Bracketology: Villanova leads Field of 68

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Selection Sunday is here. Tonight, the Selection Committee will reveal its 2017 NCAA tournament bracket.  While there will be a healthy debate about whether Duke’s late-season run should vault them onto the No. 1 seed line, what we do know – or at least believe – is that reigning champ Villanova will be the No. 1 overall seed.

For now, North Carolina remains the top seed in the South Region.  It may change this afternoon.  Either way, your top line figures to end up with Villanova (East), Kansas (Midwest), North Carolina/Duke (South), Gonzaga (West).

With league favorites winning most of their conference tournaments, potential bid thieves have largely been eliminated.  The biggest bubble debate figures to be centered around Syracuse.  Will the Orange’s high quality wins outweigh its losses, record-high RPI, and poor record away from the Carrier Dome?  That’s something we won’t know for sure until tonight.

UPDATED: March 12, 2017 | Morning Update

Note: Teams in ALL CAPS represent automatic bids as they are earned.

Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Wake Forest vs. USC | South Region
  • Rhode Island vs. Kansas State | Midwest Region
  • UC DAVIS vs. Texas State | Midwest Region
  • NEW ORLEANS vs. NC CENTRAL | East Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EAST New York MIDWEST Kansas City
Buffalo Tulsa
1) VILLANOVA 1) Kansas
16) NC CENTRAL / N ORLEANS 16) UC-DAVIS / Texas State
8) Miami 8) South Carolina
9) Dayton 9) Marquette
Orlando Milwaukee
5) IOWA STATE 5) Virginia
12) UNC-WILMINGTON 12) Kansas State / Rhode Island
4) Florida 4) Butler
13) EAST TENNESSEE ST 13) Princeton
Indianapolis Sacramento
6) Wisconsin 6) Creighton
11) Xavier 11) MID TENNESSEE ST
3) Louisville 3) UCLA
14) IONA 14) NEW MEXICO ST
Sacramento Greenville
7) Saint Mary’s 7) Michigan
10) Michigan State 10) Vanderbilt
2) Oregon 2) DUKE
15) TEXAS-SOUTHERN 15) JACKSONVILLE ST
WEST – San Jose SOUTH – Memphis
Salt Lake City Greenville
1) GONZAGA 1) North Carolina
16) SOUTH DAKOTA ST 16) MOUNT ST. MARY’S
8) Northwestern 8) Arkansas
9) Oklahoma State 9) Seton Hall
Milwaukee Buffalo
5) Cincinnati 5) Purdue
12) NEVADA 12) VERMONT
4) Notre Dame 4) West Virginia
13) WINTHROP 13) BUCKNELL
Orlando Tulsa
6) SMU 6) Minnesota
11) Providence 11) Wake Forest / USC
3) Florida State 3) Baylor
14) KENT STATE 14) FLA GULF COAST
Salt Lake City Indianapolis
7) Maryland 7) Virginia Tech
10) WICHITA STATE 10) VCU
2) ARIZONA 2) Kentucky
15) NORTH DAKOTA 15) NORTHERN KENTUCKY

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga.

Last Four Byes (at large): VCU, Michigan State, Xavier, Providence

Last Four IN (at large): Kansas State, Wake Forest, USC, Rhode Island

First Four OUT (at large): Illinois State, Syracuse, California, Iowa

Next four teams OUT (at large): Indiana, Illinois, Georgia, Alabama

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): DUKE, North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Virginia, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Miami-FL, Wake Forest

Big 10 (7): Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maryland, Northwestern, Michigan State

Big East (7): VILLANOVA, Butler, Creighton, Seton Hall, Marquette, Xavier, Providence

Big 12 (6): IOWA STATE, Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Kansas State

SEC (5): Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Vanderbilt

Pac 12 (4): ARIZONA, Oregon, UCLA, USC

Atlantic 10 (2): VCU, Dayton, Rhode Island

American (2): SMU, Cincinnati

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (2): WICHITA STATE

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: IONA (MAAC), MIDDLE TENNESSE STATE (C-USA), Texas State (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), NORTH DAKOTA (BSKY), NORTHERN KENTUCKY (HORIZON), NEW OLEANS (SLND), EAST TENNESSEE STATE (STHN), UC-DAVIS (BWEST), KENT STATE (MAC), FLORIDA GULF COAST (ASUN), JACKSONVILLE STATE (OVC), UNC-WILMINGTON (CAA), WINTHROP (BSO), NC-CENTRAL (MEAC), SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (SUM), NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC), VERMONT(AEAST), BUCKNELL (PAT), MOUNT ST. MARY’S (NEC), TEXAS-SOUTHERN (SWAC)

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.