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2017 NCAA Tournament: Which contenders will NOT win the national title?

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It’s really easy to go all chalk and pick the favorite in every region to reach the Final Four.

The hardest thing to do, however, is to figure out which of those favorites are going to lose before the NCAA tournament kicks into high gear.

I’m here to help you with that problem.

Here are six NCAA tournament contenders that are not going to be winning a national title:

No. 1 Kansas: It’s killing me to put Kansas on this list. It really is. I picked the Jayhawks to win the national title back in October, and I’ve never wavered off of that.

But I’m getting close.

I don’t think the Jayhawks are going to win the national title. It starts with a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Purdue. You see, Kansas has one front court player that’s worth noting, and that’s Landen Lucas. They don’t have any other size to speak of, meaning that if Lucas gets in foul trouble, the Jayhawks are going to be in a very, very bad spot. And Purdue? Well, their front court duo of Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan combine to average 14.3 fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Haas, at 8.0 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, is eighth nationally.

Now let’s assume that Purdue ends up losing to Iowa State or Vermont before they face off with Kansas, I still see a major speed bump in their path to a national title: North Carolina. The Tar Heels have arguably the best front court in the country and inarguably lead the nation in offensive rebounding. Josh Jackson will have his hands full trying to keep Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley at bay.

I’m not changing my pick. I’m going to ride ‘Kansas will win the national title’ to the death.

I’m just telling you that I’m going to be wrong.

No. 2 Kentucky: The Wildcats got the worst draw of any team in the field this year, and I’m not sure it’s all that close. Assuming favorites hold, Kentucky is going to have to beat Wichita State, a top ten team on KenPom and perhaps the worst miss-seeding in the history of the NCAA tournament, in the second round. Get past the Shockers, and Kentucky will have to then beat UCLA just to get to the Elite 8, where they are likely going to end up playing North Carolina.

All of that would just put them in the Final Four.

And frankly, this is a bigger concern for Kentucky than it would be for other teams. They can beat anyone on the nights where Malik Monk goes crazy, but relying on Monk going crazy for five straight games against competition like that is not an ideal situation, to put it mildly.

Power Rankings 1-68 | Duke deserved a 1 seed | Committee got bubble right

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

No. 3 UCLA: The Bruins just don’t guard well enough. That’s the bottom line. They are as good as anyone in college basketball when it comes to scoring the ball, but they are as bad as any elite team when it comes to stopping the ball. I don’t think that will be an issue during the first weekend of the tournament, but if you struggle to get stops, you don’t want to have to go up against Malik Monk and North Carolina just to get to the Final Four.

Think about it like this: No team that was won a national title has ever entered the NCAA tournament outside the top 40 in defensive efficiency on KenPom. Only three in the last 15 years — Syracuse in 2003, UNC in 2009, Duke in 2015 — have been outside the top 20. UCLA is 78th.

No. 1 Gonzaga: I do think that the Zags are good enough to win a national title this year. I also think that they are going to face a team in the Sweet 16 that will take them down. Notre Dame is the perfect team to beat Gonzaga. Their offense is, in a nutshell, spread pick-and-rolls with Steve Nash-lite, aka Matt Farrell, and shooters everywhere on the floor, or post touches for Bonzie Colson with shooters everywhere on the floor. That’s one way to beat Gonzaga. The other way? To out-athlete them in the back court with pressure, and that is pretty much all that West Virginia is capable of doing. In all seriousness, I think if Gonzaga drew any other the other 4-5 pairings in the bracket, they would be heading to the Final Four.

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No. 2 Louisville: Louisville has the opposite problem that UCLA has. The Cardinals are one of the nation’s best defensive teams, but they go through droughts where it looks like they totally forget how to score. Case in point: The final 13 minutes against Duke, when the Blue Devils used a simple 2-3 zone to completely flummox the Cardinals and win a game in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. The same way I don’t trust UCLA to guard for six straight games or Kentucky to get consistent production from the non-Malik Monk portion of their roster for six straight games, I don’t see Louisville scoring well enough for six straight games to win a title.

No. 2 Arizona: The last four NCAA tournament champions have been led by back courts that included two elite point guards: Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson, Duke’s Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook, UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, and Louisville’s Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. In 2012, Kentucky’s point guard was Marquis Teague. In 2011, it was UConn’s Kemba Walker (and Shabazz Napier) that stole the show. In 2009, UNC had Ty Lawson In 2008, Kansas was led by Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins.

The only team during that stretch that didn’t have at least one elite point guard was Duke’s 2010 team, but even they were led future NBA guards Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer.

I say all that to say this: I don’t trust Arizona’s point guard play, and if I can’t trust your point guard play, I can’t pick you to win a national title.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.

Michigan returns Mo Wagner, loses D.J. Wilson

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The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.

The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.

The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.

Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.

Gonzaga to return Johnathan Williams III

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Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.

Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.

With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.

ESPN was the first to report the news.

Injured Gamecocks point guard Blanton gives up basketball

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard TeMarcus Blanton is giving up basketball after struggling with a serious hip injury he suffered before his freshman season.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin says Blanton told him he could not get his body to respond to a level that would allow him to continue playing basketball. Blanton is a 6-foot-5 junior from Locust Grove, Georgia, who hurt his hip during preseason for the 2014-15 season. He needed surgery and could not return to the court until his sophomore year.

Blanton played in 29 games, averaging 1.4 points a game.

He said on social media he is grateful to his coaches, teammates and South Carolina fans, “but my journey of basketball has come to an end.”

Blanton received a medical exemption from the Southeastern Conference to remain part of the Gamecocks’ program moving forward.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley to remain NBA Draft

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For the first time in a decade and just the third time in 14 seasons as UNC’s head coach, Roy Williams has a one-and-done player.

North Carolina’s Tony Bradley will sign with an agent and remain in the NBA Draft.

Bradley had an impressive freshman season, averaging 7.1 points and 5.1 boards in less than 15 minutes per game as the sixth-man for the national title-winning Tar Heels. He initially declared for the draft without signing with an agent, testing the waters, and the feedback was positive: He’ll likely be a late first round or early second round pick.

As the process dragged on, it became fairly evident that Bradley would keep his name in the draft, and that is a massive blow for a UNC team that is already losing Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, not to mention Justin Jackson.

As it stands, Roy Williams will likely start the following lineup next season: Joel Berry II, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson on the perimeter with Luke Maye and either Brandon Huffman or Garrison Brooks, both freshmen, alongside him. Williams is one of the few coaches left in the sport that still relies on playing two bigs and utilizing an overwhelming front court to win games, and that is not going to be an easy thing to do with that group of bigs.

UNC’s perimeter is strong. Berry will likely be a preseason all-american while Pinson and Williams are both above average role players on the wings.

But without that hoss in the paint — Bradley, like Berry, would have popped up on preseason all-american teams — the Tar Heels are going to have a tough time making a run at an ACC title, let alone a third straight trip to the national title game.

North Carolina is currently ranked 18th in the NBC Sports preseason top 25.