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Six sleeper Sweet 16 teams

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source: AP
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REGION PREVIEWSEast Region | South Region | Midwest Region | West Region

We all remember the Cinderella stories from March Madness. The George Masons, Hamptons, and Northern Iowas, these are the teams that can ease a smile out of the most hardened and jaded NCAA antagonist. We love the NCAA tournament because these sleeper squads make the postseason seem democratic.

The selection committee, sequestered in various hotel suites, is the sporting equivalent of the Wizard of Oz, but Cinderellas level the field, and we’ve listed the six teams, all higher than a seven seed, that have the potential to make the tournament’s second weekend.

SOUTH REGION

No. 13 Tulsa (vs. No. 4 UCLA; then either No. 5 VCU/No. 12 Stephen F. Austin): A first-round match-up against UCLA, a team that rendered the vaunted Arizona defense toothless, appears catastrophically poor for Danny Manning’s squad, but the Golden Hurricane is also a sound defensive squad, one that forces turnovers at a pretty rapid rate (20.4 percent). The team also keeps opponents off the glass, and UCLA isn’t known for securing additional possessions. Should Tulsa advance to the round of 32, the team also matches well with either VCU or Stephen F. Austin.

A large percentage of Tulsa’ scoring comes from the free throw line, and the Lumberjacks foul quite frequently (52.5 percent defensive free throw rate). VCU defends ferociously and shoots a fair number of threes, but since the Rams will likely miss guard Melvin Johnson, VCU will be without their most efficient perimeter option (39.5 percent). Tulsa can withstand VCU’s trademark ball pressure because the Golden Hurricane have a sticky handle in the midst of ball hawks (16.6 turnover rate, ranked within Ken Pomeroy’s top sixty).

MORE8 teams that can win it all  |  8 clutch players  |  7 teams that won’t win it all

No. 14 Western Michigan (vs. No. 3 Syracuse; then either No. 6 Ohio State/No. 11 Dayton): America should be ready to meet Shayne Whittington, Western Michigan’s 6-foot-11 center. The big makes 55.9 percent of his twos, and while WMU hasn’t played Syracuse during the past two seasons, the Broncos have faced a very similar defense. During WMU’s four games against Eastern Michigan, a team coached by ex-Cuse assistant Rob Murphy and one which uses a 2-3 zone, Whittington made 53 percent of his attempts within the arc.

Both of their second round opponents aren’t great at defending the interior — Ohio State and Dayton allow teams to make close to 50 percent of those shots — which is a bonus for a Western Michigan team which is one of the best at converting their twos, ranking twelfth nationally. The other two Broncos who use a high percentage of WMU’s attempts, David Brown and Connar Tava, are efficient up to 19 feet from the basket.

EAST REGION

No. 9 George Washington (vs. No. 8 Memphis; then either No. 1 Virginia/No. 16 Coastal Carolina): Memphis is not a good match-up for the defensive-oriented Colonials. The Tigers turn the ball over on nearly 20 percent of their possessions (that’s bad), don’t get to the free throw line (not great), and are a poor perimeter shooting team (another box checked) — all attributes which are pluses on George Washington’s defensive resume.

Assuming the second round tilt is against Virginia, Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense would be an interesting test for the Colonials. The return of Kethan Savage (and if he can play meaningful minutes) and the emergence of Nemanja Mikic are both crucial for a Sweet 16 birth. Lacking the presence of another perimeter threat, opponents could concentrate solely on Mikic last season, but the addition of Maurice Creek has helped boost Mikic’s clear looks.

