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Sweet 16 Preview: 16 things you need to know for the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend

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We’re kicking off our preview coverage of the Sweet 16 today with a list of the 16 things you need to know to get primed for the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

If you’re not ready to let the first weekend go, trust me, I hear you.

It was wild. You relive the eight buzzer-beaters we saw or the 13 craziest moments we experienced.

And when you’re ready to move on, continue reading here.

The Wisconsin bench reacts after Bronson Koenig's last second 3-point shot (Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)
The Wisconsin bench reacts after Bronson Koenig’s last second 3-point shot (Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

1. For the first time since 2012 and for just the second time since 2009, all four No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16. In 2015, it was Villanova that lost. In 2014, it was undefeated Wichita State that lost to Kentucky. In 2013, Gonzaga lost in the second round to … Wichita State.

This season?

All four No. 1 seeds advanced, even if: A) No. 1 seed Oregon isn’t favored to get to the Final Four out of the West Region (No. 2 Oklahoma and Buddy Hield is) and B) The favorite in the Midwest Region was No. 2 Michigan State … until they lost to No. 15 Middle Tennessee State. So that’s good for No. 1 Virginia, I guess, especially when you consider that, in each of the last two seasons, the Wahoos were knocked out by a lower-seeded Michigan State.

2. For all that talk about how wild and crazy and unpredictable the NCAA tournament is with these upsets no ever, ever, EVER saw coming, you might be surprised to find out that 14 of the 16 teams in the Sweet 16 are from the Power 5 conferences.

And that the other two programs are Villanova and Gonzaga.

And that of those 16 teams, 12 of them were in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25 and that three more were considered but left just on the outside. The only team that didn’t get votes in our preseason top 25 was Syracuse, one of the fifteen best programs in college basketball.

3. Six of the 16 teams left in the NCAA tournament are from the ACC, as Pitt is the only member of the conference that failed to make it out of the first weekend. The Panthers couldn’t even make it out of the first round. But is that proof that the ACC if the best conference in college basketball?

Maybe. Remember, the ACC is doing this while Louisville, who is one of the top three or four teams in the league, is watching from home.

But it’s also fair to mention that the conference currently has just a single win over a team that’s ranked higher than a No. 9 seed, and that came when Syracuse picked off a depleted No. 7 Dayton. Virginia and North Carolina both beat a No. 16 and a No. 9 seed. Miami and Notre Dame both beat a No. 11 and a No. 14 seed. Duke beat a No. 12 and a No. 13 seed. Syracuse got to the Sweet 16 with a win over a No. 15 seed.

So good for them for winning. But just how good are those wins?

4. The Pac-12 was no where near as impressive, as four of the six teams in the conference lost in the first round and Utah was picked off in the second round. Every one of the Pac-12 teams that have lost so far have lost to a team that was seeded below them: No. 3 Utah lost to No. 11 Gonzaga, No. 4 Cal lost to No. 13 Hawai’iNo. 6 Arizona lost to No. 11 Wichita State, No. 7 Oregon State lost to No. 10 VCU and No. 8 USC lost to No. 9 Providence.

And if No. 1 Oregon does not make the Final Four, the Pac-12 will go 6-for-6 in getting “upset”.

5. Here’s the full conference breakdown:

ACC: 6
Big 12: 3
Big Ten: 3
SEC: 1
Big East: 1
Pac-12: 1
WCC: 1

6. Exactly half of the coaches left in the Sweet 16 have reached a Final Four. They are:

Mike Krzyzewski (Duke): 12 Final Fours
Roy Williams (North Carolina): 7 Final Fours
Jim Boeheim (Syracuse): 4 Final Fours
Bill Self (Kansas): 2 Final Fours
Tom Crean (Indiana): 1 Final Four
Lon Kruger (Oklahoma): 1 Final Four
Jim Larrañaga (Miami): 1 Final Four
Jay Wright (Villanova): 1 Final Four

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

7. There are just two double-digit seeds remaining in the NCAA tournament and they just so happen to be matched up in the Sweet 16, meaning that we are guaranteed to have a double-digit seed playing for the right to get to the Final Four.

