Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 21st, 2014

With New Mexico taking a home loss to UNLV this week and Nevada slipping back to reality a bit, San Diego State is all alone in the driver’s seat, the last remaining undefeated team in conference play. Now with a 15-game winning streak, the Aztecs have earned their way into the #11 spot in the latest RTC Top 25. Beyond Steve Fisher’s club, however, there are a lot of question marks. The Lobos are the clear #2 team in the conference, but questions remain about their long-term NCAA Tournament aspirations. Our resident bracketologist has them firmly in the field, but future home losses to middling teams are not recommended.

Team of the Week

Boise State Got Back On Track This Week, In Part Due With A Home Win Over Utah State (Devin Ferrell, The Arbiter)

Boise State Got Back On Track This Week, In Part Due With A Home Win Over Utah State. (Devin Ferrell, The Arbiter)

Boise State – The Broncos bounced back from a pair of losses with a very good week. They went on the road and handed Nevada its first loss of the season, and anytime you can get a road win in conference play – no matter what conference you’re in, but especially in this one – you’re doing something right. Then on Saturday they handled Utah State and have seemingly righted the ship, at least for now. Derrick Marks led the way with 20 points per game this week, but it was a full-team affair, with Ryan Watkins helping the Broncos control the paint and Anthony Drmic being his usual solid self. And there was even one more Bronco who made a big and surprising contribution this week, who we’ll get to shortly.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 14th, 2014

Go home Mountain West, you’re drunk! How else to explain looking at the standings two weeks in and seeing Nevada – they of the eight non-conference losses, including to such luminaries as Pacific, Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, and New Orleans – alone atop the conference standings? How about Boise State and UNLV, two teams expected to contend for NCAA Tournament bids prior to the season, sitting back at 1-2? How about the worst team in the conference, San Jose State, giving New Mexico everything the Lobos can handle? How about the conference, home of terrific home court advantages up and down the West, sporting just a combined 10-9 record in league play so far? How about a San Diego State team in a rebuilding year with a work-in-progress offense carrying the banner for the conference with a top 15 ranking in the most recent RTC Top 25? Face it. Not a lot in this conference makes a ton of sense this year. And it is fascinating.

Deonte Burton Has Led A Wolf Pack Resurgence In Conference Play (US Presswire)

Deonte Burton Has Led A Wolf Pack Resurgence In Conference Play. (US Presswire)

Team of the Week

Nevada – This team was – not to put too fine a point on it – awful in the non-conference. They didn’t share they ball, they couldn’t rebound, they couldn’t defend. Less patient athletic directors may have begun their next coaching searches before Christmas. Now, while we’ve still no reason to suspect that the Wolf Pack are actually going to challenge for the conference title, much less an NCAA Tournament bid, these guys have turned into a real team. You actually want to find a way to watch them just to see what’s going on. They’ve got an NBA talent in Deonte Burton; they’ve got newcomer A.J. West providing some toughness up front; and they’ve got a handful of talented ancillary parts. And with sophomore Marqueze Coleman now back from injury, they’re starting to get back to whole. And – get this – they’re actually allowing less than a point per possession in four conference games. Maybe you can believe in this team, at least for a little while.

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Checking in On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 8th, 2014

After the slowdown around the holidays, the Mountain West is back in full swing. Conference play is underway; everybody has played at least one game against a conference opponent; and San Diego State ended non-conference play on a big high, scoring a thoroughly impressive win at Kansas over the weekend. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s jump right in, after recognizing that right now we have Air Force and Nevada – two teams we have been making fun of all season – tied atop the conference standings with 2-0 records.

Team of the Week

Behind Player Of The Week Xavier Thames, The Aztecs Are Outperforming Their Expectations (Kent Horner, Getty Images)

Behind Player Of The Week Xavier Thames, The Aztecs Are Outperforming Their Expectations (Kent Horner, Getty Images)

San Diego State – The Aztecs got conference play underway well by going on the road to Colorado State, getting a good early start, and then maintaining a solid lead the rest of the way. Then on Sunday, they capped off a dream day for San Diego sports fans, backing up the Chargers’ playoff win with a win of their own at Allen Fieldhouse. They’re not a perfect team, but this squad likes each other, works exceedingly well together, and Steve Fisher is getting every last drop out of it in what is turning out to be yet another masterful coaching job. While we maybe have been a step behind on fully believing in this team, those days are over; the Aztecs are the clear favorite in the Mountain West.

