Midwest Region Preview: Is 4-seed Louisville the favorite?

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The biggest gripe that I saw regarding the release of the bracket was regarding Louisville. How did they end up a No. 4 seed? How could a team that is ranked second on KenPom.com end up being ranked fourth in their region? What is the world coming to?

Whatever.

If I’m a Louisville fan, I’m celebrating tonight. They’re in a pod with a slumping No. 5 seed in Saint Louis and the weakest No. 1 seed in Wichita State, and there’s a possibility that the Cardinals will be able to play — and knock out? — archrival Kentucky in the Sweet 16. So, again, what is the problem here?

If there is any team that has a complaint about the way that the bracket was seeded, it’s the Shockers. NCAA Tournament draws can be unflinchingly cruel, and Wichita State ended up with a worst-case scenario. Their Round of 32 matchup will be against preseason No. 1 Kentucky or Kansas State in St. Louis. Win that, and they’re likely looking at one of the hottest teams in the country in Louisville. If that wasn’t enough, that Sweet 16 game would be held in Indianapolis, a 90-minute drive from Louisville. The undefeated Shockers would be going on the road in the Sweet 16.

And here’s the worst part: they will be crucified if they can’t put together another run to the Final Four. An exit in the Round of 32 will essentially render their 34-0 pre-NCAA tournament record invalid in the court of public opinion.

I don’t root for anyone anymore. I think I’ll be rooting for Wichita State to pull this off, if for no other reason than I want to see their season “justified”.

MORERead through all of our bracket analysis here

Three story lines to watch

  • 1. The Chase for Perfection: Wichita State will be the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated since UNLV in 1991. They will try to become the first team to finish the season undefeated since Indiana in 1976. We’re watching history happen before our eyes. Enjoy it.
  • 2. Can Kentucky pull a Fab Five?: People tend to forget that, as freshmen, the Fab Five were a No. 6 seed before making a run to the National Title game. Kentucky is not quite as good as that Michigan team was, but they were a different team in the SEC tournament than they were … all season long? Can that success continue?
  • 3. Is Louisville headed to a third straight Final Four?: For the third straight season, Rick Pitino has his Cardinals streaking at the perfect time. The last two years, Louisville bounced back from a rough stretch in the regular season to win the Big East tournament title and make a run to the Final Four in 2012 and the National Title in 2013. The Cardinals were written off after Chane Behanan was kicked off the team and they lost at home to Memphis, but a run to the American tournament title has the Cards looking like a trendy pick to repeat as champs.
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The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 2 Michigan

I might end up picking Louisville to win the National Title, I think they’re that good. I like Michigan on the other side of the region. To beat the Wolverines, you need the kind of on-ball defenders that can get up into Nik Stauskas and keep him from having a field day in John Beilein’s offense. Neither Texas or Arizona State has a guy like that. Duke does — Tyler Thornton — but this is a different Michigan team than the one that lost at Cameron in December. They’re running much more of their offense through Stauskas, Walton is a different player and Glenn Robinson III finally woke up. And if Thornton is on Stauskas, who tries to slow down Caris LeVert?

MORE: Eight teams that can win the national title.

Final Four sleeper: No. 8 Kentucky

Are the Wildcats really a sleeper? You kind of sacrifice that name when you are the preseason No. 1 team in the country, but after a disappointing season, Kentucky heads into the dance as a No. 8 seed. The good news? They played their best basketball of the season during those three days in Atlanta. ‘The Tweak’ that John Calipari talked about so much was simply getting his team to buy-in to what he wanted. The key is Andrew Harrison at the point. He was terrific during the SEC tournament. He needs to be terrific in the NCAA tournament. If he is, this is still one of the most talented teams in the country.

Best opening round matchups

  • No. 11 Iowa vs. No. 11 Tennessee: One of the three play-in games in the Midwest, this should be a doozy. Iowa is, on paper, a Final Four threat, but they’ve really struggled in the last month and a half. Tennessee is, on paper, an NIT team that has somehow turned into one of the hottest teams in the country the last couple of weeks.
  • No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 13 Manhattan: Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello was a walk-on for Rick Pitino at Kentucky and an assistant on his staff at Louisville for six years.

Matchups to root for

  • No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky: I don’t need to explain this, do I?
  • No. 3 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan: I would not complain about a rematch. At all. Both the Wolverines and the Blue Devils have top five offenses and sub-100 defenses, according to KenPom. Can you say shootout?

