A Sweet 16 primer on the teams in Midwest, South

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The quick breakdown of the team playing Thursday is here. Here are the teams playing Friday.

SOUTH

No. 1 KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Record
: 34-2
How it got here: Beat No. 16 Western Kentucky 81-66; beat No 8 Iowa State 87-71.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 4 Indiana

Essential info: The tournament favorite played like it in two wins, displaying a knack for elevating its play when challenged by opponents. The defense has been good; the offense has been better. The Wildcats’ performance against Iowa State was similar to what they did at home vs. Florida last month. And now they’re playing one of the two teams to beat them this season. Motivation won’t be a problem.

No. 3 BAYLOR BEARS
Record
: 29-7
How it got here: Beat 14 South Dakota State 68-60; beat No 11 Colorado 80-63.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2010
Next up: No. 10 Xavier

Essential info: Perry Jones III wasn’t much of a factor vs. Colorado, but who needs him when you’ve got a guy who hits 9 3-pointers? The Bars seem poised to reach their second Elite Eight in three years, provided Heslip and guard Pierre Jackson provide a portion of the scoring they did vs. Colorado. The frontcourt can do the rest.

No. 4 INDIANA HOOSIERS
Record
: 27-8
How it got here: Beat 13 New Mexico State 79-66; beat No. 12 VCU 63-61.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2002
Next up: No. 1 Kentucky

Essential info: Thanks to a dramatic rally and clutch jumper vs. VCU, the Hoosiers now face a team they’ve already beaten once this season. But this time, Kentucky gets Indiana at a neutral site. No other Sweet 16 game will receive as much attention as this one. Unless Cody Zeller (15 ppg, 9.5 rpg during the tourney) stays out of foul trouble and has a massive day, it might not live up to the hype.

No. 10 XAVIER MUSKETEERS
Record
: 23-12
How it got here: Beat 7 Notre Dame 67-63; beat No. 15 Lehigh 70-58.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2010
Next up: No. 3 Baylor

Essential info: The Sweet 16 didn’t seem possible three weeks ago. Xavier was inconsistent and wrapping up a third-place finish in the A-10. But thanks to an impressive rally vs. Notre Dame (Tu Holloway, 25 points, the hero) and overpowering Lehigh (Kenny Frease, 25 points), Xavier’s back. But can it contain the Bears? That’s the question.

MIDWEST

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
Record
: 31-5
How it got here: Beat No. 16 Vermont 77-58; beat No. 8 Creighton 87-75.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 13 Ohio

Essential info: Yes, the Heels rolled into the Sweet 16. But until they know more about how much – if at all – point guard Kendall Marshall can play, everything’s up in the air for their title hopes. They still have plenty of size and talent, but Marshall’s the guy who puts it all together.

No. 2 KANSAS JAYHAWKS
Record
: 29-6
How it got here: Beat No. 15 Detroit 65-50; beat No. 10 Purdue 63-60.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 11 N.C. State, Friday

Essential info: When Thomas Robinson struggled vs. Purdue, junior guard Elijah Johnson delivered his one of his best performances of the year, scoring 18 points and hitting two clutch 3-pointers. KU is the onlyone of two 2 seeds remaining in the field and is one of two Big 12 teams left.

No. 11 NC STATE WOLFPACK
Record
: 24-12
How it got here: Beat No. 6 San Diego St 79-65; beat No. 3 Georgetown 66-63.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2006
Next up: No. 2 Kansas, Friday

Essential info: The Wolfpack are rolling. They’re getting scoring from all positions – C.J. Leslie’s averaging 15.5 ppg in the tourney, with Richard Howell and Lorenzo Brown right behind – while the defense has been outstanding. There might not be any other team in the field with better chemistry right now.

No. 13 OHIO BOBCATS
Record
: 29-7
How it got here: Beat 4 Michigan 65-60; beat No. 12 South Florida 62-56.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 1964
Next up: No. 1 UNC, Friday

Essential info: History isn’t with the Bobcats. They’re the seventh team seeded 13 or higher to reach the Sweet 16, but none of those teams ever won their next game. It’s not a big team, but it’s quick, fairly deep and has an offense that’s clicking, scoring at least 1.02 points per possession in 10 of its last 11 games.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

 

Mississippi State losing two to transfer

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Mississippi State will lose two players to transfer as freshmen Mario Kegler and Eli Wright are leaving the program.

Both Kegler and Wright were four-star prospects coming out of high school as they were apart of a six-man recruiting class that is supposed to be a major foundation for Ben Howland’s future with the Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-7 Kegler was Mississippi State’s third-leading scorer last season as he averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Kegler should command some quality schools on the transfer market, especially since he’ll still have three more years of eligibility after sitting out next season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Kegler’s loss is also notable for Mississippi State because it is the second consecutive offseason that Howland lost a top-100, in-state product to transfer after only one season after Malik Newman left for Kansas.

Wright, a 6-foot-4 guard, was never able to find consistent minutes as he was already behind underclass perimeter options like Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Tyson Carter last season. With Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary’s four-star brother, also joining the Bulldogs next season, the writing was likely on the wall that Wright wasn’t going to earn significant playing time.

 

N.C. State lands second transfer of day with Utah’s Devon Daniels

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A big recruiting day for N.C. State continued on Saturday afternoon as Utah transfer and guard Devon Daniels pledged to the Wolfpack.

Earlier in the day, N.C. State and new head coach Kevin Keatts landed another quality transfer in UNC Wilmington guard C.J. Bryce.

