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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.

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

Louisville’s Mitchell declaring for draft, won’t hire an agent

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Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell is the latest to decide to see what the NBA might offer.

“I have decided to test the waters and not hire an agent!” Mitchell wrote in an Instagram post Wednesday. “I am excited to work out this summer for teams and hopefully participate in the NBA combine! I want it to be clear I have not decided to leave Louisville!”

Mitchell, who is expected to be joined by dozens of players, is taking advantage of new NCAA rules that allow him to work out for teams and attend the NBA draft combine before making a decision on whether to remain in the draft and return to school.

Players have until May 24 to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

Mitchell averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a sophomore, shooting 40.8 percent overall and 35.4 percent on 3-point attempts.

The 6-foot-3 guard is projected as a potential first-round pick, but should he return, the Cardinals would project as one of the top teams in the country with nearly the entire core returning from this year’s 25-9 squad.

Moe-mentum: Wagner stands tall for Sweet 16-bound Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Ask Moe Wagner who he looked up to when he was younger, and suddenly the Michigan big man’s fiery demeanor makes a little more sense.

“Kevin Garnett was always my biggest idol, even though our play isn’t really similar. Just the way he brings intensity and energy to his team,” Wagner said. “That always was something that really impressed me.”

Now Wagner is providing his own emotional leadership to a Michigan team that has become one of college basketball’s most remarkable stories this March.

The Wolverines have won six in a row since they were involved in a plane accident on the eve of their Big Ten Tournament opener.

After winning that conference tourney, they opened the NCAAs with victories against Oklahoma State and Louisville – with Wagner scoring 26 points in the win over Louisville that sent Michigan to the Sweet 16.

The 19-year-old Wagner is in his second season with the Wolverines. He showed some promise in 2015-16, but averaged only 8.6 minutes a game as a freshman. He’s been a starter the whole way this season, teaming up with D.J. Wilson to give Michigan some unexpected production in the frontcourt.

The Wolverines entered the season with high hopes thanks to the presence of seniors Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin.

The 6-foot-11 Wagner has made them even tougher to defend. The sophomore from Berlin is averaging 12.2 points a game, and unlike Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan – two of Michigan’s top big men of the recent past – Wagner is a threat from beyond the arc. He’s made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2016-17, putting even more pressure on opposing teams.

An expressive player on the court, Wagner admits he’s still learning how to keep his emotions under control.

Coach John Beilein says Wagner can be hard on himself, but he has an upbeat attitude the Wolverines can appreciate.

“I don’t want to rob him of his energy and his passion,” Beilein said. “If you heard him in timeouts – I mean, he is really into it. And it’s encouraging things he’s saying.”

The key for Wagner is to stay on the court. He’s been whistled for 100 fouls this season – no other Michigan player has more than 80 – and he picked up two in the first 3:11 when the Wolverines faced Oklahoma State in their NCAA Tournament opener Friday. Wagner played only 14 minutes in that frenetic game, which Michigan won 92-91 .

Against Louisville in the round of 32 , Wagner went 11 of 14 from the field and kept his poise after being called for his second foul late in the first half.

“He’s always just been an excited guy – play hard and play with a lot of passion,” Walton said. “I don’t think anything has changed. I think he’s just channeling it a little better.”

The seventh-seeded Wolverines face third-seeded Oregon on Thursday night in a regional semifinal. Michigan has won seven in a row, a streak that began with the team’s last game of the regular season.

What happened next is well documented. The day before its opening game in the conference tournament, Michigan’s plane slid off the runway .

There were no serious injuries, and the Wolverines arrived in time to play. Then they won four games in four days to take the title.

Now, Michigan is two victories away from an improbable Final Four appearance. If the Wolverines actually make it that far, Wagner will be a big reason why – and he’ll probably be as excited as anyone.

“One of my youth coaches actually used to say that I was somebody who, like, sees the basketball court as a stage and really enjoys it,” Wagner said. “Last year, I started to understand what that actually means, and kind of embraced that this year. That’s just me. I really love it. I really enjoy it.”

 

California’s Ivan Rabb declares for the NBA Draft

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Ivan Rabb announced on Wednesday that he will be declaring for the NBA Draft and foregoing his final two seasons with California.

“I want to thank everybody for their support,” Rabb said in a statement. “Since the day I committed to Cal, the love from Bay Area fans was overwhelming. I could genuinely tell that people really appreciated seeing me come to Cal and succeed and do well. Haas Pavilion will always hold a special place in my heart, and I won’t forget how incredible it felt to be “Oakland’s Own” as I ran onto the court in front of my friends, family and team.”

As a sophomore, Rabb averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 boards. He’s projected as a mid-to-late first round pick in the draft a year after making the decision to return to school as a projected lottery pick last season.

Duke’s Jayson Tatum declares for the NBA Draft

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Duke’s Jayson Tatum will declare for the NBA Draft and hire an agent, the program announced on Wednesday.

Tatum is a projected top five pick in the NBA Draft. He averaged 16.8 points playing the role of small-ball four for the Blue Devils this season after missing the first month of the season with a foot injury.

“I have absolutely loved coaching Jayson Tatum,” Coach K said in a statement. “His skill set and work ethic will make him a star in the NBA. Whichever team selects him will be getting a humble, thoughtful and talented young man whom we are proud to call a member of the Duke basketball brotherhood.”

Tatum was the most talented player on the Blue Devils this season, but it was an up and down year for Duke as a whole. They were predicted by just about everyone to win the national title back in the preseason, but they eventually bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the second round.