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Johnson, No. 8 North Carolina roll past Wake Forest 95-57

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Cameron Johnson scored 27 points, and eighth-ranked North Carolina scored the game’s first 18 points in Saturday’s 95-57 win over Wake Forest.

Freshman Coby White added 10 points, five rebounds and six assists for the Tar Heels (20-5, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who dominated from the tip following their first loss in a month.

The Tar Heels, who lost to fourth-ranked Virginia on Monday, ran out to leads of 18-0, 25-3 and 35-7. They shot 74 percent in the opening half and finished at 62 percent while making 16 of 25 3-pointers, with Johnson making his first eight shots and six from behind the arc.

Freshman Jaylen Hoard scored 17 points in an ugly afternoon for the Demon Deacons (9-15, 2-10), who suffered their most lopsided loss in three decades at Joel Coliseum.

Wake Forest shot 33 percent.

BIG PICTURE

UNC: The Tar Heels got anything they wanted to start a game that resembled more of a November tuneup than a February league date. Johnson led that effort by making 10 of 13 shots and 7 of 10 3-pointers. Still, there was at least one apparent concern: the health of freshman reserve Nassir Little. He was a gametime decision after rolling his right ankle early against Virginia and felt good enough to play 11 first-half minutes, but he wasn’t on the bench after halftime.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons found reason for hope with a Jan. 15 win against then-No. 17 North Carolina State, but they had won just once since with five losses coming by at least 16 points. Things began badly Saturday when Hoard didn’t start after arriving late for a pregame shootaround. And they got no better, most notably with leading scorer Brandon Childress (15.1 points) going scoreless on 0-for-12 shooting with six turnovers.

Bracketology: Happy Valentine’s Day for Duke, LSU

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Since it’s Valentine’s Day, we’ll sweep the epic crumbles of futility – otherwise known as this year’s bubble – under the proverbial rug and try not to look.

Instead, we’ll send Happy Heart greetings to the Duke Blue Devils and LSU Tigers, both of whom celebrated huge road wins in the Commonwealth on Tuesday.  For their efforts, Duke remains the No. 1 overall seed in today’s bracket.  LSU rises to No. 12 on the seed list, good for the final No. 3 seed.

As for those crumbles, today’s cutline decisions included serious consideration for teams like Oklahoma, Indiana, Butler, and Florida, all of whom have significant resume issues. There are no clear answers, especially with regards to how the Selection Committee will use the NCAA’s new NET ratings.  The good news for those four, and others, is we still have games to play.

BRACKET UPDATE: February 14, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
WEST REGION Clemson vs. Arizona State
MIDWEST REGION UNC Greensboro vs. Utah State
EAST REGION Norfolk State vs. Quinnipiac
MIDWEST REGION Robert Morris vs. Prairie View

EAST Washington, DC   SOUTH – Louisville                       
Columbia Columbia
1) DUKE 1) TENNESSEE
16) QUINNIPIAC / NORFOLK ST 16) BUCKNELL
8) BUFFALO 8) Baylor
9) Alabama 9) Syracuse
San Jose Salt Lake City
5) Wisconsin 5) KANSAS STATE
12) LIPSCOMB 12) BELMONT
4) Iowa State 4) VILLANOVA
13) VERMONT 13) OLD DOMINION
Des Moines Tulsa
6) Florida State 6) Maryland
11) UCF 11) Texas
3) Marquette 3) HOUSTON
14) YALE 14) UC-IRVINE
Hartford Jacksonville
7) Mississippi State 7) Ohio State
10) NC State 10) Seton Hall
2) Michigan 2) North Carolina
15) LOYOLA-CHICAGO 15) RADFORD
WEST – Anaheim MIDWEST – Kansas City
Salt Lake City Hartford
1) GONZAGA 1) Virginia
16) SAM HOUSTON 16) ROB MORRIS / PR VIEW
8) St. John’s 8) WASHINGTON
9) Auburn 9) TCU
San Jose Des Moines
5) Louisville 5) Texas Tech
12) Clemson / Arizona State 12) NC-Greensboro / Utah State
4) NEVADA 4) Purdue
13) NEW MEXICO ST 13) HOFSTRA
Jacksonville Tulsa
6) Virginia Tech 6) Iowa
11) Temple 11) VCU
3) LSU 3) Kansas
14) NORTHERN KENTUCKY 14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
Columbus Columbus
7) Ole Miss 7) Cincinnati
10) WOFFORD 10) Minnesota
2) MICHIGAN STATE 2) Kentucky
15) MONTANA 15) TEXAS STATE

