What’s Trending: #TipOffMarathon Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on November 19th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Kevin Pangos is Still in College

Believe me, when I turned on the Gonzaga vs. SMU game late Monday night, I was just as surprised as you were.

But I digress. Pangos was awesome, posting a cool 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds in Gonzaga’s 72-56 victory.

Bruce Pearl is Back…

And he’s sweatier than ever!

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Four Thoughts on SMU’s Pasting at Gonzaga

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 18th, 2014

SMU didn’t exactly make a great impression in its nationally televised showdown with Gonzaga last night. The final score was 72-56 and that was after the Mustangs closed the gap late against the Bulldogs’ scrubs. It started early when Larry Brown’s team gifted Gonzaga way too many open looks, and continued in the second half as the Mustangs suffered through a poor shooting performance — at one point in the second half, they were 3-of-23 from the field — so bad it’s unlikely to be repeated this season. The second half got so out of hand that it gave the Gonzaga student section time to audition some new chants for this season (the “You need Mudiay” version was the best of the bunch, in my opinion). The Mustangs are too experienced and talented to be blown out so easily, but despite a disappointing showing in a marquee match-up during the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon, there were a few positives to take away from the game. Gonzaga is really good and Spokane is a difficult place to play, so I don’t think that this game will be reflective of the team that SMU will become by the end of the season.

Brown Had A Similar Pained Look On His Face Often Watching Gonzaga. (AP)

Brown Had A Similar Pained Look On His Face Often Watching Gonzaga. (AP)

Here are the four things that stuck out to me about last night’s game:

  1. Did I mention how good Gonzaga is yet? The Bulldogs haven’t been a true mid-major team in years, but this may be the season that Mark Few’s club looks the least like a punchy underdog. Gonzaga has more size than almost any team in the country outside of Kentucky; it has one of the best point guards in the country in Kevin Pangos; it has plenty of shooting; and its rotation might be legitimately nine-deep. The Bulldogs fed off an explosive atmosphere in having their way with the Mustangs all game long. Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer are a pair of frontcourt players with NBA futures, and Pangos is one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the country. What am I trying to say is that there is no shame in losing to the Zags in their building this early in the season.  At one point Fran Fraschilla said that if there are “12 teams in the country better than Gonzaga, they must be really good.” Yeah, there is no way that there are 12 teams in America better than that team right now. Read the rest of this entry »
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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 13th, 2014

With the season tipping off on Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

FirstTeam

  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina – Paige enters his junior season at North Carolina following a sophomore campaign when the guard take his game to new heights. After a fairly productive freshman season (8.2 PPG), the 6’1″ point guard took home the ACC’s Most Improved Player Award by upping that average to 17.5 PPG as he led the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament. Paige’s season was good enough for him to be the first North Carolina point guard to be named first-team All-ACC as a sophomore since Tar Heels’ legend Phil Ford in 1976. Expectations are high in Chapel Hill again this season, and with Paige running the show, it is easy to understand why. Factoid: In an informal poll of college coaches taken by CBSSports.com in August, Paige was named as one of the players the pollsters would most like to have on their team this season. Once coach said of the Tar Heel, “he really doesn’t get enough credit for what he did for North Carolina last season. Won’t surprise me if he’s National Player of the Year.”
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia – Not many guards can fill up the stat sheet like Staten. The highly productive senior returns for the Mountaineers following a season when he become the first player in West Virginia history to score 500 points (598), grab 150 rebounds (186), and dish out 150 assists (193) in a season. With the offseason transfers of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, Staten will almost definitely see those numbers rise during his final collegiate season in Morgantown. After a two-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, Staten appears primed to lead what one expert is calling an underrated Mountaineers squad back to the Big Dance. Factoid: Following Staten’s first season at West Virginia, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins gave his guard the assignment of watching tape from two of the great point guards Huggins coached at Cincinnati – Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville – It was a bit of a surprise in April when Harrell announced that he would return to Louisville for his junior season rather than enter the NBA Draft. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is undoubtedly pleased with his big man’s decision, as Louisville is set to begin its first season in the arduous ACC. With Russ Smith and Luke Hancock gone, Harrell seems to be the best bet to pick up the slack in Pitino’s up-tempo offense. The junior forward has reportedly added what he and his coach call a more consistent 14-to-16 foot jump shot to his offensive repertoire. While that development unquestionably has Louisville fans giddy, it should worry the Cards’ new conference foes. Factoid: Harrell originally committed to Virginia Tech out of high school, but he reopened his recruitment following Seth Greenberg’s abrupt dismissal. A few weeks later, Harrell signed with Louisville and the rest, as they say, is history.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke – The Chicago prep superstar-to-Duke pipeline continues as Okafor is set to begin his freshman season in Durham. The consensus number one high school player in the Class of 2014 enters his college career with a tremendous amount of hype. He has been described as “one of the most skilled and poised back to the basket centers to come along in some time.” Duke brought in a star-studded recruiting class to help offset the early departures of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, and there is no question that Okafor is the jewel of that class. If the big man turns in the type of season that many expect from him, there is no telling what the ceiling for the Blue Devils could be. Factoid: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has already acknowledged that he expects Okafor to be a one-and-done: “We won’t have him long. We’ll have him this year and then he’ll be one of the top NBA picks.”
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – Kaminsky entered the 2013-14 season as a relative unknown after averaging just 4.2 points in 10.3 minutes per game as a sophomore. He did not remain an unknown for long, though, as the junior emerged as one of the top big men in the Big Ten, taking home consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. While his regular season was outstanding, what really turned Kaminsky into a household name was his 28-point, 11 rebound effort against Arizona to send Wisconsin to the Final Four. The Badgers return four starters from that Final Four squad, but none are more important than the seven-foot senior. Factoid: Kaminsky was lightly-recruited coming out of Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. In fact, he was a Plan B for the Badgers after one of their top frontcourt targets, Nnanna Egwu, committed to Illinois.

