2017 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown South Region: North Carolina gets a No. 1 seed

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THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH

  1. Kentucky got the worst draw of the entire tournament: Forget Wichita State, the team that got the worst draw of the entire tournament field was Kentucky. How about this: If favorites hold on to win, in order for the Wildcats to get to the Final Four, they’re going to have to beat Wichita State — who is currently sitting in eighth on KenPom — in the second round, UCLA in the Sweet 16 and North Carolina in the Elite 8. That’s just to get to the Final Four! They’re still going to have to beat the likes of Kansas and Louisville and Duke and Villanova once they get there. For a team that has the ups and down that Kentucky can have, the idea that they’re going to have to beat five of the ten or 12 best teams in America to win a national title isn’t exactly inspiring.
  2. Can Middle Tennessee State make another tournament run?: The Blue Raiders are coming off of a year where they knocked off No. 2 Michigan State, the popular national title pick, in what may be the greatest first round upset in NCAA tournament history. What are they going to do for an encore? Beating Minnesota and the winner of Butler-Winthrop is certainly feasible.
  3. Memphis will probably be the best site to be at for the second weekend: In an ideal world, there will be four different shades of blue populating the FedEx Forum the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. Three of those blues would ideally come from bluebloods: North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA. Those three fan bases are large and passionate, and both Kentucky and North Carolina are close enough that their crowds will flood that building. But then there is Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders would be the darlings of the dance if they can get to the second weekend, and their campus is just a four hour ride down I-40 from Memphis. You can’t really ask for something better than that.

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … ?: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 UCLA

For my money, North Carolina is one of the four teams in this tournament that I think has the best shot of winning the national title, and I honestly do not see them getting too much of a test until the Elite 8. Squaring off with Seton Hall will be a fight — there aren’t many teams that are as physical and athletic and tough as the Pirates — and Butler has a habit of beating teams they aren’t supposed to beat, but I just think the Tar Heels are too good. If Kentucky gets by Wichita State, their game against UCLA is a coin-flip game. I think I’d lean UCLA in that one, but with De’Aaron Fox back and Malik Monk on one, it’s tough to pick against UK.

FINAL FOUR SLEEPER: No. 10 seed Wichita State

You are going to hear this point made so many times over the course of the next week that it will make you sick, but Wichita State is a top ten team on KenPom, which is the most highly-regarded metric of its type within basketball circles. They haven’t beaten anyone yet, but they also haven’t played anyone since a team that replaced Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker finally came together. The thing standing in their way is the same thing that hurts Kentucky: that path to the Final Four is an absolute nightmare.

RELATED: Printable NCAA Tournament Bracket

Via @MarchMadness

UPSETS THAT CAN HAPPEN

  • No. 12 Middle Tennessee State to the Sweet 16: These dudes are good. I’m telling you. They beat Vanderbilt by 23 points. They were up by 29 points at the half at Ole Miss. They won at Belmont. They beat UNC Wilmington. And I don’t think it’s crazy to think that Middle ended up in a region with the worst No. 4 seed and the worst No. 5 seed in Butler and Minnesota, respectively.
  • No. 11 Wake Forest over No. 3 UCLA: UCLA can’t guard. We know this. We’ve known it for a long time. Wake Forest can’t guard either, but they are the eighth-most efficient team in college basketball and they have a future NBA center in John Collins that is punishing dudes this season.
  • No. 10 Wichita State over No. 2 Kentucky: The Shockers are very, very good and very, very well-coached. It’s not crazy to think that Gregg Marshall will find a way to scheme Malik Monk out of the game.

UPSETS THAT WON’T HAPPEN

  • No. 9 Seton Hall over No. 1 North Carolina: Given that this game would turn into one of those strength-vs.-strength matchups, I think some will make this pick. The biggest reason I don’t see this upset happening? UNC doesn’t have anyone that I think is going to be a pushover against Seton Hall.

FEEL LIKE GAMBLING?: Pick Kentucky to win the national title

Unless there is someone in your pool from the state of Kentucky, no one is going to be on that pick, not with the way the Wildcats played late in the season and not when they have to beat so many great teams to get there. But remember: Upsets happen in this tournament, and Kentucky has a kid by the name of Malik Monk, who is capable of going crazy, taking a game over and winning it by himself. If you want to ride with Monk and De’Aaron Fox, it’s worth the long odds.

RELATED: Power Rankings 1-68 | Duke deserved a No. 1 seed | Committee got bubble right

THE STUDS YOU KNOW ABOUT

  • Malik Monk, Kentucky: He’s scored 20 points in a half six times this season, 30-or-more in one half twice and for 47 points in a win over North Carolina in Las Vegas. He’s not bad.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Jackson turned himself into the ACC Player of the Year this season, operating as UNC’s go-to guy and best perimeter shooter.
  • Lonzo Ball, UCLA: The man that should be credited with turning around UCLA. He turned that program into what it is today, instilling a culture of unselfishness.

THE STUDS YOU’LL FIND OUT ABOUT

  • Keon Johnson, Winthrop: Generally listed at 5-foot-7, Johnson is a dynamic scorer that averaged better than 22 points this season. Can he lead the Eagles to a win over Butler?
  • John Collins, Wake Forest: Collins has been an absolute monster this season, averaging 18.9 points, 9.8 boards and scoring 20-or-more in 12 straight games at one point.

BEST OPENING ROUND MATCHUP: No. 7 Dayton vs. No. 10 Wichita State

The Flyers and the Shockers are two of the best teams and best basketball programs that you may not realize are two of the best teams and programs. This should be a terrific, well-coached game between the two most in-demand head coaches in college basketball.

MATCHUPS TO ROOT FOR

This is what you want to have happen: Kentucky play Wichita State in the second round before taking on UCLA in the Sweet 16. Then you want the winner of that game to play North Carolina. It’s that simple.

CBT PREDICTION: I think the Tar Heels come out of the South, beating UCLA in the Elite 8.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

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 State 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 Boston College 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.