Kenneth Harrison

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The ACC Domino

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Once upon a time, the ACC was a premier athletic conference.

Having North Carolina and Duke means the conference has a shot at a national championship almost every year in basketball.

In football, they have a few solid programs. Clemson won a national championship in 1981. Georgia Tech won a share of the national championship with Colorado in 1990. The Yellow Jackets also have claimed three more national championships (1917, 1928, 1952) and three unclaimed national titles (1916, 1951, 1956).

Florida State joined the ACC July 1, 1991 and started playing football in 1992. The Seminoles won or shared a conference championship in their first nine seasons. They also won national championships in 1993, 1999 and 2013.

FSU was a top program in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Their rival, Miami was also an elite team dating back to the 1980’s. The Hurricanes won national championships in 1983, 1987, 1989, 1991 and 2001. They were undefeated before losing the BCS Championship Game in overtime in 2002. UM was an independent before joining the Big East in 1991.

In 2004 they left the Big East for the ACC along with Virginia Tech and Boston College. At the time it looked like the ACC was going to elevate to an elite football conference.

The Hokies played Florida State in the 1999 national title game and they routinely produced NFL talent. Boston College is a solid program that would normally make it to bowl games.

Unfortunately, the only team that lived up to expectations early on was Va Tech. They were the ACC Champs in their first year (2004) and won again in 2007, 2008 and 2010. They defeated Boston College in the conference championship game in 07 and 08.

Miami has never won the ACC since joining. Florida State falling off in the 2000’s and Miami never living up to expectations are the foundation to why they are in jeopardy of shutting down in the near future.

Dabo Swinney took over as the head coach for Clemson during the 2008 season and turned them into a national power. He led the Tigers to their first ACC title in 2011, then again from 2015-20 and 2022. They also won national titles in 2016 and 2018.

Clemson was the only marquee team in the conference for most of this time.

In another round of expansion Syracuse and Pitt joined the ACC in 2013. Notre Dame also joined that year in all sports except football. Louisville joined in 2014. These moves show adding teams just for the sake of it but not actually improving anything. Maryland left the ACC for the Big Ten in 2014.

This season is another round of expansion with SMU, Cal and Stanford joining the conference in all sports starting in 2024. This is another case of adding schools but not gaining any real value. Perhaps it can be looked at as expanding the recruiting footprint to Dallas and northern California at best.

Looking at it honestly, these are teams that do not compete for conference titles and certainly not on a national level. The conference is like a dead man walking at this point.

By comparison, the SEC adds Texas and Oklahoma this season. Two historically great football programs.

As you have heard by now, Clemson and FSU are suing the ACC to leave the conference. It is also reported that UNC wants to leave. This is the last domino to fall in creating super conferences in college sports if any of the current members can escape their contract with the ACC.

 

With The First Pick The Atlanta Hawks Select….

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Atlanta Hawks shocked the basketball world by winning the NBA Draft Lottery.

This is the Hawks’ first time getting the No. 1 pick since 1975, when they ended up drafting David Thompson, a five-time All-Star and NBA Hall of Famer. The Draft Lottery was not established yet, so it is the first time they won it.

The Detroit Pistons, who had the league-worst 14-68 record, could not believe it as they had the best odds at 14% to get the No. 1 pick.

The Washington Wizards were 15-67 and they also had great odds to land the number one pick. They have the No. 2 pick.

In 2023-24, they finished the season 36-46, which resulted in the tenth-highest lottery odds. They owned a 3% chance at the No. 1 overall pick and a 13.9% chance at a selection in the top four.

This is very shocking for this franchise. They are never championship contenders but not bad enough to pick high enough to select a superstar. This has finally changed.

The only problem is this year’s draft does not have a consensus top prospect like Victor Wembanyama was last year.

Some of the top prospects for the Hawks to consider are center Alexandre Sarr (France), point guard/shooting guard Stephon Castle (UConn), point guard Nikola Topic (Serbia) and small forward/power forward Ron Holland (G League Ignite).

