Blue Zone


HALFTIME: Duke 53, Iona 39



PITTSBURGH—Duke's Jekyll and Hyde offense has come out hot again to open play in the NCAA tournament.

The Blue Devils lead Iona 53-39 after an impressive half of offense at PPG Paints Arena, shooting 61.8 percent from the field. Marvin Bagley III has had his way against the undersized Gaels forwards with 14 points, and Iona has struggled to keep up when it can't push the pace for fast-break layups.

Duke made its first six shots, including 3-pointers on four consecutive possessions—two from freshman Trevon Duval and two from senior captain Grayson Allen—to open up a 17-8 lead, with the Gaels' zone slow to rotate to perimeter shooters or conceding the shots to Duval.

But Iona quickly responded, beating the Blue Devils down the floor in transition multiple times and moving the ball well to pick apart Duke's zone. An 11-2 run tied the score at 19, though the Blue Devils pulled back in front with another triple from Duval. The point guard drilled three of his four long-range attempts after entering the game shooting only 27.0 percent from beyond the arc and has 13 points.

The scoring became more one-sided after the midway point of the half, as the Blue Devils could set up their defense and forced the Gaels into longer possessions. Iona went scoreless for more than four minutes to help Duke open up a 12-point lead while going on a 17-3 run, and the Gaels have not come within nine points since.

Here are a few other observations from the first half:

  • After the Blue Devils' initial 3-point flurry, they began to exploit their extreme size advantage inside and finished the half with 24 points in the paint.
  • Duke played a clean half defensively, committing only four fouls spread out among four players.
  • The Blue Devils rode Allen, Duval and Bagley for the whole half, with only Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden coming off the bench so far.
  • Roland Griffin has come off the bench with a lot of success for Iona's offense, scoring 11 points thanks to several midrange jumpers in the middle of Duke's zone. He also helped slow Bagley and Wendell Carter Jr. early in the post, but eventually their size caught up with Griffin and the Gaels. 


2018 NCAA tournament regional preview: West



Each day leading up to the first round of the NCAA tournament, The Chronicle will preview one of the four regions in the bracket, touching on the true contenders in the region and potential bracket-busting Cinderellas. After starting with the South, we looked at the Midwest, the East, and now finally, the West:  

The No. 1 seed: Xavier Musketeers

For the first time in school history, Xavier earned a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance after losing just two of its final 15 games to wrap up the season. What they do with that opportunity largely rests on senior guard Trevon Bluiett. 

The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging 19.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc for a team that has boasted one of the best offenses in the nation. Classmate J.P. Marcura adds even more experience and scoring at the wing, contributing 12.2 points per game for the Musketeers, which made a run to the Elite Eight as a No. 11 seed last year. 

The Achilles heel for Xavier all year has been its subpar defense, which disappeared in two drubbings at the hands of Villanova and has dogged the Musketeers since November. A capable defense, or a lack thereof, will be key if Xavier is to make the most of its top seed and make it past the Elite Eight. 

The other contenders: The defending champs are eyeing a third-straight Final Four in a stacked region

The clearest obstacle to Xavier’s first-ever trip to the Final Four is No. 2 seed North Carolina, which is coming off a close loss to No. 1 overall seed Virginia in the ACC tournament. 

The Tar Heels are coming off back-to-back trips to the final weekend in the Big Dance, and with a wealth of experience, could be one of the toughest outs in the entire tournament. Senior guards Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson anchor North Carolina on the wings, and junior forward Luke Maye has been outstanding down low this season. 

The Tar Heels’ weakness lies in their defense, which ranks just 34th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, compared to their 4th-ranked offense in offensive efficiency. Nevertheless, FiveThirtyEight.com gives the defending champs a 25 percent chance to make it out of the West, higher than Xavier at 17 percent. 

Although North Carolina arguably represents the strongest all-around team in the region, there are several other contenders who can give both the Musketeers and the Tar Heels trouble. 

