Sweet 16 Preview: Everything you need to know about the East Region

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The East Region is going to give us what is probably the best matchup of the Sweet 16. North Carolina and Indiana are two blueblood, powerhouse programs that would be the favorite to get to the Final Four should they win this game. The Tar Heels have been the favorite all season and are peaking at the right time, while Indiana fans may love this team as much as any in recent years given their improvement and what the expectations were for them as recently as December. 

The one downside to this region? The best game is going to be played on Friday night. 

KEY STORYLINES

  1. Is this the last time that we’ll see Roy Williams in the Sweet 16?: North Carolina has an NCAA Investigation hanging over its head. Roy Williams is old, he’s got bad knees and he’s been battling vertigo for years. He’s got a team that can legitimately win a national title. If he does, is there a better way to ride off into the sunset? I don’t know if it is going to happen. But it is going to be something that is talked about.
  2. Can Tom Crean actually get Indiana through the Sweet 16?: Tom Crean changed the way that he is viewed by Indiana fans when a win over Kentucky in the second round of this NCAA tournament. No longer is he the coach of a team that couldn’t find a way to guard anyone in December. He’s the coach of a Big Ten champion that beat the biggest thorn in the Hoosier side en route to Philly. This is now the third time he’s been this far in the tournament since he’s been in Bloomington. It’s the furthest he’s been in the tournament with a team that didn’t have Dwyane Wade. Does that qualify as a monkey on his back?
  3. Is the UNC-Indiana winner the region winner?: Let’s call it like it is: North Carolina and Indiana are hands-down the two best teams in his region. Beyond the whole talent angle, both Notre Dame and Wisconsin are probably lucky to be where they are right now. The Irish beat Stephen F. Austin on the back of a fluky tip-in at the buzzer by a kid that hadn’t made a shot all postseason, and Wisconsin needed a pair of threes and a questionable charge call in the final 15 seconds in order to get past Xavier. It will be interesting to see what the line is on the Elite 8 game in the East.
North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) reacts after dunking the ball against Providence guard Jalen Lindsey (21) during the second half of a second-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

WHY THEY’LL GET TO THE FINAL FOUR

No. 1 North Carolina: There may not be a team in the country with a higher ceiling that North Carolina. When they’re hitting their threes — they have been the last two weeks — and when they’re playing defense the way that they have since the start of the ACC tournament, they could every well be the best team in college basketball.

No. 5 Indiana: The Hoosiers may have the best player in the region in Yogi Ferrell. And if he’s not the best, he’s arguably the most-capable of putting a team on his back and carrying them to two wins. But there’s more to it than that: The Hoosiers are finally defending like a Big Ten champ, Troy Williams has been a nightmare in transition and O.G. Anunoby suddenly looks like a guy that is going to end up getting looked at heavily by NBA scouts. And that defensive improvement didn’t come at the expense of their ability to score or to play in transition. Indiana is a dangerous team.

No. 6 Notre Dame: There are a couple things to like about this Notre Dame team: Demetrius Jackson can take a game over, Zach Auguste is a hoss in the paint, Steve Vasturia has developed into a pretty good shut-down defender. Throw in a roster full of guys that can shoot the heck out of the ball, and this is a group with a high ceiling that can beat good teams.

No. 7 Wisconsin: I honestly have no idea. I can’t figure out how Wisconsin turned their season around and earned a No. 7 seed, let alone how they managed to play their way into the Sweet 16. It almost feels like they’re playing with house money right now. But I will say this: Nigel Hayes — when he’s not trying to prove that he’s a jump-shooter — and Ethan Happ are a formidable front court duo while Bronson Koenig has proven that he is one of the best clutch-shooters in college basketball. Throw in a coach that has them running the Swing Offense well, and what you have is a team that has surprised us for two months straight. Why would they stop now?

The Wisconsin bench celebrates a basket during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Xavier in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 20, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
The Wisconsin bench (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

BUT THIS IS WHY THEY WON’T

No. 7 Wisconsin: Nigel Hayes is supposedly the best player on this roster, and he’s shooting 36 percent from the floor and 29 percent from three on the season. It’s not like he’s taking over in the tournament, either. He’s 5-for-27 from the floor in two games. How many more good teams can they beat when Hayes plays that way?

No. 6 Notre Dame: The Irish needed a fluky late-game run and last-second shot to beat Stephen F. Austin. They barely got by a Michigan team playing without Caris LeVert. They lost by 31 to North Carolina in the ACC semifinals and needed a miraculous, 16-point comeback to beat Duke and get to the ACC semis. That’s their last four games. Why should we be impressed?

No. 5 Indiana: The major concern for this Indiana is getting past North Carolina, and the reason that is a concern is because of the size that the Tar Heels have on their roster. When Indiana has their best lineup on the floor, they have Troy Williams and O.G. Anunoby at the forward spots. One of them is going to be tasked with guarding Kennedy Meeks or Isaiah Hicks? That could get ugly, but …

No. 1 North Carolina: … the flip side of it is that Meeks, Hicks or Brice Johnson is going to be asked to guard one of them. My guess is that it will Anunoby, simply because Williams is far too dangerous in transition or slashing to the rim to risk him being guarded by a slow-footed big man. That is why …

THE X-FACTOR

  • Power Forwards: … that particular matchup is so interesting. Will North Carolina’s size win out? Will Tom Crean be forced to play Max Biefeldt and Thomas Bryant together? Will the Tar Heels punish the offensive glass and prevent run outs? Or will Williams and Anunoby be able to hold their own well enough in the paint that they’ll be able to get out in transition and score with the floor spread? To me, whoever wins that matchup will win that game, and that, in turn, will be what gets them to the Final Four.

CBT PREDICTION: North Carolina gets past Indiana and steamrolls whoever they end up playing in the Elite 8.

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.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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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.