Rob Dauster

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NCAA Tournament: Previewing the First Four in Dayton

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The NCAA tournament kicks off tonight, as we get a pair of interesting First Four matchups. 

Here is a look at the games to be played in Dayton.

TUESDAY

No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s vs. No. 16 New Orleans, 6:40 p.m. (truTV): New Orleans is one of the best stories heading into the NCAA tournament. The program was more or less left for dead after Hurricane Katrina, and now the Privateers have a very realistic shot at getting a win in the NCAA tournament. They are led by big man Erik Thomas, who averaged 19.0 points and 7.8 boards per game.

But they are going to get a game from The Mount, who have a pretty cool story of their own. Head coach Jamion Christian took the job at 29 years old, and is one of five current Division I head coaches — two of whom are in the NCAA tournament — to get their start at Emory & Henry. The Mount is led by a pair of talented guards, one of whom, Junior Robinson, is a 5-foot-5 dynamo that averaged 20 points in the NEC tournament.

No. 11 Wake Forest vs. No. 11 Kansas State, 9:10 p.m. (truTV): Bruce Weber may have saved his job by getting to the NCAA tournament, but that doesn’t mean that he’s going to be able to get to the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats square off with John Collins and Wake Forest, and it should be a terrific matchups and an opportunity for the world to get a glimpse at a potential first round pick.

Collins has been one of the most productive big men in the country this season. He’s averaging 19 points and 10 boards on the season, and had one stretch during the year where he scored at least 20 points in 12 straight games. He’s awesome, and I’m not sure that Kansas State will have an answer for him. The problem with Wake is that they hate playing defense. They rank 160th nationally is defensive efficiency, and Kansas State should be able to find a way to exploit that. The Wildcats have really good guard play and some size of their own up front.

WEDNESDAY

No. 16 NC-Central vs. No. 16 UC Davis, 6:40 p.m. (truTV): LeVelle Moton is headed back to the NCAA tournament. The NC Central head coach has spent the last half-decade lording over the MEAC, and it’s about time that he had a chance to win a game in the dance. UC Davis is the Big West’s tournament representative, and it marks the glorious return of Jim Les to the NCAA tournament. The Aggies want to grind it out defensively, meaning it will be an interesting contrast of styles Wednesday night.

No. 11 Providence vs. No. 11 USC, 9:10 p.m. (truTV): The last First Four game is a rematch of a game that was played in the ffirst round of the 2016 NCAA tournament. That game ended with Providence knocking off the Trojans on a buzzer-beater, and you better believe that Andy Enfield is looking for some revenge.

These are not the same Friars as last season. They lost Kris Dunn an Ben Bentil to the NBA, but there will be some familiar faces on USC. Jordan McLaughlin is back, as is Elijah Stewart and Chimezie Metu. USC hasn’t landed many quality wins this season, but they have some real talent on that roster. It should be a fun one in Dayton.

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.

BRACKETS: Cinderellas | Upset Watch | Bold Predictions | Unsung Heroes

 (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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.

2017 NCAA Tournament Bold Predictions

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KANSAS LOSES IN THE SWEET 16: This one pains me to say. Truly. Because I’ve ridden harder for Kansas and Frank Mason III than anyone with an address outside of Lawrence. I picked them to win it all in October. I’ve had Mason as the Player of the Year since he made that game-winner against Duke on the fifth day of the season. The problem with the Jayhawks is that they don’t have any depth up front, and when they end up playing Purdue and Caleb Swanigan in the Sweet 16, the big fella is going to give Landen Lucas all the fouls. All of them. I don’t want it to happen — I openly root for myself to be right about everything I say — but it will. Sorry, KU. (Rob Dauster)

GONZAGA WINS IT ALL: The fourth No. 1 seed will cut down the nets. It’ll be the coronation for Mark Few and the program he’s built in Spokane. Either Notre Dame or West Virginia pose a threat in a potential Sweet 16 matchup, and there is the rematch we’re all dreaming of in the Elite Eight with Arizona. But I think this is the Zags’ year. They really check all the boxes: they’re deep, balanced, big, can make shots, experienced. (Terrence Payne)

FLORIDA STATE TAKES DOWN ARIZONA IN THE SWEET 16: Arizona enters the NCAA tournament riding high after the Pac-12 Tournament title but the No. 2 seed in the West Region has a potential matchup nightmare in the Sweet 16 against No. 3 seed Florida State. The Seminoles have one of the few players in the field in Jonathan Isaac who might be able to slow down Lauri Markkanen. (Scott Phillips)