No. 3 seed Michigan lurks as a potential Sweet 16 matchup for the Tar Heels after pulling off its second straight surprise run to the Big 10 tournament title. But while many people are eyeing a potential upset by the Wolverines, they will potentially have to get through a pair of underrated teams in the opening weekend first: No. 14 seed Montana and No. 6 seed Houston. 

Houston just nearly pulled off an upset of Cincinnati, the No. 2 seed in the South region, in the American Conference championship game last weekend and is ranked 17th in the nation, per basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.  

Last but certainly not least, Gonzaga has also been under-seeded as the No. 4 seed in the West, a slap in the face for a team that finished the season ranked eighth in the nation in Pomeroy's overall adjusted efficiency. The Bulldogs certainly will have some extra motivation to get another shot at North Carolina in the Elite Eight after falling to the Tar Heels in the championship game last season. Gonzaga has a balanced offense that features five players averaging double-digit scoring along with one of the best defenses in the country. 

The potential Cinderella: Montana

Though there is no team that is an especially exciting pick to find its glass slipper in the West region this year, No. 14 seed Montana is the best bet to go dancing beyond the opening weekend. 

In order for the Grizzlies to make a run, they will need to take down a hot Michigan team and then likely an underrated Houston squad to reach the Sweet Sixteen. But Montana was also a better team this season than its seed might suggest—the Grizzlies are ranked higher than any other 14 seed in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings at 71, higher than lower seeds such as Buffalo, South Dakota State and UNC Greensboro.

Guard Michael Oguine was the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year for a team that has lost just twice since Dec. 22. Montana will have a tall order to fill in the opening weekend alone, but if it can knock off a Michigan team that is coming off a long layover from the B10 tournament, it is the best shot for a Cinderella story. 

The regional narrative: Parity

To many, the West region appears to be the weakest in the tournament. Xavier, North Carolina, Michigan and Gonzaga are all being given about equal odds to advance to the Final Four, but are clumped together beneath a number of more dynamic teams spread across the other regions. 

Besides those four, there are few teams that have given much evidence they could make a serious Cinderella run to the regional final. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some upsets in the opening weekend. San Diego State could give Houston some trouble in the first round, Montana has the potential to cool off the Wolverines after a long break and even Missouri could make some noise if Michael Porter Jr. is able to show some flashes of brilliance after missing nearly the entire season. 

At the top, the lack of one truly dominant team means this region is wide open. 



Coach K's letter to his younger self: 'You're not going to believe how lucky you are'



On Wednesday morning, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski appeared on CBS This Morning in its "Note to Self" segment.

The Emmy-nominated segment has previously featured Kesha and former Vice President Joe Biden. Segment guests write and read letters to their younger selves. Krzyzewski appeared at the end of the broadcast to deliver his letter, which focused the "schoolyard games" he played in as a child in Chicago. 

"When you grow up, when you become a head coach, first at Army and then at Duke, when you find yourself coaching a team at championship moments, you will feel as if you've been there before," the Blue Devil men's basketball coach said. "Because of what you are doing right now in that schoolyard in inner city Chicago, you will know what to do. Never underestimate the immense power of your imagination."

In the segment, Krzyzewski also talked about his mother, who he said was his "first hero." Krzyzewski's mother, a child of Polish immigrants, cleaned office floors at night and only got an eighth grade education, he said. In an emotional moment, the coach asked his younger self to take it easy on his mother.

"Your passion for creating opportunities for the next generation begins with her, as does your sense of your humor," he said. "Watch her, listen to her. She is selfless and courageous."

Krzyzewski also reflected on his health as he aged. He talked about how hard it was to step back from the game he loved, but that it was important to find balance in his life. 

The segment also featured some of the coach's best moments, including his 2015 national championship. He recognized that life was good to him.

"You're not going to believe how lucky you are," Krzyzewski ended.

Coach K's full letter is below.

