The NCAA continues to investigate schools connected to the FBI’s college basketball corruption cases as a notice of allegations to N.C. State was confirmed by the school on Wednesday afternoon.
The first school to receive an NCAA notice of allegations based on findings in the FBI’s cases, N.C. State is accused of two Level I violations (the most serious of violations) and two Level II violations connected to the recruitment of former point guard and NBA lottery pick Dennis Smith Jr.
The allegations include more than $47,000 in impermissible benefits for Smith, failure to monitor for the school and a violation of head coach responsibility for former head coach Mark Gottfried. Former N.C. State assistant coach Orlando Early is accused of allegedly helping steer a $40,000 payment from a former Adidas executive to Smith’s family in Oct. 2015.
During last October’s FBI corruption trial, former Adidas AAU coach and runner TJ Gassnola testified that he made two payments to the family of Smith. The first payment allegedly occurred while Smith was a junior in high school with the second one coming in 2015. Gassnola claims he delivered $40,000 in cash to Early’s house, which was then supposedly given to Smith’s trainer.
Gottfried is currently the head coach at Cal State Northridge while Early hasn’t coached in Division I since leaving N.C. State in 2017. The failure to monitor charge is a Level I allegation against Gottfried.
N.C. State, Gottfried and Early will have 90 days to respond to the NCAA’s claims before a hearing is conducted with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.
Chancellor Randy Woodson from N.C. State released an official statement on the NCAA’s allegations on Wednesday.
“NC State is committed to the highest levels of compliance, honesty and integrity,” Woodson said in a statement. “As the university carefully reviews the NCAA’s allegations and thoroughly evaluates the evidence in order to determine our response, we are prepared to be accountable where we believe it is appropriate and to vigorously defend this great university and its Athletics program where we feel it is necessary.”
While Smith is currently with the New York Knicks and won’t receive any punishment from the NCAA, the notice of allegations could have a big impact on N.C. State and Gottfried’s NCAA coaching career. The two Level I charges, in particular, are very serious as they could lead to severe punishments for the school and potential show-cause penalties for both Gottfried and Early.
The NCAA will likely continue to send notices to additional schools that were named in the FBI’s corruption cases as numerous players, coaches and programs were named under oath during multiple trials. This is likely the beginning of a busy few months for the NCAA as they sort through all of the damage that was unearthed from those trials.
There is so much that is going to happen between now and the time that next season starts that it almost seems foolish to publish a preseason top 25 today.
But we’re doing it anyway!
A couple of notes: Who is going to head to the NBA is very much in the air right now. There are still a number of freshmen that have yet to announce where they are playing their college ball. The transfer market has barely heated up. For decisions that are up in the air, you’ll see an asterisk next to their name. We’re making predictions on what certain players will do and ranking based off of them.
So with all that said, here is the preseason top 25.
1. MICHIGAN STATE
WHO’S GONE: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Nick Ward
WHO’S BACK: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier
WHO’S COMING IN: Rocket Watts, Malik Hall, Julius Marble
The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.
That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.
Today, we are talking ACC.
KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES
VIRGINIA’S TALENT EXODUS: The most interesting team in the ACC heading into the 2019-20 season is the reigning national champions.
That’s because the team that we are going to see come November will look almost nothing like the team we saw walk off the court in Minneapolis in April. De’Andre Hunter shocked no one when he left school for the NBA. There shouldn’t be any surprise that Ty Jerome left school, either. Kyle Guy was the player we all expected would be back in Charlottesville this season, but when you consider that A) he was coming off of the greatest redemption story in the history of the sport, B) two of his very best friends and fellow stars on that title winning team were leaving school, and C) the NBA has never valued the one thing that Guy does at an NBA level more, it isn’t all that shocking that he ended up getting picked late in the second round.
But we’re done with last year at this point. Next year is where things get interesting, because this will be the most difficult job that Tony Bennett has had during this run where UVA has been one of the ACC’s elite. Not only did he lose his top three players, but two of the three left a year earlier than we expected heading into last season. That puts the ‘Hoos in a really tough spot. The only guard on the roster with any kind of playing experience is 5-foot-8 sophomore Kihei Clark, which is not exactly ideal for a program that changed the way that they play last season.
