2018 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: Is Chris Mack going to be how the West Region is won?

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For me, the West Region is the most interesting of them all, and for some reason, it feels like it plays out this way every year.

It starts with the simple fact that Chris Mack, the head coach of the No. 1 seed Xavier Musketeers, has never made a Final Four. He’s also never been a No. 1 seed before, so if he is in the mood to end his personal bugaboos, this may be the last time we mention his name in the “Best Coach Without A Final Four” category.

But if Xavier is going to make it to the final weekend of the college basketball season, they are likely going to have to go through at least one of a trio of Hall of Fame-caliber coaches to do it.

Mark Few and Gonzaga is the No. 4 seed in the West.

John Beilein and Michigan is the No. 3 seed.

Roy Williams and North Carolina is the No. 2 seed.

There are a lot of wins — and a lot of wins in March — on the resumes of those gentlemen.

We shall see how it all works out. Until then, enjoy what should be the most open region of them all.

THREE STORYLINES

  1. Is this the last we’ll see of Chris Mack at Xavier?: Ooooh boy, are Xavier fans not going to like me for this. But at this point, I think it may be the biggest question of the region. It’s not a secret that Louisville has an opening, nor is it a secret that Louisville and Mack may have a mutual interest in each other. The fit makes sense. Will Mack be willing to leave his alma mater to take over a program that could be facing another lengthy NCAA investigation?
  2. Mark Few and Roy Williams are back in the mix again: Few and Williams squared off for the national title last April, and I think everyone more or less assumed that both of those teams would take a step back this year with the unexpected talent drain and the loss of key seniors. But they’re back, Roy Williams as the No. 2 seed and Few as the No. 4. There’s a reason Williams is in the Hall of Fame, and there’s a reason that Few will likely end up joining him there one day.
  3. Which Michael Porter Jr. is going to show up?: Porter is back. He played in the SEC tournament opener. He looked like a kid that missed four months following back surgery. I’m not sure what a week-long layoff without any games is going to do for someone that needs game-action to shake off the rust, but here we are. The good news? There’s absolutely nothing scary about Florida State as a No. 9 seed. Porter should get two more games.

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … No. 1 Xavier vs. No. 2 North Carolina

This is the hardest Elite 8 matchup to pick because the Sweet 16 out West should be tremendous. Xavier-Gonzaga has the chance to be a shootout with Trevon Bluiett going up against a trio of versatile, athletic future NBA forwards, while North Carolina-Michigan is a matchup between an offensive juggernaut winning games with their defense and a team known for their overpowering big men playing small(ish) ball.

THE FINAL FOUR SLEEPER IS … No. 6 Houston

It’s hard to pick a sleeper in this region because I don’t think that any of the top four seeds can count as sleepers. I also don’t think that Ohio State gets out of the first round (more on that in a second) or that Texas A&M has the guard play to do anything of relevance. So I’ll go with Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars, who have one of college basketball’s most underrated lead guards in Rob Gray — who has one of college basketball’s most underrated hairdos — and that came one errant pass away from potentially ending Championship Week with an AAC tournament title. They’re coming in hot, and you know how much I love picking teams that are doing just that.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

HERE ARE YOUR UPSETS

  • No. 12 South Dakota State over No. 5 Ohio State: This is my favorite upset pick of the entire bracket. The Jackrabbits have the four things that I think you need to have to win a game as a smaller school: 1. A stud in Mike Daum; 2. A team that shoots the leather off the ball; 3. A back court that doesn’t commit turnovers; 4. A front line that clears the defensive glass. Throw in the fact that Ohio State’s bigs are immobile, and this has upset written all over it.
  • No. 10 Providence over No. 7 Texas A&M: Ed Cooley is a masterful head coach who has a sensational point guard in Kyron Cartwright going up against a team that has had their back court miss more games than they’ve played.
  • No. 11 San Diego State over No. 6 Houston: The only team in the country that may actually be hotter than Houston right now is San Diego State. They beat MWC regular season champ Nevada by 30 in the conference tournament and are playing their best basketball in years.

BUT DON’T PICK THIS UPSET

I think it’s very difficult to picture a scenario where Michigan is not in the Sweet 16. Their point guard, Zavier Simpson, can absolutely snuff out any kind of success that an opposing ball-handler will have, and both Montana and Houston are teams whose best players is the lead guard. That’s a tough matchup for them.

THE STUDS

  • TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier: There is not a player in the tournament that I feel more comfortable saying will put the team on his back for three, four, five or six games than Bluiett.
  • JOEL BERRY II, North Carolina: Luke Maye is UNC’s all-american, but Berry is their rock, their heartbeat, their soul. He’s all the clichés.
  • MOE WAGNER, Michigan: Wagner is going to be a March darling if the Wolverines make a run because of his story: He’s German, he plays like Dirk and he also has a big goofy smile on his face that makes him look like the world’s largest nine-year old.

