2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: Must-watch first round games

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East region

4. Florida vs. 13 East Tennessee State (Thursday, 3:15 p.m., truTV): The Buccaneers are going to be a trendy upset pick under the direction of coach Steve Forbes, whose team has won nine of its last time, while the Gators have dropped three of four. Florida could make its dent on the defensive end, where it excels at forcing turnovers. ETSU, on the other hand, is one of the country’s worst at taking care of the ball. If that can’t get settled, it’s hard to imagine an upset occurring. The formula for the Bucs is likely to contain a heaping of TJ Cromer. The 6-foot-3 guard averages nearly 20 points per game can lets it fly from 3. He’s one of the biggest mid-major breakout candidates of the tournament, and maybe the biggest reason you shouldn’t miss this game.

7. South Carolina vs. 10. Marquette (Friday, 9:50 p.m., TBS): No team benefitted from the rash of Big East injuries quite like Marquette, which surged in the second half of the conference season to earn a bid. While the Golden Eagles may have gotten some help getting in, now that they’re here, you don’t want to miss them. They shoot a ton of 3s and they shoot them well, at 43 percent, best in the country. They’ve also got experience in seniors JaJuan Johnson, Katin Reinhardt and Luke Fischer, the 6-foot-11 center who can be a problem inside. On the other side, Sindarius Thornwell is a force to be reckoned with, and really the only thing the Gamecocks have going on offense. South Carolina’s defense, well, it has plenty going for it as one of the stingiest in the country. This is a classic strength vs. strength matchup, with Marquette’s offense and South Carolina’s defense fighting to see which gives first.

West region

3. Florida State vs. 14. Florida Gulf Coast (Thursday, 9:15 p.m., TNT): Dunk City in the tourney is must-watch on its own, isn’t it? This year’s edition is just as dunk-prone as the 2013 outfit that made the Sweet 16. Hell, they even broke a shot clock because of it. Taking this game to another level, though, is the talent and athleticism of the Seminoles. Those dudes can dunk, too. Jonathan Isaac and Dwayne Bacon will be appointment viewing from NBA draft junkies, and they should have ample opportunity to showcase themselves against the Eagles, who give up a ton of buckets inside.

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

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

Midwest region

5. Iowa State vs. 12. Nevada (Thursday, 10 p.m., truTV): Offense will be flowing more smoothly than Miller Lite out of a Milwaukee tavern tap in this one at the Bradley Center. Both the Cyclones and Wolfpack make their bones on that end of the floor, specifically at the 3-point line. Iowa State converts at a 40.2 percent clip while Nevada clocks in at 38.5. Both feature high-caliber point guards in Monte Morris and Marcus Marshall with their scoring or distributing, and highly talented frontcourt players in Deonte Burton and Cameron Oliver. Neither team plays at a blistering tempo, but this one could quickly turn into a track meet if neither squad can keep the other from putting the ball in the basket. This game has been one circled by many as a possible upset, but it’s worth watching just for all the buckets that are sure to be had.

7. Michigan vs. 10. Oklahoma State (Friday, 12:15 p.m., CBS): The Midwest is full of offense-heavy showdowns, and this matchup is no difference, with the Wolverines (5) and Oklahoma State (1) both high in the KenPom offense rankings. Michigan certainly seems to have captured some mojo after its dodging disaster with its airplane skidding off the runway before the Wolverines ultimately embarked on a Big Ten tournament championship run. The Wolverines play slow, but they make shots as consistently as nearly any team in the country with a balanced attack. The Cowboys are more dependent on its top-three players of Phil Forte, Jeffrey Carroll and, especially, point guard Jawun Evans. Oklahoma State takes and makes a lot of 3s and hits the offensive glass with abandon.

