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.

Edey scores 21 as No. 24 Purdue beats No. 8 Duke 75-56

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Zach Edey and No. 24 Purdue shook off a slow start. When No. 8 Duke tried to rally in the second half, the Boilermakers finished strong.

Edey had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Purdue beat Duke 75-56 on Sunday in the championship game of the Phil Knight Legacy men’s tournament.

Fletcher Loyer scored 18 points for Purdue (6-0), and reserve Caleb Furst finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

“I feel like we weren’t getting the looks we wanted early. As we settled into the game, we kept our poise and kept getting the shots that we wanted,” Edey said. “They were making some tough twos at the beginning of the game, shots we’re OK with all season.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey was 7 for 13 from the field and 7 for 8 at the line. He was named tournament MVP.

“They have the most unique player in the country,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said of Edey. “He’s a hard guy to prepare for because there’s nobody else like him.”

Duke (6-2) shot 36.2% (21 for 58) from the field. Tyres Proctor scored 16 points for the Blue Devils. Kyle Filipowski and Jeremy Roach each had 14.

Ethan Morton had a steal and a dunk to help Purdue open a 58-41 lead with 15:37 left in the second half.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run, capped by two foul shots by Dariq Whitehead. But Furst made a layup and a jumper to help hold off the Blue Devils.

A hook by Edey and a 3-pointer by Loyer made it 68-56 with 5:03 remaining.

Duke got off to a 14-7 start before Purdue worked its way back into the game.

“I don’t feel like we came out bad today, but they matched our energy,” Edey said.

A 3-pointer by Brandon Newman pushed the Purdue lead to 46-28. A late run by Duke cut the Boilermakers’ lead to 46-35 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: It looked as if Roach had an issue with his left foot at one point, but he went back into the game. Scheyer said Roach had hurt his toe.

Purdue: Although neither team had great offensive games, Purdue was the better team from range. Purdue made seven 3-pointers to just two for Duke.

UP NEXT

Duke: Hosts Ohio State on Wednesday.

Purdue: Visits Florida State on Wednesday.

No. 18 Alabama beats No. 1 North Carolina 103-101 in 4 OTs

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Mark Sears had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, and No. 18 Alabama sent top-ranked North Carolina to a second straight loss with a 103-101 victory in a quadruple-overtime thriller on Sunday in the third-place game of the Phil Knight Invitational tournament.

Jahvon Quinerly added 21 points off the bench for the Crimson Tide (6-1), who knocked off the top-ranked team for the first time since upsetting Stanford in the 2004 NCAA Tournament.

“I was losing track of how many overtimes we were in there at the end,” Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats said. “A lot of credit to our guys. I thought they showed a lot of character when we could have folded.”

Charles Bediako had 14 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks, while Brandon Miller also scored 14 points.

Caleb Love led the Tar Heels (5-2) with 34 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Armando Bacot contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds, and R.J. Davis had 19 points and nine rebounds in the second four-overtime game in North Carolina history. The other was a victory over Tulane in 1976.

“At the end of the day, Alabama made one more play than we did,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said. “I walked in the locker room and a number of the guys had their head down and I told them to pick their head up. I’m just as disappointed (as the players) in terms of the final outcome, but I couldn’t be any more proud about the way they competed.”

Bediako gave the Crimson Tide the lead for good on a layup with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime.

The Tar Heels, who lost to Iowa State in the semifinals, led by as much as eight in the second half before Alabama came back to tie it. The Crimson Tide retook the lead on a pair of free throws from Gurley with 2 minutes remaining, and later tied with another free throw from Sears with 51 seconds remaining in regulation.

Alabama starting forward Noah Clowney took a hard fall on a dunk attempt four minutes into the first half and had to be helped off the court. He did not return.

The Crimson Tide were 16 for 38 (42.1%) from 3-point range, with Sears making seven.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: The Tar Heels figure to take a deep drop in the Top 25 poll.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide bounced back nicely following their loss to No. 20 UConn in the semifinals, beating a top-ranked team in the regular season for the first time since a 66-64 victory over eventual national champion Arkansas on Jan. 8, 1994.

