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Final Four is set after memorable Elite Eight

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The 2019 Final Four is set for next weekend in Minneapolis as the second weekend of the NCAA tournament was a memorable one.

After four memorable Elite Eight games, No. 1 seed Virginia will face No. 5 seed Auburn in one national semifinal with No. 2 seed Michigan State battling No. 3 seed Texas Tech in the other Final Four game on Saturday.

Falling in last season’s NCAA tournament to No. 16 seed UMBC, the Cavaliers figured things out to make the Final Four with a memorable overtime win in the South Region over No. 3 seed Purdue. Despite 42 points from Boilermaker junior guard Carsen Edwards, Virginia outlasted his 10 three-pointers with a flurry of their own from Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. And with the team needing a buzzer-beating bucket just to force overtime, big man Mamadi Diakite came through.

Virginia’s win will go down as one of the better Elite Eight games of the decade as Edwards became a March hero while the Cavaliers finally overcame some NCAA tournament demons.

Also winning an overtime game in the Midwest Region was No. 5 seed Auburn as they outlasted SEC rival Kentucky. Playing without Sweet 16 star Chuma Okeke, who suffered a torn ACL on Friday, the Tigers rallied in the second half to beat the Wildcats behind Bryce Brown and Jared Harper to make their first Final Four in school history. The Wildcats’ great season ends behind a strong game from P.J. Washington as he overcame a foot injury last week to end a memorable sophomore season with 28 points and 13 rebounds.

Texas Tech advanced to its first Final Four in school history as well with a win over No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday. In a close Elite Eight matchup in the West Region, the Red Raiders held off the Bulldogs with shot-making from Jarrett Culver and Matt Mooney while Gonzaga was held to 7-for-26 three-point shooting. Rui Hachimura (22 points) and Brandon Clarke (18 points) both had strong games while Josh Perkins (16 points) committed a late out-of-bounds foul that sealed the game for the Red Raiders.

The final Elite Eight thriller saw No. 2 seed Michigan State outlast No. 1 seed Duke in the East Region. Cassius Winston (20 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks) and Xavier Tillman (19 points, nine rebounds) both had big games for the Spartans as they limited turnovers to shock the No. 1 overall seed. The loss likely ends the college career of freshmen Zion Williamson (24 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks, three steals) and R.J. Barrett (21 points, six assists) as the Blue Devils fall short of the Final Four when many considered them a title favorite.

Between the four great games, two overtime thrillers, a buzzer-beater to force overtime and some big star performances, this makes a strong case for the best Elite Eight ever. We had a jaw-dropping Edwards performance in a losing effort, two blueblood programs (Duke and Kentucky) getting upset in close games and the final college game of the sport’s biggest star of the decade (Zion).

And that doesn’t even include Auburn and Texas Tech making the first Final Four in school history, Izzo’s finest coaching job and Winston’s heroics and Goins’ big shot. Virginia overcoming a shaky reputation and the Tigers overcoming the loss of Okeke to injury.

The first weekend might have been mostly chalk. The second weekend of the 2019 NCAA tournament was a great one as it culminated in memorable Elite Eight games and stars coming through in the clutch. It’s led to some unexpected Final Four matchups, but at least college hoops fans have plenty to talk about this week after some ridiculous games.

Duke’s Zion Williamson officially ruled out against North Carolina

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Duke freshman Zion Williamson has been officially ruled out of Saturday’s ACC rivalry game against North Carolina.

Listed as doubtful on Friday, Williamson has been recovering from a Grade 1 right knee sprain since exploding out of his shoe when the two storied Tobacco Road rivals met a few weeks ago. Saturday will mark the fifth consecutive game that Williamson will miss as Duke has gone 3-1 during his full absence.

When Williamson went down with the knee injury 33 seconds into Duke’s home loss against North Carolina, it shifted the dynamic in a crowded ACC race as the Tar Heels and Virginia remain ahead of Duke entering Saturday’s action.

ACC tournament seeding will be at stake on Saturday as the Blue Devils have a chance at a No. 1 seed with a win and Virginia loss to Louisville. The Tar Heels are also hoping for the season sweep over Duke as they attempt to also earn that No. 1 seed.

While Williamson is being held out on Saturday, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski sounded cautiously optimistic that his star freshman could return for the ACC tournament. The hope is that Williamson can play a few games in Charlotte and get into better game shape before the NCAA tournament.

“I want to give him a chance to get in game shape. I would be surprised if he wasn’t ready by the ACC Tournament, Krzyzewski said Friday. “Hopefully we’ll play some games there, not just one, and get ready for the NCAA Tournament.”

Besides Williamson, Duke is dealing with some other minor injuries at this point in the season. During a sluggish performance in a win over Wake Forest earlier this week, junior center Marques Bolden was limited with a hip injury. Freshman guard Tre Jones also had to be taken to the locker room during the second half with what was described as a bruised right quad. Both are expected to play on Saturday, but Duke is clearly banged up at this point in the season.