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Minnesota Clemson Oklahoma Arkansas
Texas Arizona State Indiana Georgetown
UCF UNC-Greensboro Butler Fresno State
Temple Utah State Florida Davidson

TOP SEED LINE: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Tennessee, Virginia, and Gonzaga

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): DUKE, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, NC State, Clemson

Big 10 (8): MICHIGAN STATE, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State, Minnesota

BIG 12 (7): KANSAS STATE, Kansas, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, Texas

SEC (7): TENNESSEE, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Alabama

Big East (4): VILLANOVA, Marquette, St. John’s, Seton Hall

American (4): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple

Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State

Mountain West (2): NEVADA, Utah State

Southern (2): WOFFORD, UNC-Greensboro

Atlantic 10 (1): VCU

Mid American (1): BUFFALO

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Quinnipiac (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Northern Kentucky (HORIZON), Sam Houston (SLND), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Radford (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Robert Morris (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

No. 4 Virginia rallies past No. 8 North Carolina

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It’s a matter of perspective when it comes to Virginia basketball.

What do you want to focus on?

Is it the first-round loss to UMBC last year? Tony Bennett’s teams’ lack of a Final Four? What about those two losses to Duke this season? If that’s the case, you’re going to be pretty down on Virginia. Focusing on what they haven’t done is going to make you fixate on what you think they can’t do.

What about looking at Bennett’s 26-3 ACC mark over the last two seasons? How about the defense that continues to be elite while the offense embraces 3-point shooting (at least by Virginia standards) and is, too, among the country’s best? You could look at wins against Wisconsin, Maryland, Florida State, Virginia Tech and now North Carolina, which the Cavaliers topped 69-61 in Chapel Hill on Monday.

There’s a choice when it comes to evaluating Virginia. Either you care about what they’re doing, who they’re beating and how they’re accomplishing it as they continue to plow through the regular season – or you don’t. If you’re the latter, here’s guessing none of the former matters because at this point, we’ve seen it from Virginia. They don’t get credit for being awesome until they back it up with NCAA tournament success.

Which is fine, I suppose, but it’s waving away another remarkable season by a powerhouse team.

De’Andre Hunter went for 20 points while Kyle Guy matched him and Ty Jerome tallied 15. That’s a trio that only Duke can match in terms of talent, and there may not be another team that can make that claim. The plodding-pace Virginia plays at is supposed to be a death knell when the Cavaliers fall behind – but they were down seven with under nine minutes to play and trailed as late as under-five minutes. Didn’t matter. Jerome and Guy were great down the stretch, and really those two are the type of killers you want on your side in March. Virginia held North Carolina to 35.4 percent shooting while converting at a 53.3 percent clip themselves.

Multiple things can be true at once. Virginia’s NCAA tournament track record – relative to seed expectation – is underwhelming. The loss to UMBC was historically embarrassing. The Cavaliers are unequivocally not even the best team in the ACC. Two losses to Duke saw to making that determination. Also, all that has very little – maybe nothing – to do with Virginia’s shot at a Final Four and a national championship this year. Here’s guessing they won’t have to play the only team that’s proven can beat them – Duke – until Minneapolis. Winning at North Carolina – while trailing late – would suggest Virginia can beat just about anyone, anywhere.

