NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Winners and losers from the NCAA preliminary bracket

The NCAA Tournament selection committee, for the second straight year, revealed who the top 16 seeds would be if the season ended this past Saturday. The committee deemed Virginia as the top seed of the Tournament despite its home loss to Virginia Tech. Villanova, Purdue and Xavier rounded out the remaining No. 1 seeds.

South: 1. Virginia, 2. Cincinnati, 3. Michigan State and 4. Tennessee.

East: 1. Villanova, 2. Duke, 3. Texas Tech and 4. Ohio State.

West: 1. Purdue, 2. Kansas, 3. North Carolina and 4. Arizona.

Midwest: 1. Xavier, 2. Auburn, 3. Clemson and 4. Oklahoma.

Let’s take a look at who the winners and losers of the committee’s judgement were this year.

Winner: Cincinnati

NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Junior guard Jacob Evans III looks to lead the Cincinnati Bearcats to a strong finish. (Photo by Laurence Kesterson/AP).

The Bearcats are sitting at 23-2 and in first place in the American Athletic Conference. While this record is impressive, Cincinnati has played a weak schedule thus far.

The Bearcats dropped both of their premier non-conference matchups against Xavier and Florida back in December. They defeated UCLA, Temple and Houston, but none of those teams are considered legitimate contenders come March.

The fact that the committee already has Cincinnati as a No. 2 seed shows that they are high on the Bearcats moving forward. Coach Mick Cronin’s squad has a huge opportunity to further bolster its stock with upcoming matchups against Wichita State and Houston.

If Cincinnati can continue its winning ways and another No. 1 team crumbles down the stretch (possibly either Villanova or Xavier), the Bearcats could steal a No. 1 seed in the tournament.

Loser: Texas tech

The Red Raiders are poised to capture their first Big 12 regular season championship ever, yet they are only ranked as a No. 3 seed. Coach Chris Beard probably feels somewhat disrespected by this choice, and he has every right to feel that way. The Big 12 is the deepest conference in college basketball this season, sporting four teams in the AP top 25 rankings and three in the top 16 above.

Texas Tech sports an impressive 9-3 Big 12 record that includes a one-point victory over West Virginia (back when the Mountaineers were No. 2 in the nation) and a 12-point win at Kansas. What hurt the Red Raiders was their weak non-conference schedule (their only impressive victory coming against Nevada) coupled with a stretch of Big 12 conference play where they lost three of four.

Regardless of their spot at the moment, Beard’s upstart team has ample opportunities to move up to a No. 2 seed and possibly even a No. 1 if they win out. However, this is easier said than done as Tech has rematches against Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia lined up in the future.

WINNER: THE BIG EAST

While the Big East only has two teams in the top 16, those two teams each captured a No. 1 seed. Villanova and Xavier have slowly developed a fun rivalry this season and have a highly anticipated rematch in Ohio slated for this Saturday. Even more important is that both squads have a significant chance to maintain their spot in the tournament over the next few weeks, especially if Xavier can knock off Villanova this weekend.

The revamped Big East has failed to live up the hype and intensity of the old school conference that featured schools like Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Pittsburgh and Georgetown. However, the Big East has been fairly competitive this season, both in and out of conference.

Competitive teams will not return the Big East to its former glory, but sending two teams into the tournament this season would be a significant step.

LOSER: THE PAC-12

Last season, the conference of champions (as Bill Walton would put it) had three teams vying for top seeds in the tournament at this point in the season. The season resulted in Arizona, Oregon and UCLA going to the Sweet 16 and Oregon making it to the Final Four.

This season has been much less kind to the Pac-12. Arizona entered the season as a national champion contender with top recruit Deandre Ayton coming to town. Coach Sean Miller also hauled in three other top 100 recruits per ESPN in Ira Lee, Emmanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph. Now the Wildcats might be the most disappointing team in the nation up to this point.

