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2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown South Region: North Carolina gets a No. 1 seed

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THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH

  1. Kentucky got the worst draw of the entire tournament: Forget Wichita State, the team that got the worst draw of the entire tournament field was Kentucky. How about this: If favorites hold on to win, in order for the Wildcats to get to the Final Four, they’re going to have to beat Wichita State — who is currently sitting in eighth on KenPom — in the second round, UCLA in the Sweet 16 and North Carolina in the Elite 8. That’s just to get to the Final Four! They’re still going to have to beat the likes of Kansas and Louisville and Duke and Villanova once they get there. For a team that has the ups and down that Kentucky can have, the idea that they’re going to have to beat five of the ten or 12 best teams in America to win a national title isn’t exactly inspiring.
  2. Can Middle Tennessee State make another tournament run?: The Blue Raiders are coming off of a year where they knocked off No. 2 Michigan State, the popular national title pick, in what may be the greatest first round upset in NCAA tournament history. What are they going to do for an encore? Beating Minnesota and the winner of Butler-Winthrop is certainly feasible.
  3. Memphis will probably be the best site to be at for the second weekend: In an ideal world, there will be four different shades of blue populating the FedEx Forum the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Three of those blues would ideally come from bluebloods: North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA. Those three fan bases are large and passionate, and both Kentucky and North Carolina are close enough that their crowds will flood that building. But then there is Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders would be the darlings of the dance if they can get to the second weekend, and their campus is just a four hour ride down I-40 from Memphis. You can’t really ask for something better than that.

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … ?: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 UCLA

For my money, North Carolina is one of the four teams in this tournament that I think has the best shot of winning the national title, and I honestly do not see them getting too much of a test until the Elite 8. Squaring off with Seton Hall will be a fight — there aren’t many teams that are as physical and athletic and tough as the Pirates — and Butler has a habit of beating teams they aren’t supposed to beat, but I just think the Tar Heels are too good. If Kentucky gets by Wichita State, their game against UCLA is a coin-flip game. I think I’d lean UCLA in that one, but with De’Aaron Fox back and Malik Monk on one, it’s tough to pick against UK.

FINAL FOUR SLEEPER: No. 10 seed Wichita State

You are going to hear this point made so many times over the course of the next week that it will make you sick, but Wichita State is a top ten team on KenPom, which is the most highly-regarded metric of its type within basketball circles. They haven’t beaten anyone yet, but they also haven’t played anyone since a team that replaced Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker finally came together. The thing standing in their way is the same thing that hurts Kentucky: that path to the Final Four is an absolute nightmare.

RELATED: Printable NCAA Tournament Bracket

Via @MarchMadness

UPSETS THAT CAN HAPPEN

  • No. 12 Middle Tennessee State to the Sweet 16: These dudes are good. I’m telling you. They beat Vanderbilt by 23 points. They were up by 29 points at the half at Ole Miss. They won at Belmont. They beat UNC Wilmington. And I don’t think it’s crazy to think that Middle ended up in a region with the worst No. 4 seed and the worst No. 5 seed in Butler and Minnesota, respectively.
  • No. 11 Wake Forest over No. 3 UCLA: UCLA can’t guard. We know this. We’ve known it for a long time. Wake Forest can’t guard either, but they are the eighth-most efficient team in college basketball and they have a future NBA center in John Collins that is punishing dudes this season.
  • No. 10 Wichita State over No. 2 Kentucky: The Shockers are very, very good and very, very well-coached. It’s not crazy to think that Gregg Marshall will find a way to scheme Malik Monk out of the game.

UPSETS THAT WON’T HAPPEN

  • No. 9 Seton Hall over No. 1 North Carolina: Given that this game would turn into one of those strength-vs.-strength matchups, I think some will make this pick. The biggest reason I don’t see this upset happening? UNC doesn’t have anyone that I think is going to be a pushover against Seton Hall.

FEEL LIKE GAMBLING?: Pick Kentucky to win the national title

Unless there is someone in your pool from the state of Kentucky, no one is going to be on that pick, not with the way the Wildcats played late in the season and not when they have to beat so many great teams to get there. But remember: Upsets happen in this tournament, and Kentucky has a kid by the name of Malik Monk, who is capable of going crazy, taking a game over and winning it by himself. If you want to ride with Monk and De’Aaron Fox, it’s worth the long odds.

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

THE STUDS YOU KNOW ABOUT

  • Malik Monk, Kentucky: He’s scored 20 points in a half six times this season, 30-or-more in one half twice and for 47 points in a win over North Carolina in Las Vegas. He’s not bad.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Jackson turned himself into the ACC Player of the Year this season, operating as UNC’s go-to guy and best perimeter shooter.
  • Lonzo Ball, UCLA: The man that should be credited with turning around UCLA. He turned that program into what it is today, instilling a culture of unselfishness.

THE STUDS YOU’LL FIND OUT ABOUT

  • Keon Johnson, Winthrop: Generally listed at 5-foot-7, Johnson is a dynamic scorer that averaged better than 22 points this season. Can he lead the Eagles to a win over Butler?
  • John Collins, Wake Forest: Collins has been an absolute monster this season, averaging 18.9 points, 9.8 boards and scoring 20-or-more in 12 straight games at one point.

BEST OPENING ROUND MATCHUP: No. 7 Dayton vs. No. 10 Wichita State

The Flyers and the Shockers are two of the best teams and best basketball programs that you may not realize are two of the best teams and programs. This should be a terrific, well-coached game between the two most in-demand head coaches in college basketball.

MATCHUPS TO ROOT FOR

This is what you want to have happen: Kentucky play Wichita State in the second round before taking on UCLA in the Sweet 16. Then you want the winner of that game to play North Carolina. It’s that simple.

