16 things to know about the Sweet 16

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1. The South Region is where you want to be this weekend: Because it doesn’t get much better than this. Three of the teams in the regional — North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA — are among the favorites left in the field to win the national title. The No. 3 seed, UCLA, has already beaten the No. 2 seed, Kentucky, who currently owns a win over the No. 1 seed, North Carolina, all while the No. 4 seed, Butler, owns two wins over Villanova and three wins over teams left in the Sweet 16.

That’s before you consider that FedExForum is going to be absolutely brimming in blue — Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA. The only people happier than writers heading to Memphis this weekend are the bar owners on Beale Street. Stock up on Miller Lites.

2. North Carolina, by the way, is the only rep left from the ACC: The ACC was supposed to be one of the best conferences in the history of college basketball this season and, well, that didn’t really go the way we all through it would. The league went 7-8 in the first weekend of the tournament, and those eight losses came by an average of 13.9 points. Three of the four top four seeds that lost in first weekend were ACC members. Of the 10 games that were decided by 20 or more points, three involved ACC teams losing. Four involved No. 16 seeds losing. Even UNC needed a late run to survive Arkansas.

3. Kentucky-UCLA is as good of a Sweet 16 matchup as we’re ever going to see: How often do we get two legitimate national title contenders squaring off in the Sweet 16? (Answer: Not often.) But this matchup has so much more to it than just a pair of college basketball’s biggest brands squaring off. We get Lonzo Ball vs. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. We get a rematch of one of the best games of college basketball’s regular season. We get a thrilling battle between a pair of high-octane offenses that want to get out in transition. And we get what could potentially be Steve Alford’s last game as the head coach at UCLA.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

4. Butler is back to being Cinderella, it seems: The Bulldogs are now members of the Big East and without question one of the better basketball programs in the sport, but when you’re the fourth wheel in a region where three blue-bloods are headed, it’s hard not to be thought of as the plucky upstart. And to be frank, I don’t think Butler minds all that much. Hell, I think they enjoy being the team no one is worried about. I’m sure Chris Holtmann wouldn’t mind if North Carolina overlooked them and focused on the winner of Kentucky-UCLA.

5. Oh, and should I mention that John Calipari is heading back to Memphis?: Coach Cal was once the head coach at Memphis, and when he left for Kentucky back in the spring of 2009, it didn’t end all that well between him and the Tigers. The people in that city are still bitter. The good news? The average Memphis fan will probably be more than happy to sell their tickets for five times face value to a Kentucky or UNC fan thirsty to get into the building.

6. The four best teams are on the right side of the bracket: For my money, three of the four best teams left in the NCAA tournament are in the South Region. The fourth on that list? Kansas, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest. In other words, if seeds hold, the winner of UCLA-Kentucky is going to have to beat the best three teams in the event just to get to the national title game.

7. Frank Mason III vs. Caleb Swanigan for all the Player of the Year votes: I think Kansas gets out of the Midwest Region, but their toughest test is coming in the Sweet 16. Purdue has a massive front line, one that is led by Caleb Swanigan, who is putting up numbers that would make you believe that Tim Duncan has been reincarnated. They won’t go head-to-head in this game, but it is worth noting that Mason and Swanigan are the two favorites to win National Player of the Year. Most seem to favor Mason, although if Swanigan continues to do what he did against Iowa State in a pair of wins this weekend, that sentiment may change.

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8. You really should spend some time watching this Michigan team play: The Wolverines are really, really good. And they’re fun to watch. They have a star point guard in Derrick Walton Jr. They surround him with guards that can really shoot it, and they put him on the floor with a pair of mobile big men that can step out and knock down a three. This team is John Beilein at his finest.

9. The Big Ten, overall, availed themselves well: While the ACC was considered the best conference in the country this season, the Big Ten was lampooned for much of the year for their overall mediocrity. But here we are in the Sweet 16 and no conference in the country has more teams left in the field than the Big Ten’s three. Two of those three, Wisconsin (Villanova) and Michigan (Louisville), sent top four seeded teams home.

10. So did the Pac-12: We all knew there was a top three in that conference, and each of those three teams won two games and reached the Sweet 16. The fourth team in the tournament from the Pac-12 was USC, who lost a thriller to Baylor on Sunday but who managed to win a pair of games last week, including a comeback from 17 points down in the second half of the play-in game. Overall, the Pac-12 is 8-1 in the tournament.