Neither UCLA or Oregon have the depth or firepower compared to their respective teams last season. USC entered the season as a dark horse contender for the Final Four, but have seemingly failed to recover from the offseason’s FBI investigation. Needless to say, Arizona is the Pac-12’s best shot at back-to-back Final Four appearances.

 

Featured image by Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

College basketball preseason top 25: 15-11

It is the end of October so that means college basketball is right around the corner. What teams should be looked at as the best of the best? This is the third installment in the top 25 rundown. For teams 20-16 click here.

15. Cincinnati Bearcats

College basketball preseason top 25

Gary Clark (Photo by downthedrive.com)

The Bearcats got into the NCAA Tournament yet again, but they can’t stay in the dance too long once they get there. They have only made it to the Sweet 16 twice in this millennium, 2001 and 2012, despite having a good team. With the talent they have on the roster this season, they should be able to get back to the Sweet 16 for the second time under Mick Cronin.

In the frontcourt, Cincinnati will have two really good players eating up most of the minutes. Gary Clark was the AAC Defensive Player of the Year last season and also poses an offensive threat in the post. He averaged 10.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game in 2016-2017 and is in store for a big senior season. Kyle Washington is another key post player that had a solid first year at Cincinnati after transferring in from N.C. State. Washington averaged 12.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and also gave another three point shooting threat, shooting 35.9% from deep. Nysier Brooks, Quadri Moore and Tre Scott will be asked to fill in any minutes that are left over.

There is a new face in the back court. Cane Broom sat out last season after transferring from Sacred Heart. At Sacred Heart he averaged 23.1 points per game in the 2015-2016 season. He will add a scoring punch from the guard position that the Bearcats haven’t had in a long time. Flanking him will be Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland, who can both light it up as well. Evans averaged 13.5 points per game, while Cumberland set his mark at 8.3. Both can stretch the floor well and will open up space for the post players and Broom.  Justin Jenifer will likely keep his role as a backup, but has valuable experience. Freshman will have to help provide more depth to cope with injuries and foul trouble.

The key to the Bearcats team is defense and they will be strong in that department again. They have enough talent to get to a Sweet 16 so the only question is: Do they have the coaching?

14. Miami Hurricanes

College basketball preseason top 25

Bruce Brown (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Jim Larranaga has rebuilt the program again after losing a lot of the team after their great 2012-2013 season. Two seasons ago they made the Sweet 16, while last year they got knocked out in the first round. This season they have some NBA-level talent on their roster that can make it back to the Sweet 16.

Dewan Huell had a decent freshman season from his forward position, but is expected to take a huge jump up from his average of 5.8 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. Ebuka Izundu will play at the center position after playing 13 minutes per game last season. He is still raw, but with time could become a solid player. On the wing, Anthony Lawrence Jr. will be asked to do more. He scored 6.8 points per game last season. Rodney Miller, Chris Stowell and Deng Gak will compete for minutes and provide depth.

The guard position is loaded for Miami. Bruce Brown is back after averaging 11.9 points per game. He is good enough to play in the NBA. Ja’Quon Newton also returns to run the point. Newton can get his own shot and create for others, something that will be easier for him to do this season with so much talent around him. Chris Lykes and Lonnie Walker are two good freshman that should help make the production keep coming for the Hurricanes. Walker could get drafted in the 2018 NBA Draft as well and is really athletic.

There is enough talent to do damage in March, but can Larranaga get the job done?

13. Xavier Musketeers

College basketball preseason top 25

Chris Mack (Photo by wcpo.com)

Xavier made a surprise run in March to make the Elite Eight, but ended up losing to Gonzaga. They were a bubble team that mad the most of their opportunity, much like they do most years. With a lot of the key players back again, the Musketeers will be expected to do a lot.

