Breakfast buffet: Stakes are high for North Carolina tonight

Pull up a chair and sit down at the breakfast buffet, a daily assortment of all the freshest newsworthy college hoops stories on the net. To make a submission, contact me via email or twitter.

• A matchup with Duke is always one of the biggest games on North Carolina's schedule, but this year, it's taken on even greater significance for the Tar Heels. Win, and North Carolina just might climb back into the NCAA tournament picture with a strong finish in ACC play. Lose, and the Heels will be 2-7 in conference and well on their way to headlining the list of blue-bloods who'll be on the sideline come tourney time. Must-see theatre? Maybe not. Must-win game? Absolutely.

• At this time last week, Illinois was smack on the bubble and facing a daunting eight-game season-ending gauntlet that featured six games against teams tied or ahead of the Illini in the standings. Now, after toppling Michigan State and becoming the first unranked team to beat Wisconsin in Madison in the Bo Ryan era, Illinois has established itself as a NCAA shoo-in and thrown the Big Ten race into chaos.

This photo says it all about Vanderbilt's dominant 90-71 win over Tennessee last night, doesn't it? The Commodores roared to a 19-4 lead and hung on by making 37 of 43 free throws, sweeping the season series with the rival Vols and solidifying their hold on second-place in the SEC.

• Under-the-radar shocker with huge bubble implications: How about Evansville taking down Wichita State on Tuesday night to put to rest any discussion of the Shockers being worthy of an at-large bid. Evansville had previously been 0-13 in the Missouri Valley Conference, now a one-bid league unless someone besides Northern Iowa wins the conference tournament.

• Arizona slapped itself on the wrist last week with self-imposed sanctions for recruiting violations during the final days of Lute Olson's tenure, but this well-reported Sports Illustrated piece gives us the complete story. In addition to Olson skirting the rules by asking boosters to support the on-campus AAU tournament, prominent assistants like Mike Dunlap (now at Oregon) and Josh Pastner (now Memphis coach) were at the very least indirectly involved.

• Washington's Lorenzo Romar and Cal's Mike Montgomery weighed in on the topic of Pac-10 expansion on Tuesday, both expressing cautious interest but certainly not full-fledged support. Said Romar: "I do like it the way it is now. But you know at one time, it was the Pac-8. And maybe back then I would have said, 'No, let's keep it the way it is.' But the Pac-10 has worked out fine and Arizona and Arizona State have been great additions to this league for obvious reasons."

• As Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnardo approaches college basketball's career blocked shots record, the humble defensive stalwart is starting to receive more attention. In this Sports Illustrated piece, we learn the story of how Varnardo became known as "Swat" and that he's more interested in team success than individual glory.

• At 14-9, 4-6 and on the precipice of falling right off the bubble, UConn desperately needs an upset over Syracuse tonight in the rematch of their famous "Six in the City" game from a year ago. Looking back, it's hard to believe that entering the season it was UConn who was ranked in the top 15 and Syracuse who flew totally under the radar.

• I wrote last night that Michigan State's woes may run deeper than Kalin Lucas' ankle injury, and it looks like I'm not alone in that sentiment. Coach Tom Izzo made it clear on Tuesday night he's not satisfied with his team's effort on defense aside from Lucas, telling reporters "if more guys had his heart, we'd be a little bit better."

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