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Bracketology: Syracuse keeps climbing

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As we ushered in 2017, Syracuse could easily have been asking, what happened? A preseason Top 25 team, the Orange were mired in a streak that produced loses to Connecticut, St. John’s, and Boston College.  Early January wasn’t much better, as the Orange’s early league road schedule took a toll. Fast forward to February. It’s amazing what a five-game winning streak in the ACC can do for a team’s resume, especially when the field around them remains quite average.  Syracuse’s last-second heroics at Clemson have the Orange at 8-4 in the league and, at least for the moment, a few slots above the cutline.  We’ll see how the final month plays out.

No changes on the No. 1 seed line today. Kansas and Baylor bounced back with road wins .  Come Saturday, we’ll all get a sneak peak at how the actual Selection Committee views the Top 16 teams (on their Seed List), noted as the top four seeds in each region.  Every Committee is a little different, so it will be interesting to see how they view things.  Some of us would prefer to see their look at the bubble, too.  Then again, deciphering and explaining those concepts would require a show that’s too long for network television.  Come Monday, the middle and lower half of the bracket could look quite different – again.

UPDATED: February 9, 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.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Michigan vs. Seton Hall | South Region
  • Wichita State vs. Marquette | East Region
  • WEBER STATE vs. UC-DAVIS | Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. NC CENTRAL | East Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

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

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

Last Four Byes (at large): Miami-FL, Virginia Tech, Indiana, Michigan State

Last Four IN (at large): Seton Hall, Wichita State, Marquette, Michigan

First Four OUT (at large): Tennessee, Rhode Island, Georgia Tech, Arkansas

Next four teams OUT (at large): Wake Forest, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgetown

Breakdown by Conference …

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

Big 10 (8): WISCONSIN, Purdue, Maryland, Northwestern, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan

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

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

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

SEC (3): FLORIDA, Kentucky, South Carolina

Atlantic 10 (2): VCU, Dayton

American (2): CINCINNATI, SMU

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (2): ILLINOIS STATE, Wichita State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

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

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.