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South region

5. Minnesota vs. 12. Middle Tennessee State (Thursday, 4 p.m., TNT): Here’s another trendy 12 over 5 pick. Steve Forbes’ Blue Raiders have won 20 of their past 21 games. JaCorey Williams (17.3 ppg) could be a problem for the Gophers, as could Giddy Potts, whose name outdoes his game but not by much as he’s averaging 15.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Minnesota, though, might have the counter to MTSU’s interior-heavy offense as the Gophers, specifically Reggie Lynch, block a ton of shots and make life very difficult for opponents in the paint. If the Blue Raiders want to pull off the upset, they may need to get hot from the arc.

7. Dayton vs. 10. Wichita State (Friday, 7:10 p.m., CBS): You can’t miss this game. You just can’t. The Shockers are going to come out all sorts of ornery after the committee gave them a worse seed than their national KenPom ranking (8), and this could be the start of their scorched Earth campaign to prove a point. The poor recipients of that wrath will be the Flyers, who didn’t deserve to start their tournament against a team as highly regarded as Wichita State. Still, while Las Vegas likes the Shockers, Dayton is no slouch. Coach Archie Miller will have no trouble playing the disrespect card here, and the Flyers have senior scorers in Charles Cooke, Kendall Pollard and Scoochie Smith that could be disruptive of the Shockers’ defense. Whether it’s to see the wrath that Gregg Marshall’s bunch comes out with or to see how one of the most ascendant coaches in the game handles an odd situation, this is appointment viewing.

Comic-Con forces Providence to play at Alumni Hall for home opener

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Providence will play its first game at Alumni Hall, the on-campus facility, for the first time in 35 years this fall.

The Friars unveiled their 2017-18 non-conference schedule on Thursday afternoon. The team’s home opener will play either Houston Baptist or Belmont in Mullaney Gym inside Alumni Hall.

According to Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal, the reason for that is a schedule conflict at Providence’s home arena, the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, in downtown Providence. A Comic-Con convention is scheduled Nov. 10-12. As McNamara notes, it’s a busy part of the season for The Dunk. The arena also is home to the Providence Bruins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Boston Bruins, and by mid-November, their season is in full swing.

The Friars haven’t played at Alumni Hall since 1972, the same year the Dunkin’ Donuts Center was opened. In the three decades since Providence last played a regular season game there, the facility has gone under necessary renovations, as you could imagine. Even with added seats, Mullaney Gym can host a maximum of 1,549. That’s a fraction of what The Dunk’s capacity of 12,400.

Providence will return to its downtown home on Nov. 13, hosting Minnesota as part of the Gavitt Games. The Golden Gophers will likely be a top-20 team to open the season. The Friars, who bring back every notable player from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, is a fringe top-25 team.

Jalen Coleman-Lands to transfer out of Illinois

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The already-thin Illinois roster got thinner on Thursday afternoon.

Evan Daniels of Scout.com reported that sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands has requested and received his release from the program. He will have to sit out next season but will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Coleman-Lands was a top-40 recruit in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals. He becomes the second player from that recruiting class this month to exit the school. Reserve guard D.J. Williams elected to transfer on May 8. With Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett, two incoming recruits, both previously reopened their recruitments following John Groce’s firing.

Even with the addition of Wright State graduate transfer Mark Alstork, who officially joined the Fighting Illini on Wednesday, Illinois is left with only nine scholarship players as of right now.

Coleman-Lands’ production dipped from his freshman campaign, ending the 2016-17 season averaging 8.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, shooting 38 percent from three.

One destination that will likely be rumored will be nearby DePaul. Coleman-Lands played for new DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman at prep school powerhouse La Lumiere School. Heriman quickly tapped into that prep pipeline, helping secure a commitment from La Lumiere from five-star 2019 point guard Tyger Campbell earlier this month.

Coleman-Lands had taken official visits to Notre Dame and UNLV before committing to the Illini in September 2014.

North Carolina releases response to latest NCAA Notice of Allegations

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North Carolina is still trying to convince the NCAA that their investigation into the paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department is not, in fact, an NCAA matter.

