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

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.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”