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2014-15 RTC Preseason O26 All-America Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine and Adam Stillman on November 12th, 2014

Considering the sheer number of teams competing in O26 conferences, reaching a consensus on the top 15 players – much less the top five – is an incredibly difficult task. Alas, here are our Preseason O26 All-Americans, along with the Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Newcomer of the Year for the upcoming season. Where did we go wrong?

Player of the Year

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet is our O26 Preseason Player of the Year. (Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports)

Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. Evaluating players based on their “leadership” and “composure” and ability to “play within themselves” can be a slippery slope, prone to subjectivity and flaws in perception. But when the numbers seem to back those claims up – a sparkling offensive rating, an eye-popping assist-to-turnover ratio – the intangible qualities quickly seem much more tangible. Which brings us to VanVleet. The 5’11’’ junior possesses nearly all the skills and qualities you could want in a point guard: He is a floor general, who posted the best assist rate in the Missouri Valley last season and fourth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the entire country; he is an efficient scorer who shot 41 percent from behind the arc and 83 percent from the stripe; he is a good defender who recorded four-plus steals on six different occasions. And by all accounts he is a true leader on and off the court, the steady hand guiding the steadiest bunch in mid-major hoops. Considering all those attributes, VanVleet is our Preseason O26 Player of the Year.

First Team

  • Fred VanVleet – G – Wichita State. See our Player of the Year writeup above. VanVleet is one of the best point guards in the entire country, regardless of league.
  • Ron Baker – G – Wichita State. If VanVleet is the best non-power conference guard in the country, then Baker, his backcourt running mate, is not far behind. The 6’3’’ junior punctuated an impressive 2013-14 campaign (13.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.1 APG) by scoring 20 points on 4-for-6 three- point shooting against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last March and squashing any doubt about whether he could compete at the highest level. Baker now enters this season as the offensive cornerstone for a top 15 team, whose versatility and perimeter shooting is only expected to shine brighter for the Shockers.

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Top of the O26 Class: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, WAC & WCC

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 10th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Western region of the U.S: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, Western Athletic Conference, West Coast Conference. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region, Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region and the Southern region.

Top Units

Mountain West

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II need to step up offensively for the Aztecs. (Ben Margot — AP)

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II will need to step up offensively for San Diego State. (Ben Margot/AP)

  • San Diego State – 2013-14 record: 31-5 (16-2). San Diego State will be very good defensively, that much we know, but whether it can replace do-everything guard Xavier Thames (17.6 PPG, 120.0 ORtg) is the most pressing concern this time around. The Aztecs – which have ranked among the top-20 nationally in defensive efficiency in three of the last four seasons – return several long-armed stoppers like Dwayne Polee II and 6’10’’ center Skyler Spencer (best block percentage in the league) while adding a highly-touted Arizona transfer in 6’9’’ Angelo Chol. But Thames was the only consistent offensive threat last year and points were hard to come by when he struggled, so the ability of guys like Polee and guard Winston Shepard to thrive in more prominent scoring roles is crucial. Steve Fisher’s club should win the Mountain West considering the talent he has on hand (five-star forward Malik Pope also joins the mix), but the team’s offensive development, especially in the backcourt, will determine its ultimate national stature.