On Thursday afternoon, the University released their response to the NCAA’s third iteration of the Notice of Allegations, and the core argument in that response is that the school’s “inadequate academic oversight” does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s bylaws. In other words, North Carolina is arguing that a rogue professor creating fake classes is not an NCAA issue. It’s a school issue.

What’s more, North Carolina is also arguing that athletes taking these classes should not be classified as an extra benefit because they were available to the entire student body.

“No special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation,” the response reads. “Student-athletes were not treated differently than other students who took the Courses.”

“The public narrative for the last six years, popularized by media accounts, is that Department of Athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took advantage of ‘fake classes’ in the Department of African and African-American Studies to keep student-athletes eligible. That narrative is wrong and contradicted by the facts in the record.”

The NCAA’s allegations center around the idea that UNC’s athletes, most notably members of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, were guided to the fake classes within that department in order to keep their GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The classes in question had a disproportionate percentage of athletes.

A hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions is expected to take place at some point this summer.

No indictment for escort, staffer in Louisville sex scandal

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A grand jury declined to indict an escort and former Louisville men’s basketball staffer in a sex scandal that engulfed the program.

The Jefferson County grand jury decided Thursday there wasn’t enough evidence for charges of prostitution and unlawful transactions with a minor against Katina Powell and Andre McGee.

Powell wrote in a book published in 2015 that McGee hired her to provide dancers to perform sex acts for Cardinal recruits and players from 2010-2014.

The announcement by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office comes as the school awaits discipline in early June by the NCAA after an investigation.

Louisville has imposed its own penalties, including a postseason ban in 2015-16 and reductions in scholarships and recruiting visits by coaches.

2017 NBA Mock Draft: Post Early Entry Withdrawal Deadline

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Last week, the fearless leaders of Pro Basketball Talk and College Basketball Talk joined forces to put together a comprehensive mock of the first round of the NBA Draft.

That podcast was recorded prior to the NBA Draft Lottery, which took place last week, and the NCAA’s deadline for underclassmen to return to school, which was Wednesday night at midnight. At a later date, we’ll roll through the updated draft order more in depth, but for now, here is a new mock draft based on the order the teams will actually be picking in.

At the bottom of this post you can find the original podcast, with all of our prospect analysis and thought processes for each team’s draft needs:

1. BOSTON (via Brooklyn) – Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
2. LAKERS – Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
3. PHILADELPHIA – Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
4. PHOENIX – De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
5. SACRAMENTO – Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
6. ORLANDO – Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
7. MINNESOTA – Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
8. NEW YORK – Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
9. DALLAS – Jonathan Isaac, PF, Florida State
10. SACRAMENTO (via New Orleans) – Dennis Smith Jr., PG, N.C. State
11. CHARLOTTE – Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga
12. DETROIT –  Donovan Mitchell, CG, Louisville
13. DENVER – O.G. Anunoby, SF, Indiana
14. MIAMI – Justin Jackson, SG, North Carolina
15. PORTLAND – Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
16. CHICAGO – Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
17. MILWAUKEE – Justin Patton, C, Creighton
18. INDIANA – John Collins, C, Wake Forest
19. ATLANTA – Terrence Ferguson, SG, Austrailia
20. PORTLAND (via Memphis) – Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA
21. OKLAHOMA CITY – Semi Ojeleye, PF, SMU
22. BROOKLYN (via Washington) – Isaiah Hartenstein, C, Lithuania
23. TORONTO (via Clippers) – Harry Giles III, C, Duke
24. UTAH – T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA
25. ORLANDO (via Toronto) – Tyler Lydon, PF, Syracuse
26. PORTLAND (via Cleveland) – Ivan Rabb, PF, Cal
27. BROOKLYN (via Boston) – Bam Adebayo, PF, Kentucky
28. LAKERS (via Houston) – Rodions Kurucs, SF, Barcelona
29. SAN ANTONIO – Jonathan Jeanne, C, France
30. UTAH (via Golden State) – D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan