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Bracketology: Tar Heels vault to top line

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If today were Selection Sunday, and North Carolina was the ACC champion, the Selection Committee would likely be inclined to reward the Tar Heels with a No. 1 seed over a very strong Baylor team whose profile is equally impressive but lacks a conference title. In the world of splitting hairs, we just did.  On that note, two interesting twists await.  First, UNC hosts Louisville on Wednesday, and the Cardinals are No. 6 on the Seed List.  If Louisville wins in Chapel Hill, the Cards could make a strong case for the top line on Thursday.  Second, the Tar Heels close with an incredibly tough slate, going to Pittsburgh and Virginia before finishing at home with Duke.  Baylor can easily play its way back up.

In the race for No. 1 seeds, Villanova and Kansas are sitting in strong positions as the regular season comes to a close. Should Gonzaga finish unbeaten, it would hard to drop the Zags from their No. 1 perch in the West.  Which leaves, at least for now, one top seed up for grabs, and it could go any number of ways.

Another meh and blah weekend along the cutline.  Should we lose solid mid-major programs like Middle Tennessee State, UNC Wilmington, and say, Monmouth or Illinois State during their conference championships, the Committee will have to heavily weigh a bunch of mediocre power teams versus some solid programs who have fewer chances for marquee wins.

UPDATED: February 20, 2017

Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

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FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Georgia Tech vs. Marquette | South Region
  • Seton Hall vs. TCU East Region
  • NORTH DAKOTA vs. UC-IRVINE | Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. NEW ORLEANSE | East Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EAST New York MIDWEST Kansas City                   
Buffalo Tulsa
1) VILLANOVA 1) KANSAS
16) NEW ORLEANS / M.S. MARY’S 16) NO. DAKOTA / UC-IRVINE
8) Dayton 8) Minnesota
9) Miami-FL 9) Arkansas
Milwaukee Milwaukee
5) Virginia 5) Notre Dame
12) UNC-WILMINGTON 12) ILLINOIS STATE
4) PURDUE 4) Butler
13) AKRON 13) UT-ARLINGTON
Indianapolis Orlando
6) Saint Mary’s 6) Wisconsin
11) Seton Hall / TCU 11) Kansas State
3) Kentucky 3) Florida State
14) PRINCETON 14) BELMONT
Indianapolis Salt Lake City
7) Northwestern 7) Iowa State
10) Wichita State 10) Michigan
2) Louisville 2) ARIZONA
15) BUCKNELL 15) NO. DAKOTA ST
SOUTH – Memphis WEST – San Jose
Greenville Salt Lake City
1) NORTH CAROLINA 1) GONZAGA
16) NC-CENTRAL 16) TX-SOUTHERN
8) Xavier 8) Virginia Tech
9) VCU 9) USC
Sacramento Buffalo
5) Creighton 5) CINCINNATI
12) VALPARAISO 12) MONMOUTH
4) UCLA 4) West Virginia
13) NEVADA 13) VERMONT
Orlando Greenville
6) SMU 6) Maryland
11) Georgia Tech / Marquette 11) MID TENNESSEE ST
3) FLORIDA 3) Duke
14) UNC-ASHEVILLE 14) FLA GULF COAST
Tulsa Sacramento
7) South Carolina 7) Oklahoma State
10) California 10) Michigan State
2) Baylor 2) Oregon
15) FURMAN 15) CSU-BAKERSFIELD

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, Gonzaga, and North Carolina.

Last Four Byes (at large): California, Michigan State, Wichita State, Kansas State

Last Four IN (at large): Seton Hall, TCU, Marquette, Georgia Tech

First Four OUT (at large): Providence, Syracuse, Clemson, Tennessee

Next four teams OUT (at large): Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Indiana, Texas Tech

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): NORTH CAROLINA, Louisville, Duke, Florida State, Virginia, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Miami-FL, Georgia Tech

Big 10 (7): PURDUE, Wisconsin, Maryland, Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State

Big 12 (7): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, TCU

Big East (6): VILLANOVA, Butler, Creighton, Xavier, Seton Hall, Marquette

Pac 12 (5): OREGON, Arizona, UCLA, USC, California

SEC (4): FLORIDA, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas

Atlantic 10 (2): VCU, Dayton

American (2): CINCINNATI, SMU

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (1): ILLINOIS STATE, Wichita State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Monmouth (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), UT-Arlington (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), North Dakota (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), Furman (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Winthrop (BSO), NC-Central (MEAC), North Dakota State (SUM), CSU-Bakersfield (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Mt. St. Mary’s (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)

NTSB cites mechanical issue in Michigan plane incident

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YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) A preliminary investigation into the runway accident involving a plane carrying the Michigan men’s basketball team cites a mechanical problem.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday issued an update about the March 8 crash at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti Township, near the Ann Arbor school. The aborted takeoff caused extensive damage to the aircraft but only one minor injury during evacuation.

