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Seven pressing questions for the Selection Committee

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1. Where is Duke going to get seeded?: The Blue Devils have the look of a No. 1 seed. They just steam-rolled through the ACC tournament, picking up wins over Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame in the span on three days. That brings their tally of top 50 wins this season to 13, the most in the country. Eight of those 13 wins came away from Cameron Indoor. They have eight top 25 wins, six of which came away from home. They have four top ten wins, three of which came away from home.

The concern for Duke is their overall record. No No. 1 seed has ever had eight losses to their name before, but it is worth noting that Duke has dealt with as many injuries as anyone in college hoops this season. Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Harry Giles III, Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and head coach Mike Krzyzewski have all missed time. Considering that Duke is now fully healthy and rolling, will that factor into the committee’s decision-making process? Will that be enough to close the gap between the Blue Devils and North Carolina? Will it be enough to slot Duke over Gonzaga or Arizona?

My guess?

It will not. Duke ends up as the No. 2 seed in the East, setting up a thrilling potential showdown with No. 1 overall seed Villanova.

2. This would mean that Gonzaga has to be the No. 1 seed out west, right?: It should. For all the talk about how weak the conference is that Gonzaga plays in, they’re sitting here on Selection Sunday with six top 25 wins. Arizona, who won the Pac-12 tournament and a share of the Pac-12 regular season title, has just three top 25 wins and five top 50 wins. Five of Gonzaga’s six top 25 wins came away from home, and one of them came against Arizona on a neutral floor, albeit without Allonzo Trier. I just don’t see anyway that you can look at Arizona’s profile and Gonzaga’s profile and think that the Wildcats are more deserving of a No. 1 seed than the Bulldogs.

3. So who, then, is the top-seeded Pac-12 team?: This is still an under-discussed story line as we careen towards the Selection Show. Only one of the three Pac-12 teams is going to end up being slotted in the West Region. The favorite probably has to be Arizona, as the Wildcats won the Pac-12 tournament, a share of the Pac-12 regular season title and a pair of games against UCLA this season, but the Bruins have more — and better — top 10 and top 50 wins, including a win at Kentucky. I would lean towards Arizona getting the No. 2 seed out west because of their wins over UCLA, the fact that the Bruins played a poor non-conference schedule and the way Arizona has looked since Trier returned from his suspension.

The x-factor in that conversation is Oregon, who will be fascinating in their own right. The Ducks won a share of the Pac-12 regular season title and, since Dillon Brooks got healthy, have looked like the best team in the league for long stretches of the season. But Oregon just lost Chris Boucher for the tournament to a torn ACL. Boucher was averaging 11.8 points, 6.1 boards and 2.5 blocks, but Oregon looked fine in their loss to Arizona on Saturday night.

Sean Miller (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

4. How does the committee value the Big East teams?: Villanova should probably end up being the No. 1 overall seed. Butler, who swept Villanova this season, will probably be a top four seed. But beyond that, every other Big East tournament team is fascinating. Creighton made the finals of the Big East tournament despite playing without Mo Watson, who tore his ACL, but the Bluejays are just 7-8 since Watson’s injury. Xavier won two games in the Big East tournament, including a win over Butler in the quarterfinals, but that was their first win over a team not named DePaul since Feb. 4th. They are just 6-7 since they lost Edmond Sumner to a torn ACL.

But here’s the kicker: the three Big East bubble teams — Seton Hall, Providence and Marquette — all bolstered their résumé with wins over Creighton and Xavier after those injuries. Marquette has four wins over those two teams in the last seven weeks. I don’t think that will be enough to keep those teams out of the tournament, but I do think that it could end up affecting where they get seeded.

5. Where does Wichita State get seeded?: The Shockers are currently, as of this exact moment, ranked eighth on KenPom. Eighth. As in No. 8. In the country. KenPom is widely considered the most accurate metric for ranking teams in college hoops circles, which should tell you just how good this team is. But they haven’t actually done anything during the season to back those numbers up. They only have two top 65 wins on the season, and both of those came against Illinois State, who may not get to the NCAA tournament. How about this for a thought: If Wichita State ends up as a No. 10 seed, they could end up being favored in both the first round and second round game against the No. 2 seed. The current No. 2 seeds in our latest bracket are Kentucky, Arizona, Duke and Oregon. Kentucky is the only one rated above Wichita State on KenPom.