One of them is No. 10 Syracuse, who was arguably the worst at-large team ever to be included in the field. And please, don’t be the guy that says the Orange justified their inclusion with these two wins. By all means, enjoy this run, but it doesn’t “prove” the committee right anymore than getting drunk in a bar “proves” you’re 21 if you got in with a fake ID.

The other was No. 11 Gonzaga, who made as big of a turnaround this season as Indiana and Wisconsin. It’s ironic when you think about it. The Zags were a No. 1 seed in 2013. They were a No. 2 seed with two four-year starters in the back court last season. And this year, playing with a front line that has no depth thanks to the injury to Przemek Karnowski, may be their best chance to get to a Final Four since Adam Morrison and company blew that 17-point lead to UCLA in 2006.

8. Buddy Hield once again looked like the Buddy Hield of January. He averaged 31.5 points in Oklahoma’s two wins, including a 29-point second half — where he scored 26 of Oklahoma’s final 31 points in the last 15 minutes — of a win over No. 10 VCU. That’s damn impressive, and it makes him the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Award.

But does that make him the National Player of the Year? That award is typically given for regular season performance, which is why we already named Denzel Valentine the NBCSports.com National Player of the Year.

9. No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Indiana is going to be the most hyped Sweet 16 game on the schedule. That’s what happens when you have two bluebloods squaring off. That’s what happens when Marcus Page and Brice Johnson will take on Yogi Ferrell and Thomas Bryant. That’s what happens when Roy Williams is chasing his third (and final?) national title while Tom Crean is trying to get these Hoosiers over the Sweet 16 hump.

It’s going to get all the buzz that North Carolina-Kentucky would have gotten.

But it’s not going to be the best game of the Sweet 16 …

10. … because No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 4 Duke is going to be. We all should know about good Oregon is at this point in the season. And we all should know about the limitations on this Duke team. But here’s the thing about that matchup: Oregon’s strengths play right into Duke’s hands.

There are two fatal flaws on this Duke team. They have no interior depth and get obliterated on the offensive glass, which is why they lost to North Carolina at home in the regular season finale and part of why they lost to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament. They also struggle to handle pressure because their point guard play is suspect, which is why Yale nearly finished off a 27 point comeback against them in the second round.

But Oregon does neither of those things. They spread the floor, they play small and they try to attack mismatches. That plays into Duke’s hands, and if you’re into the idea of betting on talent when two teams play similar styles, you bet on Duke here. Because Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram will be the two best players on the floor.

11. And if Duke wins, that only increases the likelihood that we end up with an all-ACC Final Four. It would still be a longshot to happen — North Carolina and Virginia are the favorites to make it out of their respective regions, while Duke would need to beat Oregon and Oklahoma/Texas A&M while Miami needs to find a way to get past Villanova and Kansas/Maryland — but it’s not often that we get to the Sweet 16 and something like that is realistic.

12. But we could also see three Big 12 teams get into the Final Four. Kansas and Oklahoma are probably the favorites in their region, and if Iowa State can pick off Virginia, they can certainly beat Syracuse or Gonzaga

13. That said, I’m betting on there being Big 12 rematch and an ACC rematch for the right to play for a national title. In other words, this is what my Final Four looks like right now:

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 2 Oklahoma
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 1 Virginia

14. And in the end, that’s what you want out of a Final Four. You want the powerhouse programs and the name-brands. You want the teams with the massive fan bases that are spread across the country, or at the very least the crazy fan bases that are willing to spend crazy amounts of money to fly into a city to see their team have a chance to win a national title.

With the Final Four in Houston, you better believe that Kansas and Oklahoma fans would be able to make that trip and you better believe that North Carolina fans are going to show up. That leaves Virginia, whose fans outnumbered UNC fans at the ACC title game last week.

15. If you asked me now, my pick to win the title would be Bill Self and Kansas knocking off North Carolina and the man Self replaced at Kansas, Roy Williams.

16. Vegas agrees. Here are the favorites to win the title, according to Westgate:

North Carolina 7/2
Kansas 7/2
Virginia 5/1
Villanova 8/1
Oklahoma 12/1
Oregon 12/1
Duke 18/1
Texas A&M 20/1
Indiana 20/1
Maryland 20/1
Gonzaga 20/1
Iowa State 20/1
Miami (FL) 25/1
Wisconsin 50/1
Notre Dame 50/1
Syracuse 50/1

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.