The CBT Bracket Breakdown: Midwest Region

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See the rest of our regional breakdowns here.

Final Four Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina: The Tar Heels have as much talent on their roster as any team in the country. They are loaded, and they have a point guard that is perfect for the uptempo system that they run. The question I have about UNC has to do with their toughness. They get smacked by Florida State twice, largely because the Seminoles were more physical than UNC. One thing to follow with the Tar Heels heading into the NCAA Tournament is whether or not John Henson’s wrist is healthy. I believe that it is. While he didn’t play in the ACC Tournament final, he was available to play.

And if they lose…?: No. 2 Kansas: For the first time, the tournament selection committee released their s-curve on Selection Sunday, which allowed us to see where they actually had teams ranked. Kansas was fifth, meaning that if Ohio State had won the Big Ten Tournament, Kansas and not Michigan State would have been the final No. 1 seed. Thomas Robinson is a hoss and Jeff Withey is a defensive playmaker, but Tyshawn Taylor is going to be the guy that determines how far Kansas goes. When he’s great, Kansas is very, very good. But when he’s the inconsistent turnover machine that he’s been at times throughout his career, the Jayhawks are very ordinary.

Sweet 16 sleeper (9 or lower): No. 14 Belmont: One of the trendiest upset picks since the bracket was announced was the Bruins knocking off Georgetown. While I, personally, don’t see it — its just not a good matchup — the fact of the matter is that Belmont is a very good basketball team. They push the tempo through pressure and they shoot a lot of threes. When those threes are going down, they are good enough to pick off a higher-seeded team.

Final Four sleeper (5 or lower): No. 5 Temple: The Owls have flown under the radar for much of the season, but this is a good basketball team. They have a dangerous perimeter attack, with two of the best scorers in the Atlantic 10 in Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt, and they now have their starting center Michael Eric back in the fold. The thing about the Owls this season is that they aren’t as perimeter oriented as they have been in the past. They push the ball more and they are oriented around their ability to put up points.

Player to watch (top 8 seeds): Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State: Franklin was rightfully chosen as the Player of the Year in the Mountain West. An athletic, 6’5″ slasher, Franklin not only is capable of going for 30 points on a given night, but he averaged 9.9 rpg in league play. SDSU’s issue is their lack of interior size, and his ability to clean the glass is a hugely important.

Player to watch (bottom 8 seeds): DJ Cooper, Ohio: Cooper has already led the Bobcats to a first round upset in the NCAA Tournament, going for 23 points and eight assists as Ohio beat Georgetown in 2010. Did I mention he was a freshman then? Ohio is a dangerous team for Michigan. They are excellent at defending the three, something that Michigan thrives on. And Cooper is an excellent on-ball defender, meaning he will likely get the assignment of covering Trey Burke.

Best potential matchup: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kansas: Again, I know this is a cop out, but with the lack of elite teams outside of the top two seeds, its really difficult to find marquee matchups to get excited out. What I love about this matchup — besides the fact that it will be between two of college basketball’s blue-blooded programs — is the idea of seeing Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson do battle with John Henson and Tyler Zeller. I love me a good post battle, and it may not get better than this in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

So who is getting upset?:

– I think Ohio has a very good chance to take down Michigan. The Wolverines looked very average in the Big Ten tournament, and they are very average when they don’t hit threes. Ohio is very good at defending the three.

– If Cal can get by USF in the play-in game, I think they have a chance to knock off Temple. The Bears have one of the best perimeter defenders in Jorge Gutierrez and have been written off by a lot of folks due to their loss to Missouri by 30 earlier in the year.

– Frankly, I’m not buying the two trendy upset picks in this region. I don’t think Belmont gets past Georgetown. The Bruins shoot a ton of threes and shoot them well, but Georgetown has terrific perimeter length and is one of the best in the country at defending the three. I also think SDSU gets by NC State. I know the pro-Wolfpack arguments, but what have they done this season to make me believe they can win a tournament game against the co-champ of the fourth-best conference in the country?

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.