NCAA

NCAA Tournament 2017: Six teams you may want to re-think sending far in your bracket

NCAA Tournament 2017: Six teams you may want to re-think sending far in your bracket

BY TYLER BYRUM, @theTylerByrum

Opening night of the NCAA Tournament could have been a wake-up call for many.

And while there is still time, one should really reconsider looking at how far they have certain teams advancing in the big dance. 

For some, Wake Forest losing in the First Four to Kansas State came across as a shock.

As early returns on brackets are coming in, surprisingly No. 11 Wake Forest were many people's favorite not only to win their First Four matchup, but jump into the Round of 32 by beating No. 6 Cincinnati. 

Now whether that was mere hope of Demon Deacon fans, the allure of the ACC's strength this year, or simply that Wake Forest is a 'bigger' college basketball name than Kansas State or Cincinnati, Wake Forest was not going to make that run. 

There are other teams that fall into this situation as well, that are big names, or have injuries, that one should look at before brackets become final. Not insinuating that these teams will lose in the opening rounds, but simply that do not expect them to go far past round of 32. 

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— No. 3 Oregon (Midwest, vs. No. 14 Iona)

This should come as no surprise to anyone to those that have followed college basketball throughout the conference championships. Losing one of their key starters, Chris Boucher leaves a giant hole in their lineup. The 6'10" forward, was vital at the stretch four position and the Ducks offense, he was third on the team in points (11.8 per game), second in rebounds (6.1 per game), and blocks (2.5 per game).

Although they nearly pulled out a Pac-12 Championship against Arizona in the following game, it is never easy to pull out a run following an injury. Oregon should not be a First Round exit, but with either No. 6 Creighton or No. 11 Rhode Island waiting for them in the Second Round followed by potentially No. 2 Louisville, it would be tough to pull off even at full-strength.

— No. 6 Maryland (West, vs. No. 11 Xavier)

Sorry Terps fans, but losing four out of the last six games heading into the tournament does not bode well. Although height and size is a minor issue, Maryland just simply is not built for a long tournament run. Every year though they seem to be fan favorites to make the Elite Eight or Final Four no matter where they are seeded. 

Face it, the Big Ten had a rough year this season as a conference and was not as strong overall. The Terps might not be prepared for heavyweight teams night after night. It will not stop one of the best backcourts in the NCAA with Melo Trimble and Anthony Cowan Jr.  from trying though.

— No. 3 UCLA (South, vs. No. 14 Kent State)

UCLA is hyped up right now. Returning to the tournament after missing it last season and one of the most eccentric players in college basketball, Lonzo Ball, the Bruins are favorites to make a run. Partly this is because of their high powered offense that scored more than 90 points in 14 contests this year.

As everyone has learned in the past handful of seasons though, you have to have a good defense to win the tournament. Frankly, if the Bruins cannot score, then their defense will be unable to bail them out. Their potential Second Round opponent, No. 6 Cincinnati, does play defense and limits teams to only 60 points a night.

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— No. 7 Michigan (Midwest, vs. No. 10 Oklahoma State)

Conference champions are easy teams to throw in for a deep NCAA tournament run because they are getting hot at the right time. For the Wolverines though their Big Ten Championship did them no favors in seeding, pulling in at a No. 7 seed. 

First up they play one of the hottest teams in the country, No. 10 Oklahoma State then potentially one of the best teams in basketball for the past several years, No. 2 Louisville. From there it gets only worse and as mentioned earlier, Big Ten teams are not as primed for long tournament runs like ACC or Big East teams.

— No. 10 Wichita State (South, vs. No. 7 Dayton)

The Shockers are another team that suffers from their placement in the bracket, which is one of the most heinous seeding faults of this tournament. First up they play No. 7 Dayton, no slouch in terms of mid-majors, followed by potentially No. 2 Kentucky, which yes everyone wants to see. After that it is then the Sweet 16 and more tough teams are on the horizon.

If by some miracle the Shockers can survive a back-to-back with Dayton and Kentucky, two of the most relentless teams in the country. Wichita State will be gassed out. This is not the same 2014 Wichita State Shockers, who I remind you, lost to Kentucky when the Wildcats were a No. 8 seed in the Second Round.

— No. 3 Baylor (East, No. 14 New Mexico State)

Heading into conference play as a contender for the national championship, the Bears have trailed off toward the end of the year. Losers of six in their past 11 games, Baylor is doing the exact opposite of what you want come tournament time. Wins against Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville, and Xavier are from a team far from what we see now.

Expect the Johnathan Motley show, who comes into the tournament averaging 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds. If not and the ball can be distributed around then that completely changes the dynamic of this team. In the past several games Motley has taken nearly a third of the teams shots and it is a case of whether or not he is feeling it to determine if Baylor were to win.

