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Sweet 16 Breakdowns: How the East will be won

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The East Region was completely blown up when No. 1 seed Villanova and No. 2 seed Duke lost in the second round as we have an unexpected Sweet 16 doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.

While things have certainly changed in the East Region, it has also become completely wide open as we’re going to see some very unique matchups from some teams we didn’t expect to see. 

Here’s a look at how things stand in the East Region.

No. 3 BAYLOR

How they can get to the Final Four: The Bears started this season 15-0 and looked like one of the best teams in the country before the Big 12 deflated expectations a little bit. Now that the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds have been eliminated from the East Region, Baylor is the top seed with a decent draw to make it to Glendale.

Scott Drew’s team is very sound on the offensive and defensive end this season (No. 26 and No. 3 in KenPom) and the key for the Bears is getting the ball inside and continuing to be effective scoring the ball. Among teams left in the 2017 NCAA tournament field, the Bears score the most points in the paint per game (45 per game) of anyone as All-American forward Johnathan Motley is one of the field’s best remaining players.

Offensive rebounding is another huge factor in the points-in-the-paint discussion for Baylor as they grab 40 percent of their misses, No. 3 in Division I this season.

Baylor shoots a respectable 35.6 percent from three-point range, but with their brutally slow tempo (No. 329) and lack of attempts, they need to be getting inside and finishing around the bucket.

Defensively, if the Bears stay out of foul trouble then they have the length and athleticism to give any team fits. Center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. is one of the nation’s premier shot blockers and Baylor’s defense also has the length of Motley and the toughness of Ish Wainwright to help on the interior.

If Baylor guards like Manu Lecomte and Al Freeman are dialed in and hitting shots, then the Bears should have enough offense and a consistent enough defense to make it to Glendale.

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Why they won’t get to the Final Four

Baylor happens to be facing a team that specializes in limiting points in the paint in No. 7 seed South Carolina in the Sweet 16 as that could make for a tough matchup if the red-hot Gamecocks continue to hit shots.

The Bears also need to prove that they can consistently hold onto the ball and limit turnovers. There have been times when the Baylor backcourt has looked shaky this season.

Baylor is 305th in the country in turnover percentage at 20.5 percent and in six of the Bears’ seven losses this season they’ve been higher than that.

Since Baylor likes to play such a slow-tempo game, stretches of turnovers and sloppy play for its offense can lead to prolonged periods of time without scoring.

If an opposing team gets even a little bit hot with a few three-pointers during that stretch then Baylor might be playing from behind towards the end of a game as a shaky perimeter shooting team.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

No. 4 FLORIDA

How they can get to the Final Four

When you discuss the most impressive teams of the first weekend of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, Florida has to be in the discussion among the first few teams. The Gators have been impressive so far in running past East Tennessee State and Virginia for decisive double-digit wins as they are the better seed for their Sweet 16 matchup with No. 8 seed Wisconsin.

Florida’s defense is very strong as the Gators come in at No. 3 in KenPom. The Gators feature a lot of length and athleticism across multiple positions. Kasey Hill and KeVaughn Allen are both great athletes and Devin Robinson can cover a ton of ground at the four to make up for anything Canyon Barry can’t cover. Kevarrius Hayes is also a plus rim protector who is getting more minutes with John Egbunu out with injury.

That defense also turns over opponents 21.1 percent of the time as it can get Florida a lot of easy buckets.

Offensively, the Gators are balanced as nobody averages more than 13.5 points per game as Allen, Barry and Robinson are the team’s three best players. The play of Hill and Chris Chiozza could decide Florida’s fate. If those two are getting easy looks for others and finishing plays then Florida is in significantly better shape.

Why they won’t get to the Final Four

Florida just doesn’t have a go-to player who can go and get things done when the game is tight. While the Gators have a lot of guys who put up puts behind a balanced rotation, they also get a lot of inconsistent play from guys like Hill and Robinson.