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Bracket Prep: Mount St. Mary’s, Milwaukee, Gonzaga, North Dakota State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 12th, 2014

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As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Tournament dreams became a reality for four more teams last night. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent quartet of bid-winners.

Mount St. Mary’s

Mount St. Mary's, .500 Record In Tow, Is Dancing. They Are Your NEC Champions.

Mount St. Mary’s, .500 Record In Tow, Is Dancing. They Are Your NEC Champions.

  • NEC Champion (16-16, 12-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #216/#207/#220
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = -3.6
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16 (First Four)

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. So much for the relative tranquility of the first few days of Championship Week (shouldn’t it really be called “Championship Ten Days”?). Mount St. Mary’s capped off an improbable NEC tournament run by thrashing top seed Robert Morris on their home floor, 88-71, sending the 16-16 Mountaineers to a likely date in the First Four in Dayton. If the Colonials still don’t know what happened tonight, the Mountaineers shot 61% from the floor, made 8-18 threes, and despite being one of the worst rebounding teams in America, found a way to outboard RMU (despite nine missed MSM free throws). Upsets happen in March, but the ease with which Mount St. Mary’s overcame their favored foe last night was truly shocking.
  2. For a team that finished 9-7 in the NEC, the Mountaineers aren’t that bad, I guess? Mount St. Mary’s was second best in offensive efficiency during conference play, and a modestly impressive 123rd nationally for the season. In averaging 70.1 possessions per game (33rd in the nation), MSM also has shown they don’t mind getting out in transition, where guards Rashad Whack (17.6 PPG, 79 3PM) and Julian Norfleet (17.5 PPG, 5.5 APG) thrive. But unlike many small conference teams, the Mountaineers pair their arsenal of pint-sized guards with a true post player, seven footer Taylor Danaher (6.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.3 BPG). Danaher won’t soon be confused with Dwight Howard, but his sizable presence won’t hurt when matching up with the bigger teams likely to inhabit the top seed lines.
  3. Mount St. Mary’s defends the three-point stripe reasonably well, but opponents should be able to find plenty of success inside the arc against the Mounts. MSM regular season foes shot 54.5% on two-point field goals in the regular season, which led to a field-day or three for the power conference teams on the November-December schedule. BYU went for 109, Texas Tech 100, and Michigan State 98 against the Mountaineers – all, of course, in resounding victories. Hard to believe much will be different if MSM finds their way into the 64-team portion of the Tournament.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on February 13th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.

Looking Back

The scramble for second place in the WCC continued unabated last week, as Saint Mary’s and BYU held off defeats that would have made any conference title dreams impossible. As things stand now, they’re only just unrealistic. San Francisco and Pepperdine, two other teams harboring dreams for a lofty finish, stumbled.

Stephen Holt (right) had an outstanding week for the Gaels. (SMC Athletics)

Stephen Holt (right) had an outstanding week for the Gaels. (SMC Athletics)

Gonzaga’s three-game lead in the loss column over BYU and Saint Mary’s seems impregnable, but the schedule-makers have done the Zags no favors. After entertaining Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount at home this week, Gonzaga hits the road for four season-ending games that could prove harrowing. BYU, San Diego and Saint Mary’s must be considered at least potential upset opportunities, and even Pacific has showed its Tiger teeth occasionally this season. What better way to salvage a disappointing return to the WCC than by knocking off the Zags? Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on January 28th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.