Dear Mick,

Keep playing those schoolyard games. I know they are the best part of your day and you might not yet know they are also important to your future. Those games you play with Mo and the rest of the boys are laying a foundation for your future as a member and leader of teams. And the games you play when they all go home and you are alone with the ball and the hoop, those are equal in their fundamental value. When you envision yourself in championship moments, counting down the seconds in your head, driving past invisible defenders, you are giving yourself a destination.

There will be stops along the way that you could not possibly imagine. Did you know Mick that you will be the first in your family to go to college? Did you know that your father, the elevator operator, and your mother, with the eighth grade education who cleans office floors at night—those children of Polish immigrants—did you know that they were doing those things to ensure opportunities for you and your brother? You will become a cadet and a basketball player at one of the greatest institutions for leadership in the world. Their encouragement will send you to West Point. 

And when you grow up, when you become a head coach, first at Army and then at Duke, when you find yourself coaching a team at championship moments, you will feel as if you've been there before. Because of what you are doing right now in that schoolyard in inner city Chicago, you will know what to do. Never underestimate the immense power of your imagination. You will use it all your life.

There will be a time in your future when you are approaching 50 years old, when you will become disconnected with those things you learned in the schoolyard, where it wasn't always about winning and when the experience and the feeling are what mattered most. The pressure will become heavy and you will feel that burden in your body, as well as in your mind.

Your family will ask you to take a step away from the team and the game you love. It'll be hard, but please listen to them and let them help you reclaim the part of yourself that finds joy and meaning in the process and that understands the importance of balance.

And Mick, take it easy on your mom, ok? It won't be long before you realize that she is your first hero. Your passion for creating opportunities for the next generation begins with her, as does your sense of your humor. Watch her, listen to her. She is selfless and courageous. 

For whatever reason, life will be good to you. It will offer you many opportunities and you will do your best to make the most of them. Your ability to seize those opportunities lies in what you're doing right now and the people you have around you. Please pay attention. You will be talking about that schoolyard a half-century from now. You will still be able to feel the pavement beneath your feet and experience the joy of the countless celebrations of imagined victories. You will tell stories of your mother's courage to locker rooms full of athletes and gymnasiums full of hopeful high school graduates. You're not going to believe how lucky you are.

—Coach K



2018 NCAA tournament regional preview: East



Each day leading up to the first round of the NCAA tournament, The Chronicle will preview one of the four regions in the bracket, touching on the true contenders in the region and potential bracket-busting Cinderellas. After starting with the South, we looked at the Midwest and now, we look at the East: 

The No. 1 seed: Villanova Wildcats

Another year, another 30 wins. 

The Wildcats finished first in the Big East and racked up at least 30 wins for the fourth straight year, and hope to push that to 36 with their second NCAA title in three years. Villanova is incredibly dangerous on offense, ranking first in the nation in efficiency according to basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, and hope to ride that wave deep in the tournament. 

Led by juniors sharpshooters Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, both on the 2016 championship squad, the Wildcats have made the second-most 3-pointers in the country on a guard-heavy squad. 

But Villanova is not invincible. Despite all of its offensive prowess, it has been vulnerable at times on defense. In their four losses this season, the Wildcats gave up nearly 87 points per game and lost rebounding battle in all but one game, when it outrebounded Creighton just 38-36.  

The other contenders: all with clear flaws

Villanova might have the easiest path to the Final Four—all of the top teams in the East all have clear flaws. 

No. 2 seed Purdue has an elite offense like the Wildcats, but has not been quite the same on defense. Led by sophomore guard Carsen Edwards, the Boilermakers have the second-highest 3-point percentage in the country, but rank No. 279 in the nation in keeping opponents off the offensive glass, something that has hurt them at times. 

No. 3 seed Texas Tech might not have the scoring to keep up with the Wildcats. Outside of those two teams, it’s hard to see anyone else making a run. Wichita State’s defense is very porous, West Virginia could be upset-prone and Florida has been remarkably inconsistent. It’s hard to see anyone but Villanova and Purdue duking it out in the Elite Eight for a chance to move on. 

