2016 NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET BREAKDOWN: Must-see first round matchups

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This is the age of the multi-screen experience. This week, you’ll plop down on your couch with the big screen in front of you and a phone, laptop and tablet within reaching distance. You’ll have the entire NCAA tournament at your fingertips.

Prioritization is the name of the game here. You’ve got to know which games need the 48-inch treatment and which can be relegated to your iPhone. Maybe you need to know when a food run might be in order. Or, in a worst-case scenario, when you might actually consider sneaking some work in on your Thursday and Friday.

Whatever the case, below are the games you’ll want to be sure to carve out time and screen space for.

TUESDAY, March 15

No. 11 Vanderbilt vs. No. 11 Wichita State, 9:10 p.m. ET (truTV): At this point, the Shockers and their story are well known. Their KenPom ranking (12) is nearly as high as their seed after they were bounced by Northern Iowa in the MVC tournament, leaving them on the bubble with a weak tournament resume. The Commodores put themselves in Dayton with a loss to Tennessee in the SEC tournament. Wichita State has KenPom’s top-ranked defense while Vanderbilt ranks in the top-35 on both ends of the floor. Either one of these teams could pose a problem for Arizona on Thursday.

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

THURSDAY, March 17

No. 9 UConn vs. No. 8 Colorado, 1:30 p.m. (TNT): Two of the nation’s best defenses square off in Des Moines. The Buffaloes are strong inside and out defensively as teams shoot poorly inside the arc against them while Colorado still manages to keep opponents’ 3-point shots to a minimum. It’s incredibly difficult to score inside on the Huskies, who allow opponents to shoot just 41.3 percent on 2-point shots (fifth nationally) while blocking 14 percent of shots.

No. 13 Iona vs. No. 4 Iowa State, 2:00 p.m. ET (TBS): Look for a lot of possessions and a lot of points in this one. The Cyclones ranked 15th nationally in points per game (No. 3 in KP offensive efficiency) while the Gaels are 31st in points (60th in KP AdjO). On the flip side, both rank outside the top-100 in defensive efficiency. Neither team will slow the pace, either, as they rank among the quickest offenses in the country. There’s star power, too, with All-American Georges Niang headlining for the Cyclones and 22-point-per-game scorer A.J. English for the Gaels.

No. 9 USC vs. No. 8 Providence, 9:50 p.m. (TBS): This may be one of the toughest games to call in the first round, and it could be a heck of a nightcap on the first day of the true tournament. It could come down to which team is able to control tempo as the Trojans will likely be trying to speed the game up while Ed Cooley’s bunch will try to make it a slug-fest. Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil highlight the Friars’ contingent while Andy Enfield’s group has six players averaging at least 9.8 points per game, led by Jordan McLaughlin at 13.4.

[ CBT Podcast | Expert Brackets | Guide a bracket pool  ]

FRIDAY, March 18

No. 10 Syracuse vs. No. 7 Dayton, 12:15 p.m. (CBS): This could be a very fun way to open Day 2. The Orange enter the tournament reeling having lost five of their last six, but remain a dangerous draw with a defense that can really turn teams over. The Flyers boast one of the nation’s best defenses as well, though their offense can stagnate at times. A Jim Boeheim vs. Archie Miller battle is a nice piece to this as well.

No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 6 Seton Hall: Gonzaga needed a run through West Coast Conference tournament to guarantee their 18th-straight NCAA tournament appearance after a regular season in which the Bulldogs went 23-7 without racking up much in the way of resume-boosting wins. Still, this is a talented group with Kyle Witljer and Domantas Sabonis out front. The Pirates enter the tournament hot after running through the Big East tournament, knocking off two-seeds Xavier and Villanova in the semis and final. Isaiah Whitehead may be one of the most under-the-radar talents in the country to casual fans.

No. 10 VCU vs. No. 7 Oregon State: VCU played an incredibly demanding non-conference schedule in Will Wade’s first year at the helm, but the Rams had nary few wins to show for their efforts, putting them as the underdog here despite having a better statistical profile than the Beavers. Oregon State’s Gary Payton II is one of the country’s best assist men and – no surprise here – can be a major nuisance defensively for opponents.

No. 11 Northern Iowa vs. No. 6 Texas : After a 2-6 start to MVC play, the Panthers caught fire in the conference tournament, knocking off Wichita State in the semifinals (relagating them to Dayton in the process) and getting a buzzer-beater from Wes Washpun in the finals to beat Evansville. The Longhorns out-performed expectations in Shaka Smart’s first season, and could be welcoming Cameron Ridley back into the mix after he sat out most of the season with a broken foot. The matchup to watch here, though, is Washpun and Isaiah Taylor in a battle of lightning-quick point guards.

No. 14 Stephen F. Austin vs. No. 3 West Virginia: If you like aggressive, pressuring defenses, this is the game for you. No one does it better than West Virginia these days, but Brad Underwood — a former Bob Huggins assistant — is 58-1 in Southland games at SFA with a win over VCU in the 2014 NCAA tournament.

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

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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.