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

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

SAINT MARY’S WILL PLAY IN THE FINAL FOUR: Yeah, they’ll have to get by a couple of west coast powers to get there, but this Gaels team has got the goods. In a potential second-round matchup, Arizona will allow them to play at their prodding pace and get good looks inside and at the arc that it’ll take to pull the upset. Then, in the Elite Eight, the Gaels will finally break through in their fourth meeting against Gonzaga, denying their rivals their first trip to the Final Four while booking their own. (Travis Hines)

CINCINNATI WILL MAKE LAVAR BALL SHUT UP: The Bearcats have a good defense to slow down the Bruins and an improved offense that could look even better against a lackluster UCLA defense. Cincy is tough and physical, and they are going to beat up the Bruins. Lock it in now, get rich. (TP)

JAYSON TATUM PLAYS HIS WAY TO NO. 1: Markelle Fultz can’t hurt his draft stock because his Washington team is done after going 9-22, but Tatum can help his own. The Duke freshman has thrived since moving to power forward, and he’ll have a chance to showcase those skills in the East, easily the most difficult region. He’ll then get the opportunity to play in a title game against Kansas, where his play against fellow frosh Josh Jackson will elevate him ahead of Fultz on draft boards. (TH)

THERE WILL BE NO NO. 1 SEEDS IN THE FINAL FOUR: Is this even all that bold of a prediction? Kansas gets picked off by Purdue once they run into foul trouble. Gonzaga gets exposed as a team that doesn’t have the same level of high-end talent as Arizona, and they don’t matchup well with Notre Dame or West Virginia. Villanova runs into Duke in the Elite 8. North Carolina will, in all likelihood, have to dispatch Kentucky or UCLA in the Elite 8. (RD)

BRACKETS: Cinderellas | Upset Watch | CBT Podcast | Unsung Heroes

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

MIDDLE TENNESSEE MAKES AN ELITE 8 RUN: America should know all about the Blue Raiders after last year’s win over Michigan State when they were a No. 15 seed. Now earning more respect as a No. 12 seed, the Conference USA champions have a favorable draw and could make more noise this season. Kermit Davis is coming for you, UNC. (SP)

NOTRE DAME REACHES THE FINAL FOUR: Mike Brey is the most underrated coach in the country. He’s been to back-to-back Elite 8s, and he’s about to make it a third-straight. Matt Farrell is going to surprise everyone and Bonzie Colson is going to be the Most Outstanding Player in the West Region. There is no one in college basketball better at building an offense around a point guard that loves ball-screens and a bunch of dudes that love to shoot threes than Mike Brey, and that is how you win games in March. (RD)

THE BIG TEN DOESN’T MAKE IT OUT OF THE FIRST WEEKEND: Big Ten earned seven bids, but the committee didn’t think two highly of them. In some cases, like Michigan State and Northwestern, both in Nos. 8-9 matchups, neither are favored, but even the league’s highest seeds will have a tough road. Purdue is playing a Vermont whose last loss was pre-Christmas. That’s followed by a potential second round clash with red-hot Iowa State. Minnesota gets Middle Tennessee State one year after the Blue Raiders upended Michigan State and Maryland is playing a Xavier team that had a much better showing last week after a seven-game losing streak to close out the year. (TP)

WAKE FOREST GOES FROM THE FIRST FOUR TO THE ELITE 8: The Demon Deacons, powered by John Collins, dispatch Kansas State in the first four, handle Cincinnati in the first round and knock off UCLA to reach a Sweet 16, where Wichita State awaits after upsetting Kentucky. There, the Shockers cant contain Collins and Wake Forest moves on only to be stopped by North Carolina. (TH)

South Florida expected to hire Brian Gregory

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South Florida is expected to hire Brian Gregory to fill its vacancy at head coach.

Gregory spent eight seasons as the head coach at Dayton, reaching two NCAA tournaments, before he was hired by Georgia Tech. He was with the Yellow Jackets for five years, finishing above .500 just once, before getting fired prior to the 2016-17 season.

The news was first reported by Fan Rag Sports.

Josh Pastner led Georgia Tech to within a win or two of the NCAA tournament this season.

Gregory will replace Murry Bartow, who spend the last two months as USF’s interim head coach. Orlando Antigua, a former Kentucky assistant, was fired after two and a half seasons as the NCAA investigated academic fraud within the program.

The Bulls were 6-7 when Antigua was fired. They finished the 2016-17 season at 7-23.

Gregory spent this past season as an advisor to Tom Izzo at Michigan State, where he began his career as an assistant.

