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2018 NCAA Tournament Bracket Breakdown: Is Chris Mack going to be how the West Region is won?

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For me, the West Region is the most interesting of them all, and for some reason, it feels like it plays out this way every year.

It starts with the simple fact that Chris Mack, the head coach of the No. 1 seed Xavier Musketeers, has never made a Final Four. He’s also never been a No. 1 seed before, so if he is in the mood to end his personal bugaboos, this may be the last time we mention his name in the “Best Coach Without A Final Four” category.

But if Xavier is going to make it to the final weekend of the college basketball season, they are likely going to have to go through at least one of a trio of Hall of Fame-caliber coaches to do it.

Mark Few and Gonzaga is the No. 4 seed in the West.

John Beilein and Michigan is the No. 3 seed.

Roy Williams and North Carolina is the No. 2 seed.

There are a lot of wins — and a lot of wins in March — on the resumes of those gentlemen.

We shall see how it all works out. Until then, enjoy what should be the most open region of them all.

THREE STORYLINES

  1. Is this the last we’ll see of Chris Mack at Xavier?: Ooooh boy, are Xavier fans not going to like me for this. But at this point, I think it may be the biggest question of the region. It’s not a secret that Louisville has an opening, nor is it a secret that Louisville and Mack may have a mutual interest in each other. The fit makes sense. Will Mack be willing to leave his alma mater to take over a program that could be facing another lengthy NCAA investigation?
  2. Mark Few and Roy Williams are back in the mix again: Few and Williams squared off for the national title last April, and I think everyone more or less assumed that both of those teams would take a step back this year with the unexpected talent drain and the loss of key seniors. But they’re back, Roy Williams as the No. 2 seed and Few as the No. 4. There’s a reason Williams is in the Hall of Fame, and there’s a reason that Few will likely end up joining him there one day.
  3. Which Michael Porter Jr. is going to show up?: Porter is back. He played in the SEC tournament opener. He looked like a kid that missed four months following back surgery. I’m not sure what a week-long layoff without any games is going to do for someone that needs game-action to shake off the rust, but here we are. The good news? There’s absolutely nothing scary about Florida State as a No. 9 seed. Porter should get two more games.

THE ELITE 8 MATCHUP IS … No. 1 Xavier vs. No. 2 North Carolina

This is the hardest Elite 8 matchup to pick because the Sweet 16 out West should be tremendous. Xavier-Gonzaga has the chance to be a shootout with Trevon Bluiett going up against a trio of versatile, athletic future NBA forwards, while North Carolina-Michigan is a matchup between an offensive juggernaut winning games with their defense and a team known for their overpowering big men playing small(ish) ball.

THE FINAL FOUR SLEEPER IS … No. 6 Houston

It’s hard to pick a sleeper in this region because I don’t think that any of the top four seeds can count as sleepers. I also don’t think that Ohio State gets out of the first round (more on that in a second) or that Texas A&M has the guard play to do anything of relevance. So I’ll go with Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars, who have one of college basketball’s most underrated lead guards in Rob Gray — who has one of college basketball’s most underrated hairdos — and that came one errant pass away from potentially ending Championship Week with an AAC tournament title. They’re coming in hot, and you know how much I love picking teams that are doing just that.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

HERE ARE YOUR UPSETS

  • No. 12 South Dakota State over No. 5 Ohio State: This is my favorite upset pick of the entire bracket. The Jackrabbits have the four things that I think you need to have to win a game as a smaller school: 1. A stud in Mike Daum; 2. A team that shoots the leather off the ball; 3. A back court that doesn’t commit turnovers; 4. A front line that clears the defensive glass. Throw in the fact that Ohio State’s bigs are immobile, and this has upset written all over it.
  • No. 10 Providence over No. 7 Texas A&M: Ed Cooley is a masterful head coach who has a sensational point guard in Kyron Cartwright going up against a team that has had their back court miss more games than they’ve played.
  • No. 11 San Diego State over No. 6 Houston: The only team in the country that may actually be hotter than Houston right now is San Diego State. They beat MWC regular season champ Nevada by 30 in the conference tournament and are playing their best basketball in years.

BUT DON’T PICK THIS UPSET

I think it’s very difficult to picture a scenario where Michigan is not in the Sweet 16. Their point guard, Zavier Simpson, can absolutely snuff out any kind of success that an opposing ball-handler will have, and both Montana and Houston are teams whose best players is the lead guard. That’s a tough matchup for them.

THE STUDS

  • TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier: There is not a player in the tournament that I feel more comfortable saying will put the team on his back for three, four, five or six games than Bluiett.
  • JOEL BERRY II, North Carolina: Luke Maye is UNC’s all-american, but Berry is their rock, their heartbeat, their soul. He’s all the clichés.
  • MOE WAGNER, Michigan: Wagner is going to be a March darling if the Wolverines make a run because of his story: He’s German, he plays like Dirk and he also has a big goofy smile on his face that makes him look like the world’s largest nine-year old.

THE STARS OF MARCH

  • MIKE DAUM, South Dakota State: The big fella averaged 24 points and 10 boards while shooting better than 41 percent from three, and he plays on a team that could very well end up winning a game or two in the Big Dance.
  • KYRON CARTWRIGHT, Providence: The Friars aren’t exactly a mid-major, but they are a No. 10 seed that has a chance to win a couple of games.

ONE GAME TO WATCH

For me, the best first round matchup is between Ohio State and South Dakota State, but I also think that Houston-San Diego State has a chance to be really good as well.

ONE GAME THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN

I just want the Sweet 16 out West to be the top four seeds. All the matchups in that situation would be perfect.

AND THE WINNER IS …

North Carolina. I’ll bet on Joel Berry II, Roy Williams and the Tar Heels, but you can pick any of the top four seeds and I’d probably be fine with it.

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

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The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar
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Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.