The Morning Mix

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I know you’re anxious. We’re roughly 24 hours away from real, live, meaningful college basketball. No messing around today. Time to get dialed it.

Top Stories:

Dez Wells is able to play, Maryland suddenly much better: Xavier-transfer Dezmine Wells was approved by the NCAA to participate with Maryland on Wednesday morning. When added to a core of Pe’Shon Howard, Nick Faust, David Padgett, Alex Len and Shaq Cleare, the Terrapins should now be considered a legitimate threat in the ACC.

Indiana tops preseason NCAA tournament projections: Dave Ommen, NBC Sport’s resident bracketologist released his first NCAA tournament projections of the season, and as you would expect, Indiana is the No.1 overall seed. He also has the Atlantic-10 getting five bids while the Pac-12 only gets three. Kinda makes sense, though.

Who is the best team in “Kentuckiana”?: The latest installment of our “Burning Questions” series features a made-up region just north of the greater “Charlanta” region. You can clearly tell my answer was not used.

While there are better X’s and O’s coaches than John Calipari, there is nobody better at marketing (or recruiting): Much of the public’s disdain for John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats stems from the seemingly endless national media coverage of the man many call “Teflon John”. But while Kentucky does command a lot of attention, Coach Calipari uses the spotlight better than anybody in order to benefit the university, the program and the community. There is no denying that he’s the game’s best recruiter, public speaker and marketer.

Son of legendary UNLV coach Tarkanian loses House race in Nevada: Danny Tarkanian (R), the youngest son of lengendary, towel-bitting UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian was unsuccessful in his bid at a seat in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford (D) won the race  by a 50-42 margain according to 80% of the reporting precincts. Who doesn’t love politco hoops?

Hoops Housekeeping:

– Ben Howland got a commitment from three-star wing Noah Allen despite never actually scouting the player in person. That’s kinda bizarre. That’s so UCLA. (Bruins Nation)

– Speaking of UCLA, Shabazz Muhammad may actually be able to play in the Bruins season opener (Los Angeles Times)

– Missouri guard Michael Dixon will remain suspended for the season opener on Saturday. Keion Bell will return to the starting lineup after sitting out with a fever of 103-degrees (Columbia Tribune)

– Hawaii-transfer Shaq Stokes has been granted a hardship waiver by the NCAA and will be able to play immediately at Hofstra. The Brooklyn native averaged 8.4ppg as a freshman at Hawaii and was named the New York City Player of the Year coming out of high school. (Zags Blog, SNY.tv)

– Villanova backup guard Ty Johnson has decided to transfer schools. The sophomore averaged just 3.3ppg last season. (Philly Inquirer)

– Jordan Daniels started 25 games as a freshman for Steve Donahue’s Boston College Eagles. But the sophomore guard has decided to transfer out of Chestnut Hill and back closer to his family on the West Coast. (SB Nation Boston)

– Suspended Murray State sophomore Zay Jackson had his plea deal rejected by Calloway County Judge Craig Clymer. It seems like Jackson could be headed to jail for more than a month’s time (OVC Ball)

Observations & Analysis:

– With the season just 24 hours away, the UCLA Bruins are preparing as if they will be without freshman phenom Shabazz Muhammad (Fox Sports)

– No.18 UNLV needed a Carlos Lopez-Sosa overtime buzzer-beater in order to defeat Dixie State in their final exhibition game, 81-80 (Las Vegas Sun)

– John Wilner previews the upcoming season for the six Bay-area schools (Oakland Tribune)

– Billy Donovan is concerned that his Florida squad may struggle to dominate the glass (Gainesville Sun)

– Pitt Panther fans are very excited to see freshman big-man Stephen Adams in real, meaningful action. Why else would they chart his progress through the exhibition games? (Cardiac Hill)

– An current evaluation of the major trends in Texas Tech hoops (Viva The Matadors)

Lists, Polls & Rankings:

– Eamonn Brennan must moonlight as a television critic, because his viewing guide of the must-see non-conference games is spot-on (ESPN)

– Former-Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg ranks the top shooters in the country (ESPN)

– Mike DeCourcy does roughly the same thing, ranks the non-conference games (The Sporting News)

– It’s no #AllNameTeam, but it will work: The All-Hipster Freshman Team (Grantland)

– The Patriot Center is arguably the toughest venue for road teams in the CAA, but it’s not alone. Three other places are gaining notoriety for being hard places to win on the road (CAA Hoops)