No. 10 Saint Joseph’s (vs. No. 7 Connecticut; then either No. 2 Villanova/No. 15 Milwaukee): St. Joe’s Langston Galloway is coming off a torrid shooting performance in the Atlantic 10 tournament, but the team’s frontcourt will be the focus against UConn. Halil Kanacevic, Ronald Roberts, and DeAndre Bembry should take advantage of the foul-prone Husky bigs — DeAndre Daniels is the only forward who plays substantial minutes and does not accumulate more than six or more fouls per 40 minutes (an issue for both Amida Brimah and Philip Nolan). The likelier second-round game will be against Villanova, and the ensuing Holy War rematch, one dominated by the Wildcats earlier this season, could be a classic.

WEST REGION

No. 11 Nebraska (vs. No. 6 Baylor; then either No. 3 Creighton/No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette): Even though Nebraska isn’t an offensive juggernaut, Baylor’s defense provides large gaps for point production — only one other at-large squad had a worse defensive efficiency rate than Scott Drew’s team (North Carolina State). Even though Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long pose a potential threat, Creighton should emerge from that first-round tilt. Nebraska was embarrassed by the Bluejays earlier this season, but this is a much different Huskers squad (for starters, Deverell Biggs is no longer bogarting shots) and the emergence of Terran Petteway is a match-up problem for CU.

MIDWEST REGION

No. 14 Mercer (vs. No. 3 Duke; then either No. 6 Massachusetts/No. 11 Iowa/No. 11 Tennessee): Mercer is the epitome of a Giant Killer. The Bears shoot a high percentage both within and beyond the arc, and those attempts are spread amongst a handful of players, each of whom either make a plethora of twos or threes (Bud Thomas and Anthony White, however, make both). There is an offensive balance to this team — no one Bear truly dominates touches — which could be an problem for a Duke team possessing some defensive issues.

Duke traditionally defends the three-point arc well, but two-point field goals are easy to achieve. Unfortunately for Mike Krzyzsewski, this is an even weaker defensive team than the one which lost to Lehigh in the 2012 tournament. Iowa and UMass also have suspect defenses, and while Tennessee is defined by their stingy leanings, the Vols don’t force many turnovers. Against a team that doesn’t miss often, a failure to pressure the ball and simply allow them to run their offense could prove disastrous.

VIDEO: Jim Boeheim isn’t pleased when asked by reporter if Syracuse is ‘impatient’

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02:  Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Jim Boeheim has never been a man that’s shied away from saying what he feels, even if that results in him going after a reporter during a press conference.

On Sunday night, Boeheim did just that, when he was clearly unhappy about being asked whether or not his team was ‘impatient’:

Boeheim had reason to be upset beyond that particular line of questioning: Not only did his team lose a tough road game thanks to a pretty bad call in the final 20 seconds, but that loss might be what costs them a spot in the NCAA tournament.

With Demarcus Cousins in New Orleans, it’s time for John Calipari-to-the-NBA to heat up

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With Demarcus Cousins ending up on New Orleans – I hesitate to call that fleecing a “trade” – to join forces with another former Kentucky Wildcat, it only makes sense for the dots to get connected: John Calipari to the Pelicans!

Dan Patrick didn’t waste any time diving right in on Monday morning, opening his interview with Coach Cal with: “Can I have permission to start a rumor about you?”

Before Patrick even had a chance to define said rumor, Cal hit him with a, “Not. Happening.” He doubled down on his denials later on that morning by telling a teleconference of reporters, “that’s not going to happen.”

This is what Cal has to say. When you’re the head coach at Kentucky, an incredibly high-paying job and arguably the best in the college basketball business, you cannot be publicly campaigning for another position, even if it is an NBA gig with two of the league’s top 12 players. And while Cal isn’t exactly forthcoming when it comes to what he reveals in the media – his name gets mentioned with an NBA job roughly every six months, and he has the same answer every time – I think I believe him here.

Why?

