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2018 NCAA Tournament: Final Four Sleepers

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So here’s the thing about this year’s bracket: I just don’t love any of the teams that are sitting outside of the top three or four seeds.

And I know that sounds … well, way too much like I’ve watched a thousand games over the course of the last five months, but it’s the truth. 

As much as we want to talk about how unreliable some of the teams at the top of the bracket are, I struggle even more with figuring out who is actually going to beat them. 

Anyway, here is a look at a few teams that aren’t considered a favorite in their region that have the horses to be able to make a run.


FLORIDA: Easily and unquestionably my favorite darkhorse to make a run in the NCAA tournament simply because Florida is totally immune to what their opponent does. What I mean by that is that they can, at times, look like they would give the Golden State Warriors a run for their money in the Western Conference. At other times, they look like a team that has no business being in the NCAA tournament, let alone as a No. 6 seed.

And good luck trying to figure out when Good Florida will actually make an appearance. You might as well give out expert picks on the lottery. But here’s the thing: When Good Florida does show up, they are so, so, SO good. I honestly think it’s something that is as simple as confidence. They see a couple shots go down, they start playing with a little more energy defensively, suddenly they are getting some cleaner looks in transition and before you know it, Jalen Hudson, Egor Koulechov and KeVaughn Allen cannot miss even when they try. Throw in the presence of a feisty senior point guard in Chris Chiozza, and there is a lot to love about this Florida team.

Just as long as you realize that they are as likely to lose by 25 points in the first round as they are to get to a Final Four, and that there is no in-between.

HOUSTON: The Cougars have been one of the hottest teams in the country over the course of the last month, and if it wasn’t for an errant Rob Gray pass on their final possession of the AAC title game, we may be talking about them as the champions of the AAC tournament. Throw in the coaching chops of Kelvin Sampson and a region that is wide open at the top, and the Cougars could end up being this year’s South Carolina.

TEXAS A&M: Generally speaking, if I’m looking for an underdog that can make a run, I’m looking for teams with great point guard play first and foremost. Texas A&M ain’t that. They lost their starting point guard, Duane Wilson, to an ACL injury after the other two point guards they had hoped would start couldn’t stay out of trouble. What this group does have is a front line that can overpower anybody. Whether or not their guards can actually get those big men the ball is a different story, but if they can, Tyler Davis and Robert Williams can be absolutely dominant in a part of the bracket where there aren’t a lot of big bodies.

NEVADA: The Wolf Pack have struggled a bit since they lost Lindsay Drew to a ruptured achilles a month ago, but this is still a team with ‘dudes’. Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin are all capable of putting up 30 points on a given night, and they aren’t afraid of taking — and making — tough shots. Their depth is stretched right now, but there is no question that this group has the talent to be a threat in a region that is fairly open.


WEST VIRGINIA: Simply put: There is no matchup in college basketball that is worse for West Virginia that Villanova. Press Virginia relies on getting teams rattled and forcing turnovers. Villanova is not going to get rattled. They aren’t going to make mistakes. Jalen Brunson hasn’t been sped up by anyone ever. And when the Wildcats do break that press, they are going to get wide-open threes all game. It’s an awful, awful matchup.

KENTUCKY: Let’s start with this: To beat Virginia, which Kentucky would probably have to do in the Sweet 16, you need to be a team that is patient and disciplined defensively that will be able to make shots from the perimeter on the offensive end of the floor. That ain’t Kentucky.

But I also have my doubts about whether or not the Wildcats can get that far. Let’s ignore the fact that they likely have Arizona and Deandre Ayton in the second round of the tournament and focus, instead, on Davidson. Those Wildcats run an offense that is a nightmare for the veteran teams in the Atlantic 10 to prepare for and play against when they have been in the league together for years. Now imagine you are Kentucky and have two or three days to prepare yourself for that offense?

Now should I mention how good Payton Aldridge and Kellan Grady are?


TEXAS TECH: I am all in on the Texas Tech bandwagon, and I have been for a while. This is UConn 2014 all over again. That UConn team is the only team in the last 16 years to rank outside of the top 25 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom and win the national title. They won it because it was a weird year with college basketball’s best teams, they were elite defensively and they had this guy named Shabazz Napier who took games over and made big shot after big shot.

Texas Tech is ranked third nationally in defensive efficiency, recently cracked the top 50 in offensive efficiency and has Keenan Evans on the roster, who is way too similar to Napier.

Oh, and it’s a weird year for the best teams in the country.

This is destined to happen.

Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods to transfer or go pro after graduation

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Wake Forest will be down a key player next season as the school announced that guard Keyshawn Woods will either transfer or go pro after graduation.

The 6-foot-3 Woods was the team’s second-leading scorer this season as he put up 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Woods shot 43 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range for the 2017-18 campaign.

