2016 NCAA TOURNAMENT SOUTH REGION: Bracket Breakdown

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Kansas is the No. 1 seed in the South Region after winning the Big 12 by two full games and taking home the Big 12 tournament title. The Jayhawks have the best profile of anyone in the country; they had a No. 1 seed locked up weeks ago. No one can complain about the Jayhawks being a top seed, but the Jayhawks may have a gripe about their region.

The South is stacked, with a No. 4 and No. 5 seed with the ability to get to a Final Four, a No. 7 seed that spent much of the season ranked in the top ten and play-in game participants that can both legitimately win three or four games in the tournament.

THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH

  1. Kansas is the best team in the country this season. Will it carry over into March?: The Jayhawks have been terrific all season long. They won the toughest conference in the country by two full games and followed that up by winning the Big 12 conference tournament as well. But here’s the thing about Kansas and the Big 12 in general: a relative lack of NCAA tournament success has led some to believe that the conference isn’t all that good. The Jayhawks haven’t been out of the first weekend of the tournament since 2013, and in five of the 11 years that Bill Self has won the Big 12, the Jayhawks were upset before the Sweet 16.
  2. Is this the year Villanova makes a run?: The Wildcats have developed a nice little reputation for themselves for being the high seed that chokes in March. They lost to UConn in the second round as a No. 2 seed in 2014. They lost to N.C. State in the second round as a No. 1 seed last year. This season, they’re looking at a second round matchup against a Temple team they blew out in January and an Iowa team that hasn’t been good in a month. Is this the year the narrative dies? One key thing to monitor: The status of Daniel Ochefu’s ankle. He was limited during the Big East tournament.
  3. Which under-achiever will have postseason success?: Maryland, on paper, may have the best starting five in college basketball. They’re a No. 5 seed. Cal has one of the five most talented teams in the country. They’re a No. 4 seed. Iowa, the No. 7 seed, spent much of the season ranked in the top ten. Play-in game participants Vanderbilt and Wichita State were both considered Final Four teams in October. Can any of them put together a run in this tournament?

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

South

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … ?: No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Miami (FL)

The more that I look at this region, the less intimidating it seems. While the tendency will be there to call it “loaded” or the “bracket of death”, the truth of the matter is that people are only going to say that because the South is chock-full of teams that we thought were going to be good at some point this season — Cal, Maryland, Vandy, Iowa. None of them have proven anything this season beyond being unable to live up to those expectations.

That’s why I have Kansas making it to the Elite 8. I don’t think they get challenged all that much, either. I think I like Miami coming out of the bottom-half of the South, but that’s as tough as any Elite 8 pick to make. Villanova caught a break with some friendly matchups, Arizona has the pieces — and the coach — to win three games, Vandy and Wichita State are dangerous. I’m rolling with the Hurricanes because I love their guard play and they’re a veteran group with a head coach that knows how to get to a Final Four.

FINAL FOUR SLEEPER: Vanderbilt/Wichita State winner

I think I predicted both of these teams as Final Four teams at some point during the preseason. Wichita State has done nothing but win during the careers of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, and there’s no reason to believe they can’t continue to do that in March, even if it comes as an underdog this season. Vandy, on the other hand, has three future NBA players and a boat-load of knock down shooters. They’re tough to matchup with because of their size and because Wade Baldwin IV can go into takeover-mode. Their issue this season as simply been showing up to play. They don’t always do that.

UPSETS THAT CAN HAPPEN

  • No. 12 South Dakota State over No. 5 Maryland: I’m just not sold on Maryland being able to turn this thing around. The pieces don’t fit. SDSU is no pushover. They have a really good back court and a big man in Mike Daum that is as productive on a per-minute basis as anyone in the country. Don’t let Max Landis get it going from three.
  • No. 13 Hawai’i over No. 4 Cal: Hawai’i is going to have a long way to travel to get to Spokane, but once they get there they’ll give Cal some trouble Stefan Jankovic is a matchup problem up front with Eran Ganot has a couple guards that can really lock up in his back court. If good Jabari Brown shows up, however, how does Hawai’i stop him?
  • No. 7 Iowa over No. 2 Villanova: I have zero faith in Iowa being able to win this game — get to this game? — but on paper, they really do matchup well with the Wildcats. If he can handle Josh Hart’s physicality, Jarrod Uthoff is a tough cover for Hart, while Villanova’s guards and Iowa’s guards are similarly limited.

UPSETS THAT WON’T HAPPEN

  • No. 1 Kansas losing first weekend: Famous last words, I know, but I just don’t see it happening this season. I think Kansas is too good and too balanced. The emergence of Devonte’ Graham of late has been enormous for this team.

FEEL LIKE GAMBLING?: Maryland-Cal winner in the Final Four

Maryland was the preseason No. 1 team in the country, according to some. Cal was a preseason top 15 team. Both of them, when they’re playing their best basketball, are legitimate Final Four picks. I just don’t think that we are ever going to see those teams show up. The Terps don’t have enough guards and they can’t find a way to effectively get Robert Carter, Diamond Stone and Jake Layman on the floor at the same time. And what has Cal done away from Haas Pavilion to make you think that they’re going to be able to beat Kansas anywhere but Haas Pavilion?

THE STUDS YOU KNOW ABOUT

  • Jabari Brown and Ivan Rabb, Cal: Brown is a top five pick and Rabb will go in the lottery. They’ve played like it down the stretch of the season as well.
  • Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart had an all-american season and beat out Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil for the NBCSports.com Big East Player of the Year. What doesn’t he do well?
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: Big shot Melo has looked like anything-but the nation’s best closer the last month. Good Melo makes the Terps good enough to overcome their flaws.
  • Wayne Selden’s uncle, Kansas: He is a national hero.

THE STUDS YOU’LL FIND OUT ABOUT

  • Kris Jenkins, Villanova: Jenkins has been near-unstoppable for the last month. His ability to score on the perimeter as a small-ball four is such a weapon for Jay Wright, because opponents cannot hide their four-man on Hart defensively.
  • Devonte’ Graham, Kansas: Graham capped off the Big 12 tournament with a sterling 27-point performance in a win over West Virginia, and he’s about the fifth-most famous member of the Jayhawk back court.
  • Shelden McClellan, Miami (FL): McClellan is an insanely talented guard who has spent his entire college career flying under the radar.

BEST OPENING ROUND MATCHUP: No. 6 Arizona vs. Wichita State-Vanderbilt

Everything about that game is awesome to be. The First Four battle will be thrilling on Tuesday night, while Arizona is going to get a fight from whoever advances.

MATCHUPS TO ROOT FOR

  • No. 5 Maryland vs. No. 4 Cal: So much talent will be on the floor for this one, because if they square off someone is going to have to win.
  • No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 11 Wichita State: Wouldn’t this be fun? The two in-state rivals who refuse to play each other get a rematch of last year’s second round, when the Shockers knocked off Kansas.

CBT PREDICTION: Kansas rolls through the region, and frankly, I think they roll through relatively unchallenged.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

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.