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.

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

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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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.