The studs you know about

  • Russ Smith, Louisville: Once known as Russdiculous, Smith has become more of a point guard for Louisville this season while remaining a terror defensively.
  • Jabari Parker, Duke: Arguably the most well-rounded offensive weapon in the country and a potential No. 1 pick in the draft in June.
  • Nik Stauskas, Michigan: The Wolverines turned into a Big Ten champion when John Beilein allowed Stauskas, a 6-foot-6 sharpshooter with bounce, handle, great vision and noticeable attitude, to be the centerpiece of his offense.
  • Julius Randle, Kentucky: Another future top five pick, Randle is a double-double machine.

MORE: All-Americans | Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | Freshman of the Year

The studs the nation will find out about

  • Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State: You’ve heard the name, but have you seen him play this year? Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early are great, but Van Vleet is their engine.
  • Langston Hall, Mercer: Hall is a big time scorer for the Bears that has a knack for hitting big shots in big moments. He’ll give Duke problems in the first round.
  • T.J. Warren, N.C. State: Everyone in the ACC knows about Warren, but he’s slept-on nationally because the Wolfpack were perceived as an NIT team. He went for 40 points in back-to-back games two weeks ago and is the best scorer in the country not named Doug McDermott.

Upsets that ARE happening

  • No. 11 Tennessee over No. 6 UMass: I’m just not a huge fan of the Minutemen this season, and Tennessee is a tough, veteran team playing their best basketball of the season right now. I’d make the same pick if Iowa beats Tennessee in the play-in game.
  • No. 4 Louisville over No. 1 Wichita State: I like this upset for a couple reasons: Montrezl Harrell will dominate the Shockers up front, the Shockers don’t have anyone that can guard Russ Smith and Louisville’s back court is quick and pesky enough to give Wichita State’s guards problems.

Upsets that AREN’T happening

  • No. 8 Kentucky or No. 9 Kansas State over No. 1 Wichita State: This pick has nothing to do with matchups. To me, this will be about desire. I’m not sure there is a better motivator in college basketball than WSU’s Gregg Marshall. The Shockers went 34-0 this season, which means they never slipped up against an inferior team. They never sleep-walked through a game and never overlooked an opponent. They’ll be ready, and they won’t be overwhelmed by the moment against either team.

Feeling like gambling?

  • No. 14 Mercer over No. 3 Duke: Duke is a nightmare to try and defend. Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker might be the best 1-2 punch in the conference. But they can be exploited by talented, penetrating guards. Remember, this Mercer team won the Atlantic Sun regular season title over Florida-Gulf Coast last season. They’re good. Can Hall have his C.J. McCollum moment?

CBT Predictions: No. 4 Louisville beats No. 1 Wichita State and No. 2 Michigan en route to their third straight Final Four.

Providence guard to miss at least a month with foot injury

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Rough news for Providence on Tuesday morning, as the school announced that freshman guard A.J. Reeves will miss the next four-to-six weeks with an unspecified foot injury.

Reeves, a native of Roxbury, Ma., has averaged 14.2 points this season while shooting 45 percent from three. He’s been the best freshman in the Big East and one of the best weapons for a talented Friar team that has yet to truly figure themselves out.

“It’s unfortunate that A.J. has to go through this as he has been having a very productive start to his college career,” head coach Ed Cooley said. “However, he is a great person and will use this time to get better and he will continue to support the team.”

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Ethan Happ is top two, who is Gonzaga’s best?

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1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

Williamson is still the leader for the National Player of the Year race, and it should probably still be a consensus. He’s averaging 20-9-2-2-2, something that hasn’t been done in roughly three decades, and he’s doing it on the team that is the favorite to win the national title even if the silly rules of the polls won’t let us rank them there.

2. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin

Happ is so integral to what the Badgers do on a nightly basis. I’m not sure there is a player in college basketball that carries a bigger load for his team than Happ does for the Badgers. He’s their anchor defensively, the best rebounder on the team, a guy that brings the ball up the floor as much as anyone, the player that offense runs through offensively and the most dangerous offensive weapon in the conference not named Carsen Edwards.

The thing that really makes a difference for Happ this year is what he’s developed into as a passer. In the past, he’s been susceptible to teams throwing double teams at him, but it’s not something that is as effective this year because of how well he is able to move the ball.

He sees the floor. He understands where the double is coming from, and his ability to dribble into the post makes it really difficult for teams to sends double-teams; the defense can’t move while the ball is in the air. Throw in the fact that he’s capable of grabbing a rebound and going coast-to-coast — or, as you’ll see in the last clip, beating a press on his own — he’s become such a weapon for Greg Gard:

3. RUI HACHIMURA or BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga

Who is the best player on Gonzaga this year?

That’s a debate that can go back and forth for hours. On the one hand, Hachimura is unquestionably their star. He’s the leading scorer, he’s the guy that is a sensation in Japan, he’s the guy that has made the game-winning shots against Duke and Washington this year. He’s deservedly an all-american.

