East Region Preview: Are Michigan State and Iowa State the two best teams?

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In a move that surprised many when the bracket was announced, it was Virginia and not Michigan that ended up getting the No. 1 seed in the East Region. Did they deserve it? Well, when you win the ACC regular season title outright and back that up with an ACC tournament title, I think you’ve made all the statements that you need to make.

The problem?

Their reward was getting stuck in a bracket with a No. 4 seed that just so happens to be one of the most talented teams in the country and, thanks to the long-awaited arrival of overall team health, peaking as the the tournament begins.

That would be Michigan State. The same Michigan State that’s coached by Tom Izzo. Them’s the breaks.

MORERead through all of our bracket analysis here

Three story lines to watch

  • 1. Can Michigan State’s seniors get a Final Four?: One of the coolest streaks in college basketball is that Tom Izzo has never had a four-year senior graduate without reaching a Final Four. That will end this season if Keith Appling and Adreian Payne cannot get Sparty to North Texas.
  • 2. Does Hilton Magic reach the east coast?: Iowa State has been one of the best teams all season long. Fred Hoiberg is a wizard. The Cyclones are one of the most entertaining teams in the country. Can they ride the wave all the way to the Final Four?
  • 3. Is this where the upsets are?: The consensus on Monday morning will be that the East’s No. 3 and No. 4 seeds are better than their No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. Does that mean that we’ll see Virginia and Villanova falling early?

The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Iowa State

How much fun would that be? I’m not sure that there is a matchup in this entire tournament that I would look forward to more than seeing Tom Izzo match wits with Fred Hoiberg with a trip to the Final Four on the line. We’ve said all season long that the Spartans are a title favorite once they get back to 100%, and I think they proved they are by steamrolling No. 2 seeds Wisconsin and Michigan in the Big Ten tournament. And Iowa State? Well, they just won the tournament of the toughest conference in the country.

MOREEight teams that can win the national title, and why.

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Final Four sleeper: North Carolina

The problem with relying on North Carolina is that you never quite know which North Carolina is going to show up. This is a team that beat the preseason top four teams in the country during the season — including Final Four favorites Michigan State and Louisville — but also lost to the likes of Belmont, UAB and Wake Forest. Here’s the perfect example: they dug themselves a 20-point hole against Pitt in the ACC quarterfinals. They nearly erased that deficit in the final 10 minutes. Good UNC is really good. Bad UNC could lose to No. 11 seed Providence in the Round of 64.

Best opening round matchups

  • No. 12 Harvard vs. No. 5 Cincinnati: The Bearcats are one of the toughest, most physical defensive teams in the country. But they can’t score. Harvard is tough and physical as well, loaded with the kind of talent you never see in the Ivy League these days. Slow down Sean Kilpatrick, and the Crimson could land another tournament upset.
  • No. 11 Providence vs. No. 6 North Carolina: Bryce Cotton vs. Marcus Paige. Yes, please.

Matchups to root for

  • No. 7 UConn or No. 10 St. Joseph’s vs. No. 2 Villanova: Take your pick: either two former Big East rivals square off, or we get ‘The Holy War’ in the NCAA tournament. Either way, that will be fun.

The studs you know about

  • Gary Harris, Michigan State: The Spartans are loaded, but for my money, Gary Harris is their best player and their best potential pro.
  • Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: I’ve been trumpeting Kilpatrick for months. He’s had a superb season made all-the-more impressive by the fact he’s the only offensive option on his team.
  • Shabazz Napier, UConn: There aren’t five players in the NCAA tournament I’d rather have with the ball in his hands in a critical moment than Napier. Will he have his Kemba Walker moment?
  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Outside of a rough stretch at the start of ACC play, Paige has been one of the best guards in the country this season.

MOREAll-Americans | Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | Freshman of the Year

The studs the nation will find out about

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: The Cavs have been a bit under-the-radar all season long, but Brogdon has been their best player this season and it’s not really all that close.
  • Bryce Cotton, Providence: College basketball’s ironman. He averaged 41.9 minutes in Big East games and carried the Friars to their first tournament in a decade.
  • Jeremy Ingram, North Carolina-Central: Ingram might be the most dangerous scorer in the region. He went for more than 30 points five times and hit for 25 points on six different occasions.

Upsets that ARE happening

  • No. 12 Harvard over No. 5 Cincinnati: The Crimson picked off No. 3 seed New Mexico in the Round of 64 last season, and I think their defense is strong enough that they can land another upset this year. Siyani Chambers is the truth.
  • No. 2 Villanova won’t get out of the first weekend: I don’t know what to make of Villanova this year, but I do know this: their only elite win came against Kansas when the Jayhawks were sputtering and they got blown out by Syracuse and Creighton twice and lost to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament.

Upsets that AREN’T happening

  • No. 13 Delaware over No. 4 Michigan State: The Blue Hens have three really talented scorers on their perimeter. It’s a shame they are running into this Spartan team.

Feeling like gambling?

  • No. 14 North Carolina-Central vs. No. 3 Iowa State: NCCU is going to have to hope that Iowa State has an off-night, but remember: this team won at N.C. State this season. They’re not a pushover.

CBT Predictions: No one gets in the way of the Michigan State freight train, not even Tony Bennett and his vaunted packline defense.

Osun Osunniyi picks St. Bonaventure over Syracuse, Georgetown

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St. Bonaventure has made something of a late splash on the recruiting trail.