The 6-foot-5 Daniels just finished his freshman season with the Utes in which he put up 9.9 points 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. Just like Bryce, Daniels will have to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations before he has three more seasons of eligibility.

N.C. State now has two potential starters on the perimeter for the 2018-19 season with the addition of Bryce and Daniels as it will be interesting to see what kind of talent the Wolfpack can get around them.

 

UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce follows Kevin Keatts to N.C. State

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N.C. State landed an impact transfer on Saturday as UNC Wilmington guard C.J. Bryce will be following former head coach Kevin Keatts to the Wolfpack, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com

The 6-foot-5 Bryce averaged 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last season as he helped the Seahawks to an NCAA tournament appearance. Bryce will have to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations, but he’ll have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out one season.

With N.C. State getting center Omer Yurtseven back for next season, and with the addition of Bryce, it means that Keatts has retained, or added, some talented players for the next few seasons. The Wolfpack still have to fill a lot of roster spots from last season’s team, but Keatts seems to be having a really good week.

Seven identified after threats made against referee John Higgins following Kentucky Elite Eight loss

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College basketball referee John Higgins received threats to his home and business in late March after some controversial calls in North Carolina’s win over Kentucky in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Seven people have now been identified for making threats against Higgins, according to an Associated Press report. The FBI’s Omaha, Nebraska field office said that information on the seven people will be referred to authorities in their jurisdictions.

An investigation over the last few months helped find the culprits, as the Omaha-based Higgins received emails, phone calls and voicemails to his personal home and roofing company following Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament departure. Wildcat head coach John Calipari might have ignited some of the anger in Kentucky fans by criticizing the officiating following the North Carolina loss.

“Based on the investigation’s findings, our office has determined that no local charges will be filed and that pursuit of any criminal charges would be best served by deferring to authorities in the appropriate jurisdictions,” Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The length of the investigation was drawn out due in part to the large volume of potential evidence requiring analysis, and the multi-jurisdictional issues arising from the multiple states in which the communications originated.”

Polikov also said that at least two media outlets were exposing and promoting Higgins’ contact information.

“This information has been referred to the Federal Communications Commission for further investigation of the potential violations related to applicable federal communications regulations,” Polikov said.

Higgins received about 3,000 phone calls at his office in the two days following the game. Sheriff’s investigator Matt Barrall told the AP that an estimated 75 percent of the calls were from Kentucky area codes.

The roofing business that Higgins owns was also flooded with bad online reviews and negative star ratings, causing his Google rating to fall while also forcing Higgins to take down the Facebook page for his business.

Beilein still upbeat after Michigan loses another to NBA

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — For a major program, Michigan is a somewhat unlikely candidate for this kind of NBA-induced attrition.

The Wolverines have fielded some very good teams under John Beilein, but they haven’t been relying on prospects expected to jump to the pros as soon as they can.

“We’re not depending all our success on one-and-dones,” Beilein said. “Given that, our numbers right now are extraordinary.”

Beilein was referring to the number of players Michigan has sent to the NBA, particularly as early entrees. The Wolverines lost D.J. Wilson to the draft this offseason with two years of eligibility remaining, and now they’ll go through the familiar process of trying to replace a key player who turned pro.

The most significant early exodus occurred in 2013 and 2014, when Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all went pro before their eligibility was up. Michigan won a lot of games with those players, reaching the Final Four and Elite Eight those two years, but their development made them attractive to NBA teams and shortened their college careers.

Wilson’s rise followed a similar pattern. He averaged only 2.7 points per game in 2015-16, and then increased to 11.0 this past season and became Michigan’s leading rebounder. His efforts helped Michigan win the Big Ten Tournament and reach the Sweet 16, and now he’s off to the NBA draft. The entire sequence of events would have seemed highly improbable a year ago.

The Wolverines won’t receive much sympathy from their Big Ten opponents, especially since Michigan will still have big man Moe Wagner, who tested the NBA waters but ultimately decided to stay in school. The 6-foot-11 Wagner averaged 12.1 points last season and shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range, showing huge improvement in much the same way Wilson did.

After losing senior point guard Derrick Walton, it will be interesting to see how Michigan’s offense operates if Wagner becomes even more of a focal point. When Beilein was at West Virginia, the Mountaineers achieved success behind center Kevin Pittsnogle, whose skill set and 3-point shooting ability was at least somewhat similar to Wagner’s.

“We’re not going to put him in that category yet,” Beilein said. “Let’s just say, having a big man who can shoot the ball like that changes a lot of things.”

Michigan was also able to add a new point guard recently in Jaaron Simmons, a graduate transfer from Ohio. Simmons is eligible immediately in 2017-18 and will move up from the Mid-American Conference to the Big Ten.

“A lot of the mid-majors are having this happen to them, and I don’t like it at all, but the fact is if Jaaron doesn’t come here, he ends up probably somewhere else in the Big Ten,” Beilein said. “He’s just fundamentally so sound. He’ll be here this summer. Just as a person, I just wanted to coach the kid after spending an hour with him — just the leadership, the desire to win.”

Simmons could help the Wolverines withstand the loss of Walton, and Beilein indicated he could serve as a bit of a mentor to players like point guard Xavier Simpson, who is entering his sophomore season.

“We went all-in with (Simmons), knowing we had that scholarship,” Beilein said. “We felt that was a huge need for us, is to just have a little bit more experience in the backcourt next year.”

Follow Noah Trister on Twitter @noahtrister