Wednesday’s Things to Know: North Carolina rolls Duke as Zion exits with injury; Four ranked teams upset

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Duke vs. North Carolina had the nation’s attention on Wednesday night but there were still plenty of other happenings to track in the world of college basketball. Four ranked teams suffered upsets to unranked opponents while the Big East had a shakeup at the top.

No. 8 North Carolina dismantles No. 1 Duke as Zion Williamson exits with injury

It only took 33 seconds, but the entire trajectory of Wednesday night’s storied ACC rivalry between Duke and North Carolina changed once Blue Devil star freshman Zion Williamson literally exploded out of his shoe and left with a knee injury.

Once Williamson exited the contest (preliminarily being called a mild knee sprain), the Tar Heels pounced as they jumped all over Duke for an easy double-digit win.

CBT’s Rob Dauster has plenty more on this one as he breaks down Zion’s impact on the game while talking about Duke’s underperforming supporting cast.

Marquette takes the lead in the Big East following Villanova’s loss to Georgetown

Among the conference races to watch on Wednesday included an intriguing two-horse race in the Big East. The conference began the night with No. 17 Villanova losing back-to-back league games for the first time ever in the reformatted “new” Big East as Georgetown had a convincing upset win.

Following the slip-up by the Wildcats, No. 11 Marquette took advantage as they rallied after a halftime deficit to knock off Butler at home. The win gives the Golden Eagles (11-2 in league play) a current half-game lead in the loss column over Villanova (11-3 in league play) as the season heads into the final stretch. A week from now (Feb. 27) these two teams play in Philly as it could serve as a sort of Big East regular-season title game.

Florida, Syracuse among the night’s bubble winners after upset wins

Besides for Georgetown’s aforementioned win over No. 17 Villanova, two more ranked teams suffered upsets to unranked bubble teams on Wednesday night.

In the ACC, Syracuse earned its best win since the road upset at Duke in early January with a blowout home win over struggling No. 18 Louisville. Given the tumultuous state of the bubble, this could be the win that really helps the Orange get into the field as an at-large as this was an important win before the remaining schedule becomes daunting.

Over in the SEC, Florida continued a recent surge with an impressive overtime road win at No. 13 LSU. Banged up and depleted in this one, the Gators rode the hot hand of senior guard KeVaughn Allen (21 points) in the second half and overtime for their biggest win of the season. With one of the most bizarre bubble profiles in the country, Florida desperately needed this one to avoid the bubble bursting. Now, with a winnable three-game stretch following Wednesday’s win, the Gators could build some momentum before some tough games to end the regular season.

No. 6 Nevada falls to San Diego State

To close out an action-packed night, San Diego State earned the biggest upset of Wednesday with a home win over No. 6 Nevada.

Suffering only their second loss of the season after a 24-1 start, this could wind up being a killer loss for the Wolf Pack. Not only does Nevada have to contend with Utah State being one game behind in the Mountain West standings, but this loss could have potentially big NCAA tournament seeding ramifications.

Although nationally-ranked in the top ten of the AP poll, Nevada doesn’t have nearly the same credibility when it comes to bracketology numbers. The Wolf Pack, remarkably, still haven’t played a single Q1 opponent this season as their non-conference schedule and a weak Mountain West has hurt their strength of schedule. Already slotted as a No. 4 seed by many, this is the type of loss that could drop Nevada to the No. 5 or No. 6 line — even though they’re currently the No. 6 team in the country.

Zion Williamson helps elevate Duke-North Carolina tickets to ridiculous prices

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Wednesday night’s showdown between storied rivals No. 1 Duke and No. 8 North Carolina has turned into one of the hottest tickets in sports thanks to freshman superstar Zion Williamson.

Approaching Super Bowl-level pricing on secondary ticket sites like StubHub and SeatGeek, the ACC game at Cameron Indoor Stadium is going to be next-to-impossible to attend without forking over a solid chunk of change.

As of this writing, the cheapest ticket for this game on StubHub is $3,166 — with only 30 total tickets available. On SeatGeek, the cheapest ticket is $3,200, with only 33 total tickets to be had. The most expensive ticket currently listed is for $9,200 on SeatGeek.

To put those prices in perspective, TickPick marketing strategist Kyle Zorn told ESPN’s Myron Medcalf that the cheapest ticket to get into the Super Bowl this year was $2,674. Vivid Seats already sold one ticket for the Duke/UNC game for $10,652, according to Medcalf’s report.

With Cameron Indoor Stadium’s limited capacity of only 9,314, it’s a major reason why Wednesday’s game is reaching such extraordinary levels on secondary ticket markets. While the Super Bowl was a dreadfully boring game that featured minimal scoring, at least fans paying to get in on Wednesday will seemingly pay for some quality Zion moments. Known to put on a dunking exhibition during pregame warmups, the runaway National Player of the Year frontrunner, has elevated this rivalry to another new level.

