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2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown West Region: Can No. 1 seed Gonzaga make the Final Four?

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THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH

  1. Is this the year Gonzaga finally makes the Final Four?: There is no better program in college basketball right now that has not reached a Final Four than Gonzaga. The Zags have won 17 of the 18 WCC regular season titles in Mark Few’s tenure as head coach, they are consistently a top 25 team and just about every other year they are a top ten team. They recruit McDonald’s All-Americans and shuffle players off to the NBA. They do everything that a great program does, they just haven’t broken through to that final weekend of the season just yet. Is this finally the year that they do?
  2. Is this the year Sean Miller finally makes a Final Four?: Everything I just said about Gonzaga can be said about Sean Miller. He’s an elite coach, one of the few that actually has the cache to be able to get a job like North Carolina or Kansas or Kentucky if it comes open. He’s an elite recruiter that wins Pac-12 championships and shuffles players off to the NBA. He’s everything you want out of a college coach, he just hasn’t gotten to the final weekend of the season. Is this the season that it finally happens?
  3. This is the year that Northwestern made their first NCAA tournament: Northwestern had never made the NCAA tournament before this season. Ever. That means they’ve never won an NCAA tournament game. Ever. They finally got to the tournament this season, which resulted in an explosive celebration when they finally heard their name on Selection Sunday. They’re playing with house money now.

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … ?: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Arizona

For all the narratives! A rematch of a neutral site game earlier this season that Gonzaga won, the difference this time being the return of star guard Allonzo Trier, who was still suspended the first time they played. Someone’s curse will have to end if these two get together, as one of Mark Few or Sean Miller will finally be cutting down the nets at a regional final.

FINAL FOUR SLEEPER: No. 5 Notre Dame

I think Mike Brey is one of the most underrated coaches in all of college basketball, and I actually think his team matches up well with everyone at the top of this bracket. West Virginia is a pressing team, and pressing teams can be beaten by a team that has good ball-handlers that don’t turn the ball over and that make threes. Notre Dame does that. Gonzaga can be beaten by teams that spread the floor and that can operate in ball-screens. Notre Dame does that. If they get to the Elite 8, I think they have a shot to beat Arizona as well. There’s a reason Brey’s teams have been to back-to-back Elite 8s.

RELATED: Printable NCAA Tournament Bracket

(Via @MarchMadness)

UPSETS THAT CAN HAPPEN

  • No. 14 FGCU over No. 3 Florida State: The Seminoles are the most talented team in the country that I trust the least. I don’t love their point guard play and I am not convinced that Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac are dominant enough when they need to be.
  • No. 4 West Virginia or No. 5 Notre Dame over No. 1 Gonzaga: I think both of those teams can beat the Zags. Notre Dame can put them in ball-screens and take advantage of the slow-footed Przemek Karnowski, while West Virginia’s press would give Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins trouble.

UPSETS THAT WON’T HAPPEN

  • No. 12 Princeton over No. 5 Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish play a style that isn’t all that dissimilar to what Princeton plays. They’re just better at it.
  • No. 13 Bucknell over No. 4 West Virginia: This is the best press that Bob Huggins’ team has run. Press Virginia has never been better, and I can’t see the Bison handling it all that well.

FEEL LIKE GAMBLING?: No. 4 West Virginia to the Final Four

Everyone is talking about how mis-seeded Wichita State is, but what about West Virginia? The Mountaineers are a No. 4 seed despite being slotted in at fifth on KenPom. Their press is menacing, the best that Bob Huggins has ever had, and he’s in a region where the three teams seeded above him — Gonzaga, Arizona and Florida State — have differing levels of concern with their point guard play.

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

THE STUDS YOU KNOW ABOUT

  • Allonzo Trier and Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Markkanen is probably going to be the highest draft pick in this region, but Trier, for my money, is the best player, particularly if he stays hot after the Pac-12 tournament.
  • Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss had an all-american caliber season running the point for the Zags.
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: No one in college basketball is better than Trimble in a close game. He has won five games in the final 30 seconds this season.

THE STUDS YOU’LL FIND OUT ABOUT

  • Mike Daum, South Dakota State: Daum is a 6-foot-9 future NBA player that plays for the Jackrabbits. He scored 51 points in a game earlier this season. They are going to give Gonzaga more of a fight than you think.
  • Brandon Goodwin, FGCU: Goodwin is this year’s star for #DunkCity, a 6-foot-2 guard that averages 18 points and four assists.