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The Best In The West: Ranking the Top 20 Teams West Of The Rockies

Posted by AMurawa on December 16th, 2013

Roughly a quarter of the way through the year, we’re going to unveil something a little new here, something we’ll check back in on once a month or so. We’re going to take all the schools west of the Rockies (and we’re going to be a bit generous with our geography – basically we’re looking at schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast, and Big West and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences) and give you the top 20 teams. But, rather than just ranking schools 1 though 20, we’re going to divide all these teams up into tiers, in part because calling Arizona #1 and then naming another school #2 just seems wrong, because the Wildcats are just so far ahead of everyone else. Below, you’ll see our Top 20 teams in the West (their overall rank will be in parentheses), with descriptions of what we think the teams in each tier have in common, plus brief comments on the teams in our list.

Arizona Is The Undisputed Leader In The West (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Is The Undisputed Leader In The West (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

The Best of the BestIn a league of their own.

Arizona (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – The Wildcats are in a class by themselves out West. Even when putting together my national top 25, I wanted to put Arizona at #1, leave spots 2-5 empty, and then have a four-way tie at #6. What they’ve accomplished thus far is unassailable, especially considering how young this team is. Expect somebody (maybe multiple somebodies) in the Pac-12 to put up a serious challenge, but at this point in the season, Sean Miller’s squad is not only the best in the West, but they’re the best by a long shot.

Contenders to the Throne – And all top 25 teams.

Oregon (#2 overall, Pac-12 #2) – The Ducks are the team closest to joining the Wildcats up top, but while they’ve got an undefeated record and some quality scalps, they’re missing the quality of wins that the Wildcats have. But, as good as Dana Altman’s squad has been, they’re not even at full strength yet – Dominic Artis and Ben Carter are due back this week.

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 11th, 2013

We’ve talked about it a lot around these parts this year, since before the season even began — so many Mountain West teams putting all their eggs in a very small scheduling basket. For instance, Utah State’s only really quality non-conference game was its rivalry game with BYU. After losing that one, it was assured that their best win prior to the calendar flipping over to conference play would be at UC Santa Barbara – a good victory for sure, but not one to pin your NCAA Tournament hopes on. To make matters worse, Utah State backed up that BYU loss with a home loss to Pacific. So now the Aggies sit at 5-2; they’re lucky to have an RPI in the low 40s; and they face the prospect of needing a very strong run through the Mountain West on their first go-round in order to get themselves in the NCAA Tournament talk later this year.

Preston Medlin And Utah State Don't Have A Lot To Cheer About After Dropping A Home Game to Pacific (Rick Egan, Salt Lake Tribune)

Preston Medlin And Utah State Don’t Have A Lot To Cheer About After Dropping A Home Game to Pacific (Rick Egan/Salt Lake Tribune)

Likewise, Boise State went out and put together a schedule not befitting for a squad with borderline Top 25 talent and arguably the best team in school history. Certainly, they’re in the midst of the toughest stretch of their non-conference schedule, what with a trip to Kentucky on Tuesday night followed by a visit from an undefeated Saint Mary’s team on Saturday. But, as could have been expected, the Broncos struck out against the talented Wildcats, getting killed on the glass and at the rim and not being able to find enough good clean looks from deep against their long and athletic guards. Now all their hopes for a quality non-conference win get pinned on Saturday’s game against the Gaels. Again, on the basis of six wins in seven games, the Broncos are fortunate to have an RPI of #40, but with no resume wins in the non-conference, those four conference games against New Mexico and San Diego State in conference will loom large.

You see, it is only the Aztecs and the Lobos who have succeeded in coming away with some quality wins in the non-conference. SDSU has scalps from Creighton and Marquette, while New Mexico’s got UAB and Cincinnati on the wall already, with Kansas in Kansas City looming on Saturday and Marquette up the following Saturday. None of the victims of the Lobos or Aztecs are elite teams, but they’ve at least helped their teams to RPIs of #11 and #17, respectively. At the quarter-pole of the year, those two squads are alone among Mountain West teams on the good side of the resume ledger.

