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Team of the Week: Syracuse Orange

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The Orange thrust themselves back into the NCAA tournament pictures this week, as they knocked off Wake Forest and Florida State in the Carrier Dome.

The two wins bump the Orange up to 13-9 on the season and 5-4 in the league, but, more importantly, the two wins are two of the best wins that the Orange have this season. Syracuse has the look of a tournament team on paper. The problem is their tournament profile: It just isn’t good enough.

They’ve lost to UConn, Boston College, Georgetown and St. John’s already this season, losses that wouldn’t be bad if this was 2007 instead of 2017. As it stands, none of those four teams are going to the NCAA tournament, and it means that the Orange are going to have to pick up a lot of high-RPI wins in the next five weeks if they want a chance to dance. Florida State factors in there. Wake Forest actually has pretty decent computer numbers, and there is the win over Miami from last month that will carry some weight as well.

But maybe, just maybe, these are the kind of wins that can get the ship righted for the Orange as they enter a crucial stretch of their schedule. Three of their next four and four of their next six games are on the road. But, more importantly, three of their remaining four homes games are against Louisville, Virginia and Duke. Quality wins are there for the taking.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Georgetown: All of a sudden, Georgetown looks like a team that still have a prayer of getting to the NCAA tournament. After nearly going a full year between wins over Big East foes not named Creighton or DePaul, the Hoyas picked off No. 16 Creighton and No. 11 Butler on the road in the same week.
  • Georgia Tech: At this point in the season, the Yellow Jackets are an NCAA tournament team. That doesn’t mean they’re a lock to dance on Selection Sunday – there are still plenty of chances for them to do dumb things over the course of the next six weeks – but after blowing out Florida State and beating Notre Dame, Josh Pastner looks like he’ll be heading back to the Big Dance.
  • Miami: The Hurricanes landed the quality win their profile desperately lacked, smacking around North Carolina on Saturday to improve to 16-5 on the season. Miami looks like they are a tournament team.
  • West Virginia: The Mountaineers kept the door open for everyone else in the Big 12 this season as they picked off the Kansas Jayhawks in Morgantown this week.
  • Tennessee: The Vols gave Kentucky their first loss of the season in Knoxville on Tuesday and followed that up by beating a good Kansas State team over the weekend.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

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The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

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Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.

Injured Gamecocks point guard Blanton gives up basketball

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard TeMarcus Blanton is giving up basketball after struggling with a serious hip injury he suffered before his freshman season.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin says Blanton told him he could not get his body to respond to a level that would allow him to continue playing basketball. Blanton is a 6-foot-5 junior from Locust Grove, Georgia, who hurt his hip during preseason for the 2014-15 season. He needed surgery and could not return to the court until his sophomore year.

Blanton played in 29 games, averaging 1.4 points a game.

He said on social media he is grateful to his coaches, teammates and South Carolina fans, “but my journey of basketball has come to an end.”

Blanton received a medical exemption from the Southeastern Conference to remain part of the Gamecocks’ program moving forward.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley to remain NBA Draft

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For the first time in a decade and just the third time in 14 seasons as UNC’s head coach, Roy Williams has a one-and-done player.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley will sign with an agent and remain in the NBA Draft.

Bradley had an impressive freshman season, averaging 7.1 points and 5.1 boards in less than 15 minutes per game as the sixth-man for the national title-winning Tar Heels. He initially declared for the draft without signing with an agent, testing the waters, and the feedback was positive: He’ll likely be a late first round or early second round pick.

As the process dragged on, it became fairly evident that Bradley would keep his name in the draft, and that is a massive blow for a UNC team that is already losing Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, not to mention Justin Jackson.

As it stands, Roy Williams will likely start the following lineup next season: Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson on the perimeter with Luke Maye and either Brandon Huffman or Garrison Brooks, both freshmen, alongside him. Williams is one of the few coaches left in the sport that still relies on playing two bigs and utilizing an overwhelming front court to win games, and that is not going to be an easy thing to do with that group of bigs.

UNC’s perimeter is strong. Berry will likely be a preseason all-american while Pinson and Williams are both above average role players on the wings.

But without that hoss in the paint — Bradley, like Berry, would have popped up on preseason all-american teams — the Tar Heels are going to have a tough time making a run at an ACC title, let alone a third straight trip to the national title game.

North Carolina is currently ranked 18th in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.