Conference Countdown: No. 4 ACC

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Pre-season Awards

Player of the Year: Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech

This
may be an unpopular pick with the folks down in Durham, but let me
explain. Duke legitimately has two, maybe even three (depending on how
good Kyrie Irving ends up being), players that will contend for
conference player of the year. That’s why they are going to be the best
team in the league. Kyle Singler can afford to have an off-night,
because Nolan Smith and Irving, and even a Seth Curry or a Plumlee, are
talented enough to carry the Dukies, at least for stretches. No
disrespect to Dorenzo Hudson or Jeff Allen — both are very good
players — but they are a notch below the second and third options that
the Blue Devils have. I think Delaney has the kind of senior season
that Greivis Vasquez had last year; one where he puts up very
impressive numbers and leads his team to their best season in recent
memory. (Duke also had two, maybe three, viable player of the year
candidates last year as well.) Keep in mind, Delaney has been on the
wrong side of the bubble in each of his three seasons in Blacksburg.
You don’t think he is determined to win something this year?

And a close second goes to: Kyle Singler, Duke

Runner-up
came down to Singler and Nolan Smith, but with the amount of talent
that Duke has in their back court this year, Smith may not have the
opportunites that Singler does. Hell, Smith could very well be a
second-fiddle in the back court to Irving by season’s end. I see Smith
playing a complimentary role — albeit very well, but still as a second
or third option — this season. Before last season, I called Singler
the best complimentary player in the country. Last season changed my
opinion of him. He played fantastic basketball down the stretch, capped
by an outstanding tournament, a better title game, and a Final Four MOP
award. This is Singler’s team.

Breakout Star: Tyler Zeller, UNC

Zeller
has had a rough first two seasons with the Tar Heels. As a freshman, he
broke his wrist in the second game of the season before returning late
in the year for front court depth and a shot to participate in a
national championship. As a sophomore, Zeller missed 10 games with a
stress fracture in his foot before returning for an essentially
meaningless stretch run. And for the majority of his time in Chapel
Hill, he has played second fiddle to the likes of Tyler Hansbrough, Ed
Davis, and Deon Thompson. Zeller is a talented player in the post, with
a solid back-to-the-basket game and a nice touch of his jumper. Playing
on a team where he is the only real offensive threat in the post with a
talented back court, Zeller should have plenty of opportunities to get
post touches and will be needed to rebound the ball effectively. He
averaged 9.3 ppg and 4.6 rpg playing just over 17 minutes as second
fiddle last year. What happens this season when he is the a go-to guy
in the post and gets 34 minutes?

All-Conference First Team:

  • POY – Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech, Sr.
  • G – Nolan Smith, Duke, Sr.
  • G/F – Harrison Barnes, UNC, Fr.
  • F – Chris Singleton, Florida State, Jr.
  • F – Kyle Singler, Duke, Sr.
  • F – Tracy Smith, NC State, Sr.

All-Conference Second Team:

  • G – Kyrie Irving, Duke, Fr.
  • G – Durand Scott, Miami, So.
  • F – Joe Trapani, Boston College, Sr.
  • F – Tyler Zeller, UNC, Jr.
  • F – Jordan Williams, Maryland, So.

Freshman of the Year: Harrison Barnes, UNC

Barnes
has a very real shot at being the first pick in the 2011 NBA Draft
should he decide to come out. A 6’8″ small forward, Barnes is an
incredibly smooth player. He doesn’t have the length or freakish tools
of a Kevin Durant, but plays a similar style to Durant. He’s always
under control, thrives in the mid-range, and is an excellent all-around
shooter. Barnes is a smart kid that understands how to play the game
and has sneaky athleticism. Barnes will likely be the focal point of
the Tar Heel attack from day one, and some believe he has a shot at
being a first-team all-american.

All-Freshman Team:

  • G – Kyrie Irving, Duke
  • G – Kendall Marshall, UNC
  • G – Reggie Bullock, UNC
  • G – JT Terrell, Wake Forest
  • F – CJ Leslie, NC State

What Happened?:

  • Coaching Changes: It was a relatively quiet off-season in the ACC, unless you were a head coach. Boston College got rid of Al Skinner, parting ways before the man who headed the Eagles for 13 years interviewed at St. John’s. BC brought in Cornell head coach Steve Donahue, who built the Big Red from an Ivy cellar dweller to a Sweet 16 team.

    Next up was Oliver Purnell, who simply up and left Clemson for DePaul. A week later, the Tigers signed Brad Brownell away from Wright State.

    Perhaps the most surprising coaching change belongs to Wake Forest, who fired head coach Dino Gaudio
    despite making a second straight tournament after another disappointing
    finish to a season. The Demon Deacons hired Colorado head coach Jeff
    Bzdelik, who pulled of one of the more impressive recruiting feats I
    can remember. Bzdelik kept the Wake Forest assistant coaches on staff,
    and was able to convince all five members of Gaudio’s impressive recruiting class to stay and give him a chance.