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Misperceptions and Missed Perceptions: Reviewing Some Preseason Predictions

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 5th, 2013

With four weeks of basketball now in the books, it’s time to take a quick glance back at some of the things we thought we knew in the preseason. Some notions have proved accurate, but early results have tested a slew of preseason hypotheses that we once felt confident in. Here are a few examples, on both sides of the ledger:

We Thought We Knew…

Andy Enfield Was the New Coach Bringing Exciting Offensive Basketball to LA

There Has Been Nothing Slow About Steve Alford's And UCLA's First Four Weeks

There Has Been Nothing Slow About Steve Alford’s And UCLA’s First Four Weeks

We weren’t the only ones who thought it was USC, with Andy Enfield now at the helm – and not UCLA, with new head man Steve Alford — which was going to be lighting up Pac-12 scoreboards in the City of Angels this winter. Back in October, Enfield told his players, “if you want to play slow, go to UCLA.” Well, USC isn’t playing slow – they are 33rd nationally in possessions per game –but they are playing slower than the Bruins, which are six spots ahead of them in that category. And if this first month means anything, perhaps Enfield should have also advised any of his players who enjoy scoring, winning, or both, to plan that transfer across town. USC is 5-3, with just one win against a team in KenPom’s top 230 (!!!) and an offensive efficiency that ranks them 170th nationally. UCLA, on the other hand, is 8-0 and averaging more than 90 PPG behind the 7th-most efficient offense in the country. Now, there is a necessary asterisk here: Alford inherited significantly more talent at his disposal than Enfield did. Even so, it was Enfield – not Alford — who invited the cross-town comparisons. The Dunk City architect better have something besides his mouth working by the time USC visits Pauley Pavilion on January 5; otherwise, his Trojans are firmly at risk of getting run out of Westwood, and contrary to popular belief, there would be nothing slow about it.  

The Complection of the Top of the Big 12

At this point, expecting Kansas to win the Big 12 generally equates to peeping out a Southern California window and looking for the sun in the morning. The Jayhawks may not have played their way out of the preseason expectation to win the Big 12 again this year, but they should have company at the top this time around. Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State, post play deficiencies aside, have looked every bit the part of Big 12 title contenders themselves, and many would now peg the Cowboys as Big 12 favorites (including yours truly). Kansas State and Baylor were next in line after the Pokes and Jayhawks a month ago, but the Wildcats have suffered through a miserable opening month, while Baylor has looked as shaky as a 7-1 team with two top-40 victories can look, with two of those wins coming against non-D-I competition and three of the other five earned with a final margin of victory of five points or fewer. Iowa State now looks like the team ready to take a step up in class. The Cyclones, 7-0 with a pair of top-40 victories of their own, could easily enter the Big 12 season undefeated and prepared to further shake up a suddenly unpredictable conference race.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 3rd, 2013

Hooray! The Mountain West has its hero. November is in the books and the conference finally has a victory worth crowing about under its collective belt. In fact, San Diego State scored a couple really meaningful wins this week at the Wooden Legacy, knocking off both Creighton and Marquette to earn the tournament title. Still, I for one have yet to put a MW team in my weekly national Top 25. I’ve considered New Mexico previously and have kept them just on the outside looking in. Boise State also remains in the back of my mind, where they’ll stay until they play anybody of note. And the Aztecs were among my final cuts this week. So what leaves SDSU still needing to prove itself? I know they’re going to defend like nuts all year long and stay in games that way, but I just don’t believe that Xavier Thames is going to be able to knock down shots at his current rate forever, and aside from him, there aren’t a whole lot of polished offensive players on this team. Still, there is no denying that the Aztecs have looked awfully good so far this year and are beginning to earn the benefit of my doubt.

Xavier Thames and A Boisterous Crowd Helped San Diego State Capture The Wooden Legacy Title (USA Today Sports)

Xavier Thames and A Boisterous Crowd Helped San Diego State Capture The Wooden Legacy Title (USA Today Sports)

Team of the Week

San Diego State – We’ll get to Thames shortly, but there have been a lot of guys stepping up for this squad who deserve attention. J.J. O’Brien has been the most regular second option for the Aztecs, averaging nearly 14 points per game before a hand injury limited his production on Sunday. Matt Shrigley has emerged from his redshirt year to display not only a nice shooting touch but a good game off the bounce. Winston Shepard has clearly worked on his body and his game in the offseason, and he’s well on his way to becoming a great college player. And true freshman Dakarai Allen is out of the gates with a strong start to his college career. Even if Thames does slow down a bit, there are some options here who could pick up the slack.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 26th, 2013