Because I don’t think he gives up his lucrative seat as the celebrity overlord of college basketball for anything less than the perfect job: One where he can win immediately, avoiding the indignity of another NBA flameout like the one he had with the Nets 17 years ago, and one where he is given total and complete roster control. He wants to be the coach and the GM, and I’m not sure New Orleans is in a position where they would get rid of GM Dell Demps, who orchestrated The Fleecing Of Sacramento, or head coach Alvin Gentry, who was hired prior to the start of last season and could feasibly get this group back to the Playoffs this year, for a guy that last coached in the NBA in 1999 after getting fired 20 games into a season.

And all of that is before you consider that Cousins still needs to ink a long-term deal with New Orleans at some point for this theory to truly be viable, although finding a way to bring in Cal could certainly help Cousins make this decision.

I also get it.

Cal, better than anyone else since Cousins first touched a basketball, found a way to channel Cousins’ immense talents. If anyone can find a way to get Boogie to shed his baggage, it’s probably Cal. Then factor in the chance that he would find a way to be able to reel in, say, John Wall, and those are dots that are just screaming to be connected.

A Kentucky reunion in the Big Easy. Big Blue Nation would buy every ticket available at the Smoothie King Center. Who wouldn’t love that?

Maybe it happens. But at this point, I have a hard time seeing Coach Cal giving up his throne atop Lexington.

Coaches Poll: Gonzaga remains atop the top 25, Baylor and Virginia tumble

SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 10:  Head coach Mark Few of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts to a call in the second half of the game against the Akron Zips at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 10, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  Gonzaga defeated Akron 61-43.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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Once again, undefeated Gonzaga finds themselves sitting al alone atop the Coaches Poll. The Zags are also No. 1 in the NBC Sports top 25 and the AP Poll.

Villanova and Kansas are two and three again, while Arizona and UCLA round out the top five.

Here is the full poll:

1. Gonzaga
2. Villanva
3. Kansas
4. Arizona
5. UCLA
6. Louisville
7. Oregon
8. North Carolina
9. Baylor
10. Kentucky
11. Duke
12. Florida
13. West Virginia
14. Purdue
15. Wisconsin
16. Cincinnati
17.Notre Dame
18. Saint Mary’s
19. Virginia
20. Florida State
21. SMU
22. Butler
23. Creighton
24. Maryland
25. Wichita State

AP Poll: Gonzaga remains No. 1, Baylor falls to No. 9

Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (5) reacts to a play against Texas in first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 74-64. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP)
Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP
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The Zags remained alone atop the AP Poll on Monday morning, amassing 59 of a possible 65 first-place votes.

Villanova remained at No. 2 and Kansas stayed steadfast at No. 3. Baylor dropped from fourth to ninth after a pair of losses, while Virginia went from 14th to 18th after losing to Duke and North Carolina in the same week.

Here is the entire poll:

1. Gonzaga (59 first-place votes)
2. Villanva (5)
3. Kansas (1)
4. Arizona
5. UCLA
6. Oregon
7. Louisville
8. North Carolina
9. Baylor
10. Duke
11. Kentucky
12. West Virginia
13. Florida
14. Purdue
15. Cincinnati
16. Wisconsin
17. SMU
18. Virginia
19. Florida State
20. Saint Mary’s
21. Notre Dame
22. Butler
23. Creighton
24. Maryland
25. Wichita State

Bracketology: Tar Heels vault to top line

WINSTON-SALEM, NC - JANUARY 11:  Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a shot against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during their game at LJVM Coliseum Complex on January 11, 2017 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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If today were Selection Sunday, and North Carolina was the ACC champion, the Selection Committee would likely be inclined to reward the Tar Heels with a No. 1 seed over a very strong Baylor team whose profile is equally impressive but lacks a conference title. In the world of splitting hairs, we just did.  On that note, two interesting twists await.  First, UNC hosts Louisville on Wednesday, and the Cardinals are No. 6 on the Seed List.  If Louisville wins in Chapel Hill, the Cards could make a strong case for the top line on Thursday.  Second, the Tar Heels close with an incredibly tough slate, going to Pittsburgh and Virginia before finishing at home with Duke.  Baylor can easily play its way back up.