The key is going to end up being the development of Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff. Both of those guys are extremely long and athletic with three-point range. For my money, Diakite is the guy that needs to take the biggest leap. I think he could end up being one of the best defenders in all of college basketball next season, and if the ‘Hoos are going to live up to their preseason hype, they will need him to make as big of an individual jump as anyone in Bennett’s program has made in his decade at Virginia.
CAN LOUISVILLE LIVE UP TO THE HYPE?: Speaking of living up to the hype, it only took Chris Mack a year to get the Cardinals to a place where they are heading into a season as a legitimate national title favorite. Part of it is the newcomers he has coming in — five-star Samuell Williamson headlines a loaded six-man recruiting class while grad transfer Fresh Kimble fills the hole they had at the point — but the biggest reason to be bullish on the ‘Ville this year is who they have returning.
Dwayne Sutton is back. Steve Enoch is back. Malik Williams is back. Those guys are all going to be important, but not quite as important as Jordan Nwora, our way-too-early ACC Player of the Year and a potential All-American. Nwora was one of the most improved players in the country this past season, and I fully expect him to develop into one of the league’s premier scoring threats playing the same role that Trevon Bluiett played for Mack at Xavier.
TOBACCO ROAD RELOAD: Duke lost Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, among others. North Carolina lost Coby White, Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Nassir Little and Kenny Williams. There are six top 25 picks in that group, and that doesn’t include Luke Maye, who was an All-American in college.
And, as I’m sure you probably know, both programs reloaded this year. Duke did it via the freshmen, bringing in another loaded class that will be joining Tre Jones in Durham next season. North Carolina did the same — Cole Anthony is going to score a ton of points doing what Coby White did this season — but they also added some experience, bringing in a pair of grad transfers to fill out their roster.
As we have seen in the past, winning is not always easy when your roster is built around freshmen. It will be interesting to see how these groups all come together.
CAN ANYONE OUTSIDE THE BIG FOUR COMPETE?: The top four in the ACC all have very real national title hopes.
I’m not sure there is another team in the league that should be ranked in the top 25. If there is, my guess is that it will be N.C. State. The Wolfpack had some ups-and-downs last year, but they more or less return all of their important pieces from last year, including star guard Markell Johnson. Florida State will be interesting as well, and if there is a sleeper in the league, it is Notre Dame, but more on them in a second.
ARE THERE SANCTIONS COMING FOR ANYONE IN THE LEAGUE?: The FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball has come to a close, but the NCAA’s is just starting to ramp up. A number of programs are expected to get hit with a Notice of Allegations stemming from what came to light in the last two years, and a number of programs in the league — Louisville, N.C. State, Duke, North Carolina, etc. — were either directly or tangentially linked to things that were reported by media outlets or came up during the trial itself.
How many of the teams in the ACC have something to worry about?
ZION and RJ, Duke: The most entertaining duo in college basketball shocked absolutely not one when they left school for the NBA. Thanks for the pageviews, fellas.
VIRGINIA’S BIG THREE: The Cavaliers turned the most embarrassing loss in NCAA tournament history into one of the greatest redemption stories in all of sports. If Virginia is going to remain among the ACC’s elite, Mamadi Diakite is going to have to be a star.
UNC’S BIG FOUR: The Tar Heels are going to look very different next season, as their five-best players are all playing for checks these days.
BUZZ WILLIAMS and KERRY BLACKSHEAR, Virginia Tech: It took Buzz five years to get Virginia Tech to the point that they were good enough to come with one possession of getting to the Elite Eight, and that’s all it took for him to get back to Texas. Williams is now at Texas A&M, and while both Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker left, as expected, the one relative surprise was that Kerry Blackshear followed them as well. Blackshear is the most sought-after grad transfer in college basketball and will likely head into next season as a preseason All-American. We just don’t know who he will be playing for yet.
MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State: He spent the season coming off of the bench for the Seminoles, but his loss will hurt as much as any in the league. Kabengele was quietly the force that allowed Florida State to be able to matchup with anyone and everyone in college basketball last season.
TRE JONES, Duke: Jones was the one freshmen from last year’s recruiting class to return to Duke. A defensive pest that spent much of the year banged up, Jones will have a full offseason to develop his offensive repertoire. He’s only going to be a sophomore, but he’s exactly the kind of “veteran” leader a young Duke team will need.
