Louisville making a push for the top overall seed in our latest bracket

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Healthy and hungry, the Louisville Cardinals are pushing toward the top position on the s-curve.  Duke retains that position for another week.  The Blue Devils’ overall body of work remains impressive, and Ryan Kelly’s foot injury is a bigger concern than a close loss to NC State in Raleigh.  If Kelly doesn’t return healthy, the NCAA Selection Committee will have to evaluate the Blue Devils without him.  We don’t yet know how that resume might compare, or how quickly Kelly might return.

All four No. 1 seeds remain the same as last week: Duke (East), Louisville (Midwest), Michigan (South), and Kansas (West).  The bracket and s-curve are for games played through Sunday (Jan. 13).  Teams chasing the top line as two-seeds include Indiana, Arizona, Minnesota, and Syracuse.

This week’s bubble includes Kentucky.  One could easily make the case that UK’s resume isn’t tournament-worthy.  It’s hard to argue for a team that’s 1-5 vs. RPI Top 150 opponents, and whose best win is fellow bubble-dweller Maryland.  But since it’s mid-January and UK is very talented, although young, the Wildcats remain as one of the last team’s in the bracket.  They open as a First Four participant against Indiana State.  The Sycamores’ wins over Miami-FL and Ole Miss – two teams in the current field – are just enough to keep ISU on the right side of the ledger.  Joining UK and ISU as First Four participants – Texas AM and Arizona State.

We still have a long journey toward Selection Sunday.  The next two weeks will give us a clearer picture of the overall landscape.  With unbalanced schedules, it’s hard to evaluate conference records at this point.  Later, it’s important to compare schedules within the conference.  It’s not just the number of conference wins, but who those wins are against that matters.  Similar records aren’t necessarily the same anymore.

Enjoy another great week of hoops.

UPDATED: January 14, 2013 | Through games played Sunday, January 13

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

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Kentucky vs. Indiana State | East Region
  • Texas AM vs. Arizona State | West Region
  • NORFOLK STATE vs. WAGNER | East Region
  • CHARLESTON-SOUTHERN vs. LONG BEACH | Midwest Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

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

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

Last Five teams in (at large): Colorado State, Arizona State, Texas AM, Kentucky, Indiana State

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

Next Five teams out (at large): Florida State, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph’s, Villanova, Rutgers

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

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

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

Pac 12 (5): Arizona, Colorado, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State

SEC (5): Missouri, Florida, Kentucky, Texas AM, Mississippi

ACC (4): Duke, NC State, North Carolina, Miami-FL

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

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

West Coast (1): Gonzaga

Conference USA (1): Memphis

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

A season of highs and lows ends for Kansas in the Elite 8 again

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For the second season in a row, Kansas was one-win shy of a Final Four appearance, falling to Oregon, 74-60, in the Elite Eight on Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

This comes a year after Kansas, as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, fell to eventual national champion Villanova in the Elite 8.

Just as stars such as Perry Ellis struggled in that regional final, so did KU’s freshman phenom Josh Jackson, whose quick two personal fouls that saddled him on the bench and appeared to take him out of the game mentally. Devonte’ Graham, averaging 20.0 points per game in the tournament, was 0-for-7 from the field. Frank Mason III’s first-half performance assured that Oregon would completely run away with the game before halftime.

The loss put an end to a tumultuous season for the Jayhawks.

Kansas entered the 2016-17 season as one of the favorites to win the national championship. The Jayhawks went on to win the Big 12 regular season title for an unprecedented 13th consecutive season. Frank Mason III, in the eyes of many, was the wire-to-wire national player of the year.

However, for all its accomplishments on the court, Kansas faced more than its share of issues off-the-court. Lagerald Vick, who was under university investigation for allegedly striking a female student. Carlton Bragg was arrested — and subsequently suspended — for drug paraphernalia. There was also the affidavit released a day before the start of the NCAA Tournament for the Jayhawks, detailing the incident outside a Lawerence bar from December involving both Vick and Josh Jackson. Even Devonte Graham’s arrest for an unpaid ticket made headlines during this string of non-basketball related news.

The Jayhawks downplayed talks of distraction before the start of the NCAA Tournament and backed it up by dominating opponents through the first three rounds. The average margin of victory was 30.0, and that includes victories over Michigan State and a 32-point beatdown of a Purdue team that held a massive mismatch on the interior.

It looked like Self was destined to add to his Hall of Fame résumé; a third trip to the Final Four — first since 2012 — was in front of essentially a home crowd. Instead, Oregon handed the Jayhawks their worst tournament defeat in the Bill Self era.

Seven times under Self, KU has made the Elite Eight and was sent home.

Perhaps, all would have been forgiven — or at the very least, overshadowed — had KU cut down the nets in Arizona.

Instead, its season ended in an all too familiar place.

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.