Eight teams that won’t win the National Title

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source: AP
AP

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1. Wichita State Shockers: After running the table, Wichita State was rewarded for its 34-0 record with the top spot in the bracket’s most difficult region. How difficult? The Shockers could end up playing Kentucky, which appears to be putting it all together, in the Round of 32. I think the Shockers have the experience and toughness to get to the Sweet 16, but then there is a potential matchup with defending national champion Louisville, which is playing its best basketball. I’d love the Shockers to get back to the Final Four because this team is talented — better than last year’s, in fact — and it would quiet some season-long doubters, but I would not like to face the Cardinals right now.

2. Duke Blue Devils: Another member of the Midwest Region, the Blue Devils enter the tournament coming off a ACC Tournament championship loss to Virginia. Duke should get to the Sweet 16, where it could play a familiar opponent. The Blue Devils defeated Michigan back on Dec. 3. But this Wolverines team is much improved. Derrick Walton has grown up. Caris LeVert has been great, which is big because it takes pressure off Nik Stauskas, who was limited to four points in that meeting in Durham. Let’s say Duke does get by Michigan. The trendy pick to reach the Elite 8 at the top of the bracket is Louisville, which has Montrezl Harrell inside, who will be tough for Duke to stop.

3. Virginia Cavaliers: The ACC regular season and tournament champion came on late this season, winning 16 of its last 17 games. But, the Cavaliers weren’t stellar in the non-conference. Virginia’s best win before ACC play was against NCAA tournament snub SMU, while losing back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Green Bay, another NCAA tournament caliber team, and to VCU — a No. 5 seed in the South. It’s clear the selection committee placed a lot of weight on the ACC Tournament and Virginia’s success in conference play. Many think the last No. 1 seed didn’t belong to Virginia, but that could be answered in the Sweet 16 with a potential clash against surging Michigan State.

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4. Villanova Wildcats: In the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, a buzzer-beater from Sterling Gibbs’ sent Villanova back to Philadelphia. The Wildcats got a generous seeding from the committee, especially when you consider that Creighton dominated them, twice. My personal thinking is that Saint Joseph’s gets by UConn. The Hawks were throttled by Villanova earlier this season, but Phil Martelli’s club is rolling after its Atlantic 10 Tournament run. St. Joe’s has good guard play, led by Langston Galloway and Halil Kanacevic is grabbing 13.8 rebounds per game in his last five contests.

MOREEight teams that can win the national title

5. Wisconsin Badgers: Bo Ryan has yet to reach a Final Four. This is likely his best chance to do so, with the Badgers ability to score. However, Oregon is playing well as of late. If the Ducks get by BYU, they can pose as a problem for the Badgers. Wisconsin has been up-and-down, going from No. 3 in the nation to a dreadful January to eight straight Big Ten wins. A deeper tournament run than in years past is dependent on the Badgers making shots.

6. Kansas Jayhawks: It’s not typically wise to bet against Bill Self in March, but Kansas is without freshman center Joel Embiid. If New Mexico advances past Stanford Round of 64, the Jayhawks will have to deal with Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk in the frontcourt. I’d love to see Kansas get a rematch against Florida in the South Regional final, but without Embiid that may not happen.

7. Cincinnati Bearcats: The committee did not do the American Athletic Conference any favors. The conference’s co-regular season champion drew Harvard in the Round of 64. Last season, three No. 12 seeds knocked off No. 5 seeds. This one is a common upset pick in many brackets as the Crimson are coming off last year’s shocking win over No. 3 New Mexico. Harvard has the tournament experience, which was only added to with the return of Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. The Crimson could pull off another tourney win if they catch the Bearcats in a drought. If Cincy does advance, it’ll likely face one of the hottest teams in the nation in Michigan State

8. Syracuse Orange: They didn’t lose until Feb. 19, but the Orange were playing with fire for weeks leading up. The previously 25-0 Orange went 2-5 in their last seven games. The length of the zone, freshman point guard Tyler Ennis and the seasoned C.J. Fair can all help turn it around in March. But if Syracuse plays like it had in the past six weeks, it could be an early exit for Cuse.

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.