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Bracketology: How high can North Carolina climb?

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On Monday, North Carolina passed Michigan State and Purdue on the Seed List (UNC is No. 7 overall).  Wednesday, the Tar Heels backed up their route of Louisville by winning another road game at Syracuse.  That’s six straight ACC victories – all but two of which are against teams in today’s bracket.  Carolina now has 10 Quadrant 1 wins, which ties the Tar Heels with Kansas for the most in that category (by a two-win margin).  Which brings us to this question: How high can Carolina climb?

The answer, of course, depends on these next two weeks.  But given their strong schedule and depth of quality wins, a No. 1 seed isn’t out of the question if the Tar Heels beat Duke (again) to close the regular season and/or win the ACC tournament.

Overall, several ACC teams benefitted today by the confusing state of the SEC.  The middle of the bracket is littered with SEC teams who ebb and flow like the tides of the ocean.  These next two weeks will be important for them, too.

With another full weekend ahead, here’s where we stand …

UPDATED: February 23, 2018

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Baylor vs. Washington | Midwest Region
  • Texas vs. LSU West Region
  • SOUTHERN vs. SAVANNAH ST | South Region
  • FL GULF COAST vs. NICHOLLS | East Region

BRACKET PROJECTION

SOUTH Atlanta    EAST – Boston                               
Charlotte Pittsburgh
1) VIRGINIA 1) VILLANOVA
16) SOUTHERN / SAVANNAH ST 16) FL GULF CST / NICHOLLS
8) Alabama 8) Miami-FL
9) Creighton 9) Florida
San Diego Boise
5) Ohio State 5) Kentucky
12) LOUISIANA 12) St. Bonaventure
4) West Virginia 4) GONZAGA
13) E. TENNESSEE ST 13) VERMONT
Dallas Wichita
6) Florida State 6) Virginia Tech
11) Saint Mary’s 11) MIDDLE TENNESSEE
3) Texas Tech 3) CINCINNATI
14) CHARLESTON 14) BUCKNELL
Detroit Nashville
7) Arizona State 7) Butler
10) Providence 10) Kansas State
2) MICHIGAN STATE 2) North Carolina
15) WRIGHT STATE 15) WAGNER
WEST – Los Angeles MIDWEST – Omaha
Wichita Detroit
1) KANSAS 1) Xavier
16) PENNSYLVANIA 16) UNC-ASHEVILLE
8) Seton Hall 8) Arkansas
9) Texas AM 9) TCU
Boise Dallas
5) Clemson 5) Michigan
12) NEW MEXICO ST 12) LOYOLA (CHI)
4) Wichita State 4) Tennessee
13) SOUTH DAKOTA ST 13) MURRAY STATE
San Diego Pittsburgh
6) Houston 6) RHODE ISLAND
11) LSU / Texas 11) Baylor / Washington
3) ARIZONA 3) Purdue
14) RIDER 14) BUFFALO
Nashville Charlotte
7) NC State 7) Missouri
10) NEVADA 10) Oklahoma
2) AUBURN 2) Duke
15) UC-IRVINE 15) MONTANA

NOTES on the BRACKET: Virginia is the No. 1 overall seed – followed by Villanova, Xavier, and Kansas

Last Four Byes (at large): Kansas State, Providence, Saint Mary’s, St. Bonaventure

Last Four IN (at large): Baylor, Texas, LSU, Washington

First Four OUT (at large): Marquette, Syracuse, USC, Utah

Next four teams OUT (at large): UCLA, Mississippi State, Louisville, Georgia

Breakdown by Conference …

SEC (9): AUBURN, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Texas AM, LSU

ACC (8): VIRGINIA, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Florida State, Miami-FL, Virginia Tech, NC State

BIG 12 (8): TEXAS TECH, Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas

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

Big 10 (4): MICHIGAN STATE, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan

Pac 12 (3): ARIZONA, Arizona State, Washington

American (3): CINCINNATI, Wichita State, Houston

Atlantic 10 (2): RHODE ISLAND, St. Bonaventure

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Rider (MAAC), Middle Tennessee (C-USA), Louisiana (SBELT), Pennsylvania (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Wright State (HORIZON), Nicholls (SLND), East Tennessee State (STHN), UC-Santa Barbara (BWEST), Buffalo (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Murray State (OVC), Charleston (CAA), UNC-Asheville (BSO), Savannah State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Wagner (NEC), Southern (SWAC)

Bracketing principles: read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com.