Two losses to Duke are no reason to dismiss Virginia’s credentials or potential. Neither is a landmark fluke from nearly a year ago. Just because Virginia hasn’t done it yet doesn’t mean they can’t in the future. Really, all they’ve accomplished – not what they’ve failed to – suggests a Final Four and a national championship are very real possibilities.

That, at least, is what it looks like to me.

Bracketology: Committee pens Duke, Tennessee as 1-2 punch

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Few of us were surprised on Saturday when the Selection Committee announced that Duke and Tennessee were Nos. 1 and 1A on their Seed List.  After an action-filled weekend, neither position has changed, although one could argue that Duke’s win at Virginia, giving the Blue Devils a regular-season sweep, might create a more distinct line of separation between those two.

The only top-line move this morning was lifting Gonzaga to No. 3 on the Seed List and dropping Virginia to No. 4.  Gonzaga still reigns over the West Region and Virginia the Midwest.  Elsewhere, team positions on the first four lines mirror what the Committee gave us on Saturday.  One could argue whether or not Iowa State would stay after a home loss to TCU, or about how losses by Louisville and Wisconsin might also impact those lines.  For today, we’ll let the Committee’s voice be heard.

Unfortunately, the Committee didn’t provide us any sort of insight into what has become a very mediocre bubble picture.  Then again, why take on that headache right now? Hopefully, some cleaner lines of separation will develop over the next three weeks.

UPDATED: February 11, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
SOUTH REGION Butler vs. UCF
WEST REGION Oklahoma / Temple
EAST REGION Norfolk State vs. Canisius
MIDWEST REGION Robert Morris vs. Prairie View

EAST Washington, DC      SOUTH – Louisville                       
Columbia Columbia
1) DUKE 1) TENNESSEE
16) NORFOLK ST / CANISIUS 16) BUCKNELL
8) BUFFALO 8) Syracuse
9) Alabama 9) Baylor
San Jose San Jose
5) LSU 5) Texas Tech
12) BELMONT 12) Butler / UCF
4) Iowa State 4) NEVADA
13) HOFSTRA 13) VERMONT
Des Moines Hartford
6) Virginia Tech 6) Florida State
11) VCU 11) Seton Hall
3) Marquette 3) Purdue
14) NORTHERN KENTUCKY 14) YALE
Columbus Jacksonville
7) Cincinnati 7) Mississippi State
10) Texas 10) Minnesota
2) MICHIGAN 2) North Carolina
15) LOYOLA-CHICAGO 15) RADFORD
MIDWEST – Kansas City WEST – Anaheim
Hartford Salt Lake City
1) Virginia 1) GONZAGA
16) PR VIEW / ROB MORRIS 16) SAM HOUSTON
8) St. John’s 8) Auburn
9) Ole Miss 9) TCU
Salt Lake City Columbus
5) KANSAS STATE 5) VILLANOVA
12) LIPSCOMB 12) Oklahoma / Temple
4) Wisconsin 4) Louisville
13) NEW MEXICO ST 13) OLD DOMINION
Tulsa Tulsa
6) Maryland 6) Iowa
11) Arizona State 11) Clemson
3) HOUSTON 3) Kansas
14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST 14) UC-IRVINE
Jacksonville Des Moines
7) Ohio State 7) WASHINGTON
10) NC State 10) WOFFORD
2) Kentucky 2) Michigan State
15) MONTANA 15) MONTANA

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Minnesota Butler Georgetown Providence
Arizona State UCF NC-Greensboro Utah State
Seton Hall Oklahoma Arkansas Florida
Clemson Temple Indiana Creighton

TOP SEED LINE: Duke is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Tennessee, Virginia, and Gonzaga

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): DUKE, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, NC State, Clemson

Big 10 (8): MICHIGAN, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State, Minnesota

BIG 12 (8): KANSAS STATE, Kansas, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, Texas, Oklahoma

SEC (7): TENNESSEE, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Auburn, Ole Miss, Alabama

Big East (5): VILLANOVA, Marquette, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Butler