Sean O’Mara is back for his senior season on the inside. He didn’t perform well all the time, but stepped up in the NCAA Tournament and can score and rebound from the post. Tyrique Jones is another interior player that stepped up late in the season. He can finish on the inside and play solid defense. Graduate transfer Karem Kanter can step out and hit mid range jumpers and rebound. Kaiser Gates is a stretch four who got better as the season went on and can provide a spark off the bench or start for the Musketeers and get buckets.

The big news for the Musketeers this offseason was the decision for Trevon Bluiett to return to school. He averaged 18.1 points per game last year and is moving up the all time ranks of Xavier scorers. He will get a chance to play in the NBA after the season concludes. J.P. Macura is also back for his senior season and adds a good scorer and defender. His energy can lift the level of the teams’ play up. Point guard Edmond Sumner is gone, but Quentin Goodin filled in nicely when Sumner was injured last season. Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall are dynamic recruits who will be playmakers on the second unit. Scruggs is the most talented recruit that Xavier has ever had.

With so many key players returning for Xavier, including one of college basketball’s best in Bluiett, Xavier’s expectation should be another Sweet 16 appearance at the very least.

12. Florida Gators

College football preseason top 25

KeVaughn Allen (Photo by draftexpress.com)

The Gators made an elite eight last season, as Mike White has the program heading in the right direction. They have a few key players returning and a lot of good recruits to fill out the rest of the roster. If their stars can step up, they will be in contention in the SEC and can win some games in March.

John Egbunu is back to hold down the fort at the center position. He tore his ACL last season, so he will not be able to play until midseason, but he provides an athletic big who can defend and rebound. He will need to score more when he returns, but Florida will welcome the defense and rebounding. Kevarrius Hayes helped fill in when Egbunu went down last season. He averaged 6.2 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and will need to step it up again until Egbunu returns. Keith Stone and Gorjok Gak both got playing time last year and will need to progress. Chase Johnson, DeAundree Ballard and Isaiah Stokes are all freshman that will fight for minutes.

KeVaughn Allen is the leading returning scorer for Florida. Allen averaged 14 points per game last year with a good mixture of shooting and driving in his game. Chris Chiozza will take over starting point guard duties now that Casey Hill has graduated. Chiozza is quick and thrives in Mike White’s offensive system. Egor Koulachev and Jalen Hudson are transfers that can help score in bunches. Koulachev can hit a lot of shots from deep and help stretch the floor.

If Florida’s players can see an increase in production and weather the storm without Egbunu, they will be a very tough team to beat.

11. Villanova Wildcats

College basketball preseason top 25

Jalen Brunson (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Villanova had an early exit from March Madness last season when they lost in the second round. They do have some key losses, but have five players returning who averaged over 20 minutes per game. The Wildcats are the class of the Big East and should expect another big year.

Mikal Bridges is a little undersized, but does a lot of things to help Villanova in the frontcourt. He is a great wing who can get to the basket and shoot the three. He averaged 9.8 points per game, but has the capability to score more this season. Eric Paschall also returns to help out on the inside after a solid season. Omari Spellman was redshirted last season after having problems with the NCAA, but he was a highly touted recruit, who will be the Wildcats’ best post player. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree is a four star recruit that will see minutes early in his career to relieve Spellman and others. Jermaine Samuels is an intriguing freshman wing player that will have to work his way into the mix.

Jalen Brunson, one of the best players in college basketball, is back to play point guard for Villanova. He averaged 14.7 points and 2.1 assists per game. He will need to do a better job of feeding the post and setting up teammates this season, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for the star. Phil Booth didn’t play much last season due to knee tendinitis, but should be good to go this season. He is a good shooter that will likely be a starter this season. Donte DiVincenzo is a good defender that can get to the basket.

Villanova is a title contender if they can put it all together and stay healthy, but Brunson needs to get others involved to make it happen.

 

For teams 10-6, click here.

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Five coaching candidates Louisville should try to hire

Rick Pitino is now on administrative leave, which leaves the University of Louisville in a bind. Practices start soon, so the Cardinals need to find someone to take over as the head man. Here are five options Louisville should explore for their head coaching vacancy, whether they take the job is another issue.

