Need last minute bracket advice? Well, we’ve got Yahoo’s Jeff Eisenberg here

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We’ve got some good stuff for you today. Jeff Eisenberg, the man behind The Dagger, was kind enough to join us to chat about his bracket picks in between writing about the biggest player in the tournament and catching up with the folks that wound up on the wrong end of a buzzer-beater. Trust me, you’ll want to see what he has to say:

Rob Dauster: The most interesting part about this year’s tournament, to me, is that after spending five months talking about how wide-open the field is, 90% of the people filling out brackets are picking Louisville to win the national title. I get it. They’ve got a dominant defense. They’ve lost just once since late January. They embarrassed Syracuse in the Big East title game. I’ll admit, I think the Cardinals are probably the best team in the country right now.

And I also have them losing in the Sweet 16 to St. Louis. I went into detail about it already so I won’t elaborate too much here, but talk me off the ledge, Jeff. Why am I wrong about the Billikens?

Jeff Eisenberg: Here’s the thing: You’re not wrong. Saint Louis is a terrible matchup for Louisville. The Cardinals thrive in an up-tempo game in which they can force turnovers and turn those into transition points. The Billikens play at a slow pace and feature eight seniors who rarely get frazzled or turn the ball over. The Cardinals are vulnerable in a half-court game against a team who can force them to rely on their erratic outside shooting. The Billikens are a well-schooled, defense-oriented team capable of executing that game plan.

So why am I still riding with Louisville? In spite of those advantages, Saint Louis isn’t going to have an easy time scoring either. Plus, I’m willing to bet on Rick Pitino with superior talent and five days to prepare a game plan to offset some of those issues. I believe Saint Louis will be the toughest game Louisville sees in the midwest regional — yes, more challenging than Duke or Michigan State in a regional final — but I think the Cardinals will find a way.

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So, Rob, I see you have Gonzaga in the title game? What has you sold on the Zags?

RD: They have the best front line in the country, in my opinion. The combination of size and versatility for both Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris makes them a matchup nightmare. To get an idea of just how those two have been, think about this: heading into the season, no one was talking about how good Mark Few’s big guys were. They were talking about Kevin Pangos, who averaged 13.6 points as a freshman, and how much better Gary Bell could end up being alongside him. Those two have been good this year, but they’ve been completely overshadowed.

The irony of my Gonzaga pick is that I think they may be the No. 1 seed most susceptible to getting upset in the round of 32. Whether they get matched up with Pitt or Wichita State, they are going to be playing a team with a big, physical front line that can get to the offensive glass. For everything that the Zags do well, blocking out and defending on the interior is not one of those things.

Personally, I think that Wisconsin may be the best matchup for the Zags in that West Regional. Why do you have them losing to the Fighting Bo Ryans?

JE: Fair point on Wisconsin not being the prototypical gives-Gonzaga-fits matchup. The Badgers don’t have elite perimeter athleticism, nor are they unstoppable on the offensive glass (though they are very good on the defensive boards).

Nonetheless, I do think Jared Berggren is a formidable enough defender to eat into Kelly Olynyk’s usual efficiency and I think Wisconsin’s defensive matchups are pretty good everywhere else. Plus, is it just me or is Wisconsin far better than its seed? The Badgers weren’t great early in the season as they were trying to recover from the loss of Josh Gasser, but they finished the season 6-3, made the Big Ten title game and beat Indiana twice, Illinois twice and Ohio State and Minnesota along the way. I think Gonzaga is very capable of winning this game — especially if their fans make Staples Center into Spokane South the way they did Las Vegas last week — but it’s certainly not an easy draw.

So I see you have Florida in the Final Four, yet last I remember you’ve been railing on the Gators’ inability to win a close game for weeks. What gives? You think they’re just going to blow out Georgetown and Kansas?

RD: That was literally the most difficult decision I had when filling out my bracket (and I still might end up changing my mind before I turn in brackets where I have, ahem, my pride on the line). And at the end of the day, I just think Florida is a better basketball team than Georgetown and Kansas.