JORDAN NWORA, Louisville: We wrote about Nwora earlier, but his decision to return to Louisville was as impactful as any early entry decision. He’ll be an All-American caliber player and the star that the Cardinals, as a preseason top ten team, can lean on.
MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia: Is this the year Diakite makes the leap to being elite? I’m betting that it is, and I fully expect him to make the biggest year over year improvement that we’ve seen out of anyone in Bennett’s Virginia tenure.
N.C. STATE: The biggest name to know is Markell Johnson, but with seven of their top nine returning and a couple talented transfers enrolling, the Wolfpack are probably the best of the rest.
CHRIS LYKES, Miami: There may not be a more entertaining player in college basketball than the 5-foot-7 Lykes, who averaged 16.2 points last season.
JOHN MOONEY, Notre Dame: The Irish bring back one of the best 1-2 punches in college basketball in Temple Gibbs and John Mooney, something that will be bolstered by a talented five-man sophomore class that should be ready to contribute more this season than they did last season.
DUKE’S FRESHMEN: Vernon Carey Jr. is probably the biggest name to know, but Matthew hurt may be the most important. He’s precisely the kind of big, floor-spacing four that the Blue Devils were missing last season. Wendell Moore Jr. could end up being a one-and-done as well, and Cassius Stanley is going to posterize at least three unsuspecting defenders this year. Book it.
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina: Anthony has a shot to end up being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, and playing for UNC is probably the best way for him to showcase his ability to create offense. He plays the same way that Coby White did, only he’s super-charged athletically. I think it’s a good bet that Anthony ends up leading the ACC in scoring.
JOE GIRARD III, Syracuse: Girard is one of the most prolific scorers in New York State high school history. What kind of offense will he be able to produce for the Orange?
WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-ACC TEAM
JORDAN NWORA, Louisville (ACC PLAYER OF THE YEAR)
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina
MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia
JOHN MOONEY, Notre Dame
VERNON CAREY, Duke
WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS
1. DUKE: Last year, Duke was the most talented team in college basketball, but the talent did not fit together as well as it could have. They had too many guys that all do the same things — drive to the rim, finish at the bucket — and not enough guys to do the thing that would create space — i.e. shoot the ball. Shooting could still end up being an issue this season with Jones at the point, but the way Duke’s pieces fit together this year works better.
2. LOUISVILLE: I’m all-in on the Cardinals this season with Jordan Nwora coming back. He’s the perfect big wing for Chris Mack’s offense, and they have a talented recruiting class that will fill the holes in their roster. It only took a year for Mack to get Louisville to the point of contending.
3. VIRGINIA: I’m higher on Virginia than the consensus opinion, and that’s because I think that Bennett is going to find a way to develop the guys in his program the way he needs to. I’ve mentioned Diakite and Huff already in this column, but I also think that Braxton Key will make a big jump this year.
4. NORTH CAROLINA: Cole Anthony is going to get all the attention for the freshmen, and I do think that the Tar Heels have a pair of grad transfers in Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling that will play important roles, but we should not overlook the addition of Armando Bacot. He is the perfect big man to play in Roy Williams’ system, and even with a trio of juniors in front of him, I think that he’ll be an impact player as a freshmen.
5. N.C. STATE: The Wolfpack are going to have to replace the production of Torin Dorn, but there are some pieces on this roster — namely C.J. Bryce, Devon Daniels and Jericole Hellems — that I think can take a step forward this year.
6. FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles are going to have a number of pieces that they need to replace — namely Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele — but this was a team that went 12-deep at times last year, with a huge recruiting class coming in and a couple of pieces — Trent Forrest and M.J. Walker, specifically — that have yet to really hit their ceiling.
7. NOTRE DAME: John Mooney and Temple Gibbs are the big names, but the players that will be really interesting to monitor this season will be Prentiss Hubb, Dane Goodwin and Nate Laszewski. What kind of leap to they take as sophomores?
8. CLEMSON: The Tigers lose a ton this offseason, with four of their five starters graduating. Aamir Simms didn’t quite take the leap that we expected him to take, but with a pair of grad transfers coming in — Curran Scott from Tulsa and Tevin Mack from Alabama — there should be some backcourt reinforcements.