The potential Cinderella: Murray State

The Racers are hot and seem like prime Cinderella candidates in a weak region. 

Murray State hasn’t lost since Jan. 18 and has the shooters to keep up with West Virginia’s high-flying offense. Guards Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller Jr. both shoot around 40 percent from downtown, while freshman Ja Morant has been lethal as well. 

It also helps that the Racers slow the game way down—they rank No. 216 in Pomeroy’s tempo metric. This will limit the number of possessions the fifth-seeded Mountaineers can get, helping increase the odds that Murray State can pull off an upset. 

Assuming Wichita State can get to the second round, the Racers could potentially take advantage of the Shockers’ weak defense and win in another shootout, shocking the college basketball world with a run to the Sweet 16. 

The regional narrative: It's Villanova's to lose

The Wildcats are the best team in this region, and should not face any real threats until a potential matchup against second-seeded Purdue in the Elite Eight in a matchup of similarly offensive-minded teams. 

Outside of that, they should face little competition in a bracket that has a decent amount of upset potential, especially with third-seeded Texas Tech as ice-cold as it is right now. 



Key three: Duke needs to exploit its massive size advantage against Iona



After an exit in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, second-seeded Duke will look to get the ball rolling in the NCAA tournament Thursday against 15th-seeded Iona at 2:45 p.m. The Blue Zone gives three keys for the Blue Devils to move to the next round: 

Find a perimeter shot

Duke has been inconsistent from deep in its last five games, combining to shoot just 29.7 percent from 3-point range. 

While Grayson Allen has seemed to have gotten himself back on track, making nine of his last 16 shots from deep, Gary Trent Jr. is stuck in a ditch. The freshman guard has gone just 8-of-34 from beyond the arc in his last five games, a trend that he will need to buck against the Gaels and going forward. 

But Iona has been particularly weak in defending the arc—it ranks No. 222 in the nation in 3-point percentage allowed. The Gaels' vulnerability here presents a big opportunity for the Blue Devils to get their stroke back, a huge key if they want to make a deep run. 

Exploit Iona's lack of size

The Gaels are small, and it has showed on the glass. 

Iona's tallest rotation player, Tarekeyi Edogi, stands at just 6-foot-8, while starting forwards E.J Crawford and Roland Griffin stand at just 6-foot-7. This is a huge mismatch for the Gaels, who will have to face up against Duke's towering big men—Wendell Carter Jr., Marvin Bagley III, Marques Bolden and even Javin DeLaurier, all at 6-foot-9 or taller. 

And it's not like Iona has been able to make up for its lack of size—it ranks near the worst in the nation in rebounding, while the Blue Devils have grabbed the third-most boards in the country. This should be an easy mismatch for Duke to exploit—look for Allen and Trevon Duval to feed Bagley and Carter early and often. 

Don't look past Gaels

Although the Blue Devils are facing one of the weakest opponents they have faced all year, they shouldn't be looking ahead to a potential second round matchup against either Oklahoma or Rhode Island. 

That lack of presence of mind has seemed to hurt them at times this year, when they played down to St. John's level the game before they were slated to travel to Chapel Hill. Duke can't afford to look past anyone, much less the Gaels, who have shown they can be dangerous from beyond the arc, ranking No. 31 in the nation in 3-point percentage. 

When the Blue Devils have underestimated opponents, it has tended to hurt their defense more than their offense, something they cannot afford to do against Iona, whose most dangerous trait is its ability to score. 



X Factor: Duke's Marques Bolden a key piece off the bench going forward



After Duke fell Friday to North Carolina in the ACC semifinals, the Blue Devils will look to get the ball rolling in the NCAA tournament Thursday against Iona. The Blue Zone gives one player who could be the difference in the game for Duke: 

Bolden a key bench piece 

If you watched Duke's ACC tournament quarterfinal against Notre Dame, you were probably in awe of Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley III's dominant performances.