– Pat Forde provides a solid list of the top-25 most intriguing coaches to watch for in 2012-2013. One notable absence is Loyola’s Jimmy Patsos, arguably college basketball’s most entertaining interviewee. (Yahoo Sports)

Odds & Ends:

– I apologize for missing this earlier in the week, but ESPN released their broadcast announce pairings for the upcoming season.  My favorite pairings? Joe Tessatore & Sean Farnham, Dave O’Brien & Doris Burke, John Schiambi & Fran Fraschilla, and Bob Wischusen & Stephen Bardo. I will miss Gottlieb. Raftery, Bilas & McDonough are always appointment viewing too (ESPN Media Zone)

– A broadcast viewing guide for all you Creighton Bluejay fans out there. any televised game featuring Grant Gibbs (@DoubleGfor3) is mandatory appointment-viewing (White & Blue Review)

– A viewing guide for those interested in watching the postponed Battle on the Midway between San Diego State and Syracuse (Syracuse Post-Standard)

– Despite the decriminalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, THC remains off-limits for college athletes in the two states (The Dagger)

– A quick Q&A session with Belmont head coach Rick Byrd, who for my money is the nicest college basketball coach I’ve ever come across. He’s also a winner (545-284 at Belmont) and a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer (The Byrd Cage)

Video of the Day:

In honor of Dez Wells getting cleared by the NCAA to participate at Maryland, let me reintroduce you to the nastiest single-game display of #POSTERIZATION I have ever seen. In person too. #BIAHRoadTrip was court side at the Cintas Center for this. Rick Broering can vouch for us. (Ballin’ is a Habit)

Do you like the new Morning Mix? Hate it? Have a suggestion or wanted something featured? Troy Machir will take all your praise, insults and inquiries via Twitter (@TroyMachir)

No. 22 Butler ruins No. 2 Villanova’s seniors’ perfect Pavilion record

Butler center Nate Fowler and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, right, vie for a rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson
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All Villanova players have known since they joined the program is winning at The Pavilion. Late into Wednesday’s game against No. 22 Butler, it looked like that would continue to be their only frame of reference for a group of seniors that were 45-0 in the building.

Then another ‘0’ turned that zero into a ‘1.’

The Bulldogs ripped off an 18-0 run in a 5-minute span to ultimately claim a 74-66 victory over second-ranked and defending national champion Villanova.

Villanova looked like it was going to cruise to another home win when Josh Hart’s 3-pointer with 10 minutes, 37 seconds remaining put the Wildcats up 49-42.

They wouldn’t score again until nearly the 4-minute mark.

During that span, Butler made 7 of 11 shots, with three being 3-pointers, while the Wildcats went 0 of 6 from the field and turned the ball over twice.

A seven-point lead for Villanova became an 11-point advantage for Butler. Villanova would try to rally, but couldn’t pull it off as it saw its home winning run stopped, its seniors’ perfect Pavilion record blemished and its seven-game winning streak come to a halt.

Beyond it probably being immensely annoying to the senior class, the loss probably doesn’t hurt Villanova too much as it looks to hold on to a No. 1 seed, preferably in the East region. The Wildcats’ resume is still as strong as nearly anyone in the country and they are, after all, the defending champs. They’ll be fine.

For Butler, it’s a signature win for a team that’s had a number of really good victories, but a few confounding losses, like St. John’s on the road and to Creighton (without Maurice Watson) and Georgetown at home. Beating Villanova – at the Pavilion, no less – could be worth a seed line.

Kelan Martin was fantastic for Butler, going for 23 points and eight boards, while Kamar Baldwin went for 15 points off the bench.

Jalen Brunson led the way for Villanova with 24 points while Josh Hart had 18 points and six rebounds. Kris Jenkins struggled, going 1 of 8 from the floor while scoring eight points.

The Wildcats get a chance to start a new streak at the Pavilion on Saturday with Creighton coming to town.

 

No. 8 North Carolina stakes their claim to the title of ‘nation’s best’ with beatdown of No. 7 Louisville

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 22:  Theo Pinson #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a play against the Louisville Cardinals during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 22, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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North Carolina may not have anyone on their roster that sends chills down the spine of opposing coaches, and they may not have anyone on their roster that is going to be targeted by NBA franchises as lottery pick, and they may not be dominating the headlines like undefeated Gonzaga, reigning champ Villanova, winner of 13 straight Big 12 titles Kansas or even Tobacco Road rival Duke.

They’re not a sexy pick, they’re not the favorite in Vegas and they may finally crack the No. 1 seed line in all bracket projections after beating No. 7 Louisville 74-63 on Wednesday night, but at this point, I’m not sure that the Tar Heels aren’t the best team in college basketball.