9. MIAMI: Chris Lykes will be back and ready to do the things he did that made him one of the most entertaining players in college basketball last season, but one of the keys for the Hurricanes will be Oklahoma transfer Kameron McGusty. Can he come in and be a secondary scorer for Jim Larrañaga?
10. SYRACUSE: The Orange lose Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, Frank Howard and Paschal Chukwu. That’s a lot of talent to replace. With the likes of Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim, Joe Girard and Elijah Hughes on the roster this season, I expect the Orange to be better offensively than they have in the recent past.
11. VIRGINIA TECH: Replacing Buzz Williams is not going to be easy for Mike Young to do, especially when it comes at a time where he is going to have to replace Justin Robinson, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kerry Blackshear, too.
12. GEORGIA TECH: I loved Jose Alvarado in high school, and with James Banks coming back, the Yellow Jackets return a sneaky-good 1-2 punch and four of their top five scorers. That said, the cellar in the ACC in a long way from the middle of the pack.
13. BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles, who went 5-13 in the ACC last season, replaced Ky Bowman with Derryck Thornton. That’s suboptimal.
14. PITT: I’m going to need to see it to believe it with the Panthers. After starting ACC play 2-2 with wins over Louisville and Florida State last year, Pitt reeled off 13 straight conference losses.
15. WAKE FOREST: Danny Manning is in his sixth season at Wake Forest. He’s won more than five ACC games in a season just once, and he is coming off of a year where the Demon Deacons finished 11-20 overall.
Duke-Michigan State highlights loaded ACC-Big Ten schedule
The full schedule for the 2019 ACC/Big Ten Challenge has been released, and there are a handful of truly tasty matchups for us to dive into.
The marquee game will feature a matchup of a pair of top five teams, as Duke will travel to take on Michigan State on Dec. 3rd in what may end up being the best game of the non-conference season. It will also be a rematch of last year’s battle in the Elite Eight, where the Spartans upset Duke to get to the Final Four.
Ohio State visiting North Carolina is probably the second-best game of the event, as the Tar Heels are a top 15 team and the Buckeyes will crack most preseason top 25 rankings. Michigan at Louisville could have been incredible, but with the Wolverines losing their top three scorers earlier than expected — and then losing their coach to the Cleveland Cavaliers — the shine has worn off of that matchup a bit. It would have been nice to see Maryland be the team to take on Louisville, as that would have given the event another battle between top ten teams, but the Terps will instead host Notre Dame.
Virginia at Purdue has some potential, as does Wisconsin at N.C. State, but beyond that, the rest of the matchups are fine.
NC State won’t have Jalen Lecque in uniform this season. Or any season. The incoming freshman will instead stay in the NBA draft and pursue a pro career, he announced Wednesday.
“I want to thank coach (Kevin) Keatts, staff and the educational system at NC State for their guidance, and for giving me the opportunity to receive a full scholarship,” Lecque said in a statement released on social media. “I will always be a proud supporter of NC State and everything the school has to provide for its students and staff.
“Being in the NBA has always been a dream of mine, experiencing how to play basketball at the highest level. Being able to play against the best athletes, and learn from the best minds in the game of basketball.”
Lecque was a top-50 recruit in the 2019 class, but can bypass college because he spent a post-grad year at Brewster Academy, fulfilling the NBA’s one-year removal from high school graduation. His one-and-done year was completed in the NEPSAC, essentially.
The 6-foot-4 guard showed off his elite athleticism earlier this month when he received an invitational to the NBA Draft Combine, and likely helped himself to earn at least a second-round grade from many franchises.
For the Wolfpack, it’s a significant blow, but far from a fatal one. Keatts and Co. return six of their top seven scorers from last season’s 24-12 team. Lecque’s presence would have been a boost, but a typical development curve should keep NC State competitive in the ACC this season without him.
Monday Overreactions: Recapping first weekend; looking ahead to Final Four
Oregon’s point guard was the best player on the floor for the Ducks in both of their games as the Pac-12 tournament champions became the only team seeded lower than fifth to get to the second weekend of the tournament. In wins over Wisconsin and UC Irvine, Pritchard averaged 18.5 points, 7.5 assists and 4.5 boards while also sparking late runs that turned close games into blowouts.