But in the midst of two great efforts by the Blue Devil stars, you might've forgotten about Marques Bolden's 19 minutes off the bench.

The sophomore has grown in confidence since returning from an MCL injury earlier this season and was very effective in limited time. Bolden scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked a shot despite three fouls. 

Granted, that came on a night when Wendell Carter Jr. was mired in foul trouble and a sore foot, and it's hard to imagine both Bolden and Carter being able to see the floor at the same time in Duke's 2-3 zone.

The point is, though, that Bolden will be a necessary bench piece on Thursday and going forward. If the Blue Devils wants to have a force in the center of their defense, Coach K could easily play Carter for 28 minutes and Bolden for 12. Let Bagley, Javin DeLaurier and others stay on the outside of the zone, but having Bolden man the middle of the 2-3 because the DeSoto, Texas native can be effective in short spurts.

Now, Bolden isn't going to get you very many points. But against an Iona side that doesn't use any rotation players taller than 6-foot-8, he may actually be able to score some simply by having at least three inches on every Gael that sees the floor. 

If he can provide just a couple of easy dunks down low and be useful on defense, that's more than enough for Bolden to be an X-Factor in Duke's opening round contest.



2018 NCAA tournament regional preview: Midwest



Each day leading up to the first round of the NCAA tournament, The Chronicle will preview one of the four regions in the bracket, touching on the true contenders in the region and potential bracket-busting Cinderellas. After starting with the South yesterday, we continue in the Midwest: 

The No. 1 seed: Kansas Jayhawks

Another year, another Big 12 regular-season title for Kansas. 

Starting in 2005, the Jayhawks have earned at least a share of the top spot in the conference each season, even after they dropped two of their first six home contests in league play this season. Bill Self's squad finished strong to win eight of its nine most recent games en route to sole possession of first place and yet another Big 12 tournament title.

Kansas is led by a national player of the year candidate in senior Devonte' Graham, who averages 17.3 points along with 7.5 assists per game and shoots better than 41 percent from downtown. And despite sitting for just 83 minutes the entire season, the senior from Raleigh has stayed consistent, scoring 26 at then-No. 6 Texas Tech late in the season and hitting double digits in every game but three this year.

Graham is a major reason why the Jayhawks shoot 40.3 percent on 3-pointers as a team. Kansas' attack has proven itself to be efficient from all over the court with a 58.1 effective field goal percentage—good for sixth in the nation.

At times, the Jayhawks have lapsed defensively. They allowed 80 or more points in six of 18 Big 12 games and in all but one of their losses, opponents have reached that mark. None of their guards—Graham, Malik Newman or Lagerald Vick—are particularly good on-ball defenders. Furthermore, until they have sophomore seven-footer Udoka Azubuike back at full strength following an MCL sprain, it's hard to know if they'll be able to successfully defend the paint.

The other contenders: It might get bloody—blue bloody, that is

There is no region as top-heavy as the Midwest. 

Three of the four teams that participate in the annual Champions Classic—Kansas, No. 2 seed Duke and third-seeded Michigan State, are all very likely candidates to reach the Sweet 16 in Omaha.  Even if those teams get a bit of a test during their second-round contests, it's hard to see any major upsets that would prevent the top seeds from getting to regional semifinals.

The Blue Devils, however, could get the most interesting contest during the first weekend. If the Duke plays Oklahoma, expect NBA scouts to pack into PPG Paints Arena with potential lottery pick Trae Young playing opposite fellow top prospects Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr. and Gary Trent Jr.

And if it's Rhode Island, that's a disciplined team who could challenge for the Blue Devils for 30 minutes even without the bodies to match up inside.

