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2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown East Region: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed

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THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH

  1. Will Villanova repeat as National Champs?: They sure look like they are ready to do so. In fact, I think Villanova’s title defense is probably the biggest story in the sport as we head into the start of the tournament, and yet, it doesn’t feel that way, does it? They have the star in Josh Hart, they have point guard play, they are well-coached, they have veterans at every spot on the floor. The Wildcats certainly have the talent on the roster to make a run at this.
  2. After winning the ACC tournament, does Duke have another run in them?: Like Villanova, Duke just finished up putting together a run to a title in a league tournament that was played in the Big Apple, cutting down the nets at the Barclays Center just a few hours after Villanova did so in the Garden. The Blue Devils have put it all together here late in the season, shaking off all the injuries, suspensions, surgeries, everything to look like a team that almost always has three of the four best players on the floor.
  3. Is there anyone in the East that can beat those two?: For my money, there are four favorites as we head into this tournament: Kansas in the Midwest, North Carolina in the South and then Duke and Villanova in the East. In fact, I think that it’s just about a lock that these two are going to be playing in the Garden on Sunday night, going head to head in what should be an unbelievable atmosphere for the right to play in the Final Four. Can anyone in the region beat them? Wisconsin over Villanova in the second round is somewhat worrisome, but I don’t think that Florida without John Egbunu or Virginia given their inability to score will give the Wildcats a run. As for Duke, their biggest test before the Elite 8 will probably end up being SMU. None of those teams really worry me.

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … ?: No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 2 Duke

Like I said earlier, I just cannot see anyone else in this region beating either of these two teams, not when they play the way that they’ve been playing this past week.

FINAL FOUR SLEEPER: No. 6 seed SMU

The Mustangs are better than anyone is giving them credit for this season. They’re currently sitting at 11th in KenPom’s rankings, and they handled Cincinnati fairly easily in the last two games those two teams played. Semi Ojeleye is a monster, and he’s a former Duke player. I fully expect the Mustangs to get past Baylor and into the second weekend, which would pit Ojeleye against his former team playing a role that Duke knows so well these days: the small-ball four.

RELATED: Printable NCAA Tournament Bracket

Via @MarchMadness

UPSETS THAT CAN HAPPEN

  • No. 13 East Tennessee State over No. 4 Florida: I really like the team that Steve Forbes has put together. He has high-major talent on that roster and a star guard in T.J. Cromer. The Gators have looked vulnerable without John Egbunu in the paint.
  • No. 6 SMU over No. 3 Baylor: This is one of the easier picks for SMU. I just flat out think that SMU is a better basketball team, as Baylor has been reeling over the course of the last month of the season.
  • No. 8 Wisconsin over No. 1 Villanova: This one is worrisome to me. The Badgers love working the ball through their posts, Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes, and if there is a weakness to Villanova’s team, it’s their ability to defend big guys.

UPSETS THAT WON’T HAPPEN

  • No. 12 UNCW over No. 5 Virginia: The Seahawks, who are a very, very good basketball team heading into their second straight NCAA tournament, got a terrible draw against UVA. UNCW wants to push tempo, force turnovers, shoot threes and create chaos. Virginia does not let that happen when they play.

FEEL LIKE GAMBLING?: No. 7 South Carolina to the Sweet 16

The Gamecocks will be playing in Greenville, S.C., and have one of the nation’s toughest defenses. They are physical, they are strong and they are old, which is exactly the kind of thing that could give Duke trouble in the second round. That said, I’m not sure they get past Marquette and I don’t know if they can score enough points to give either of those two teams a fight.

RELATED: Power Rankings 1-68 | Duke deserved a No. 1 seed | Committee got bubble right

THE STUDS YOU KNOW ABOUT

  • Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum and Grayson Allen, Duke: To me, these three are almost always going to be three of the four best players on the floor at any given time.
  • Josh Hart, Villanova: There’s nothing flashy about Hart’s game. He’s just a grinder, a junkyard dog that gets every loose ball and pounds the offensive glass and that is good enough to put up 29 points in the Big East title game.

