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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.

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.