The potential Cinderella: New Mexico State

This is certainly a trendy first-round upset pick with No. 5 Clemson likely somewhat overseeded due to a strong start to the season before Donte Grantham's ACL injury in the middle of ACC play. But the Aggies are a legit threat to make the second weekend of the tournament, for three big reasons. 

First, this is a group of winners. New Mexico State is 28-5 on the season with just two losses since the start of the calendar year, both coming on the road. And against tournament teams, the Aggies are 2-0, having topped both Davidson and Miami in close victories during December's Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.

Second, New Mexico State is experienced. The Aggies start three seniors alongside a junior shooting guard and sophomore point guard AJ Harris and they bring another junior off the bench as their sixth man.

Lastly, New Mexico State defends supremely well. It ranks 14th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency per basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy and the Aggies limit opponents beyond the to just better than 30 percent shooting. 

The regional narrative: Break out the chalk

Most fans are going to have the Jayhawks, Duke and the Spartans in their Sweet 16—and that's totally fine. But once it gets to that point, throw all your predictions out the window.

The Blue Devils and head coach Mike Krzyzewski have had Tom Izzo's number, but if it weren't for an epic outing by Grayson Allen in November, Duke may have not beaten Michigan State when the teams met in Chicago earlier this year. Kansas likely has the easiest road to the Elite 8 of any No. 1 seed, but with either one of those teams on the opposite bench in the regional final, it's anyone's guess who will move on to San Antonio.



The Devil's in the Details: Duke has not fared well as a No. 2 seed in recent history



They say the devil is in the details. But in Durham, the Blue Devils are in the details—and numbers.

Each week, the Blue Zone will dissect five key stats from last week's action in Duke sports, whether they be historic or underwhelming. This week, let the numbers take you inside Duke men’s basketball as they prepare for the NCAA Tournament. 

2

For the second year in a row, the Blue Devils were awarded the No. 2 seed in the Big Dance. Following a loss to UNC that put it out of the running for a one-seed, Duke was slotted in the Midwest region and will travel much further than expected to Pittsburgh to face off against Iona in the first round. The Midwest region is littered with blue-blood teams in Kansas and Michigan State and also features National Player of the Year Candidate Trae Young of Oklahoma—a potential second round matchup if the stumbling Sooners can get past Rhode Island.

20

March 8, 1998 was the last time North Carolina had defeated Duke in the ACC Tournament. But 20 years later, the Tar Heels stopped a furious comeback in the final five minutes of the game to defeat the Blue Devils 74-69 in the ACC Tournament semifinals. 

The loss prevented Duke from an opportunity to defend its title and avenge a narrow home loss Jan. 27 to Virginia. With the loss, the Blue Devils were the No. 6 overall team in the Big Dance, as UNC jumped them for the five spot. 

In hindsight, the loss made a huge impact. instead of playing in Charlotte in the first round as a part of undeniably the easiest region—Xavier, Michigan and Gonzaga make up the rest of the top-four seeds—Duke is stuck in arguably the hardest region far away from home.

Top-20

As far back as Ken Pomeroy’s rankings go (2002), every national championship winner—outside of Connecticut in 2014—finished the season in the top-20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. 

After switching to zone, the Blue Devils have seen their defensive rating shoot up from the low-100s all the way to the No. 7 defense in the country. Pair that with a No. 3 offense and Duke is sitting pretty as a title contender.

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils however, Michigan State—the only other team that currently “qualifies”—is ranked No. 9 in both categories, and could be a potential Sweet 16 date.

1995

As a No. 2 seed, Duke has failed to reach the Final Four since 1994 in six tries. In these tournaments, the Blue Devils have been bounced in the first or second round four times and have only won a single Sweet 16 game. 

2013 was the best year for a two-seed Duke squad over this stretch, when it reached the Elite Eight before bowing out against eventual national champion Louisville—which has since had its title vacated. Prior to 1995, the Blue Devils had reached the Final Four all four times as a two-seed, reaching the championship game twice and winning it all in 1991. 

