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Sweet 16 Preview: Re-ranking the remainder of the NCAA Tournament field


We’re kicking off our preview coverage of the Sweet 16 today with a ranking of the 16 teams left in the NCAA tournament to get you primed for the second weekend.

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.

1. No. 1 (South) Kansas: Kansas is not the most talented team in the country. They don’t have the best player left in the tournament. They probably don’t even have the best player left in their region and may not even have the best player on the floor when they take on No. 5 Maryland on Thursday night. But Bill Self has done a tremendous job with this team, balancing egos and shots and touches. They may not have that one guy that you know will take over a game at some point, but they will have three or four guys on the floor at any given moment that can take over a game. A punch is the most dangerous when you don’t know where it’s coming from.

2. No. 1 (East) North Carolina: Part of me wanted to put UNC No. 1 on this list because I think that, when push comes to shove, Roy Williams has the team with the highest ceiling of anyone left in the NCAA tournament. With Brice Johnson playing like an all-american and the good Marcus Paige and Joel Berry showing up, the Tar Heels are really, really, especially when they decide to defend like they have the last three weeks. But will that last? Are we sure there won’t be anymore defensive blips?

3. No. 2 (West) Oklahoma: Buddy’s back, baby. Hield went for 27 points in the tournament opener and followed that up with a 36-point performance against VCU where he scored 29 in the second half and had 26 of Oklahoma’s 31 points in the final 15 minutes. Oklahoma is a limited, one-dimensional team, but when that one-dimension is kicking into high gear, they can be awesome.

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

4. No. 1 (Midwest) Virginia: If you were to give me odds on who would win the tournament, I think I’d have the Wahoos higher than Oklahoma simply because I think they have a much easier path to get there, locking horns with Iowa State and a double-digit seed instead of Texas A&M and the Duke-Oregon winner. I’m still going to reserve the right to change my mind on this before the Sweet 16 starts, because I’m not sure anyone else in the country has a guy that can take over offensively and defensively the way that Malcolm Brogdon can.

5. No. 1 (West) Oregon: This is a chance for Oregon to prove a lot of things to a lot of people. We’re now into the Sweet 16 and there are probably still die-hard college basketball fans that can’t name their starting lineup. That’s what happens when you’re underrated in the preseason, you can’t get many nationally-televised games and your TV network makes it as difficult as possible for media members and fans alike to actually be able to see the games. How many people are going to actually be seeing the Ducks — who are really, really good, but the way — for the first time when they play Duke on Thursday?

6. No. 5 (East) Indiana: I’m still concerned about Indiana’s size and depth along their front line, but it is absolutely impossible to ignore how good they’ve gotten on the defensive end. The combination of Troy Williams being locked in and O.G. Anunoby and Colin Hartman becoming effective and versatile players is a difference-maker. Oh, and they’ve got this dude named Yogi who’s pretty OK. I can’t believe how much I like the Hoosiers right now based on what they were three months ago.

7. No. 3 (South) Miami: The only reason that I don’t have Miami in the top five is Angel Rodriguez. He’s one of the most talented point guards left in this tournament, and, as I wrote on Saturday, is one of those guys that is not afraid of the moment. The problem is his consistency. It’s been less of an issue this season, but there is still a phenomenon known as ‘Good Angel’ and ‘Bad Angel’. When he’s good, their talent — Sheldon McClellan is the real deal — and their athleticism is probably better than you realize.

8. No. 2 (South) Villanova: Kudos to Villanova for getting over the Sweet 16 hump. Ryan Arcidiacono has been too good for too long to forever be associated with early tournament exits. But the problem is that I’m just not sure that this team has the talent or athleticism to make it to the Final Four. Those fears, however, are somewhat assuaged  when Kris Jenkins plays the way he has for the last month.

9. No. 4 (West) Duke: The depth issues and the point guard issues reared their ugly heads in the second round game against Yale, when Duke nearly — and probably should totally — blown a 27-point lead to a Bulldog team that isn’t exactly known for their ability to press. But the bottom line is this: Duke is going to have the two best players on the floor almost every time they play. Will that be enough this deep into the tournament?

10. No. 3 (West) Texas A&M: I’m just not sold on the Aggies. I haven’t really been all season long. I love Danuel House, but I’m not sure who else on this team can beat you. Tyler Davis is a year away from truly being a force, Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins are not exactly guys you need to guard out to the three-point line and Jalen Jones can be inconsistent. If Northern Iowa was able to inbound the ball under their own basket, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.


2016 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Bracket - 3.20.16

11. No. 4 (Midwest) Iowa State: There are two reasons the Cyclones are rated this low: Depth and the fact that you never really know what you’re going to get out of Deonte Burton and Jameel McKay. That said, Georges Niang and Monte’ Morris is the best 1-2 punch this side of Allen and Ingram.

12. No. 6 (East) Notre Dame: I’m not really sure how to feel about this Notre Dame team. I love Demetrius Jackson, I love Zach Auguste and I think that Steve Vasturia, Bonzie Colson and V.J. Beachem are underrated role players. But this team also should have lost to Stephen F. Austin, they should have lost to Duke in the ACC tournament, where they eventually lost by 31 to UNC.

13. No. 11 (Midwest) Gonzaga: The big difference for the Zags has been the play of their back court recently. If they can get this effort from Josh Perkins (reached double-figures five of the last eight games) and Eric McClellan (an elite defender who has gone off for 20+ points in three of his last five games), their front line of Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer is good enough that this might be Mark Few’s best chance at getting to a Final Four.

14. No. 7 (East) Wisconsin: Maybe I just can’t shake the image of December Wisconsin from my memory, but I think it’s fair to make the argument that this is the least-talented team left in the tournament. That hasn’t slowed them down the last two months, however, and the only thing currently standing between them and a shot at the Final Four is Notre Dame … well, and Nigel Hayes if he can’t find a way to get it going this weekend.

15. No. 5 (South) Maryland: In terms of talent, Maryland might be No. 1 on this list. Seriously. But the Terps looked anything like the team we expected to see this season for an extended period of time. The did for four minutes Sunday night. They did for a half against South Dakota State. I’m not sure why people expect them to change against the best team left in the tournament.

16. No. 10 (Midwest) Syracuse: I’m going to recycle a line that I used in the Sweet 16 Preview because I love it so much: “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.”

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.