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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.

Creighton’s Khyri Thomas posterizes defender

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Creighton rising junior wing Khyri Thomas, like several of his teammates, are taking part in the Omaha Summer League this offseason.

On Thursday night, the 6-foot-3, 205-lb. Thomas eviscerated a defender with a one-handed posterization.

Thomas is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign for the Bluejays. He started all 35 games, averaging 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Aside from the increase in offensive production, Thomas served as one of the top defenders in the Big East. He shared the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award with Villanova’s Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges.

Zion Williamson throws down 360 windmill dunk

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Zion Williamson added another jaw-dropping dunk in the layup lines on the first night of the second live evaluation period.

Williamson and his SC Supreme team took on Each 1 Teach 1 at the Hoopseen Best of the South at the LakePoint Sporting Community in greater Atlanta.

The 6-foot-7 power forward threw down a 360 windmill dunk during his pregame routines.

Each 1 Teach 1 would pick up a 70-67 victory over SC Supreme. Williamson would end with a monster stat line of 37 points and seven rebounds.

Appalachian State freshman shooter to transfer

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A 3-point threat became a late addition to the transfer market earlier this week.

Appalachian State rising sophomore Patrick Good informed head coach Jim Fox on his intentions to leave the program. He was granted his release on Wednesday, according to Bret Strelow of the Winston-Salem Journal.

“I was pretty shocked when he came in to tell me he was leaving,” Fox told the Winston Salem-Journal. “He was a guy who had a very good freshman season, and we’re surprised to see him go.”

“I enjoyed being around the team and the experience that I got from the first year,” Good added. “I don’t think I would change that for anything. I just felt like moving forward, there is just so much more that I was capable of.”

Good appeared in 29 of 30 games, all of the bench, for the Mountaineers. The 6-foot guard averaged 7.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. His biggest asset to his newest team will  be in his ability to shoot from deep, connecting on 41 percent of his attempts during the 2016-17 season.

If Good plans to remain in at the Division I level, avoiding a year spent at a junior college, he will need to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations. He will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Iowa State adds graduate transfer Zoran Talley

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Iowa State added a scoring option on Thursday night, one who is eligible immediately.

Zoran Talley, who spent his first three seasons at Old Dominion, will join the Cyclones as a graduate transfer this season.

“We are excited to add Zoran to our program,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said in a statement issued by the athletic department. “He has had great success, both personally and as a team, at ODU and will be an asset for our team. Zoran brings versatility on both ends of the floor and his ability to play and guard several positions will benefit us. He can score and make plays and with him being immediately eligible, that is great for us.”

Talley, a 6-foot-7 wing, averaged 11.3 points for the Monarchs last season as a sophomore. However, he was dismissed from the team in April for a violation of team rules. This was preceded by two separate suspensions during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, according to Ed Miller of the Virginia Pilot.

He redshirted the 2014-15 season, leaving him two years of eligibility remaining at Iowa State. He is set to graduate in August.

Talley and fellow graduate transfer Hans Brase (Princeton) provides a boost in scoring, as well as in experience, in a frontline that returns Solomon Young, the rising sophomore big man.

Ex-NCAA scoring leader Daniel ready to return for new team

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard James Daniel III finally has the chance to deliver a follow-up performance to his 2015-16 NCAA scoring title, an opportunity that essentially eluded him last season.

After an ankle injury caused Daniel to play just two games last season at Howard, the 6-foot graduate transfer brings experience and offense to Tennessee’s backcourt.

“I wanted to go on the biggest stage for my last year and try to pursue my hopes and dreams since I’ve been a little kid, which was to get to the NBA,” Daniel said.

Daniel likely won’t be shooting or scoring as much as he did at Howard, where he averaged 27.1 points per game to lead all Division I players in 2015-16. He’s more interested in getting to the NCAA Tournament, something he hasn’t done and Tennessee hasn’t accomplished since 2014.

“At this point in my career I’m ready to win,” Daniel said. “That’s pretty much what I have to do. I feel like if we win, my personal goals will be met.”

Daniel believed that NCAA berth would come last season as Howard was favored to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Those plans quickly went awry.

Daniel was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the first 14 games of the season. After returning and playing just two games, Daniel learned he had a chipped bone in his ankle. With Daniel out for the rest of the season, Howard finished 10-24.

That injury allowed Daniel to redshirt the 2016-17 season, giving him one more year of eligibility. He decided to spend that season in a bigger conference and considered Michigan, Ohio State and DePaul before selecting Tennessee.

Daniel remembered watching Tennessee games when he was younger and appreciating prolific guard Chris Lofton, who starred for the Volunteers from 2004-08. When Daniel visited Tennessee, he bonded with the team and sensed a family atmosphere.

“They’re competitive,” Daniel said. “They all want to win. That was the most intriguing part.”

Although Daniel’s ankle leaves his status uncertain for Tennessee’s three exhibition games next month in France and Spain, he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for the start of the season.

Tennessee is counting on the additions of Daniel and Vincennes University transfer Chris Darrington to solidify a backcourt that struggled with inexperience last year.

“With Chris Darrington and James Daniel, we felt like we could get guys who liked to score and were not afraid to go make plays,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I think that’s going to help these younger guys because they were put in situations they’d never been put in before.”

Barnes cited the maturity Daniel brings as Tennessee’s lone senior. Daniel will turn 24 on Jan. 29, about a month after Tennessee begins Southeastern Conference play. Nobody else on Tennessee’s roster is older than 20, though juniors Kyle Alexander and Brad Woodson will have their 21st birthdays before the season starts.

“He’s older than all of us, so I think I can learn some things from him,” Darrington said.

Daniel’s teammates will learn plenty about his knack for drawing fouls. Not only did Daniel lead all Division I players in scoring during that 2015-16 season, he also topped the nation in free-throw attempts with 331.

They’ll also learn about his work ethic. Daniel’s father, James Daniel Jr., remembers how his son used to take about 200 jump shots every morning before his classes started at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Virginia.

“He’s just been a workaholic,” James Daniel Jr. said. “Well, we’d call it a workaholic, but he’d probably say it was something that he loved doing.”

All that practice helped Daniel overcome his lack of height at Howard to become an NCAA scoring leader. Now he’s ready to compete at a higher level.

He got an idea of what to expect from Quinton Chievous, who made the move in reverse by leading MEAC program Hampton to the NCAA Tournament after starting out at Tennessee. Daniel said Chievous told him he “should do really well here.”

Daniel agrees.

“I don’t think they would have brought me here if they didn’t think I could compete at this level,” Daniel said.