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No. 1 seed North Carolina routs No. 16 seed Texas Southern in South Region

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North Carolina made quick work of No. 16 seed Texas Southern on Friday afternoon as the No. 1 seed Tar Heels scored a 103-64 win in the first round in the South Region.

Junior Justin Jackson started off the NCAA Tournament with a strong outing as he knocked down five three-pointers to lead the Tar Heels (28-7) with 21 points.

Things were looking great for North Carolina until point guard Joel Berry II landed awkwardly on his right ankle and exited the game during the first half. Berry returned for the second half and played a few minutes while looking like he could move around alright. Monitoring the status of Berry’s ankle will be important for North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament hopes. Thankfully, Berry turned his left ankle when he missed time earlier this season, so it isn’t the same ankle as before.

Senior Nate Britt stepped up in Berry’s absence as he finished with 10 points and five assists off the bench.

North Carolina was also able to overwhelm Texas Southern on the interior as Isaiah Hicks (17 points), Kennedy Meeks (13 points), Tony Bradley (12 points) and Luke Maye (10 points) all finished in double-figures.

Texas Southern (23-12) was led by Kevin Scott with 19 points while freshman guard Damontrae Jefferson had 13 points.

North Carolina advances to face No. 8 seed Arkansas in the second round of the South Region on Sunday as they’ll face off in Greenville, South Carolina. Arkansas scored a solid win over No. 9 seed Seton Hall on Friday but they will be heavy underdogs against the Tar Heels.

2017 NCAA Tournament: Duke has a legitimate gripe after getting left off of the No. 1 seed line

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Once again, we have a Duke vs. North Carolina argument on our hands.

The No. 1 seed in the South Region was awarded to North Carolina despite the fact that the Blue Devils have a better résumé when it comes to their hated rivals.

Winning the ACC by two full games, as North Carolina did, is certainly impressive, but the Blue Devils can counter with more top-25 wins than any team in the country (eight) and more top 50 wins than anyone (13) while Duke also owned a 2-1 advantage in the head-to-head matchup with the Tar Heels. Eight of Duke’s 13 top 50 wins and six of their eight top 25 wins came away from Cameron Indoor Stadium.

That said, a No. 1 seed has also never had eight losses before, and the Blue Devils suffered the worst loss of any potential No. 1 seed when they fell at home to N.C. State.

None of Duke’s accomplishments ultimately mattered when it came time to deciding the No. 1 seeds. It was explained by Mark Hollis of the selection committee after the bracket reveal that the Blue Devils were a No. 4 seed as of Wednesday. The committee uses a process they call a “seed scrub” as the week moves on, which essentially means they compare teams to the team above them and see which profile they like better.

As Duke started piling up impressive wins in New York this week, they kept ascending up the seeding chart until they reached Arizona. Since the committee decided that the Wildcats had a stronger case than Duke, that is where the Blue Devils stopped in the seeding debate.

Duke, a team who could have easily been a No. 1 seed, was never even compared to the other No. 1 seeds. Based on Duke having five more top-25 wins than Arizona this season, the committee dropped the ball on that one.

The only other No. 2 seed who won their conference tournament was Kentucky in the SEC.

The Wildcats have been playing better ball lately. They have an impressive 18-4 mark against the top-100 teams, but they only have two top-25 wins on the season. Kentucky may have the talent of a No. 1 seed but they aren’t as proven against elite teams as the No. 1 teams the committee decided on.

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This season’s No. 1 overall seed had the unique advantage of being able to pick where they played the opening weekend, the top spot took on even more meaning this season. After a strong season that included a Big East championship in both the regular season and conference tournament, Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed as the Wildcats are the best defending champion college basketball has seen since Florida went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.

In a Championship Week where No. 1 seeds like Kansas and North Carolina dropped games early in conference tournaments — and Gonzaga only won the two-bid WCC — Villanova getting the No. 1 overall seed comes as no surprise given their overall body of work and conference-tournament title. With a 17-3 record against the top 100, the Wildcats have the most impressive record among the No. 1 seeds when it comes to facing quality competition as they’ll be a major factor in the East Region.

The selection of Gonzaga as the No. 1 seed in the West comes with minimal surprise after the Bulldogs took care of business in the WCC Tournament. With six top-25 wins and a head-to-head win over West Region No. 2 seed Arizona, Gonzaga had a stronger case than any of the Pac-12’s premier trio of teams this season to be a No. 1 seed.

Skeptics will always remain when it comes to Gonzaga being a top seed, but they have double the top-25 wins of Arizona, Villanova and UCLA while also having more top-25 wins than Oregon and North Carolina. If the Zags had gone unbeaten they might have been the No. 1 overall seed.