6. Will Syracuse get a bid?: The Orange have quickly turned into one of the most polarizing bubble teams in the country. On the one hand, they have six top 50 wins to their name, including wins over Duke, Florida State and Virginia. On the other hand, all six of their top 50 wins came at home, and they are just 2-11 away from the Carrier Dome this season. The Orange also have lost to Boston College, Georgetown, UConn and St. John’s, the latter of which came at home by 33 points. Their best road win is Clemson, who finished 6-12 in the ACC, or N.C. State, who finished 13th. They lost at Boston College, who finished at the bottom of the conference. Will that be enough?

7. Where will Purdue get seeded?: The Big Ten is going to get seven teams into the tournament and actually rates higher in the metrics than the league did last year, but the reason the league feels down this season is that there just isn’t anyone in the conference that feels like a true title contender. That includes Purdue, the regular season champ who bowed out of the Big Ten tournament in the quarterfinal. The committee showed us during the bracket reveal in February that they didn’t have much respect for the Big Ten, so it will be interesting to see where they decide to slot the Boilermakers.

Bettor wins $16,000 on UMBC wager

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The whole country became UMBC fans throughout Saturday night as the Retrievers attempted – and ultimately pulled off – the first-ever 16-over-1 upset in the NCAA tournament against Virginia.

There may have been one person at The Venetian in Las Vegas cheering a little more than most, though. They had a little more on the line. The moneyline, to be exact. 

One bettor won $16,000 on a $800 wager that UMBC would beat the Cavaliers, which is exactly what they did, 74-54, in Charlotte.

While the bet paid off this time and it makes for an all-time story, it’s probably best not to make this your betting strategy. If you would have bet 800 bucks on every 16 seed every year, you would have been $108,000 in the hole before getting your Retriever payout and riding a rough 135-bet losing streak. Can’t win without buying a ticket, though, right?

And it’s not like that the person who just cashed a $16,000 check cares about that at the moment. Also no word on how they’re betting UMBC against Kansas State, either. The Wildcats are 10.5-point favorites, if you were wondering. 

No. 2 Duke advances to Sweet 16 with easy win over Rhode Island

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Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter looked like men playing against boys on Saturday afternoon, as they combined for 35 points on 14-for-16 shooting to go along with 15 boards and four assists as No. 2-seed steam-rolled No. 7 Rhode Island, 87-62, to get to the Sweet 16.

They will take on the winner of Sunday’s second round game between No. 3 Michigan State and No. 11 Syracuse.

The truth of the matter is that this URI team is the one that is made up of grown-ups. Bagley and Carter are freshmen. The Rams are a veteran-laden team with fifth-year seniors and players that are leaving the South Kingstown after this school year with a degree and either a real job or a spot on a team outside of the glitz and the glamour of the NBA.

But that didn’t matter on Saturday afternoon.

The Rams tried to play four of those veteran guards together, using Stanford Robinson on Bagley in the post early on in the game, and it did not work. The problem is two-fold. On the one hand, putting someone that is 6-foot-4 on Bagley, who is a monster, is not an ideal situation, not when double-teams can’t work because Grayson Allen and Gary Trent are making shots.

But the bigger issue is that using that little guard doesn’t even earn you a mismatch on the other end of the floor. Since Duke is playing in this zone, Bagley doesn’t have to chase perimeter players around defensively. He doesn’t get put into ball-screens actions where he’s going to be asked to ice, or black, or switch. He just has to be big, athletic, active and take up space, and that’s something that he’s perfectly capable of doing.

What that means is that in order to be able to matchup effectively with this Blue Devil team with the way they are currently playing, you need to have two bigs that are capable of going post-up for post-up and box-out for box-out with the Blue Devils, or you need to have super-skilled front court players that will be able to dice up a zone with their ability to pass the ball while making Duke work on the other end in the paint. (Think UNC with Theo Pinson and Luke Maye.)

Let me put this another way.

