Rasheed Sulaimon, Mason Plumlee, Quinn Cook, Josh Hairston

Duke headlines first NCAA tournament projection of 2013

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Through the first two months of the college basketball season, no team has accomplished more than Duke.  Thus, the Blue Devils hold the top spot on the s-curve and the No. 1 overall seed in our first bracket projection of 2013.  For what it’s worth, Duke is No. 1 in the RPI, has played the nation’s third best schedule, is 10-0 vs. the RPI Top 50, and has wins over Louisville, Kentucky, Minnesota, VCU, Temple, and Ohio State.  That’s about as good as it gets.  The other No. 1 seeds are Louisville, Michigan, and Kansas.

As expected, the lower half of the current bracket is quite fluid.  Even some national headliners have suspect resumes to this point: Kentucky, Pittsburgh, and North Carolina come to mind.  Of those three, Kentucky seems most likely to push for a significantly higher seed come tournament time.  We also have teams whose non-conference schedules could prove costly in March:  Virginia (No. 329), Maryland (No. 323), Georgia Tech (No. 302), Charlotte (No. 300), Wyoming (No. 281), Iowa (No. 276), Pittsburgh (No. 255), and St. Mary’s (246) are just a few.  How these teams – and others – handle conference play will define their seasons because their non-conference numbers won’t help much.  (SOS numbers are from ESPN’s RPI rankings).

Quick note:  The current bracket is for games played through Sunday, January 6.  It does not include games played Monday (Jan. 7).  Notre Dame’s win at Cincinnati will be included in the next bracket and s-curve update.

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)

  • Arizona State vs. Wisconsin | South Region
  • Virginia vs. Oklahoma | West Region
  • NORFOLK STATE vs. SOUTHERN | Midwest Region
  • CHARLESTON-SOUTHERN vs. WAGNER | East Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EASTWashington, DC MIDWESTIndianapolis                    
Philadelphia Lexington
1) DUKE 1) LOUISVILLE
16) CHARLESTON STHN / WAGNER 16) NORFOLK ST / SOUTHERN
8) Wyoming 8) Temple
9) MEMPHIS 9) UCLA
Dayton Auburn Hills
5) Ohio State 5) NC State
12) BUCKNELL 12) MURRAY STATE
4) Cincinnati 4) Illinois
13) DETROIT 13) MID TENNESSEE ST
Austin Austin
6) Georgetown 6) New Mexico
11) Colorado State 11) Indiana State
3) CREIGHTON 3) MISSOURI
14) CANISIUS 14) UTAH STATE
Dayton Kansas City
7) Oklahoma State 7) VCU
10) Oregon 10) Marquette
2) Indiana 2) Minnesota
15) NORTHEASTERN 15) MERCER
WEST – Los Angeles SOUTH – Dallas
Kansas City Auburn Hills
1) KANSAS 1) MICHIGAN
16) WEBER STATE 16) STONY BROOK
8) Kentucky 8) Baylor
9) Miami-FL 9) Maryland
San Jose San Jose
5) Notre Dame 5) BUTLER
12) Saint Louis 12) Arizona State / Wisconsin
4) Michigan State 4) SAN DIEGO STATE
13) NORTH DAKOTA ST 13) DAVIDSON
Salt Lake City Lexington
6) UNLV 6) Kansas State
11) Virginia / Oklahoma 11) North Carolina
3) GONZAGA 3) Florida
14) S.F. AUSTIN 14) OHIO
Salt Lake City Philadelphia
7) Wichita State 7) Colorado
10) Pittsburgh 10) Boise State
2) ARIZONA 2) Syracuse
15) HAWAII 15) HARVARD

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

Last Five teams in (at large): Saint Louis, Virginia, Wisconsin, Arizona State, Oklahoma

First Five teams out (at large): Iowa, Iowa State, Dayton, California, Tennessee

Next Five teams out (at large): Belmont, Texas, BYU, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss

Breakdown by Conference …

Big East (7): Louisville, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Marquette, Pittsburgh

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

ACC (6): Duke, NC State, North Carolina, Maryland, Miami-FL, Virginia

Mountain West (6): San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming, Boise State, Colorado State

Atlantic 10 (4): Butler, VCU, Temple, Saint Louis

Big 12 (5): Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Oklahoma

Pac 12 (4): Arizona, Colorado, UCLA, Oregon

Missouri Valley (3): Creighton, Wichita State, Indiana State

SEC (3): Missouri, Florida, Kentucky

West Coast (1): Gonzaga

Conference USA (1): Memphis

Conference Automatic Qualifiers … MURRAY STATE (Ohio Valley), BUCKNELL (Patriot), MIDDLE TENNESSE ST (Sunbelt), NORTH DAKOTA ST (Summit), DETROIT (Horizon), DAVIDSON (Southern), UTAH STATE (WAC), CANISIUS (MAAC), STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (Southland), OHIO (MAC), MERCER (A-Sun), HARVARD (IVY), HAWAII (Big West), NORTHEASTERN (Colonial), STONY BROOK (American East), WEBER STATE (Big Sky), NORFOLK STATE (MEAC), CHARLESTON-SOUTHERN (Big South), WAGNER (NEC), SOUTHERN (SWAC)

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.