American (4): HOUSTON, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple

Pac 12 (2): WASHINGTON, Arizona State

Atlantic 10 (1): VCU

Mid American (1): BUFFALO

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

West Coast (1): GONZAGA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Loyola-Chicago (MVC), Canisius (MAAC), Old Dominion (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Northern Kentucky (HORIZON), Sam Houston (SLND), Wofford (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Lipscomb (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), Hofstra (CAA), Radford (BSO), Norfolk State (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Robert Morris (NEC), Prairie View (SWAC)

NBC Sports Top 25: Duke is No. 1, Virginia remains top five

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There wasn’t much change in the top ten for me this week. Virginia was the only member of the top six to lose, and they lost on a night where the No. 1 team shot 13-for-21 from three. As I wrote from that game, it’s hard to think any less of them after that.

Michigan State is the team in the top ten that is the hardest to rank right now. On the one hand, they did lose three straight games, culminating in that loss at Illinois on Tuesday night. On the other hand, everyone lost last week. Villanova lost to Marquette who lost to St. John’s, both games decided by a single point. Kansas lost. Virginia Tech lost twice. I can’t bump any of them over the Spartans, and I also am not yet ready to bump Nevada or Houston past them. Nevada’s best win this season is Utah State at home. They haven’t even played a Q1 game this year, let alone landed a Q1 win.

Purdue and Michigan State are basically the same team and split the season series. The only difference is that Purdue lost early and Michigan State lost recently.

Beyond that, figuring out how to rank the Big 12 is like throwing darts blindfolded. As of today, I have Kansas State as the highest ranked team in the league — how can I not? — with Iowa State, Texas Tech and Kansas right behind them, in that order, but I’m not actually convinced that the Wildcats aren’t the worst of that group of four teams.

We are at the point in league play where college basketball is starting to get weird.

And I am here for it.

Here is the rest of the NBC Sports Top 25:

1. Duke (21-2, Last Week: 1)
2. Tennessee (22-1, 2)
3. Gonzaga (23-1, 3)
4. Virginia (20-2, 4)
5. Kentucky (20-3, 5)
6. Michigan (22-2, 6)
7. North Carolina (19-4, 8)
8. Michigan State (19-5, 7)
9. Marquette (20-4, 10)
10. Villanova (19-5, 11)
11. Nevada (23-1, 13)
12. Purdue (17-6, 15)
13. Houston (23-1, 16)
14. Kansas State (18-5, NR)
15. Iowa State (18-6, 14)
16. Texas Tech (19-5, 17)
17. Kansas (18-6, 12)
18. Virginia Tech (18-5, 9)
19. Wisconsin (17-7, 18)
20. LSU (19-4, 20)
21. Louisville (17-7, 21)
22. Iowa (19-5, 25)
23. Buffalo (20-3, 23)
24. Florida State (18-5, NR)
25. Wofford (21-4, NR)

Dropped Out: 19. Mississippi State, 22. Baylor, 24. Auburn
New Additions: 14. Kansas State, 24. Florida State, 25. Wofford

Saturday’s Things To Know: Zion’s acrobatics, Markus Howard goes bonkers, Kansas State to win the Big 12

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Markus Howard, Marquette

Howard finished with 38 points on Saturday afternoon, shooting 13-for-24 from the floor and 5-for-11 from three, as the Golden Eagles knocked off Villanova, 66-65, to remain within a game of first place in the Big East regular season title race. This was the third time in the last four games that Howard has reached 30 points, and the fifth time this season he’s scored at least 37 points in a game.

