Bracket Breakdown: North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas give Midwest its blue bloods

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If you want bluebloods, I know where to find them.

The Midwest.

Three of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball sit in the Midwest this year. North Carolina is the No. 1 seed. Kentucky is the No. 2 seed. Kansas is the No. 4 seed. If all four of them can make it to Kansas City, the Sprint Center will be the toughest ticket in sports during the second weekend of the event.

And that’s not all.

Because Houston, who stormed through the American this season, is also in the Midwest, as is SEC tournament champion Auburn and Big 12 tournament champion Iowa State.

Without a doubt, this is the toughest region in the bracket.

Let’s dive into the Midwest breakdown.

THREE STORYLINES

  1. NORTH CAROLINA GOT A SWEET 16 ROAD GAME?: The Tar Heels are the No. 1 seed in the region, and the reward for that is that they get sent to the Midwest to play their regional in Kansas City. If seeds hold, they will be forced to face-off with Kansas in Kansas City in the Sweet 16. If they win that, then they’ll likely end up with: A) Kentucky, which is half the distance from Kansas City; B) Houston, which is actually located in the Midwest; or C) Iowa State, who has a fanbase that considers the Sprint Center Hilton Coliseum South. That’s tough.
  2. MIGHT THIS BE THE END OF BILL SELF AT KANSAS?: There have been seemingly unending rumors that are linking Bill Self to a move out of the college ranks thanks to this FBI investigation into college basketball and the association that his Kansas program has with it. If Self was ever going to jump to the NBA, this seems like it would be a good time to make the move. Get out of town before the NCAA shows up to vacate something.
  3. DID KENTUCKY PEAK TOO SOON?: The Wildcats spend the month of January steamrolling anyone that got in their way. They’ve struggled a bit since then, and while the only losses that they have taken during that span came against LSU and Tennessee, Kentucky was not at their best in a couple of other wins. They are going to need a dominant P.J. Washington to show up, and Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson making shots would probably be a good thing as well.

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

It’s weird: in the bracket that has the most blueblood programs in it, I feel the least confident about two of those bluebloods battling it out for the right to get to the Final Four. That’s because the rest of the region is really strong. I think that Auburn is a dangerous team that can force turnovers and get on three-point shooting runs with the best of them. Iowa State is a matchup nightmare with a ceiling as high as anyone’s on the right day. Even North Carolina and Kentucky have proven to have a certain level of inconsistency in recent years, and there may be a reason for that: Both UNC and UK start a freshman point guard.

THE FINAL FOUR SLEEPER IS … No. 5 Auburn or No. 6 Iowa State

I really do think both of these teams are dangerous enough to get to the Final Four, but I, for one, will not have the guts to take either one of them.

Because they both have the ability to lose in the first round of the tournament.

Auburn can put up points in a hurry. They love to press, they love to force turnovers, they lose to run and gun, and they love to put up threes. We saw against Tennessee in the SEC title game just how dangerous they can be when they are firing on all cylinders.

Iowa State, however, is a better bet to make a run. They have four play-making wins on their roster, flanking a couple of talented and productive big men. They can really shoot it, they are a nightmare to try to defend, and — after seemingly falling off of a cliff late in the regular season — a player’s only meeting before the Big 12 tournament turned this ship around.

(Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

HERE ARE YOUR UPSETS

No. 13 NORTHEASTERN vs. No. 4 KANSAS: Kansas starts four freshmen. One is their third string center. One was supposed to be a redshirt this season. Northeastern? They’re built like a mid-major winner: They shoot the cover off the ball, they don’t turn the rock over, they don’t give up offensive boards, and they control tempo. Upset city.

No. 6 IOWA STATE to the Elite 8: Every time that I get on the Iowa State bandwagon, the Cyclones turnaround and completely implode. That’s not going to happen this time because I am decidedly no on the Iowa State bandwagon, I’m just picking them to go to the Elite 8. There’s a very big difference.

BUT DON’T PICK THIS UPSET

No. 12 NEW MEXICO STATE vs. No. 5 AUBURN: I want to love this NMSU team, but I can’t. I don’t think they have the horses to play with this Auburn team when Bruce Pearl gets them fired up and ready to play.