RELATED: FIVE DOUBLE DIGITS SEEDS THAT COULD MAKE THE SWEET 16

 

2019 NBA Draft: Maryland's Bruno Fernando developed into a potential 1st-round pick by swatting away doubters -- like his head coach

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USA Today Sports

2019 NBA Draft: Maryland's Bruno Fernando developed into a potential 1st-round pick by swatting away doubters -- like his head coach

COLLEGE PARK – As the Terrapins prepped to leave for their 2019 NCAA Tournament opener, Mark Turgeon revealed his thoughts on Bruno Fernando’s play last season.

In terms of the center’s on-court performance, Maryland’s head coach wasn’t a fan.

“With Bruno, it’s been a lot of things,” Turgeon said Tuesday. “I think about last year at this time. He had trouble catching passes. He had trouble finishing. He was always in foul trouble. He was emotional in the wrong way.”

These assessments would seem harsh even if accurate considering the public airing. That is unless the follow-up sentences from Turgeon offer a narrative shift toward the affirmative based on the 6-foot-10 sophomore’s contributions this season for the 22-10 Terps.

Good news: There is.

Fernando’s energy, defense and offensive efficiency earned the Angola native Big Ten First-team and All-Defensive Team honors. He led the conference in field goal percentage (62.4), ranked second in rebounding (10.5) and third in double-doubles (20). The growth raised his stock among NBA talent evaluators – and his head coach.

“Now he can catch, now he can score against the double-team. He’s been an all-league first-team defensive player. He’ll stay out foul trouble. Been a great leader,” Turgeon said. “There’s been a lot of things he’s improved on and continued to improve on as the season goes on. I’ve said it a lot this year, but he’s one of the most improved players from one season to the next that I ever coached.”

Turgeon finished his statement on Fernando’s development with a line NBA scouts will consider ahead of June’s NBA Draft: “He’s still got a good upside to him too.”

That’s interesting considering the 2019 class lacks quality big man depth. ESPN’s latest draft rankings slot Fernando 31st overall. Maybe he doesn’t zoom into the lottery range where the Wizards’ first-round pick projects, but there’s a chance for a rise with good work during the NCAA Tournament.

“If he catches it with his back to the basket, you’re dead. He’s going to bury you,” NBC Sports college basketball insider Rob Dauster told NBC Sports Washington. “He’s really athletic and explosive. If in the NBA you’re asking him to go 20 minutes a night and be a like a DeAndre Jordan, a big body in front of the rim and go get some rebounds, score on you and catch some lobs, he can do that.”

His rim protection (1.9 blocks per game) and lane activity standout most not just to observers, but his teammates.

“On the defensive end knowing that he’s my behind me, gives me a lot of [comfort],” freshman guard Eric Ayala said of Fernando.

Yet it’s the other end where Fernando’s presence may make the most difference for a Maryland team that struggles with offensive consistency in the half-court sets. After reaching double-digit points in 27 of 31 games, Fernando had only four points on 1 of 4 shooting in Maryland’s 69-61 loss Thursday in its Big Ten Tournament opener against Nebraska.

“Teams are going to double (Bruno), and we have to make them pay like we have all year. We didn’t do that in our last game,” Turgeon said. “A lot of it was him, a lot of was the guys around him. You can argue that our team’s best offense is when teams double-team Bruno. When they start to double him, and we start to make him pay that we’re going to win these games.”

The bounce-back chance for Maryland, no. 6 seed in the East Regional, comes Thursday afternoon against 11th seeded Belmont.

“I think we've got to just stay positive,” Fernando told reporters Wednesday in Jacksonville, site of Thursday’s and Saturday’s game should Maryland advance. “I think our team is progressing as the game goes on, as the season goes on. … It’s an opportunity for us to really leave everything else behind and just focus on what we got in front of us.”

He means the madness of March. Soon that changes to the prepping of the NBA Draft. Insiders project Fernando will forgo his final two seasons of collegiate eligibility. Then we’ll learn how much the professionals value the center’s development and believe in his upside. At least we know Fernando made his Coach a believer this season.

NBA Draft profiles:

·        Zion Williamson, Duke

·        Jessie Govan, Georgetown

Click here to join NBC Sports Washington’s NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge and compete against Wizards analysts Drew Gooden and Jimmy Patsos for a chance at great prizes.

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2019 NBA Draft: Top prospects worth watching in the NCAA Tournament -- not named Zion Williamson

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USA Today Sports

2019 NBA Draft: Top prospects worth watching in the NCAA Tournament -- not named Zion Williamson

Hard-core college basketball fanatics likely know the score. Casual observers diving in deep this week with the start of the NCAA Tournament may soon learn.