In the race for No. 1 seeds, Villanova and Kansas are sitting in strong positions as the regular season comes to a close. Should Gonzaga finish unbeaten, it would hard to drop the Zags from their No. 1 perch in the West.  Which leaves, at least for now, one top seed up for grabs, and it could go any number of ways.

Another meh and blah weekend along the cutline.  Should we lose solid mid-major programs like Middle Tennessee State, UNC Wilmington, and say, Monmouth or Illinois State during their conference championships, the Committee will have to heavily weigh a bunch of mediocre power teams versus some solid programs who have fewer chances for marquee wins.

UPDATED: February 20, 2017

Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

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FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Georgia Tech vs. Marquette | South Region
  • Seton Hall vs. TCU East Region
  • NORTH DAKOTA vs. UC-IRVINE | Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. NEW ORLEANSE | East Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EAST New York MIDWEST Kansas City                   
Buffalo Tulsa
1) VILLANOVA 1) KANSAS
16) NEW ORLEANS / M.S. MARY’S 16) NO. DAKOTA / UC-IRVINE
8) Dayton 8) Minnesota
9) Miami-FL 9) Arkansas
Milwaukee Milwaukee
5) Virginia 5) Notre Dame
12) UNC-WILMINGTON 12) ILLINOIS STATE
4) PURDUE 4) Butler
13) AKRON 13) UT-ARLINGTON
Indianapolis Orlando
6) Saint Mary’s 6) Wisconsin
11) Seton Hall / TCU 11) Kansas State
3) Kentucky 3) Florida State
14) PRINCETON 14) BELMONT
Indianapolis Salt Lake City
7) Northwestern 7) Iowa State
10) Wichita State 10) Michigan
2) Louisville 2) ARIZONA
15) BUCKNELL 15) NO. DAKOTA ST
SOUTH – Memphis WEST – San Jose
Greenville Salt Lake City
1) NORTH CAROLINA 1) GONZAGA
16) NC-CENTRAL 16) TX-SOUTHERN
8) Xavier 8) Virginia Tech
9) VCU 9) USC
Sacramento Buffalo
5) Creighton 5) CINCINNATI
12) VALPARAISO 12) MONMOUTH
4) UCLA 4) West Virginia
13) NEVADA 13) VERMONT
Orlando Greenville
6) SMU 6) Maryland
11) Georgia Tech / Marquette 11) MID TENNESSEE ST
3) FLORIDA 3) Duke
14) UNC-ASHEVILLE 14) FLA GULF COAST
Tulsa Sacramento
7) South Carolina 7) Oklahoma State
10) California 10) Michigan State
2) Baylor 2) Oregon
15) FURMAN 15) CSU-BAKERSFIELD

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, Gonzaga, and North Carolina.

Last Four Byes (at large): California, Michigan State, Wichita State, Kansas State

Last Four IN (at large): Seton Hall, TCU, Marquette, Georgia Tech

First Four OUT (at large): Providence, Syracuse, Clemson, Tennessee

Next four teams OUT (at large): Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Indiana, Texas Tech

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): NORTH CAROLINA, Louisville, Duke, Florida State, Virginia, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Miami-FL, Georgia Tech

Big 10 (7): PURDUE, Wisconsin, Maryland, Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State

Big 12 (7): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, TCU

Big East (6): VILLANOVA, Butler, Creighton, Xavier, Seton Hall, Marquette

Pac 12 (5): OREGON, Arizona, UCLA, USC, California

SEC (4): FLORIDA, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas

Atlantic 10 (2): VCU, Dayton

American (2): CINCINNATI, SMU

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (1): ILLINOIS STATE, Wichita State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Monmouth (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), UT-Arlington (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), North Dakota (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), Furman (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Winthrop (BSO), NC-Central (MEAC), North Dakota State (SUM), CSU-Bakersfield (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Mt. St. Mary’s (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)