2018 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: Kansas, Duke, Michigan State headline loaded Midwest Region


The Midwest Region immediately became the most intriguing in the tournament when three of college basketball’s powerhouses — Kansas, Duke and Michigan State — were all placed there.

And what made it even more interesting is that the four, five and six seeds in that part of the bracket are just kind of whatever.

Auburn, Clemson and TCU were teams that I was always planning on picking to lose in the first round of the tournament before the brackets came out, and they all ended up in the same spot.

So we’ll see how that plays out.

But I will say this: I’m not sure that there will be a more expensive ticket for the second weekend of the tournament that for what it will cost you to get in the door in Omaha.

With Kansas and Michigan State drivable from campus and Duke fans spread throughout the entire country, it will be loud and crowded in the CenturyLink Center.


  1. How much attention is going to be paid to off-the-court issues?: This is the bracket of distraction. Michigan State was dealing with the fallout of the Outside The Lines report on sexual assaults within the athletic department before Yahoo’s report that Miles Bridges accepted impermissible benefits. Auburn has had two players miss the entire season and could lose head coach Bruce Pearl for their involvement in the FBI investigation. And if you talk to people in basketball circles, the most shocking thing about the FBI’s involvement in the sport is that Kansas has more or less been kept out of it. Throw in the presence of Trae Young, and you have to wonder what percentage of the conversation about this region is going to be about basketball?
  2. Duke solved their issues, can Michigan State?: Duke went to a zone to combat the problems that they had on the defensive end of the floor, and it changed them from a tantalizing team without any potential to quite possibly the best team in the country. The Spartans are just as tantalizing, and Tom Izzo has had two weeks to try and solve the problems that are inherent in his team.
  3. Is Udoka Azubuike healthy?: Kansas lacks depth in their front court already, and now the guy that’s taken over the roll of low-post hoss is dealing with a sprained MCL? Yikes. The good news is that Kansas can probably survive without him until the Elite 8. Rest up, big fella.

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 2 Duke

The way this bracket broke for Kansas is nice. They’ll have some trouble with Seton Hall if that matchup comes to fruition because Seton Hall is tough and physical, especially in the paint, but I can’t see either Auburn or Clemson really challenging the Jayhawks in the Sweet 16. Michigan State-Duke in the Sweet 16 would be a terrific rematch of a game played earlier this season in the Champions Classic, but that matchup would not be in Michigan State’s favor this time around. They really don’t pass it well, especially their big men, and that’s the thing that you need to do to be able to break down that Blue Devil zone.


I’m sorry, but there just isn’t one in this region. I’m not picking a short-handed Auburn team with no size to make a run. I’m not picking a Clemson team that lacks high-end talent to make a run. I’m not picking TCU to beat Michigan State, then Duke, then Kansas. Do you think Trae Young can win four games in March? I don’t.

(Steve Dykes/Getty Images)


  • No. 12 New Mexico State over No. 5 Clemson: This is last year’s version of Middle Tennessee State vs. Minnesota. The Aggies have some high-major talent on the roster while Clemson lost Donte Grantham and just has not been impressive to me this season.
  • No. 13 Charleston over No. 4 Auburn: The way to beat Auburn is to overpower them in the paint, and Charleston does not have the bigs that can do that. They do, however, have a sensational back court in Grant Riller and Joe Chealey. I think Auburn can be beaten, and I think Charleston has the horses to out-Auburn Auburn.


I already have to pick one of Arizona State or Syracuse to win in the play-in game. I cannot imagine a scenario where I would pick one of those two teams to win two games in a row.


  • MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke: Have you heard of him?
  • DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas: There is an argument to be made that he had a better season this season and was more important for this Kansas team than Frank Mason III was last year.
  • MILES BRIDGES, Michigan State: He was the preseason National Player of the Year, and while he has not quite lived up to the hype, the hype wasn’t necessarily warranted. He’s a very good year in his role.


  • ANGEL DELGADO, Seton Hall: If Seton Hall can get past N.C. State in the first round, I think they’ll have a chance against a depleted Kansas front line because Delgado is an absolute monster in the paint. If Azubuike is out he might grab 30 rebounds.
  • ZACH LOFTON, New Mexico State: Lofton has been to five schools since his freshman season as San Jacinto JC in 2012. He’s now in the NCAA tournament and averaging 19 points for the Aggies.


While NMSU is the most likely upset, I do think that Auburn-Charleston is going to be the most aesthetically-pleasing first round game in the Midwest.


We really need Duke to run the gauntlet here: No. 10 Oklahoma in the second round, No. 3 Michigan State in the Sweet 16 and No. 1 Kansas in the Elite 8. Make it happen, basketball gods.


Duke. For my money, the winner of a Final Four matchup between Villanova and Duke is going to win the national title.

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).”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.