  • Allan Chaney passes out:
    Chaney, who transferred to Virginia Tech from Florida and was scheduled
    to be eligible this fall, gave everyone a scare this summer. He fainted
    during a workout and had to be revived when a trainer gave him CPR. It
    was ruled dehydration, but after collapsing again later in the summer,
    it was determined Chaney needed more tests. He was found to have a viral inflammation of the heart, and it is not yet known if he will be able to play for the Hokies this season, although it doesn’t look good.

    More bad news was sent the Hokies way when they found out that JT Thompson would miss the season after tearing his acl.

  • Speaking of the Hokies:
    Seth Greenberg always seems to be on the wrong side of the bubble. In
    fact, each of the last three seasons, Virginia Tech has been left out
    of the NCAA Tournament. Would it surprise you that he wanted tournament
    expansion, or that he didn’t like the format of the “First Four”? Regardless, Greenberg has decided to play a tougher schedule in hopes that he avoids being left out again this season.
  • Bernard James: Is it possible that the most interesting person in college basketball is on Florida State? Read this, then answer that question.

What’s Next?:

  • Why does no one want ACC schools?:
    Throughout everything that went on this summer with conference
    expansion, the ACC was really the only league that stayed out of the
    rumor mill. Sure, there was speculation that Maryland could be headed
    to the Big Ten, but that was it.
  • Another national title?:
    The ACC has accounted for five of the last ten national titles. Many
    believe that Duke is far and away the best team in the country this
    season. Can they repeat?

Power Rankings:

  1. Duke:
    The reigning national champs, Duke is easily the favorite to win it
    all. A major reason for that is the talent that the Blue Devils got
    back. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, both of whom are going to populate
    a number of preseason all-america lists, both decided against going pro
    to return to school and try and win a second straight national title.
    Smith will be the anchor for what should be one of the better back
    courts in the country. Joining Smith in the starting line-up will
    likely be Kyrie Irving, who most believe is one of the top five
    recruits in the country. Irving, a pure point guard that plays well
    beyond his years, will be a perfect complement to Smith in the back
    court. Seth Curry — Steph’s little brother who averaged 20+ ppg at
    Liberty as a freshman that will be eligible this season — Andre
    Dawkins, and freshman Tyler Thornton fill out the back court for Coach
    K. With more of a guard-oriented line-up this season, Singler will go
    back to splitting time at the three and the four. Brian Zoubek is gone,
    which means Duke is going to need one of their bigs — whether it is
    Mason Plumlee (who is the most talented of the group), Miles Plumlee,
    Ryan Kelly, or freshman Josh Hairston — to develop a mean streak
    defensively and on the glass. That said, this is still a team that is
    as deep as it is talented. Don’t be surprised if they win both ACC
    titles and a national title.
  2. Virginia Tech:
    The Hokies may just be the second best team in the ACC this season.
    While they missed the NCAA Tournament last year, this was still a
    25-win club that went 10-6 in the ACC, and they return everyone from
    last season. Malcolm Delaney, who could very well be the ACC player of
    the year this season, returns, as does Jeff Allen and Dorenzo Hudson,
    giving the Hokies as good of a 1-2-3 punch as there is outside of Duke.
    Victor Davila and Allan Chaney (assuming he can get cleared) will
    provide muscle inside, which will be all the more important with JT
    Thompson sidelined for the season. Terrell Bell and freshman Jarell
    Eddie give the Hokies athleticism and defensive toughness on the
    perimeter. Erick Green proved to be an adequate back-up at the point in
    limited minutes as a freshman. Its tough to think anyone can take the
    ACC from Duke this season, but Tech has as good of a chance as any team
    at finishing second in the conference.
  3. North Carolina:
    Its going to be interesting to see where North Carolina gets placed by
    writers in the preseason. The Heels were arguably the most
    disappointing team in the country last season and lost quite a bit (Ed
    Davis, Deon Thompson, the Wear twins, Marcus Ginyard) from that club.
    But this is also a team that has had two very good recruiting classes
    back-to-back, which means that there are quite a few question marks. Up
    front, the biggest question mark is depth. There are really only three
    bigs on the roster. Tyler Zeller is back for his junior season. When he
    is healthy, he is a very good post player on both ends, but he has
    battled suffered major injuries each of his first two seasons. John
    Henson was a top 10 recruit in 2009, but until he puts on weight he
    won’t be overly effective in the ACC. Justin Knox, an Alabama transfer,
    will be eligible immediately. His size will be nice, but he averaged
    6.3 ppg and 3.7 rpg as a junior. On the perimeter, the question marks
    will be positional battles. Larry Drew is the veteran point guard.
    Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland were hyped as freshmen, but had
    disappointing first seasons. Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock are
    this year’s talented freshman, and while Bullock could very well end up
    starting for this team, the guy to watch will be Marshall. Drew wasn’t
    the answer last season at the point, and Marshall was a highly regarded
    recruit. It seems the only certainty anyone has with this team is that
    Harrison Barnes will be the real deal. UNC should be improved next
    year, and while I believe Duke and Virginia Tech are still the better
    teams right now, this group should be in the mix for the second spot in
    the ACC.
  4. NC State:
    It seems that Wolfpack fans that have been patient with Sidney Lowe’s
    tenure will finally be rewarded this year, as NC State looks to have a
    team that can make a run at a tournament bid. Its starts up front,
    where the Pack got some great news when Tracy Smith, who led the team
    in scoring and rebounding as a junior, withdrew from the NBA Draft and
    decided to return for his senior season. The news got better when Lowe
    scored an upset, landing 6’8″ Raliegh native CJ Leslie, a top 20
    recruit. With Richard Howell and 7’0″ sophomore Jordan Vandenburg also
    returning, the Wolfpack have a very good front line. Lowe will also
    have a nice combination of experience and young talent in his back
    court. Javier Gonzalez, who started at the point last season, will be
    back for his senior season. 6’7″ shooter Scott Wood also returns, as
    does CJ Williams, a 6’6″ swingman who started 16 games as a sophomore.
    Freshmen guards Lorenzo Brown and Ryan Harrow will provide depth, and
    quite possibly compete for a starting spot. This is the most talented,
    and probably the deepest, team Lowe has had at NC State. It will be a
    disappointment if he cannot lead this group to the NCAA Tournament.
  5. Florida State:
    The Seminoles lost both of their starting front court players —
    Solomon Alabi and Ryan Reid — but should still have enough size up
    front. 6’11” junior Xavier Gibson returns who, along with Terrence
    Shannon, who only played in 18 games, is the only rotational big man
    back from last season. But Hamilton brings in plenty on the front line.
    Okaro White is a 6’8″, top 100 forward. Jon Kreft, who initially signed
    with Florida State is 2006 but has had his share of troubles getting
    into the school, is a seven-footer and former five-star recruit that
    will finally be eligible this year. Bernard James is a 6’10” JuCo
    all-american that spent six years abroad in the Air Force. Florida
    State’s biggest issue last season was their ability on the offensive
    end; simply put, they couldn’t score. With the exception of incoming
    freshman Ian Miller, a four star point guard out of Charlotte, this is
    the same group. The two best players on the perimeter are Chris
    Singleton and Michael Snaer. Both are tremendous athletes — Snaer
    playing the two, Singleton at the three — with a ton of upside, but
    offensively they are limited. One of those two is going to need to
    develop into a legitimate threat with the ball. Derwin Kitchen might be
    the best creator for Leonard Hamilton’s club, but he turns 25 during
    the season. He won’t be getting all that much better. Rounding out the
    perimeter will be juniors Luke Loucks and Deividas Dulkys. Florida
    State is going to be a big, physical, experienced club, and if a couple
    of their better players can improve their scoring ability, this is a
    team that could once again win 20 games, finish above .500 in the
    conference, and make the NCAA Tournament.
  6. Clemson:
    With Oliver Purnell now at DePaul and Trevor Booker getting paychecks
    from the Wizards, its pretty obvious that Clemson is going to be a much
    different team next season. Where Clemson was a team known for their
    full-court press under Purnell, it will be interesting to see how new
    coach Brad Brownell runs this team. At Wright State, he was known for
    his team’s staunch, halfcourt defense and offensive execution. Brownell
    walks into a pretty good situation with Clemson. With Demontez Stitt,
    Andre Young, and Tanner Smith, Brownell has an experienced and tough
    back court returning. Throw sophomore Noel Johnson, who is only going
    to get better, into the mix, and the Tigers will have a very perimeter.
    The key to the Clemson season is going to be how their front line
    develops. Jerai Grant is a known commodity, an athletic, 6’8″ senior
    that is going to get some dunks, some rebounds, a couple of blocks.
    Milton Jennings and Devin Booker, however, were both highly regarded
    recruits as freshmen that had so-so first seasons. Part of it was that
    the two only played limited minutes with Grant and Trevor Booker, but
    if these two can begin to live up to their potential, this Clemson team
    could end up being a tournament team.
  7. Maryland:
    Its could be a tough year for the Terps, coming off of their share of
    the ACC regular season title. They lose Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes,
    and Landon Milbourne to graduation, which essentially means that the
    Terps will lose their three best players. All hope is not lost,
    however. Junior wing Sean Mosley has been quite impressive playing a
    role in his first two seasons in College Park. Center Jordan Williams,
    if he can cut some weight and get a bit quicker and more athletic,
    could develop into one of the better bigs in the ACC. Guard Adrian
    Bowie, swingman Cliff Tucker, and bigs Dino Gregory and James Padgett
    have all shown signs of being capable ACC players. If Mosley can
    develop into a 15 ppg player, Williams continues to improve as a post,
    and the six Maryland newcomers — particularly the two point guards,
    Pe’Shon Howard and Terrell Stoglin — are ready to compete at the ACC
    level, Maryland has a shot at getting a bid to the tournament.
  8. Boston College:
    It was quite a tumultuous off-season for the Eagles. It started with Al
    Skinner getting fired, and continued with Rakim Sanders transferring to
    Fairfield, Brady Heslip transferring to Baylor, and with Kevin Noreen
    backing out of his commitment to the school. The cupboard isn’t bare
    for new head coach Steve Donahue, however. Joe Trapani has developed
    into one of the better combo-forwards in the ACC, averaging over 14
    points 6 boards as a junior. Junior Reggie Jackson is developing into
    one of the better all-around guards in the ACC, and Corey Raji is a
    tough, 6’6″ senior forward that really gets after it defensively and on
    the glass. Biko Paris and Dallas Elmore will also see time on the
    perimeter, but that is not where BC will struggle. There is not much
    size on this Eagle roster. Josh Southern, who started 25 games last
    season, is a 6’10” center and Courtney Dunn, who saw action in just 26
    games, are really the only post players this team has. This is an
    experienced group with some talent at the top, but they are not all
    that deep and will be learning the system of a new coach. An NCAA
    tournament bid would be a bit of a surprise.
  9. Miami:
    Miami won 20 games last season, but that number is a bit skewed when
    you consider 14 of those wins came in non-conference play. With Dwayne
    Collins and James Dews, their two leading scorers, graduating, its
    tough to see the ‘Canes improving all that much. If they do, it is
    going to rest on the shoulders of their back court. Durand Scott, who
    had a solid freshman campaign, and Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant are
    both very good back court players. 6’6″ small forward DeQuan Jones is
    one of the best athletes in the conference. Adrian Thomas, at 6’7″, is
    a tough, experienced kid that can score and knock down a jumper. Reggie
    Johnson is a capable center. But when you finish dead last in a power
    conference, lose your top two scorers, and bring in a recruiting class
    that doesn’t feature a program changer, its tough to expect too much.
  10. Wake Forest:
    The Demon Deacons will have as much turnover as anyone in the
    conference. They lose four of their top six scorers, including
    Al-Farouq Aminu and Ishmael Smith. Head coach Dino Gaudio was fired,
    replaced by Jeff Bzdelik. To top it off, center Tony Woods was booted
    from the team after a domestic violence incident. But that doesn’t mean
    that all is lost for Wake this season. Sophomore guards CJ Harris and
    Ari Stewart both had promising freshman seasons, and have the potential
    for a breakout sophomore year. Junior big man Ty Walker was a highly
    touted freshmen that will finally have an opportunity to play extended
    minutes. Georgetown transfer Nikita Mescheriakov will be eligible to
    play, joining a very good five-man recruiting class, which includes
    four four-star recruits. This team is young, and they are
    inexperienced, but Wake has some talent and potential. I think Wake is
    a bit of a sleeper this season, but they are a young squad and probably
    a year away from making the tournament.
  11. Georgia Tech:
    Paul Hewitt’s club is going to have a much different feel to it this
    season as Derrick Favors, Gani Lawal, and Zach Peacock are all gone.
    This year’s team is going to center around the Yellow Jacket backcourt.
    Headlining that group is Iman Shumpert, a 6’4″ combo guard that has
    shown flashes of greatness in his two seasons with the Rambling Wreck.
    But he’s also been inconsistent, something that will need to change as
    he will be counted on to shoulder a much bigger offensive load. Moe
    Miller, who has seen his numbers drop in each of his three seasons,
    will be back for his senior year. Hewitt will need Miller to return to
    the form of his freshman season, when he averaged 8.1 ppg and 3.3 apg.
    Rounding out the perimeter will be sophomores Mfon Udofia, Brian
    Oliver, and Glen Rice Jr. as well as freshman Jason Morris, a four-star
    recruit. Somewhere out of that group, a secondary scorer is going to
    need to develop. Up front, Tech will be very young, as there are going
    to essentially be three freshmen — two redshirt (Kammeon Hosley and
    Daniel Miller) and one true frosh (Nate Hicks, a former Tulane signee)
    — that make up the rotation. It looks like another rebuilding year for
    Hewitt.
  12. Virginia:
    The Cavaliers will be an interesting team to keep an eye on this
    season. After going 5-2 to start ACC play, the Cavs proceeded to lose
    their last nine games in conference. They also will be without Sylvan
    Landesberg, their leading scorer who was kicked off the team late in
    the season. But could it be possible that this club will be better
    without Landesberg? After he was kicked off the team, Virginia went
    1-3. But all three of those losses came to the two conference
    co-champions. They return Mike Scott, Mustapha Farrakhan, and Will
    Sherrill and add talented freshman KT Harrell. Sammy Zeglinski had
    surgery on his knee and his return this season is questionable. Bennett
    will also bring in his first real recruiting class, which is six
    players deep. Bennett’s roster is not overloaded with talent, but
    neither were his teams at Washington State. Can Bennett mold this team
    into one that can compete in the ACC? While I expect another finish
    near the bottom of the league, I think this could be a team that sneaks
    up on some people in the ACC.