We’re a little more than two weeks into the season and the best win among all 11 Mountain West conference teams is: what? New Mexico in a double-overtime miracle over a UAB team that was under .500 last season? Utah State over UC Santa Barbara without its best player? Colorado State over Weber State? Meanwhile, among the dregs of the conference, you’ve got losses to luminaries like Pacific (twice no less), Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, Santa Clara, Milwaukee, Northern Illinois, James Madison, VMI and Jackson State. Not exactly painting a pretty picture, am I? While the Lobos will have plenty of chances over the next three weeks to score some pretty nice non-conference victories, the other best hopes in this conference have pretty slim pickings on their non-conference slates. Outside of this weekend in Orange County at the Wooden Legacy, San Diego State will have to win at Kansas in order to garner a really solid non-conference win; good luck with that. Boise State has a road trip to Rupp Arena in a couple weeks to face Kentucky’s freshmen, otherwise its only “up” game non-conference game prior to the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas is a home game against Saint Mary’s. And Utah State’s only non-conference game of consequence is against BYU on Saturday. In other words, you can not only completely forget about any possibility of five bids to the NCAA Tournament come March, three may be significantly stretching the matter.

Team of the Week

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven't Played Anybody

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven’t Played Anybody.

Boise State – It is slim pickings out there, so we’ll go with the Broncos for their home win over Seattle and road win over New Orleans. Told you it was grim out there.

Player of the Week

Alex Kirk, Jr, New Mexico – Another week, another New Mexico big man. This time it is Kirk for his three double-doubles in the Charleston Classic. For the week, the native New Mexican averaged 21.3 points, 12 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game, and even threw in five three-pointers for good measure. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 19th, 2013

Last year about this time, the Mountain West’s record as a collective was 27-3. Sure, there wasn’t a large number of top shelf wins among those 27, but they were wins. This year the teams are a combined 19-12. UNLV lost by 21 at home to UC Santa Barbara. Colorado State got drilled by 32 at Gonzaga. Nevada lost at home to Pacific. Fresno State lost by 21 at Pitt. Air Force has lost to Jackson State and VMI. And newcomer San Jose State has lost to everybody it has faced, and that certainly hasn’t been a murderer’s row. Last year, the conference as a whole rode its strong RPI numbers, built up by a collection of a mostly good teams, to a best-ever five NCAA Tournament bids. This year, it remains to be seen just how good teams the teams at the top are, while the middle of the conference seems significantly weaker than it was last year, and the bottom of the conference even worse. Too long, didn’t read? The takeaway is there isn’t a chance in a million that the Mountain West sends five teams dancing this year.

Team of the Week

Utah State – The Aggies are one of the newcomers in the conference, but they’re off to a fine start, having won all three of their games including one over USC and another over that UCSB team that beat up on MW heavyweight UNLV. Behind veteran trio Spencer Butterfield, Preston Medlin and Jarred Shaw, Utah State looks like it will have an easy transition to its new conference.

Cameron Bairstow Has Been On Fire Out Of The Gate For the Lobos (Eric Draper, AP Photo)

Bairstow Has Been On Fire Out Of The Gate For the Lobos (Eric Draper, AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Cameron Bairstow, Sr, New Mexico – There may not be a player in the country who has improved as much as Bairstow in his four years in Albuquerque. As a freshman, he was notable only for his below-the-rim, scrappy style, as he averaged fewer than 10 minutes per game and fewer than three points per outing. But thus far this season, the 6’9” Aussie has been almost unstoppable, averaging 25.5 points, eight rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game, all while shooting 78.3 percent from the field. Oh, and not to be outdone, his frontcourt mate Alex Kirk has double-doubled in both his games on the way to 20 points and 12 rebounds per game averages.

Newcomer of the Week

Paul Watson, Fr, Fresno State – The 6’6” freshman out of Phoenix doesn’t have the type of body yet to lead you to believe he would succeed playing up front in major college basketball. But out of necessity, Watson has been forced to play the role of a big man for the Bulldogs. And, so far so good, as he’s averaged five rebounds a night, has scored both around the basket and from deep, and has eaten up minutes. There’s a big future for this Dog.

Power Rankings

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by BHayes on March 25th, 2013

RTC_final4_atlanta

Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent.

