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2017 NCAA Tournament: Which contenders will NOT win the national title?

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It’s really easy to go all chalk and pick the favorite in every region to reach the Final Four.

The hardest thing to do, however, is to figure out which of those favorites are going to lose before the NCAA tournament kicks into high gear.

I’m here to help you with that problem.

Here are six NCAA tournament contenders that are not going to be winning a national title:

No. 1 Kansas: It’s killing me to put Kansas on this list. It really is. I picked the Jayhawks to win the national title back in October, and I’ve never wavered off of that.

But I’m getting close.

I don’t think the Jayhawks are going to win the national title. It starts with a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Purdue. You see, Kansas has one front court player that’s worth noting, and that’s Landen Lucas. They don’t have any other size to speak of, meaning that if Lucas gets in foul trouble, the Jayhawks are going to be in a very, very bad spot. And Purdue? Well, their front court duo of Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan combine to average 14.3 fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Haas, at 8.0 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, is eighth nationally.

Now let’s assume that Purdue ends up losing to Iowa State or Vermont before they face off with Kansas, I still see a major speed bump in their path to a national title: North Carolina. The Tar Heels have arguably the best front court in the country and inarguably lead the nation in offensive rebounding. Josh Jackson will have his hands full trying to keep Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley at bay.

I’m not changing my pick. I’m going to ride ‘Kansas will win the national title’ to the death.

I’m just telling you that I’m going to be wrong.

No. 2 Kentucky: The Wildcats got the worst draw of any team in the field this year, and I’m not sure it’s all that close. Assuming favorites hold, Kentucky is going to have to beat Wichita State, a top ten team on KenPom and perhaps the worst miss-seeding in the history of the NCAA tournament, in the second round. Get past the Shockers, and Kentucky will have to then beat UCLA just to get to the Elite 8, where they are likely going to end up playing North Carolina.

All of that would just put them in the Final Four.

And frankly, this is a bigger concern for Kentucky than it would be for other teams. They can beat anyone on the nights where Malik Monk goes crazy, but relying on Monk going crazy for five straight games against competition like that is not an ideal situation, to put it mildly.

Power Rankings 1-68 | Duke deserved a 1 seed | Committee got bubble right

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

No. 3 UCLA: The Bruins just don’t guard well enough. That’s the bottom line. They are as good as anyone in college basketball when it comes to scoring the ball, but they are as bad as any elite team when it comes to stopping the ball. I don’t think that will be an issue during the first weekend of the tournament, but if you struggle to get stops, you don’t want to have to go up against Malik Monk and North Carolina just to get to the Final Four.

Think about it like this: No team that was won a national title has ever entered the NCAA tournament outside the top 40 in defensive efficiency on KenPom. Only three in the last 15 years — Syracuse in 2003, UNC in 2009, Duke in 2015 — have been outside the top 20. UCLA is 78th.

No. 1 Gonzaga: I do think that the Zags are good enough to win a national title this year. I also think that they are going to face a team in the Sweet 16 that will take them down. Notre Dame is the perfect team to beat Gonzaga. Their offense is, in a nutshell, spread pick-and-rolls with Steve Nash-lite, aka Matt Farrell, and shooters everywhere on the floor, or post touches for Bonzie Colson with shooters everywhere on the floor. That’s one way to beat Gonzaga. The other way? To out-athlete them in the back court with pressure, and that is pretty much all that West Virginia is capable of doing. In all seriousness, I think if Gonzaga drew any other the other 4-5 pairings in the bracket, they would be heading to the Final Four.

BRACKETS: Cinderellas | Upset Watch | Bold Predictions | Unsung Heroes

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No. 2 Louisville: Louisville has the opposite problem that UCLA has. The Cardinals are one of the nation’s best defensive teams, but they go through droughts where it looks like they totally forget how to score. Case in point: The final 13 minutes against Duke, when the Blue Devils used a simple 2-3 zone to completely flummox the Cardinals and win a game in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. The same way I don’t trust UCLA to guard for six straight games or Kentucky to get consistent production from the non-Malik Monk portion of their roster for six straight games, I don’t see Louisville scoring well enough for six straight games to win a title.

No. 2 Arizona: The last four NCAA tournament champions have been led by back courts that included two elite point guards: Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson, Duke’s Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook, UConn’s Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, and Louisville’s Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. In 2012, Kentucky’s point guard was Marquis Teague. In 2011, it was UConn’s Kemba Walker (and Shabazz Napier) that stole the show. In 2009, UNC had Ty Lawson In 2008, Kansas was led by Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins.

The only team during that stretch that didn’t have at least one elite point guard was Duke’s 2010 team, but even they were led future NBA guards Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer.

I say all that to say this: I don’t trust Arizona’s point guard play, and if I can’t trust your point guard play, I can’t pick you to win a national title.

Trae Jefferson to transfer out of Texas Southern

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Texas Southern guard and NCAA tournament darling Trae Jefferson announced on Saturday that he’s leaving the school.