Midwest Region No. 1 seed Kansas might have dipped out of the Big 12 Tournament early with a shocking loss to TCU but it ultimately didn’t hurt the Jayhawks too much. Many considered Kansas to be the No. 1 team in the country before that loss to the Horned Frogs as the Jayhawks potentially cost themselves the No. 1 overall seed by losing in Kansas City.

With a 16-4 top-100 record and six top-25 wins, Kansas was as impressive as any team in the country when it came to quality wins as the Jayhawks won the Big 12 regular season once again.

But back to the point, the way Duke’s seeding was ultimately handled signifies that the committee really valued what teams did in the regular season with regards to conference championships. All four No. 1 seeds won their leagues by multiple games and that seemed to be something the committee respected a great deal.

Since Big Ten regular-season champion Purdue also received the league’s best seed as a No. 4 — despite an early quarterfinal loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament — that theory would seem to hold some weight. The Boilers getting a top-four seed after the Big Ten was shut out of February’s seeding reveal is proof that winning a regular-season title matters.

Arizona being seeded higher than Duke means the same thing. Since the Wildcats won the Pac-12 regular-season title (and also conference tournament title) the committee clearly liked that Arizona had handled business in their own conference.

With seven losses during ACC play, that ultimately left Duke out of the No. 1 seed discussion based on the committee’s values.

The Duke and North Carolina debate is what is going to ultimately drive the No. 1 seed discussion over these next few weeks since the committee had three relatively easy selections.

You can make a strong case for either of the Tobacco Road rivals to earn a No. 1 seed this season, but the committee at least had a pattern that they followed when it came time to pick the No. 1 seeds. Selection Sunday taught us that conference regular-season championships still hold a lot of weight despite the excitement of winning a conference tournament.

Terminally ill former player attends Duke-UNC as ‘bucket list’ game

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Duke and North Carolina played another game in their storied rivalry last week. Although the two ACC juggernauts hold quite a long grudge against one another, the two programs teamed up to make something special happen for a terminal breast cancer patient.

Melanie Pearson Day, a 38-year-old mother of three, is battling stage IV terminal breast cancer. A former player at BYU, the native of Lehi, Utah was told by doctors that she has two to five years to live.

Day is battling cancer but she also remains a passionate basketball fan. Seeing the Duke and North Carolina rivalry up close was always Day’s priority as a basketball fan.

In a great story from Jeff Call of the Deseret News, Day received a special trip to be apart of one of the best rivalry in sports.

From Call’s story:

Day learned more than a month ago that she and her husband, Preston, would be checking off the No. 1 item on her bucket list by attending last Thursday’s basketball game between arch-rivals Duke and North Carolina at iconic Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Her weeklong experience in the Tar Heel State surpassed anything she could have imagined. For Day, it might have been the perfect week.

“I’ve dreamed of this for 25 years,” said Day, a former BYU women’s basketball player. “I grew up thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to go to this game someday?’ When I put it on my bucket list, on my blog, never did I actually think I’d get tickets to it. Then I got tickets and I went to the game, but it was so much more than that. It’s like a basketball fantasy.”

Not only did Day get see the Duke and North Carolina game from the third row behind the Duke bench but she also attended closed practices for both teams and spent time with both Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams.

Day’s dream trip is told in great detail in Call’s story and I highly recommend you check it out.

No. 12 North Carolina outlasts Pitt

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After looking sluggish in a loss at Miami on Saturday, No. 12 North Carolina bounced back with a 80-78 win over Pitt at home in the ACC on Tuesday night.

The Tar Heels (20-4, 8-2) maintained a consistent lead on the Panthers for most of the game but could never seem to put them away, as Pitt cut the lead to one twice with under two minutes left. But the Tar Heels were finally able to put things away

Junior Justin Jackson finished with a game-high 20 points as 13 of those points came during a very efficient first half. After some recent mediocre performances, point guard Joel Berry bounced back with 19 points on 5-for-9 three-point shooting as he looked much more comfortable against Pitt.

Things were also easy for Isaiah Hicks on the interior as he was 6-for-8 from the field for 18 points and eight rebounds while Kennedy Meeks had 10 points and five boards.

North Carolina shot 50 percent from the field (29-for-58) and made a respectable 37 percent of their three-pointers on Tuesday.

Perimeter defense is going to have to improve for the Tar Heels, but they ultimately got big offensive plays from experienced veterans to improve to 12-0 at home this season.

The Panthers (12-10, 1-8) had a great comeback effort and some critical late shots but they just couldn’t get over the hump and gain the lead in this one. Guard Cameron Johnson was impressive as his six three-pointers helped him to a game-high 24 points as he provided a much-needed scoring boost for Michael Young (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Jamel Artis (17 points). Chris Jones also added 12 points for the Panthers.

