2016 NCAA TOURNAMENT WEST REGION: Bracket Breakdown

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Every year, there is one region in the bracket that, eventually, just doesn’t make sense.

That is going to end up being this year’s West Region. Do we trust anyone of the No. 3-No. 6 seeds? Do we trust Oregon and Oklahoma? How many double-digit seeds are going to end up winning in the first round?

All that said, I’ll fully admit that I’m rooting for an Oregon-Oklahoma Elite 8 matchup, because that game will be so much fun.

THREE STORYLINES TO WATCH

  1. Did Oregon deserve a No. 1 seed?: One of the biggest criticisms of the committee this year was that Michigan State didn’t get a No. 1 seed while Oregon did. Personally, I don’t really get it, for a couple reasons. Oregon won a dual-Pac 12 title, which is not an easy thing to do, and they gathered a boat-load of quality wins while doing so. They’re also really, really good. If this team with these wins and those players were named, say, Arizona or UCLA, no one would have an issue with them getting a No. 1 seed. But since Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher wear Nike’s fluorescent green jerseys, they’re going to get criticized.
  2. Is this the region with all of the upsets?: It feels like it’s going to be, simply because this is the region where the top seeds all half question marks. No one understands how good Oregon is. Oklahoma is one cold-shooting night away from getting picked off. Texas A&M feels overseeded as a No. 3. Neither Duke or Baylor can guard, and unless Amile Jefferson got some super-human regenerative powers, he will not be playing due to a broken foot. Is this where things go wild this year?
  3. The scandal at Yale: One of the biggest stories as we head into the NCAA tournament is that Yale, who made the Big Dance for the first time in 54 years this season, will be playing while dealing with a scandal that has erupted on their campus. One of their players was dismissed from the program, and after the rest of the team showed support for him, flyers began popping up on campus claiming that the basketball team “supported a rapist”. Expect to hear quite a bit about that this week, and to be inundated with it if Yale can get out of the first weekend.

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

West

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … ?: No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 2 Oklahoma

Putting the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Elite 8 here is pretty easy simply because I’m not all that impressed by the teams in the No. 3-6 range in this region. They’re kind of whatever. But I’m not convinced that Oregon and Oklahoma are anything close to locks to make it this far. The Sooners rely too much on their jump-shooting to really feel comfortable taking them far in the tournament. One off night and they can lose to anyone.

And while I love this Oregon team, I can’t help but feel like the Pac-12 is one of those leagues that was made to look better in computer numbers because it is so balanced and deep. The Ducks looked great in league play, but just how good was the competition they were playing?

FINAL FOUR SLEEPER: Northern Iowa

I really like this UNI team. They have a dynamic point guard in Wes Washpun and they surround him with deadeye shooters that can lock-up at the other end of the floor. I also really like this draw for the Panthers. I think they matchup well with Texas, and I’m not convinced that A&M is all that great. Remember, UNI has beaten North Carolina, Iowa State and Wichita State twice, in Wichita and on a neutral floor.

UPSETS THAT CAN HAPPEN

  • No. 13 UNC Wilmington over No. 4 Duke: This is going to be a tough matchup for the Blue Devils. UNCW plays like VCU and West Virginia. They press for 40 minutes and continually throw bodies at you. They never tire. Duke? They basically have six guys, and the only one that’s a point guard Derryck Thornton. Tired legs and turnovers really plays into UNCW’s hands.
  • No. 8 Saint Joseph’s over No. 1 Oregon: My colleague Raphielle Johnson mentioned this on the latest podcast, but St. Joe’s matches up really well with Oregon. They have a pair of versatile defenders in Isaiah Miles and Deandre Bembry that will take away from of Oregon’s small-ball lineup advantage.
  • No. 11 Northern Iowa over No. 6 Texas: Do I need to explain it more than what I wrote above? UNI is really good.
  • No. 11 Northern Iowa over No. 3 Texas A&M: As good as Texas A&M is, I think they’re somewhat limited by a back court of Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins. Those guys aren’t shooters, and you need shooters when your front line is your strength.

UPSETS THAT WON’T HAPPEN

  • No. 12 Yale over No. 5 Baylor: Yale could not have drawn a worse matchup. The Bulldog strength is their front court; they’re the only team in the country in the top ten in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Baylor may be, pound for pound, the best rebounding team in the country, and they’ve made a name for themselves this season for not getting upset by lesser competition.

FEEL LIKE GAMBLING?: Saint Joseph’s to the Elite 8

The Hawks are really good this year, and they got themselves a nice little draw. Like I wrote earlier, they matchup really well with Oregon. Then, in the Sweet 16, they’re looking at a flawed Duke team, a Baylor team that can’t guard or a mid-major. They could very well end up getting beaten by Cincinnati — who is pretty good in their own right — but if any team in an 8-9 game is going to make a run, I think St. Joe’s is the team that will do it.

THE STUDS YOU KNOW ABOUT

  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: He averaged 25 points. You know him. Or you should.
  • Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen may not be the point guard Duke needs, but his endless energy and ability to attack the rim in transition is going to be valuable against someone like UNCW.
  • Gary Payton II: The other Gary Payton’s son, “the Mitten” is the best dunker in the NCAA tournament and a future first round pick.

THE STUDS YOU’LL FIND OUT ABOUT

  • Dillon Brooks and Chris Boucher, Oregon: I’m not exaggerating when I say those dudes are really, really good.
  • Chris Flemmings, UNCW: The kid has a fascinating story, and he’ll be a huge deal is UNCW picks off Duke.

BEST OPENING ROUND MATCHUP: No. 11 Northern Iowa vs. No. 6 Texas

Shaka Smart vs. Ben Jacobson will square off as the two teams that beat UNC in the non-conference. That should be enough to get you to tune in. If not, Wes Washpun vs. Isaiah Taylor is a point guard matchup that people that love broken ankles will have to see.

MATCHUPS TO ROOT FOR

  • No. 6 Texas vs. No. 3 Texas A&M: Rivalries renewed! And the game will be played in Oklahoma City. That could be fun.
  • No. 7 Oregon State vs. No. 2 Oklahoma: All due respect to VCU, but I want to see Payton II vs. Hield.

CBT PREDICTION: Oklahoma comes out of the region. Who they beat, I don’t know. But they’ll get hot at the right times against competition that isn’t overwhelming.

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.