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North Carolina Peaking At the Right Time — This Week in College Basketball

John Henson hurdles Plumlee
Streeter Lecka, Getty Images

By this time next week, the 68-team field for the NCAA tournament will be set. Between now and then, conference champions will be crowned, while bubble teams will attempt to record another win or two to try to sneak into the big dance. Here’s what’s happening this week in NCAA basketball:

Team on the Rise: North Carolina Tar Heels

After an 88-70 victory over rival Duke on Saturday in Durham, No. 6 North Carolina (27-4, 14-2 ACC) secured its second straight ACC regular season title. The Tar Heels’ win was their seventh consecutive victory, and it assured them of the top seed in the league tournament, which starts Thursday in Atlanta. Coach Roy Williams’ team, paced by Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller, has a good possibility of being one of the four No. 1 regional seeds should UNC win the ACC tourney.

Team on the Decline: Florida Gators

After dropping a 74-59 contest to No. 1 Kentucky at home on Sunday, No. 16 Florida (22-9, 10-6 SEC) has now lost three games in a row. Coach Billy Donovan’s Gators can’t seem to generate any consistent offense, and they miss injured forward Will Yeguete, who is out for the season with a broken foot. The Florida frontcourt was outplayed by a talented Kentucky team and other squads may pound the ball inside on the Gators in the NCAA tournament unless they find a way to stop it.

Player on the Rise: Will Barton, Memphis Tigers

After pouring in 20 points and grabbing nine rebounds during a 78-66 win over Tulsa that secured the regular season Conference USA title for his team, Will Barton has become the player to watch for Memphis (23-8, 13-3 C-USA). In his last four games, all Tigers’ wins, Barton averaged 24.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Barton should get plenty of support as the Conference USA player of the year.

Player on the Decline: Eric Atkins, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Eric Atkins is a minutes-eating guard for No. 20 Notre Dame (21-10, 13-5 Big East), but all that playing time may have caught up with him. As the Irish stumbled to a 1-2 finish in their final three conference games, Atkins scored just 8.0 points per game and shot 2-of-9 from behind the 3-point line. Atkins needs to rest up if he is to help carry the Irish deep into March.

Coach on the Hot Seat: John Calipari, Kentucky Wildcats

Now that No. 1 Kentucky (30-1, 16-0 SEC) completed its SEC schedule with an undefeated league record, coach John Calipari’s job is to keep the high-powered Wildcats focused on their ultimate goal: an NCAA title. With talent like Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones, Kentucky seems like a lock for a regional final appearance, but Calipari must keep his team focused enough to not be upset by a team with lesser talent.

Bizarre Stat of the Week: Justin Jackson, Cincinnati Bearcats

Justin Jackson of Cincinnati (22-9, 12-6 Big East) had seven blocked shots in 13 minutes of playing time in the Bearcats’ 72-61 win over No. 8 Marquette on Wednesday.

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