This is Pitt’s first seven-game losing streak since the 2011-12 season as this team is struggling in ACC play. It was the defense that was the letdown for Kevin Stallings’ group on Tuesday as they couldn’t get critical stops when they needed to late in the game. The Panthers went 13-for-29 from three-point range and still lost because North Carolina was able to get pretty much anything they wanted.

Pitt has a chance to play the role of spoiler for some teams down the stretch but the defense has to get better.

Three Takeaways from Miami’s big ACC win over No. 9 North Carolina

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Miami continued the early chaos in the ACC on Saturday as the Hurricanes jumped out to a huge early lead and cruised past No. 9 North Carolina for a 77-62 win.

1. This is the big ACC win Miami needed for its NCAA tournament cause

Entering Saturday’s home game, Miami owned three wins in the ACC but none of them had come against top-tier teams. The Hurricanes had beaten N.C. State, Pitt and Boston College. Marquee non-conference wins looked even worse for Miami. They had only beaten Stanford and George Washington. Not exactly an inspiring group of wins…

Saturday’s trouncing of No. 9 North Carolina changes all of that. Miami put a beatdown on a top-10 team and made the Tar Heels look relatively helpless for most of the game. The Hurricanes passed the look test and it legitimately felt like they belonged in the NCAA tournament for the first time all season.

Miami’s defense and North Carolina’s shooting woes led the a season-low 22 first-half points from the Tar Heels and junior point guard Joel Berry was held to only two points on 0-for-8 shooting. The Hurricanes beat North Carolina on the glass 40-35 and also outplayed the Tar Heels inside.

Miami’s perimeter performance was particularly special. Freshman Bruce Brown poured in a career-high 30 points (more on him below) and junior Ja’Quan Newton had 18 while Davon Reed chipped in 14 points. That group soundly outplayed North Carolina’s guards and also helped limit the Tar Heels to 29 percent (7-for-24) three-point shooting.

2. Should we be worried about Joel Berry?

North Carolina needs junior point guard Joel Berry to be the engine that makes this team go. He was arguably the team’s best guard during the stretch run for last season’s Final Four team and Berry has had some great games earlier this season.

The last four games, however, Berry has been sluggish as it all came to a head with his two-point outing on Saturday. Over his last four games, Berry is only putting up 9.0 points and 2.7 assists per game as his offense has drastically declined. Berry hasn’t looked like he’s been within the flow of the game for some of the time despite handling the ball.

Saturday’s effort was even more disturbing for Berry when you consider how well the Miami backcourt played. Brown and Newton both had big days to combine for 48 points. Some of this, obviously, also falls on Berry’s teammates since they struggled to show up — besides Justin Jackson — on Saturday.

If the Tar Heels are going to become an elite team again, they need Berry to regain his All-ACC form. There are still plenty of games to make that happen. The good news for North Carolina is that the next game for them is at home against reeling Pitt, which can hopefully help Berry break out of his funk.

3. Bruce Brown is the key to Miami’s success this season

Miami freshman Bruce Brown had a career day on Saturday as he finished with 30 points, five assists and four rebounds. We’ve had so many other freshmen play well across college basketball this season that it is easy for a guy like Brown — who is averaging double-figures for an NCAA tournament team in the ACC — to get lost in the national shuffle.

This dude is hooping right now.

Brown’s elevated play gives the Hurricanes another high-octane perimeter weapon. Senior Davon Reed and junior Ja’Quan Newton are still the leaders of Miami and the most consistent double-figure scoring options. Having Brown play better over the last three games just makes it even tougher to stop the Miami offense.

Over the last three games, Brown is averaging 19 points and five assists per game. That kind of production might not be sustainable for Brown over the rest of the schedule but if he’s even close to those numbers on some nights it helps Miami out a lot and makes them a much tougher opponent.

 

VIDEO: North Carolina ball boy makes three straight halfcourt shots

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During North Carolina’s blowout win over N.C. State on Jan. 8, the Tar Heels weren’t the only ones in the building who were feeling it.

As it turns out, North Carolina ball boy Asher Lucas was the hottest shooter of anyone in the building that night.

During halftime of that Jan. 8 game, Lucas nailed three consecutive halfcourt shots, as his father, Adam Lucas, a North Carolina columnist, released the video this week to YouTube. The video quickly went viral as Asher’s unreal streak of shots was all over TV and the Internet.

The Tar Heels have been struggling to find consistent perimeter shooting for the last few seasons, so maybe they need to start scouting Asher for a future roster spot.