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The Dummy’s Guide to filling out a 2018 NCAA Tournament Bracket

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The 2018 NCAA tournament is finally here!

March is a dreadfully boring time during the American sports calendar. Pro sports are still weeks away from the playoffs or the start of the regular season.

Thankfully you have March Madness.

It’s a unique event in American sports that captures the casual fan’s attention for a few weeks every year. And if you’re reading this, you’re potentially someone who hasn’t watched a lot of college basketball during the regular season.

That’s totally okay. College basketball fans are thrilled to have you along for the ride of March.  And I’m here to help catch you up and give you tips on things to look for and trends to avoid when filling out a bracket.

If you’ve never filled out a bracket before, don’t be intimidated. The person that you least expect usually ends up winning a bracket challenge. It gives everyone something to talk about at work during the next few weeks. And who wants to focus strictly on work? So take some of this advice into account and start making selections. It’s going to be a magical three weeks of basketball.

1. Fill out one bracket and one bracket only. Multiple bracket people are the worst. Take some time to think about your selections. Then ride or die with them during the next few weeks like a real champion. People who brag about having a team going far in “my other bracket” have absolutely zero honor and deserve zero respect. They’re hedging their bets with multiple brackets just to try to impress you during small talk. Totally pathetic.

2. How you actually fill out your bracket is another life decision. You can be like most people and fill out a bracket online. Or you can go old school and fill out your bracket with pen and paper. I always respect people who have a physical copy of their bracket on them to review at a moment’s notice. It shows dedication and a desire to get better.

And people who cross off or highlight each game after its finished? Heroes.

3. Don’t be afraid to make late changes to your bracket. Games don’t tip until Thursday afternoon. You don’t have to lock in your selections until those first tips. Take as much time as you need to review. Frequently check back on College Basketball Talk during the week and read our expanding preview coverage (shameless plug). If any weird injuries go down in practice, you’ll be ready to go. Who knows, with the way this season has been, maybe the FBI’s investigation throws some random information out before the event that changes something. Stay on your toes up until the games begin.

4. Ride with teams you care about. Pick against your enemies. What’s the point of all of this if you can’t cheer for the teams you love while going against the teams you hate? This is supposed to be fun! If you’re a fan of the scrappy underdog mid-major team who might pull off an upset then take it a step further and ride them into the Sweet 16. It’s all about rooting for your teams and having something to believe in.

5. A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed. Not much else to go over here. Don’t do it.

6.  The most popular upset comes from the four No. 5 and No. 12 matchups. One of those No. 12 seeds is definitely going to win. Maybe two or three. And this season’s crop of mid-major teams in the field is pretty strong. South Dakota State has an All-American candidate in big man Mike Daum. New Mexico State knocked off Miami during the season. Do some research on a No. 12 seed that you like and take them into the next round.

7. Don’t mess with No. 6 seeds going deep into the tournament. For whatever reason, a No. 6 seed hasn’t been to the Final Four since 1992. Last year was a bloodbath for No. 6 seeds. Three of them lost in the first round to No. 11 seeds and none of them made the Sweet 16. Beware of the No. 6 seeds.

8. Speaking of No. 11 seeds, watch out for the First Four teams playing in Dayton on Tuesday and Wednesday night. I know, I know — those games don’t feel like they really matter. Most bracket challenges don’t even count them. But Dayton is a great basketball city with a great crowd and one of those No. 11 seeds will likely use that momentum to upset a No. 6 seed in the next round. It happens nearly every year. USC took down SMU last year before scaring Baylor in the Round of 32. When VCU made its memorable Final Four run under Shaka Smart they were a First Four team. Don’t count these teams out.

9. Make sure your national champion has a McDonald’s All-American on the roster. Since 1978, every national champion has had at least one McDonald’s All-American except for two teams: Maryland in 2002 and UConn in 2014. We’ve had 40 years of research that shows that having blue chip talent is still a major part of winning a national title.

10. Find a double-digit seed to take to at least the Sweet 16. Every year a double-digit seed becomes a Cinderella story and makes it to at least the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. So take an underdog and have them win a few games in this thing. Don’t get too crazy and have them going to the Final Four though. Only four double-digit seeds have reached the Final Four since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. None of them won a national title.

11. Find a No. 1 seed to drop before the Final Four. Don’t just automatically ride the top seeds into San Antonio. That actually did happen at the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio, but that was the first (and only) time four No. 1 seeds made the final weekend. Someone is bound to lose early among the No. 1 seeds. This season in college basketball has also been especially chaotic. Top-ten teams were constantly getting picked off by unranked teams. Be prepared for some wild regions.

12. Don’t be afraid of taking upsets but don’t take too many of them. Find a healthy balance of upsets where you have a lot of favorites advancing but some sleepers in the mix at choice spots. Some people pick a million upsets because they strictly enjoy the rush of cheering for the underdog. Those people also usually have horrible brackets at the end of the event. But, hey, at least they felt the high of proving the haters wrong. That counts for something, right? Hitting on an upset pick is one of the best parts of filling out a bracket. It’s strangely memorable.

13. Look into a conference’s bid total for how a league did during the season. If a conference has a lot of bids, like the ACC, SEC or Big 12, then teams from those leagues have likely won a lot of games against quality competition. They’ve been battle-tested. Teams from conferences with fewer selections might carry more risk since they might not have played a lot against tournament-caliber competition. In other words, the Big Ten and Pac-12 were trash this season. Be cautious of teams from those leagues.

14. Be sure to look into how a team has played the past few weeks. Maybe we call this the “Trae Young Rule”? Casual fans have been hearing about the Oklahoma freshman’s brilliance since December. Young was the leading Player of the Year candidate for a large chunk of the season. Then Oklahoma went on a freefall and nearly missed the NCAA tournament. They went from a top-ten team to a No. 10 seed. The Sooners are 2-8 over their last 10 games. But if you don’t follow college hoops regularly, you might still think they’re a contender. That’s why it’s important to look into a team’s recent schedule. Some teams are surging and others are struggling. Find the trends and follow them.

15. A knowledge of geography can give you some great NCAA tournament tips. Last year, South Carolina was gifted an opportunity to play two games in its home state during the first two rounds. The No. 7 seed Gamecocks had a huge home crowd for each game as they knocked off Marquette and Duke on their way to a surprise Final Four appearance. Check out where a team is playing its games and if it might give a significant homecourt advantage.

16. Don’t take any of this too seriously.

March Madness is supposed to bring people together and give them something fun to focus on for a few weeks every Spring. Watching games with classmates, other alums, family and friends all provides unique and memorable viewing experiences.

Check out some games live. Watch at a crowded bar. Set up multiple screens in your office, or your house, and lose yourself in hours of basketball mayhem. Celebrate the buzzer-beaters and agonize over the close losses that eliminate you from a bracket challenge. Soak every moment in then wait 11 months for all of it to come back again.

The NCAA tournament is the greatest event of the year. Best of luck with your bracket.

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.