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NCAA Tournament: Previewing Friday’s bracket action; picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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GAMES OF THE DAY

No. 7 Michigan (-2) vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State, 12:15 p.m., CBS: I have a feeling that this is going to end up being the best game of the afternoon, and I don’t know if it will be all that close. Both the Wolverines and the Cowboys have a star point guard – Derrick Walton vs. Jawun Evans — and both teams love to put up points while seeming morally averse to playing any kind of defense. Great guard play + elite offenses + bad defenses = aesthetically-pleasing basketball.

PREDICTION: Oklahoma State (+2)

No. 7 Dayton vs. No. 10 Wichita State (-6), 7:10 p.m., CBS: This is a fascinating matchup, not only because of what Wichita State went through with the Selection Committee — they were vastly underseeded — and not only because that negligence from the committee means that a No. 7 seed is a six-point underdog in the first round, but because of Indiana. Both Gregg Marshall and Archie Miller are elite coaches outside the college basketball power structure, and both would be in the mix to get the Indiana job with Tom Crean gone. Winner moves to Bloomington?

PREDICTION: Wichita State (-6)

No. 6 SMU (-6.5) vs. No. 11 USC, 3:10 p.m., truTV: There are two things about this game that make it really interesting: This is rematch of a game played earlier this season where UCLA won, a game that very likely got USC into the NCAA tournament, but perhaps more interesting is the fact that this is the first game that SMU, one of the trendy sleeper picks in this year’s bracket, will play in front of the nation.

PREDICTION: SMU (-6.5)

No. 8 Miami (-2) vs. No. 9 Michigan State, 9:20 p.m., TNT: This is another matchup that should be all kinds of fun, as the floor will be stocked with high-end athletic talent. Miami’s perimeter players are far better than you think, but I don’t know if any on Miami will be an answer to Miles Bridges when he gets going.

PREDICTION: Michigan State (+2)

UPSETS BREWING

No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Rhode Island, 4:30 p.m., TBS: This is one of my two favorite upset picks of the first round. (Middle Tennessee State was the other.) Rhode Island is a really talented team that has been battling injuries but it finally getting healthy at the right time. Creighton is slightly overseeded because they got credit for things that they did before Mo Watson was injured.

PREDICTION: Rhode Island (even)

No. 6 Cincinnati (-3.5) vs. No. 11 Kansas State, 7:27 p.m., truTV: I actually think that Bruce Weber’s club matches up pretty well with Cincinnati, although I fully expect Mick Cronin to have his boys ready to play. Jacob Evans vs. Wesley Iwundu will decide this.

PREDICTION: Cincinnati (-3.5)

No. 7 South Carolina (-1.5) vs. No. 10 Marquette, 9:50 p.m., TBS: This is a fascinating clash of styles. South Carolina is one of the nation’s elite defenses but is physically incapable of scoring at times. Marquette is lethal offensively and couldn’t guard a streetlight.

PREDICTION: Marquette (+1.5)

BLUE BLOODS IN ACTION 

On Thursday, both Gonzaga and Villanova, as No. 1 seeds, were pushed in the first half before pulling away in sloppy games in the second half. On Friday, the tournament’s five blue-bloods — plus Louisville! — all square against teams seeded 14 or lower. Do any of them have a shot?

  • No. 1 North Carolina (-27) vs. No. 16 Texas Southern, 4:00 p.m., TNT: No. 1 seeds have struggled twice in this tournament. I don’t think UNC will. PREDICTION: UNC (-27)
  • No. 2 Duke (-20) vs. No. 15 Troy, 7:20 p.m., TBS: Duke landed three come-from-behind wins last week in the ACC tournament. Hopefully they won’t fall behind by 15 in this one. PREDICTION: Troy (+20)
  • No. 3 UCLA (-18.5) vs. No. 14 Kent State, 9:57 p.m., truTV: Which UCLA shows up here? The only that can put up 120 points on anyone, or the one that doesn’t want to play any defense? PREDICTION: UCLA (-18.5)
  • No. 2 Kentucky (-20) vs. No. 15 Northern Kentucky, 9:40 p.m., CBS: I actually think NKU makes this into a slugfest, and I think they give Malik Monk some trouble. Kentucky wins, but NKU cover. PREDICTION: Northern Kentucky (+20)
  • No. 1 Kansas (-23.5) vs. No. 16 UC Davis, 6:50 p.m., TNT: It feels like the bigger story here is everything that is going on with Josh Jackson, whose name popped up in another legal incident on Thursday.
  • No. 2 Louisville (-19.5)vs. No. 15 Jacksonville State, 2:45 p.m., CBS: Ray Harper has had a ton of tournament success in his career. That run ends today. PREDICTION: Louisville (-19.5)

HOPEFULLY, IT’S CLOSE LATE

  • No. 3 Baylor (-12.5) vs. No. 14 New Mexico State, 12:40 p.m., truTV: New Mexico State is one of the best mid-major programs that you haven’t paid attention to. The Aggies went 28-5 this season. I don’t, however, think they have an answer for Johnathan Motley. PREDICTION: Baylor (-12.5)
  • No. 8 Arkansas (-1) vs. No. 9 Seton Hall, 1:30 p.m., TNT: This game should give us some fireworks as well, as Arkansas loves to press and run in transition while Seton Hall is loaded with athletes who are tough and play hard. It may not be pretty, but it will be exciting. PREDICTION: Seton Hall (+1)
  • No. 3 Oregon (-15) vs. No. 14 Iona, 2:00 p.m., TBS: We’re still waiting to see how Oregon is going to adjust to playing without Chris Boucher, and 15 points is a lot of points to cover for a team that may be trying to figure themselves out. PREDICTION: Iona (+15)

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.