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Four dark horse Final Four teams

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PREVIEWSDummy’s guide to filling out a bracket  |  7 must-watch games  |  Sleeper teams

As evidenced by the brackets filled out by the CBT writers, there are just a handful of teams with a reasonable expectation to make the Final Four in this year’s tournament. Arizona, Florida, Louisville, and Michigan State (with one selection of Wichita State) headline the group, but despite this unintentionally uniformed thinking, could there be an outlier, or two, that end up playing until April’s first weekend? We examine the four teams that could possibly keep dancing.

No. 7 Oregon — West

At one point, the Ducks were among the nation’s hottest teams, but a midseason swoon — Oregon won just two games over the course of the month (losing eight contests) — subsequently sidelined Dana Altman’s squad. The team finished league play strongly, posting wins over Arizona and UCLA, and have been propelled by their offensive efficiency rating — 1.16 points per possession — which ranks twelfth nationally. Oregon was fortunately seeded amongst teams whose defense is, at best, optional.

Other than Nebraska, no other team in San Antonio or Milwaukee holds opponents under one point per possession, catnip to Joseph Young (52 percent of his twos, 41.6 percent of his threes) and the other offensively proficient Ducks. Oregon already has an advantage even before the tournament tips — UO played its first-round opponent, BYU, during its non-conference slate, and the Cougars will be playing without arguably the best player (Kyle Collinsworth). If Dana Altman’s squad emerges in the Elite Eight, a potential match-up is Arizona looms, a team UO already split with during Pac-12 play (their lone loss to the Wildcats was by two points).

No. 4 UCLA — South

UCLA has likely the least chance of this quartet to make the Final Four, but that is why the Bruins are a dark horse! It is unclear whether Steve Alford’s team will even escape their first, or second, round games, but if they do manage to leap-frog their initial region, one filled with swipe-happy, ball-pressuring defenses, a match-up versus Florida will determine UCLA’s NCAA livelihood. The Bruins’ unique offense, one that starts with an iso problem in Kyle Anderson, continue with the Wear twins (both dilemmas for opposing bigs), and ends with one of the Pac-12’s most improved players, Norman Powell, is a defensive nightmare — i.e. in the Pac-12 final, against Arizona, the Bruins scored north of 1.40 PPP — and even though the Gators’ defense is stingy, the team hasn’t faced an offense as explosive as the one showcased in Westwood.

MORE8 teams that can win it all  |  8 that won’t  |  TV times  |  Bracket contest

No. 11 Tennessee — Midwest
The toughest region in this year’s bracket, the consensus picks to reach Arlington are Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan, or Duke, BUT there is another team that could completely bust the bracket and win four games — Tennessee. Cuonzo Martin’s team has twelve losses, but eleven of those defeats were within single digits (two of those losses came on buzzer-beaters to Texas A&M). The Vols have an offensive and defensive efficiency rate that both rank within Ken Pomeroy’s top 25, and UT is able to withstand their low shooting percentages by grabbing a high rate of their misses (nearly 40 percent, fifth nationally). Mercer has become a trendy upset pick to beat Duke — this is one of the weakest Blue Devil defenses in the KenPom era (since 2002-03) — and should the Vols get past (likely) Michigan, the squad is familiar with one of their potential Elite Eight match-ups — UT faced the Shockers during their non-conference slate and only lost by nine.

No. 7 New Mexico — South

We keep telling ourselves that the Lobos won’t desert us like last year. That first-round, premature exit thanks to Harvard can’t possibly happen again. The Mountain West team is too experienced, and much more efficient from within the arc (51.8 percent, as compared to 46.1 percent in ’13), to suffer another early exit, and the selection committee did Craig Neal’s squad a solid by setting up a potential match-up with Kansas, a team with a frontcourt that may miss Joel Embiid, or Ohio State, a squad that is backcourt-heavy. Should they advance to play either of those teams, the odds have to favor the Lobos, but first they need to beat to Stanford, which is certainly no easy task.

Federico Mussini goes coast-to-coast, beats buzzer with and-1

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 03:  Chris Mullin the head coach of the St. John's Red Storm gives instructions to Federico Mussini #4 during the game against the  Xavier Musketeersat Cintas Center on February 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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St. John’s capped the first half with a 6-0 run.

Sophomore guard Federico Mussini went coast-to-coast to beat the buzzer, and draw the foul, as the Johnnies went into the break up 42-33 on city rival Fordham.

The 6-foot-4 guard had gone cold during a five-game stretch, but since Thanksgiving he’s scored in double figures in four consecutive games, including on Thursday night.

Washington State coach begins game on opponent’s bench

Ernie Kent
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In September, during the Coaches vs. Cancer Gala in Spokane, Washington, there was a live auction, which included the chance to be Idaho’s honorary coach for a regular season during the 2016-17 season.

Washington State head coach Ernie Kent’s $2,000 bid more than tripled the next highest bid, according to the Spokesman Review.

On Wednesday night, during Washington State’s game against the Vandals, Kent sat next to his counterpart on the Idaho bench.

Kent returned to his side of the court following the game’s first possession.

Behind 16 points from Ike Iiroegbu, the Cougars defeated the Vandals, 61-48.

 

Given Washington’s struggles, just how hot is Lorenzo Romar’s seat?

Lorenzo Romar
AP Photo/Stephen Brashear
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We tried to warn you what was coming on Wednesday night.