‘The Best Team In College Basketball’ is not an easy title to earn this season, not because there are too many candidates but more because everyone of those candidates have some kind of glaring flaw that makes you wonder have they’ve made it to late-February with a winning record. Think: UCLA’s defense. Or maybe: Kansas’ total lack of front court depth. How about: Kentucky can’t shoot. And then there’s: Duke doesn’t have a point guard, or: Gonzaga doesn’t play anyone.

We can play that game with every team in the country.

In fact, I did, just last week on a podcast.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

North Carolina didn’t escape our wrath. There are question marks about Joel Berry II’s consistency, as he had a nasty habit of laying an egg every once in a while. Is that defense going to hold up for six games in a single-elimination tournament? Do they have enough consistent three-point shooting? Can Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson stay healthy?

Here’s the thing: I think the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’.

Justin Jackson has developed into a bonafide all-american and quite possibly the ACC Player of the Year. He’s a versatile scorer that is shooting the grip off the ball and has proven the ability to be the guy to take and make big shots for the Tar Heels this season. That’s taken some of the pressure off of Berry, who can spend more time as a secondary offensive weapon, facilitator and a leader than having to worry about carrying the team offensively. Theo Pinson’s return has opened some things up offensively, while UNC’s four-headed front court monster — Kennedy Meeks, Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye — have shown that they can score in the post or off of a missed shot, where they lead the nation on offensive rebounding percentage.

And as far as the defense is concerned, they’re ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.com. Yes, a lot of that has to do with the pistol-whipping that was Gameday on Saturday night against Virginia, but Louisville, who was the third-best offensive team in ACC play, managed just 63 points in 73 possessions on Wednesday.

My point?

That defense doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be good enough, and it probably is.

But here’s the most important number to know: Two.

That’s how big North Carolina’s lead in the ACC is as of today. Louisville, Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame have all lost five times this year. As long as the Tar Heels can go into Pittsburgh and get a win over the Panthers, they are going to clinch a share of the ACC regular season, and they can lock up the outright league title before the showdown with the Dukies on the season’s final night.

The margins are thin, yes, but after Wednesday, North Carolina has as much claim to the title of ‘Nation’s Best’ as anyone in college basketball.

VIDEO: UNC fan ejected after heated exchange with Rick Pitino

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A UNC fan sitting court side in the Dean Dome on Wednesday was ejected from No. 8 North Carolina’s win over No. 7 Louisville after getting in a heated verbal exchange with Rick Pitino.

Cell phone video posted by a reporter attending the game showed Pitino having to be held back by members of his staff. According to ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor, who said she heard what the fan said, the line that set Pitino off was, “Pitino you suck.”

Bubble Banter: California, TCU and Syracuse with critical games tonight

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10:  Ivan Rabb #1 of the California Golden Bears stands on the court during a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the Oregon State Beavers at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. California won 76-68.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The latest NBC Sports bracketology can be found here. That is where the seeds you see listed below come from. 

This post will be updated throughout the night.

WINNERS

Syracuse (RPI: 84, KenPom: 48, first four out): Did the Orange just lock up their NCAA tournament bid? It’s going to be close, after John Gillon banked in a 23-foot three at the buzzer to send No. 10 Duke back to Durham with a loss. Here’s how it stands for the Orange: They’s 17-12 on the season and guaranteed to finish at least .500 in ACC play. They now have six top 50 wins and nine top 100 wins, but they also have three losses to sub-100 teams, 12 total losses and they play at Louisville on Saturday. The road hasn’t been kind to Syracuse, either; they’ve won just two roadies this season, at N.C. State and at Clemson.

Providence (RPI: 69, KenPom: 58, first four out): All of a sudden, Providence is one of the most interesting bubble teams in the country. Last week they beat Butler and Xavier at home, and on Wednesday night, they went into Creighton and picked off the Bluejays. The Friars are now 17-11 on the season with five top 50 wins, including three in the top 25. They are 8-8 against the top 100, but the problem is that they have one sub-100 loss and two more sub-200 losses, which is really, really bad. They won the games that they had to win to get themselves into this position, but I still would strongly recommend that they win out down the stretch.

Seton Hall (RPI: 47, KenPom: 59, play-in game): I think the Pirates may have just punched their ticket to the tournament as they beat Xavier at home on Wednesday. They have four top 50 wins — two away from home — and seven top 100 wins with just a single sub-100 loss. I won’t say they’re a lock because a loss to DePaul would not be good for them.