The length and athleticism isn’t going away from Florida, so they should be able to keep defending at a high level, but they have an offense that is prone to poor stretches of play. The Gators are a very average No. 116 in effective field goal percentage this season and they can be a shaky team shooting the ball from the perimeter at 36.2 percent from three-point range.

With Egbunu missing, Florida just isn’t as strong as they were inside as they miss his depth and athleticism on the interior. Hayes has been a nice replacement who can still protect the rim but the Gators have had to play Keith Stone more minutes down the stretch.

Without a go-to presence and a shaky offense, Florida might have issues in tight games against so many strong defensive teams in the East Region.

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA

How they can get to the Final Four

One of the NCAA Tournament’s most unique storylines is South Carolina’s Sweet 16 run. The Gamecocks winning their first NCAA tournament games since 1973 is cool, but more importantly, South Carolina’s offense is clicking at the right time.

Struggling to put up points for much of the season–South Carolina is 45.7 percent on two-point field goals this season, which is 301st in the country–the Gamecocks suddenly dropped 93 points on Marquette and 88 points on Duke as South Carolina got hot over a few games.

Part of that is senior Sindarius Thornwell playing at a very high level but South Carolina also has a deep roster that comes at you in waves.

If South Carolina can even shoot remotely close to how they did in the first weekend then they can rely on its rugged and physical defense to force turnovers and also create more offense.

The Gamecocks have the No. 4 defense on KenPom and are No. 4 in defensive turnover percentage, so they can create issues in a hurry by turning other teams over to get back into games.

Why they won’t get to the Final Four

Teams that shoot 45.1 percent from two-point range tend to lose against the best teams in the country, so South Carolina’s woefully inconsistent offense is going to be the focus in New York.

We already know that South Carolina is going to be fine defensively while bringing a lot of intensity on the glass but their offense has to be good enough for them to get buckets at the end of close games.

Not only does South Carolina struggle to make shots from all over the floor but they have a turnover rate of 18.6 percent that is No. 185 in the country, so they can also be loose with the ball against strong defensive teams.

And getting consistent help for Thornwell is also going to be necessary. The talented senior has received double-digit scoring efforts from both Chris Silve and Duane Notice during both games of the tournament while P.J. Dozier had a big game against Marquette.

But can all four of those guys play at a high level to get past Baylor? That remains to be seen.

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

No. 8 WISCONSIN

How they can get to the Final Four

Already knocking off defending champion and No. 1 seed Villanova, Wisconsin has the reassurance of already beating the best team they would face in the East Region.

With an experienced and veteran group led by seniors Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown, the Badgers have made the Sweet 16 four consecutive years. Factoring in the two Final Four runs in 2014 and 2015, and this senior group has been apart of 17 NCAA Tournament games over the last four years.

That kind of experience matters and it doesn’t hurt that Madison Square Garden should be mostly red for a Wisconsin fanbase that travels incredibly well.

As for the on-the-court play, the Badgers will want to slow the game down, limit turnovers and pound the offensive glass as this team is bigger up front with Hayes, Brown and sophomore Ethan Happ, the team’s best player. Koenig and Showalter as the floor spacers and Hayes is a nifty passer for a big man.

If the Badgers control tempo and hit enough shots then they could be in good position to make another Final Four as No. 8 seed after doing so in 2000.

Why they won’t get to the Final Four:

The athleticism factor will be interesting to watch as Wisconsin advances through the East Region. With a game against Florida and a potential game against Baylor that means the Badgers would have to go against a lot of length and athleticism.

While the Gators want to play much faster than Wisconsin, Florida also had no issues playing slower and dismantling Virginia at a methodical pace. Florida has the No. 3 defense on KenPom and they have the type of athletes that could smother Wisconsin’s offense.

Not getting on the offensive glass, where the Badgers are 18th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, would also really hurt a Wisconsin offense that is so-so when it comes to shooting percentages.

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.