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.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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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

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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

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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.