Wake Forest (RPI: 40, KenPom: 31, next four out): The Demon Deacons are still in the tournament picture after landing a comeback win over Pitt on Wednesday night, but they have some work left to do. They have no bad losses and seven top 100 wins, but that 1-9 record against the top 50 is an eyesore. They get Louisville at home next week. That’s a game they have to have.

Arkansas (RPI: 33, KenPom: 51, No. 9 seed): Arkansas kept themselves away from the danger of the cutline and just about locked up a bid with a win over Texas A&M on Wednesday. With three games left, and one of those three at Florida, it will be hard for the Razorbacks to miss the dance at this point. But this is also a team that lost to Missouri. They can pull anything off.

Michigan (RPI: 52, KenPom: 27, No. 10 seed): The Wolverines avoided disaster on Wednesday night using a late rally to avoid what would’ve been a killer of a loss at Rutgers. They were already in the tournament with a little bit of room to spare entering today, and this win — however ugly it was — doesn’t hurt that.

VCU (RPI: 26, KenPom: 41, No. 9 seed): The Rams beat Saint Louis on Wednesday night, which means that they didn’t lose to the Billikens. They are close to a lock by now, because two of their last three games are at Rhode Island and at Dayton — neither of which is a bad loss — and they close with GW at home. Even if they lose out, I think it will be hard for roughly ten teams to jump them in the bubble standings.

TCU (RPI: 54, KenPom: 43, play-in game): There’s no shame in losing at Kansas, which TCU did on Wednesday night, but they did miss out on an opportunity to land a résumé-defining win. The Horned Frogs are just 2-8 against the top 50 with just five top 100 wins, which isn’t a bad profile but it is one that lacks enough depth to feel anywhere near comfortable.

Illinois State (RPI: 36, KenPom: 50, No. 12 seed): The Redbirds beat Southern Illinois, so they’re still in the mix. But with just one top 75 win and three sub-100 losses, it’s going to be hard to get in if they don’t get that MVC automatic bid.

LOSERS

Cal (RPI: 39, KenPom: 47, No. 10 seed): Cal is probably still safe after losing at home to No. 6 Oregon on Wednesday, but it sure isn’t going to feel good that they were up by 15 and blew a lead in a game that would have cemented their status as an at-large team. As it stands, Cuonzo Martin’s team is 18-9 on the season without a single bad loss, but they’re only 1-7 against the top 50, their only win over a tournament team is USC and they may not play another RPI top 100 team this season. Don’t lose anymore.

Kansas State (RPI: 51, KenPom: 28, No. 11 seed): Bruce Weber really just cannot make this easy on himself. Kansas State lost for the seventh time in the last nine games on Wednesday, falling at home to Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have just four top 100 wins, but three of those are top 30 wins, two of them are on the road and one of those is at Baylor. That’s enough to keep them on the cut line for now, but with at Oklahoma, at TCU and Texas Tech left, I would urge them to find a way to turn this slump around.

Tennessee (RPI: 50, KenPom: 42, first four out): The Vols may have finally played themselves off the bubble — which is an exceedingly difficult thing to do this season — by losing at home to Vanderbilt. In fact, I think I would go as far as to say that the Commodores now have a better chance of getting an at-large bid than Tennessee.

Pitt (RPI: 59, KenPom: , next four out): Pitt was in the picture because the bubble is trash. They had a chance to land a nice win at a Wake Forest team that has really good computer numbers … and then blew a 19 point lead. I can’t see them getting an at-large bid at this point.

 

VIDEO: Brooks hits 3-pointer with 0.2 left to lift Oregon past Cal

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Dillon Brooks did it earlier against UCLA. Wednesday, he added Cal to his list.

The Oregon junior hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.2 left on the clock to give the sixth-ranked Ducks a 68-65 victory over the Bears after trailing by as many as 16 in the second half.

It’s the second time this season that Brooks, who finished with 22 points, has hit a game-winning three, and this one keeps the Ducks within a game of first-place Arizona in the Pac-12 standings.

The bigger story here may actually be Cal, as the Golden Bears gave away a 15-point lead in the final 10 minutes and a 10-point lead in the final five minutes in a game they desperately needed to win for their at-large résumé. Cal is just 1-7 against the RPI top 50 this season, and while they don’t have any bad losses to their name, this was their last chance to land a marquee win before the Pac-12 tournament.

I don’t think they’re in danger of missing the dance just yet, but I would not recommend tempting fate and losing down the stretch of the season.