Holland was a McDonald’s All-American in 2023. He averaged 19.5 points per game in the G League as an 18 year old. He is very skilled and has good athleticism. Holland is 6’8, 206 pounds so he needs to put on more weight. He only shoots 24% from the arc, so that’s frightening.

Sarr is 7’1 and 216 pounds. He has a smaller frame but he is more of an old school center. The 19 year old played in Australia’s NBL last season. He played 27 games and averaged 9.4 ppg, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.

He is raw offensively and needs to develop his skillset. He is a solid defensive player but I don’t think that is enough for a number one draft pick.

Castle is a Georgia native and graduated from Newton High School in Covington, GA.

Obviously, he won a national championship with the Huskies last season. He averaged 11.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 2.9 apg. He’s 6’6 so he’s a bigger guard. He did not really get to display his skillset because he played in a true team system.

Topic won a gold medal with Serbia at the U18 European Championships. He played on two different teams in the AdmiralBet League (ABA) in 2023-24. He averaged 18.4 ppg in twelve games for Mega MIS. He has a well-rounded game on offense and he can score. He’s 6’6 and he turns 19 in August.

If Atlanta decides to draft another point guard they might have to trade their current star, Trae Young.

The 2024 NBA Draft will be the first ever two-day event, beginning at 7 p.m. CT on Wednesday, June 26 and concluding with the second round on Thursday, June 27.

It will be at the Barclays Center, which is the home of the Brooklyn Nets.

 

 

 

Southern Expectations

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Let’s take a look around the NFC South and see what we can expect from these teams after free agency and the NFL Draft.

Atlanta Falcons: On paper we expect them to be the favorite to win the division going into the season.

They did sign Kirk Cousins in the offseason. Quarterback play was the team’s Achilles heel last season. They were 7-10 and finding a solid QB should improve their record by at least two games.

The offense has weapons so we expected them to draft a pass rusher. Instead, they drafted Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. with the # 8 pick. At best he becomes a starter in two years. Unfortunately, he will not be on the field immediately to help a team that is built to win now.

They did use their next four draft picks on defensive players but they still did not address their glaring need to improve the pass rush. I think Atlanta can win nine or 10 games. If they make it to the playoffs I expect them to lose in the first round.

Carolina Panthers: This team seems to be in permanent rebuild mode.

They had first year head coach Frank Reich last season and he was fired in November after starting 1-10. They finished the season with the worst record in the NFL, 2-15. They traded their 2024 first round pick in the 2023 draft to move up and select QB Bryce Young # 1.

The team was terrible so I can’t put all of the blame on Young. The # 2 pick from 2023, CJ Stroud had a great season. They will always be compared to each other so we do need to see Young get better in his second season.

In free agency they signed: Robert Hunt, Damien Lewis, A’Shawn Robinson, Josey Jewell and Dane Jackson. Hunt and Lewis are guards that will improve the interior offensive line. Robinson is a defensive tackle that has appeared in 110 games, with 74 starts.

In the first round of the draft Carolina selected wide receiver Xavier Legette (South Carolina) # 32. They really need weapons for Young so this was a good pick.

In the second round they selected running back Jonathan Brooks (Texas). He’s a great player but he tore his ACL in November so he will not be available at the beginning of the season.

I think the Panthers have improved slightly and will win five or six games.

New Orleans Saints: In free agency they signed: defensive end Chase Young, wide receiver Stanley Morgan, linebacker Willie Gay, wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, and quarterback Nathan Peterman.

In the first round they selected offensive tackle Taliese Fuaga (Oregon State) # 14. Their second round pick was cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry (Alabama).

New Orleans was 9-8 last season. I expect them to win eight or nine games in 2024.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They were 9-8 and won the division in 2023. They beat Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs. They exceeded expectations last year.

In free agency they signed safety Jordan Whitehead, cornerback Bryce Hall, guard Ben Bredeson and guard Sua Opeta.