Over the course of the nine days — from the start of the ACC tournament through the end of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament — what we have learned about the Blue Devils is that they are the toughest team in college basketball to matchup with, but if you have the pieces to matchup with them, they can be beaten.

But — and I ask you this in all sincerity — just how many teams are there in the country that have the players to matchup with them?

Could Isaac Haas play for Purdue despite a broken elbow?

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Maybe Isaac Haas college career isn’t over after all.

The Purdue 7-foot-2 center broke his elbow in the Boilermakers’ opening-round win over Cal State Fullerton, but isn’t ruling out continuing to play despite the injury.

Haas practice Saturday with Purdue with the aid of a brace and is hopeful that he could still be cleared.

Purdue coach Matt Painter downplayed the possibility that Haas would play, saying that “his future is too important.”

Certainly, Haas’ availability would be enormous for the Boilermakers not only because he’s averaging 14.7 points and 5.7 rebounds, but because he totally changes the game with his presence inside on both ends of the floor. Purdue has a capable reserve in Matt Haarms, but without Haas, Purdue’s Final Four chances seem dire.

Even if Haas is able to play, it remains to be seen how effective he can be with a busted elbow. It also sounds as though the brace he’s been outfitted with may need special clearance from the NCAA due to its composition.

For an NCAA tournament full of amazing storylines, Haas’ (potential) ability to play through a broke elbow might be among the most intriguing.

No. 1 Villanova makes 17 threes, routs No. 9 Alabama

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On paper, this matchup set up perfectly for No. 9-seed Alabama.

The Crimson Tide are the longest and most athletic team that No. 1 seed Villanova has faced off with in months. They entered the day as one of college basketball’s best at defending the three-point line. They have the kind of dynamic play maker at the point guard spot that can give Villanova fits in Collin Sexton.

All of the dots connected.

What I failed to mention there, however, is that Villanova has an uncanny ability to absolutely bury anyone in their path in an avalanche of threes, and that is precisely what happened to the Crimson Tide on Saturday afternoon.

Mikal Bridges, who scored just a single point in the first half, scored 16 of his 23 points in the first four minutes of the second half as Villanova took a game that was close for 20 minutes and turned it into a massacre. The Wildcats outscored Alabama 49-31 in the second half — a number that was limited as the Wildcats took their foot off the gas down the stretch — en route to an 81-58 win.

Villanova will advance to the Sweet 16 to face the winner of tomorrow’s game between No. 5 West Virginia and No. 13 Marshall.

Bridges led the way for Villanova on Saturday, but they may not have been in the position that they were in if it was not for Donte DiVincenzo. The redshirt sophomore caught fire in the first half, scored all 18 points his points and hitting five threes to put Villanova ahead by five at the break. Divincenzo also added five assists, his play-making a difference-maker with Jalen Brunson on the bench with a pair of early fouls.

And that should terrify everyone in the East Region.

Hell, that should be a statement to everyone in this tournament.

Villanova just de-pantsed one of the teams that best matched up with them, a team that has a lottery pick running the point and an NBA player and coach on the sideline. And they did it without much coming from their all-american point guard, the guy that was named the NBC Sports National Player of the Year.

Brunson finished with just 12 points and four assists, and honestly, did you even notice? This was the Bridges show in the second half when Villanova made their run. It was DiVincenzo’s show in the first half when Villanova needed someone to keep them close. We’ve seen Phil Booth take over games. (Anyone remember the 2016 national title game? He had 20.) Omari Spellman can pop off for 25 from time to time.

The Wildcats are just so dangerous.

And when they play like they did today, they are damn near unbeatable.

Police: Thief steals electronics from UNC basketball program

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Police say someone stole thousands of dollars in electronics from the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team locker room and office while they were away for the ACC tournament.

UNC-Chapel Hill campus police said on Twitter that the break-in happened at the Dean Smith Center on March 9, and they released images of a man they believe may have been involved.

A police report says the thief managed to get into the team locker room and basketball office without forced entry, according to The Herald-Sun.

The report says the thief stole a PlayStation 4, Xbox One and clothing worth $2,900 that belonged to the athletic department. Police say the thief also stole a laptop worth $1,200 and a financial document worth about $3,000 belonging to one of the players.