The 5-foot-7 Jefferson was sensational at times during his sophomore season with the Tigers as he put up 23.1 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, helping lead Texas Southern to a victory in the 2018 NCAA Tournament’s First Four in Dayton over North Carolina Central. One of the most entertaining talents in college basketball, Jefferson is leaving Texas Southern in-part because former head coach Mike Davis took the job at Detroit this offseason.

While Detroit is going to be the favorite to land Jefferson, because of his connection to Davis, it’ll be interesting to see what his transfer market looks like. Jefferson also made it clear on his Twitter page that he would like to be closer to his hometown of Milwaukee so that he can be closer to his ailing grandfather.

Given NCAA transfer rules, Jefferson would likely have to sit out next season before getting two more years of eligibility. But he could be applying for a waiver if he’s trying to be closer to home to deal with his family situation.

Nevada’s Josh Hall transfers to Missouri State

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Nevada lost a talented player from last season’s team as rising junior Josh Hall opted to transfer to Missouri State on Friday night.

The 6-foot-7 Hall is a former top-150 recruit who played a key part in the Wolf Pack’s postseason run as he elevated his play to average 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game during the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Hall also made the game-winning bucket to lift Nevada past No. 2 seed Cincinnati in the second round.

Although Hall picked up his play late in the year, he was coming off the bench most of his sophomore campaign as he averaged 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season.

Since Nevada took in some talented transfers, while players like Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins opted not to turn pro, it left head coach Eric Musselman with too many scholarship players for the 2018-19 season. It looks like some of those issues are now going away as Hall is leaving for Missouri State and graduate transfer guard Ehab Amin opted to decommit from the school.

Nevada is expected to be a preseason top-10 team next season with all of the talent they have returning to the roster, along with the addition of some new pieces like McDonald’s All-American big man Jordan Brown.

Hall will likely have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules as he still has two years of eligibility remaining.

Chris Webber accepts Jim Harbaugh’s invitation to be honorary Michigan football captain

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The frosty relationship between Chris Webber and the University of Michigan could be thawing — thanks to an invitation from football head coach Jim Harbaugh.

On Friday, Harbaugh called in to WTKA’s “The M Zone” as show host Jamie Morris had Webber on the show. Harbaugh offered Webber the opportunity to be an honorary captain for the Michigan football team next season, to which Webber replied that he would love the opportunity.

Webber, a former member of the “Fab Five” who helped the Wolverines to two consecutive NCAA tournament title-game appearances in 1992 and 1993, has not associated directly with the school, or with other members of the Fab Five, for many years.

The NCAA mandated that Webber and Michigan not associate with one another for 10 years after the Ed Martin booster scandal. Webber has always been reluctant to participate in anything Michigan or Fab Five related. When the famous Fab Five documentary was made a few years ago, Webber was the only member of the quintet not to participate in the making of the film. Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson all have a solid relationship with the University of Michigan at this point.

Webber later criticized the film during an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, as King and Rose fired back with responses to reignite the feud. In the past, Rose has also been vocal in his belief that Webber should apologize for what happened at Michigan, as the group is hoping to move forward.

Although Webber still isn’t mending fences with the other Fab Five members, or the basketball program, returning to Michigan in some kind of official capacity is a big deal considering his past with the school.

Harbaugh and Webber haven’t decided on a game for next season yet as that will be something to watch for over the next several months.

Akoy Agau returning to Louisville as graduate transfer

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Louisville received a boost to its frontcourt rotation on Friday as former big man Akoy Agau will return to the Cardinals as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau originally committed and enrolled at Louisville for a season and a half to begin his college hoops career before transferring to Georgetown. After leaving the Hoyas to play at SMU last season, Agau received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after battling injury for much of his career.

Agau gives Louisville an experienced forward who should earn some solid minutes next season. With the Mustangs during the 2017-18 season, Agau averaged 5.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 16.1 minutes per contest.

While this isn’t the biggest splash for the Cardinals, they have plenty of scholarships to use for next season as new head coach Chris Mack tries to find a stable rotation. Getting a graduate transfer like Agau, who should be familiar with the school and the conference at the very least, is a nice step for a one-year placeholder.

NCAA President Mark Emmert got a $500,000 raise in 2016

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NCAA president Mark Emmert, the man in charge of a non-profit association that doesn’t have enough money to pay its laborers, received a $500,000 raise for the 2016 calendar year, bringing his total income to more than $2.4 million, according to an NCAA tax return that was obtained by USA Today.

That number actually pales in comparison to the salaries that are received by the commissioners of the Power 5 conferences.

But there’s not enough money to pay the players.

Nope.

Everyone is broke.

Carry on with your day, and pray for the well-being of NCAA administrators like Mark Emmert, whose salary is in no way whatsoever inflated by amateurism, which allows the schools and the NCAA to bank all of the advertising revenue that college basketball and football brings in and bars the players themselves from accessing that money.