They drafted center Graham Barton (Duke) # 26. In the second round they selected edge rusher Chris Braswell (Alabama).

I expect them to compete for the division title and win nine or ten games.

Grounded Draft?

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2024 NFL Draft is over now. Let’s take a look at the Atlanta Falcons.

Draft Picks:

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. (#8)

Clemson DT Ruke Orhorhoro (#35)

Washington OLB Bralen Trice (#74)

Oregon DE Brandon Dorlus (#109)

Notre Dame LB JD Bertrand (#143)

Alabama RB Jase McClellan (#186)

Illinois WR Casey Washington (#187)

Georgia DL Zion Logue (#197)

You may have heard by now that Atlanta drafted Michael Penix Jr. with the eighth pick.

He was outstanding last season at Washington. He led the Huskies to an undefeated season and a National Championship game appearance. He was the NCAA passing yards leader with 4,903 yards, 36 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and he completed 65.4% of his passes.

He won the Maxwell Award (2023), First-team All-American (2023) and AP Comeback Player of the Year (2022).

The biggest problem is that the Falcons signed Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million guaranteed. It does not make any sense to draft another quarterback that high with the amount of money they invested in Cousins.

They appear to want to win now so they should have drafted a complementary piece that can help the team now. The biggest need was a pass rusher and Dallas Turner (Alabama) was available.

Penix has an injury history that some teams were nervous about. He tore his ACL in back-to-back seasons when he was at Indiana. I think he’s a great player but he will sit behind Cousins for at least two seasons.

“I love winning, and I’m a team guy,” Penix said during his introductory press conference. “That’s what I’m going to be in the locker room.”

“Kirk is an amazing guy. I actually watched the ‘Quarterback’ series with him. Seeing that he’s a man of faith, just like me, and he’s all about family – I really enjoyed that, to get a feel of what kind of guy he is. I’m super blessed to be in the room with him and to be able to work with him and learn from him and support him as he continues on his career.”

Orhorhoro was a reach in the second round. In his last two years at Clemson he had 16 tackles for loss and 9 sacks.

He’s an interior defensive lineman so he doesn’t add much to the pass rush. He was Third-team All-ACC last season. They should have picked a corner back or defensive end here.

Trice might help in the second level. In 2023 he had 49 total tackles, 11.5 TFL and 7 sacks.

Dorlus played at Oregon all 5 years. He started as a defensive tackle and finally made the switch to defensive end last season. He only had 6.5 TFL and 5 sacks in 2023.

Bertrand is interesting because he had a breakout season in 2021 and statically got worse after that. In 2021 he had 102 total tackles. He had 82 tackles in 2022 and 76 in 2023. He played in every game each season so I’m not sure what the issue is.

McClellan and Washington add depth at the skill positions.

Logue will help stop the run but he’s not a pass rusher. He has 1.5 sacks in his college career, which is five seasons.

Atlanta also needed a corner back and they did not draft one. They will need to address that in the undrafted free agent pool. They still have the same question marks on defense after the draft.

Draft grade: C-

Spring Noles

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Florida State had their annual Garnet and Gold Spring Showcase over the weekend. They had 18,061 fans in attendance.

Doak Campbell Stadium is undergoing renovations so one-half of the stadium did not have bleachers.

They had four guest coaches from the 1999 National Championship Team as guest coaches. Those players were wide receiver Peter Warrick, defensive lineman and current State Senator Corey Simon, running back Travis Minor and linebacker Tommy Polley.

“We’ll roll through some modified timing and the main part of the scoring will be the grand finale,” FSU head coach Mike Norvell said. “We’re excited to get some of the past players from the 1999 team that was really special.”

The FSU quarterbacks debuted a new turquoise jersey to represent Seminole Heritage.

Last season the Seminoles finished the season 13 – 0. They were snubbed from the College Football Playoff and had to ‘settle’ for the Orange Bowl. They had several injuries and players opt-out of playing the game. We all know they were demolished by Georgia, 63 – 3.

Georgia was the opposite and had their key players buy-in and play. I think this says a lot about the culture of the two programs.