THE STARS OF MARCH

  • MIKE DAUM, South Dakota State: The big fella averaged 24 points and 10 boards while shooting better than 41 percent from three, and he plays on a team that could very well end up winning a game or two in the Big Dance.
  • KYRON CARTWRIGHT, Providence: The Friars aren’t exactly a mid-major, but they are a No. 10 seed that has a chance to win a couple of games.

ONE GAME TO WATCH

For me, the best first round matchup is between Ohio State and South Dakota State, but I also think that Houston-San Diego State has a chance to be really good as well.

ONE GAME THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN

I just want the Sweet 16 out West to be the top four seeds. All the matchups in that situation would be perfect.

AND THE WINNER IS …

North Carolina. I’ll bet on Joel Berry II, Roy Williams and the Tar Heels, but you can pick any of the top four seeds and I’d probably be fine with it.

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.

BYU erases 23-point deficit, beats Dayton in overtime 79-75

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NASSAU, Bahamas – Gideon George scored 21 points and combined with Jaxson Robinson and Rudi Williams for BYU’s 15 overtime points as the Cougars came back from a 23-point deficit to beat Dayton 79-75 in overtime Friday.

BYU’s victory came in the seventh-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

George’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left in regulation gave BYU (4-3) its first lead after Dayton scored the first 10 points of the game and led 32-9 with six minutes left in the first half.

Mike Sharavjamts’ basket gave the lead back to Dayton but George’s free throw with a minute left sent the game into overtime.

Dayton got the first points in overtime but Robinson’s 3-pointer gave BYU the lead for good halfway through the extra period.

Robinson had 14 points, Dallin Hall 12 and Williams 11 to join George in double figures for BYU.

DaRon Holmes II scored 21 points and Sharavjamts 15 for Dayton (3-4). The Flyers lost starting guards Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith to lower-body injuries in the second half, Smith with with just seconds left in regulation.

Portland beats Villanova 83-71 in Phil Knight Invitational

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Moses Wood scored 16 points and Portland beat Villanova 83-71 on Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational.

Villanova (2-4) has lost three straight games, including an overtime loss to Iowa State on Thursday to drop below .500 for the first time since March 7, 2012.

Vasilije Vucinic’s layup with 4:16 remaining in the first half gave Portland the lead for good. The Pilots had an eight-point lead at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half.

Wood added six rebounds and three blocks for the Pilots (5-3). Tyler Robertson scored 15 points while shooting 6 for 12 (1 for 5 from 3-point range) and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Kristian Sjolund recorded 14 points and shot 5 for 7 (2 for 3 from 3-point range).

Caleb Daniels finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Villanova also got 14 points from Jordan Longino. Brandon Slater had 11 points.

Caleb Grill, Iowa State topples No. 1 North Carolina 70-65

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Grill has followed T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota State to UNLV and now back to Iowa State hoping the pair could share a moment like they did Friday.

Taking down the No. 1 team in the country was another bookmark moment in a long journey for the pair.

“I’m actually really enjoying sitting next to him from this moment right now just thinking about how long we’ve known each other and how cool this really was,” Otzelberger said.

Grill hit seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points and Iowa State rallied in the final five minutes to stun No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.

Iowa State (5-0) picked up just its third win over a team ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25. The Cyclones are 3-22 against No. 1 teams, with the other wins coming against Kansas in 1957 and Oklahoma in 2016.

The Cyclones can now add North Carolina (5-1) to the list.

“I was just staying the course of the game. I never really thought about it and the game just kind of came to me,” Grill said.

Grill was averaging 7.3 points and had made just 4 of 24 3-point attempts for the season entering Friday. But he couldn’t be stopped from beyond the arc, hitting a pair of big 3s to spark Iowa State’s late rally. His deep fadeaway jumper just inside the 3-point line with 1:40 left gave Iowa State a 63-61 lead and the Cyclones did just enough at the free throw line in the final minute to close out the upset victory.

Grill’s previous career high was 27 points while playing for UNLV in the 2020-21 season against Alabama. He also hit seven 3-pointers in that game.

Grill originally signed with South Dakota State when Otzelberger was the coach there. He was released from his commitment when Otzelberger took the head job at UNLV and started his career at Iowa State before deciding to join his coach in Las Vegas.

When Otzelberger returned to Ames, Grill followed again.

“Just having him be the first person that really had belief in me, it’s just really special what he’s done for me and my family and everything we’ve done,” Grill said.