Just like the current season of college basketball, the 2019 NBA Draft is Zion Williamson’s world and everybody else is just living in it.

Everyone is aware that Duke’s mega force freshman is the best player in college and poised for number one overall selection status come June’s draft. Yet the long-running narrative stated Williamson’s Duke teammates, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, were not far behind. Murray State point guard Ja Morant turned the trio into an interesting quartet during the season. Surely, other high-impact prospects loomed.

That’s now how many analysts size up the 2019 class.

“I think its Zion and then everybody else,” NBC Sports college basketball insider Rob Dauster told NBC Sports Washington.

This isn’t just about the player who puts the power in power forward even if Williamson is arguably the most exciting prospect since LeBron James.

“In (2018) we knew the top five picks were all going to end up being good players. Then you got 6-10 and you knew there would be some useful starters and maybe there’s a guy who could be an All-Star,” Dauster said. “This draft Zion Williamson is the one guy we know is going to be a really good player. At (picks) 2-8 is normally what you’d see in a 6-11 (range) in a typical year.”

Barrett and Reddish certainly had heady moments during their respective freshman seasons, but more questions remain than expected at this point. While Barrett remains the no. 2 overall prospect on most public draft boards, Reddish dropped to six in the latest ESPN big board.

The two players jumping Reddish in the ESPN rankings highlight the class’ lowered ceiling. Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland rose in the rankings this season despite missing much of the season with a knee injury. Virginia forward DeAndre Hunter’s versatility and skills suggest high-end NBA role player upside. This year that means the fifth overall prospect.

“Zion makes [the class] feel better than it is,” an NBA front office executive

Understand nobody suggests the draft won’t produce helpful players. Identifying those talents is simply much trickier this time.

That’s today. The NCAA Tournament won’t suddenly turn David’s into Goliath’s but projections could certainly shift or solidify depending on how players handle the madness of March. There are NBA draft lottery prospects and other interesting players in each region for NBA fans to consider.

“I think there are maybe 3-4 other guys who have a chance to be an All-Star in this draft after Zion,” Dauster said.

The Wizards currently have the eighth best odds for the no. 1 overall pick (6 %) and a 26.3% chance for a top-4 selection.

EAST REGIONAL

Player: Zion Williamson, PF, Duke, Fr.

Stats: 22.1 ppg, 8.9 rbg, 69.3 FG%

Height: 6-foot-6

ESPN ranking: 1

Rob Dauster, NBC Sports: “I think Zion is unbelievable and I don’t want to put a ceiling on what he could end up being. There are some things about his game that are not perfect, especially his shooting. He makes a lot of defensive plays, but he can also get beaten pretty easily. He’s a great playmaker defensively, but I don’t know if he’s a great defender yet. He can get there, but he’s not there yet. So he does have some flaws, but I think he’s a guy who can be an NBA All-Star…

“I just don’t know what Zion is going to be in the NBA, but I didn’t know what he was going to be on the college level and he’s turned into an absolute freak of nature monster. I don’t want to put a ceiling on him. He has to go number one. Anybody who would consider somebody else is foolish and should be fired. … I would not be surprised to see him a top 10 player in the league three years down the road.”

Player: R.J. Barrett, SG, Duke, Fr.

Stats: 22.9 ppg, 7.5 rbg, 30.4 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-8

ESPN ranking: 2

Dauster: “I don’t think he’s a great shooter. I don’t think he’s a great athlete. He came into college billed as this great all-around combo point guard, and he’s not really a great passer, a takeover guy. RJ is wired differently. People close to him will tell you that he’s got some Kawhi Leonard in him. Not in the sense that they are the same player, but that they are going to will themselves into being great.”

Player: Cam Reddish, SF, Duke, Fr.

Stats: 13.7 ppg, 3.7 rbg, 32.7 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-9

ESPN ranking: 6

Dauster: “I think Cam Reddish has a very high ceiling, but there’s going to be a learning curve for him when he gets to the NBA, let’s put it that way.”

Others: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, F, Virginia Tech (20); Tre Jones, PG, Duke (27); Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland (31)

SOUTH REGIONAL

Player: DeAndre Hunter, SF, Virginia, Soph.

Stats: 15.1 ppg, 3.7 rbg, 32.7 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-7

ESPN ranking: 5

Dauster: “The way the NBA is heading and where it is now, having a guy who is a versatile player who can guard from point guards to 4’s and maybe even small-ball centers, a guy that create in isolation, has 3-point range. He is somewhat understanding that he is something of a role player, which in that Virginia system you have to do, DeAndre Hunter to me just screams 12-year pro. He’s basically OG Anunoby to me. He’s a perfect as a role player in the NBA.”

Player: Ty Jerome, PG, Virginia, Sr.