Norvell is entering his fifth season in Tallahassee. His record has improved every year. In 2024, he is hoping his team can have the same success as last year but have postseason success.

FSU had the #4 transfer portal recruiting class, so a new group of talented players is on campus. The class is headlined by former five-star QB DJ Uiagalelei. Uiagalelei played at Clemson and Oregon State. He has not lived up to his recruiting ranking thus far and he is trying to finally reach that potential at Florida State.

Last season at Oregon State, he passed for 2,638 yards, 21 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and he completed 57% of his passes. He’s listed as 6’4 and 252 pounds.

They have five incoming Alabama players: linebacker Shawn Murphy, running back Roydell Williams, corner Earl Little II, offensive lineman Terrence Ferguson and receiver Malik Benson.

The other notable transfers are edge rusher Marvin Jones Jr. (Georgia), wide receiver Jalen Brown (LSU), defensive lineman Sione Lolohea (Oregon State) and defensive lineman Tomiwa Durojaiye (West Virginia).

The showcase does not follow a traditional spring game format. The defense started strong, with Marvin Jones Jr. getting a tackle for loss, followed by a half-sack from Jones, joined by defensive lineman Byron Turner Jr.

DJ was an unofficial 13 of 29 passing for 184 yards (including situational work before the scrimmage).

“Wasn’t obviously the cleanest day,” Uiagalelei said.

He got off to a shaky start but he improved. His first pass in the red zone was behind his receiver. He missed on five of his next seven passes. He also had a few passes dropped by his receivers.

He did complete a long pass to Malik Benson. The next play was a 35-yard touchdown run by Roydell Williams. Benson would later leave the contest on a cart with what appeared to be a lower leg injury.

Tight end Jackson West caught a few passes from Uiagalelei that moved the chains.

The defense played very well. Players like Cai Bates and Azareye’h Thomas broke up passes. The defensive front also created pressure.

Redshirt freshman Brock Glenn and freshman Luke Kromenhoek out with minor injuries, freshman Trever Jackson took snaps behind Uiagalelei. He showed poise with a few nice passes, including a 10-yard pass to freshman tight end Landen Thomas.

I’m sure the offense will look like a more cohesive unit in the Fall.

 

New Swashbuckler?

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NFL Draft is almost here. Let’s examine who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are most likely to draft in the first two rounds.

In 2023, they exceeded expectations by going 9 – 8 and winning the NFC South. They beat Philly in the Wild Card playoff game, 32-9. They lost in the Divisional Round to Detroit, 31-23.

They had three Pro Bowlers; quarterback Baker Mayfield, wide receiver Mike Evans and tackle Tristan Wirfs.

Tampa’s biggest team needs are pass rusher, inside offensive lineman, corner back, safety and linebacker.

Several different publications have suggested that the Bucs should consider trading up in the draft. General manager Jason Licht is not known for doing that.

“I would say right now, I like the thought of the way I really have a lot of trust in my staff – both the coaching staff and the scouting staff – and how we’ve been operating,” Licht said. “Those picks seem pretty important to me right now.”

They have the 26th pick in the first round. They could select Oregon center Jackson Powers-Johnson if he is still available. He is the best center in the draft. They also need to replace Ryan Jensen. He injured his knee in August 2023 and missed the entire season. He announced his retirement in February 2024.

Powers-Johnson is 6’3 and 320 pounds so he has the required measurable for the position. He won the Rimington Trophy (2023), which is awarded to the best center in college football. He was also a Unanimous All-American and First-team All-Pac-12 in 2023.

He played in the Senior Bowl and he was dominant in practice against top competition. He played in two practices but he stood out playing guard and center. In 1-on-1s, he displayed his athleticism, violent hands and physicality.

Dallas and Green Bay are picking right before Tampa Bay so it is very possible that one of them will pick Powers-Johnson.

Penn State defensive end Chop Robinson might be the player picked in that case. He started his career at Maryland as a linebacker before transferring to Penn State before his sophomore season. Robinson is listed as 6’3 and 240 pounds.