(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

11. Sean Miller will be squaring off with his former assistant Chris Mack for the second time in three years: In 2009, Miller left Xavier to become the head coach at Arizona, a no-brainer move for a coach taking over a program with pedigree that can win a national title every single season. Mack, then an assistant for Miller, took over for him and has led the Musketeers to new heights, thriving as a contender in the Big East conference.

12. The winner will play for their first-ever trip to the Final Four, possibly against Mark Few: It’s never easy to play against a former colleague, not when those former colleagues are as close as Miller and Mack are. Added into that conversation is the fact that neither coach has ever reached the Final Four. Miller is widely thought of arguably the best coach in the country that has never made a Final Four, and when he finally does, Mack will move his way closer to the top of that list.

Also on that list? Gonzaga’s Mark Few. The Zags are in the West Region along with Xavier and Arizona, and it would be fascinating to see them square off for the right to get to the final weekend of the season.

13. One of those four head coaches will be making their first Final Four: That’s not the only region where a battle for a first trip to the Final Four will be brewing. In the East, Wisconsin’s Greg Gard, Florida’s Mike White, Baylor’s Scott Drew and South Carolina’s Frank Martin are all looking to make their first trip to the Final Four as well.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

14. Good luck trying to re-sell those East Region tickets: Look at the teams in that East Region. Now remember that they are going to be playing in Madison Square Garden this weekend. Now think about the people that sell tickets on the secondary markets — scalpers, stubhub, seatgeek — that thought they were buying tickets for Duke-Villanova in the Garden. They are not going to be making nearly as much money as they thought they would be.

15. No one had a more unlikely or improbable run than South Carolina: I need more space to explain all of the reasons why, but I really do think that Frank Martin leading South Carolina to back-to-back NCAA tournament wins for the first time in program history is one of the most incredible things we’ve seen in the tournament in a long time.

16. No one has had more postseason success than Wisconsin’s seniors: Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes have never been ousted in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. They made a Final Four as freshmen. They played in the national title game as sophomores. They made the Sweet 16 last year. They’re in the Sweet 16 this year. The next time they take the court will be their 17th career NCAA Tournament game, the most in the country.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner declares for NBA Draft

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Xavier sophomore Edmond Sumner has declared for the NBA Draft and is expected to sign with an agent.

“First let me start by saying these three years at Xavier have been the best of my life,” Sumner said in a statement. “I have certainly been presented with some ups and downs but they have only served to make me a stronger person. This decision was very hard for me because of the love I have for X. After weighing my options with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA Draft, fulfilling a lifelong dream. I want to thank Coach Mack and the rest of the staff for believing in me and giving me a chance when no one did! I’ll always be grateful for that. Xavier Nation I will always love you!”

Sumner, a 6-foot-6 point guard with dynamic athleticism and first round potential that averaged 15.0 points, but he is coming off of a torn ACL that he suffered in January. He’s likely to be a second round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

This is a big loss for the Musketeers, but it’s one that they planned for. After his eruption last season, most expected him to put his name in the draft this season.

Duke freshman Harry Giles III declares for NBA Draft

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Harry Giles III has declared for the NBA Draft after playing just one season at Duke.

“Playing in the NBA has been my goal for as long as I can remember, and I’m so excited to take the next step in that journey,” Giles said. “My time at Duke has been a dream come true. I’ve built so many strong relationships here and I have so many people to thank, from my teammates and coaches to our medical staff and strength coach. I can’t understate how proud I am to be part of the Duke Basketball program forever.”

Giles played in 26 games for the Blue Devils. He started six games and averaged 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story with Giles. At one point considered to be the best player in the loaded Class of 2016, Giles has dealt with a pair of devastating knee injuries already. He underwent a third surgery right before the start of the season and never seemed like he was fully able to get back to being the player he was when he was in high school.

This is the right decision for Giles to make, as there is still some uncertainty regarding the health of his knees. Were his struggles due to the fact that he was tossed right into the middle of a college basketball season after having sat out for 14 straight months, or was this simply a result of knees that no longer allow him to be the player that he used to be?

He might still end up being a first round pick this year. At the very least, he’s make some guaranteed money if he can get into a camp. Maybe returning to school could have helped vault him into the lottery in 2018, but another year like this year would’ve firebombed his draft stock.

“With his uplifting personality and love for the game, Harry Giles has been a joy to coach,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He is only beginning to scratch the surface of how good he can be on the basketball court. Harry has an exciting NBA future ahead of him and we are here to fully support him as a member of our brotherhood.”

