Weekend Preview: Who’s 2nd best in the Triangle, Kentucky/UCLA with a chance for a statement

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Someone wants to be relevant in the Triangle, right?: North Carolina heads to Raleigh to take on No. 18 NC State on Saturday (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN) in a game that features two of the bigger disappointments in the ACC this season. And, frankly, it’s not totally unexpected. We knew that North Carolina was young heading into the season and we knew that NC State was talented but coming off of a fluky run to the Sweet 16 and still had Mark Gottfried as their head coach.

But in a season that as proven to be as wide-open as any in recent memory — particularly with the injury to Ryan Kelly at Duke — it’s still surprising that both the Tar Heels and the Wolfpack have fallen so far out of the discussion for the ACC regular season title. They’ll fall even farther with a loss Saturday night, as both teams are currently sitting two games behind undefeated Miami in the ACC standings.

Are either of these teams truly going to be competitors for the ACC crown? A loss on Saturday pretty much ends that discussion.

So what’s the deal with Kentucky?: Does anyone have a definitive answer at this point? They have plenty of talent on the roster. They have some pieces that, in a vacuum, can be really impressive. But “it” just hasn’t “clicked” yet for the Wildcats. What I mean is that John Calipari has yet to get this team to the point where they look better every single time they step on the court. With last year’s group, Kentucky would seemingly get better after each TV timeout, not just after each game. Their ascent from young-but-talented to holy-crap-they’re-awesome was fast and steep. This year’s team is still making the same mistakes and still has the same issues that we were talking about in November. That’s a problem.

On Saturday, LSU visits Kentucky (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3) in a game that the Wildcats simply have to win. But this is one of those instances where just a win may not suffice. The Wildcats need a confidence builder. They need to come out and dominate an overmatched Tiger team from the start. They need to make a statement, because that will a) allow their fans to slowly step away from the edge of the cliff, and b) it will provide a building block on which they can grow. Hesitancy and a lack of confidence are the worst traits an athlete can have, and it’s an issue afflicting everyone on Kentucky not named Nerlens Noel.

Rotnei Clarke’s return: When Temple visits No. 9 Butler on Saturday (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2), we’ll likely see Clarke return to the court for the first time since this terrifying injury that he suffered at Dayton two Saturday’s ago. He’s been cleared to practice and the Bulldogs are awaiting word on whether he’ll be allowed to play on Saturday. Butler beat Gonzaga in a thrilling win last Saturday night, but they lost on a last-second shot from Ramon Galloway at La Salle on Wednesday night. Clarke’s return should be a major boost for the Bulldogs.

Turn the Bruins turn a corner last night?: On Thursday, UCLA put on one of the most impressive displays we’ve seen out of Ben Howland’s program since … they made the 2008 Final Four? Seriously. UCLA went into the McKale Center and just drubbed Arizona, jumping out to a 19-3 lead and never allowing the Wildcats to get closer than four points the rest of the way. Now here comes the big test. UCLA visits a good Arizona State team on Saturday (4:00 p.m. ET, FSN). It’s a game they probably can’t afford to lose if they want to keep within striking distance of Oregon at the top of the Pac-12.

Good teams win on the road. The really good teams, the teams that can compete for conference championships and Final Fours, don’t have letdowns after winning a big game on the road. Saturday should tell us a lot about UCLA.

Big Sky showdown: Weber State had to go and lose to Montana State on the road on Thursday night, taking some of the luster off of the big matchup in the Big Sky on Saturday night (9:05 p.m. ET). As was the case last season, Weber State and Montana are the class of the conference. The Grizzlies are now sitting at 9-0 in the league while the Wildcats 8-1. It will be a good way to cap what should be another great Saturday of hoops.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

2017 NCAA Tournament Final Four schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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National Semifinals– Saturday, April 1

6:09 p.m. EST, CBS, Glendale
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Approximately 40 minutes after conclusion of first game, CBS, Glendale
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Oregon (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

VIDEO: The insane final 10 seconds of North Carolina’s win over Kentucky

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North Carolina and Kentucky ended in legendary fashion on Sunday.

After freshman Malik Monk buried a heavily-contested three-pointer to tie the game at 73-all for Kentucky with under 10 seconds left the Tar Heels didn’t use a timeout as Theo Pinson found forward Luke Maye for the game-winning jumper.

These 10 seconds will go down as one of the greatest finishes in NCAA Tournament history.

No. 1 seed North Carolina outlasts No. 2 seed Kentucky to advance to the Final Four

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North Carolina advanced to the Final Four for the second consecutive season and 20th time overall as the No. 1 seed Tar Heels outlasted No. 2 seed Kentucky, 75-73, during Sunday’s South Regional final in Memphis.

Reserve forward Luke Maye knocked in the game-winning jumper for the Tar Heels with 0.3 seconds left to break a 73-all tie after Kentucky’s Malik Monk tied the game with a three-pointer on the previous possession.

The Tar Heels (31-7) overcame an ankle issue from junior point guard Joel Berry as North Carolina was led by Justin Jackson’s 19 points.

Maye also stepped up with a big game for North Carolina as he continued his strong March with 17 points. Berry added 11 points, as he went to the locker room during the first half to get his ankle looked at before returning to play later in the half.

Kentucky (32-6) won the regular-season matchup of these teams, 103-100, in Las Vegas in December as their freshmen guards struggled to perform on Sunday. After De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk combined for 71 points in that previous win over the Tar Heels, the two freshmen studs couldn’t get going.

Both of them dealt with first-half foul trouble as Fox finished with 13 points while Monk was held to 12 points. Also battling foul trouble in the first half, freshman Bam Adebayo added 13 points for the Wildcats.

With Fox and Monk struggling to generate consistent offense, the Wildcats were able to stay in the game thanks to great performances from reserves like Isaac Humphries (career-high 12 points) and senior Dominique Hawkins (10 points.

North Carolina advances to face No. 3 seed Oregon in next weekend’s Final Four.

VIDEO: South Carolina celebrates Final Four trip by dousing Frank Martin in water

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South Carolina earned its first trip to the Final Four with its win over SEC-rival Florida on Sunday.

The Gamecocks made sure to celebrate properly when head coach Frank Martin hit the locker room after the game by dousing him in water before Martin gave another speech.

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/846124174259118080/video/1

VIDEO: Darius Rucker tears up as South Carolina advances to the Final Four

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Darius Rucker, the former front man of Hootie and the Blowfish and a current star in the country music world, is a lifelong South Carolina Gamecocks fan.

This isn’t really a secret.

Hell, on Friday night at a concert he was playing, Rucker set up TVs so that he would be able to watch South Carolina take on Baylor:

You probably didn’t realize just how big of a fan he actually is until you saw him, sitting second row at the regional final in New York City on Sunday afternoon, tearing up as the Gamecocks advanced to the Final Four:

Let ’em cry, Darius, if the tears fall down like rain.