The report does not list a likely cause of the incident, but it says flight data recorder shows the right elevator – the primary mechanism controlling an airplane’s pitch – didn’t move during the attempted takeoff.

The plane carrying 109 passengers and seven crew members skidded 1,000 feet past the runway. The team was headed to Washington, D.C., for the Big Ten Tournament. They flew the next day and won the tournament and are now in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Butler, Purdue use true grit to get programs into Sweet 16

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Coach Matt Painter kept believing in his team even as he watched Purdue fritter away a 19-point lead.

He did, after all, recruit these players to excel in tough times. And he did spend two years using the lessons from consecutive overtime losses in the NCAA Tournament to show his team what it took to survive in March.

So when the Boilermakers steadied themselves, retook the lead and reached their first Sweet 16 in seven years, Painter wasn’t surprised. He simply knew the Boilermakers, finally, were tough enough.

“No question, having that grit back after not having it for a couple of years helps,” Painter said. “We put a lot of skill on the court, but we also have guys who are competitive.”

Painter, after all, grew up a fan of former Hoosiers coach Bob Knight, went on to play for Gene Keady and then served on Keady’s staff briefly before succeeding his former coach.

Experience has taught Painter just how delicate it can be to find the proper balance.

After finishing last in the Big Ten in 2013-14 with guys who were content to rely more on their athleticism than mental toughness, Painter changed course.

He brought in gritty overachievers who embraced old-school principles built on effort and led Purdue to its first outright conference title since 1996. Nothing reinforced those beliefs more than last weekend’s comeback against Iowa State.

“Leads are blown throughout March Madness, which is all about close games. I always tell the guys, `If it’s not a blowout, then it is a close game,”‘ junior forward Vince Edwards said Monday. “We have learned to be able to take a run – like Iowa State’s – and be able to withstand it.”

The best teams always do, which is why fourth-seeded Purdue will now face top-seeded Kansas (30-4) in one of Thursday night’s Midwest Regional semifinal games .

Finding players who are the right fit is a challenge for every coach and program.

At Butler, it’s a tradition that has been passed down through nearly a half-dozen coaches over a span of two decades. Former coach and current athletic director Barry Collier started the process by turning the Bulldogs from perennial also-ran into a regular conference contender and NCAA Tourney hopeful.

Thad Matta and Todd Lickliter kept the momentum going before taking other jobs, and Brad Stevens perfected the script as the Bulldogs posted consecutive national runner-up finishes.

Things didn’t always go smoothly. Fans still remember watching the Bulldogs blow an upset against Florida in the 2000 tourney and the inexplicable 2002 tourney snub.

Eventually, though, those painful moments gave way to a litany of program-defining memories.

Against Louisville in the 2003 tourney, a teammate handed his dry shoes to the late Joel Cornette so Cornette could help close out an upset against Louisville in 2003. In the 2010 title game, junior center Matt Howard had the foresight to set a pick and give Gordon Hayward a clean look on his half-court heave that just missed.

The next year, Howard managed to draw a foul in the waning seconds against Pittsburgh to keep Butler’s postseason run alive.

“The stories are unbelievable,” point guard Tyler Lewis said. “That was a special group because they really made the community believe Butler was not just some small school. Butler was a school you didn’t mess around with.”

Stevens and his predecessors moved the school up the pecking order by recruiting late-bloomers or players who were often overlooked by bigger schools. They asked them to play selflessly, a style that defines The Butler Way.

While that philosophy worked well in the Horizon League and the Atlantic 10, Chris Holtmann needed to make some adjustments to thrive in the stronger Big East. Holtmann has recruited better athletes and is looking for more physical players, but the same basic philosophy hasn’t changed.

“I think it (toughness) has been valued here at a really high level, from those who came before me,” Holtmann said. “I just hope I’m doing my job to carry it on.”

The good news is he hasn’t had do too much.

Here, players like leading scorer Kelan Martin don’t complain about coming off the bench if asked. Grad transfers like Avery Woodson and Kethan Savage are both happy to help any way they can in their first and only NCAA appearance.

And it will be that way again when fourth-seeded Butler (25-8) tries to upset top-seeded North Carolina (29-7) in the South Region on Friday night.

“What makes us so tough is that we believe in each other,” said Lewis, who started his career at North Carolina State. “It’s an honor putting on this Butler uniform because it reminds us of what the guys did that came before us.”