Crystal Ball Time

With most teams in the WCC having completed half the conference schedule it’s time to do some end-game handicapping. Here’s how the rest of the schedule shapes up for the main players:

  • Gonzaga, although sitting pretty at 8-1 with a game-and-a-half lead on Saint Mary’s, has a tough second half of conference play ahead. Its three home games should give the Zags little trouble, but road pitfalls could come against the Bay Area schools (Saint Mary’s, San Francisco and Santa Clara), in Provo against BYU, and in the Jenny Craig Pavilion against San Diego.
  • Saint Mary’s has an unfavorable (4/6) home/road balance ahead, but two of the road games are against nearby rivals San Francisco and Santa Clara. The Gaels’ main peril begins right now with four games in southern California and Provo. If Saint Mary’s comes off that journey intact, it will be well positioned to entertain BYU and Gonzaga at home.
Rex Walters and USF have a real chance to make some noise in the coming weeks. (Getty)

Rex Walters and USF have a real chance to make some noise in the coming weeks. (Getty)

  • San Francisco also has a chance to do some damage against the leaders by entertaining Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s at home, but will be at risk on the road against BYU and San Diego.
  • BYU is up against the wall no matter how you slice it because of its inability to win a single conference game on the road. The Cougars will certainly battle Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga tough at home, but its chances against the Gaels and Toreros on the road don’t look good based on performance to date.

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (18-3, 8-1)
  2. Saint Mary’s (16-5, 6-2)
  3. San Francisco (13-8, 6-3)
  4. BYU (13-9, 5-4)
  5. Pepperdine (12-10, 5-5)
  6. Portland (12-9, 4-5)
  7. San Diego (12-10, 3-6)
  8. Santa Clara (10-12, 3-6)
  9. Loyola Marymount (11-11, 3-7)
  10. Pacific (11-8, 2-6)

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Gonzaga Churns Out Another Victory; Could These Bulldogs Be Different Come March?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 11th, 2013

First things first: Gonzaga’s 80-76 win over West Virginia on Tuesday night will not go down as any sort of victory for the ages. Heck, it may not even count as a “good win” come March. But before we strip away all its value, with say, a game of “name a Mountaineer”, let’s also give the Zags a little credit. Grabbing a road victory, in a hostile environment, over a competitive power conference team is never an easy task. Every Big 12 team – Oklahoma State and Kansas included – will be happy if they leave Morgantown with a win this season. Signature victory it is not for Mark Few’s team, but with another “taking-care-of-business” performance in the books, the Zags look poised to hang around the top of the polls for yet another season. Of course, that upward November to March trajectory has ended in a Tournament nose-dive too often for almost anyone to take the Zags seriously these days — no matter how good a regular season they may register. The familiar question begs: Is this Gonzaga team built to win in March?

Kevin Pangos And The Zags Can Score The Basketball (Just Ask West Virginia), But Will That Offensive Efficiency Finally Equate To March Success? (AP)

Kevin Pangos And The Zags Can Score The Basketball (Just Ask West Virginia), But Will That Offensive Efficiency Finally Equate To March Success? (AP)

Let’s hold off for a moment on evaluating Tournament potential, and first admit that the Zags are pretty good at picking up wins in the months leading up to March. Down eight with eight minutes left, and with Ken Pom’s win probability graph suggesting just a 15% chance of a Gonzaga win, this game long looked like one that might not support the above thesis. But in those final eight minutes the Zags did what they do best: score the basketball. The nation’s most efficient offense pumped in 24 points before the buzzer sounded, with a trio of Kevin Pangos threes serving as Coliseum-silencers along the way. Gonzaga has now scored at least 79 points in every game this season; this despite playing at a tempo that ranks below the national average. Just like last year’s 32-3 team, who finished second nationally in offensive efficiency, these Bulldogs can really score. Read the rest of this entry »

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2013-14 RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2013

seasonpreview-11

With the season tipping off Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason First, Second, and Third All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion. Our crack panel of eight national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this, perhaps unsurprisingly, is where we ended up.

First Team All-America

team1Andrew Wiggins, Kansas (unanimous) – Wiggins begins his career in Lawrence as one of the more ballyhooed freshmen in recent memory. The 6’8″ swingman, who was unanimously considered the top player in the Class of 2013, committed to Kansas in April following a recruiting process that was primarily kept close to the vest. While some of the hype surrounding the dynamic freshman may be a bit overblown, it is impossible to deny Wiggins’ credentials, as he was named 2013 Naismith Prep Player of the Year, 2013 Gatorade National Player of the Year, and Mr. Basketball USA. Wiggins has already acknowledged that he would like to be a one-and-done and enter the 2014 NBA Draft, so it is logical to see why expectations are so high in Lawrence this season.