Maurice Joseph expected to be named George Washington head coach

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Maurice Joseph is expected to receive, and accept, an offer to be named the full-time head coach at George Washington, sources have told NBC Sports.

Joseph spent the 2016-17 as the interim head coach of the Colonials. He was an assistant on former head coach Mike Lonergan’s staff, and when Lonergan was fired in September, Joseph was named the interim head coach, a move that was relatively surprising.

He went 19-14 on the season and 10-8 in the Atlantic 10 with a roster that included a number of young, promising pieces.

There is no timetable for an announcement. The two sides were supposed to meet in DC today, but a snow storm that hit the eastern seaboard on Monday night has made the logistics difficult.

No. 10 Shockers take seeding slight into NCAA tourney

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) A couple of years ago, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall trotted out the motto “Play Angry” to encourage and inspire his perpetually overlooked and undervalued team.

Might be time to resurrect it.

The Shockers were given the No. 10 seed in the South Region, which just might trump anybody getting left out as the biggest snub of the NCAA Tournament. Wichita State hasn’t lost since January and twice avenged that defeat, rolled through the Missouri Valley Tournament, and just about every advanced metric puts the Shockers among the best teams in the country.

The selection committee disagreed, putting the Shockers in a first-round game against seventh-seeded Dayton. The winner will likely face No. 2 seed Kentucky in the next round.

“I’m just glad they didn’t forget about,” Marshall said with only mild sarcasm. “I was starting to think they might forget about us and not put us in at all.”

The Shockers (30-4) are used to getting a raw deal in March.

They were a ninth seed four years ago when they rode the chip on their shoulder all the way to the school’s first Final Four in nearly five decades. They gave eventual national champion Louisville all it could handle, too, before falling 72-68. The following year, they became the first team since UNLV in 1991 to enter the dance unbeaten, only to face red-hot and under-seeded Kentucky in the second round. The eighth-seeded Wildcats won a nail-biter before advancing to the national title game.

Wichita State was the seventh seed the following year and promptly bumped Indiana and No. 2 seed Kansas from the field. Last year, the Shockers were relegated to a play-in game. They won, of course, and beat sixth-seeded Arizona before the grind of three games in three days caught up to them.

In other words, the selection committee has rarely been kind to Wichita State.

“It’s kind of par for the course,” said the Shockers’ Landry Shamet, adding that low expectations have followed this team all year following the graduation of stars Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet.

“This whole year we’re supposed to have fallen off. The downfall of Wichita State. Armageddon, basically,” Shamet said. “Everybody here already has that chip. That’s the unique thing about these guys. Coach recruits those kinds of guys with that, and enhances that vibe when they get here.”

As for the No. 10 seed?

“We thought we were higher than that,” Shamet said, “so I guess that will add to that.”

It’s not just that Wichita State was given a low seed, Shamet said. It’s that the Shockers were also given a low seed in what is perhaps the toughest of the four regions.

North Carolina’s strong finish earned it the No. 1 seed in the South, while the Wildcats and their bevy of NBA prospects top the bottom half of the bracket. Third-seeded UCLA has potential No. 1 draft pick Lonzo Ball and March darling Butler is the No. 4 seed.

There is never an easy path to the Final Four, but that road is especially brutal.

“So many crazy things happen to a bracket,” Marshall said. “I remember the year we were a one-seed, our bracket had Kentucky and then we had Louisville, Michigan and Duke on our side. Now you’ve got North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA. I think they said there’s 24 combined national championships between those three. If we win this year, that’ll be 25.

“If we have to go through them,” he added, “so be it.”

Asked to defend the seed, NCAA Tournament selection committee chairman Mark Hollis pointed out the Shockers only have one win against anybody else in the field: Summit League champ South Dakota State.

That isn’t entirely their fault, though.

While mid-major powers such as Gonzaga have been able to schedule games against perennial powers, the Shockers have struggled to do likewise. Those big-name schools still think losing to the Shockers constitutes a bad loss, and many aren’t willing to take that chance. The Valley was also down this year with Illinois State getting left out of the dance.

Wichita State did squander two chances to earn a marquee win in the Battle 4 Atlantis, losing close games to Michigan State and Louisville. But those were played in November, and the Shockers are a far different team than they were four months ago.

“We’re going to be ready,” the Shockers’ Markis McDuffie said. “We’re very excited to play against high-major teams. You don’t always get many chances at that. I feel like all year, we’ve been preparing ourselves for this moment and I think now that time is here.”