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2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown Midwest Region: Kansas gets No. 1 seed

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THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH

  1. How does Oregon respond to the loss of Chris Boucher?: The biggest story coming out of Championship Week for the Ducks was that they lost their starting center, Chris Boucher, to a torn ACL. He is done for the season. Just how much will this affect Oregon? I think the biggest issue is that they are going to lose floor-spacing. What made Boucher valuable is that he can make threes and block shots at the rim, which means that Oregon can keep the paint clear without losing rim protection. That’s not easy to replace, but Dana Altman is a terrific coach. He’ll figure something out, especially when you consider that Jordan Bell is an elite defender and Dillon Brooks is a monster. The question is whether or not they will have enough time to put it all together.
  2. Kansas has no depth inside. When does this become an issue?: It’s going to at some point. Maybe Landen Lucas gets three fouls in the first 10 minutes. Maybe he rolls an ankle. Whatever the case may be, the Jayhawks are in trouble if they have to play extended minutes without Lucas, especially if they have to do it against a team like Purdue (in the Sweet 16) or North Carolina (in the Final Four). It’s going to happen at some point in they are to win six games in this tournament. How they cope will determine if they cut down any nets.
  3. At what point does Louisville start making shots?: That’s the biggest concern with this team. Can they score? We know how good Louisville’s defense is under Rick Pitino, particularly this season, but if Donovan Mitchell has an off-night, the Cardinals can struggle to crack 70 points. We saw it against Duke in the ACC tournament. The Blue Devils switched to a second half zone, and with Mitchell shooting 3-for-14 from the floor, the Cards had no answer.

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … ?: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 2 Louisville

I think Louisville has the easiest path to the Elite 8 in the region, as the No. 3 seed on their side of the bracket is missing their starting center. Kansas is probably going to have to get by a team that beat them in Phog Allen (Iowa State) or a team with the biggest front line in the sport (Purdue) to get there, and that won’t be easy, but if you’re better against #BIFM, you’re being silly.

FINAL FOUR SLEEPER: No. 5 seed Iowa State

The Cyclones have looked like a different team since they inserted Solomon Young into the starting lineup, as they finally have something of a back bone in the paint. But what makes them so dangerous is their ability to score. they can put up points in a hurry, they have four guys on the floor that can make five or six threes in a game and, like we saw against Kansas in that overtime win, when they get hot, they can literally beat anyone on any floor.

RELATED: Printable NCAA Tournament Bracket

(Via @MarchMadness)

UPSETS THAT CAN HAPPEN

  • No. 11 Rhode Island over No. 6 Creighton: The Rams are playing some of their best basketball of the season and are arguably more talented than Creighton, whose seed is partly a result of what they did with Mo Watson on the roster earlier this year.
  • No. 13 Vermont over No. 4 Purdue: The Catamounts are going to have their work cut out for them with Caleb Swanigan, but they have some size and are a well-drilled defensive team.
  • No. 12 Nevada over No. 5 Iowa State: The Wolf Pack are a talented team that I wanted to pick to win a first round game regardless of who they played. Then they ran into one of the hottest teams in college basketball. Cameron Oliver and Jordan Caroline are a problem.

UPSETS THAT WON’T HAPPEN

  • Honestly, I don’t think anything is off the table in this region outside of Louisville and Kansas getting to the Sweet 16.

FEEL LIKE GAMBLING?: Put the winner of No. 4 Purdue-No. 5 Iowa State in the Final Four

Both of those teams matchup well with Kansas. Both of those teams make a lot of threes when they are playing well. Purdue has a National Player of the Year candidate in Swanigan. Iowa State has an all-american in Monte’ Morris. Purdue won the Big Ten regular season title. Iowa State won the Big 12 tournament title. Both are dangerous … if they can get past Kansas.

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

THE STUDS YOU KNOW ABOUT

  • Frank Mason III, Kansas: Mason is the NBC Sports National Player of the Year. #BIFM. You should know all about him.
  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan is putting up Tim Duncan-esque numbers and has an incredible story — as an eighth-grader, he was 360 pounds and homeless. Look at him now.
  • Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: There are a ton of sensational point guards in college basketball this season, so what Morris has done to lead this group to a No. 5 seed has been somewhat overlooked.