1-11

If the blockbuster rematch between Michigan State and Duke were to materialize in the Sweet 16, Blue Devil fans can find solace in the fact that Coach Krzyzewski has owned Spartans Coach Tom Izzo in head-to-head matchups.

Michigan State has not defeated Duke since 2005 in the Sweet 16 as a part of its Final Four run. Grayson Allen has been a thorn in the Spartans' side in recent memory. He added nine points off the bench as a freshman in the 81-61 drubbing in the Final Four in 2015 before a championship victory against Wisconsin. 

Last year, as a junior, Allen poured 24 points on 45.5 percent shooting from deep to lead the Blue Devils to a 78-69 win in ACC/Big 10 Challenge. This year, as a part of the Champions Classic, Allen exploded for 37 points after Marvin Bagley III went down, making seven treys as then-No. 1 Duke defeated then-No.2 Michigan State 88-81. 



2018 NCAA tournament regional preview: South



Each day leading up to the first round of the NCAA tournament, The Chronicle will preview one of the four regions in the bracket, touching on the true contenders in the region and potential bracket-busting Cinderellas. We start in the South: 

The No. 1 seed: Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia owns the best defense in college basketball, and it is not too close—the Cavaliers allow only 53.4 points per game, while second place Cincinnati sits well behind at 57.1 points allowed per game, and third place Central Florida cedes an astronomical 61.7 points a contest. To complement the suffocating defense, Virginia plays at the slowest pace in the country. According to basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy, Tony Bennett’s squad is dead last in adjusted tempo.

The Cavaliers have successfully lulled nearly all of their opponents to sleep this year, and captured both the ACC regular season and tournament title. Don’t let Virginia’s low scoring outputs lead you to believe they lack star power, as the top-seeded team is star-studded. 

Guard Kyle Guy made the All-ACC first team, and Isaiah Wilkins secured ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Wilkins is perhaps the best defender in the entirety of the nation, as he is tops in defensive box/minus and third in defensive win shares.

In what is certainly the best Virginia team in Bennett’s tenure, the Cavaliers hope to get over the proverbial hump and reach their first Final Four since 1984. Absolutely, Virginia is the favorite to advance outside of the South region. If they can play at the slow pace that they have mastered, the Cavaliers should have no issue grinding out a trip to the Final Four.

The other contenders: Defensive juggernauts galore

The South region is where offense goes to die. 

As if Virginia didn’t impose enough of a threat to opposing offenses, Tennessee and Cincinnati, who round out the South’s top three seeds also rank in the top four for defensive efficiency. The Volunteers and Bearcats fit a very similar profile to the Cavaliers: elite defensive, slow tempo, and veteran leadership, despite no big names. Cincinnati may be a bit overrated as a two seed, as they are just 2-3 against other tournament teams, and could be a frequent pick to be upset. 

Kentucky and Arizona are certainly interesting for their potential to advance out of the South region. For one, the pair of Wildcats possess what the higher seeds do not: reliable scoring and supremely gifted athletes. 

DeAndre Ayton of Arizona and Kevin Knox of Kentucky are two of the best freshmen in the country. Additionally, both teams are coming into March Madness hot after failing to reach the lofty expectations initially set for them, as Arizona and Kentucky each successfully captured their respective conference tournaments.

The potential Cinderella: Loyola-Chicago

The Ramblers utterly dominated the Missouri Valley Conference on their way to a conference title. Loyola-Chicago led the conference in virtually every category, including points per game, points allowed per game, field-goal percentage, and three-point field-goal percentage. 

Don’t let their 11-seed or their lesser-known conference fool you, as Porter Moser’s squad is an absolute force: they are No. 22 in RPI, and have a 5-1 record against top-100 RPI teams in 2017-18. The Ramblers’ first taste of the NCAA Tournament in over thirty years could be a long stay, and it would be no shock to see them in the Sweet Sixteen. 