For starters, I think Will Yeguete is the ideal matchup defensively for Otto Porter. He’s just as mobile and athletic and he doesn’t care at all about anything beyond being a defender and a rebounder. And while I have my doubts about the shot selection of guys like Mike Rosario, Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin, there’s no arguing that they can lock up defensively. Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera have played great, but they’re mostly spot-up shooters at this point. Yeguete makes life difficult for Porter, which means that Starks and DSR don’t get open looks which means that Georgetown can’t score.

Against Kansas, I think that the Gators are good enough defensively to win that game even though I do recognize the stupidity in picking a team that can’t win close games against Bill Self. Here’s my question for you: Does Kansas even make it to the Elite 8? Do they get picked off by UNC or VCU (or Michigan)?

JE: I don’t see Kansas losing before the Elite Eight. With its new four-guard look, North Carolina can spread the floor the same way Iowa State has to give the Jayhawks fits, but the Tar Heels don’t have an outside-shooting big man to draw Jeff Withey to the perimeter, nor are they good enough defensively to topple Kansas in Kansas City. I don’t like how Michigan finished the season, so that’s a no. And while I think VCU could turn Elijah Johnson over with its swarming defense, I also fear the Jayhawks would score very, very easily on the Rams on possessions where they successfully beat the press.

That brings us to the Elite Eight, where I’m in agreement with you that Kansas sees Florida for many of the same reasons you mentioned. The Gators would have to be awfully careless offensively against Georgetown to blow a game where they match up so well defensively. I worry about Florida’s shot selection and decision making down the stretch in close games, but something tells me the Gators are going to improve in the NCAA tournament in those areas in the same way they did defensively last March. Plus, a team can’t lose in the Elite Eight three straight years … uh, right?

So let’s talk potential first-round upsets. I think the 6-11 games will produce the most surprises this year. You agree?

RD: I do. I like St. Mary’s over Memphis (and I like Middle Tennessee State over Memphis as well) for the same reason that I like Belmont over Arizona: guard play. Both the Gaels and the Bruins run ball-screen heavy offenses with veteran playmakers that have won big games. I’ll ride with the Ian Clarks and Matthew Dellavedovas of the world anyday.

The two 11 seeds I don’t like are Minnesota and Bucknell. I don’t care how good the matchup is, I’m not picking a team that has lost 11 of their last 16 games to win in March. I’m not doing it.

And while I like Bucknell, I have faith in Brad Stevens. I think Andrew Smith is big and tough enough to give Mike Muscala problems, and I trust that Stevens will figure out how to game-plan to win a game in March. Picking against him is heresy.

Am I crazy to think Davidson can beat Marquette?

JE: I’m with you on Belmont. I like the Bruins’ backcourt and I don’t think Arizona will exploit its size advantage inside enough to compensate. Where we differ is in our other 6-11 upset. Give me Minnesota over UCLA for a couple of reasons in spite of the Gophers’ poor finish. 1. Minnesota is an elite offensive rebounding team; Rebounding has been undersized UCLA’s greatest weakness all season. 2. UCLA’s ability to score so many different ways made it tough to beat the past couple months, but the loss of second-leading scorer Jordan Adams makes it easier for teams to focus on blanketing Shabazz Muhammad and keeping Larry Drew out of the lane.

I do worry about the Gophers’ feeding into UCLA’s transition attack with turnovers, but UCLA isn’t a team that will pressure the ball effectively.

I don’t think you’re crazy to like Davidson, especially not with five starters back from last year and one of the best under-the-radar coaches in the nation. If I were going to pick a team seeded 13th or higher to win a game this year, Davidson would get my nod. I expect big things from the Nate Wolters show against Michigan, but I’m not sure he has enough of a supporting cast for South Dakota state to pull that off.

RD: We do agree there. I’m expecting Wolters and Trey Burke to put on a show. Two high-usage, high-efficiency point guards in spread, ball-screen heavy offenses could make for a game that reaches the 80s.

Thanks for joining us, Jeff, and hopefully this will be the boost you need to help you win your office pool.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.