University of Louisville's Gorgui Dieng(10) blocks the shot of Notre Dame's Jerian Grant (22) during the second half of play in their NCAA basketball game a Yum! Center in Louisville

March 11 Bracket: Louisville reclaims No. 1 seed

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In November, the Louisville Cardinals were projected to be a No. 1 seed when the NCAA tournament began.  Now, less than a week until Selection Sunday, the Cardinals have reclaimed their spot on the top line.  Louisville sits as the fourth No. 1 seed, heading to the South Region.  Duke (East), Indiana (Midwest), and Gonzaga (West) are in front of the Cards.  The race isn’t over, though.  Kansas, Georgetown, New Mexico, and a second Big Ten team could still claim one of the top spots.  It’s going to be an important week for both the top and bottom of the bracket.

Speaking of the bubble, Kentucky is the final at-large team on the board today. They are joined in the First Four by Saint Mary’s, La Salle, and Iowa State. The margin between these teams, and those around them, is minimal. If we see an upset or two this week, the last few spots could change several times between now and Sunday. Which conference tournaments are most likely to produce a surprise winner?  On the surface, it looks like the Atlantic 10, SEC, or the Pac-12.  While Memphis has dominated Conference USA, the Tigers haven’t wrapped up the automatic berth.  Any stumble would likely claim an at-large spot.

As for seeding, the middle of the bracket is an interesting adventure. One could almost throw names in a hat (for say, seeds 7-10) and line them up that way. Again, we could see some shifting on those lines, both due to resume adjustments and for geography. For all practical purposes, teams in the 8/9 games are essentially the same.  Enjoy the final ride to March Madness.

UPDATED: March 11, 2013 | 12:00 pm ET

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid based on current standings. 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)

  • La Salle vs. Kentucky | South Region
  • Iowa State vs. Saint Mary’s | East Region
  • Norfolk State vs. LIBERTY | Midwest Region
  • Southern vs. LIU-Brooklyn | South Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EASTWashington, DC MIDWESTIndianapolis           
Philadelphia Dayton
1) Duke 1) Indiana
16) Northeastern 16) LIBERTY / Norfolk State
8) Memphis 8) Missouri
9) Illinois 9) Cincinnati
San Jose Austin
5) UNLV 5) Saint Louis
12) Saint Mary’s / Iowa State 12) BELMONT
4) Marquette 4) Oklahoma State
13) Valparaiso 13) Akron
Austin Lexington
6) Butler 6) UCLA
11) Oklahoma 11) Temple
3) Florida 3) Miami-FL
14) HARVARD 14) S.F. Austin
Auburn Hills Philadelphia
7) CREIGHTON 7) Colorado State
10) Villanova 10) Minnesota
2) Michigan State 2) Georgetown
15) Vermont 15) Iona
SOUTH – Dallas WEST – Los Angeles
Lexington Salt Lake
1) Louisville 1) Gonzaga
16) Southern / LIU-Brooklyn 16) Western Kentucky
8) Oregon 8) NC State
9) Wichita State 9) San Diego State
Kansas City San Jose
5) Wisconsin 5) Syracuse
12) La Salle / Kentucky 12) Louisiana Tech
4) Kansas State 4) Arizona
13) Bucknell 13) Davidson
Dayton Auburn Hills
6) Pittsburgh 6) Notre Dame
11) Tennessee 11) Boise State
3) Ohio State 3) Michigan
14) FLA GULF COAST 14) South Dakota State
Salt Lake Kansas City
7) VCU 7) North Carolina
10) California 10) Colorado
2) New Mexico 2) Kansas
15) Long Beach 15) Montana

NOTES on the BRACKET: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed followed by Indiana, Gonzaga, and Louisville. Next in line: Kansas, Georgetown, New Mexico, and Michigan State.

Last Five teams in (at large): Boise State, Iowa State, Saint Mary’s, La Salle, Kentucky

First Five teams out (at large): Virginia, Baylor, Middle Tennessee, Alabama, Iowa

Next Five teams out (at large): Massachusetts, Arkansas, Xavier, Southern Miss, Air Force

Breakdown by Conference …

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

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

Mountain West (5): San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado State, Boise State

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

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

Atlantic 10 (5): Butler, VCU, Temple, La Salle, Saint Louis

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

SEC (4): Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky

Missouri Valley (2): CREIGHTON, Wichita State

West Coast (2): Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s

Conference USA (1): Memphis

Conference Automatic Qualifiers … BELMONT (Ohio Valley), Bucknell (Patriot), Western Kentucky (Sunbelt), South Dakota State(Summit), Valparaiso (Horizon), Davidson (Southern), Louisiana Tech (WAC), Niagara (MAAC), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Akron (MAC), FLORIDA GULF COAST (A-Sun), HARVARD (IVY), Long Beach (Big West), Northeastern (Colonial), Vermont (American East), Montana (Big Sky), Norfolk State (MEAC), LIBERTY (Big South), LIU-Brooklyn (NEC), Southern (SWAC)

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Michigan St. at Duke highlights ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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A matchup in Durham of likely top-10 teams is the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, whose schedule was released Tuesday.

Michigan State, expected to open the season in the top-10, and Duke, the presumptive preseason No. 1, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the most intriguing contest of the 14-game event.

The Spartans are losing Denzel Valentin, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, but the recruiting class of Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward is one of coach Tom Izzo’s best and has Michigan State positioned as one of the Big Ten’s favorites.

Izzo’s recruiting class, though, pales in comparison to what coach Mike Krzyzewski is bringing to the Blue Devils, with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier in their 2016 class, which is why, when paired with the likes of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard, make Duke nearly everyone’s No. 1 heading into next season.

Krzyzewski is 9-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans.

Among the other highlights of the conference competition is Syracuse at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) Pittsburgh at Maryland (Nov. 29), Purdue at Louisville (Nov. 30) and Ohio State at Virginia (Nov. 30).  

Monday, Nov. 28

Minnesota at Florida State

Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Syracuse at Wisconsin

Michigan State at Duke

Pittsburgh at Maryland

Iowa at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Penn State

N.C. State at Illinois

 

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Purdue at Louisville

North Carolina at Indiana

Ohio State at Virginia

Virginia Tech at Michigan

Rutgers at Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska at Clemson

 

Hayes returning to Wisconsin for senior season

Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes celebrates with fans after an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa. Wisconsin won 67-59. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Wisconsin has cemented itself as one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten for the 2016-17 season.

Forward Nigel Hayes, the Badgers’ leading scorer and assist man, is withdrawing his name from NBA Draft consideration to return to Madison for his senior season, he told the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday evening.

Hayes declared for the draft last month, but did not hire an agent, taking advantage of new NCAA legislation that allowed him to attend the NBA Draft combine and workout for pro franchises. He was largely regarded as a fringe first-round prospect by draft observers.

His decision is a major boon for Greg Gard, who may have the Big Ten’s best team in his first full season at the helm after taking over for Bo Ryan in the middle of last season. Wisconsin had a major turnaround under Gard, which ultimately resulted in him moving from interim to full time. The Badgers were 7-5 when Ryan stepped down, but recovered by going 13-4 to end the season and make the Sweet 16. 

Now, the entirety of that team, headlined by Hayes, is returning for another year and almost assuredly will be a top-15 (or better) preseason pick. Michigan State will welcome in a dynamite recruiting class that features five-stars Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston, and Indiana should remain strong, but the Badgers, with some players having the experience of  playing in two Final Fours, could very well have the best roster on paper with its blend of talent and experience. Whichever team is pegged as the favorite, the top of the Big Ten is shaping up to be a fantastic race.