2016 NCAA TOURNAMENT EAST REGION: Bracket Breakdown

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The East Region is going to be fascinating, particularly in the top half of the bracket, which features North Carolina, Providence, Indiana and Kentucky. We could very easily get a second round that sees UNC play the Friars and Indiana face those Wildcats, meaning that one of Tom Crean or John Calipari will be headed home the first weekend.

I’m unnecessarily fired up to see that postgame handshake.

THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH

  1. North Carolina’s “toughness”, and tough draw: The knock on this North Carolina team this season has been their “toughness” or lack-there-of, and while it seemed like they answered those questions this week in Washington D.C., one weekend may be enough to change a narrative but it may not be enough to change who a team is. And UNC is going to have to hope they have changed, because they got the toughest draw of just about anyone. They’re looking at Providence and Kris Dunn in the second round and either a hot Kentucky team or Big Ten regular season champion Indiana in the Sweet 16.
  2. Kentucky’s resurgence: Speaking of Kentucky, the Wildcats won a share of the SEC regular season title and took down the SEC tournament title this season despite all of the question marks we had with this group back in January. Tyler Ulis was an all-american this season, Jamal Murray has been a flame-thrower for the last month, Derek Willis is suddenly a sniper at the four and Skal Labissiere is finally playing something like the kid that was a consensus top two recruit. This will be a popular Final Four pick.
  3. Xavier’s guard play: There are two major question marks in regards to this Xavier team: Can they handle a team that is going to press them, and can they slow down a team with a dynamic point guard? And while the Musketeers got a good draw through the first weekend, they’re looking at a matchup with Notre Dame (Demetrius Jackson) or West Virginia (Press Virginia) in the Sweet 16. That’s not ideal.

[   BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: East | South | Midwest | West   ]

East

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … ?: No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 4 Kentucky

The Mountaineers don’t have an easy road by any stretch of the imagination. Stephen F. Austin is a damn good No. 14 seed — we’ll get to that in a second — and Notre Dame matches up really well with them — we’ll get to that as well. But I think WVU can get out of the first weekend, and if they do, they’ll likely draw a tantalizing matchup with a Xavier team that struggles against the kind of pressure that WVU plays with.

Kentucky, on the other hand, is staring at future matchups with Indiana and North Carolina, which is probably why John Calipari was so aggravated about Kentucky’s draw. That said, I think that UK is playing as well as just about anyone in the country this days, and I think they have the horses to make a run.

FINAL FOUR SLEEPER: No. 6 Notre Dame

Assuming the Irish can get past whichever questionable bubble inclusion gets out of the play-in game, they have a terrific draw against, potentially, both West Virginia and Xavier. The Irish have good, veteran guards that haven’t been turnover prone in their back court, and if they attack WVU’s press to score, they should get a myriad of open threes early in the shot clock. And against Xavier, they’ll ask Demetrius Jackson to break down the Musketeer defense since the Irish have the shooters to force Xavier out of their 1-3-1 zone. Last year’s Notre Dame team was unequivocally better than this year’s, but I think this year’s team has a better chance of getting to the Final Four.

UPSETS THAT CAN HAPPEN

  • No. 14 Stephen F. Austin over No. 3 West Virginia: The Lumberjacks are 58-1 in Southland play the last two seasons and won a game in the tournament two years ago against a VCU team that ran a similar press to WVU. When two teams with similar strengths go head-to-head, I usually bet on who does it better, but SFA is really, really good.
  • No. 9 Providence to the Sweet 16: UNC has been much, much improved defensively, but they still don’t have the ideal personnel to guard ball-screens. Providence loves to run ball-screens for Kris Dunn, and there’s an argument to be made that the Friars will have the two best players on the floor with Dunn and Ben Bentil.

UPSETS THAT WON’T HAPPEN

  • No. 13 Stony Brook over No. 4 Kentucky: Stony Brook is really good and has one of the nation’s best mid-major players in Jameel Warney, but Warney is basically the size of Alex Poythress and I don’t know who on the Seawolves can slow down that back court.
  • No. 12 Chattanooga over No. 5 Indiana: This will be a popular pick, but I just can’t see it. Chattanooga beat Georgia and Illinois with Casey Jones in the lineup, and I think Yogi Ferrell plus Indiana’s shooters will be enough to handle Chattanooga’s zone.

FEEL LIKE GAMBLING?: No. 2 Xavier to the Final Four

While I don’t love Xavier’s matchups in the later rounds, I do love this Xavier team. They’ve got so many guys that can beat you in so many different ways. Trevon Bluiett can play the three or small-ball four, Jalen Reynolds and James Farr and big, strong and mean, and Edmond Sumner is a total difference-maker when he plays well. Head coach Chris Mack also has a reputation for winning games in March. Again, the issue for Xavier in this even isn’t their players, it’s the matchups they drew.

THE STUDS YOU KNOW ABOUT

  • Kris Dunn, Providence: He really struggled late in the season, but Dunn is probably the most talented point guard in the country. And he’s one of the nation’s best on-ball defenders.
  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: Ferrell has been the heart and soul of this Indiana team this season, leading them through a horrid start to the season and to a Big Ten regular season title.
  • Brice Johnson, North Carolina: Johnson’s a 6-foot-11 pogo stick that averages a double-double.

THE STUDS YOU’LL FIND OUT ABOUT

  • Ben Bentil, Providence: Dunn gets the headlines, but it’s Bentil that’s been the best player for Providence over the course of the last three months. He’s a 6-foot-8 stretch-four that’s built like a wrestler.
  • Jameel Warney, Stony Brook: Anyone that saw Warney put the Seawolves on his back in the America East title game already knows. He had 43 points on 18-for-22 shooting. He’s the only reason we can entertain Kentucky getting upset.
  • Jaysean Paige, West Virginia: He’s the leading scorer for the Mountaineers but he comes off the bench. Paige is the reason they’re been effective at times in the half court offensively.

BEST OPENING ROUND MATCHUP: No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin

We already touched on this game, but it’s going to be an intense, physical, up-and-down game that should be a terrific watch.

MATCHUPS TO ROOT FOR

  • No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 4 Kentucky: These two blue blood programs haven’t squared off since the Sweet 16 in 2012, which came three months after Kentucky lost at the buzzer to Indiana in Bloomington.
  • No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 1 North Carolina: Do I really need to explain this one?

CBT PREDICTION: Kentucky continues to play great basketball as they advance through the region and 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

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

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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.