But there’s a very strong argument to make that Clarke is actually the best player on the Gonzaga roster. He’s quite possibly the best defensive player in all of college basketball. He’s an elite rim protector. He’s agile enough to switch ball-screens. He jumps passing lanes. He landed what may go down as the best block in basketball by anyone this year, in college, the NBA, wherever:

Oh, and he also happens to average 16.9 points and 8.2 boards.

But there’s more to this conversation.

For starters, Zach Norvell Jr. is probably the most dangerous player on Gonzaga given his ability to get hot out of nowhere and reel off four or five threes in the time it takes to go from one TV timeout to the next. Josh Perkins is the most important player on the roster, because Gonzaga doesn’t really have another option at the point and because Perkins himself is so consistently inconsistent.

And I haven’t even mentioned Killian Tillie yet.

4. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

Barrett has been terrific since the last time we really needed to pay attention to the Blue Devils. He’s averaging 24.2 points, 7.2 boards and 4.2 assists, but the Blue Devils haven’t played something other than a buy game for two weeks. They’ll get Texas Tech in New York City next Thursday.

5. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

Hunter has been the best player for Virginia this season, but this is something to keep an eye on as the injury to Kihei Clark could force him to play out of his best position.

6. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

I am fully on board the Jarrett Culver bandwagon, and depending on how he plays against Duke next Thursday, I’m sure I will be joined there by quite a few other people.

7. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

Williams has unquestionably been the best player for the Vols this season, averaging 19.9 points, 9.3 boards and 4.6 assists. He’s been an all-american, without a doubt, and it almost seems like a disservice to have him this low. The issue is that, in both of Tennessee’s biggest game, Williams has fouled out late while Admiral Schofield has been the guy tasked with making the biggest plays in the biggest moments.

8. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

Lawson hasn’t really been all that flashy, and there’s an argument to be made that his teammate Lagerald Vick has been more important to the Jayhawks this season, but at this point, given Vick’s inconsistency and the fact that he has been benched, Lawson has to be the pick in the Player of the Year race for the Jayhawks.

9. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue

Sunday’s loss at Texas more or less summed up this Purdue team: Edwards went for 40 points on 15-for-26 shooting. Purdue lost 72-68.

10. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

Alexander-Walker burst into the national conversation with a terrific performance in Virginia Tech’s run to the Charleston Classic title. Since then, he’s been fine while the Hokies have played games that mostly haven’t been interesting. Outside of Saturday’s date with Washington, they won’t play another game that we need to pay attention to until the new year.

IN THE MIX: Jordan Caroline (Nevada), Luguentz Dort (Arizona State), Charles Matthews (Michigan), Ja Morant (Murray State), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s)

Self on Vick’s benching: ‘He had a really bad day Thursday’

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The status of Lagerald Vick in the Kansas basketball program is a storyline that feels like it’s never going to go away.

If you’re just catching up, Vick was run out of the program during the spring. After a poor end to the 2017-18 season, Vick and Bill Self came to an agreement that it would be in the best interest of both parties if Vick moved on after the season. He declared for the draft. He planned on signing with an agent. He realized that the NBA, last spring, was a pipe dream, and he and Self worked things out enough that Vick was allowed back into the program.

The understanding was that the issues that popped up as league play kicked off last season — a lack of effort, a lack of buy-in, a lack of interest in playing defense or playing hard — would not pop-up this year, but it’s fair to wonder whether something did happen. Vick has been benched for the last two Kansas games. He didn’t start against Wofford and played just 22 minutes off the bench. He didn’t start against New Mexico State and played 31 minutes, going 2-for-8 from the floor.

The benching against Wofford was because Vick was late for a shootaround. When asked after the 63-60 win over NMSU on Saturday, Self said, “he had a really bad Thursday, let’s just leave it at that. Hopefully those days are behind us.”

We’ve written plenty about the season that Vick is having. He’s been the Kansas savior on more than one occasion — Vermont, Louisiana, Stanford, Tennessee. There’s no chance that Kansas is undefeated right now if it wasn’t for Vick.

And, with Udoka Azubuike sidelined, there’s no chance that Kansas can hit their ceiling without Vick figuring this out.

CBT Podcast: Monday Overreactions on Gonzaga-Tennessee, Pac-12 is one-bid, Kentucky isn’t top 25

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Rob Dauster was joined by Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo Sports to break down everything that happened in college basketball this weekend. Is there an actual good basketball team in the Pac-12? Is Kentucky a top 25 team? Is there a top tier of teams in the sport, and where does Kansas actually fit into that top tier? We get into all of it in this podcast.

