The Morning Mix

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– An awesome story about what Nerlens Noel did to show his support for a young Kentucky fan battling cancer (We have ourselves a #RefereeGuy Vinny Swope Reference!)

Sign me up for this: Butler is auctioning off a chance to walk the beloved Butler Blue II out to the Hinkle Fieldhouse court for the Bulldog’s two preseason scrimmages

– Is Texas guard Myck Kabongo finally in the clear from NCAA investigations? Rush The Court has the answer

– Maryland senior captain James Padgett will stand trial in a Maryland court today on charges of driving while impaired, stemming from a June arrest. The Terps’ top returning scorer could be in jeopardy of missing Maryland’s first game of the season, against Kentucky at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY

– It’s a new week, and UCLA still doesn’t have an answer from the NCAA on the eligibility issues of Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad, so sayeth Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times

– Now that coaches are allowed to contact recruits via unlimited text, they will have to learn how to use text messaging effectively (Sounds easy, right? But if you are a young adult, you should be aware how often our elders struggle with newer forms of technology)

– Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe still isn’t free of all his legal obligations stemming from past probation violations and could cloud his focus heading into the season

– Georgetown and North Carolina are holding another “secret scrimmage”. Last year, the Hoyas traveled to Chapel Hill for a closed scrimmage, and this year the Tar Heels will return the favor and visit the nation’s capital

– Having been spurned by the Harrison twins two weeks ago, Maryland head coach mark Turgeon rebounded nicely by getting a committment from Class of 2013 guard Rodney Peters. The Maryland-native is not as highly touted as the Harrison twins but is another piece to a strong puzzle being put together by Turgeon

UConn will break ground this spring on a new basketball training center, and has raised roughly $24-million towards the $32-million project

Here’s a look at the current Sports Books odds for the 2012-13 National Championship. As expected, Indiana, Kentucky and Louisville are the top contenders

– With Steve Lavin back on the sidelines this year, the St. John’s Red Storm look to continue growth in a “new-look” Big East. Lavin sat out most of last season while he recovered from prostate cancer surgery

Interesting stuff from Glen Logan, who details the possibilities of highly touted forward Julius Randle committing to Kentucky with the Harrison twins already having committed

– Dana O’Neil fills us in on what she can’t wait to see from the programs in the Atlantic-10 Conference

Murray State has been placed in a difficult situation now that the police videos of Zay Jackson’s wanton endangerment (See: hitting people with a moving vehicle) have been released. It will be really interesting to see what direction the university goes in. The video is pretty disturbing

– We brought this up last week, but it needs to be reiterated. The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints is in the process of lowering the age at which members of the church go on their missions from 19 to 18. This change could drastically alter the recruiting processes of schools like BYU

A Horizon League round-up of preseason accolades. Despite Butler’s departure, the Horizon League still boasts a bevy of mid-major talent, and will have a few schools in the discussion for potential at-large bids

– Louisville received all 15 first place votes and was the unanimous pick by Big East media members to win the conference this year

– The Drexel Dragons were chosen by CAA media and coaches as the preseason favorites to win the conference this year

A Mountain West Conference preview from NBC Sports College Basketball Talk. A MAAC and Sun Belt preview from CBS Sports Eye on College Basketball. A Missouri Valley Conference preview from Yahoo Sports The Dagger

– The Eastern Washington basketball blog EWU Eagle Eye provides a solid Q&A session with Eagles head coach Jim Hayford

– He’s no Hauns Brereton, but Florida’s Patric Young goes through some pretty intense workouts

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.