We tried to tell you just how bad things were for Washington right now, that, according to a coach that had faced the Huskies this season, “they were so ******* bad defensively” that “they looked like they hadn’t been coached.”

That’s not a good look for anyone, let alone a head coach that has missed the NCAA tournament the last five seasons despite having five first round picks come through his program during that time.

Which is why you shouldn’t have been surprised that the Huskies were gutted by No. 8 Gonzaga, losing 98-71 in a game that was never competitive at any point. And, given that Markelle Fultz, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, is on the Washington roster, it’s the nightmare scenario.

So.

We need to start talking about the elephant in the room, because there’s a lot to unpack here:

Just how hot is Lorenzo Romar’s seat?

RELATED: What has gone wrong with Washington this season?

The simple answer? Scalding. Romar is one of just three Power 5 head coaches that have missed the NCAA tournament for five straight seasons without having to find new employment. You don’t get six tournament-less years and survive, not at this level.

But there’s more to the conversation that simply relaying the number of first round picks he’s failed to get to the Big Dance.

Four of those five first round picks played in two different seasons, meaning that in the other three seasons, Washington was led by C.J. Wilcox, the No. 28 pick in 2014, and Nigel Williams-Goss. In 2011-12, Washington had Terrence Ross, then a sophomore, and freshman Tony Wroten on the roster. They started slowly out of the gate, going 7-6 in non-conference play, before winning the Pac-12 regular season title outright. They missed out on the NCAA tournament in large part due to the fact that the conference as a whole went 1-29 against the RPI top 50; only two Pac-12 teams earned bids that season. Ross and Wroten both left after the season.

The other year that Washington had two first round picks was in 2015-16, which both Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray shocked everyone by becoming one-and-done talents. Both were drafted almost entirely on potential; Chriss was clueless defensively, fouling out of 15 of the 34 games he played, while Murray’s jumper left him a long way away from impacting an NBA game. The conversation about this Washington team would be totally different right now if Fultz had those two on the floor with him.

Part of the reason those two were able to leave early was because of Romar’s coaching style – he lets his most talented players play regardless of whether or not they’re making mistakes – and in part because the 2016 draft was bad.

Romar is, in part, a victim of circumstance, even if he dug himself into this whole in the first place.

RELATED: For Michael Porter Jr., Washington was all about family first

Washington is still paying Romar a relatively small amount. After the 2010 season, when he led the Huskies to his third Sweet 16, Romar got a 10-year contract extension worth $1.7 million annually. It runs three more years after this season and comes with a $3.2 million buyout, which isn’t massive but is expensive for an athletic department that projected to operate at a $15 million deficit in 2016. Then you have to consider what it would cost to hire an upgrade on Romar.

For comparison’s sake, Tubby Smith made $1.8 million in 2015-16 at Texas Tech and got a raise to more than $3 million-a-year for the next five years at Memphis despite the fact that he wasn’t the guy the school initially targeted. But Brad Underwood will make $1.2 million a year for five years at Oklahoma State, which makes him the lowest-paid coach in the conference.

If new Washington AD Jennifer Cohen wants to hire a new coach, she’d certainly be able to afford a replacement that we be, at the least, a respectable name, but there’s no guarantee that a replacement is going to have any kind of success there. Romar is far and away the most successful coach Washington has ever had. He’s been to six NCAA tournament and three Sweet 16s in his 15 seasons. The Huskies reached the Final Four in 1953, and in the nearly 50 years between that day and the day that Romar was hired, Washington reached just six NCAA tournaments and two Sweet 16s.

Romar is not having the same level of success that he had when guys like Brandon Roy and Isaiah Thomas were on his roster, but Washington is still somewhat relevant due to the pros that are coming through Seattle. There’s no guarantee that any replacement will make Washington more likely to get to the NCAA tournament, but at least Husky fans get Markelle Fultz this season and Michael Porter Jr., a top five prospect and the son of current U-Dub assistant coach Michael Porter Sr., next season.

That’s certainly more enjoyable than rooting for, say, Washington State.

And it’s certainly a factor that Cohen has to consider. Porter clearly picked Washington because Romar, his godfather, is part of the family.

“As we continue to look where we’re going and where we think we can go and what our plan is, then I’ll have more information about it,” Cohen said at her introductory press conference. “But absolutely, I’m 100 percent behind him right now.”

And if Washington can’t get back to the Big Dance?

“We haven’t gotten to that point yet,” she said. “So we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

CBT Podcast: ESPN’s Dana O’Neil discusses her book about Villanova

Villanova head coach Jay Wright celebrates as he cuts down the net after the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against North Carolina, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. Villanova won 77-74. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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On today’s podcast, I was joined by ESPN’s Dana O’Neil, one of my personal favorite writers who has penned a book chronicling how Jay Wright was able to build the Villanova program into a national title winner.

Dana spent seven years as a beat-writer for the Wildcats before making the move to ESPN, and she has some great stories about how the book came together and, frankly, how that Villanova team came together.

It’s a little “Inside Baseball”, but it was a fun conversation about a book that you know is going to be really good.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

VIDEO: World War II Veteran play anthem on harmonica before Pearl Harbor Invitational

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Peter DuPre’, a veteran of World War II, opened last night’s Pearl Harbor Invitational between Seton Hall and California with a moving rendition of the National Anthem, which he played on his harmonica.