Sweet 16 Preview: Thursday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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The Sweet 16 kicks off on Thursday night, and the games are going to be terrific.

Oregon-Michigan should be thrilling, Gonzaga-West Virginia is a fascinating contrast of styles and Kansas-Purdue features arguably the two best players in college basketball.

Oh, and then there’s Arizona-Xavier, with Sean Miller and Chris Mack doing battle.

For an in-depth look at each region, check these out:

SWEET 16 PREVIEW: Midwest | West | South | East

No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan (-1.5), 7:09 p.m. (CBS): So this run that Michigan on, is it a fluke?

Frankly, I don’t think that it is. Derrick Walton has been awesome for the better part of two months while Michigan’s perimeter shooters have always been shooters and the duo of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner are legit. I honestly do not believe that the Wolverines are a team of destiny after the plane crash. They are just really good and a perfect roster for John Beilein to tinker with.

That’s why they’re favored on Thursday night. But here’s the thing … Oregon is pretty good themselves. Dillon Brooks is going to be guarded by a big man, which should be a matchup that Brooks can take advantage of, and Tyler Dorsey has been playing terrific basketball since the start of the Pac-12 tournament.

If you like small-ball, spread-the-court basketball, you’ll love this game.

PREDICTION: Michigan (-1.5)

No. 1 Gonzaga (-3) vs. No. 4 West Virginia, 7:39 p.m. (TBS): On paper, I think Gonzaga should win this game. They have a good back court in Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins, a pair of talented point guards that have won a lot of games in their career. Gonzaga is also the best defensive team in the country. So if they don’t turn the ball over against West Virginia’s press and they make it difficult for West Virginia to score in the half court and get into their press, they should be able to win this thing, right?

Well, maybe not.

My concern with Gonzaga is game-pressure. They didn’t handle it well down the stretch against BYU in their one loss of the season, and I’m not convinced that they win that second round game against Northwestern if the officials don’t blow the goaltending call. How are they going to handle an endless wave of Mountaineers in their face?

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-3)

No. 1 Kansas (-5) vs. No. 4 Purdue, 9:39 p.m. (CBS): More than any other game this weekend, I’m fascinated to see how these two teams decide to try and play each other. Kansas has, essentially, one big man that Bill Self can trust, and he’s going up against a Player of the Year candidate in Caleb Swanigan and one of the best big men in the country at drawing fouls in Isaac Haas. Will Self double-team Swanigan knowing that Purdue may be more effective offensively when Swanigan can find shooters out of the double-team, or will he risk Lucas getting in foul trouble by trying to guard Swanigan one-on-one?

Then, at the other end of the floor, how will Purdue deal with the Kansas back court? Frank Mason III, the NBC Sports National Player of the Year, and Devonte’ Graham are a nightmare for anyone to deal with, let alone a team that struggles against penetrating guards and that lacks rim protection. It should be a fascinating coaching battle.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-5)

No. 2 Arizona (-7.5) vs. No. 11 Xavier, 10:09 p.m. (TBS): On paper, Arizona should be able to handle a Xavier team that doesn’t have Edmond Sumner or Myles Davis. That said, as we all know, Chris Mack and Sean Miller are very close and used to work together. Mack knows everything that Miller is going to do and vice versa. I think this game will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair that comes down to the final minutes.

PREDICTION: Xavier (+7.5)

Shayok and Reuter transferring from Virginia

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Virginia announced the departure of two players Wednesday.

Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter will both transfer out of the program, the school said.

“Marial and Jarred informed me today that they are leaving the Virginia basketball program and are looking to transfer to other schools,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “I thank Marial and Jarred for their hard work and contributions to our program, and wish them success in the future.”

Shayok, a a 6-foot-5 junior, played 20.9 minutes per game last season for the Cavaliers, averaging 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The Ottawa native started 23 games in three seasons with Virginia.

Reuter played a minimal role for the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.8 minutes and 3.8 rebounds per game.

Wake’s Collins declares for NBA draft without hiring agent

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest’s John Collins is entering the NBA draft but will not hire an agent and is keeping open the option of returning to school for his junior season.

In a statement Wednesday announcing the decision, Collins said he wants “to make an informed decision about what is best for my future.”

Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward who as a sophomore blossomed into one of the best big men in the Atlantic Coast Conference and was voted to the Associated Press all-ACC team.

He averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, putting together a string of 12 consecutive 20-point games late in the season.

His progression was a big reason why the Demon Deacons earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. Kansas State beat Wake Forest in the First Four.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org