Last season he played in 10 games and had 7.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. In 2022, he had 10 TFL and 5.5 sacks. He was named First-team All-Big Ten in 2023.

The Buccaneers also have the 57th pick in the second round. A player that may still be on the board and a good pick would be defensive end Bralen Trice (Washington).

Trice is 6’4 and 260 pounds. He had 11.5 TFL and 7 sacks in 2023. In 2022 he had 12 TFL and 9 sacks. He was First-team All-Pac-12 in 2022 and 2023.

If he is not available guard Cooper Beebe (Kansas State) would also be a good fit. The 6’4, 335 lb. guard had a decorated career for the Wildcats. He was a Unanimous All-American (2023), First-team All-American (2022), Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year (2022, 2023) and First-team All-Big 12 (2021-23).

 

The First Options

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2024 NFL Draft is almost here. We are going to look at the Atlanta Falcons and see their biggest needs and who they are going to select.

The Falcons are coming off another 7-10 season and they have the eighth pick in the first round.

Quarterback play was poor so they signed Kirk Cousins to address that.

Now the biggest team needs are edge/pass rusher, corner back, defensive tackle and safety.

They ranked 22nd in sacks last season with 42 sacks. This seems to be a theme every year. Defensive ends Calais Campbell and Bud Dupree each had 6.5 sacks, which tied for the team lead.

The first order of business has to be someone that can get to the quarterback. I think they can go in a few different directions with this.

Linebacker Dallas Turner (Alabama) could be the player they go with. Last season he had 14.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. He is 6’4 and 245 pounds so he fits the mold of what a prototypical edge rusher looks like. He was coached by Nick Saban and he was a permanent team captain so he has leadership ability.

Turner was named a consensus All-American, SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year and First-team All-SEC in 2023.

Florida State edge/defensive lineman Jared Verse should also be in consideration for this pick. He’s listed as 6’4 and 260 so he also looks the part as a pass rusher. Last season he had 12.5 TFL and 9 sacks. In 2022, he had 17 TFL and 9 sacks. He was very consistent in his two seasons in Tallahassee after transferring from Albany.

He is a two time first-team All-American (2022, 2023) and two time first-team All-ACC (2022, 2023).

I think either one of these players would be a great pick because it addresses a position of need. They both have the potential to consistently get double-digit sacks and greatly improve Atlanta’s pass rush.

A player with the talent to be picked at No. 8 by Atlanta is UCLA defensive end/linebacker Laiatu Latu. In 2023 he had 21.5 TFL, 13 sacks and 2 interceptions. In 2022 he had 12.5 TFL and 10.5 sacks. He’s also 6’5 and 265 pounds.

His problem stems from medical concerns. He was healthy the past two seasons so that should indicate that it is not a major concern. He started his career at Washington and suffered a neck injury in fall practice entering his sophomore year. It was announced that he medically retired at the start of spring practices in 2021.

Latu won the Lombardi Award (2023), Ted Hendricks Award (2023), Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year (2023), Morris Trophy (2023), Unanimous All-American (2023), Polynesian Football Player of the Year (2023) and two time first-team All-Pac-12 (2022, 2023).

The Falcons have the 43rd pick in the second round. They should select a corner back here and I think the best remaining player will be Kool-Aid McKinstry (Alabama). He’s 5’11, 180 pounds and he’s a physical player.

In his three seasons in Tuscaloosa, he has 93 tackles. He has 23 passes defended and 2 interceptions in his career as well. McKinstry was a First-team All-American (2023) and two time First-team All-SEC (2022, 2023).

Final Four

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The college basketball season will be over by next week. The 2024 Final Four is this weekend in Glendale, Arizona and we are going to take a look at those matchups.

The first game is No. 11 NC State vs No. 1 Purdue. This is a matchup of a Cinderella team versus a dominant team that’s expected to be here.

