Power Rankings: The Sweet 16 teams

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There are now just 16 teams left that can win a national title, and we are here to take you through which of those 16 teams are the most likely to win the national title.

Not who are the best, mind you. 

Who we think are the best bets to win. 

Here they are:

1. Kansas Jayhawks (No. 1 seed Midwest): The Jayhawks were the most impressive team coming out of the first weekend of the tournament, and it wasn’t really all that close. They overwhelmed the No. 16 seed in the first round like they are supposed and then followed that up with a 20-point win over Michigan State in the second round. With Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson on the floor together, Kansas is going to have the two best players in most matchups. The big concern is going to be Landen Lucas and whether or not he can stay out of foul trouble, but he’s been able to manage that pretty well down the stretch of the season.

2. Gonzaga Bulldogs (No. 1 seed West): The left side of the bracket opened up for Gonzaga this weekend, as both Duke and Villanova, potential foes on the Final Four, lost in the second round of the tournament. They still have some work to do before they have to worry about a Final Four foe, but on paper, I think the Zags have a good shot of getting that done. I think West Virginia, Arizona and Xavier is the easiest path remaining for any of the three No. 1 seeds, as they won’t have to face off with one of the top four teams left in the field until the title game.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels (No. 1 seed South): I still think North Carolina is one of the best teams in this tournament, and while they absolutely shut down Arkansas in the final four minutes on Sunday night, it wasn’t exactly the most inspiring sign that they needed to shut down Arkansas in the final four minutes to come back from a five-point deficit. If they can get past Butler, it’s going to be fascinating to see what the Tar Heels can do against the winner of Kentucky and UCLA.

4. Arizona Wildcats (No. 2 seed West): Arizona is here because of their draw as much as anything. They’ll have to get past the point guard-less No. 11 Xavier to get to the Elite 8, and once there, they will square off with either Gonzaga or West Virginia. It is somewhat concerning that they’ll be playing with Rawle Alkins’ fractured finger, but with Allonzo Trier back, that’s less of a concern.

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5. Wisconsin Badgers (No. 8 seed East): So Wisconsin sure made the Selection Committee look silly for seeding them as a No. 8 seed. The Badgers knocked off Villanova, and then caught a break with No. 2 seed Duke losing in the same region. Wisconsin gets another favorable matchup in the Sweet 16, as they’ll face off with a Florida team who lost starting center John Egbunu to a torn ACL. Combine that with the fact that the Badgers love to pound the ball inside and will have the best top three of anyone they play in the East, I like their chances to get to a Final Four. And, like Gonzaga and Arizona, I don’t think they’ll have to play one of the top four teams left in the event until the title game.

t6. Kentucky Wildcats (No. 2 seed South) and UCLA Bruins (No. 3 seed South): These two teams are the hardest two teams in this field to rank. On the one hand, I think just about everyone would agree that both Kentucky and UCLA beat anyone left in the field, and I’m not sure they aren’t actually two of the top three teams left in the tournament. On the other hand, only one of them will get to the Elite 8 and, if they do find a way to get there, they’ll have to beat North Carolina just to get to a Final Four. Then, if seeds hold, they’ll have to get past Kansas to get to the national title game.

Put another way, the way that I see it, the four best teams left in the tournament are all on the same side of the bracket, and if this thing goes the way I think it will go, one of these two teams will have to beat each of the other three if they are going to win the title.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

8. Michigan Wolverines (No. 7 seed Midwest): I’m enamored with this Michigan team. I think Derrick Walton Jr. is playing as well as any point guard in the country, I love the combination of D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner in the front court and with Duncan Robinson and Zak Irvin spacing the floor, Michigan is really hard to guard. I think they matchup well with all three of the teams left in the their region.

9. Oregon Ducks (No. 3 seed Midwest): I’m still on Oregon as a team that can get to the title, but I think this matchup with Michigan is going to be a difficult one for them. If Chris Boucher was still healthy, it would be something of a different story, but without him, I envision Dillon Brooks have to deal with D.J. Wilson and Mo Wagner quite a bit. Will he have enough size to get that done?

10. Florida Gators (No. 4 seed East): I’m torn on where to place Florida here. On the one hand, they punished Virginia in the second round, and that was impressive. On the other hand, Virginia didn’t have anywhere near the back court talent to be able to handle the pressure that the Gators bring. I think Wisconsin will, but more to the point, I think any of the five best teams left in this event will as well.

11. Purdue Boilermakers (No. 4 seed Midwest): I actually like Purdue’s draw better than some of the teams ranked above them. I think they matchup really well with Kansas, and I think their size can take advantages of weaknesses in the front lines of both Michigan and Oregon. Crazier things have happened than a player like Caleb Swanigan putting a team on his back and carrying it to a national title, but I do think this is the fourth-best team in the region.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

12. West Virginia Mountaineers (No. 4 seed West): That West Virginia press is a nightmare for anyone to deal with, and I’m not sure that Gonzaga’s back court is going to be able to handle it. The problem? Gonzaga is, as of today, the best defensive team in the country, according to KenPom. Just how often will the Mountaineers be able to get into that press.

13. Baylor Bears (No. 3 seed East): I have some real concerns about Baylor in this Sweet 16 game. They way that South Carolina defends is a nightmare for teams that don’t have great point guard play and Baylor doesn’t have great point guard play.

14. Xavier Musketeers (No. 11 seed West): If there is one outcome from the first weekend of the tournament that I just do not understand, it’s Xavier’s 25-point win over Florida State. I did not see that kind of domination coming, and I’m not sure that it last.

15. South Carolina Gamecocks (No. 7 seed East): South Carolina put together the most incredible and unlikely run to the Sweet 16 in this year’s NCAA tournament. A team that spent the entire season struggling to find a way to score averages more than 90 points in their first two games? Scores 65 points in one half against Duke? I can’t see this team repeating that for two more weekends.

16. Butler Bulldogs (No. 4 seed South): So you’re telling me that Butler is going to have to beat North Carolina and either UCLA or Kentucky just to get to the Final Four where they may have to beat Kansas just to get to the national title game? Chris Holtmann has done an unbelievable job with this team. Chris Holtmann may get hired to replace Brad Stevens in Boston if he takes this team to a national title.

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

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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.