CBT PREDICTION: I think the Tar Heels come out of the South, beating UCLA in the Elite 8.

Michigan lands four-star 2018 forward Ignas Brazdeikis

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Michigan added to an already strong Class of 2018 recruiting haul on Friday night as four-star forward Ignas Brazdeikis pledged to the Wolverines on Twitter.

The 6-foot-8 Canadian was one of the premier scorers in the Nike EYBL this past spring and summer playing with CIA Bounce as Brazdeikis averaged 21.1 points per game on 49 percent shooting from the floor. Well-rounded outside of his scoring, Brazdeikis also put up 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while also showing a workable jumper that was 26 percent from three-point range.

With the job that Michigan head coach John Beilein has done developing forwards, most recently with the rapid improvement of players like D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner, it’ll be fascinating to see how Brazdeikis will look at the college level after some time on campus. Beilein’s offense is favorable for skilled forwards with a penchant for scoring and Brazdeikis could end up being a tremendous fit for the Wolverines.

Brazdeikis becomes the fourth member of Michigan’s Class of 2018 recruiting haul as he joins four-star forward Brandon Johns, four-star guard David Dejulius and three-star forward Taylor Currie.

Sex assault count dropped against ex-Creighton player Watson

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Prosecutors have dropped a first-degree sexual assault charge against former Creighton point guard Maurice Watson after questions arose about the accuser’s story.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine announced Friday that his office had dropped the felony charge, filed earlier this year when a 19-year-old woman accused Watson of assaulting her early Feb. 4 at a party in an Omaha home. Watson has denied that allegation.

The 24-year-old Watson pleaded no contest Friday to misdemeanor assault for an encounter the same night with a different Creighton student, who said Watson touched her thigh and tried to make her touch his genitals. Watson was sentenced to the five days he’d already served in jail.

Watson was a senior when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in January, just days before the party.

Storm damage forces Paradise Jam out of Virgin Islands

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MIAMI (AP) — The Paradise Jam basketball tournament will not be played in the U.S. Virgin Islands this year because of damage caused by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

The tournament will be played in the U.S., with a new site expected to be announced by Sept. 29.

The Paradise Jam field this year includes Wake Forest, Colorado, Drake, Drexel, Houston, Liberty, Mercer and Quinnipiac, and each of those schools was given the chance to bid for the right to host the tournament.

Tournament officials say they looked at multiple other options, such as moving to another island and using a cruise ship for accommodations, before deciding to move the event to the U.S.

For now, the tournament is scheduled to be played from Nov. 17-20.

Kentucky lands commitment from five-star point guard

Immanuel Quickley (USA Basketball)
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Kentucky landed a commitment from Immanuel Quickley on Friday night, a top ten prospect and arguably the best point guard in the Class of 2018.

Quickley picked the Wildcats over Kansas, who he visited earlier this month, and Miami, who he was scheduled to visit before Hurricane Irma struck south Florida.

The 6-foot-3 point guard is the first commitment in the class of head coach John Calipari, and it really comes as no surprise. He’s been considered a Kentucky lean for months, and Quickley played for Calipari on the USA U19 team during the 2017 FIBA World Cup.

While Quickley has the size and the build – he’s 180 pounds with broad shoulders and long arms – of some of Kentucky’s former elite point guards, he’s not the same kind of point guard as, say, De’Aaron Fox or John Wall. He’s more of a smooth athlete than an explosive one, and while his long strides allow him to get out into transition, he’s not the finisher at the rim that those two were. What he is, however, is an intelligent player. He’s good in ball-screens, he’s an excellent passer and facilitator and he is a good enough shooter that he forces defenses to stay honest. He also has the potential to be a plus defender given his physical tools and the fact that he’ll try on that end of the floor.

Where this commitment gets interesting is the current point guard in Kentucky’s back court, Quade Green. Green was a five-star recruit in his own right, but he’s not quite built as a potential one-and-done prospect. Calipari has maneuvered through two point guards in the past, and each of the last five national champions have played major minutes with two point guards on the floor at the same time, but if Green is back next season that will be something to monitor.

That, however, is a long ways away.

What matters now is that Kentucky has gotten this commitment out of the way, and it paves the way for them to also receive a commitment from Zion Williamson. There has long been talk of those two attending college together, and with Quickley on the board, that likely keeps Kentucky in the driver’s seat as they pursue the South Carolina native.

If Kentucky can also wrangle a commitment out of R.J. Barrett, the No. 1 player in the 2018 recruiting class, that would likely be the end of the discussion of whether or not Duke has surpassed the Wildcats on the recruiting trail.

Five-star forward King picks Oregon

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Oregon has nabbed one of the top players in the 2018 class.

Louis King, a top-20 forward, committed to Dana Altman and the Ducks on Thursday via a video on social media.

“It’s been a tough, strenuous process,” King said, “but today makes all of that worth it. I’ve been blessed with great opportunities.”

The 6-foot-8 New Jersey native selected Oregon over other finalists Seton Hall, NC State, Purdue and Kansas.

“I would like to thank each of them for all the time and effort they put into my recruitment,” King said. “I would like to thank my coaches and my teammates that have pushed me and helped get me to this point in my career. My friends for all their love and support, but most of all I would like to thank my family, who has been by my side through it all.”

King is Altman’s second commit in 2018, joining four-star big man Miles Norris, a top-75 recruit in the class. It’s the beginning of what could be an absolutely dynamic class for Oregon, which still has two scholarships remaining.

“Out of all of my schools I felt like it was best for me and my family,” King said to MADE Hoops. “Coach Altman said that I would have the ball in my hands throughout the season. When I get there, it will be an easy adjustment for me with how I handle rock and get my teammates open. Our goal is to win a national championship next year.”