I know I’m not alone when I say I hope that Giles gets healthy and succeeds in the NBA.

Frank Mason III, Lonzo Ball headline AP All-American teams

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Frank Mason III was a last-minute recruit for Kansas. He turned into the Jayhawks’ latest All-American.

The senior guard was the only unanimous selection to the 2016-17 AP All-America team Tuesday, receiving all first-team votes from the same 65-member national media panel that selects the weekly AP Top 25.

“I love the kid and I think he knows how I feel about him, but I’ve never been more proud — not that he’s won a postseason award — but he’s done everything that he’s supposed to do,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He’s been a great teammate, he’s been tough as nails, he’s worked his butt off, he’s loved by everyone in the academic departments, graduated, and to see him reap these benefits after putting in so much time is an unbelievable honor.”

The rest of the All-America team includes guards Josh Hart of Villanova and Lonzo Ball of UCLA, plus forwards Caleb Swanigan of Purdue and Justin Jackson of North Carolina. Votes were based on the regular season and conference tournaments.

Mason averaged 20.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 48.7 percent from 3-point range.

“My goals were always just to be successful as a team, do whatever I can do to make sure we’re successful and really change it at the defensive end and get after it,” Mason said. “Yeah, that’s pretty cool to see my name alongside those great KU players, it means a lot to me, but nothing would be possible without my teammates and coaching staff.”

Mason is the first All-American from Kansas since Thomas Robinson in 2012.

Hart, a senior who was key to Villanova’s 2016 national championship, averaged 18.9 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Wildcats. He received 62 first-team votes.

“It was definitely a goal,” Hart said of the All-America recognition. “Now that it happened, it’s humbling. A great honor. I’ve got to thank everyone that voted for me.”

Coach Jay Wright called Hart “the perfect combination of talent, hard work, intelligence and humility.”

“He never let any single year’s accomplishment deter him from getting better,” Wright said. “I think he’s one of the most complete basketball players in the country.”

The sophomore Swanigan led the nation with 26 double-doubles and was the only player in Division I to average 18 points (18.5) and 12 rebounds (12.6) while shooting 53.4 percent, 43.1 percent on 3s.

“He’s a very knowledgeable guy, now he’s been through it in terms of experience, understanding scouting reports and those types of things,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “He really gets it. I think he really separated himself from a lot of people with the consistent play.”

Ball, who has already declared for the NBA draft, took the country by storm as a freshman. He averaged 14.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 7.9 assists while putting UCLA back on the national map in a hurry. He received 54 first-team votes.

Coach Steve Alford called Ball “very deserving of the recognition.”

“He’s been special for us all year,” Alford said. “He’s been an incredible teammate, and everything that he’s done has been contagious throughout our team.”

The last All-American from UCLA was freshman Kevin Love in 2008.

Jackson, who received 24 first-team votes, helped lead the Tar Heels to a second straight Final Four. The junior averaged 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds this season.

“He’s a better player overall,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “He’s better defensively, better rebounder, he can score the basket and he’s just had a year for us.

“He’s been the leader of our team on the court, on the stat sheet. I couldn’t be happier for him because he’s really got it the old-fashioned way,” Williams said. “He’s worked, he’s put in the sweat.”

Nigel Williams-Goss of Gonzaga led the second team and was joined by fellow juniors Dillon Brooks of Oregon and Johnathan Motley of Baylor, sophomore Luke Kennard of Duke and freshman Malik Monk of Kentucky.

The third team included freshmen Josh Jackson of Kansas, Markelle Fultz of Washington and Lauri Markkanen of Arizona, junior Bonzie Colson of Notre Dame and sophomore Ethan Happ of Wisconsin.

There has been at least one unanimous All-America pick the last four seasons.

First Team

· Frank Mason III, Kansas, 5-11, 190, senior: 20.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.1 apg, 48.7 3-pt fg pct, 36.2 minutes (65 first-place votes, 325 points).

· Josh Hart, Villanova, 6-5½, 215, senior: 18.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.1 apg, 50.8 fg pct, 40.7 3-pt fg pct, 1.6 steals (62, 319).

· Caleb Swanigan, Purdue, 6-9, 250, sophomore: 18.5 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 53.4 fg pct, 43.1 3-pt fg pct (61, 308).

· Lonzo Ball, UCLA, 6-6, 190, freshman: 14.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 7.9 apg, 54.4 fg pct, 41.0 3-pt fg pct, 2.0 steals (54, 296).

