Sweet 16 Reset: The Midwest Region

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On Thursday evening, the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 play will begin, meaning we’ll be four days away from finding out who the four teams are that will be playing for the national title in Atlanta. And in case you spent the past four days living under a rock or on a really, really long flight that didn’t have WiFi, here’s what you missed in the Midwest Region.

Click here to browse through all of our Sweet 16 previews:

WHERE: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

WHEN: Friday

WHAT HAPPENED?: As many expected, No. 2 Duke rolled through Albany and Creighton in the first two rounds of the tournament, moving on to play No. 3 Michigan State, who handled Valparaiso and Memphis fairly easily, in Indy on Friday night. That’s not a surprise. What was a surprise, however, was that No. 12 Oregon not only knocked off both No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 4 St. Louis, but that they did it in dominating fashion, winning both games handily. No. 1 Louisville was also a bit of a surprise, not due to the fact that they made the Sweet 16, but because they did so while absolutely dominating a good Colorado State team.

FAVORITE: Louisville Cardinals

Louisville was the most impressive team in the tournament’s first weekend, as they crushed North Carolina A&T and followed that up with a dominating performance in Rupp Arena, beating CSU by 26 points. Russ Smith was the best player in the Midwest Region in the first two rounds, averaging 25.0 points and 5.0 steals while shooting 17-31 from the floor. If their defense continues to swarm the way it has since the second half of the Big East tournament title game, Louisville is going to win a national title.

KEY PLAYER: The point guards

Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are the engine that makes the Louisville machine got, on both the offensive end of the floor and the defensive end of the floor. How will Dominic Artis and Jonathan Loyd handle the constant pressure they are going to be facing on Friday? Can Quinn Cook slow down Keith Appling, who is the x-factor in Michigan State’s offensive attack? Is Appling’s shoulder healthy enough to be a contributor offensively?

WHY AN UNDERDOG WILL WIN: Oregon is really the only underdog in this conference, and I think that it is safe to say that the only way that they can beat Louisville is if Loyd and Artis are able to handle that press. But if they are, the thing to remember about the Ducks is that they have a ton of size and a ton of versatility up and down their lineup. They’re as athletic as any team in the region, and if their threes are going down, they are going to be a tough out.

THE TEAMS:

No. 1 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS
How they got here: Beat No. 16 North Carolina A&T 79-48 and No. 8 Colorado State 82-56.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2012
Next up: No. 12 Oregon, 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS
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No. 2 DUKE BLUE DEVILS
How they got here: Beat No. 15 Albany 73-61 and No. 7 Creighton 66-50.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2011
Next up: No. 3 Michigan State, 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS
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No. 3 MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
How they got here: Beat No. 14 Valparaiso 65-54 and No. 6 Memphis 70-48.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2012
Next up: No. 2 Duke, 9:45 p.m. ET, CBS
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No. 12 OREGON DUCKS
How they got here: Beat No. 5 Oklahoma State 68-55 and No. 4 Saint Louis 74-57.
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2007
Next up: No. 3 Michigan State, 7:15 p.m. ET, CBS

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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DePaul landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019 Tuesday afternoon, as four-star small forward Romeo Weems announced that he will be a Blue Demon. Weems, who attends New Haven HS in New Haven, Michigan, picked DePaul over Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon and is considered by most major scouting services to be a Top 50 prospect in the 2019 graduating class.

The 6-foot-6 Weems plays his grassroots basketball for The Family on the Nike EYBL circuit, averaging 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this spring. Weems also has experience playing for USA Basketball, as he was part of the Under-16 team that won the FIBA Americas U16 title last year. Weems will also be part of the training camp from which the Under-17 team will be selected next month in preparation for this summer’s FIBA Under-17 World Championships.

DePaul managing to land a commitment from a prospect of Weems’ caliber, a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions while also being productive offensively, could be the shot in the arm that Dave Leitao’s program so desperately needs if they’re to improve their standing within the Big East.

Since making the move from Conference USA in 2005, DePaul has finished above .500 in a season just once (20-14 in 2006-07) with that also being the only time in which the Blue Demons finished above .500 in Big East play (9-7). Since Leitao, who led DePaul to its most recent NCAA tournament in 2005, returned for his second stint at the school the Blue Demons have gone 29-65.

Getting out of Allstate Arena and moving to the new Wintrust Arena ahead of last season was an important move for the DePaul program, but it’s been clear that the rebuild won’t be a “quick fix.” Bringing in a talent of Weems’ caliber should help DePaul moving forward, with the key now being to recruit well enough to ensure that the talented wing has ample help when he arrives on campus next year.

Among the players currently on the roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019 are guards Devin Gage and Justin Roberts and wing Darious Hall, who will sit out the 2018-19 season after transferring to DePaul from Arkansas. Hall appeared in 35 games for the Razorbacks this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game.