Jaren Holmes added 22 points and the Cyclones withstood off shooting games from Aljaz Kunc and Gabe Kalscheur, who combined for three points and missed all eight of their shot attempts. Both were averaging double figures scoring for Iowa State.

RJ Davis led North Carolina with 15 points, Armando Bacot added 14 and Caleb Love scored 12. But the Tar Heels will lament a series of mistakes in the closing minutes that allowed Iowa State to rally.

“We had wide open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted, we just didn’t make those shots,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.

North Carolina led 57-49 after Leaky Black’s layup with 5:43 left, but missed four of its final six shots and had four turnovers during that span.

“We turned the ball over a couple of times and you just can’t do that in late-game situations,” Davis said. “You have to be sound and discipline and you have to do that on both ends of the floor and we just didn’t do it.”

NO. 1 LOSSES

North Carolina lost as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since Nov. 21, 2015 when it lost 71-67 at Northern Iowa. The Tar Heels also lost as No. 1 to UNLV in 2011 at a Thanksgiving tournament.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: Pete Nance wasn’t able to contribute in the same way he did in Thursday’s opening round. Nance, who tied his career high with 28 points against Portland, didn’t score for the first 27 minutes and finished with seven points.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were playing a No. 1 team from outside their conference for the first time since 1999 when they faced Cincinnati in the championship game of the Big Island Invitational.

UP NEXT

Iowa State will face either No. 18 Alabama or No. 20 UConn in the championship game while the Tar Heels will face the loser for third place.

No. 8 Duke locks down late, holds off Xavier 71-64

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PORTLAND, Ore. – After a shaky offensive performance in the opening round of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, Duke coach Jon Scheyer wanted to see Jeremy Roach get back to playing more instinctively, especially at the offensive end of the floor.

Roach responded with a season-high 21 points, Mark Mitchell added 16 and No. 8 Duke withstood Xavier’s second-half comeback for a 71-64 win on Friday.

The Blue Devils (6-1) advanced to the championship game thanks to the play of their standout guard and another strong defensive effort. Roach came one point shy of matching his career high, and the Blue Devils rebounded after an unexpectedly tight victory over Oregon State in the opening round of the event.

Roach was 3 of 14 shooting against Oregon State as the Blue Devils scored a season-low 54 points. He made 9 of 15 shots and had five assists against Xavier.

“There’s a lot that falls on your shoulders so you can end up overthinking it a little bit,” Scheyer said. “The thing that I love for him today is he just was him. And when he’s that way, he is to me the best guard in the country.”

The Musketeers (4-2) were held to two points over the final five minutes and missed their last four shot attempts. Souley Boum scored 23 points and Adam Kunkel had 13. Kunkel didn’t play the last 11 minutes after taking a hard fall committing a foul.

Xavier leading scorer Jack Nudge was 1 of 13 shooting and finished with five points.

“Jack played a great effort. He really did. He was ready for the game. He just had one of those nights where the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said.

At the same time, Miller was disappointed in what he called the “fracturing” he saw from his team.

“There were spurts and segments of the game where I thought we reflected our style, how we’re trying to play, whether it be defense and offense. But there were way too many segments of the game, if not most of the game, where we were at times in our own way,” Miller said.

Mitchell scored seven points in the opening minutes of the second half, including a pair of layups, and he hit a 3-pointer from the wing that gave Duke a 49-36 lead, its largest of the game.

That’s when Xavier’s comeback started. The Musketeers pulled within three points on several occasions, but Duke answered each time. Desmond Claude’s driving layup pulled Xavier within 63-60 with 5:51 left, but Ryan Young scored for Duke and Xavier didn’t make another basket.

Roach’s jumper with 2:40 left pushed Duke’s lead to 69-62.

“We like to play inside out but I mean, when guys are hitting shots it just opens up for everybody else,” Roach said. “Just try to continue to be consistent hitting shots and I think we’ll be fine.”

Kyle Filipowski had 12 points and was not Duke’s leading scorer for the first time in five games.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils’ dominance on the backboards finally came to an end. Duke had outrebounded each of its first six opponents by double figures, the longest such stretch in school history. But Xavier’s interior size limited Duke to a 33-32 advantage on the glass. The Blue Devils had 12 second-chance points.

Xavier: The Musketeers played an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the first time since beating Virginia Tech in last year’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Xavier dropped to 0-2 against ranked opponents this season, having lost to Indiana last week. The Musketeers will play another ranked foe in Sunday’s third-place game.

UP NEXT

Duke will face the Gonzaga-Purdue winner in the championship game on Sunday, while Xavier will play the loser.