BEST OPENING ROUND MATCHUP: No. 14 FGCU vs. No. 3 Florida State

We get a battle between a team with the talent of a Final Four program and a team with Cinderella pedigree, both of whom hail from Florida and will be squaring off in Orlando. That will be fun.

MATCHUPS TO ROOT FOR: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 Arizona

It’s not just the story lines with these two teams. It’s that they’re the best two teams in the region and that they happen to matchup so well against one another. Arizona has been one of the hottest teams in college basketball over the course of the last month of the season, but Gonzaga earned their No. 1 seed with a 32-1 season. You want upsets in the early rounds. You want chalk in the later rounds, because it leads to games like this.

CBT PREDICTION: Arizona and Sean Miller finally make it to a Final Four.

Seven identified after threats made against referee John Higgins following Kentucky Elite Eight loss

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College basketball referee John Higgins received threats to his home and business in late March after some controversial calls in North Carolina’s win over Kentucky in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Seven people have now been identified for making threats against Higgins, according to an Associated Press report. The FBI’s Omaha, Nebraska field office said that information on the seven people will be referred to authorities in their jurisdictions.

An investigation over the last few months helped find the culprits, as the Omaha-based Higgins received emails, phone calls and voicemails to his personal home and roofing company following Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament departure. Wildcat head coach John Calipari might have ignited some of the anger in Kentucky fans by criticizing the officiating following the North Carolina loss.

“Based on the investigation’s findings, our office has determined that no local charges will be filed and that pursuit of any criminal charges would be best served by deferring to authorities in the appropriate jurisdictions,” Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The length of the investigation was drawn out due in part to the large volume of potential evidence requiring analysis, and the multi-jurisdictional issues arising from the multiple states in which the communications originated.”

Polikov also said that at least two media outlets were exposing and promoting Higgins’ contact information.

“This information has been referred to the Federal Communications Commission for further investigation of the potential violations related to applicable federal communications regulations,” Polikov said.

Higgins received about 3,000 phone calls at his office in the two days following the game. Sheriff’s investigator Matt Barrall told the AP that an estimated 75 percent of the calls were from Kentucky area codes.

The roofing business that Higgins owns was also flooded with bad online reviews and negative star ratings, causing his Google rating to fall while also forcing Higgins to take down the Facebook page for his business.

Beilein still upbeat after Michigan loses another to NBA

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — For a major program, Michigan is a somewhat unlikely candidate for this kind of NBA-induced attrition.

The Wolverines have fielded some very good teams under John Beilein, but they haven’t been relying on prospects expected to jump to the pros as soon as they can.

“We’re not depending all our success on one-and-dones,” Beilein said. “Given that, our numbers right now are extraordinary.”

Beilein was referring to the number of players Michigan has sent to the NBA, particularly as early entrees. The Wolverines lost D.J. Wilson to the draft this offseason with two years of eligibility remaining, and now they’ll go through the familiar process of trying to replace a key player who turned pro.

The most significant early exodus occurred in 2013 and 2014, when Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all went pro before their eligibility was up. Michigan won a lot of games with those players, reaching the Final Four and Elite Eight those two years, but their development made them attractive to NBA teams and shortened their college careers.

Wilson’s rise followed a similar pattern. He averaged only 2.7 points per game in 2015-16, and then increased to 11.0 this past season and became Michigan’s leading rebounder. His efforts helped Michigan win the Big Ten Tournament and reach the Sweet 16, and now he’s off to the NBA draft. The entire sequence of events would have seemed highly improbable a year ago.

The Wolverines won’t receive much sympathy from their Big Ten opponents, especially since Michigan will still have big man Moe Wagner, who tested the NBA waters but ultimately decided to stay in school. The 6-foot-11 Wagner averaged 12.1 points last season and shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range, showing huge improvement in much the same way Wilson did.

After losing senior point guard Derrick Walton, it will be interesting to see how Michigan’s offense operates if Wagner becomes even more of a focal point. When Beilein was at West Virginia, the Mountaineers achieved success behind center Kevin Pittsnogle, whose skill set and 3-point shooting ability was at least somewhat similar to Wagner’s.

“We’re not going to put him in that category yet,” Beilein said. “Let’s just say, having a big man who can shoot the ball like that changes a lot of things.”

Michigan was also able to add a new point guard recently in Jaaron Simmons, a graduate transfer from Ohio. Simmons is eligible immediately in 2017-18 and will move up from the Mid-American Conference to the Big Ten.