Also a key member of last season’s NCAA tournament team for the Demon Deacons, Woods transferred to Wake Forest after spending his first season at Charlotte.

“I appreciate the opportunity that Coach Manning gave me to be a part of this program and to graduate from this great university,” said Woods in the release. “I am proud that I was able to help the coaches change the culture of the program and build a foundation for the future.”

The loss of Woods won’t be easy for Wake Forest, but the team is scheduled to return some talented guards like Bryant Crawford and Brandon Childress next season. Incoming freshmen like Jaime Lewis and Sharone Wright Jr. are also signed to add to the perimeter depth.

David Padgett not retained as Louisville coach

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Louisville announced on Wednesday afternoon that interim head coach David Padgett would not be retained.

Padgett, who is 32 years old, stepped in and took the program over in the wake of a scandal that cost Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino his job.

“We all owe a great debt of gratitude to David for his leadership and poise this season,” said U of L Interim Director of Athletics Vince Tyra. “He took over during incredible circumstances, has handled himself respectfully throughout the season and I believe he has a bright future in coaching. We expect to determine a new head coach in a short period to build upon the great basketball tradition of this university.”

Pitino was fired because an FBI complaint contained an allegation that he and his staff had arranged for a $100,000 payment to be funneled to Brian Bowen from Adidas.

In his one season with the Cardinals, Padgett went 22-14 and reached the quarterfinals of the NIT.

Louisville will now conduct a search for their next head coach, and current Xavier coach Chris Mack has long been considered the favorite to take that job.

Kansas State’s injured star hoping to play Thursday

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One of the most surprising parts about Kansas State’s run to the Sweet 16 is that they have done it without the services of their leading scorer, Dean Wade.

Wade injured his foot prior to the Big 12 tournament loss to Kansas. He did not play in that game or in either of Kansas State’s first two tournament games, but it is looking more and more like he’ll be on the floor on Thursday night when they play Kentucky.

“I don’t play percentages very well, but I’m feeling good,” Wade said, via SEC Country. “I’m very positive about it. It’s getting better every day and today I felt great out there, doing a little more than usual. It felt good.”

Wade averaged 16.5 points per game, but the big question is going to be whether or not he is actually healthy when he takes the court. Just because he’s on the floor doesn’t mean he’s at 100 percent.

“Really just trying to get it out of my mind that it’s not hurt,” Wade said. “Just more of a mental thing, just getting out there and running around. I think I got moved past that and it’s feeling better.”

Arizona’s Sean Miller: ‘I am not a candidate’ at Pitt

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With speculation mounting about who Pitt will hire to replace Kevin Stallings as their new head coach, current Arizona head coach Sean Miller released a statement saying that he is not in the running to fill the opening.

“I am not a candidate for the University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball head coaching vacancy. I wish them well in their search for a new coach,” the statement read.

Miller is a native of Pittsburgh and an alumni of the school — he’s the guy that had the assist on Jerome Lane’s famous dunk — and with the issues that are currently swirling around him and the Arizona program, there was speculation that he was looking for an escape plan.

Maybe he wasn’t.

Maybe he was and the Pitt administration decided they couldn’t risk hiring someone who had an assistant coach arrested in the FBI’s sweep of college basketball and who himself may be on wiretaps talking about who knows what. Releasing this statement would then be a way for him to save face and say he was never interested.

And then maybe there’s option No. 3: Pitt has won the Dan Hurley sweepstakes.

As it stands, both the Panthers and UConn are in the process of chasing after the Rhode Island head coach, and it’s not uncommon in coaching searches for a coach to announce that he is not a candidate for the job after the job decides they want someone else. Call it a professional courtesy.

But that’s neither here nor there.

What we do know now is that Sean Miller will not be the next head coach at Pitt.

Report: Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson suffers another fracture in foot

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Bonzie Colson rushed back from a broken foot to try and help his Notre Dame team get into the NCAA tournament this season.

They were bumped out of the field when Davidson upset Rhode Island and earned the Atlantic 10’s third bid to the league tournament. The Fighting Irish were NIT bound, and in their second round loss to Penn State late last week, Colson reinjured the left foot that held him out of action for eight weeks.

On Wednesday, Yahoo reported that Colson suffered another fracture in the foot.

“I’m sitting there and he’s limping off and I’m going, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” coach Mike Brey said after the game. “Everything we’ve been through? I thought we were out of the woods with him.”

There was a poignant moment at the end of the game.

Colson’s injury came during the third quarter. He returned to the bench at Purcell Pavilion with ice on his foot after going into the locker room. With 30 seconds left and a loss imminent, Colson walked right past Mike Brey, said “I’m going in”, and finished his college career on the court.

Colson is a potential second round pick. He was an all-american last year and a preseason selection this year. He was averaging 19.7 points, 10.2 boards and 2.2 blocks when he was injured.