against Delaware. The next 38 minutes were a lot more interesting.

The Blue Hens went on a 48-16 run to take a 34-point first-half lead on the Blue Hens, only to cough it up as Dragons outscored them 66-30 the rest of the way to complete the largest comeback in Division I history in an 85-83 victory.

The 34-point comeback tops the previous record of 32 by Duke on Dec. 30, 1950. That’s more than 67 years ago, for those keep score at home.

Delaware had a win probability of at least 99 percent for about 11 minutes in the middle of the game, but still lost.

Drexel shot 56.8 percent from the floor and 53.8 percent from 3-point range after halftime and got 29 points from Tramaine Isabell.

After shooting 61 percent from the floor in the first half, Delaware connected at just a 37.9 percent clip after the break.

The great thing about college basketball is you can get a historic performance out of Drexel and Delaware on a random Thursday night. And it’s not even March.

Allonzo Trier ruled ineligible by NCAA; Arizona appealing

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Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier has been declared ineligible by the NCAA due to a second positive test for a banned substance, it was announced Thursday. The school is appealing the decision, claiming the positive test was leftover from of a substance that was found in Trier’s system in 2016.

Trier was tested in late January and the test “revealed the reappearance of a trace amount of a banned substance,” Arizona said in a statement. “The amount detected was miniscule by scientific standards and appears to be a remnant of a substance, which the NCAA agreed, Allonzo had unknowingly taken in 2016.

“The University is appealing the decision and is hopefully that Allonzo will regain his eligibility soon.”

This is a potential massive blow for a Wildcats team that began the season as one of the top national championship contenders, but has spent much of this season dealing with disappointment and distraction, from their part in the FBI corruption investigation to inconsistency on the floor and now this regarding one of its top players.

Trier is averaging 19.6 points and shooting 54.1 percent from the floor, including 43 percent from the 3-point range.

The Wildcats play at Oregon State tonight and at Oregon Saturday before finishing the regular season at home against Stanford and Cal.

Attention will now turn to the NCAA appeals process – how quickly can it move and what determination will it make? Trier’s status will impact one of the most talented teams in the country, which by extension means it will impact the national championship race next month.

For a team that’s been in the center of controversy all season, and somehow has added another layer to a wild season.

Bubble Banter: Will the Pac-12’s bubble picture gain some clarity?

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Thursday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

WASHINGTON
UCLA
UTAH

Duke’s Bolden undergoes surgery to repair nasal bone

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Duke sophomore Marques Bolden underwent surgery Thursday to repair a fractured nasal bone, the school announced.

Bolden is not expected to miss any time for the Blue Devils, who host Syracuse on Saturday.

The 6-foot-11 forward is averaging 4.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in 13.1 minutes per night. Bolden has already missed time this season with a knee injury and has recently been playing through the pain of his fractured nose.

A five-star prospect coming out of Texas in the Class of 2016, Bolden hasn’t been a major presence for the Blue Devils the last two years, but has given Blue Devils good minutes since returning from that knee injury over the last month.

After hosting Syracuse this weekend, Duke, which is 23-5 overall and 11-4 in the ACC, plays at Virginia Tech and then welcomes North Carolina to Durham to finish off the regular season.

Michael Porter, Jr. cleared to return to basketball activities

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Missouri may be adding a lottery pick to its roster for the stretch run.

Michael Porter, Jr., who began the year projected as a potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, has been medically cleared to return to basketball activities after missing the entire season with a back injury, a source confirmed to NBC Sports.

CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein was the first to report the news.

The 6-foot-11 freshman played the opening minutes of the Tigers’ opening game against Iowa State to start the year, but has been sidelined ever since. It is currently unclear if he’ll move from being cleared to play to actually hitting the floor for the Tigers.

It seemed unlikely that Porter would ever play college basketball because of the injury, but throughout the season he has never ruled out the possibility. Now that he has reportedly been cleared to play, the question undoubtedly will become should he?

Even without playing another second of college hoops, Porter will be a top pick in June’s draft. Some teams may even consider him for the top pick, if his health screenings check out, just based on workouts and the track record of his dominating play on the AAU circuit for years.

Still, if he’s healthy enough to play and wants to play, it’s unquestionable that it is a decision that is completely his. And it would make Missouri one heck of an interesting team.

The Tigers are 18-10 overall and 8-7 and appeared poised to make the NCAA tournament in coach Cuonzo Martin’s first year in Columbia. For their next game, they play – of course they do – Kentucky on Saturday. Talk about added intrigue for that game.