Indiana tops our preseason NCAA tournament projections

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Make way for the Big Ten.  Led by No. 1 overall seed Indiana, four teams – including Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan – grab top three seeds in our 2013 NCAA Tournament preseason bracket projection.  Will that be true come March?  Nobody knows.  Crystal balls are always a little cloudy this time of year.

Here’s what we do anticipate:

The Big Ten should be very strong at the top.  Wisconsin and Minnesota also appear to be tournament teams.  If a seventh team emerges, it could be Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois, or Purdue.  The Hawkeyes made a late push last season and make our initial bracket as a First Four participant.

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Duke, NC State, and North Carolina will wage a war in the ACC.  Any of the three could win it.  Florida State could also be a Top 25 team.

With the additions of VCU and Butler, the Atlantic 10 will be a deep, competitive league. Best guess: four to six teams will be in good position for at-large consideration by season’s end. Seeding will be interesting. In our opening bracket, five A-10 teams make the field but all are seeded between lines 7-10.

Arizona and UCLA will lift the Pac-12.  Both are capable of long runs in the NCAA Tournament.  Another three or four teams will likey be in the at-large picture: Stanford, USC, California, and Washington are among those.

Staying West, how about UNLV and San Diego State?  Both are Top 20 teams.

Kentucky has reloaded with another stellar recruiting class.  Challengers include Florida and league newcomer Missouri.  Don’t overlook Tennessee, either.  The Volunteers begin at No. 21 on the s-curve.

All Kansas does is win Big 12 titles and earn high seeds in March.  No reason for that to change.  Baylor will be in the hunt, too.

And then there’s Louisville, Syracuse, and a host of Big East teams.  Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Marquette, and Pittsburgh will make life interesting for the Cardinals and Orange.

The Road to Atlanta begins Friday.  Here’s to a great season of college hoops.

Find all of our season previews here  |  The year’s burning questions  |  The Twitter must-follow list

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (UTEP, BYU, etc). Records are for games against Division I teams only.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Northern Iowa vs. Colorado | East Region
  • Arkansas vs. Iowa | West Region
  • STONY BROOK vs. SAVANNAH STATE | South Region
  • VMI vs. PRAIRIE VIEW | Midwest

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EASTWashington, DC MIDWESTIndianapolis
Lexington Dayton
1) LOUISVILLE 1) INDIANA
16) MERCER 16) VMI / PRAIRIE VIEW
8. Minnesota 8. St. Joseph’s
9) Kansas State 9) Miami-FL
Salt Lake City San Jose
5) San Diego State 5) Baylor
12) No. Iowa / Colorado 12) South Florida
4) Missouri 4) UCLA
13) DREXEL 13) ORAL ROBERTS
Kansas City Austin
6) Tennessee 6) Notre Dame
11) Saint Louis 11) Colorado State
3) NC State 3) Florida
14) MONTANA 14) UTAH STATE
Auburn Hills Philadelphia
7) Pittsburgh 7) Wisconsin
10) St. Mary’s 10) West Virginia
2) Michigan State 2) DUKE
15) LIU BROOKLYN 15) MANHATTAN
WEST – Los Angeles SOUTH – Dallas
Kansas City Dayton
1) KANSAS 1) KENTUCKY
16) PRINCETON 16) STONY BROOK / SAVANNAH ST
8. Marquette 8. Texas
9) Temple 9) Georgetown
Salt Lake City Austin
5) GONZAGA 5) MEMPHIS
12) Arkansas / Iowa 12) MURRAY STATE
4) UNLV 4) North Carolina
13) LONG BEACH 13) DAVIDSON
Auburn Hills Lexington
6) Cincinnati 6) CREIGHTON
11) Oklahoma State 11) OHIO
3) Michigan 3) Ohio State
14) VALPARAISO 14) LEHIGH
San Jose Philadelphia
7) Florida State 7) VCU
10) Butler 10) Stanford
2) ARIZONA 2) Syracuse
15) SOUTH DAKOTA ST 15) NORTH TEXAS

NOTES on the BRACKET: Indiana is the No. 1 overall seed followed by Louisville, Kentucky and Kansas.

