Colorado v Illinois

Colorado forward Xavier Johnson poised to break out in 2013-14

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Under head coach Tad Boyle, Colorado has made three consecutive trips to the postseason (one NIT appearance, followed by consecutive NCAA tournament appearances) for the first time in the history of the program.

But the Buffaloes will move forward without forward Andre Roberson, who made the decision to enter the 2013 NBA Draft last month. While Roberson (10.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg) wasn’t a prolific scorer during his time in Boulder it was his work as a rebounder and defender that makes him one of the best players to wear a Colorado uniform.

Even with the departure of Roberson and Sabatino Chen, Boyle and his staff will have enough talent to return to the NCAA tournament and have an impact on the Pac-12 race.

Point guard Spencer Dinwiddie is one of the best floor generals in the Pac-12, with his size giving the Los Angeles native advantages on both ends of the floor that few players at the position enjoy. And there’s also Askia Booker, who is more than capable of getting hot on the offensive end of the floor.

But with the departure of Roberson the focus will be on the front court, where a pair of rising sophomores will be asked to lead the way. Josh Scott gives Colorado a skilled big man, and Xavier Johnson is more than capable of breaking out in 2013-14.

“Terrific progression. He looked terrific this spring,” Boyle told CBT when asked about Johnson’s progress, noting that the 6-6 forward has been working hard on various aspects of his offensive skill set.

“If he continues the progression he was on his freshman year he’s going to have a breakout sophomore season for us.”

In his debut season Johnson averaged 8.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, moving into the starting lineup for good in the early stages of Pac-12 play. Johnson reached double figures in 12 games last season, with his career-high 22 points serving as a catalyst in the Buffaloes’ 76-53 win over Oregon on March 7.

The rebounding that needs to be accounted for due to Roberson’s departure will have to be handled by committee next season, with Johnson, Scott and the newcomers (redshirt Wesley Gordon and freshman Dustin Thomas being two) needing to share the load.

Johnson tallied three double-digit rebound outings during conference play, grabbing a career-high 14 in a one-point loss to Arizona State on February 16.

If he can become a more consistent rebounder in his sophomore season that will help Colorado account for Roberson’s departure, while also placing Johnson among the Pac-12’s best forwards.

“He’s got the physical tools, the basketball skill set,” said Boyle. “He has to tighten some things up, but if he keeps progressing he’s going to be a terrific player.”

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.