Factoid: It is not exactly a surprise that Wiggins is a top-flight athlete when you consider the fact that his father, Mitchell Wiggins, had a lengthy professional basketball career and his mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, won two silver medals for Canada as a sprinter in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.

Doug McDermott, Creighton (unanimous) – McDermott’s ability to score from anywhere on the court makes him one of the most feared offensive players in the country. It is rare for a two-time First Team All-American to return to school, but that is the case with McDermott, who spurned the NBA to return for his senior season in Omaha. With Creighton making the big move from the Missouri Valley to the Big East this season, the Bluejays are going to be counting on him to fill the stat line each night out – and McDermott is good enough to come through for them.

Factoid: Due to Creighton guard Grant Gibbs receiving a rare sixth-year of eligibility from the NCAA (and thus, needing a scholarship), McDermott will be an extremely talented walk-on for the 2013-14 season.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year shocked the basketball world when he announced in mid-April that he would return to Stillwater for his sophomore season. The Flower Mound, Texas, native is widely considered the best returning player in all of college basketball. Smart brings a little bit of everything to the floor. His 6’4″ frame is elite for the point guard position and he uses that size as well as any perimeter player in the country. The leadership and intangibles that Smart provides are also second to none. After Oklahoma State finished third in the Big 12 during Smart’s freshman season, it is projected to contend with perennial powerhouse Kansas for the conference crown this season.

Factoid: Making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010, Oklahoma State’s stay in the 2013 event was a short one. The Cowboys, a five-seed, were upset in the Round of 64 by 12-seed Oregon. This loss affected Smart’s decision to return to school, as the setback helped him realize he was not ready to be one-and-done in a Cowboy uniform.

Russ Smith, Louisville – Smith returns to Louisville for his senior season looking to lead the Cardinals to a repeat as national champions. “Russdiculous” is coming off a season that saw him average 18.7 points per game and take home the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional. While Smith gets a majority of his attention for his performance on the offensive end of the court, he is also a defensive stalwart who keys the relentless full court pressure of the Cardinals. Even though Smith certainly figures to be Louisville’s most explosive player this season, you better believe he will still at times do some things on the court that will drive Rick Pitino crazy.

Factoid: Smith spent his fall interning with WHAS-TV in Louisville, working local high school football games on some Friday nights.

Julius Randle, Kentucky – Kentucky coach John Calipari brought in one of the best recruiting hauls in history for this season and the star of the class is the ultra-athletic Randle. The Plano, Texas, native arrived in Lexington as the second-best prospect in the Class of 2013 – only behind Andrew Wiggins – and early returns on Randle as a Wildcat forward have been overwhelmingly positive. Randle’s talent level is so elite that ESPN‘s Jeff Goodman declared in late September that he would take Randle over Wiggins with the first pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Factoid: Randle missed three months of his senior season at Prestonwood Christian due to a fractured foot, but he was able to return in time to lead the school to a Texas state championship.

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20 Questions: Where Does Gonzaga Go After Last Season’s Highs and Lows?

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 22nd, 2013

seasonpreview-11

Throughout the preseason, RTC national columnists will answer the 20 most compelling questions heading into the 2013-14 season. Previous columns in this year’s series are located here.  

At certain moments last season, Gonzaga looked like a team that could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. It had all the necessary pieces: a great backcourt (Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell), a talented frontcourt (Elias Harris, Sam Dower, and Kelly Olynyk), a gritty defensive specialist (Mike Hart), and enough role players, it seemed, to bang with the sort of deep and athletic teams that had occasionally overwhelmed Mark Few’s teams of years past. The Bulldogs also had an impressive stack of non-conference wins to stick on their resume, victories over Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Davidson, Kansas State and Baylor (no, Baylor didn’t make the NCAAs, but that win sure looked good at the time!). It felt like this was the Gonzaga team that would, for the first time since Few replaced Dan Monson as head coach in 1999, roll on past the Sweet Sixteen. The 2012-13 Bulldogs, which had earned an NCAA #1 seed after obliterating the West Coast Conference competition – the Zags finished 16-0 in WCC play – seemed well-positioned to take the next step. Some believed Gonzaga had National Championship potential. Others were less optimistic. The consensus, though, was that this Gonzaga team was, for lack of a more descriptive word, good. Not just good like most of Few’s Gonzaga teams, but good enough to hang with the very best teams in the country.

