The CBT Bracket Breakdown: East Region

Leave a comment

See the rest of our regional breakdowns here.

Final Four Favorite: No. 1 Syracuse: For the last couple of months of the season, the Orange have been the consensus second best team in the country. They have their issues — defensive rebounding, for one — but this is a group that is as talented and balanced as any team in the country. They legitimately have six starters on their roster, with CJ Fair and Dion Waiters coming off the bench, and selfless enough as a unit that they can deal with whoever is struggling riding the bench. That said, its their defense that is going to carry them as far as they’ll go.

And if they lose…?: No. 2 Ohio State: The issues that I have had with Ohio State all season long are still quite present. William Buford is not consistent enough as a secondary scoring option and Aaron Craft is not as effective when he is counted on to be more than a facilitator and a defender. That said, Jared Sullinger is still Jared Sullinger, and he’s good enough to lead the Buckeyes. If Deshaun Thomas and Buford are productive, watch out.

Sign up for our NCAA tournament contest

Sweet 16 sleeper (9 or lower): No. 13 Montana: A lot of people would put Harvard in this spot, and I wouldn’t blame them. But the Grizzlies are intriguing to me. They have one of the best back courts in the region with Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar and they have enough size up to hang with some of the bigger schools. Cherry is also a terrific defender. Montana gets Wisconsin in the first round, so Jordan Taylor beware.

Final Four sleeper (5 or lower): No. 5 Vanderbilt: The Commodores are the most interesting team in this region of the bracket. From a talent perspective, they should be a top two or three seed. They have two first round picks on their perimeter in John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor and a big man in Festus Ezeli that will play in the NBA. The issue with Vanderbilt is that they have almost had a culture of losing. They’ve gotten dropped in the first round of the NCAA Tournament a few times recently and they’ve been notoriously incapable of winning big games. But they just beat Kentucky. Does that get them over the hump? Are they “fixed”?

Player to watch (top 8 seeds): Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin: Taylor hasn’t exactly had the season we all expected him to, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is one of the best point guards in the country. And he means everything for the Badgers. He’s the reason they can control tempo and he’s the guy who gets the ball put into his hands at the end of a shot clock.

source: Getty Images

Player to watch (bottom 8 seeds): Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure: Nicholson proved himself during the Atlantic 10 Tournament, averaged 23.7 ppg, 10.0 rpg and 5.3 bpg as he led the Bonnies to the conference’s automatic bid. He also probably played himself into the first round of the NBA Draft. The problem? His first game will be against Florida State and Bernard James.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Kevin Jones. He’s an all-american that led the Big East in scoring and rebounding. The kid can play.

Best potential matchup: No. 1 Syracuse vs. No. 2 Ohio State: I know it’s a bit of a cop out to pick the top two teams, but this is a matchup that really intrigues me. Jared Sullinger is the most dominant presence on the block in the country, but Syracuse is loaded up front. I’d love to see Aaron Craft try and defend Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine. Deshaun Thomas could be a perfect option at the high post against the Syracuse zone. I could go on and on.

So who is getting upset?:

– I think Montana knocking off Wisconsin is an obvious pick, and one that will be trendy this week.

– If they make to to the second round, I like Cincinnati over Florida State as well.

– Everyone is going to pick Vanderbilt over Harvard, and I like Harvard. They have good bigs and a very underrated point guard in Brandyn Curry. I just don’t see it this season. Sorry, Harvard.

– Keep an eye on Kansas State and Syracuse in the Round of 32. Syracuse is terrible on the defensive glass and Kansas State is as good as anyone in the country when it comes to getting second chance points.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

Getty Images
1 Comment

John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

Getty Images
2 Comments

Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

Getty Images
1 Comment

Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)