2016 NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: Matchups we should root for

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Now that the 68-team field has been revealed, it’s time to get into the conversations about how the teams match up. There’s also the chance to talk about which games we hope to see happen in the second and regional semifinal rounds. Below are some choices with the obvious caveat that, just to offer up one example, a Stony Brook or Chattanooga fan won’t be rooting for a possible Kentucky/Indiana matchup in the second round since that means their team would be eliminated.

An exercise geared more towards the casual viewer who latches onto attractive individual match-ups and storylines, here are our choices.

SECOND ROUND GAMES YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR

No. 4 seed Kentucky vs. No. 5 seed Indiana (East Region)

By now you know all about the recent history of this series, as the two programs haven’t met since the Sweet 16 of the 2012 NCAA tournament. The committee can say whatever about not purposely matching the Wildcats and Hoosiers, but either way both are one win away from making it happen. The point guard matchup alone (Tyler Ulis vs. Yogi Ferrell) will be worth the price of admission, and given the hopes and expectations of both fan bases the atmosphere should be intense.

No. 3 seed Texas A&M vs. No. 6 seed Texas (West Region)

The longtime rivals have already met once this season, with Texas A&M winning the quarterfinal matchup in the Battle 4 Atlantis. But the stakes this time around would be much higher, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. The question for Texas going into this week is whether or not big man Cameron Ridley (foot) will be able to play; a return to the court would help the Longhorns deal with the front court tandem of Tyler Davis and Jalen Jones. Also there are talented guards, led by Texas’ Isaiah Taylor and A&M’s Danuel House.

[   BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: East | South | Midwest | West   ]

No. 2 seed Villanova vs. No. 7 seed Iowa (South Region)

Some of the individual match-ups on the court, most notably how Villanova would defend Jarrod Uthoff and how the Hawkeyes would account for Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, will be interesting if these two teams meet. What also makes this interesting is the pressure on both. Villanova’s failed to get out of the first weekend in each of the last two tournaments, and Iowa’s had issues with late-season tailspins of their own. Which “streak” comes to an end?

No. 4 seed California vs. No. 5 seed Maryland (South)

These are two of the most talented teams in the field, with both receiving the label of “team capable of making a Final Four run” before the brackets were revealed. The Golden Bears have a rotation that includes possible first round picks in Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Tyrone Wallace, and Maryland counters with a talented freshman big man of their own in Diamond Stone and sophomore point guard Melo Trimble. Whoever wins has a shot at knocking off top seed Kansas in the Sweet 16.

No. 1 seed North Carolina vs. No. 9 seed Providence (East)

The Tar Heels and Friars met in the NCAA tournament two years ago, with North Carolina surviving an outstanding 36-point performance from Bryce Cotton. This time around the ACC champs would face the task of corralling Kris Dunn, with forward Ben Bentil being a test for Brice Johnson and the rest of the North Carolina front court. The Friars will need more from their supporting cast, but this is the kind of game that could churn out an excellent individual effort viewers won’t soon forget.

No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 3 seed Utah (Midwest Region)

The Bulldogs will clearly have their work cut out for them against No. 6 Seton Hall in the first round, so who knows if they even get to this point. But a matchup of three of the top big men in the country would be fun to watch. Utah’s Jakob Poeltl won Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, and both Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis were in the conversation for WCC Player of the Year. Would also give NBA types the chance to evaluate these three against quality interior competition.

[ CBT Podcast | Expert Brackets | Guide a bracket pool  ]

THE BEST POTENTIAL SWEET 16 GAMES

No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 5 seed Maryland (South)

You could also put Cal in this spot, as either team has the ability from a talent standpoint to challenge the top overall seed. But Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon vs. Frank Mason III, Devonté Graham and Wayne Selden Jr.? Would be entertaining, that’s for sure.

No. 2 seed Xavier vs. No. 3 seed West Virginia (East)

If you were to put together a “pound for pound” ranking of the toughest teams in the field, the Musketeers and Mountaineers would definitely be in the conversation; neither team is backing down from anyone. Having Devin Williams, Jonathan Holton (WVU), Jalen Reynolds and James Farr (Xavier) all in the paint would be fun, as would seeing how the Musketeer guards deal with the West Virginia pressure.

No. 1 seed North Carolina vs. No. 4 seed Kentucky (East)

Two of the sport’s most storied programs meeting with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line? Cool. There would be quality match-ups across the board but especially on the perimeter, with Ulis and Jamal Murray leading the way for Kentucky and Joel Berry II and Marcus Paige doing so for the Tar Heels.

No. 2 seed Oklahoma vs. No. 3 seed Texas A&M (West)

Two prolific scorers on the court in Buddy Hield and Danuel House, and both teams have more than just one headliner in their respective perimeter rotations. The question for Oklahoma would be whether or not they’d have enough in the post to counter Texas A&M’s deep front court.

No. 2 seed Michigan State vs. No. 3 seed Utah (Midwest)

Two of the nation’s best players would be on the same court in Chicago, with Michigan State being led by Denzel Valentine and Jakob Poeltl doing so for the Runnin’ Utes. Utah’s backcourt has made strides throughout the course of this season, but that would be put to the test against the Spartans with Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris also in the fold.

No. 1 seed Virginia vs. No. 5 seed Iowa State (Midwest) 

The difference in styles would provide some entertainment here, with the Cavaliers having their version of the pack line defense and one of the nation’s best guards in Malcolm Brogdon. Iowa State doesn’t lack for talent but there are depth issues, especially if Jameel McKay isn’t fully engaged. Would make for an interesting chess match.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan St snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats BC 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.

Miles Kelly leads Georgia Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.