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2018 NCAA Tournament: The Cinderellas you need to pick in your bracket

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There tends to be at least one “Cinderella” in every NCAA tournament, be it a team from a smaller conference that springs an upset that wrecks some brackets or a middling squad that gets hot at the right time and makes a deep run.

While this year’s bracket certainly has some powerhouse programs at the top, beginning with top overall seed Virginia, there are also teams capable of causing some chaos this week (and beyond).

Here are some teams you need to keep in mind as possible Cinderellas as you go through the time-honored tradition of filling out your bracket.


LOYOLA-CHICAGO (11-seed, South): It’s been a while since Loyola-Chicago has reached the NCAA tournament, with this being the program’s first appearance since 1985. But this isn’t a team that’s going to show up for its game against Miami with a “we’re just happy to be here” attitude. Porter Moser’s team has won 28 games and the Missouri Valley regular season and tournament titles, and they’ve been flat-out stingy defensively. The Ramblers have limited opponents to 41.2 percent shooting from the field and 32.9 percent from three, and they’ve also forced a turnover on 20 percent of their opponents’ possessions.

Senior guard Ben Richardson, the Valley’s Defensive Player of the Year, sets the tone on that end of the floor but the entire team is committed defensively. Offensively, league Player of the Year Clayton Custer has led the way for a balanced attack that has five players averaging double figures. According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, Loyola’s ranked in the top 20 nationally in both two-point and three-point percentage and eighth in effective field goal percentage. The Hurricanes should be on notice for this dangerous matchup.

DAVIDSON¬†(12-seed, South): There’s no denying the fact that Kentucky is playing its best basketball of the season, with the Wildcats having won the SEC tournament title. There’s also no denying the fact that, while young, John Calipari’s got a team that doesn’t lack for talent. That being said, their matchup with the Atlantic 10 tournament champions is one that Kentucky cannot afford to take lightly because of the presence of senior forward Peyton Aldridge and freshman guard Kellen Grady.

Aldridge, Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the Year, is averaging 21.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, with the offensive production coming by way of his shooting 48.7 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from three-point range. Grady, the A-10’s top rookie, is averaging 18.0 points per game and is shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from three. As a team Davidson’s shooting 39.1 percent from three, and they’re one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. If Kentucky doesn’t remain disciplined defensively, this game could be a handful.

NEW MEXICO STATE (12-seed, Midwest): In the program’s first season under head coach Chris Jans, all the Aggies did was win 28 games and the WAC regular season and tournament titles. New Mexico State’s two best non-conference wins came at the Diamond Head Classic in December, as they beat NCAA tournament participants Davidson and Miami before falling to USC in the championship game. And this is a group that has prior NCAA tournament experience, from Jans’ time on Gregg Marshall’s staff at Wichita State to the returnees who reached the Big Dance last season.

Jemerrio Jones was one of the nation’s best rebounders last season and he’s been even better in 2017-18, averaging 13.2 rebounds per game along with 11.0 points per contest. Zach Lofton, a former SWAC Player of the Year at Texas Southern who also has prior NCAA tournament experience, leads the way offensively with 19.5 points per night, and A.J. Harris, Eli Chuha and Sidy N’Dir shouldn’t be overlooked either. A concern for the Aggies is the foul shooting, as they’ve made just 64.3 percent of their attempts, but they’ve got enough to make things tough on Clemson.

MARSHALL (13-seed, East): For much of this season, the conversation regarding Wichita State has centered on the team’s defense. In short, this particular group isn’t as good on that end of the floor as they’ve been in the past. A big issue for the Shockers has been defending the three, with opponents shooting 36.3 percent from beyond the arc (247th nationally).

Under head coach Dan D’Antoni, Marshall can spread opposing defenses out and in guards Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks the Thundering Herd has a tandem that’s averaging a combined 43.3 points per game. Marshall shoots 35.6 percent from three, but while that number isn’t all that impressive 45.6 percent of their field goal attempts have been threes. And that could prove problematic for Wichita State given its struggles defending that shot.


GONZAGA¬†(4-seed, West): While the other west coast juggernaut in the field, Arizona, was placed in a region that looks absolutely loaded the Bulldogs’ path to San Antonio may be a bit more manageable. UNC Greensboro followed by either Ohio State or South Dakota State, and Mark Few’s team is in a region that’s led by top seed Xavier and 2-seed North Carolina. Not to say that either of those teams is weak, but Gonzaga has the pieces needed to reach a Final Four for the second consecutive season.

Killian Tillie was outstanding at the WCC tournament, and the front court has other talented options in Johnathan Williams III and Rui Hachimura. Josh Perkins has done a good job of running the show, and players such as redshirt freshman Zach Norvell and Silas Melson have been notable contributors as well. Per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers there are only three teams in the country ranked in the top 20 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency: Duke, Michigan State and Gonzaga.

FLORIDA (6-seed, East): This feels like a pick that could either work out well or go up in flames from the start, as either St. Bonaventure or UCLA has the potential to be a tough matchup for the Gators given some of the personnel on both of those teams. That being said, Florida has shown at various points in the season that it is capable of beating just about anyone. Chris Chiozza is a more than capable leader at the point, and in total Mike White’s team has four double-digit scorers in Jalen Hudson, Egor Koulechov and KeVaughn Allen.

The issues Florida will need to address if its to play deep into the tournament: defending the three and closing out possessions with a rebound, and making sure Allen is engaged and in “attack mode.” Allen’s had a tendency to play passive at times, and Florida cannot afford for that to be the case this week and beyond. If he’s on and attacking defenses, that benefits everyone in the rotation.

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.