Clark scores 17 as No. 11 Cincy rebounds, beats UConn 77-52

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) — The Bearcats had three days to stew, and it showed when they took the court.

Gary Clark scored 10 of his 17 points during Cincinnati’s decisive opening spurt, and the 11th-ranked Bearcats shook off consecutive losses by beating short-handed Connecticut 77-52 on Thursday night for their fifth straight win over the Huskies.

The Bearcats (24-4, 13-2 American Athletic) recovered from a loss at Houston that ended their 16-game winning streak and a 76-72 loss to Wichita State that snapped their 39-game winning streak at home. They play back-to-back games against conference also-rans before finishing at Wichita State on March 4, a rematch that could decide the league title.

“Coming off two losses, you’ve got to come out with hunger,” Clark said. “Our season’s on the line. We’ve just got to try to get momentum going into the tournament and all of that.”

Clark had 10 points as Cincinnati surged ahead 34-19. The Bearcats got a lot of open shots against UConn’s zone defense and made 12 of their first 18 attempts. They led by double digits the rest of the way, a pleasing outcome after those two losses.

“Coach has been challenging us as a team and as individuals,” said Cane Broome, who had 13 points. “We can get better in certain areas. It’s not about this game; it’s for the rest of the season.”

The Huskies (13-15, 6-9) struggle on offense and were missing top scorer Jalen Adams, who was sick. Adams averages 17.8 points and 4.5 assists per game.

Christian Vital scored 15 points and Terry Larrier had 14 for the Huskies, who shot 29.5 percent from the field against the nation’s second-stingiest defense. Cincinnati dominated inside, getting 33 points in the paint while allowing only 16.

“The game plan was being unselfish and shortening the game, and I thought we took some bad shots that led to run-outs for them,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “I don’t care if it’s anyone playing — if it’s the walk-ons playing — you have to follow the game plan.”

Despite the score, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin wasn’t pleased with his team’s defense. The Bearcats gave up a lot of open shots that the short-handed Huskies missed.

“Those same shots got us beat the last two games,” Cronin said. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near where I need to get our team defensively, and that’s just the truth.”

BIG PICTURE

Connecticut: The Huskies have lost eight of 11 as the season winds down, matching their conference loss total from a year ago. They went 16-17 overall and 9-9 in the AAC last season.

Cincinnati: After the loss to Wichita State, Cronin bemoaned his team’s defensive breakdowns and rebounding. Cincinnati’s defense and rebounding were still an issue, though not as glaring. UConn got eight offensive rebounds in the first half while outrebounding the Bearcats 19-18.

T TIME

Cincinnati’s Nysier Brooks and UConn’s Kwintin Williams got technical fouls in the first half. Williams committed a foul as Brooks went up for a dunk, and they exchanged words. It was Williams’ third foul, landing him on the bench. Cronin also got one for complaining about calls with 4:28 left and Cincinnati up by 25 points.

NO 3-PEAT

UConn made a season-high 13 3-pointers and shot 58 percent overall during an 84-80 win at East Carolina on Sunday. The Huskies lost their touch against the Bearcats, going 6 of 22 from beyond the arc. Larrier missed all five of his 3-point tries.

ONE-SIDED

Cincinnati’s five straight wins against the Huskies are their most in the series. They’ve also won seven of eight.

NO HELP

UConn got only five points off its bench. Cincinnati had 40 from its non-starters.

“When people ask what’s going to get us farther in March, it’s our bench,” Clark said.

Player Of The Year Power Rankings: Jalen Brunson has overtaken Trae Young

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Jalen Brunson is the National Player of the Year.

At least that’s the way that I see it.

If the season ended today, the award goes to Brunson. As incredible as Trae Young has been and as ridiculous as his efficiency stats and counting numbers are, winning has to matter when it comes to National Player of the Year. It has to matter when it comes to postseason awards. It’s why I campaigned against Ben Simmons being a Player of the Year or first-team all-american. It’s why I said that Markelle Fultz shouldn’t be considered for any preseason Player of the Year or all-american awards.

And it’s why Trae Young, in my mind, is no longer the National Player of the Year frontrunner.

I’ve talked about this a couple of different times before, but the simple fact of the matter is that we rarely see a player that isn’t on a national title favorite win the award. The last time a player that was on a team that wasn’t at least a top four seed that won the award was in 2005 when Utah’s Andrew Bogut was the consensus Player of the Year. Before that? You have to go all the way back to 1988, when Danny Manning and Hersey Hawkins both won three of the six major Player of the Year awards. Manning played on No. 6 seed Kansas, who went on to win the title that year. Hawkins played for No. 9 seed Bradley.