THE STUDS

  • CAM JOHNSON, North Carolina: Every one loves Coby White and Nassir Little, but it’s Johnson that has been their best player this season.
  • DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas: Lawson has been the one consistently bright spot for the Jayhawks this season, posting double-doubles seemingly every single night.
  • MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall: Powell is as explosive of a scorer as you’ll find in this year’s NCAA tournament. He can go for 25 in any given half.
  • P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky: When Washington plays at his best, when he’s a 20-and-10 guy, the Wildcats are at their best.

THE STARS OF MARCH

  • FLETCHER MAGEE, Wofford: He is going to set the career record for threes made in a career if he makes three in the tournament. He shoots a ton and has the ultimate green light.
  • D’MARCUS SIMONDS, Georgia State: He called his shot in the Sun Belt conference tournament, guaranteeing a win. If he calls his shot to beat No. 3 seed Houston, we need to be on it.
  • SAM MERRILL, Utah State: Neemias Queta is the guy with NBA potential that has folks buzzing, but Merrill is Utah State’s best player.

ONE GAME TO WATCH: No. 7 Wofford vs. No. 10 Seton Hall

Fletcher Magee is must-see TV. Myles Powell is must-see TV. When they are trading three-point haymakers in a knockout game, the only excuse for not watching is a coma.

ONE GAME THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn

These two teams want to run and gun as much as anyone in the sport right now, and the best part of seeing them face off would be that both rosters are capable of making all of those threes they fired. This game could get played in the 90s. That would be fun.

AND THE WINNER IS …

North Carolina.

I know it’s pretty corny to pick yet another No. 1 seed from the ACC to the Final Four, but I think that this Carolina team can get the job done.

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.

No. 17 Illinois rallies late, beats No. 2 Texas 85-78 in OT

Illinois v Maryland
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NEW YORK – Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining, and No. 17 Illinois rallied to hand second-ranked Texas its first loss of the season, 85-78 on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.

Jayden Epps added 11 points, including the final five points of regulation – a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two tying free throws with 8 seconds remaining. Epps then blocked Marcus Carr’s jumper in the lane just before the buzzer to force overtime in an entertaining showdown at Madison Square Garden.

Matthew Mayer, who faced Texas several times at Baylor, tied a career high with 21 points as he made his first seven shots and finished 8 of 10.

Shannon, who missed eight of nine shots in regulation, took over in the extra period to help Illinois (7-2) beat a ranked foe for the second time this season. He opened overtime with a jumper after Marcus Carr was called for traveling and then hit an open 3 from the right wing over Brock Cunningham for a 73-70 lead.

Shannon then converted a reverse layup and finished off a three-point play to make it 77-70 with 2:16 left. Carr hit two free throws to get Texas within one with 1:28 remaining. Jayden Epps hit a layup, RJ Melendez sank two free throws to put Illinois ahead by five, and Shannon made two free throws with 27.7 seconds left.

Timmy Allen scored a season-high 21 points for Texas (6-1), which failed to open 7-0 for the first time since 2014-15. Tyrese Hunter added 10 points but Carr was held to nine points on 3-of-14 shooting as Texas had 12 shots blocked and shot 42%.

Texas took its only double-digit lead when Dillon Mitchell hit a layup with 8:28 left. Illinois cut the lead to 58-56 on a 3 by Melendez nearly four minutes later. After Cunningham hit an open 3 with 4:15 remaining, Si’Jabari Rice made a 3 for a 64-58 lead.

Allen found Cunningham for an open jumper that counted when officials called goaltending on Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins. That gave Texas a 65-61 lead with with 1:51 remaining.

Carr’s rainbow jumper in the lane made it 68-63 with a minute left and Illinois had a 3-pointer by Melendez waved off because it called timeout with 45.3 seconds left. After the timeout, Epps made an open corner 3 with 33 seconds remaining.

Hunter missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up Epps’ tying free throws.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini continued to struggle with turnovers, committing 17. But only two of them came in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation or overtime. Illinois’ 15th turnover was an offensive foul by Mayer, which sent him to the bench with four fouls with 10:42 remaining.

Texas: The Longhorns had little offense beyond Allen and Hunter. While the duo was a combined 13 of 29, the rest of the team missed 24 of 40 shots.

UP NEXT

Illinois hosts Penn State in its second Big Ten game on Saturday. The Illini lost their conference opener to No. 13 Maryland.