Open: Is the Pac-12 a one-bid league?

11:45: Tennessee beat Gonzaga and The Admiral is awesome

23:30: Is there a top tier of teams, and where does Kansas fit in it?

30:10: Kentucky is not a top 25 team

41:00: Getting to the Elite Eight was actually a bad thing for Bruce Weber

AP Poll: Kansas returns to No. 1 as Gonzaga drops to 4th after loss

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Kansas is back where it started the season.

The preseason No. 1, the Jayhawks are again the top-ranked college basketball team in The Associated Press Top 25 despite struggling to get past New Mexico State at home. Kansas received 57 first-place votes from a 65-person media panel in the poll released Monday, sliding into the top spot after previous No. 1 Gonzaga lost to Tennessee.

No. 2 Duke moved up a spot and received four first-place votes. No. 3 Tennessee, No. 4 Gonzaga, No. 5 Michigan and No. 6 Virginia received the other first-place votes. No. 7 Nevada, Auburn, Michigan State and Florida State rounded out the top 10.

The Jayhawks were the preseason No. 1 but dropped a spot after Duke decimated then-No. 2 Kentucky to open the season.

Gonzaga moved to No. 1 after beating Duke in the Maui Invitational title game, lasting two weeks before losing 76-73 to the Vols on Sunday in Phoenix.

Kansas (8-0) kept winning, though it needed a big game from Dedric Lawson to beat New Mexico State in Kansas City on Saturday. Lawson, a preseason All-American, had 20 points, including the final 14 for Kansas, and 10 rebounds in the tighter-than-expected 63-60 victory.

Kansas played without center Udoka Azubuike, but coach Bill Self was not buying any excuses for the struggles.

“We were fortunate tonight,” he said. “How in the world we’ve won these games … it’s one thing to not play well, it’s another thing to not play well and not be intellectually into the game and that was certainly the case tonight.”

It was good enough to get the Jayhawks past the Aggies — and move to No. 1.

Tennessee picked up its biggest win in four seasons under coach Rick Barnes by knocking off Gonzaga in the Colangelo Classic and has its highest AP ranking since hitting No. 1 in 2007-08.

The Vols (7-1) kept their poise and made the biggest plays down the stretch, holding off the Zags 76-73 after Admiral Schofield scored 25 of his 30 points in the second half and hit two key 3-pointers.

The victory was Tennessee’s first over a No. 1 team since beating Kansas in 2010 and Barnes’ first in 31 years as a head coach.

Tennessee matched the biggest climb of the week, moving up four spots from No. 7, while No. 15 Ohio State, No. 17 Villanova and No. 18 Mississippi State also moved up four.

No. 19 Kentucky had the largest drop this week, losing 10 spots to No. 19 after losing to Seton Hall in overtime. No. 25 Kansas State was next at nine.

Furman moved into the poll for the first time last week, thanks to a resume that includes wins over 2018 Final Four teams Villanova and Loyola-Chicago.

The Paladins (10-0) moved up two spots in this week’s poll to No. 23 after beating Elon and South Carolina Upstate. Furman plays Charleston Southern on Tuesday and UNC Wilmington Saturday.

This week’s poll had a rarity — three teams tied for the final spot, meaning there are 27 teams in the top 25.

Syracuse, Indiana and Kansas State all came in at No. 25 after receiving 118 points. It’s the first three-way tie in the AP Top 25 since three teams shared No. 13 in 1991.

The Hoosiers are ranked for the first time since climbing to No. 3 in 2016-17. The Orange moved back into the Top 25 after beating Northeastern and Georgetown. The Wildcats dropped nine spots from No. 16 after losing to Tulsa.

In addition to Syracuse and Indiana, No. 21 Marquette and No. 24 Houston each moved into the poll this week. The Cougars are ranked for the first time since hitting No. 21 last season and the Golden Eagles are back in the poll after dropping out in Week 3.

AP Top 25 poll
First-place votes in parentheses

TEAM LAST
1. Kansas (57) 2
2. Duke (4) 3
3. Tennessee (1) 7
4. Gonzaga (1) 1
5. Michigan (1) 5
6. Virginia (1) 4
7. Nevada 6
8. Auburn 8
9. Michigan State 10
10. Florida State 11
11. Texas Tech 13
12. North Carolina 14
13. Virginia Tech 15
14. Buffalo 17
15. Ohio State 19
16. Wisconsin 12
17. Villanova 21
18. Mississippi State 22
19. Kentucky 9
20. Arizona State 20
21. Marquette —
22. Iowa 18
23. Furman 25
24. Houston —
t-25. Syracuse —
t-25. Indiana —
t-25. Kansas State 16