2017 NCAA Tournament: Here are your Cinderellas

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During every March, America wants to know which underdogs they can follow through a couple of early upsets. The stories of double-digit seeds making a run to the second week are frequent, but even if a team pulls off one huge upset, some remember those outcomes as much as any in the tournament.

With college basketball being so wide open this season, many of the higher seeds have weaknesses and are susceptible to upsets if they have an off-game. Here’s a look at six potential Cinderella teams that could put together a memorable win or two in the tournament.

Middle Tennessee State: The clock has yet to hit midnight for the Blue Raiders. A year after pulling off one of the more unlikely first-round upsets in tournament history, No. 12 Middle Tennessee State is back, and with some familiar faces. Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts, two players who combined for 40 points in last year’s shocker over Michigan State, are back. The Blue Raiders also add transfer JaCorey Williams, who averaged 17.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. They may not shoot as well as they did last year after graduating several forwards who could stretch the floor, but you could make the case that this team is better on both ends of the floor.

East Tennessee State: T.J. Cromer could leave his mark on the NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot-3 senior guard is averaging 19.1 points a game. There’s a reason why the Buccaneers can make a Cinderella run into the second week: they can light it up. They average just under 80 points per game and shoot 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from three as a team. If they get hot, things could get interesting.

Vermont: The Catamounts haven’t lost a game since before Christmas. No. 13 Vermont efficient on both ends of the court. They get good shots, they have a play-making point guard in Trae Bell-Haynes and they control the pace. That could cause problems for No. 4 seed Purdue, and one of the reasons why it wouldn’t be shocking if Vermont made a run. However, the Boilermakers can counter Caleb Swanigan, a nightmare matchup who can quickly end a Cinderella fairytale.

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

Rhode Island: Can a team ranked in the preseason top-25 really be a Cinderella? Maybe not. But the Rams have the best chance of a double-digit seed to make a run. For starters, a talented roster led by EC Matthews and Hassan Martin is entering the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 1999 with a head of steam after winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The Rams not only avoided the First Four, the selection committee slotted them against No. 6 Creighton, a team which certainly isn’t the same since losing Mo Watson back in January. No. 11 seed Rhody could also face off with No. 3 Oregon in the second round. The Ducks lost shot-blocker Chris Boucher earlier this week.

Florida Gulf Coast: Dunk City was one of the more captivating Cinderellas in NCAA Tournament history when it made a run to the Sweet 16 in 2013. No. 14 seed Florida Gulf Coast could be in line for another upset. They don’t shoot the ball well, rather they pound it inside. For all No. 3 Florida State’s talent and size, the Seminoles have been inconsistent this season. If the Eagles do pull off the upset, a run could be halted by Maryland’s Melo Trimble, probably the best closer in college basketball. Either that or Xavier, which is played much better this past week.

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

Nevada: Cameron Oliver, who be drafted this June, headlines the Wolf Pack’s offense that also includes Marcus Marshall and Jordan Caroline. The Wolf Pack have plenty of firepower to make a run. It may be tough to get out of the first round, though. Monte Morris and Iowa State have won nine of its last 10 games. The Wolf Pack and Cyclones should be a fun game with all the makings of a shootout.

UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks should be trendy upset pick. Kevin Keatts has done a tremendous job in his short tenure in Wilmington, and most of us remember the scare his team gave Duke in the first round a year ago. This time around, No. 12 UNC Wilmington draws another ACC opponent, No. 5 Virginia. The Seahawks are going to try and speed the game up and turn Virginia over. That’s just something the Cavaliers don’t do. While No. 12 over No. 5 has become a common upset, I just see this as a bad matchup for it to occur.

Indiana hires Dayton head coach Archie Miller

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Indiana is expected to hire Dayton head coach Archie Miller, the school announced.

The deal will be for seven years, according to The Vertical. Miller had spent the last six seasons as the head coach at Dayton, getting to four straight NCAA tournaments, including the Elite 8 in 2014, while winning the last two Atlantic 10 regular season titles.

Miller had been targeted by seemingly every high major program with an opening since he reached the Elite 8, but similar to Shaka Smart when he left VCU, Miller simply waited for the right job to come long.

Indiana is the right job.

There had been some speculation that Miller wouldn’t want to take Indiana, that his dream job is Ohio State and that the idea of coaching in a fishbowl like Bloomington is not something that would be all that appealing to him. But Indiana is an elite job. It’s the kind of opening that happens once every four or five years, and if Miller had said no to the Hoosiers now, it’s very possible that an opportunity like this wouldn’t come along for years, if ever.

This hire is surprising, not because it’s the wrong hire — I think they got this right — but because Indiana actually made the right decision.

The overwhelming sentiment since Tom Crean was fired was that UCLA head coach Steve Alford would be named the next head coach at Indiana because the Hoosiers wanted an “Indiana Guy”. Alford was born in New Castle, he played at IU for Bobby Knight, he won a national title with the program. The goal was to get the Indiana fan base back, a fan base that was so estranged from the program that Indiana had to play an NIT game on the road as a higher seed because they were reportedly afraid of allowing ESPN’s cameras to see the empty seats.

But just because a hire appeases the fans doesn’t make it the right hire.

Miller was the right hire.

If they really want to get the fans back, winning is the best way to do it. Archie is as good of a bet to win at Indiana as anyone.

Elite 8 Preview: Saturday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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So Friday got good.

If Zak Showalter’s game-tying three and subsequent discount double-check wasn’t enough, we had Canyon Barry’s chasedown block and, well, this game-winner from Chris Chiozza.

And all that came after De’Aaron Fox took out what felt like a season’s worth of frustration out on Lonzo Ball.

What is on tap for tonight?

No. 1 GONZAGA (-8) vs. No. 11 XAVIER, 6:09 p.m., TBS: Someone is going to be making their way to the Final Four for the first time on Saturday night, as Xavier’s Chris Mack and Gonzaga’s Mark Few square off for the right to play on the final weekend of the season.

And in a way, this is the perfect Final Four game. Both the Zags and the Musketeers are basketball schools in basketball leagues. They come from outside the power structure and have head coaches that have spurned jobs from within the power structure to remain there. They are built for a run like this, even if they were both overlooked on the way here.

Xavier was obvious. Playing without Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis, the Musketeers just haven’t been the team that they were supposed to be this season. That’s why they lost six straight games in February, but things have turned around in March, as Trevon Bluiett has put the program on his back and willed them to the Elite 8. Gonzaga is the opposite. They went 29-0 to start the season, but they have yet to be accepted as a legitimate title contender by most of the people that watch the games.

My guess on Saturday night is that the Zags make their statement and emphatically get into the Final Four.

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-8)

No. 1 KANSAS (-7) vs.  No. 3 OREGON, 8:49 p.m., TBS: This matchup is a lot tastier on paper than it is likely going to end up being on the floor. As good as Oregon has been this season, they are, essentially, Kansas light. They play two lead guards together and they play small-ball, with a natural wing lined up at the four.

The problem?

The Kansas guys are just better. Josh Jackson is a better player than Dillon Brooks. His length and athleticism should give the Oregon star fits. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are better than whatever combination of Payton Pritchard, Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis the Ducks opt to use.

And, for that matter, no team is playing better right now that they Jayhawks, who beat Michigan State by 20, Purdue by 32 and became the first team to score 90 points in their first three NCAA tournament games since 1995. I think that trend continues on Saturday night.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-7)

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.