Bracket Breakdown: Everything you need to know to fill out the South Region

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The South ended up playing out as the region that everyone will love to hate on. I’m not sure there is a program that is as universally despised by all non-fans as Duke, and the passion with which the general public hates Duke matches that with which they hate on Gonzaga. The Zags have brought it on themselves, but having so much regular season success lead to so few postseason accolades. The question that has to be asked, however, is whether or not there is anyone in this region that can actually pull off an upset of one of these two teams.

The answer? Keep reading.

MORERead through all of our bracket analysis here

Three story lines to watch

  • 1. Is this the year Gonzaga finally lives up to the hype?: Every season, we talk for four months about how good Gonzaga is, and every season, at least in recent years, the Zags have let us down in March. This year’s group will undoubtedly bring back memories of the 2013 tournament, when the Zags, as the No. 1 overall seed, lost in the Round of 32. The one thing that concerns me is how one-dimensional each of their three big men are, but I don’t see anyone in this bracket truly being able to exploit that.
  • 2. Can Georgetown break the Curse of the Double Digit Seed?: Georgetown’s last five NCAA tournament losses have come to: No. 14 Ohio, No. 10 Davidson, No. 11 VCU, No. 11 N.C. State and No. 15 Florida-Gulf Coast. This year, they get No. 13 Eastern Washington in the opening round, a team with the nation’s leading scorer on the roster and a win at Indiana under their belts. Does the trend continue?
  • 3. Freshmen vs. upper-classmen: Duke enters the tournament with as much hype as anyone. That’s what happens when you have talents like Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow on your roster. All three of those guys are freshmen, and if you look at the other top four or five teams in the region, they’re all built around upper-classmen. What wins out?

The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Gonzaga

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Jahlil Okafor (AP Photo)

You’ll find a lot of chalk in the Elite 8 and Final Four projections this season, but that is a result of the fact that the top seven or eight teams this season are a cut above the rest of the country. That’s no different in the South. Duke will have a couple of tough matchups along the way, but they’re so dangerous when they get hot that it’s hard to see teams that can struggle to score beating them. And while Gonzaga’s got some red flags, this is a team with size, shooting, versatility and strong point guard play that got a favorable draw.

Final Four sleeper: No. 5 Utah

The Utes have all the makings of a team that can make a run. They play tough defense, they have size inside, they have shooters than can catch fire and they have a bonafide star running the show in Delon Wright. Larry Krystkowiak’s club has struggled down the stretch of the season, but this is a team built for making a postseason run.

MORE: Did the committee pick the right No. 1 seeds? | What about the bubble teams?

Upsets that CAN happen

  • No. 13 Eastern Washington over No. 4 Georgetown: As we mentioned earlier, Georgetown has made a habit of getting picked off early in the tournament by a lower seed, and Eastern Washington is certainly capable of continuing that. They play fast enough that they can nullify the advantage gained by the presence of Josh Smith.
  • No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over No. 5 Utah: I know, it’s weird saying Utah can make a Final Four and that they can get upset in their first game. But Stephen F. Austin is a really good team that plays a hectic half court style of defense that forces a lot of turnovers. Ask VCU, they lost to the Lumberjacks in the opening round last season.

Upsets that WON’T happen

  • Iowa State losing before the Sweet 16: I really like this Iowa State team, if you can’t tell. The Cyclones are so difficult to prepare for on short rest, and while I have the utmost respect for Larry Brown’s coaching acumen, I’m not convinced that SMU is anything more than a by-product of dominating a league that really wasn’t all that good. And UCLA? They can score, but are they disciplined enough defensively to slow down Iowa State?

Feeling like gambling?

  • No. 8 San Diego State over No. 1 Duke: The Aztecs do everything defensively that you need to do to beat Duke: They are terrific with their big-to-big doubles and they defend the three-point line. But can they score enough? They’ll need the Blue Devils to struggle shooting from the perimeter and they’ll need to dominate the offensive glass after getting past St. John’s, but the matchup couldn’t be better for the Aztecs as a No. 8 seed.

MORE: All-AmericansPlayer of the Year | Coach of the Year | Freshman of the Year

The studs you know about

  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke: Okafor is, quite simply, the best low-post scorer I can ever remember seeing play in college (I’m 29). He has his shortcomings, but he’s the best at what he does well.
  • Delon Wright, Utah: He’s flown under the radar this season despite having an all-american year.
  • Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: Pangos began his career carrying a scoring load for Gonzaga. He’s matured into a phenomenal all-around point guard.
  • Georges Niang, Iowa State: You won’t find a more skilled forward anywhere, and you won’t find a coach that’s better at putting him in a position to be successful.

The studs the nation will find out about

  • Tyler Harvey, Eastern Washington: He’s the nation’s leading scorer playing in a system that loves to get up and down the floor. If Eastern Washington wins a game, you’ll be inundated with stories of how he committed to play to EWU’s coach when he was at a Division III program.
  • D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: Maybe it’s because he plays in the Big East, but DSR gets nowhere near enough attention for how good of a basketball player he is.
  • Nic Moore, SMU: In a season where he was recruited over by Larry Brown — remember Emmanuel Mudiay? — Moore managed to put together a season deserving of the American Player of the Year award.
  • Tyler Kalinoski and Jack Gibbs, Davidson: They may not play much defense, but Bob McKillop has at his disposal two awesome guards that can do everything on the offensive end of the floor.

Best opening round matchups

  • No. 6 SMU vs. No. 11 UCLA: Good luck trying to pick the winner here. UCLA is more talented, but SMU has the Larry Brown factor.
  • No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 Davidson: Iowa is more talented than a No. 7 seed and inconsistent enough to be on the bubble as recently as three weeks ago. And Davidson? They went from beating VCU by 27 to losing to them by 20 in the span of a week.

Matchups to root for

  • No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Utah: The Utes are good enough defensively to slow down Duke’s high-powered offense. NBA scouts would love this as well. Jacob Poeltl getting a shot at Okafor and Wright squaring off with Tyus Jones.
  • No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Gonzaga: Duke’s loaded freshmen class going up against the veterans that make up Gonzaga’s roster. Coach K vs. Mark Few. Duke’s return to the Final Four or Gonzaga’s first ever trip to the final weekend of the season.

CBT Predictions: Duke makes it back to the Final Four with wins over Utah and Gonzaga along the way.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.