TEAM OF THE DAY: TCU Horned Frogs

There was no bigger winner on the bubble on Saturday than TCU, who went into Ames and landed themselves a top 15 road win by knocking off Iowa State. The game wasn’t all that close, either. A 22-2 first half run put TCU in front, and the Cyclones never really threatened in the second half. Entering the weekend, TCU was slotted in a play-in game in the latest NBC Sports bracket. This is the kind of win that can bump them up a full seed line.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Parker Van Dyke, Utah

UCLA somehow managed to find a way to blow a 22-point second half lead to Utah, and they did it in the most dramatic way possible:

EXTRA ONIONS: Luke Maye, North Carolina

Coby White led the way with 33 points and six assists, but it was Luke Maye’s jumper at the end of regulation that allowed the Tar Heels to avoid an embarrassing home loss to what may be the worst team in the ACC this season, Miami:

SATURDAY’S BIGGEST WINNERS

KANSAS STATE, BIG 12 FAVORITE: Kansas State rolled into Baylor in a battle for first place in the Big 12, and thanks in part to some injuries to Makai Mason and King McClure, they left with a 70-63 win. With Iowa State taking a home loss to TCU a couple of hours earlier, it means that the Wildcats are now two games against of Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas in the loss column. Who saw that coming?

NEVADA’S REVENGE: The last time we saw Nevada and New Mexico play, the Wolf Pack suffered their only loss of the season … an 85-58 humiliation at the hands of the Lobos. On Saturday, Eric Musselman’s team hosted New Mexico and made a statement of their own, getting revenge and winning the season series by two thanks to a 91-62 smackdown.

CLEMSON AND TCU: TCU was the biggest winner of the day on the bubble, but Clemson landed a monster win of their won. The Tigers entered the day on the bubble despite the fact that they had not yet earned a Q1 win, and then they turned around and picked off a Virginia Tech team that is sitting in the top ten in the NET.

JON TESKE: After Ethan Happ tore up Michigan in the first five minutes of Wisconsin’s visit to Ann Arbor, Teske did a terrific job slowing him down. Happ had just four points on 2-for-9 shooting in the second half as the Wolverines knocked off Wisconsin, 61-52.

THE HYPE FOR KENTUCKY’S UPCOMING WEEK: The Wildcats held of a scrappy Mississippi State team, 71-67, thanks to 23 points from P.J. Washington and some timely buckets from Tyler Herro. This sets the table for a week that might determine the SEC regular season champion: Kentucky hosts both LSU and Tennessee. The Vols hold a one game lead in the standings over both teams.

SATURDAY’S BIGGEST LOSERS

ALL OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Duke made 13 threes.

13!

The result was a resounding win in Charlottesville over the Wahoos, a performance that made a very, very good Virginia team look rather pedestrian. If Duke is going to shoot anywhere close to this well the rest of the season, then we might as well give them the national title now and find something else to do for the next two months.

DE’ANDRE HUNTER’S THREE-BALL: That thing vanished:

PHIL BOOTH’S DECISION MAKING: I don’t think that the Villanova star has made the wrong decision at any point this season … until he had a chance to ice the Big East regular season title. Markus Howard left the ball, Booth had a lane and he dribbled into trouble, ending the game:

Look at this screenshot:

Booth has to be able to score that. He’ll regret this in film tomorrow.

IOWA STATE: The Cyclones had a chance to remain just a game off the pace in the Big 12 regular season standings, and what did they do?

They lost at home to TCU in a game that they never really threatened. That just can’t happen if you want to have any chance to win the Big 12.

LOUISVILLE: The Cardinals blew a 10 point and eventually lost on the road to Florida State in overtime.

FINAL THOUGHT

I know that the big talking point with Gonzaga right now is that Killian Tillie is out and that they cannot win the title now.

I think that’s stupid.

Gonzaga did not have Tillie when they beat Duke in Maui. They have cruised through a better-than-it-looks WCC with Tillie playing very limited minutes to date. They did not have Tillie when they beat Saint Mary’s, the second-best team in the league, by 48 freakin’ points on Saturday night.

Depth matters when it comes to injuries, foul trouble and getting 5-on-5 reps in practice. Depth does not matter all that much come March, especially when the position that Tillie plays is currently occupied by two of the ten best big men college basketball has to offer in Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke.

Hell, I would go as far as to say that Gonzaga’s depth is on full display because they are still very much in the national title hunt despite the fact that Tillie — who is very, very good — has basically had a lost season.