Breaking Down the Sweet 16: Key matchups in each game

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We’re down to the Sweet 16, when teams will have more time to study unfamiliar opponents and figure out what needs to be done in order to advance. With that in mind, here are the key individual match-ups for each of the eight Sweet 16 games that will be played later this week.

Click here to browse through all of our Sweet 16 previews

East Region

No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 2 Miami: Vander Blue vs. Durand Scott

Both Blue and Scott are expected by their respective teams to score, so their work on the defensive end will be just as important in this matchup on Thursday night. Despite the fact that Blue shot 50% from three in wins over Davidson and Butler, the fact remains that he’s just a 30.9% shooter from deep and relies on dribble penetration for the majority of his points. That’s where Scott, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, enters the equation. If he can keep Blue from getting to the rim too often Miami has the advantage.

No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 1 Indiana: Victor Oladipo vs. Michael Carter-Williams

Given Carter-Williams’ 6-6 height it is highly unlikely that either Jordan Hulls or Yogi Ferrell will be asked to defend him much on Thursday. Look for Oladipo, one of the best defenders in the country, to get the assignment because as Carter-Williams goes so go the Orange. In Syracuse’s blowout of Montana the sophomore accounted for nine assists and two turnovers, but followed that up with three assists and five turnovers in a 66-60 win over Cal. In his last seven games Carter-Williams is averaging 7.1 assists and 4.1 turnovers per game, and if Oladipo’s pressure can keep Carter-Williams’ assist tally down Indiana will be in good shape.

West Region

No. 13 La Salle vs. No. 9 Wichita State: Jerrell Wright vs. Carl Hall

A very good argument can be made that the battle between Wichita State’s Malcolm Armstead and La Salle’s Tyreek Duren is the matchup to watch, but the Explorers’ lack of front court depth makes Wright vs. Hall the choice. With Steve Zack (foot) out the 6-8 Wright, who averaged 14.5 points and 6.0 rebounds in wins over Kansas State and Ole Miss, has to stay on the floor. He did a good job of that in Kansas City, and against a front court led by the active Hall that will need to be the case in Los Angeles as well if the Explorers are to advance. As for the Shockers Hall will need to be more active on the glass, as he grabbed just one rebound in the win over Gonzaga after grabbing six against Pittsburgh.

No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 2 Ohio State: Mark Lyons vs. Aaron Craft 

Easy choice here. Arizona’s had issues with turnovers at times and the decision-making of Lyons has come into play on multiple occasions this season. Neither of those issues can sprout up if the Wildcats are to beat the Buckeyes, and with Craft being one of the best defenders in the country he’s more than capable of causing some chaos if Lyons (and the other perimeter contributors) don’t take care of the basketball. In wins over Belmont and Harvard the Xavier transfer played very well, averaging 25.0 points per game and shooting 62.5% from the field, but Ohio State is far superior to either of those teams.

Midwest Region

No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 1 Louisville: Dominic Artis vs. Russ Smith 

After averaging 11.5 turnovers per game in Pac-12 tournament wins over Washington and Utah, Oregon’s turned the ball over an average of 17 times in their last three games (and on the season they turn the ball over on 21.5% of their possessions). They’re not going to get away with that against Louisville, making it very important that Artis (and Johnathan Loyd) take care of the basketball against the Louisville pressure. Russ Smith was their most tenacious perimeter defender last weekend, averaging 5.0 steals (eight vs. North Carolina A&T) to go along with his 25.0 points per game.

No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Duke: Adreian Payne vs. Ryan Kelly 

Will it be the 6-10 Payne or athletic forward Branden Dawson who sees more time guarding Kelly on Friday? Look for Payne to be the answer and he was solid in wins over Valparaiso and Memphis, averaging 10.5 points (47.3% FG) and 7.0 rebounds per game. There’s no denying Kelly’s importance to the Duke attack but the Blue Devils picked up two victories in Philadelphia despite his struggles. Kelly scored just nine points total in wins over Albany and Creighton, shooting 3-of-13 in the two games. If a similar performance happens against Michigan State however, the Blue Devils may not be as fortunate.

South Region

No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 1 Kansas: Trey Burke vs. Elijah Johnson

In Burke Michigan has the best point guard, and arguably the best player, in the country and if Kansas is to advance they’ll need to slow down the sophomore. But that’s just part of the task for Johnson, who did not play particularly well in wins over Western Kentucky and North Carolina. The senior shot a combined 2-of-12 in those games, averaging 3.0 assists and 2.5 turnovers per game. And given Burke’s ability as well as his taking care of the basketball (those seven turnovers against VCU were an anomaly), the Jayhawks need need Johnson to be at his best if they’re to win.

No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 3 Florida: Brett Comer vs. Scottie Wilbekin

While the dunks thrown down by FGCU have been highly entertaining the play of Comer is a big reason why the Eagles are the first 15-seed to reach the Sweet 16. In wins over Georgetown and San Diego State the sophomore averaged 12.0 assists and 2.5 turnovers per game, and the Gators will in all likelihood look to Wilbekin to slow him down. Wilbekin, who averages just 1.5 steals per game, is more the defender who looks to keep the offensive player from getting to his preferred spots on the floor and that will be critical given how lethal Comer can be in ball-screen situations. Keep Comer in check and the Gators have to like their chances of getting back to the Elite 8.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

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