Bubble Banter: It’s that time of year again!

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It’s getting to be that time of year.

Bubble Banter is back, baby!

Over the course of the next three days, we are going to be diving headlong into bubble chatter right here, breaking down every single team that is on or near the bubble for the NCAA tournament Field of 68. This, of course, is according to our Dave Ommen, who sent me a list of all the bubble teams. Our cut-off, at least for this conversation, is teams that currently sit as a No. 9 seed or better in the most recent bracket that we released.

Why?

Because — with the notable exception of Ohio State — it is difficult to see how any of those teams can end up out of the NCAA tournament before our next bracket projection gets published on Monday.

So, you know, they’re not currently on the bubble.

Anyway, come back throughout the weekend to see who the winners and the losers are and what it means for their standing in regards to the cut line.

FRIDAY

Wisconsin at PURDUE, 7:00 p.m.
YALE at Brown, 7:00 p.m.

SATURDAY

VCU at La Salle, 12:00 p.m.
PITT at SYRACUSE, 12:00 p.m.
ST. JOHN’S at DEPAUL, 2:00 p.m.
VIRGINIA TECH at Boston College, 2:00 p.m.
LSU at TEXAS, 2:00 p.m.
OKLAHOMA at MISSISSIPPI STATE, 2:00 p.m.
RHODE ISLAND at St. Bonaventure, 3:00 p.m.
UNCG at Samford, 3:00 p.m.
AKRON at Ohio, 3:30 p.m.
LIBERTY at Stetson, 4:00 p.m.
Chattanooga at EAST TENNESSEE STATE, 4:00 p.m.
N.C. STATE at Georgia Tech, 4:00 p.m.
SMU at MEMPHIS, 4:00 p.m.
TENNESSEE at No. 3 Kansas, 4:00 p.m.
BYU at San Francisco, 5:00 p.m.
No. 7 Dayton at RICHMOND, 6:00 p.m.
No. 15 Kentucky at No. 18 TEXAS TECH, 6:00 p.m.
Kansas State at ALABAMA, 6:00 p.m.
Washington State at UTAH, 7:00 p.m.
NOTRE DAME at No. 5 Florida State, 8:00 p.m.
SAINT MARY’S at LMU, 9:00 p.m.
WASHINGTON at No. 23 Colorado, 9:00 p.m.
No. 22 Arizona at ARIZONA STATE, 9:30 p.m.
Colorado State at UTAH STATE, 10:00 p.m.

SUNDAY

VIRGINIA at Wake Forest, 12:00 p.m.
No. 11 Michigan State at MINNESOTA, 3:00 p.m.
Fordham at SAINT LOUIS, 3:00 p.m.
XAVIER at Creighton, 4:00 p.m.
Loyola-Chicago at NORTHERN IOWA, 4:00 p.m.
OHIO STATE at Northwestern, 6:30 p.m.

Best Bets: Previewing Baylor-Florida, Texas Tech-Kentucky

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As always, the Vegas lines are not out for the weekend games, so we will be breaking them down using KenPom, Torvik and Haslametric projections.

FRIDAY

MARQUETTE at No. 13 BUTLER, 9:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Butler 72, Marquette 66
  • TORVIK: Butler 72, Marquette 66
  • HASLAM: Butler 71, Marquette 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: Butler 70, Marquette 64

In theory, this is an ideal buy-low spot for Butler. They are coming off of three straight losses, the last two of which came on the road. The loss at DePaul was a bad matchup, and the loss at Villanova was a result of Sean McDermott and Jordan Tucker shooting a combined 1-for-12 from three until the final minute of a 15-point loss.

Marquette, on the other hand, is in a prime sell-high spot. The Golden Eagles have won three in a row. Two of them came at home and the third was at Georgetown, a team that is down to just seven scholarship players. Trying to predict the nights that Markus Howard doesn’t score 30-plus is more or less impossible, but I do think that it is worth noting Butler is 12th nationally in defensive three-point field goal percentage and has a couple of quality perimeter defenders they can throw at him.

