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

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MORE REGIONAL PREVIEWSEast | South | Midwest | West

For my money, the West is the toughest region this season if we ignore the Midwest’s ‘Kentucky Factor’. With Wisconsin as the No. 1 and Arizona as the No. 2, there isn’t going to be much room for upsets on the top seed line, which is bad news for North Carolina and Baylor, two teams that certainly have Final Four potential.

But there’s more: No region has more individual talent that the West. D’Angelo Russell, Joseph Young, Le’Bryan Nash, Bobby Portis, Kyle Collinsworth, Tyler Haws, R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow, Wesley Saunders. This region is just loaded with dudes that can completely take a game over.

This isn’t a bad thing, mind you. It just makes it that much more fun.

MORERead through all of our bracket analysis here

Three story lines to watch

  • 1. Will we get a rematch of last year’s Elite 8?: Last season, the West Region ended with an absolute thriller between No. 1 Arizona and No. 2 Wisconsin in Anaheim, where Frank Kaminsky torched the Wildcats for 28 points in a one-point win that sent Bo Ryan to his first Final Four. This year, the West Region finals will take place in Los Angeles with the Badgers as the No. 1 and the Wildcats as the No. 2. More on this in a bit.
  • 2. Will Scott Drew ever get credit for what he’s done with Baylor?: I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you that Scott Drew is the second-coming of Dean Smith. He’s not. But he’s also not as bad of a coach as the memes would have you think he is. Case in point: this season, where he led Baylor back into the national conversation as a No. 3 seed. Remember this: When Drew took over at Baylor in 2004, they were coming off of the worst scandal in the history of college sports and had been to one NCAA tournament in the 50 seasons pre-Drew. He is the reason Baylor basketball is a thing.
  • 3. Which North Carolina shows up?: The Tar Heels, when they’re playing at their best, are good enough to be considered a Final Four contender. Ask Virginia, who they beat in the ACC tournament. They can also go into funks where they struggle to shoot the ball and can’t keep anyone off the offensive glass. Which Tar Heel team do we get this week?

The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 2 Arizona

For my money, these are the two best teams in the country this side of Kentucky. Wisconsin is just so ruthlessly good on the offensive end of the floor that it can help make up for some of their relative struggles defensively. Arizona is the other way around. They’re a nightmare defensively, but they can go through some scoring droughts. Both have a ton of size, both are exceedingly well-coached, and both can win a national title.

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

Final Four sleeper: No. 4 North Carolina

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Marcus Paige (AP Photo)

I think the Tar Heels are a very dangerous team heading into the tournament. I like teams that can beat you in different ways, and North Carolina not only has the ability to overpower opponents with their front line — they’re as good as anyone in the country at getting to the offensive glass — but they have this kid named Marcus Paige, who was a first-team Preseason All-American for a reason. Paige has struggled a bit this year with injuries and with a lack of help from his perimeter, but J.P. Tokoto, Justin Jackson and Joel Berry are playing their best at the right time. If North Carolina was in any other bracket than this one …

Upsets that CAN happen

  • No. 12 Wofford over No. 5 Arkansas: The way to be a team that presses is to be able to control tempo with veteran guards that won’t turn the ball over. Wofford has as much experience as anyone in the country. Oh, and they won at N.C. State. The Terriers can ball.
  • No. 4 North Carolina over No. 1 Wisconsin: For all the reasons I listed earlier, I like this North Carolina team. It’s a shame they ended up in the West Region with Wisconsin and Arizona.

Upsets that WON’T happen

  • No. 8 Oregon or No. 9 Oklahoma State over No. 1 Wisconsin: The weakness for the Badgers this season is defending talented slashers at the small forward spot. The Ducks’ Dillon Brooks fits that mold, but Oregon does not have enough size inside to deal with the Badger bigs. Oklahoma State’s best player is Le’Bryan Nash, but he will have a less-than-ideal matchup squaring off with Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker, who are just as big and quick as he is.

Feeling like gambling?

  • No. 11 BYU into the Sweet 16:

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

The studs you know about

  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: The National Player of the Year. He’s a monster. Enjoy it while it lasts.
  • T.J. McConnell, Arizona: There’s a ton of talent on Arizona this season, but McConnell is the piece that brings it all together. If you’re a point guard, study the way he plays. He’s everything a coach could possibly want out of that position.
  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: Russell is the most entertaining talent in the tournament this season. His game will remind you a bit of James Harden, but he’s a better passer and playmaker. He joins Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant on the ‘Shabazz Napier’ watch list.
  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Paige had a bit of a disappointing season, but he can still take over a game with the best of them. It also helps that he’s now healthy and getting some help from guys like Justin Jackson and Joel Berry on the perimeter.

The studs the nation will find out about

  • Joseph Young, Oregon: The Ducks got a bit unlucky getting placed in the same bracket as Wisconsin and Arizona, because Young is the kind of talent that could carry this team on a run through March. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better pure scorer in the country than Young.
  • Bobby Portis, Arkansas: Portis is one of the nation’s most underrated NBA prospects. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-10 forward with a three-point shot and the kind of toughness you’d expect from an Arkansas kid. he won SEC Player of the Year over the Kentucky guys.
  • Rico Gathers, Baylor: Gathers looks like a tight end and is the nation’s best rebounder. He’s power personified.
  • Kyle Collinsworth, BYU: Everyone wants to talk Tyler Haws, but Collinsworth is the engine that makes this team run. He has six triple-doubles this season, running the point despite standing 6-foot-7. Think Kyle Anderson, only more athletic.

Best opening round matchups

  • No. 7 VCU vs. No. 10 Ohio State: Havoc vs. D’Angelo Russell. Yes, please! And congratulations to the good people of Portland for winning ‘The Peppas‘ lottery. You’ll love them.
  • No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 13 Harvard: Ok, get your academic scandal jokes out of the way now. Harvard is tough, physical defensive team that has upset a team in the tournament each of the last two seasons. Is UNC next?
  • No. 5 Arkansas vs. No. 12 Wofford: You can’t get two more differing styles of play than Arkansas and Wofford. The Terriers are tough, too. They won at N.C. State earlier this year.

Matchups to root for

  • No. 1 Wisconsin vs. No. 2 Arizona: There’s a lot of intrigue in this bracket, but the matchup that we all want to see if Wisconsin and Arizona, for a number of reasons. For starters, in this man’s not-so-humble opinion, these are the two best teams in the country not named Kentucky, which makes it must-see TV as is. But there’s so much more at play here. The game will be played in Los Angeles, which turns it into a de-facto home game for the Wildcats. That was the same situation last season when the Badgers knocked off then-No. 1 seed Arizona in Anaheim in the Elite 8. I’ll feel cheated if we don’t get this game.

CBT Predictions: Wisconsin beats Arizona in another thriller to get back to the Final Four.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.