And frankly, Pritchard has been terrific for a month at this point. He’s averaging 19.0 points and 7.0 assists over his last five games and has looked like one of the best point guards in all of college basketball as Oregon has reeled off a ten game winning streak, eight of which have come on the road or on neutral courts.
ALL-FIRST WEEKEND TEAM
CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: After putting up 26 points for the Boilermakers in the first round of the tournament, Edwards followed that up with 42 point explosion against Villanova in the second round, the most points scored in an NCAA tournament game since 2004. In total, Purdue has scored 148 points in two games in this even, and Edwards and 68 of them.
NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina: Little averaged 19.5 points in the first two games of his first (and only?) NCAA tournament. We wrote a column yesterday on why that is so important for the Tar Heels.
ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke: Williamson was, as you might expect, the best player for Duke over the course of the first weekend. He finished with 25 points and three boards in the opening round win over North Dakota State and followed that up with 32 points, 11 boards and four assists in the win over UCF.
BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga: Clarke didn’t do much in Gonzaga’s first round win over Fairleigh Dickinson because he didn’t need to do much. But in a second round date with a Baylor team that actually showed up and gave the Zags a fight, Clarke put together one of the best performances in the tournament this season: 36 points, eight boards, five blocks, three assists and two steals.
MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State: How many teams can say that their best player comes off of the bench? That’s the case for Florida State and Kabengele, who was simply terrific in two wins this weekend. He had 21 points and 10 boards against UVM and followed that up with 22 points, seven boards and three blocks in a blowout win over Ja Morant and Murray State.
MOST IMPRESSIVE TEAM: Texas Tech
Every one of the top two seeds got pushed at some point in the first weekend of the tournament. Virginia and North Carolina trailed at the half of their first round games. Duke came a couple of inches away from losing to UCF. Gonzaga was pushed by Baylor in the second round. Tennessee nearly blew not one, but two huge leads. Kentucky was in a dogfight with Wofford. Michigan State nearly lost to Bradley while Florida made it difficult for Michigan to get to the Sweet 16.
Texas Tech, however, didn’t really have those problems. Northern Kentucky kept it close for 15 minutes before Jarrett Culver went nuts and the Red Raiders ran away with it. Buffalo had one run late in the first half that seemed like it was going to make the most intriguing matchup of Sunday’s second round action worth watching, but that only last about five minutes.
This Texas Tech team has a real shot to make a run through Anaheim to get to Minneapolis. They are the nation’s best defensive team, but with the way they have been shooting the rock of late, they are also a threat to put up 90 points on any given opponent. On a weekend where every other title contender was pushed, Tech cruised, and that should tell you something.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: The Big East
So it turns out the Big East was pretty bad after all.
Their run in the NCAA tournament ended on Saturday evening, with Carsen Edwards dropping 42 points in a rout that saw Purdue lead 59-24 at one point. It was an embarrassment, really, but one that we all probably should have seen coming.
Villanova won the Big East regular season title, but it never felt like they actually were trying to win. They lost five of their last eight regular season games and only managed to take home the league title because Marquette, the only other team in the league that we thought was any good, lost their last four games. That same Marquette team was run out of the first round by Murray State, who looked every bit the part of a mid-major in their loss to Florida State on Saturday.
Villanova beat Seton Hall in the Big East tournament title game, and the Pirates got drubbed by 16 points by Wofford in the first round. The only other Big East team to get into the tournament was St. John’s, and they got smoked in a play-in game by an Arizona State team that proceeded to lose to Buffalo by 17.
The league should be better with the amount of talent that they have coming back.
And they’re going to need to be.
Because this was not the kind of season that the conference will want to be known for.
FIVE OVERREACTIONS MOVING FORWARD
1. A DISMAL FIRST WEEKEND SETS US UP FOR THE PERFECT FINISH TO THE TOURNAMENT
That first weekend sucked.
We got a thriller with Duke and UCF on Sunday, Maryland played a couple of barn-burners against Belmont and LSU and Tennessee’s inability to protect a lead made for a couple of interesting games, but there wasn’t a true buzzer-beater in the first 52 games of the NCAA tournament. All of the Cinderellas have seen their carriages turn into pumpkins unless, of course, you consider No. 12-seed Oregon — who was a top 15 team in the preseason, reached the 2017 Final Four and is currently in their third Sweet 16 in the last four years — a Cinderella.