The regional narrative: Take it slow

Don’t expect to see any run-and-gun affairs from the South. None of the top six seeds, in Virginia, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Arizona, Kentucky, or Miami rank in the top 150 in adjusted tempo, according to Pomeroy's calculations. Anticipate a lot of half-court sets and strong defense. 

Three of the nation’s four most efficient defenses lie in the South. The ubiquity of slow paces and strong defenses could open the door for a lower-seeded team that can quicken the speed of play with an offensive blitz, such as Nevada, to make a run.



Selection Sunday thoughts: Duke has a tough road to the Final Four



  


Duke has a tough road to the Final Four

Duke's loss to North Carolina Saturday all but solidified their slot in second-ranked No. 2 seed, making their path to the national semifinals much more challenging.

The Blue Devils' first round opponent, Iona, should not be taken lightly—the Gaels can push the tempo and score. Potential second round opponents Rhode Island and Oklahoma are no pushovers, either, especially with Trae Young suiting up for the Sooners. 

If the Blue Devils were to win their first two games, they most likely would face Michigan State. While Duke beat the Spartans earlier this year without Marvin Bagley III, Michigan State is No. 3 seed who probably should have been a No. 2 seed. 

The Spartans won the Big Ten regular season, have two top ten picks in their starting lineup, and currently rank sixth in basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy's efficiency rankings. In the Elite Eight, Duke would likely have to play No. 1 seed Kansas in Omaha, which would practically be a home game for the Big-12 champions. The road to a sixth title won't be easy for the Blue Devils by any stretch. 

Notre Dame's overall body of work not enough to get into tournament

Even with Bonzie Colson's return, Notre Dame did not have enough on its résumé to get into the big dance.

The tournament selection committee in the past had taken injuries into account in seeding decisions, most notably in 2000 when Cincinnati center Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the conference tournament, bumping the Bearcats from a one seed to a two seed. To begin the year, Notre Dame was No. 14 in the country and was 11-3, including a win against Wichita State, before Colson went out with an injury. 

But Notre Dame finished the season 8-10 in ACC play, and in two attempts to get marquee wins with Colson back in the lineup against Virginia and Duke, the Irish faltered. Despite their difficulties, Notre Dame had a spot in the tournament until Davidson's automatic bid from its Atlantic 10 championship snatched an at-large bid away from the Irish.

Oklahoma State out, Oklahoma in

Despite a late surge in conference play, the Cowboys were unable to make the field of 68. 

After struggling throughout the Big 12 regular season, Oklahoma State finished the regular season with three straight wins, including one at home against Kansas. Even after sweeping Kansas during the regular season, a win at Big 12 tournament runner-up West Virginia, and winning two out of three against Oklahoma, the Cowboys failed to even be considered for the first four out. 

The Oklahoma Sooners, in spite of their horrid play to close out the season, not only made the tournament but were surprisingly not even a part of the last four in. The Sooners lost eight out of their last ten games and have not won a road game since December. 

It's abundantly clear—Oklahoma State should be in, not Oklahoma. 

Many teams involved with FBI probe did not make the cut

After the field was released during the selection show, Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports sent out an tantalizing tweet. 


Forde, who has broken numerous reports on the FBI probe, asked what USC, Louisville, and Oklahoma State have in common and answered they all were part of an investigation by the FBI against the NCAA. 


To be fair, Auburn was also part of the initial investigation as well and made it as a No. 4 seed. However, these teams involved with the investigation were on the bubble and seemed to have decent shot at making the tournament were snubbed while less than stellar teams received at-large bids. 

USC was second during the regular season in the Pac 12, made the finals of the conference tournament, and ranks 42 in the nation in efficiency, but was one of the first four left out. UCLA, which was behind the Trojans in both the conference regular season standings and KenPom rankings, and Syracuse, who finished tenth in the ACC, both made the tournament. 

Even with the head of the tournament selection committee denying the FBI probe played a role, it seems to be a coincidence that is hard to overlook.