Williamson scores 25, No. 2 Duke shuts down Pitt 79-64

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PITTSBURGH — Zion Williamson hit his first 10 shots on his way to 25 points, fellow freshman RJ Barrett scored 26 and No. 2 Duke had little trouble with Pittsburgh in a 79-64 victory on Tuesday night.

Williamson finished 11 of 13 from the floor to go with seven rebounds and seven assists for the Blue Devils (16-2, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who kept the Panthers (12-7, 2-4) in check even without injured freshman guard Tre Jones. Duke held Pitt to 41 percent shooting, outrebounded the Panthers 39-34 and wasn’t in any real danger after a surge midway through the first half.

Trey McGowens led Pitt with 14 points, Jared Wilson-Frame and Terrell Brown added 12 each but the Panthers simply couldn’t match Duke’s size or firepower.

Pitt head coach Jeff Capel expected it to feel “weird” while facing Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Capel spent seven years as Krzyzewski’s top assistant before leaving to join the Panthers last spring, developing a reputation as one of the top recruiters in the country.

Capel hopes to one day bring in the kind of talent to Pitt that now regularly flocks to the Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils. He might, but not quite yet. The talent gulf between the two programs came into vivid detail once the early adrenaline — fueled in part by a sold-out crowd at raucous Petersen Events Center that included rap superstar Jay-Z — wore off and the Williamson went to work.

The Panthers actually led 16-15 early but Duke responded with a 12-0 run that showcased Williamson’s remarkable gifts. He hit a lay-up in traffic, drilled a 3-pointer and tipped in a Barrett miss to put the Blue Devils firmly in control and put the rest any concern about an emotional letdown following a taut victory over the Cavaliers.

Even while playing without Young, whom Capel considers one of the best defensive players in the ACC and who remains out while recovering from a shoulder injury, the Blue Devils steadily pulled away against the energetic if physically overmatched Panthers.

Pitt managed just nine points over the final 13 minutes of the opening half and unlike its upset wins over Florida State and Louisville earlier this month, the Panthers were unable to get to lane and get to the free-throw line. Duke’s massive frontcourt didn’t allow it. The taller, longer Blue Devils swallowed up whatever open space existed in the lane.

The Blue Devils led 44-25 at the break and Williamson hit all nine of his shots. He eventually missed one on his second attempt of the second half but it didn’t stop Duke’s lead from growing to as much as 23. When a mini-run by Pitt got the Panthers within 61-45 with 8:57 to play. Krzyzewski called timeout. Barrett drilled 3-pointer on Duke’s next possession and it was over.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils can guard when they want to even without Jones. The team that leads the nation in blocked shots swatted seven — right around Duke’s season average — and found an extra gear when it was required.

Pitt: Capel believes the Panthers are on a path that will return them to prominence. A talent upgrade is a must. For all the fight Pitt showed, the Panthers aren’t big enough or deep enough to hang with the ACC’s top tier quite yet.

UP NEXT

Duke: Host Georgia Tech on Saturday.

Pitt: Visits Louisville on Saturday. The Panthers beat the Cardinals 86-83 in overtime at home on Jan. 9.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Scottie Pippen says Zion Williamson should stop playing at Duke, prepare for NBA draft

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The past, present and future of Duke freshman Zion Williamson will all be topics of discussion for the next several months. As the nation’s top college basketball player and the likely No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Williamson is going to constantly be in the news cycle.

Former Chicago Bulls legend and Basketball Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen became the latest to create a stir on Wednesday as he thinks Williamson might be smart to sit out the rest of his college career. Although Williamson is likely guaranteed as an All-American, and Duke is competing for an ACC and national title, he also has a lot to lose with a potential injury.

“I think he’s locked up the biggest shoe deal, I think he’s definitely going to be the No. 1 pick, I think he’s done enough for college basketball that it’s more about him personally,” Pippen said Wednesday on ESPN’s “The Jump.” “I would shut it down. I would stop playing because I feel he could risk a major injury that could really hurt his career.”

While Williamson is very unlikely to shut down his college season, given his competitiveness and Duke’s national stature and title chances, Pippen has some intriguing points about Williamson.

The shoe contract part of things (and other endorsements) in particular. We know the number an NBA team has to pay Williamson as part of the league’s rookie salary scale. We have no idea what shoe companies and other businesses could be looking to pay Williamson.

Even though Williamson’s occupation will technically be, basketball-player-for-NBA-franchise, his biggest employer will be the apparel companies and other businesses that sign him to instant, massive endorsement deals. Pippen is right to say that Williamson needs to protect those business interests while also thinking of his playing career.

But Williamson could also earn an injury while training for the draft and sitting out actual games. And Williamson’s upside for playing the rest of the season could also be enormous. What happens if Williamson sustains his current pace and sweeps the awards circuit while leading Duke to a deep NCAA tournament run? Williamson will receive a massive amount of positive attention for those things while also continuing to build on his future.

It’s definitely an interesting point that Pippen brought to the table. College football players sitting out meaningless bowl games before the NFL Draft has increased in frequency. But Williamson still has plenty of real things to play for and he’s not going to slow down.