One of the nation’s best backcourts is is led by Pangos, a two-time All-WCC honoree.

The subset of college hoops fans that believed Gonzaga was undeserving of its No. 1 seed were validated just two games into the NCAA Tournament when the Bulldogs fell to No. 9 seed and eventual Final Four participant Wichita State. In fact, charges that Gonzaga was overrated surfaced even before it lost to Wichita State; the Bulldogs’ narrow six-point win over Southern in the round of 64 was proof enough, for some, that Few’s team wasn’t a real national championship contender. Whenever you happened to jump off the bandwagon – if you jumped off it in the first place – there’s no denying that part of the reason Gonzaga lost to Wichita State had less to do with its own capabilities than it did an insanely well-timed shooting hot streak from the Shockers, who scored 23 points in nine possessions during a ridiculous second-half run. Maybe Gonzaga could have played better defense, and maybe a team like Louisville, whose swarming traps last season (0.83 points per possession) was some of the finest work on that end of the floor that any team has produced in the past decade, would have short-circuited the Shockers’ run. But when a team gets as hot as Wichita State did in that pivotal stretch, and three-point shots start dropping like free throws, you basically have no choice but to tip your cap and go home. In the moment, of course, the same old Gonzagian critiques flooded the national conversation: Just like I predicted! Gonzaga can’t play with the big boys! I knew it! Which, OK. Gonzaga was knocked out earlier than it should have been, but if we’re going to label last year’s Gonzaga team like the others that came before it – like the ones that stacked up easy regular season wins but weren’t prepared to handle the heat of the NCAA Tournament – can we at least acknowledge the circumstances surrounding the Bulldogs’ early NCAA Tournament exit? Is it really fair to paint Gonzaga with such broad strokes, if the team that bounced it from the NCAAs was, 1) a couple possessions away from beating eventual National Champion Louisville in the Final Four; and, 2) the beneficiary of a crazy run of long-range shooting? Introducing some nuance would be nice.

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Bracket Prep: Western Kentucky, Davidson, James Madison, Gonzaga & Iona

Posted by BHayes on March 12th, 2013

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Championship Week continued in full blast on Monday night, as five more NCAA Tournament tickets were punched. As each of the 31 automatic qualifiers plays their way into the Dance over the next week, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets next weekend.

Western Kentucky

Sun Belt Cinderellas Again -- Welcome Back To The Big Dance Hilltoppers

Sun Belt Cinderellas Again — Welcome Back To The Big Dance Hilltoppers

  • Sun Belt Champion (20-15, 14-10)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #166/#183/#184
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +0.5
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #15-#16

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Who needs the regular season anyways? For the second consecutive campaign, Western Kentucky saw months of mediocrity give way to an unlikely week of dominance at the Sun Belt Tournament, where they depart as champions again. The sequel may never be as thrilling as the original – the 2012 Hilltoppers were just 9-18 (!) before winning their final six games to earn the auto-bid – but this Western Kentucky team is as unlikely a Big Dance participant as any.
  2. Western Kentucky isn’t elite in any one facet of the game, but they may be able to match up with their opening round opponent with regard to physicality and toughness. The Hilltoppers are third in the Sun Belt in effective height, and also rank third in the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. 6’6” sophomore George Fant is slightly undersized for the amount of time he spends in the paint, but leads the team in rebounding at 6.6 boards per game. Fant also ranks in the top 50 in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Senior Jamal Crooks (11.8 PPG, 4.1 APG) is another high-motor Hilltopper – his emotional energy and leadership is a crucial reserve for the young team around him.
  3. Expect WKU to compete on both ends, but don’t mistake intensity with skill. They do not shoot the ball well from deep, turn the ball over at an unacceptable clip (on 22.3% of possessions), and don’t play a whole lot of defense either. It all adds up to a rather unimpressive paper profile, and the 10-10 Sun Belt record before this week does little to make you feel better about things. The exact seed line will depend on what happens elsewhere, but either way, it’s hard to envision the Hilltoppers being competitive, much less capable of manufacturing an upset for the ages.

Davidson

Soak It In De'Mon -- You And The Wildcats Are Tournament Bound Yet Again

Soak It In De’Mon — You And The Wildcats Are Tournament Bound Yet Again

  • Southern Conference Champion (26-7, 20-1)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #69/#66/#67
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +9.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #12-#14

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

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