The Wolfpack (26-14) are the lowest seed remaining and this is their first Final Four since 1983. They would not have advanced this far if they did not win the ACC Tournament.

They beat Duke 76-64 in the Elite Eight to get here.

The 6-foot-9, 275-pound DJ Burns scored a season-high 29 points on 13-of-19 shooting and DJ Horne had 20 points.

“These guys are so special,” head coach Kevin Keatts said. “Nine elimination games or you go home.”

“I’ll say like I’ve been saying the whole tournament. When I stop having fun with basketball, I’ll stop playing,” said Burns, who was voted the South Region’s most outstanding player. “There’s just been a total switch in our commitment. Nobody’s being late to things. Nobody’s being a problem on the court. Everybody’s come together.”

They head to Glendale with the most losses ever for a Final Four team. Now they will face 7-foot-4 All-American Zach Edey and the Boilermakers (33-4). He averages 25 points per game and 12.2 rebounds per game.

NC State is a great story but I believe their run will end in this game.

The game is No. 4 Alabama (25-11) against No. 1 UConn (35-3). This is the Crimson Tide’s first Final Four appearance in program history. This is very impressive because they beat top seed North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen, 89-87.

They beat 6 seed Clemson 89-82 to get here. Mark Sears made seven 3-pointers in the game and the team made a total of 16 threes.

“Man, just feeling a lot of emotion,” said Sears, the only Alabama native on the team. “Being from the state of Alabama and to do it with this group of guys, it’s amazing.”

He finished with 23 points and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament’s West Region.

Freshman Jarin Stevenson airballed a couple of 3s in the first half and Alabama missed 12 of its first 13 from downtown. He ended up making a career-high five 3s and had 19 points off the bench.

“We don’t win this game without him,” Sears said. “Jarin hit 3 after 3 after 3 and kept us in this ballgame. He was huge.”

“I live for those moments. This is what March Madness is about,” Sears said. “When you’re a kid, you want to be in these moments. It feels like my dream came true today. My dream definitely came true today.”

The Huskies have been steamrolling through teams in the tournament and they have not lost a game since February 20.  The closest margin of victory was 17 points against No. 9 Northwestern.

UConn is looking to repeat as champions and the media has already crowned them. They are very good but any team can be defeated. With that said, I do expect the Huskies to win and advance to the championship game.

 

 

 

 

How Sweet It Is

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

We are moving to the second week of the NCAA Tournament and some questions have been answered.

The SEC and Big 12 had eight teams make it to the tournament. This has been considered a down year for the ACC, which has been the best basketball conference for several years. They only had five teams make it in.

Four of them have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The league’s only loss was Virginia’s defeat by Colorado State in the First Four.

“So, I guess the narrative that the ACC was down should be revisited huh???” Danny Kanell asked.

NC State (24-14) is the only double-digit seed still remaining. The Wolfpack won the ACC Tournament to make it here. They finished 10th in the conference after the regular season.

They are the No. 11 seed in the South region. They beat No. 6 Texas Tech 80-67 in the first round. They faced off with No. 14 Oakland in the next round. Oakland got there by beating No. 3 Kentucky. The game went to overtime but they beat the Golden Grizzlies 79-73.

This is their first time advancing to the Sweet Sixteen since 2015.

Forward DJ Burns Jr. led the team with 24 points. He’s 6’9 and 275 pound big man.

“I think that’s what March is about,” Burns said. “Some teams got here by winning their conference just like us and that doesn’t mean they’re a bad team.”

The next game is against No. 2 Marquette.

North Carolina (29-7) is the top seed in the West and it’s no surprise that they got here. They beat 16 seed Wagner 90-62 in the first round. In the second round they trounced No. 9 Michigan State 85-69.

The Spartans started off with a 12-point lead.

“We came into the huddle and said, ‘Look, we can’t talk about any basketball stuff until we join the fight,'” Hubert Davis said. “Once that started, the level of play in terms of the energy and effort, the attention to detail rose. Then that’s when things started to change.”