As it stands right now, Oklahoma is 16-11 overall. They’ve lost six in a row after getting mollywhopped at Kansas. They’ve dropped nine of their last 11 games. They’ve lost eight in a row on the road. They are 6-9 in the Big 12. If they go 1-2 in their final three games — which, at this rate, seems like a fairly likely scenario — they could end up missing the NCAA tournament entirely.

Seth Davis made an interesting point about this on a recent CBS broadcast, and one that I think it worth addressing: He said, and I’m summarizing here because I don’t remember the exact quote, that the award is the Player of the Year award and not the Player of the Month award, and I agree to an extent. A couple of bad games shouldn’t impact an entire season’s body of work.

My response to that is that we are talking about more than just a couple of games. Young and Oklahoma have struggled for the last 11 games. That’s more than 40 percent of Oklahoma’s season to date, and there are still three Big 12 games left before the Big 12 tournament kicks off. More importantly, the Big 12 season matters more than non-conference play. Does anyone really care that Young, say, tied the record for assists in a game against Northwestern State when he lost by 30 in the Phog?

Winning is the most important thing that a player can do. In any sport. If you are the star of a team that is not winning games, you are not having as good of a season as the star of a team that is winning games. That is a fundamental belief that I have that will not change.

And Brunson?

He’s having a historically good season from an efficiency perspective on a team that may just set the record for efficiency in the KenPom era. He can dominate a game when he needs to. He can also control a game as a facilitator, getting the ball to the guys that are cooking when he needs to. Case in point: at Xavier. Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges were on fire, so Brunson made sure they got their touches.

I love Trae Young’s game. I love the way he plays. His struggles down the stretch are not entirely his fault.

But when you are not a threat to win a national title, I do not think that you can be a threat to win National Player of the Year.

Anyway, here is my top ten:

1. JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova
2. DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona
3. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma
4. MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke
5. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier
6. KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech
7. KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State
8. JOCK LANDALE, Saint Mary’s
9. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas
10. GARY CLARK, Cincinnati

ALSO CONSIDERED: MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova; MILES BRIDGES, Michigan State; JEVON CARTER, West Virginia; CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue; AARON HOLIDAY, UCLA; CHANDLER HUTCHISON, Boise State; CALEB MARTIN, Nevada; LUKE MAYE, North Carolina; LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Michigan State moves atop the Top 25

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Michigan State is your new No. 1 team in the country, according to the USA Today Coaches Poll.

The Spartans received 20 of a possible 32 first-place votes after their comeback from 27 points down to beat Northwestern on the road on Saturday.

Virginia is still sitting at No. 2 while Villanova and Xavier round out the top four. Duke climbed a few spots to No. 5.

Here is the full coaches poll:

1. Michigan State (20 first-place votes)
2. Virginia (8)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
6. Gonzaga
7. Texas Tech
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Wichita State
13. Auburn
14. Arizona
15. Ohio State
16. Michigan
17. Clemson
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Saint Mary’s
21. West Virginia
22. Nevada
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee State
25. Arizona State

College Basketball AP Poll: Virginia, Michigan State, Villanova top the Top 25

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Virginia remained in the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll while Michigan State and Villanova still sit at No. 2 and No. 3 with Xavier once again in fourth.

The biggest change in the poll was that Duke rose to No. 5 after three straight wins; they were No. 12 last week.

Kentucky is still not a part of the top 25.

Here is the full AP Poll:

1. Virginia (42 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
t-6. Texas Tech
t-6. Gonzaga
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Auburn
13. Wichita State
14. Arizona
15. Clemson
16. Ohio State
17. Michigan
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Nevada
21. West Virginia
22. Saint Mary’s
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee
25. Florida State

VIDEO: Wichita State celebrates in locker room after win over Cincinnati

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Wichita State went into Cincinnati — well, Northern Kentucky — on Sunday evening and landed their biggest win of the season.

They were fired up about it, as you might imagine.

And their locker room celebrating after the win was, as the kids say, litty:

Here’s the funny part to me: This game wasn’t played at Cincinnati. It wasn’t played at Wichita State. It was played at Northern Kentucky, where the Bearcats are playing their home games while they wait for the renovations on their arena to be completed.

Which means that some poor NKU employee that had nothing to do with either of these two programs had to spend the time cleaning up this mess.