BEST BET: The logic says to bet Butler here. The problem is that, at Butler (-6) or (-6.5), I don’t think we’re buying Butler low or selling Marquette high. KenPom and Torvik both have the line at (-6) while Haslam has it at (-7). I was hoping to get it at (-5) or lower, which is unfortunate. Either way, if I’m going to be betting this game — which, let’s be honest, is probably going to happen — it will be with Butler.

Oh, and Butler is unveiling Butler IV, their new puppy, tonight. Never fade the puppy play.

SATURDAY

No. 15 KENTUCKY at No. 18 TEXAS TECH, 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Texas Tech 67, Kentucky 64
  • TORVIK: Texas Tech 67, Kentucky 64
  • HASLAM: Texas Tech 69, Kentucky 63
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

The more I think about this, the more I like the Texas Tech side here. I do think that the Red Raiders have one of the best coaching staffs when it comes to developing and instituting a game-plan. That’s a problem for a Kentucky team that tends to be fairly limited in what they run offensively. Put another way, Kentucky tends to figure out what works for them and run it over and over and over again. Their playbook shrinks as the season progresses, and that’s the kind of thing that Chris Beard and Mark Adams can take advantage of.

This is also a good buy-low spot for Texas Tech, considering that they are coming home off of a loss at TCU.

On the other side of the ball, I do worry about Texas Tech’s ability to create offense. They have struggled on that end, and I don’t think they actually have the front court pieces to be able to pull Nick Richards out of the paint.

BEST BETS: I’ll be curious to see where the line opens up here. I lean Texas Tech at anything (-4) and below, and I hope that the Kentucky effect can push that line much lower. I also will be on the under. If I think Texas Tech will have trouble to score, and Kentucky will have trouble to score, it only makes sense.

No. 1 BAYLOR at FLORIDA, 6:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Baylor 65, Florida 64
  • TORVIK: Baylor 65, Florida 63
  • HASLAM: Baylor 65, Florida 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Baylor feels like they’re due for a loss, right?

They needed to erase a 12-point second half deficit at Oklahoma State last weekend. On Monday night, they nearly had Austin Reaves hitting a three in the final seconds to give Oklahoma a win in Waco. And now they are heading back out on the road to take on a Florida team that has been better of late?

Here’s to hoping that this line gets inflated because of the number next to Baylor’s name.

I also believe that the under is in play here. Baylor is one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Florida has not been as good on that end of the floor of late, but they, too, have shown flashes of being able to guard. They also matchup well with the Bears. But more importantly, I don’t believe that either of these teams are going to try and push the tempo. Florida has shown a frustrating determination to play possession by possession this season, while the Bears rank 269th in average offensive possession length.

BEST BET: I’ll be targeting the Florida ML here, particularly if the Gators end up getting points, but taking the under seems like the best play in this game.

No. 8 VILLANOVA at PROVIDENCE, 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Villanova 70, Providence 68
  • TORVIK: Providence 70, Villanova 69
  • HASLAM: Villanova 68, Providence 66
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

It’s not going to feel comfortable, but this feels like a good spot to take Providence. Villanova has won five in a row and 11 of their last 12, but their last four games have been played at home. They’ve failed to cover in two of their last three games and are just 1-3 against the spread on the road this season.

Providence has lost back-to-back games on the road, covering the spread in both games, and have covered in six of their last eight games.

BEST BET: I’ll be on the Providence side, but whether I take the Providence ML or take the points will depend on what the line opens up at.

No. 21 ILLINOIS at MICHIGAN, 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan 71, Illinois 68
  • TORVIK: Michigan 71, Illinois 68
  • HASLAM: Michigan 71, Illinois 69
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

The logic here is going to be exceedingly simple: Illinois is as hot as any team in the country right now. They’ve won five straight games, including wins at Wisconsin and at Purdue, the latter of which was by 17 points. Michigan, on the other hand, has not been the same team since they lost Isaiah Livers to a groin injury and, since January 1st, they’ve ranked 127th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Torvik.

BEST BET: I’ll be all over the Illinois ML, especially if this line opens up at Illinois (+3).

TENNESSEE at No. 3 KANSAS, 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kansas 68, Tennessee 54
  • TORVIK: Kansas 68, Tennessee 54
  • HASLAM: Kansas 70, Tennessee 50
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Kansas ranks No. 1 nationally in adusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They’re third in Torvik’s rating system. Since Lamonte Turner saw his season come to an end, Tennessee has ranked 251st nationally if adjusted offensive efficiency. The one point guard on their roster, freshman Santiago Vescovi, is averaging 5.0 turnovers per game despite playing just 24.5 minutes — to be fair, he had 21 turnovers in his first three games and has had just nine in the last three.