THE STUDS YOU’LL FIND OUT ABOUT

  • Semi Ojeleye, SMU: He’s got a chance to be a first round pick this June, and I don’t know if anyone knows his name. He’s a powerfully athletic, 6-foot-8 combo-forward that allows SMU to play four-around-one when they need to.
  • T.J. Cromer, ETSU: Cromer averaged better than 19 points per game this season, and he’s got enough ability to be the guy that carries a mid-major team to the Sweet 16.
  • C.J. Bryce, UNCW: Just a sophomore, the 6-foot-5 Bryce is averaging 17 points as a two-guard in Keatts’ system. You have to think that, if Keatts jumps at a bigger job after the tournament, Bryce might be a guy that follows him there.

BEST OPENING ROUND MATCHUP: No. 5 Virginia vs. No. 12 UNCW

It may not be the most aesthetically-pleasing game, but the contrast in styles between these two programs is just so fascinating, and it brings up an interesting debate I had over the weekend: If you are a mid-major program trying to land an upset, do you want to go up against a team that plays a totally different style from you and hope that the matchup works, or do you want to take on a team that plays similarly but just has better athletes and players? If it’s the former, should I be re-thinking my take on UNCW in this game?

MATCHUPS TO ROOT FOR: No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 2 Duke

That is a game that is good enough to be for the national title, and we might get it in the Elite 8 in the best building to watch a neutral site game between two teams that really turn out fans in NYC. This needs to happen.

CBT PREDICTION: Picking a winner in that game is so hard to do, but I think I lean Duke. Talent wins out at the end of the day.

Report: Pat Kelsey will not take the UMass job

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Moments before Pat Kelsey was set to be formally introduced as the new head coach at the University of Massachusetts, the school canceled the press conference citing, “unforeseen circumstances.”

According to Jeff Goodman of ESPN, the former Winthrop coach has decided not to accept the job.

Virginia’s Thompson to transfer

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Virginia lost another member of its team Thursday.

The Cavaliers announced Darius Thompson will transfer out of the program, a day after the news of Marial Shayok and Jarred Reuter’s departures.

“Darius Thompson informed me he has decided to play his final season at another school following his graduation from Virginia,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said in a statement released by the school. “Although you never want to see young men transfer, I understand this is part of coaching. Darius, Marial, and Jarred feel it’s in their best interests to pursue other options for the remainder of their college careers.

“I will always appreciate the contributions they made to our program.”

Thompson, who would be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer, began his career at Tennessee before transferring to Charlottesville, where he averaged 5.2 points and 1.8 assists over two seasons. The 6-foot-4 guard shot 44.8 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from 3-point range last season.

Despite the three defections, Virginia returns a number of pieces that contributed to their 23-11 season.

As we look forward, we have a strong nucleus of players returning,” Bennett said, “and I’m excited for their continued development. As a staff, we are focused on finding student-athletes who want to be a part of this program and all the University of Virginia has to offer.”

Georgetown, John Thompson III part ways

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Georgetown has parted ways with head coach John Thompson III, sources confirmed to NBC Sports.

Thompson has been the head coach of the Hoyas for 13 seasons, going 278-151 during his tenure. He won three Big East regular season titles with the program, the last of which came in 2013, and he reached the 2007 Final Four, but in recent years the program has fallen on hard times.

Georgetown confirmed the news Thursday afternoon.

“For thirteen years, he has been one of the elite coaches in college basketball,” Georgetown president John J. DeGioia said in a statement released by the school. “His performance as a coach has been exceptional, and he has served our community with remarkable distinction and integrity, sustaining our commitment to the academic performance of our students and providing them with the very best preparation for their lives beyond the Hilltop.”

Georgetown is 29-36 over the course of the last two seasons and the Hoyas have missed the NCAA tournament in three of the last four years. They’ve failed to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since that Final Four, losing to five double-digit seeds in their last six NCAA tournament appearances.

Thompson is the son of John Thompson Jr., the Hall of Fame head coach that built the Hoyas into a national power in the 80s and 90s. The University just invested more than $60 million into a renovation of the team’s practice facility which is now named The Thompson Center.

“We are committed to taking the necessary steps to strengthen our program and maintaining the highest levels of academic integrity and national competitiveness,” DeGioia said. “We will work immediately to begin a national search for a new head men’s basketball coach.

“I remain deeply grateful to John for all that he has done on behalf of Georgetown University.”

The news was first reported by CasualHoya.com.

Jeter to transfer from Duke

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A former five-star recruit is hitting the transfer market.

