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

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Every year, it seems like there is a region where all hell can break loose, and this year, I think that the East is the biggest through to cost you any chance of cashing in your office pool. Both top seeds — Villanova and Virginia — got potentially tough draws in the Round of 32. Louisville is arguably overseeded as No. 4. No. 5 Northern Iowa got a tough draw in the opening round, having to face Wyoming and Larry Nance Jr. And Providence has a guy that can carry his team through the bracket.

And you know what that means?

This will now end up being the only bracket to go all chalk. You’ve been warned. I think.

MORERead through all of our bracket analysis here

Three story lines to watch

  • 1. Just how good is Villanova?: That’s been the debate the last week. They stormed through the Big East, but is the Big East over-inflated by a couple of good non-conference wins? They’re a crafty, veteran group that quite simply does not have any exploitable flaws, but they also don’t have that ‘Fear Factor’, an element that will keep opposing coaches up at night trying to find a game-plan to stop. The great thing about the NCAA Tournament: Villanova will get their chance to prove the doubters wrong.
  • 2. Is Justin Anderson healthy?: With Justin Anderson playing the way that he was playing in February, Virginia is national title good. I truly believe that. But watching Anderson play in the ACC tournament, it’s painfully obvious that he is not back to 100 percent. He can’t grip the ball right with his left hand, which ruins the touch on his shot. He was averaging 13.9 points and shooting 48.5 percent from three when he fractured a finger. Without that offense, the Cavs go through extended offensive droughts.
  • 3. Which Louisville team shows up this week?: So the Cardinals got a four seed despite the fact that they’re playing without Chris Jones? The committee must have really thought highly of that win over Virginia — and deservedly so. In my opinion, the Cardinals are the great unknown in this region. Rick Pitino is a Hall of Famer for a reason, and Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier is the East’s best 1-2 punch. But beyond that, you never really know what you’re going to get with this team.

The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 3 Oklahoma

It’s a shame that Anderson got hurt when he did, but I just have a difficult time seeing Virginia get past both Michigan State and Oklahoma without Anderson at full strength, and until I see him playing at full strength, I think it’s safer to err on the side of caution. I still love this Oklahoma team. They run, they’re streaky but they can get hot from three, they have five threats to score in their starting lineup and Buddy Hield is a star. As far as Villanova is concerned, I think they’re too good to truly be tested by N.C. State, LSU or Louisville. Northern Iowa could give them some trouble, but I think they matchup well with Seth Tuttle.

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

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LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn (AP)

Final Four sleeper: No. 6 Providence

If there is anyone in this region that can completely take over a game, it’s Kris Dunn. He’s the tournament’s biggest threat to go all Shabazz Napier on us. More on him in a bit, but for the record, those 15.8 points, 7.6 assists, 5.8 boards and 2.8 steals he averaged weren’t an accident.

Upsets that CAN happen

  • No. 12 Wyoming over No. 5 Northern Iowa: The Pokes have a presence up front in Larry Nance Jr. to matchup with UNI’s Seth Tuttle, which will be the best 1-on-1 matchup of the opening round. Wyoming might actually be underseeded due to a couple of ugly losses they suffered when Nance was battling mono.
  • No. 3 Oklahoma over No. 2 Virginia: There are two things I like about this matchup for Oklahoma. They’re excellent defensively, and Virginia can go through some scoring droughts. All five of their starters can score, which is what you need to be able to do against Virginia. No. 7 Michigan State is a threat to pick off Virginia as well.

Upsets that WON’T happen

  • No. 13 UC Irvine over No. 4 Louisville: I can’t see this happening. I know that it’s cool to look down on Louisville these days — they might actually be overseeded at a No. 4 — but I can’t see Terry Rozier or Montrezl Harrell letting this group lose in the opening round, regardless of how tall Mamadou N’Diaye is (7-foot-6, by the way).

Feeling like gambling?

  • No. 8 N.C. State or No. 9 LSU over No. 1 Villanova: N.C. State and LSU have proven they can beat some of the best teams in the country. LSU won at West Virginia and at Arkansas. N.C. State beat Duke, Louisville and North Carolina. They also proved they could lose to literally anyone (Boston College? Missouri?), so I have no idea which version of those two teams will show up. I do know this: I will not be shocked if either one gets to the Sweet 16.

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

The studs you know about

  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: The Big 12 Player of the Year was known as a defensive stopper early in his career. Now? He’s a big-time scorer and a sharp-shooter for one of the region’s most dangerous teams.
  • Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier, Louisville: There may not be a smoother scorer in anyone’s back court than Rozier, while Harrell, who has awoken from a slumber the last two weeks, is raw power at the power forward spot.
  • Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova: He doesn’t get the attention of some of the other players on Villanova’s roster, but Arch is the engine that makes that team run. There’s a reason he was Big East co-Player of the Year.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: Justin Anderson is the guy that was on all the all-american teams before he broke his finger, but anyone that saw Virginia’s loss to North Carolina in the ACC tournament knows what Brogdon can do. He can take over a game as well as anyone in this bracket.

The studs the nation will find out about

  • Kris Dunn, Providence: It’s criminal how underrated Dunn is nationally. He’s a big, athletic point guard that can dominate a game as well as anyone. A sensational passer, Dunn’s come along way as a shooter this season.
  • Derrick Marks, Boise State: Marks put the Broncos on his back, carrying them to a MWC regular season title and an at-large birth after losing their second-best player to injury.
  • Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming: Nance is a stud. He’s a 6-foot-11 forward with the athleticism of his father, but he’s more skilled than you would think from a guy with his physical tools at a school like Wyoming.
  • Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa: Some folks have called him a poor-man’s Frank Kaminsky. The comparison is fair, but Tuttle isn’t all that poor.

Best opening round matchups

  • No. 8 N.C. State vs. No. 9 LSU: I have absolutely no idea what to make of this game, but I will say this: Both of these teams have the talent of a Sweet 16 team.
  • No. 5 Northern Iowa vs. No. 12 Wyoming: Tuttle vs. Nance will be fun. The game may not reach the 50’s, but these are two extremely well-coached teams.
  • No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 15 Belmont: Virginia’s defense begs teams to try to shoot jumpers over the top of the defense. Belmont is loaded with shooters. Just saying …

Matchups to root for

  • No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 2 Virginia: It’s a cheap pick, I know, but it would be a thrilling matchup to watch. Villanova runs the kind of offense that gives a Pack-Line defense like Virginia’s trouble, but things will be different if Anderson is healthy by the 29th.
  • No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 7 Michigan State: The Spartans knocked Virginia out of the NCAA tournament last season when Virginia was a No. 1 seed. Sparty has the weapons — a myriad of three-point shooters and a coach that wants to speed the game — to pull off the upset.

CBT Prediction: Virginia cannot get past Oklahoma, opening the door for Villanova to get to their first Final Four since 2009.

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.