BEST BETS: I think Kansas rolls here after a week of hearing how bad they are because of Tuesday night’s fight.

SUNDAY

No. 17 MARYLAND at INDIANA, 1:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Maryland 67, Indiana 66
  • TORVIK: Indiana 67, Maryland 65
  • HASLAM: Maryland 66, Indiana 64
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

Maryland is 1-4 on the road this season. Their one win came at Northwestern in a game where they trailed by 14 points in the first half. The Terps might be the worst road team in the Big Ten, a league where road teams have been terrible this season.

BEST BET: If Indiana is getting points, take the ML. I also will be interested in betting the Indiana first half line. Fade Turgeon is in full effect this weekend.

No. 11 MICHIGAN STATE at MINNESOTA, 3:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 71
  • TORVIK: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 71
  • HASLAM: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 70
  • VEGAS IMPLIED SCORE: N/A

This is a tough spot for me. Michigan State has not been great away from East Lansing this season and they are coming off of a road loss at Indiana on Thursday night. That said, their loss came after erasing a 16-point first half deficit in a game where Xavier Tillman missed a wide-open layup that would have forced overtime.

BEST BET: I will be staying away from this game.

Kentucky’s Kahlil Whitney is leaving school

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Kentucky will be down a five-star recruit for the rest of the season.

Kahlil Whitney, who was the No. 11 prospect in the Class of 2019, according to 247 Sports’ composite ranking, announced on Friday that he will be leaving the Kentucky program.

“My time at Kentucky has not gone as I had hoped,” Whitney wrote in a statement released on his twitter page, “and I therefore need to make a difficult decision quickly to put myself back in to the best position possible as I continue to develop and work towards my ultimate goal.

“I’ve realized since high school that the business of basketball waits for no one, and sometimes tough choices need to be made in order to progress.”

Whitney was a starter early on in the season for the Wildcats, but he has been relegated to a limited role off the bench since league play started. He’s averaged 3.3 points in less than 13 minutes. In the last seven games he’s averaging just 6.1 minutes.

Whitney’s statement does not mention transferring, but if he did opt to head to a different school, he will not be eligible to play until 2021-22 without a waiver.

Bracketology: The top seeds remain in place

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

It’s been a while since we could say this:  All four No. 1 seeds remained in place between bracket updates: Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas and San Diego State.

Elsewhere, more than a handful of teams still have significant resume questions.  And several current bubble teams have important showdowns this weekend – including key matchups in the Big 12 / SEC Challenge.

On a closing note … remember that the Selection Committee evaluates a team’s entire profile, from beginning to end.  How a team performed in its last ten games is no longer an official criteria (although each Committee member may have his or her own perspective on its importance).  So while Ohio State and Michigan, as examples, have both struggled of late, each team’s early wins remain relevant considerations with regard to team sheet evaluation.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 24, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Oklahoma vs. VCU
MIDWEST REGION Minnesota vs. Texas Tech
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW AM vs. NORFOLK ST
WEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. ROBERT MORRIS

SOUTH Houston                  WEST – Los Angeles 
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) PV-AM / NORFOLK ST 16) MONMOUTH / ROB MORRIS
8) USC 8) Wichita State
9) Michigan 9) Arkansas
St. Louis Sacramento
5) Butler 5) Arizona
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) AKRON
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) S.F. AUSTIN 13) NEW MEXICO ST
Albany Greensboro
6) Wisconsin 6) Marquette
11) Virginia Tech 11) NC State
3) Villanova 3) West Virginia
14) COLGATE 14) LITTLE ROCK
Tampa Spokane
7) Rutgers 7) Indiana
10) Memphis 10) BYU
2) Florida State 2) Oregon
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) UC-IRVINE
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) WINTHROP 16) MONTANA
8) STANFORD 8) HOUSTON
9) Florida 9) Ohio State
Tampa Cleveland
5) Penn State 5) Creighton
12) LIBERTY 12) YALE
4) Kentucky 4) DAYTON
13) VERMONT 13) NORTH TEXAS
Greensboro St. Louis
6) Auburn 6) Colorado
11) Oklahoma / VCU 11) Minnesota / Texas Tech
3) Duke 3) LOUISVILLE
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) LOYOLA-CHICAGO
Albany Cleveland
7) Illinois 7) LSU
10) Saint Mary’s 10) DePaul
2) SETON HALL 2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) WILLIAM & MARY 15) SOUTH DAKOTA ST

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Saint Mary’s Oklahoma Xavier Arizona State
DePaul Minnesota Richmond Alabama
Virginia Tech Texas Tech Georgetown Mississippi State
NC State VCU Rhode Island Tennessee

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (11)
Big East (6)
ACC (5)
SEC (5)

Big 12 (5)
Pac 12 (5)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

Duarte’s 30 points leads No. 12 Oregon past USC 79-70 in double OT

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EUGENE, Ore. — Paying close attention paid off for Oregon’s Chris Duarte.