Senior guard RJ Davis led the Tar Heels with 20 points. Fifth-year center Armando Bacot had 18 points and 7 rebounds.

The next game is against 4 seed Alabama.

Clemson (23-11) started the season 11-1. They struggled in conference play, finishing 11-9 in the ACC.

The Tigers beat No. 11 New Mexico in Round 1, 77-56. They next game was an upset of 3 seed Baylor, 72-64. The Bears average 80 points per game so Clemson did a good job of defending them and slowing down the pace.

Senior guard Chase Hunter had 20 points and 6 assists.

Clemson is playing No. 2 Arizona next.

Duke (26-8) is a blue blood program that is expected to be here. By their standards this has not been a great season prior to advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.

In the opening round No. 4 Duke beat No. 13 Vermont, 64-47. In the second round they dominated No. 12 James Madison, 93-55.

Freshman guard Jared McCain scored 30 points and made eight 3-pointers.

“I feel like every game, I’m always ready to see if I’m going to go off,” McCain said.

They play Houston next, the top seed in the South region.

I believe one of these teams will advance to the Final Four.

March Madness 24

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament starts this week.

Let’s take a look at the teams around the Southeast that have a chance to win a national championship.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels (27-7) are the No. 1 seed in the West region. They have an easy path to the Final Four as the top seed and the first round of games is in Charlotte.

They will play the winner of Wagner/Howard, which is a game they should win by at least 30. The next round they will play No. 8 Mississippi State or No. 9 Michigan State.

UNC is led by upperclassmen, which is a big advantage in March. They advanced to the national title game in 2022 so they know how to play in big games.

Senior guard RJ Davis leads the team with 21.4 points per game. Grad student center/forward Armando Bacot averages 14.1 ppg and 10.2 rebounds per game. Junior Harrison Ingram averages 12.1 ppg and grad student Cormac Ryan averages 11.2 ppg.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide (21-11) are the No. 4 seed in the West and they play No. 13 College of Charleston (27-7) in the first round. Bama was 13-5 in conference play but they lost their first game of the SEC Tournament to Florida, 102-88.

Their leading scorer is senior guard Mark Sears, with 21.1 ppg. I think the best case scenario for them is a Sweet Sixteen appearance.

Tennessee: The Vols (24-8) are the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region. They will play No. 15 Saint Peter’s (19-13). This should be an easy win. The second round they will face No. 7 Texas or No. 10 Virginia/Colorado.

UT was very good this year and they were 14-4 in the SEC. They were the best team in the conference and the top seed in the SEC Tournament. They lost their first game in the conference tournament to No. 9 Miss. State, 73-56.

Senior guard Dalton Knecht is their leading scorer with 21.1 ppg.

I’m not sure what to make of their early exit from the SEC Tournament. I think they have the talent to make a deep run but they have to focus and play great basketball.

Auburn: The Tigers (27-7) are the No. 4 seed in the East. They start the tournament against No. 13 Yale (22-9). I expect Auburn to beat the Ivy League champs.

They won the SEC Tournament Championship against Florida, 86-67. The next round they would face No. 5 San Diego State or No. 12 UAB. I think they could potentially get to the Sweet Sixteen.

Junior forward Johni Broome is the leading scorer with 16.2 ppg and 8.4 rpg.

Duke: This is considered a down year for the Blue Devils (24-8). They are the No. 4 seed in the South.

We are accustomed to seeing them as a top seed with a realistic chance to win a national championship. They are going to play No. 13 Vermont (28-6).

Sophomore center Kyle Filipowski leads them with 17.1 ppg and 8.2 rpg.

If they win they will face either No. 5 Wisconsin or No. 12 James Madison in the second round. I think they may advance to the Elite Eight.

            Kentucky: The Wildcats (23-9) are in the same category as Duke. We expect more from them with the talent they have on the roster. They are the No. 3 seed in the South and they play No. 14 Oakland (23-11).

If they win, they will face No. 6 Texas Tech or No. 11 NC State in the next round.

 

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