· Justin Jackson, North Carolina, 6-8, 210, junior: 18.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.7 apg (24, 223).

Second Team

· Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga, 6-3, 195, junior: 16.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.8 apg, 52.1 fg pct, 91.0 ft pct, 1.8 steals (13, 191).

· Luke Kennard, Duke, 6-6, 202, sophomore: 20.1 ppg, 5.3 pg, 2.5 apg, 44.3 3-pt fg pct, 84.9 ft pct (10, 189).

· Malik Monk, Kentucky, 6-3, 200, freshman: 20.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, 40.3 3-pt fg pct (7, 165).

· Dillon Brooks, Oregon, 6-7, 225, junior: 16.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.7 apg, 51.3 fg pct, 41.4 3-pt fg pct, 1.2 steals, 24.0 minutes (15, 152).

· Johnathan Motley, Baylor, 6-10, 230, junior: 17.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 51.7 fg pct (4, 143).

Third Team

· Josh Jackson, Kansas, 6-8, 207, freshman: 16.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.1 apg, 51.1 fg pct, 1.1 blocks, 1.7 steals (1, 96).

· Markelle Fultz, Washington, 6-4, 195, freshman: 23.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.9 apg, 41.3 3-pt fg pct, 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks, 35.7 minutes (3, 74).

· Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame, 6-5, 225, junior: 17.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 52.3 fg pct, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals (1, 70).

· Ethan Happ, Wisconsin, 6-10, 232, sophomore: 13.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 58.2 fg pct, 1.1 blocks, 1.9 steals (1, 66).

· Lauri Markkanen, Arizona, 7-0, 230, freshman: 15.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 43.2 3-pt fg pct, 82.4 ft pct (1, 50).

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order)

Ian Baker, New Mexico State; Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont; Evan Bradds, Belmont; Gian Clavell, Colorado State; T.J. Cline, Richmond; Patrick Cole, N.C. Central; Mike Daum, South Dakota State; Angel Delgado, Seton Hall; Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State; Nana Foulland, Bucknell; De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky; Jerome Frink, LIU Brooklyn; Kevin Hervey, Texas-Arlington; Isaiah Johnson, Akron; Keon Johnson, Winthrop; Peter Jok, Iowa; Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga; Marcus Keene, Central Michigan; Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s; TJ Leaf, UCLA; Paris Lee, Illinois State; Zach Lofton, Texas Southern; Donovan Mitchell, Louisville; Dallas Moore, North Florida; Monte Morris, Iowa State; Luke Nelson, UC Irvine; Semi Ojeleye, SMU; Alec Peters, Valparaiso; Justin Robinson, Monmouth; Devin Sibley, Furman; Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State; Erik Thomas, New Orleans; Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina; Melo Trimble, Maryland; Spencer Weisz, Princeton; Jacob Wiley, Eastern Washington; JaCorey Williams, Middle Tennessee; T.J. Williams, Northeastern.

N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft

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Dennis Smith Jr. announced on Tuesday that he will be declaring for the NBA Draft.

“I would like to announce my decision to declare for the 2017 NBA Draft,” said Smith on ESPN’s SportsCenter telecast Tuesday morning. “I believed I had a good chance (to turn pro) when I entered college. It was definitely an attainable dream for me and I knew I would chase it with all of my might. It meant a lot for me (to play at NC State). I’ve been a State fan my entire life, as well as my family, so it was definitely a dream come true to play in the red and white. I have the utmost respect for everybody I was there with. I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

Smith averaged 18.1 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 boards as a freshman this season.

This decision is not a surprise, as Smith was considered a potential top five pick in the NBA Draft.

2017 Final Four: Rankings the starters left in the NCAA Tournament

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Today, we’re going to rank the top 20 players left in the NCAA tournament.

But instead of ranking them solely based on who the best players are we’re going to rank them based on the likelihood that they end up being the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. 

I’m sure this won’t cause any arguments:

1. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: For my money, Berry is the most important player on North Carolina. Justin Jackson deservedly was named ACC Player of the Year, and if anyone from UNC finds their way onto an all-american team, it’s going to be him. But UNC goes as Berry goes. When he is at his best, the Tar Heels are at their best, and the Tar Heels are going to need to be at their best if they are going to run through Oregon and whoever comes out of the left side of the bracket. I know he’s got a bum ankle right now, but I fully expect him to be ready to play come Saturday.

2. Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga: When Gonzaga played West Virginia last week, the Zags had to run their offense through Karnowski because the pressure on their back court was too much for the guards to handle. While South Carolina doesn’t play the same kind of pressing defense that West Virginia does, the goal is the same: They want to overplay everything and take you out of what you want to do offensively. What that means is that there should be some space in the lane for Karnowski to operate.

3. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Jackson is UNC’s all-american, and he’s played like it through the first two weekends, averaging 19.8 points and 4.3 assists through four games. He was also tasked with chasing around Malik Monk during Sunday’s showdown with Kentucky, and did a good job with it. Will he draw the assignment of slowing down Tyler Dorsey?

4. Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Brooks, believe it or not, has been the third-best player on Oregon through the tournament. Jordan Bell has turned into Ben Wallace and I’m not sure that Tyler Dorsey has actually missed a shot yet, but I’m going with Brooks here because I think that if the Ducks are going to win a title, it’s going to be him that is the star. North Carolina, Gonzaga and South Carolina all use lineups that feature two bigs while Brooks plays a small-ball four role for the Ducks. If Oregon is going to win the national title, it’s going to be because Brooks forces whoever Oregon is playing to go small to matchup with him.

5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss is the all-american for the Zags, but he played what may have been his worst game as a collegian against West Virginia in the Sweet 16. He was 2-for-10 from the floor with five turnovers and a pair of offensive fouls. South Carolina, like West Virginia, plays a defense that dares guards to make plays against them, and I just don’t think that Williams-Goss is athletic enough to make plays against them. Can he be the Final Four MOP if he doesn’t play well in Gonzaga’s first game?

6. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: No one has shot the ball better than Dorsey during the month of March. He’s yet to score fewer than 20 points in a game since the start of the Pac-12 tournament and has a game-winner and countless daggers during that time frame. How long will this run last? He has to miss eventually, right?

7. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has been the best player in the tournament over the course of the last two weeks, averaging 25.7 points, which leads all scorers, and playing stout defense. South Carolina would not be anywhere near the Final Four if it wasn’t for Thornwell and they have almost no chance of winning the National Title if he doesn’t play well. That said, I have him seventh on this list for one, simple reason: South Carolina is the ‘Cinderella’ in this Final Four. They have to win it for Thornwell to be named MOP.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

8. Johnathan Williams III, Gonzaga: Williams has probably been Gonzaga’s best player in the tournament. At the very least, he’s been their most consistent.

9. Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina: Hicks is going to have a chance to be a game-changer for North Carolina against Oregon, as he’ll likely go head to head with a smaller Oregon defender. Meeks was terrific for UNC against Kentucky, grabbing 17 rebounds. He’ll have his work cut out for him against Bell on Saturday.

10. Jordan Bell, Oregon: Bell was absolutely dominant on the defensive end of the floor against Kansas and Landen Lucas. If he can do the same thing to North Carolina’s front line, he’ll be in the mix for Final Four MOP.

11. Jordan Mathews, Gonzaga: Mathews has turned into Gonzaga’s big shot maker turning this tournament. He hit a number of big threes, including the game-winner, against West Virginia.

12. Theo Pinson, North Carolina: Pinson is UNC’s secondary playmaker and their best perimeter defender. He’s going to be called into action quite a bit with the likes of Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks, Sindarius Thornwell and Nigel Williams-Goss in this Final Four.

13. Luke Maye, North Carolina: He was the South Regional MOP. He deserves mention here as much as anyone else on UNC even if he does come off the bench.

 (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

14. Josh Perkins, Gonzaga: If Williams-Goss struggles against South Carolina the way he did against West Virgina, Perkins is going to be asked to play a bigger role as a secondary ball-handler.

15. Dylan Ennis, Oregon
16. Payton Pritchard, Oregon: Both Ennis and Pritchard have had big games for Oregon this season, and if defenses can slow down Brooks and Dorsey, there are the guys that are going to be asked to carry the load for the Ducks.

17-20. P.J. Dozier, Chris Silva, Maik Kotsar and Duane Notice, South Carolina: This is not a shot at these four kids. All four were terrific in the regional. Dozier and Silva made huge plays in the second half against Florida, Kotsar made the game-clinching jumper and Notice has played sensational on-ball defense all tournament long.

But this isn’t a ranking of the best players. It’s a ranking of the most likely to win Final Four MOP. That gets given to the best player on the team that wins the national title, and I just don’t see any feasible way that South Carolina can win a national title without Thornwell doing what he’s been doing for the last two weeks.