The junior guard had 30 points, 11 rebounds and eight steals, and the No. 12 Ducks outlasted Southern California 79-70 in double overtime Thursday night.

“I was watching the point guard’s eyes. I was watching everybody’s eyes. So I knew where they were going to pass the ball,” Duarte said. “So I took that as an advantage.”

Oregon teammate Payton Pritchard added 24 points and seven assists, becoming the first Pac-12 player to reach 1,500 career points, 600 assists and 500 rebounds. When the achievement was noted on the video scoreboard at Matthew Knight Arena in the second half, the crowd gave the senior guard a standing ovation.

Pritchard is the sixth player in Pac-12 history with 1,500 points and 600 assists, joining Oregon State’s Gary Payton, Arizona’s Damon Stoudamire and Jason Gardner, USC’s Jordan McLaughlin and UCLA’s Tyus Edney.

Oregon (16-4, 5-2) led by 11 in the second half but USC rallied with a 17-2 run to take a 62-58 lead, capped by Jonah Mathews’ 3-pointer with 1:24 left.

C.J. Walker and Pritchard hit consecutive layups to tie it at 62 and send the game to overtime.

Pritchard’s 3-pointer in the first extra period gave the Ducks a 65-64 lead, but Ethan Anderson’s layup and free throw put the Trojans up by two. Duarte made free throws for the Ducks to tie it again, and Mathews and Pritchard both missed shots down the stretch.

Duarte and Pritchard each hit a pair of free throws that gave Oregon a four-point advantage to open the second overtime. Duarte’s 3-pointer put the Ducks up 74-68, and USC couldn’t catch up.

Duarte’s eight steals were one shy of the school record.

“He was the difference in the game,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “No doubt about it.”

Onyeka Okongwu had 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Trojans (15-4, 4-2).

“You’ve got to take care of the ball. Some ill-timed passes that went to the other guys. We just have to make the right basketball play,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “Give them credit, they’re a good defensive team.”

It was Oregon’s third overtime game in league play.

Oregon was coming off a 64-61 overtime win at Washington last weekend. The Ducks overcame a 16-point deficit and won it on Pritchard’s 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left. But Oregon lost to Washington State 72-61 last Thursday, resulting in a fall from No. 8 to No. 12 in the AP Top 25.

USC had won nine of its last 10 games and three straight, including last Saturday’s 82-78 overtime victory against Stanford. The Trojans came back from a 21-point deficit in the second half to beat the Cardinal.

The Ducks built an early 15-7 lead after Duarte’s fast-break layup and 3-pointer. Oregon stayed in front, but USC closed to 24-23 on Daniel Utomi’s jumper.

The teams went to the break with Oregon ahead 32-30. Utomi led all scorers with 10 points.

Okongwu’s layup for USC tied it at 32 to start the second half but the Ducks responded with a 10-0 run, capped by Duarte’s jumper off a dish from Pritchard. Okongwu’s dunk ended the Trojans’ scoring drought.

Okongwu made consecutive baskets to pull USC to 56-53, and Matthews tied it with a 3-pointer to top off an 11-0 Trojans run. Pritchard answered with a layup for Oregon.

Freshman forward Chandler Lawson’s layup stretched the Ducks’ lead to 49-38 midway through the second half.

“A lot of things we’ve got to work on. But we got some defensive stops when we needed it, we got some big rebounds when we needed it, and just found a way to win the game,” Altman said. “We’ve been doing that too much, though. We’ve got to find a way to get our offense cranked a little bit.”

Lawson made his first start for the Ducks after he had 16 points and 12 rebounds against Washington. Oregon was without center N’Faly Dante, who was questionable for the game after hurting his knee against the Huskies.

Pritchard was one of just two Division I players averaging at least 19 points, five assists and four rebounds per game, joining Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross.

BIG PICTURE

USC: The Trojans started 4-1 in conference play for the first time since 2016. USC went 5-0 to open conference play in 2002. … Enfield said afterward that this loss stung. “We’ve played a few close games this year. We won three or four close ones,” he said. “We were right there and we lost. It hurts when you lose a game and have a chance.”

Oregon: Pritchard is closing in on Oregon’s career record of 614 assists held by Kenya Wilkins. … Pritchard has won 96 games as a Ducks player, one shy of Oregon’s career leader, Johnathan Lloyd. … Sabrina Ionescu, star guard for the No. 4 Oregon women, was at the game and was interviewed by the Pac-12 broadcast team during the first half.

UP NEXT

USC visits Oregon State on Saturday.

Oregon hosts UCLA on Sunday.