THE STUDS YOU’LL FIND OUT ABOUT

  • Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: He’s been sensational, and he’ll have a chance to showcase what he can do on a national stage against Michigan.
  • Cameron Oliver, Nevada: He will play in the NBA. Wait until you see what he can do. Will it be enough to lead the Wolf Pack past Iowa State?

BEST OPENING ROUND MATCHUP: No. 12 Nevada vs. No. 5 Iowa State and No. 10 Oklahoma State vs. No. 7 Michigan

Those are my two favorite opening round matchups, period. Oklahoma State vs. Michigan has a matchup of underrated point guards and two teams that score a ton of points and don’t guard anyone. (Bet the over.) Nevada has NBA talent on their roster, enough to give a good — and hot — Iowa State team a fight.

MATCHUPS TO ROOT FOR

I would love to see a rubber match between Kansas and Iowa State, personally. That’s a rivalry in the Big 12 that has some hatred, and that game will get played in Kansas City. Kansas fans probably bought up all the tickets they could find, but don’t be surprised if Iowa State fans full up 40 percent of that arena.

CBT PREDICTION: I picked Kansas to win it all on October and I’m still on that bandwagon.

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.

No. 3 Oregon heading to first Final Four in 78 years

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Oregon, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, made what looked to be a smooth path to Phoenix into a bumpy road. But after 78 years, the Ducks are going back to the Final Four, defeating No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in Elite Eight on Friday night in Kansas City.

Everything went right for the Ducks in the first half. Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the less than three minutes. The Jayhawks were limited in transition. Tyler Dorsey’s two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds gave them a double-digit lead at halftime. Oregon stretched it to as many as 18 in the second. Kansas couldn’t buy a basket from three (a far cry from the 3-point barrage it put on Purdue two nights earlier). When the Jayhawks drove to the basket, it was Jordan Bell (11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks) who either blocked or altered their shots.

However, the Ducks not only left the door open for the Jayhawks, they held it open. Kansas’ comeback attempt was a mix drink that was equal parts KU putting the clamps on defensively, Oregon playing a bit of hero ball, and the Ducks playing not to lose instead of to win. Up six with less than two minutes remaining, Dorsey (27 points) buried a dagger 3-pointer that all but sealed the win — and a spot in next week’s Final Four — for the Ducks.

Oregon will play the winner of the South region, which will either be No. 1 North Carolina or No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.

The slogan of the NCAA Tournament is “The Road to the Final Four”.

Outside of Duke, the runaway preseason favorite, and it’s months-long narrative of “Is Duke back?”, you could make the case there wasn’t a Final Four contender with a journey filled with more ups and downs than Oregon.

Weeks following a season-ending loss to Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, Oregon learned that both Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey would return to school for the next season. In July, Dylan Ennis was granted a sixth-year of eligibility. With Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell returning, and Payton Pritchard joining the program, the Ducks were an easy choice for a preseason Final Four pick.

Brooks’ offseason foot surgery — and the recovery that followed — raised concern about whether or not Oregon could fully reach its preseason potential, entering conference play without a notable win. Brooks’ Pac-12 Player of the Year season put to rest the status of his foot, leading the Ducks to a 16-2 Pac-12 record.

Hours before Oregon was set to battle with Arizona, it was announced that Chris Boucher had torn his ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season. Not only could this have played a role in the team’s seeding by the selection committee, but Boucher offered more than rim protection, as he helped space the floor given his ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter.

After fending off a good fight from Iona, the Ducks looked to be part of a Rhode Island’s magical postseason run. Tyler Dorsey ended that. In the Sweet 16, Oregon was matchup with Michigan, dubbed as the team of destiny. Bell and Dorsey, Oregon’s two tournament stars, stepped up in critical moments once again. Slated as an underdog for the second straight game, Oregon proved its Final Four worth by handing Kansas its worst tournament defeat of the Bill Self era in a regional final game that was played 40 miles away from the KU campus.

“I’m happy for our team,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said following the game. “I’m happy for, as I mentioned, our university and our state. It’s been a long time coming and now we just need to go continue to play well.”

For Oregon, its road to the Final Four has come full circle.