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2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click heret.

Last Season: 31-6, 14-4 Big 12 (t-1st); Lost to Michigan in the Sweet 16

Head Coach: Bill Self (11th year at Kansas: 300-59 overall, 137-27 Big 12)

Key Losses: Ben McLemore, Jeff Withey, Travis Releford, Elijah Johnson, Kevin Young

Newcomers: Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden, Joel Embiid, Tarik Black, Connor Frankamp, Brannen Greene, Frank Mason

Projected Lineup

G: Naadir Tharpe, Jr.
G: Wayne Selden, Fr.
F: Andrew Wiggins, Fr.
F: Perry Ellis, So.
C: Joel Embiid, Fr.
Bench: Tarik Black, Sr.; Andrew White, So.; Justin Wesley, Sr.; Connor Frankamp, Fr.; Brannen Greene, Fr.; Jamari Traylor, So.

They’ll be good because …: Have you seen the amount of talent Kansas has on their roster? Let’s start with the obvious: Andrew Wiggins. This is the kid that has been talked about and written about for years as the best prospect in basketball, a guy that could, one day, find himself on the same level as the Lebrons and the Kevin Durants and the Derrick Roses. There’s a reason he’s gotten all that hype, so don’t be surprised when he ends up having an all-american caliber season.

But Wiggins is far from alone. Let’s start with Wayne Selden, a 6-foot-4 bulldog of a off-guard that certainly won’t have an issue attacking the basket. Then there’s Perry Ellis, a talented scorer at the power forward spot that should be expected to come closer to reaching his potential this season. Joel Embiid may not too much of an offensive option at this point, but he should anchor what will once again be one of the best defensive teams in the country. There’s a lot of uncertainty given the youth and turnover on this roster, but if everything works out, the ceiling for this team is as high as anyone.

source:
Andrew Wiggins (AP) and Joel Embiid (KUAthletics)

But they might disappoint because …: All the talent that Kansas has amassed is young. Wiggins, Embiid and Selden are freshmen. Ellis is a sophomore. Naadir Tharpe and Tarik Black are the only upperclassmen that figure to be in the rotation, and that’s a concern because it’s tough to peg the impact that freshmen will have. Embiid is raw. His value as a prospect is rooted in the long-term. The same can be said for Wiggins, who is still trying to develop the aggressiveness he needs to maximize his talent.

The other issue for Kansas is the point guard spot. Early reviews for Naadir Tharpe are that he’s made a jump since his sophomore season, when he was so inconsistent that he was forced to split time with Elijah Johnson as the team’s primary ball-handler. If so, that’s a big deal, because not having that point guard presence was one of the Jayhawk’s biggest issues a season ago. Tharpe doesn’t need to do all that much: get the offense into their sets, protect the ball, hit a jumper when he’s open and beat his man off the dribble enough to keep defenses honest. The question is, will he be up to the task?

Outlook: You all know the stat by now: in each of the last nine seasons, Kansas has won at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title. It’s a phenomenal run, and despite the talent up in Stillwater, Kansas will once again head into the season as the Big 12 favorite. That’s just the way it goes when you’re the nine-time champs; you’re picked to win it until you don’t.

But that’s anything but a guarantee. As mentioned early, Kansas still has plenty of question marks heading into the season, not the least of which is Wiggins himself. As talented and gifted as he is physically, there are still some question marks about how much his offensive repertoire is developed. There are concerns about his aggressiveness, about whether or not he has the killer instinct required to be able to take over game after game after game. His ceiling is nonexistent, but it’s also five years down the road. Will he be Kevin Durant or Harrison Barnes? That’s the difference between Kansas being really good, and Kansas potentially being a title contender.

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.