“A lot of the mid-majors are having this happen to them, and I don’t like it at all, but the fact is if Jaaron doesn’t come here, he ends up probably somewhere else in the Big Ten,” Beilein said. “He’s just fundamentally so sound. He’ll be here this summer. Just as a person, I just wanted to coach the kid after spending an hour with him — just the leadership, the desire to win.”

Simmons could help the Wolverines withstand the loss of Walton, and Beilein indicated he could serve as a bit of a mentor to players like point guard Xavier Simpson, who is entering his sophomore season.

“We went all-in with (Simmons), knowing we had that scholarship,” Beilein said. “We felt that was a huge need for us, is to just have a little bit more experience in the backcourt next year.”

Follow Noah Trister on Twitter @noahtrister

LaVar Ball having ‘zero’ interaction with UCLA team bodes well for next season

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With the NBA Draft looming in less than a month, the biggest talking point has been just how much of an impact LaVar Ball is going to have on his son, Lonzo’s, NBA career.

It’s a question worth asking given the, ahem, outspoken nature of the eldest Ball.

But in the collegiate ranks, that’s a question that’s been asked about UCLA regarding next season. While Lonzo and LaMelo, who is finishing up his sophomore season in high school, are the stars that get the majority of the attention, there is another Ball brother that will be enrolling at UCLA next season: LiAngelo.

LaVar has already said that he expect Gelo to be a one-and-done player, which may not jibe with how good Gelo actually is. He’s not Lonzo and he’s not LaMelo. He’s not a dynamic athlete or a lead guard. He’s a 6-foot-5, 200 pound shooter with limitless range but limited upside. There’s a reason Rivals ranks him as a three-star prospect.

What’s going to happen when UCLA, a top 15 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25, doesn’t give Gelo Lonzo-esque minutes or shots next season? How will LaVar handle it if his second son is coming off the bench for the Bruins?

Steve Alford doesn’t seem concerned about it, telling a reporter from the LA Times that LaVar was “never at practice, never called me” and was around the team “zero.”

“I think all parents probably should know that moving on to the collegiate level anyway,” Alford said. “It’s not high school, it’s not AAU. Your son’s on scholarship; your son’s at UCLA getting an incredible opportunity academically and athletically.

“Playing time, shots, that kind of stuff — we don’t entertain some of those phone calls anyway. I never had any issues at all with LaVar.”

It will be interesting to see if that continues next season.

The Bruins have a chance to be pretty good. Maybe not quite as good as last season, maybe not a Pac-12 title favorite or even the best team in LA — USC is loaded — but I wouldn’t be shocked to see them end up as a top four seed in the NCAA tournament with Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh returning and Jaylen Hands headlining the recruiting class.

Will LaVar be able to handle UCLA’s success if it comes at the expense of his son’s?

NCAA: Former USF assistant provided extra benefits, lied to NCAA investigators

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The NCAA has alleged that former South Florida assistant coach Oliver Antigua provided roughly $500 in impermissible benefits and initially lied to NCAA investigators about it, according to the Tampa Bay Times, who obtained the NCAA’s summary disposition report.

Oliver Antigua is the younger brother of Orlando Antigua, who was the head coach at USF until he was fired in January. Now an assistant on Brad Underwood’s staff at Oklahoma State, Orlando was not alleged to have committed an NCAA violation in the report.

Oliver is alleged to have provided the extra benefits to two student-athletes while they were being tutored by the sister-in-law of Gerald Gillion, a special assistant to Orlando who resigned last fall, four months after Oliver did. USF has already self-imposed a $5,000 and reduced their scholarships from 13 to 12, according to the report.

“The University of South Florida and the NCAA continue to work together to resolve the inquiry into violations of NCAA bylaws and university standards by a USF intercollegiate athletic program,” according to a statement released by the school. “USF anticipates having a final resolution with the NCAA sometime this fall. Until the process concludes and the matter is fully resolved, USF cannot provide further comment.”

Villanova lands four-star 2018 guard

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Villanova added its first recruit in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright and his staff landed a verbal commitment from Paul VI Catholic High School’s Brandon Slater, a four-star guard by Rivals as the No. 42 overall prospect in the rising senior class.

The 6-foot-5 Slater announced his decision via Twitter.

Slater, according to Jeff Borzello of ESPN, picked the Wildcats over Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, and Virginia.

He is currently playing the Nike EYBL with Team Takeover, the same grassroots program that produced current Villanova guard Phil Booth.