Osun Osunniyi, a 6-foot-10 from Putnam (Conn.) Science Academy, signed with the Bonnies, the school announced Monday.

It’s a bit of a recruiting coup for coach Mark Schmidt, who won the services of Osunniyi over offers from Syracuse and Georgetown, both of whom hosted the prospect on official visits this spring.

“Osun oozes with potential. His ceiling is extremely high. He has so much God-given ability,” Schmidt said in a statement. “And, he’s a great kid, a character kid who is level-headed. He has a great wingspan, he runs well, he has a natural talent for blocking shots and is a very good rebounder. He can score around the basket.

“Osun wants to get better, like all of our players. We saw how he developed at Putnam, which is a credit to coach Espinosa and the staff there. He’s come a long way to become a kid who was highly recruited. We’re thrilled to have him come to St. Bonaventure.”

Osunniyi, who previously committed to La Salle before taking a prep year, becomes the fourth member of the Bonnies’ 2018 freshman class. He averaged 10 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots per game while Putnam won a national prep championship.

The Bonnies made the NCAA tournament as an 11 seed last year after going 26-8.

Christian Vital going back to UConn for junior season

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Dan Hurley is keeping his roster intact at the top.

Christian Vital, UConn’s second-leading scorer a season ago, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, he announced Monday via social media.

“Great Talk Today Coach! Appreciate The Wisdom You Have Let Me In On!” Vital wrote “I Think It’s Time To Get Back To Winning Ways In Storrs! I’m Going To Need That #1 Back ASAP! WE GOT (UNFINISHED) BUSINESS!”

The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be Vital joins Jalen Adams, who was the Huskies’ top-returning scorer, back in Storrs in Hurley’s first year. Vital averaged 14.9 points on 38.3 percent shooting. Adams previously announced he would return to school without declaring for the draft.

The return of UConn’s top two scorers underscores an even bigger trend under Hurley as the Huskies appear to have avoided any major defections from last year’s roster despite the coaching change.

UConn is coming off a 14-18 season that proved to be the last of coach Kevin Ollie’s six years with the Huskies that included a national championship but also back-to-back losing seasons.

Chris Silva returning to South Carolina for senior season

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South Carolina is getting an first-team all-SEC performer back.

Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding last season, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, the school announced Monday.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to workout for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The 6-foot-9 Silva, who did not get an NBA draft combine invite, averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior.  He shot 46.7 percent from the floor.

“Going through the evaluation process was an unbelievable experience for Chris and us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in a statement. “He comes back to a place he loves with some knowledge on some of the things that we have to help him improve on in his efforts to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s leading scorer, he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season after averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His return to Columbia gives the Gamecocks a potential contender for SEC player of the year in 2018-19.

Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

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Kansas has fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger, effective immediately, citing a lack of progress in key areas within the athletic department.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership,” Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod wrote in an email to KU faculty and staff. “But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

Zenger had been in the role of AD since 2011.

The issue, of course, is not the play of the Kansas basketball program. The Jayhawks have won every Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and head coach Bill Self has taken the program to two Final Fours since Zenger was hired.

The football team is still a disaster, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not the real issue at hand here is Kansas’ getting tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

The Jayhawks were not mentioned in the initial indictments that were handed down, but Kansas was a central figure in the superseding indictments that were dropped after the national title game. The mother of Billy Preston, who did not play for the Jayhawks this season, was alleged to have been funneled $90,000 by Adidas, while Silvio De Sousa’s status is currently in question after the FBI alleged his guardian was paid at least $20,000 to help offset money that the family had already accepted from a rival shoe company.

All of that came in the aftermath of dealing with Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, both of whom had their one season in Lawrence reduced due to off the court issues.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our broader mission as a flagship research university.”

Louisville, ex-AD Tom Jurich reach $4.5M settlement

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has reached a $4.5 million settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich, who was fired in the wake of a national federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

Jurich disputed his Oct. 18 firing for cause after nearly 20 years as AD and had considered suing the school. The University of Louisville Athletic Association and Board of Trustees on Friday approved the settlement. Jurich’s employment ended “without cause” as a result of his resignation, also described in the settlement as “retirement.”

He’ll also receive another $2.6 million in accrued employment benefits, along with home game tickets and parking for Louisville football and basketball for 20 years.

An audit of the University of Louisville Foundation released last June showed that Jurich averaged annual compensation of more than $2.76 million from 2010-16, including more than $5.35 million in 2016.

Then-interim president Greg Postel had placed Jurich on paid administrative leave in September after the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the investigation. Trustees voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, two days after the ULAA unanimously fired Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The former AD said in a joint statement that he “spent the better part of my career” working with dedicated athletes, coaches and staff to elevate Louisville. He added, “I am proud of what we accomplished, which is well documented.”

Jurich’s legal team had stressed that the ex-AD did nothing illegal and hadn’t violated NCAA rules.

Trustee chairman J. David Grissom said in the statement that “Everyone is pleased that this matter has been successfully resolved. All parties can move forward to begin the next chapter.”

Jurich played a major role in Louisville’s success on the field and how the school handled issues off it. He led the school’s 2014 entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference and oversaw numerous program and facility upgrades, including a $63 million expansion of the football stadium due for completion by fall.

He also hired several successful coaches including Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville ultimately vacated that title in February as part of NCAA penalties for a sex scandal after an escort’s book allegations that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino has filed a $38.7 million federal lawsuit against Louisville, alleging breach of contract.