Chase Jeter, a top-20 talent in the Class of 2015, will transfer from Duke, the school announced Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 sophomore could never really crack the rotation with the Blue Devils, playing less than 500 minutes total over two seasons. He averaged 14.9 minutes in 16 appearances this past season.

“Chase has been an outstanding young man in our program for the last two years,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement released by the school. “He has been one of our top academic performers since he arrived on campus. Unfortunately, he was held back this season due to injury. We wish nothing but the absolute best for Chase and his family.”

This past season Jeter dealt with a back injury, and he did not play after Jan. 14.

“I have loved my time at Duke, getting a world-class education and competing alongside my brothers every day,” Jeter said in a statement. “After careful consideration, I decided it would be best for me to transfer to a school closer to home. I’ve made long-lasting relationships here and I want to thank my teammates and coaches for the support they’ve given me over the last two years.”

Jeter, a Las Vegas native, chose Duke in the summer of 2014 over Arizona, UNLV and UCLA.

Feeling the love: Men’s hoops squad toast of South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Sindarius Thornwell knew South Carolina fans would be excited about the team’s Sweet 16 appearance. The response since he has been on campus, though, surprised even him.

As Thornwell walked to the student union after class, he couldn’t take more than a couple of steps without students swarming him for selfies or asking for some tidbit about the win against Duke on Sunday.

“We’re trying to embrace the moment,” Thornwell said Tuesday. “But that was wild.”

Everyone on campus, around Columbia and even the state seem to be savoring every minute. It’s understandable, the Gamecocks haven’t been in the Sweet 16 since 1973.

It’s been a wild ride for the Gamecocks (24-10), who some wondered if they’d even get invited to the NCAA Tournament let alone produce one of the signature moments so far with their 88-81 win over the second-seeded Blue Devi ls in the East Region.

Next up is third seeded Baylor (27-7) on Friday night at Madison Square Garden for the chance to advance.

Coach Frank Martin said he’s gotten more than 1,100 text messages about Sunday night’s win and two or three from people wondering, “So I guess you’re not going to respond?” he joked.

“That’s a good problem to have,” he said.

South Carolina is gaining the attention Gamecock fans have recently showered on the football, baseball or women’s basketball programs.

Steve Spurrier, featuring NFL standouts like defensive end Jadeveon Clowney , receiver Alshon Jeffrey and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, won the Southeastern Conference East Division in 2010 and had three straight 11-2 seasons from 2011-13.

Baseball won back-to-back College World Series under now athletic director Ray Tanner in 2010 and 2011. Thousands turned out for victory parades to the Statehouse when the team returned home.

Most recently, South Carolina’s women’s basketball team, led by new U.S. women’s national team coach Dawn Staley, has gained much of the attention with four straight SEC regular season titles. The Gamecocks have led the women’s game in attendance the past three seasons.

Now, men’s basketball is getting some love.

“We’re happy to be part of that,” sophomore point guard P.J. Dozier said.

There was a time when men’s basketball led the way at South Carolina when New York City native Frank McGuire turned a sleepy program into a national power with a pipeline of NYC kids like John Roche, Tom Owens, Bobby Cremins, Brian Winters and Mike Dunleavy Sr.

McGuire led the Gamecocks to the NCAA round of 16 three straight seasons from 1971-73 – there were just 25 schools involved – and his team was considered the cream of the crop in South Carolina athletic circles.

But McGuire’s touch ran out in the mid-1970s and the Gamecocks have struggled for an identity for more than 40 years.

South Carolina won its only Southeastern Conference crown in 1997, but lost in the NCAAs as a No. 2 seed. The Gamecocks returned to the tournament the next season, that time falling as a No. 3 seed.

The Gamecocks high-water mark until now may be the consecutive NIT crowns won by coach Dave Odom in 2005 and 2006.

Martin and these Gamecocks are out to add another level of success to the program.

The fifth-year coach said that being around Spurrier – “Steve calls me every day,” Martin said – Tanner and Staley make him a better leader and give him examples of building winning cultures.

“I’m a big believer in winning leads to winning,” he said.

An emotional Martin, overcome by his team’s Duke win, told the players in the locker room, “Let’s go win this thing.”

He said Tuesday he wanted his players to know that by beating Duke, they proved they’re good enough to play with anyone left in the field.

Thornwell heard that over and over from friends, family and hundreds of new acquaintances he’s made the past 48 hours.

“We’re just having fun,” he said, “enjoying the game, enjoying every moment.”