Sweet 16 Preview: Breaking down what’s left of the West Region

1 Comment

Prior to the start of the NCAA tournament, the West Region was the one that everybody predicted would end up with all the upsets. Instead, it’s the only region that saw each of the top four seeds make it to the Sweet 16. Now, that took Buddy Hield scoring 29 second half points, Northern Iowa’s epic collapse and Duke somehow avoiding blowing a 27-point lead, but here we are.

And frankly, I think I may be as excited for the West Region as I am for any region in the Sweet 16. So let’s get into it.

KEY STORYLINES

  1. Duke vs. Oregon will be awesome: This is my favorite matchup of the Sweet 16. For starters, I think that Duke will win this game. I’ve been over this on the podcast twice now, but I’ll make it simple here: Oregon doesn’t do anything that would take advantage of Duke’s weaknesses, and given that both teams essentially play the same way, I’m going to ride with Coach K when he has the two best players. But beyond that, there are so many interesting matchups. Does Brandon Ingram’s length bother Dillon Brooks? Will Chris Boucher’s ability to shoot pull Marshall Plumlee away from the rim? Who defends Ingram? Who, for that matter, defends Grayson Allen? I see this game being played in the 80s with defense at a minimum.
  2. Does Buddy go all #BuddyBuckets on us again?: The most under-appreciated performance of the first weekend was Buddy Hield doing the insane — 29 second half points, 26 of Oklahoma’s last 31 points in a 15 minute stretch — as the Sooners held off a VCU team that erased a 13-point halftime deficit. He quite literally threw Oklahoma on his back and dragged them into the Sweet 16. Will he be able to do it again if he has to?
  3. Will the SEC or the Pac-12 get frozen out of the Elite 8?: I always tire of the arguments over which conference is the best. Conference superiority simply isn’t something that interests me, I guess, but I also think that might leave me in the minority when it comes to the college basketball world. And right now, it is the Pac-12 and the SEC that have spent the past few days getting trashed because of their inability to win games in the NCAA tournament. Texas A&M and Oregon are the only members of their respective leagues still dancing. Will they still be around this weekend?
Oregon forward Chris Boucher dunks over Arizona forward Ryan Anderson (12) and center Dusan Ristic (14) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the Pac-12 men's tournament Friday, March 11, 2016, in Las Vegas. Oregon won in overtime, 95-89. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Oregon forward Chris Boucher (AP Photo/John Locher)

WHY THEY’LL GET TO THE FINAL FOUR

No. 1 Oregon: The Ducks just create so many matchup problems. Dillon Brooks getting guarded by power forwards. Slower big men trying to stick with Elgin Cook and Dwayne Benjamin. Chris Boucher pulling centers away from the rim, creating all kinds of space and driving lanes. Tyler Dorsey’s emergence as one of the better freshman on the west coast. Throw in Dana Altman, who has proven to be one of the brightest offensive minds in the sport, and what you have is a team that is very, very hard to guard. Can you beat someone if you cannot stop them?

No. 2 Oklahoma: They have the best player in the tournament in Buddy Hield. We’ve already seen him carry the Sooners to a win. Why can’t he do it again? We also know how well the Sooners can shoot the ball as a team. All they need to do is get hot for one weekend in Anaheim and they’ll be on their way to Houston.

No. 3 Texas A&M: The Aggies are the most physical and the best defensive team left out west. Everyone else in the region is built around playing small ball and spreading the floor and shooting threes. The Aggies will get down and guard you. The other side of it is that they should be able to physically overwhelm all three West Region teams in the paint. They have guys that can score in the post, and it’s not like any of the other three teams in this region can get the ball out of post players hands the way that, say, Virginia can.

No. 4 Duke: Duke has the best coach left in the NCAA tournament and arguably the best college basketball coach of all-time in Coach K. He’s won five national titles. He knows how to handle himself in March, especially when you give him the two best players on the floor in Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram. That will be the case against Oregon just like it will be the case against Texas A&M. It won’t be the case against Oklahoma, but like Oregon, the way Oklahoma plays is a perfect matchup for the way that Duke plays. The Blue Devils couldn’t have asked for a better Sweet 16 draw, all things considered.

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (24) drives to the basket around Cal State Bakersfield guard Dedrick Basile (5) in the second half during a first-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Oklahoma City, Friday, March 18, 2016. Oklahoma won 82-68. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

BUT THIS IS WHY THEY WON’T

No. 4 Duke: As talented as Duke is, they certainly are flawed. It’s not exactly breaking news that they don’t have much depth at all. They essentially play a 6.5 man rotation, depending on how you feel about Chase Jeter. They also don’t get great point guard play, as Derryck Thornton isn’t quite ready to be more than a freshman and neither Grayson Allen or Matt Jones is a guy you want making decisions. We saw it with Yale’s pressure, as the Blue Devils very nearly blew a 27-point lead. None of these teams are known as pressing teams — and only Texas A&M has a truly physical front line — but as Yale showed up, you don’t have to be great at those things to expose Duke’s inadequacies.

No. 3 Texas A&M: The Aggies are simply at a talent deficit in this region. Are any of these guys NBA players? Maybe Danuel House. Anyone else? And playing in a region with three teams that can put up 90 points pretty easily on a good night, is this team A) Good enough defensively to slow down teams that can score like that, or B) explosive enough to be able to win a game that’s played in the 70s? I’m not sure, but knowing that they should have lost to Northern Iowa by double-digits doesn’t exactly leave me brimming with confidence.

No. 2 Oklahoma: How can Oklahoma beat you if they’re not making their jumpers? It’s really that simple. They are a jump-shooting team, and while they are an excellent jump-shooting team, jump-shooting teams still have nights where they, you know, miss jump shots.

No. 1 Oregon: The Pac-12 was not a great conference this season. I think it’s fair to say that after the league has lost five of the six teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament to a lower-seeded team. The RPI numbers the conference posted were exceptional and, at the end of the day, the biggest reason that the league members got the seeds they did was because their profiles looked better than they were. So if everyone else in the league was overrated, wouldn’t it make sense that the team that got a No. 1 seed for winning the league by a single game be overrated as well?

THE X-FACTORS

  • Chris Boucher, Oregon: Boucher has one of the most unique skill sets in all of college basketball. He blocks shots at the rim on one end of the floor and drills threes on the other end. He’ll be particularly important against Duke, who uses their center, Marshall Plumlee, as a safety net in front of the rim.
  • Tyler Davis, Texas A&M: The one real advantage that the Aggies have over anyone else in the region is that they have a big, physical bruiser that can score in the paint. That would be Davis. Does he play like something more than a freshman?
  • Luke Kennard, Duke: So here’s the thing about Duke: They’re not going to be a good defensive team this season. They just aren’t. It’s not going to happen. So they’re going to have to score a ton of points to win games, and they’re offense is absolutely lethal when Luke Kennard gets going offensively.
  • Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma: We know how good Oklahoma’s back court is. But what are they going to get out of their big men? Will Spangler be an option for them?

CBT PREDICTION: I’ve got Oklahoma coming out of the West by beating Duke in the Elite 8.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
3 Comments

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
1 Comment

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
7 Comments

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

Getty Images
3 Comments

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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
3 Comments

STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.