Texas hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Jimmy Blacklock Classic on Saturday.

Clark, Gardner lift No. 3 Virginia past James Madison, 55-50

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Kihei Clark scored 18 points, Jayden Gardner had 14 points and eight rebounds, and No. 3 Virginia beat feisty in-state rival James Madison 55-50 on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (8-0), who lost starting guard Reece Beekman to a right leg injury early in the first half, prevented the Dukes (7-3) from winning a second straight December game in Charlottesville. James Madison beat Virginia 52-49 last Dec. 7.

Clark had seven assists while playing nearly 39 minutes with Beekman sidelined.

“Kihei gave everything he had and I had to, you know, ride him,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Sure, he missed some free throws. And I know he made some mistakes, but you could just see him, you know, how tough-minded he was.”

Dukes coach Mark Byington said he told Clark – who’s playing his fifth season for Virginia – after last year’s game that he loved watching him play.

“He’s seen everything and nothing you’re going to do is going to surprise him,” Byington said. “There’s nothing Kihei Clark hasn’t seen out there, and he’s poised. I mean, you can’t rattle him. … So I told him this time I was like, `Look, I better never see you in college basketball again.’ But he’s one of my favorite players to watch just because he’s tough, talented, and he’s a winner.”

Takal Molson scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half for James Madison, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 42-all with 7:47 to play. Gardner responded for Virginia by scoring five straight points in a 9-1 run.

The Cavaliers kept the Dukes in the game by missing eight of 13 free throws over the last six minutes.

Molson made an acrobatic layup while being fouled with 1:51 left, but he missed the free throw. He scored again with 1:01 left, pulling the Dukes within 52-50, but freshman Ryan Dunn answered with a strong move on the baseline for Virginia with 35 seconds to play.

James Madison threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.

BIG PICTURE

James Madison: The Dukes came into the game leading the nation in scoring (93.3 points per game) and having scored as many as 95 points five times. They were shooting 52.7% for the year, but made just four of their first 19 shots and finished 15 of 55 (26.9%). Vado Morse scored 11 points, the only other JMU player in double figures.

“Yeah, we knew how good they were and they showed it in spots tonight,” Gardner said. “But I think you saw a lot of resiliency tonight on the defensive end getting crucial stops.”

Virginia: The Cavaliers played the final 36 minutes without Beekman and gave extensive minutes to freshman Isaac McKneely. Virginia will hope Beekman, its third-leading scorer and a primary ballhandler and defender, recovers in time for its showdown with No. 1 Houston on Dec. 17.

UP NEXT

The Dukes return home to play Gallaudet on Saturday night.

Virginia has a 10-day break before hosting the top-ranked Cougars.

No. 25 Villanova women beat American University 83-42

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VILLANOVA, Pa. – Maddy Siegrist had 24 points and seven rebounds, Lucy Olsen added 14 points and No. 25 Villanova beat American University 83-42 on Tuesday night.

Siegrist scored 15 points in the opening 13 minutes as Villanova led 34-15. The Wildcats extended it to 46-23 by halftime before starting the second half on a 9-0 run for a 32-point lead.

Villanova added an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter for its largest lead of the game at 79-36. The Wildcats held American to 15-of-50 shooting (30%) and scored 21 points off 19 turnovers.

Christina Dalce scored 13 points for Villanova (8-2), which plays Saint Joseph’s on Saturday before taking a week off for final exams. Siegrist, who was coming off a 29-point performance on Sunday, made 10 of 17 shots as Villanova shot 56%.

Emily Johns scored 12 points for American (0-8), which hosts Marist (3-5) on Saturday.

No. 6 UConn star Azzi Fudd out 3-6 weeks with knee injury

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STORRS, Conn. — Sixth-ranked UConn’s top scorer, Azzi Fudd, is expected to be out three to six weeks because of a right knee injury she suffered during her team’s weekend loss to No. 5 Notre Dame, a university athletic spokesperson said.

The sophomore guard was injured in the first half of the game when a teammate collided into her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way.

“I think she’ll be all right,” coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.

Fudd entered the game averaging 24.0 points but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes in the team’s first loss of the season.

The athletic spokesperson didn’t specify the type of knee injury Fudd sustained.

She underwent evaluation and an MRI confirmed the injury, the spokesperson said.

The Huskies host Princeton next.