Last Five teams in (at large): South Florida, Arkansas, Colorado, Northern Iowa, Iowa

First Five teams out (at large): Massachusetts, Maryland, USC, Iowa State, BYU

Next Five teams out (at large): Marshall, New Mexico, Illinois State, Northwestern, Alabama

Also considered: California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Virginia, La Salle, UTEP, Houston, Washington, Nevada, Purdue, Delaware, St. Bonaventure, Evansville

Here is the team breakdown by Conference …

Big East (8): Louisville, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Georgetown, South Florida

Big Ten (7): Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa

Big 12 (6): Kansas, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State

SEC (5): Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas

ACC (5): Duke, NC State, North Carolina, Florida State, Miami

Atlantic 10 (5): VCU, St. Joseph’s, Temple, Butler, Saint Louis

Pac 12 (3): Arizona, UCLA, Stanford

Mountain West (3): UNLV, San Diego State, Colorado State

West Coast (2): Gonzaga, St. Mary’s

Missouri Valley (2): Creighton, Northern Iowa

Conference USA (1): Memphis

Conference leaders/champions … DREXEL (Colonial), DAVIDSON (Southern), OHIO (MAC), ORAL ROBERTS (Southland), LONG BEACH (Big West), MURRAY STATE (OVC), MANHATTAN (MAAC), MONTANA (Big Sky), UTAH STATE (WAC), SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (Summit), LEHIGH (Patriot), LIU BROOKLYN (NEC), MERCER (Atlantic Sun), PRINCETON (Ivy), VMI (Big South), SAVANNAH ST (MEAC), VALPARAISO (Horizon) STONY BROOK (America East), NORTH TEXAS (Sun Belt), PRAIRIE VIEW (SWAC)

Deandre Ayton eligible to play for Arizona

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Arizona announced on Saturday afternoon that Deandre Ayton will be eligible to play the rest of the season. The Wildcats play at Oregon on Saturday night.

On Friday night, ESPN reported that Sean Miller was caught on a wiretap during the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball discussing a $100,000 payment to secure the services of Ayton.

The conversations that were intercepted were between Miller and Christian Dawkins, a former runner for ex-NBA agent Andy Miller. According to ESPN, when asked by Dawkins if he should work through former Arizona assistant coach Emanuel ‘Book’ Richardson to finalize a deal, “Miller told Dawkins he should deal directly with him when it came to money.”

Miller will not be coaching for Arizona tonight.

“I believe it is in the best interest of our team that I not coach the game tonight,” Miller said in a statement. “I continue to fully support the University’s efforts to fully investigate this matter and am confident that I will be vindicated. For now, my thoughts are with our team. They are a great group of young men that will support each other and continue their pursuit of winning a Pac-12 championship.”

McDuffie leads No. 13 Wichita State past SMU 84-78

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DALLAS — Markis McDuffie scored a season-high 26 points off the bench, including nine during the first four minutes of the second half, to lead No. 13 Wichita State to an 84-78 win over SMU on Saturday.

The Shockers (23-5, 13-3 American Athletic Conference) have won six straight games and are one-half game behind first-place Cincinnati. Wichita State will host Cincinnati on March 4 in the regular-season finale for both teams.

SMU (16-13, 6-10) lost for the sixth time in seven games since leading scorer Shake Milton (18 points per game) was sidelined with a hand injury.

McDuffie added to Wichita State’s 37-35 halftime lead on the first possession of the second half with a midcourt steal leading to a three-point play. A 10-1 run put the Shockers ahead 56-43 with 12:18 to play, and they led by as many as 17 points.

McDuffie, a junior forward, led Wichita State in scoring last season but missed this season’s first 11 games because of a stress fracture. He has primarily been a reserve since returning.

Jahmal McMurray led SMU with 28 points. McMurray has topped the Mustangs in scoring in five of the past six games.

Shaquille Morris had 21 points and 10 rebounds for Wichita State. Landry Shamet returned after missing the Shockers’ previous game because of illness and scored 10 points in 27 minutes, playing only eight first-half minutes because of foul trouble.

Because of injuries and NCAA-mandated scholarship limitations, SMU played with seven scholarship players on Saturday and has had seven or fewer during its past seven games.

