Sweet 16 Preview: After thrilling first weekend, what’s next?

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The first weekend could not have been more thrilling, beginning with Vee Sanford’s runner that sent No. 11 Dayton past No. 6 Ohio State and ending with the dunk show that Aaron Gordon put on for No. 1 Arizona.

In between, we unbelievably only had one true buzzer-beater — Cameron Ridley dispatching No. 10 Arizona State — but we did manage to put together the best day of Round of 64 games ever and the single best college basketball game since Louisville beat Michigan for the 2013 title.

What’s in store for us in the Sweet 16?:

MORE: Catch up on all our coverage from the first weekend of the tournament

FIVE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW:

1. Is this the real Kentucky, or was Sunday just a tease?: The Wildcats looked awesome in their win over Wichita State, a performance that’s almost impressive enough to make us forget that they lost to South Carolina this month. If No. 8 Kentucky continues to play the way they did on Sunday, they can win a national title. No question. But I also would not be surprised if No. 4 Louisville beat them by 15.

2. Will Florida be challenged?: The Gators can be just stifling defensively. No. 4 UCLA can score in droves, but the tournament’s top overall seed has the kind of versatility that can give them fits. No. 10 Stanford has the size and No. 11 Dayton is a scrappy, well-coached, plucky bunch that won’t go down without a fight. That said, a ten point lead against Florida can be insurmountable, particularly with Scottie Wilbekin in the closer role. Will they be tested?

RELATED: Sweet 16 Power Rankings

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3. Does Tom Izzo get back to the Final Four?: Every four-year senior that Tom Izzo has ever coached has made a Final Four. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are still without a trip to college basketball’s biggest stage.

4. Is this the year Sean Miller becomes ‘elite’?: The Wildcats have shown the ability to absolutely beat the brakes off of opponents in the last month. When they’re getting out in transition, they’re a highlight reel waiting to happen. Make them play in the half court, and they’re very beatable. Head coach Sean Miller is one of the best young coaches in the game, as a tactician and a recruiter, but until he’s got a Final Four on his resume, he doesn’t belong in the conversation among the game’s elite.

5. Will Shabazz Napier have his Kemba Walker moment?: Kemba was a really good player having a great year when he shredded Gary McGhee’s ankles while hitting a buzzer-beater in the Big East quarterfinals. His legend lives on because he went on to win the title, but that’s the moment that everyone remembers. In UConn’s return to tournament play at Madison Square Garden, will their new star point guard create his own legacy? The No. 7 Huskies will get No. 3 Iowa State on Friday.

UK-WSUHype was justified | How good can Kentucky be? | One loss ruins Wichita State’s season?

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH:

1. Julius Randle, Kentucky: The improvement of the Harrison twins is what gets talked about with the Wildcats, but it was Randle’s 13 points, 10 boards and, most important of all, six assists that has the Wildcats in the Sweet 16.

2. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State: He may not even be the best point guard in his Sweet 16 matchup — Shabazz Napier is — but his size at his position makes him a nightmare to try to guard and the fact that the Cyclones will be playing without Georges Niang makes him just that much more vital to Fred Hoiberg’s club.

3. Adreian Payne, Michigan State: He may not be the most important player on Michigan State, but when he gets it going, he may be the most unstoppable player left in the tournament. That 41-point performance against Delaware in the Round of 64 resonates.

4. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida: The nation’s most underrated player. He’s gone from being nearly booted from the program to becoming the team’s best perimeter defender and arguably the best clutch-scorer left in the tournament.

5. Aaron Gordon, Arizona: He’s the guy that makes everything happen for Arizona and their key cog on the defensive end. He’s also playing his best basketball of the season on the offensive end of the floor.

KANSAS: Joel Embiid’s back injury cost all of us | Bill Self’s fifth tourney loss to No. 9 seed or lower

RANKINGS THE EIGHT SWEET 16 GAMES:

  • 1. No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky (Fri. 9:45 p.m., Midwest): Do I need to explain this?
  • 2. No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State (Fri. 9:57 p.m., East): The Spartans have been the favorite to win the East since the bracket was released. I think the dual-ACC champ has something to say about that.
  • 3. No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State (Thu. 10:17 p.m., West): I’m not sure if SDSU can score against the Arizona team that showed up Sunday, but this game is in Anaheim. The atmosphere will be outrageous.
  • 4. No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 11 Tennessee (Fri. 7:15 p.m., Midwest): I’m really intrigued by this matchup, as the Vols are streaking and have the physicality up front to give Michigan issues.
  • 5. No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 7 UConn (Fri. 7:27 p.m., East): Tough draw for the Cyclones, as UConn packs MSG. Losing Georges Niang will hurts as well. DeAndre Kane vs. Shabazz Napier will be awesome.
  • 6. No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA (Thu. 9:45 p.m., South): Maybe I’m overlooking UCLA, but I think Florida will handle them. Key will be whether or not the Gators are hitting jumpers. If they are, look out.
  • 7. No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor (Thu. 7:47 p.m., West): All of a sudden, the Bears look really, really dangerous. Can the Badgers figure out Baylor’s zone?
  • 8. No. 10 Stanford vs. No. 11 Dayton (Thu. 7:15 p.m., South): Stanford’s size vs. Dayton’s versatility.

AND THE FINAL FOUR WILL BE … : Why back off my picks now? I’m still rolling with No. 1 Florida, No. 1 Arizona, No. 4 Louisville and No. 4 Michigan State.

Mark Few: NCAA prez Mark Emmert “needs to step up and be a leader and make some quicker decisions.”

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Count Mark Few as one looking for the NCAA to shorten its timeline when it comes to potential discipline for schools ensnared by the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball.

The Gonzaga coach is also calling out NCAA president Mark Emmert by name in his plea to speed things along and make teams who may have violated NCAA rules accountable.

“I’m disappointed. I don’t think this is something the NCAA needs to take their time on,” Few said, according to Yahoo Sports. “There’s teams out here who are competing for Final Fours and national championships and they don’t need to stall this thing out.

“They need to make decisions and roll with it. I think that’s on Emmert. Emmert needs to step up and be a leader and make some quicker decisions.”

Emmert said last week that schools who were implicated by the FBI’s investigation, including by information that was made public in October’s court proceedings that involved three guilty verdicts, would not face potential punishment until after this season with the NCAA investigation extending beyond the Final Four.

New NCAA rules allow it to use testimony and evidence presented in those trials, but how the NCAA will apply those rules – will it simply accept anything mentioned under oath? – remains unclear. The NCAA, though, has committed to handle things methodically, as it so often does to the frustration of many a coach. It’s not exactly surprising, though, that the NCAA is in no hurry to drop sanctions on prominent schools – programs like Kansas, Auburn, Creighton, LSU, Louisville and Miami – in the middle of a season. Such a move would dominate discussion of the sport and upend seasons in an unprecedented manner. Intraseason discipline, especially something like a postseason ban, against some of the country’s top programs would be almost guaranteed to invite ugly legal challenges.

It’s not exactly a courageous rationale, but it is pragmatic. It also is the least likely to affect the bottom line, which is usually the best spot to place your bet when trying to determine the NCAA’s course of action.

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