Bracket Breakdown: Everything you need to know to fill out the South Region

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The South ended up playing out as the region that everyone will love to hate on. I’m not sure there is a program that is as universally despised by all non-fans as Duke, and the passion with which the general public hates Duke matches that with which they hate on Gonzaga. The Zags have brought it on themselves, but having so much regular season success lead to so few postseason accolades. The question that has to be asked, however, is whether or not there is anyone in this region that can actually pull off an upset of one of these two teams.

The answer? Keep reading.

MORERead through all of our bracket analysis here

Three story lines to watch

  • 1. Is this the year Gonzaga finally lives up to the hype?: Every season, we talk for four months about how good Gonzaga is, and every season, at least in recent years, the Zags have let us down in March. This year’s group will undoubtedly bring back memories of the 2013 tournament, when the Zags, as the No. 1 overall seed, lost in the Round of 32. The one thing that concerns me is how one-dimensional each of their three big men are, but I don’t see anyone in this bracket truly being able to exploit that.
  • 2. Can Georgetown break the Curse of the Double Digit Seed?: Georgetown’s last five NCAA tournament losses have come to: No. 14 Ohio, No. 10 Davidson, No. 11 VCU, No. 11 N.C. State and No. 15 Florida-Gulf Coast. This year, they get No. 13 Eastern Washington in the opening round, a team with the nation’s leading scorer on the roster and a win at Indiana under their belts. Does the trend continue?
  • 3. Freshmen vs. upper-classmen: Duke enters the tournament with as much hype as anyone. That’s what happens when you have talents like Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow on your roster. All three of those guys are freshmen, and if you look at the other top four or five teams in the region, they’re all built around upper-classmen. What wins out?

The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Gonzaga

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Jahlil Okafor (AP Photo)

You’ll find a lot of chalk in the Elite 8 and Final Four projections this season, but that is a result of the fact that the top seven or eight teams this season are a cut above the rest of the country. That’s no different in the South. Duke will have a couple of tough matchups along the way, but they’re so dangerous when they get hot that it’s hard to see teams that can struggle to score beating them. And while Gonzaga’s got some red flags, this is a team with size, shooting, versatility and strong point guard play that got a favorable draw.

Final Four sleeper: No. 5 Utah

The Utes have all the makings of a team that can make a run. They play tough defense, they have size inside, they have shooters than can catch fire and they have a bonafide star running the show in Delon Wright. Larry Krystkowiak’s club has struggled down the stretch of the season, but this is a team built for making a postseason run.

MORE: Did the committee pick the right No. 1 seeds? | What about the bubble teams?

Upsets that CAN happen

  • No. 13 Eastern Washington over No. 4 Georgetown: As we mentioned earlier, Georgetown has made a habit of getting picked off early in the tournament by a lower seed, and Eastern Washington is certainly capable of continuing that. They play fast enough that they can nullify the advantage gained by the presence of Josh Smith.
  • No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over No. 5 Utah: I know, it’s weird saying Utah can make a Final Four and that they can get upset in their first game. But Stephen F. Austin is a really good team that plays a hectic half court style of defense that forces a lot of turnovers. Ask VCU, they lost to the Lumberjacks in the opening round last season.

Upsets that WON’T happen

  • Iowa State losing before the Sweet 16: I really like this Iowa State team, if you can’t tell. The Cyclones are so difficult to prepare for on short rest, and while I have the utmost respect for Larry Brown’s coaching acumen, I’m not convinced that SMU is anything more than a by-product of dominating a league that really wasn’t all that good. And UCLA? They can score, but are they disciplined enough defensively to slow down Iowa State?

Feeling like gambling?

  • No. 8 San Diego State over No. 1 Duke: The Aztecs do everything defensively that you need to do to beat Duke: They are terrific with their big-to-big doubles and they defend the three-point line. But can they score enough? They’ll need the Blue Devils to struggle shooting from the perimeter and they’ll need to dominate the offensive glass after getting past St. John’s, but the matchup couldn’t be better for the Aztecs as a No. 8 seed.

MORE: All-AmericansPlayer of the Year | Coach of the Year | Freshman of the Year

The studs you know about

  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke: Okafor is, quite simply, the best low-post scorer I can ever remember seeing play in college (I’m 29). He has his shortcomings, but he’s the best at what he does well.
  • Delon Wright, Utah: He’s flown under the radar this season despite having an all-american year.
  • Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: Pangos began his career carrying a scoring load for Gonzaga. He’s matured into a phenomenal all-around point guard.
  • Georges Niang, Iowa State: You won’t find a more skilled forward anywhere, and you won’t find a coach that’s better at putting him in a position to be successful.

The studs the nation will find out about

  • Tyler Harvey, Eastern Washington: He’s the nation’s leading scorer playing in a system that loves to get up and down the floor. If Eastern Washington wins a game, you’ll be inundated with stories of how he committed to play to EWU’s coach when he was at a Division III program.
  • D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: Maybe it’s because he plays in the Big East, but DSR gets nowhere near enough attention for how good of a basketball player he is.
  • Nic Moore, SMU: In a season where he was recruited over by Larry Brown — remember Emmanuel Mudiay? — Moore managed to put together a season deserving of the American Player of the Year award.
  • Tyler Kalinoski and Jack Gibbs, Davidson: They may not play much defense, but Bob McKillop has at his disposal two awesome guards that can do everything on the offensive end of the floor.

Best opening round matchups

  • No. 6 SMU vs. No. 11 UCLA: Good luck trying to pick the winner here. UCLA is more talented, but SMU has the Larry Brown factor.
  • No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 Davidson: Iowa is more talented than a No. 7 seed and inconsistent enough to be on the bubble as recently as three weeks ago. And Davidson? They went from beating VCU by 27 to losing to them by 20 in the span of a week.

Matchups to root for

  • No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Utah: The Utes are good enough defensively to slow down Duke’s high-powered offense. NBA scouts would love this as well. Jacob Poeltl getting a shot at Okafor and Wright squaring off with Tyus Jones.
  • No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Gonzaga: Duke’s loaded freshmen class going up against the veterans that make up Gonzaga’s roster. Coach K vs. Mark Few. Duke’s return to the Final Four or Gonzaga’s first ever trip to the final weekend of the season.

CBT Predictions: Duke makes it back to the Final Four with wins over Utah and Gonzaga along the way.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.