Hold those brackets!
The Bracket Guru was feeling pretty solid about his prediction Sunday night that No. 1 overall seed Virginia would win its first national championship.
That confidence has been shaken by news today that Cavaliers 6-7 redshirt freshman forward De’Andre Hunter will miss the tournament with a broken left wrist. Hunter, the ACC Sixth Man of the Year and the Wahoos’ likely best NBA prospect, injured the wrist during Virginia’s run to the ACC championship last week at Barclays Center.
Hunter, who hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win at Louisville late in the regular season, played an integral role in Virginia 31-2 season. The eight-man rotation will need that void filled.
This eerily reminds me of two years ago when fourth-seeded California, boasting three future NBA players, were a trendy pick to reach the Elite Eight and Final Four on some brackets, lost Tyrone Wallace during practice before the tournament. Wallace, now an L.A. Clipper, was a senior and leading scorer for a Golden Bears group that included future NBAers Jaylen Brown (Celtics) and Ivan Rabb (Grizzlies). Cal couldn’t overcome the absence of Wallace, losing its opening game to 13th-seeded Hawaii, 77-66.
Another similar situation occurred at Syracuse in 2012, when center Fab Melo’s academic eligibility came into question during the season and he was ruled ineligible for the tournament. As a No. 1 seed, the Dion Waiters-led Orange still managed to reach the Elite Eight before losing to Ohio State.
Being starters and leaders, Wallace and Melo could be considered bigger losses than Hunter is for Virginia, for sure. The Cavaliers’ leadership should still get it to the Sweet 16.
De’Andre Hunter played an integral role in Virginia’s 31-2 season.
As far my bracket is concerned, I was banking on Virginia needing an all-out effort to beat Kentucky in the Sweet 16. In all honesty, I was going back and forth on whether Kentucky or Arizona would emerge from that 4-5 game this weekend. I saw it as a 50-50 game. Thus, I’ve made the following changes:
Arizona will edge out Kentucky and then take out the top-seeded Cavaliers in the Sweet 16 in still a must-watch game that could come down to the final possession or go to overtime. If Virginia perhaps had Villanova’s or Xavier’s draw, I think it would have a shot at the Final Four. But not in this case. The selection committee did the Cavaliers no favors.
Arizona, however, using the giant chip on its shoulder for the report involving coach Sean Miller being caught on an FBI wiretap discussing a possible $100,000 payment to star freshman center Deandre Ayton, is going to use those wins over Kentucky and Arizona as fuel to overtake Virginia’s run to the national title.
After beating Tony Bennett in the Sweet 16 matchup of best coaches who have yet to reach the Final Four, Miller’s Wildcats will storm past surprise Elite Eight participant Nevada to reach San Antonio where they will edge Michigan in the national semifinal before topping fellow NCAA probe combatants Michigan State and Tom Izzo in the final.
If you’ve entered an online bracket, practically every site hosting a contest will give you time to adjust your entry right up until Rhode Island and Oklahoma tip on Thursday afternoon.