UP NEXT:

North Carolina: The Tar Heels travel to Bloomington to face No. 11 Indiana on Wednesday.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide return home to face South Dakota State on Saturday.

Clingan lifts UConn past Iowa State for Phil Knight title

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Donovan Clingan had 15 points and 10 rebounds to power No. 20 UConn to a 71-53 win over Iowa State in the championship game of the Phil Knight Invitational on Sunday night.

Tristen Newton scored 13 points for the Huskies (8-0), who went 20 for 25 at the free-throw line. Alex Karaban and Andre Jackson, Jr. each had 10 points.

Osun Osunniyi led Iowa State (5-1) with 14 points. Tamin Lipsey had 12 points and Jaren Holmes finished with 11.

“They were the more aggressive team,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We wanted a physical game. We didn’t want a physical game with them getting the rebounds and then also us putting them on the foul line. Lesson that we’ve got to learn is we need to embrace being the aggressor at both ends of the floor at all times.”

The Huskies had more offensive rebounds (20) than the Cyclones had total rebounds (19), and capitalized on that disparity with 20 second-chance points.

“Those guys are tough,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “T.J.`s an excellent coach. They grind people up. To outrebound them, it just speaks to how tough we were.”

Clingan, who was named tournament MVP, scored eight points to help UConn to a 38-28 lead at the break.

Iowa State closed to 53-48 on Holmes’ 3-pointer midway through the second half. But Karaban made a 3 and a dunk, and Newton’s jumper made it 60-48 with 7:13 remaining.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies couldn’t have asked for a better showing in Portland, winning all three of their games.

Iowa State: The Cyclones picked up nice wins over Villanova and top-ranked North Carolina in the earlier rounds but ended with their first loss of the season.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies return home to face Oklahoma State on Thursday.

Iowa State: The Cyclones return home to face North Dakota on Tuesday.

No. 3 UConn rallies past No. 9 Iowa to win Phil Knight

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
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PORTLAND, Ore. – Azzi Fudd scored 24 points to rally No. 3 UConn past No. 9 Iowa 86-79 Sunday in the championship game of the first Phil Knight Legacy women’s tournament.

“It really was difficult to play against these guys,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I don’t think we felt really good about ourselves at halftime. I thought we came out in the third quarter and really took control of the game.”

Fudd had plenty of help, with Aaliyah Edwards (20 points, 13 rebounds) and three other Huskies (5-0) scoring in double-figures. Edwards was named MVP of the tournament.

Iowa (5-2) star Caitlin Clark had 25 points, and Kate Martin added 20.

Edwards got UConn off to a strong start, scoring 10 points while the Huskies built a 20-14 edge.

Clark and the Hawkeyes then surged with a 13-2 run to begin the second quarter and led 41-35 at halftime. Clark scored 17 points in the first half.

Martin hit a 3-pointer in the third quarter for a 52-41 lead, but UConn countered with 11 straight points and led 61-57 entering the fourth.

Iowa opened the final quarter with nine straight points for a 66-61 lead, but the Huskies countered and pulled away in the middle of the period, leading 79-70 after Carolina Ducharme’s 3-pointer with 3:42 left.

“Azzi Fudd really came to life in that third quarter,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “I was really pleased with our first half. If it wasn’t for that third quarter, but yes, we play four. And we missed some shots in the fourth quarter that we usually make.”

BIG PICTURE

Iowa: Iowa dominated the battle of the 3-point line for much of the game. The Hawkeyes made 13 3-pointers to only eight for UConn.

UConn: Sunday was a tale of two halves for Fudd. Fudd started the game 1 for 8 from the field but was red-hot in the second half, going 9 for 11.

UP NEXT

Iowa: The Hawkeyes will host N.C. State on Thursday.

UConn: The Huskies will host Providence on Friday.

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.