The Midwest Regional begins Friday night in Indianapolis with Louisville vs. Oregon followed by Duke vs. Michigan State. The East Region Reset and West Region Reset published earlier today, and be sure to look out for the South Region Reset later this afternoon. Also make sure to follow RTCMWRegion for news and analysis from Indy throughout the week.

New Favorite: #1 Louisville. When you are the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, win your first two games by a total of 57 points, and now have to travel just 115 miles to the regional site, you aren’t going to lose your pole position. The Cardinals are still the team to beat in Indianapolis.

Lucas Oil Stadium Is Where The Midwest Will Be Won

Lucas Oil Stadium Is Where The Midwest Will Be Won

Horse of Darkness: #12 Oregon. It’d be hard enough to make a case for a #1, #2, or #3 seed as a dark horse, and harder yet when the programs occupying those seed-lines are Louisville, Duke, and Michigan State. So while Oregon certainly fits the bill here, they also are winners by default. We knew the Ducks were underseeded and dangerous on that #12 line, and they went out and played like it last week. At this point, nobody would blink an eye if the seed next to the Ducks’ name was a #4 instead.  Louisville would be advised to view Dana Altman’s team through that lens, because Oregon is talented enough to knock off the Cardinals, even in their own backyard.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #4 Saint Louis. Clearly, this wasn’t the good kind of surprise. Saint Louis entered this NCAA Tournament as a legitimate Final Four sleeper. They played along with the hype in the Second Round, where they clinically dispatched New Mexico State in winning by 20. At that point, a deep run still felt very possible and at least one more win a near-certainty, which made the resounding defeat they suffered at the hands of Oregon a bit of a shock. Let’s keep in mind that this was a Saint Louis team that had lost just once in regulation since November, and the 17-point margin of defeat to the Ducks was the Billikens’ largest of the season. 2012-13 was a proud, inspiring season for SLU, but few could have predicted the abruptness with which it would end.

Completely Expected (1st Weekend): #3 Michigan State. Chalk prevailed almost across the board in this region (thank god for Oregon!), so take your pick here, but I’ll go with the Spartans. Armed with a virtual home court advantage in Auburn Hills, Tom Izzo’s crew made quick work of Valparaiso before dismantling Memphis in the Third Round. These wins were completely expected not only because it’s Sparty playing March basketball in its home state, but also because both their opponents loomed as favorable match-ups for this Michigan State team. As expected, Valpo was outmanned and Memphis not tough enough. The result, equally anticipated, is another Spartans visit to the Sweet Sixteen.

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The NCAA Tournament in Tweets: Saturday and Sunday

Posted by Nick Fasulo on March 25th, 2013

bythetweets

Tyrone Garland, one of the best sixth men in the country, is from Southwest Philadelphia. If you didn’t already know that, then you most certainly made the connection following his postgame interview after Garland lifted La Salle past Ole Miss into the Sweet Sixteen. The basked, he called it, was his possibly patented #SouthwestPhillyFloater, which quickly became a usable hashtag and will certainly get some run leading up to the Explorers’ upcoming match-up against Wichita State. This is something I can get on board with, unlike #layupgang.

Florida Gulf Coast, A #15 Seed, Is In The Sweet 16

So far, this is the best story of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. And unless the national championship game ends in a buzzer-beater, it is unlikely it will be topped. Representing the Atlantic Sun Conference, Florida Gulf Coast is the first #15 seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen. To add a bit more weight to this story, it is a school that was founded in the 1990s and only been eligible to play in this grand tournament in 2009. You cannot make this stuff up, but you can get FGCU trending on Twitter through the weekend.

Heading in to the work week, it will be very interesting to track the media coverage the school gets. Will the jokes about this being an online university continue? Will we focus on the actual talent Andy Enfield has assembled? Will we just drool over his wife Amanda?

Following the win, the most competitive pissing match was to see who could come up with the most retweeted play on words. A collection of the ones I could bear to read…

Oh… and… Tunechi. He got involved too.

Marquette Draws America’s Ire

Forget Duke. Somehow the Marquette Golden Eagles have become the team America loves to hate, after squeaking past two non-power conference teams America has grown to love over the past five years. Buzz Williams’ team advanced to its third straight Sweet Sixteen over the weekend, but it took a bit of luck and last second heroics to get past both Davidson and Butler, and nobody is forgetting that.