1. Tom Crean

Five coaches Louisville should try to hire

Tom Crean (Photo by cbssports.com)

Crean may be one of the most likely big time coaches to consider the Louisville job. He is unemployed after being fired by Indiana. With Louisville still being a big time job and having a lot of money, Crean could be enticed to take the job.

With his two stops at Marquette and Indiana, Crean has posted a 356-231 record. He also has made a Final Four and has some tournament success, despite falling off at Indiana. At Indiana, Crean had to come in after Kelvin Sampson was let go for recruiting violations. This will be the same type of thing he has to deal with at Louisville. He fits the mold of what Louisville wants in a coach.

Crean’s options to coach for the coming years will likely be at lower level programs than this. He may see Louisville being down as a great opportunity to get back in the game at a big conference school.

2. Mick Cronin

Five coaches Louisville should try to hire

Mick Cronin (Photo by wcpo.com)

It is a bit interesting, but according to Vegas, Cronin is the odds on favorite to take the job. Cronin has ties to Pitino, but wasn’t involved with the Louisville program when any of NCAA violations or FBI investigations happened. Would he take the job after they got rid of one of his mentors? That is the big question.

Cronin is another coach that fits the mold of what Louisville wants. He’s never had any major NCAA violations, which has to be the biggest thing that the Cardinals are looking at right now. When Cronin started at Cincinnati he had to reboot the program. Bob Huggins was fired, Andy Kennedy was interim coach for a year, but Cincinnati decided to hire Cronin. The program was depleted of talent and Cronin has led them back to being a solid program.

With experience working with a program that is at its lows, Cronin would be a good hire. Unfortunately, Louisville would have to try and pry him from his hometown city and his alma mater.

3. Chris Mack

Five coaches Louisville should try to hire

Chris Mack (Photo by friarbasketball.com)

Chris Mack is at a perennial Big East power in Xavier, that has been getting to the NCAA Tournament and winning in it for years. Louisville will have to prove they still have what it takes to compete in the years to come if they want to land Mack.

Mack has turned down a lot of big time jobs at power conferences to stay at Xavier. The Louisville job might be a little different for him. His wife is from Louisville. Louisville can likely pay him more than Xavier. He also knows the recruiting landscape of the Midwest, something that is needed to thrive at Louisville. Getting Mack would be a best case scenario for Louisville.

The problem with Mack as a candidate is that he too, is going to need to be pried from his hometown and alma mater that he has had success at.

4. Buzz Williams

Five coaches Louisville should try to hire

Buzz Williams (Photo by washingtonpost.com)

Buzz Williams is a rather unique name that has shown up in the coaching rumors. The question has to be: Why would Williams leave one ACC school for another? It has to be the money that Louisville will be willing to pay him, because he certainly has a better chance at postseason play at Virginia Tech.

He did a good job at Marquette before jumping ship to Virginia Tech. He has helped build a solid program at Virginia Tech, which isn’t easy to do. With his no non-sense attitude it could be a good fit. He also doesn’t have any ties to Pitino which will be seen as a plus.

In the end it will be really hard to convince Williams to leave Virginia Tech, but that’s what people said when he was the head coach at Marquette.

5. Scott Davenport

Five coaches Louisville should try to hire

Scott Davenport (Photo by bellarminemagazine.com)

Davenport is the least known person on this list, but might be the most likely to take the job. He is currently the head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville and has had a lot of success at the NCAA Division II level.

With only a short time until the season starts, Louisville needs to act fast. Hiring someone already in the city would take away a lot of the logistics of hiring a new coach. Davenport has proven he can win at a lower level, but may want to scratch that itch to prove he can win at the highest level. It makes it even nicer that he wouldn’t have to uproot his life to move to another city.

This may be the best opportunity Davenport gets to get to the next level. Will he take it or stay at Bellarmine?

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