Wichita State failed to pull away during the first half despite a 21-12 rebounding advantage. The Mustangs shot 45.4 percent during the half and the Shockers 41.4 percent, both hitting six 3-pointers.

Wichita State got even for one of its two home losses this season, 83-78 on Jan. 17.

BIG PICTURE

Wichita State: The Shockers are 8-2 in true road games this season with one to play. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, they lead Division I in road wins (48) and road winning percentage (.857). They avoided a conference opponent’s sweep of a two-game season series for the first time since 2012-13 (Evansville, Missouri Valley).

SMU: The Mustangs opened the season 12-3, including wins over then-No. 2 Arizona and then-No. 14 USC, but have since gone 4-10. SMU will finish with a losing league record after winning the AAC last season at 17-1.

UP NEXT

Wichita State will visit UCF on Thursday.

SMU hosts Houston in its final home season of the season on Wednesday.

Shareef O’Neal decommits from Arizona

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Shareef O’Neal, the son of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, has decommitted from Arizona following the latest in the FBI scandal.

Considered a five-star prospect on Rivals, the 6-foot-9 Shareef becomes one of the best available prospects in the country in the Class of 2018.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller was reportedly caught on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to secure the services of freshman Deandre Ayton. The conversations that were intercepted were between Miller and Christian Dawkins, who is a focal point in the FBI’s investigation.

Recruiting has taken a major hit for Arizona over the last several months as the program lost five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly and now O’Neal due to scandal.

Sean Miller’s contract with Arizona pays him $5 million more if he’s fired for cause

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Following a bombshell report from ESPN on Friday night that Sean Miller is caught on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for superstar recruit Deandre Ayton, the Arizona head coach will not be coaching the Wildcats on Saturday night when they play at Oregon.

It seems as if Miller’s tenure in Tucson is coming to an end, which puts the University into a weird position. According to ESPN, the way that Miller’s contract is written, if he is fired for cause, he will receive twice as much money in a buyout — $10.3 million vs. $5.15 million — as he would receive if he was not fired for cause.

The reason for this?

According to Forbes, it appears to simply be a mistake that was made by Arizona when drafting the contract. In a section titled “Termination by University Without Cause; Liquidated Damages”, the contract states clearly that he’ll be entitled to receive 50 percent of his base salary for each year left on his contract. But in the section discussing what happens if Miller is fired FOR cause, the contract reads that “the University’s sole obligation to Coach shall be the payment of his Base Salary” for each year left on the contract.

His full base salary.

No agent in their right mind is going try and sneak something like that into a contract with a school because no school is going to be dumb enough to agree to put a clause like that in the contract. It is, quite literally, an incentive to break rules in order to get fired for cause.

What does that mean?

Well, Miller is probably not going to be fired for cause.

And if he is, he’ll double the amount of money that he’ll have to toss into his bank account while he figures out what the next move for him will be.

No. 19 Tennessee tops Ole Miss 73-65

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OXFORD, Miss. — Admiral Schofield scored 23 points, Jordan Bowden scored 15, Lamonte Turner scored 13 and No. 19 Tennessee earned a 73-65 win over Mississippi on Saturday.

The Volunteers (21-7, 11-5 SEC) jumped out to a 29-9 lead in the first 10 minutes and held off a rally by Ole Miss in the second half to earn the key road victory.

Neither team shot well from the floor with Tennessee shooting 39 percent and Ole Miss shooting 34 percent.

The Rebels (12-17, 5-11) struggled from long distance. Ole Miss shot 4 percent (1-for-23) from three-point range. Terence Davis, who was 1 for 7 on 3s, connected in the second half.

Breein Tyree led the Rebels with 17 points, Bruce Stevens scored 14 and Davis finished with 13.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: With Saturday’s win, the Vols remained behind No. 12 Auburn and in second place in the league.

Mississippi: The Rebels enter the final week of the season with an attempt to grab momentum heading into the SEC Tournament and the offseason.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers will travel to Mississippi State on Tuesday before closing out the regular season at home against Georgia next Saturday.

Mississippi: Ole Miss travels to Kentucky on Wednesday and will host Vanderbilt on Saturday in the regular-season finale.