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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.

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.