The Golden Eagles are the epitome of “survive and advance.” Two wins, a three-point total margin of victory, and one sloppy play after another in the game’s final minutes (save Vander Blue’s smooth left handed lay-in with seconds remaining to down the Wildcats).

Aaron Craft Goes Iso, Defeats ISU

After Aaron Craft went dagger on Iowa State, all of the following tweets were published within seven seconds of each other. I counted.

https://twitter.com/raphiellej/status/315893271698239490

https://twitter.com/DaveKrupinski/status/315893308482256897

https://twitter.com/Peter_R_Casey/status/315893413436338176

https://twitter.com/eamonnbrennan/status/315893423695597568

https://twitter.com/JonRothstein/status/315893542419591168

Game: blouses.

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ATB: No. 1 Falls, Wolverines Look Fierce and Butler Goes Home…

Posted by Chris Johnson on March 24th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Third Round Ahoy! The first weekend of NCAA Tournament play is a refined product. After a second-round customarily filled with upsets and wacky outcomes, the next stage puts sheer team quality over luck and happenstance. This is where the true contenders make their bread. Part one of the third round wrapped up Saturday night, and save for a few surprising results, the best teams by and large validated their putative reputations.

Your watercooler moment. Drop The Revisionist Committee Tongue-Lashings.

The anti-Gonzaga backlash is about to ramp up considerably (Getty Images).

The anti-Gonzaga backlash is about to ramp up considerably (Getty Images).

There is nothing more casually distasteful than hindsight Tournament declarations and Monday morning quarterbacking. It happens every year. Middle Tennessee got run by Saint Mary’s, they never deserved an at-large birth! New Mexico never deserved to be a three seed! The Mountain West is terrible! All of those proclamations have been uttered in various forms, on various mediums, and all of them are patently false. Trying to argue against a certain team’s Tournament placement or inclusion after the fact is like ordering a manifestly scrumptious steak entrée at a five-star restaurant, leaving disappointed with the way it turned out and advocating the dish’s removal from the restaurant menu during the ride home. It’s not fair or to validate previous logic with future outcomes. That won’t stop anyone from copping to lazy criticisms of Gonzaga’s No. 1 seed status in the wake of Saturday’s upset loss to nine-seed Wichita State. Was Gonzaga tested in the same way as, say, Louisville or Indiana on a weekly basis in conference play? No. Did Gonzaga deserve a number one seed (or at least deserve to be in the argument), after posting a 30-2 win-loss record, a 4-2 record against the RPI Top 50, the No. 4 efficiency offense and No. 18 defense in the country? You’d be forfeiting your credibility as an objective and rational college hoops observer to disagree. The Bulldogs may have lost to a hot Wichita State team, may have blown an eight-point second half lead, may have allowed a physical Shockers group too much room on the perimeter. But they didn’t lose their claim to all of the aforementioned credentials. The selection committee’s vague criteria has offered up decades of case evidence to analyze, and by their admittedly fuzzy standards, Gonzaga deserved to be a No. 1. Their early third-round dismissal does not change that fact.

Also worth chatting about. Michigan Turns Major Third-Round Hurdle Into Cakewalk.

The Rams had no answer for McGary Saturday (AP Photo).

The Rams had no answer for McGary Saturday (AP Photo).

Recent history affects NCAA Tournament bracket intellect in real and influential ways. When paired with commendable regular season results, that team is extremely difficult to ignore – no matter the opponent. It’s part of why VCU beating Michigan Saturday looked like such a cinch “upset” pick, and completely why Michigan’s 25-point demolition of the Rams was more of an “upset” than a VCU win could have ever been. Mitch McGary played the best game of his college career to date (21 points, 14 rebounds), the Wolverines kept turnovers at a manageable level (12), and when the Rams can’t induce cough-ups they can’t get stops. The final product: Michigan has its first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1994. The Wolverines more resembled their early-season national title-contender form Saturday that at any point this season. When Burke is dishing to open shooters and slashing into the lane, when Tim Hardaway Jr. is presenting matchup problems all over the floor, Michigan is – just as many suspected in November and December – a bona fide national title threat. Throw in the possibility of a potent interior presence in McGary, and John Beilein’s team will give the winner of Sunday’s Roy Williams Bowl (Kansas-UNC) all it can handle and more. Michigan is in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in nearly two decades, and I wouldn’t be surprised if its journey blows past that minor landmark.

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