Stats: 13.0 ppg, 5.4 apg, 39.7 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-5

ESPN ranking: 30

Dauster: “Ty Jerome might be the most underrated point guard in this (draft) class. I rate him the same way I rated Jalen Brunson and Fred VanVleet. He’s got some of the athletic limitations, but I think he’s a good enough defender to be able to make up for it. He’s a knockdown shooter. He can get to the rim a little bit, can create some space for his jumper. Smart player. What I like about him most is he’s super competitive. I think he’s tough as hell. I want him being my backup point guard in the NBA. He can play off the ball too.”

Player: Grant Williams, PF, Tennessee, Jr.

Stats: 19.0 ppg, 7.6 rbg, 3.1 apg

Height: 6-foot-7

ESPN ranking: 26

Dauster: “I like him. He’s become a better shooter, better passer. There’s a little bit of versatility in terms of what positions he can guard. Smart, heady player.”

Others: Eric Paschall, F, Villanova (33); Admiral Schofield, F, Tennessee (34)

MIDWEST REGIONAL

Player: P.J. Washington, PF, Kentucky, Soph.

Stats: 14.8 ppg, 7.5 rbg, 41.9 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-8

ESPN ranking: 13

Notes: Washington didn’t begin the season as the Wildcats’ top draft prospect, but he surged throughout the season. The grinder scored at least 20 points eight times during a 10-game stretch during the SEC regular season.

Malik Monk, Hornets guard and former Kentucky standout: “He’s a dog. He’s been there before. He knows what it takes (to win). He’s the leader on this team.”

Player: Coby White, G, North Carolina, Fr.

Stats: 9.4 ppg, 4.6 rbg, 29.3 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-6

ESPN ranking: 11

ESPN: “A shot-maker by trade… White is having a strong statistical season and has become a first-round favorite among some scouts, but he has his drawbacks. White was more of a catch-and-shoot guard at the high school level, and that's really where he has found success this season, not yet showing that he is the most savvy pick-and-roll player.”

Player: Nassir Little, SF, North Carolina, Fr.

Stats: 9.4 ppg, 4.6 rbg, 29.3 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-6

ESPN ranking: 16

Dauster: “I don’t really know if he understands how to play. I get the appeal of what he could end up being. He’s got the same kind of build as a DeAndre Hunter. He’s got the length. He’s 6-foot-7. He’s switchable. In theory, he became a better scorer over the year, but I’m not convinced he really understands basketball. I would probably lean toward not taking Nassir Little either, although I do believe he’ll probably get drafted very high based on people saying Roy Williams didn’t trust his freshman.”

Others: Keldon Johnson, SF, Kentucky, (17); Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky (19); Cameron Johnson, PF, North Carolina (21)

WEST REGIONAL

Player: Ja Morant, PG, Murray State, Soph.

Stats: 24.6 ppg, 10.0 apg, 32.7 3FG%

Height: 6-foot-3

ESPN ranking: 6

Dauster: “With the way that point guards are used in the NBA and his athleticism, his ability to read the floor, his basketball Ix, his passing ability, he’s a guy who has the ceiling of a John Wall kind of player. I don’t expect him to get past the top three.”

Player: Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech, Soph.

Stats: 18.5 ppg, 6.3 rbg, 3.7 apg

Height: 6-foot-5

ESPN ranking: 7

Dauster: “He is a really intriguing player. He’s listed at 6-foot-5, but may have grown. He’s got pretty good length. He’s not shooting it great right now, but you watch him shoot and coaches around the Big 12 believe he’s better than what the numbers show. He can really operate in ball screens, is a good passer. I think he’s an above average defender, but he’s not an elite athlete. There are some questions there.

Player: Shamorie Ponds, PG, St. John's, Jr.

Stats: 19.5 ppg, 5.2 apg, 2.6 spg

Height: 6-foot-1

ESPN ranking: 46

Villanova head coach Jay Wright: “Ponds can be a poor man’s version of Allen Iverson. So dynamic and creative. As much of a scorer as he can be he can get teammate shots.”

Others: Rui Hachimura, PF, Gonzaga (15); Brandon Clarke, SG, Gonzaga (22); Luguentz Dort, SG, Arizona State (29)

Click here to join NBC Sports Washington’s NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge and compete against Wizards analysts Drew Gooden and Jimmy Patsos for a chance at great prizes.

Grand Prize: if you have the highest-scoring bracket in the NBC Sports Washington Bracket Challenge, you will win a 3-night trip for four people to Universal Resort, including round trip airfare, lodging, admission to Universal Studios and tickets to Blue Man Group.

Secondary Prize: If your bracket scores higher than both Drew Gooden and Jimmy Patsos, you win a coupon code for a free Jersey Mike's sub!