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.

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.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.