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Bracketology: UNC looks to lock up No. 1 Seed

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North Carolina takes to the court in Brooklyn with its eye on the No. 1 seed in the South Region.  As we advance on Selection Sunday, Kansas and Villanova look like locks for the top line, and Gonzaga did what it had to do by winning the West Coast Conference tournament.

Elsewhere, the waiting begins for Syracuse and Wake Forest, who exited the ACC tournament yesterday.  The Orange, in particular, have taken us into unchartered territory in terms of at-large selection.  They may yet end up in the final bracket, but it could well depend upon what happens today and Friday.

UPDATED:  March 9, 2017

Note: Now that conference tournaments have begun, teams in ALL CAPS will represent automatic bids as they are earned.

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)

  • Illinois State vs. Wake Forest | South Region
  • Kansas State vs. Xavier Midwest Region
  • SOUTH DAKOTA ST vs. New Orleans | Midwest Region
  • MOUNT ST. MARY’S vs. NC Central | East Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

MIDWEST – Kansas City EAST New York                              
Tulsa Buffalo
1) Kansas 1) Villanova
16) SO DAKOTA ST / New Orleans 16)  MT ST. MARY’S / NC Central
8) Michigan 8) Miami
9) Arkansas 9) Northwestern
Milwaukee Orlando
5) Notre Dame 5) West Virginia
12) UT-Arlington 12) UNC-WILMINGTON
4) Butler 4) Florida
13) Princeton 13) Vermont
Greenville Salt Lake City
6) Wisconsin 6) Iowa State
11) Kansas State / Xavier 11) Vanderbilt
3) Duke 3) Arizona
14) Akron 14) IONA
Sacramento Indianapolis
7) Saint Mary’s 7) Creighton
10) WICHITA STATE 10) VCU
2) UCLA 2) Louisville
15) UC-Irvine 15) NORTHERN KENTUCKY
WEST – San Jose SOUTH – Memphis
Salt Lake City Greenville
1) GONZAGA 1) North Carolina
16) North Dakota 16) JACKSONVILLE STATE
8) South Carolina 8) Dayton
9) Michigan State 9) Marquette
Buffalo Milwaukee
5) Minnesota 5) Cincinnati
12) Nevada 12) Wake Forest / Illinois State
4) Virginia 4) Purdue
13) BUCKNELL 13) EAST TENNESSEE ST
Orlando Tulsa
6) SMU 6) Maryland
11) Mid Tennessee State 11) USC
3) Florida State 3) Baylor
14) WINTHROP 14) FLA GULF COAST
Sacramento Indianapolis
7) Oklahoma State 7) Virginia Tech
10) Seton Hall 10) Providence
2) Oregon 2) Kentucky
15) CSU-Bakersfield 15) Texas-Southern

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

Last Four Byes (at large): Providence, Seton Hall, USC, Vanderbilt

Last Four IN (at large): Xavier, Wake Forest, Kansas State, Illinois State

First Four OUT (at large): Syracuse, Rhode Island, Iowa, Illinois

Next four teams OUT (at large): California, Houston, Georgia, Ole Miss

Breakdown by Conference …

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

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

Big East (7): VILLANOVA, Butler, Creighton, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, Xavier

Big 12 (6): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas State

SEC (5): FLORIDA, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas, Vanderbilt

Pac 12 (4): OREGON, Arizona, UCLA, USC

Atlantic 10 (2): DAYTON, VCU

American (2): SMU, Cincinnati

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (2): WICHITA STATE, Illinois State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: IONA (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), UT-Arlington (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), North Dakota (BSKY), NORTHERN KENTUCKY (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), EAST TENNESSEE STATE (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), FLORIDA GULF COAST (ASUN), JACKSONVILLE STATE (OVC), UNC-WILMINGTON (CAA), WINTHROP (BSO), NC-Central (MEAC), SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (SUM), CSU-Bakersfield (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), BUCKNELL (PAT), MOUNT ST. MARY’S (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

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The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

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Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.

Injured Gamecocks point guard Blanton gives up basketball

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard TeMarcus Blanton is giving up basketball after struggling with a serious hip injury he suffered before his freshman season.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin says Blanton told him he could not get his body to respond to a level that would allow him to continue playing basketball. Blanton is a 6-foot-5 junior from Locust Grove, Georgia, who hurt his hip during preseason for the 2014-15 season. He needed surgery and could not return to the court until his sophomore year.

Blanton played in 29 games, averaging 1.4 points a game.

He said on social media he is grateful to his coaches, teammates and South Carolina fans, “but my journey of basketball has come to an end.”

Blanton received a medical exemption from the Southeastern Conference to remain part of the Gamecocks’ program moving forward.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley to remain NBA Draft

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For the first time in a decade and just the third time in 14 seasons as UNC’s head coach, Roy Williams has a one-and-done player.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley will sign with an agent and remain in the NBA Draft.

Bradley had an impressive freshman season, averaging 7.1 points and 5.1 boards in less than 15 minutes per game as the sixth-man for the national title-winning Tar Heels. He initially declared for the draft without signing with an agent, testing the waters, and the feedback was positive: He’ll likely be a late first round or early second round pick.

As the process dragged on, it became fairly evident that Bradley would keep his name in the draft, and that is a massive blow for a UNC team that is already losing Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, not to mention Justin Jackson.

As it stands, Roy Williams will likely start the following lineup next season: Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson on the perimeter with Luke Maye and either Brandon Huffman or Garrison Brooks, both freshmen, alongside him. Williams is one of the few coaches left in the sport that still relies on playing two bigs and utilizing an overwhelming front court to win games, and that is not going to be an easy thing to do with that group of bigs.

UNC’s perimeter is strong. Berry will likely be a preseason all-american while Pinson and Williams are both above average role players on the wings.

But without that hoss in the paint — Bradley, like Berry, would have popped up on preseason all-american teams — the Tar Heels are going to have a tough time making a run at an ACC title, let alone a third straight trip to the national title game.

North Carolina is currently ranked 18th in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.