What we have right now is a tournament that still features all four No. 1 seeds, all four No. 2 seeds and all four No. 3 seeds. One of the two No. 4 seeds that was knocked out get sent home by a No. 5 seed. This has only happened once before in the NCAA tournament, in 2009, and that was the year that Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina cruised to the national title.
So yeah, the first weekend of the tournament sucked.
But what that means is that the final 15 games of this event are set up to be absolutely magical.
Think about it like this: The only two teams in the Sweet 16 that weren’t considered top 16 teams by the selection committee on Selection Sunday were both preseason top 15 teams. If you were going to build the perfect 16 team tournament from scratch, the only change that anyone would make is dropping Oregon for someone, but I’m not sure that the Ducks, given the way that they have been playing of late, aren’t actually a top 16 team in college basketball right now.
I’ve always said the ideal NCAA tournament has upsets early and chalk late. We didn’t have the upsets this year, but we do have the chalk.
So be ready. Every game from here on out is going to be a heavy-weight fight.
2. THE UCF PERFORMANCE SAID MORE ABOUT THE MATCHUP THEN IT DID DUKE
UCF was the perfect matchup for this Duke team. They are traditionally a really good defensive team that has big, athletic wings to guard Duke’s lottery picks and one of the world’s 40 largest humans to stand at the rim and make it difficult for R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson to finish. They also have a bunch of shot-makers on their perimeter, and all they needed to do to keep this thing close was for one of Aubrey Dawkins or B.J. Taylor to get into a rhythm while Tacko Fall stayed out of foul trouble.
Dawkins went off.
Fall stayed out of foul trouble for the most part.
And the end result was that Duke should have been knocked out of the NCAA tournament.
They are incredibly lucky to still be alive in this event, and I don’t think that they are going to face a team that will be able to challenge them the way that UCF did until the Final Four.
Look, we’ve known what the key to beating Duke is all season long. You need to pack in your defense, you need size at the rim and you need to be willing to let Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire shoot as many threes as they want to shoot. There aren’t many team that actually have the players to execute that game-plan as well as UCF did.
Duke certainly isn’t unbeatable, but this was the bullet they needed to dodge.
And they did.
3. THE BEST SPOT TO BE NEXT WEEKEND IS …
KANSAS CITY: The North Carolina-Auburn matchup has a chance to be one of the most entertaining games in the history of college basketball — if you like run-and-gun hoops, this is for you — while a Sunday evening matchup between UNC and Kentucky is very much in the cards.
ANAHEIM: This is the most unpredictable region left in the field. Texas Tech and Michigan might be the two best defensive teams left in the tournament, and they will be battling it out for a spot in the Elite 8 in what might as well be a street fight. On the other side of the bracket, we get a rematch from last year’s Sweet 16, when Florida State upset Gonzaga. Is this the revenge game?
WASHINGTON D.C.: I have a sneaking suspicion that Duke is going to have a pretty easy time making their way through this region, but remember: Virginia Tech has already beaten the Blue Devils this season, and they did it without Justin Robinson. On the other side of the bracket, LSU has somehow morphed into a team of destiny, and they will face off with Michigan State in a battle between two of the best point guards in the country in Cassius Winston and Tremont Waters.
LOUISVILLE: Virginia-Oregon is a battle between two really good teams, but there’s a real chance that game goes under the total of 118.5. On the other side of the bracket is Purdue-Tennessee, and as good as both of those teams are, that matchup just doesn’t have the pop of some of the others. That said, should this turn into a Virginia-Tennessee Elite 8 matchup, there’s a chance that ends up being the weekend’s best game.
The fact that Louisville is fourth on this list should tell you all you need to know about just how good the games are this weekend.
4. AN ALL-ACC FINAL FOUR CAN STILL HAPPEN
We’ll dive into this more during the week, but the chance of getting a Final Four that features Duke (or Virginia Tech), Virginia, North Carolina and Florida State is a very real possibility. The biggest reason for that is that three of the No. 1 seeds are from the conference. They’re obviously, then, the favorites to get to the final weekend out of their region.
But the other part of this is that Florida State seems like a good bet to knock off Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
I’ll have a full breakdown on why later in the week.
5. AND YOUR FINAL FOUR IS …
My Final Four is still alive! Duke vs. Texas Tech and Virginia vs. North Carolina.