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Final Four 2019: Road To Minneapolis

News and updates from Minneapolis and across college basketball as the game’s biggest stage comes to U.S. Bank Stadium, April 6 and 8, 2019.

Duke, Kentucky and Michigan St could get injured stars back for conference tourneys

Injuries can definitely affect seeding and how far teams can make a run in the NCAA tournament.

Best example of that for a potential Final Four and national champion was when Kenyon Martin suffered a broken leg with No. 1-ranked Cincinnati in the Conference USA tournament, which eventually dropped the Bearcats from the likely top overall seed to a No. 2 slot in the NCAAs. 

Martin ended up being the No. 1 pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, so you can see why his absence led to Cincinnati’s early departure falling to Tulsa in the second round.

Fortunately for Minneapolis Final Four contenders like Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky, they could be getting key players back from injuries soon. Zion Williamson, Reid Travis and Nick Ward have all been out for the last five games.

Williamson, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and a freshman phenom, is expected to return in the ACC tournament opener after missing five games with a knee sprain he suffered in a Feb. 20 loss to North Carolina.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters after the second UNC loss over the weekend that Williamson should play Thursday.

“Hopefully, we'll get a couple good days of practice where he can be 5-on-5, and then see how that goes,” Coach K said. “The way he looks right now, I think it's just a matter of getting in shape, getting in game shape, and going forward.”

A healthy Williamson will definitely lessen the blow of losing center Marques Bolden to an MCL sprain against the Tar Heels. Bolden was ruled out by Krzyzewski to play in the ACC tournament.

Travis and Ward are two more frontcourt standouts that should be recovered to play for their respective teams before the NCAA tournament.

Travis, a 6-8 senior forward from Minneapolis, has missed five games with a sprained right knee, but has been working out and hasn’t been ruled out for the SEC tournament.

“It’s not an ACL. He sprained his knee,” Calipari told Kentucky media over the weekend. “If he plays, I’ll be doing backflips. If not, we’ll figure it out.”

The Spartans were able to win a share of the Big Ten title by sweeping Michigan on Saturday. Ward, a 6-8 junior center, cheered his teammates on from the bench in street clothes.

Ward has been out for five straight games after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand.

Still, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told local media recently Ward will be ready to play Friday when his team opens the Big Ten tournament in Chicago.

"I do expect Nick to play," Izzo said Monday. "How much? I don't know. I'm 99 percent sure he's going to play unless there's a setback."

Once Williamson, Travis and Ward are officially back from injury and return to form on the court, Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State are most definitely teams to watch again for Minneapolis.

NCAA tourney projected seeding sees movement after top-10 upsets

The top three seed lines in the NCAA tournament might not be as clear cut for the selection committee to figure out, especially if upsets over top-10 teams keep coming like they did last week.

Five of the top 10 teams in the Associated Press poll suffered losses at the end of February and to open March, including three against unranked opponents.

Duke and Kentucky remained projected No. 1 seeds despite falling to Virginia Tech and Tennessee, respectively. Part of that is because the Blue Devils lost without freshman sensation Zion Williamson, who could return soon from a mild knee sprain. The Wildcats also have now split with the Volunteers this season. Both Coach K and Coach Cal probably can’t afford too many more losses, though, to be considered top seeds. Gonzaga and Virginia are currently the highest No. 1 seeds in the mock field of 68.

The biggest shocker over the weekend was probably Indiana sweeping No. 6 Michigan State after a 63-62 win in Bloomington. The Hoosiers have 14 losses and are 6-12 in the Big Ten, but they’ll make things interesting on Selection Sunday with six Quadrant 1 victories. Meanwhile, the Spartans dropped from a No. 2 to No. 3 seed in at least one prominent bracket projection. They can either help or hurt themselves in seeding and for a possible Big Ten title in the regular season finale vs. Michigan at home Saturday.

Houston had the nation’s best record at 27-1 and the longest Division I home winning streak at 33 straight games. That was snapped when the No. 8 Cougars lost 69-64 to Central Florida. Kelvin Sampson’s squad is still a No. 3 NCAA tourney seed, so it was more a boost to UCF’s bubble resume than anything else.

Marquette was the only top 10 team to lose twice last week, falling to Villanova and Creighton. The Golden Eagles lost their chance to win the Big East title outright. They also dropped from a potential No. 2 seed to as low as No. 4 right now.

New teams to join the AP top 10 this week were Texas Tech and LSU. We’ll see how much shakeup happens near the top on the final week of the regular season. You can bet there will be more chaos, because March is finally here!