Rushed Reactions: #1 Gonzaga 83, #11 Xavier 59

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Gonzaga is Final Four Bound (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Gonzaga’s Offensive Explosion From Three. The key number in today’s Elite Eight game is 12, as in 12 made three-pointers on 24 Gonzaga attempts. The Zags started the game with seven of its first nine shots from beyond the arc, which was both surprising and troubling because three-point shooting (both in conversions and attempts) really isn’t the Zags’ modus operandi. But they made three of those seven and it only improved from there as Gonzaga slowly adjusted to figure out Xavier’s zone defenses. An 8-of-13 first half supported a 10-point lead at the intermission, and two more quick threes to start the second half quickly pushed the lead over Xavier to an irrecoverable 16 points. From there, Mark Few’s team never looked back on its way to Glendale. As Chris Mack noted afterward, the Zags do not particularly shoot many threes (256th nationally) nor do they shoot them at an elite level (37.8% after tonight) — but given their impressive frontcourt and consistently strong defense, it is a nearly impossible task to beat them when they’re knocking down outside shots at such a prodigious rate.
  2. Its Defense Wasn’t Bad Either. No doubt some regression to the mean here, but Gonzaga did a great job of shadowing and covering the red-hot Trevon Bluiett everywhere on the floor. The junior wing came into today’s game averaging 25.0 PPG and shooting 13-of-23 from three-point range, but the Bulldogs never let him get comfortable in holding him to 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting. Many of the easy looks that Xavier found on Thursday night against Arizona were no longer there, with the beefy size of Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins and Johnathan Williams making life in the lane uncomfortable for the much-smaller Musketeers. The Zags own the nation’s top defense for a reason, and a complete start-to-finish performance that included holding Xavier to 13 percent from three-point range and 36 percent for the game is a great example of why.
  3. Xavier’s Fiery Run. Considering that Xavier took its February performance and burned it in a showing of mutual solidarity, the Musketeers should still feel great about how they salvaged what appeared to be a lost season. From the calendar-burning moment on, Xavier won six of nine games including a run to the semifinals of the Big East Tournament and the Elite Eight. Maybe Mack should think about using a similar gimmick every year, but the point remains. The loss of Edmond Sumner in late January ensured that the Musketeers would experience bouts of inconsistency, but not even the most faithful Xavier fan believed that a team basically without a point guard could make a run through Maryland, Florida State and Arizona to reach the regional final. Mack deserves all credit for keeping his team focused in a situation that would have destroyed most squads.

Star of the Game. Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga. The transfer from Missouri certainly could not have asked for a better outcome to his decision to leave the SEC for the WCC. As his former school continues to languish — recently hiring a new coach for the third time in six seasons — the junior forward’s play today ensured that Gonzaga’s season would continue into the final weekend. He contributed early, hitting for 12 easy points (on 5-of-6 shooting) near the rim as the Zags worked to solve the changing Xavier defenses. His final totals of 19 points and eight rebounds allowed Gonzaga to establish its inside game and provide openings for its shooters.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Gonzaga 61, #4 West Virginia 58

Posted by rtmsf on March 23rd, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Gonzaga Survives and Advances (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. The Abominable Mountaineers. West Virginia got the game it wanted. A foul-filled first half full of ugly was followed by more of the same in the second half, ultimately resulting in a gnarly 61-58 abomination of a win by Gonzaga that came down to struggling offense as a result of gritty defense. This game notched a total of 51 fouls, 61 free throws, 29 turnovers and only nine made threes, but it was a bomb by Jordan Mathews from the left wing who provided a glimmer of beauty in a visual disaster. And although Gonzaga clearly did not prefer to play such a physical, rough-and-tumble style, credit goes to the Zags for beating West Virginia at its own game to advance to the Elite Eight.
  2. And It Came Down to Defense. Everyone knows about West Virginia’s pressure defense, and it was certainly a factor tonight — the Zags committed 16 turnovers that included a period in the late second half when it appeared the wheels might be completely coming off. But it was the less-heralded Gonzaga defense that held West Virginia to a moribund 27 percent from the field and 21 percent from three-point range, allowing Mark Few’s team just enough wiggle room to suffer a horrid offensive night and still come away with the win. As Huggins alluded to after the game, there simply weren’t many open looks for his team tonight.
  3. That Final Play Though. The final play of the game — which was really three offensive plays in one — resulted in West Virginia’s Jevon Carter dribbling 22 times (!!!) in an effort to isolate and create space for a pair of long not-close threes. When the Mountaineers grabbed the offensive rebound both times, the ball ended up in his hands again. His final attempt, which Gonzaga had by this point completely sniffed out and covered well beyond the top of the key, resulted in what would have been a blocked shot but ended up being a bailout pass to the wing and no shot at all. It was a disastrous end to a disastrous game, but it felt completely appropriate given all the nastiness that had been displayed over the previous 39+ minutes.

Star of the Game. Jordan Mathews, Gonzaga. In a game where points were at a premium, the most insane play of the game occurred after West Virginia had missed two free throws, Gonzaga corralled the rebound, only to have the ball stolen and a layup attempt blocked (possibly fouled?) and the Zags moving back upcourt. After a tipped 40-foot pass from the right sideline to Mathews standing on the left wing, his three-pointer broke a deadlocked game and allowed the Zags to put together their final stand. Mathews only logged 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field, but his shot will go down in Gonzaga lore in a game that surely felt like it was slipping away.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Gonzaga 79, #8 Northwestern 73

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 18th, 2017

Ultimately, Gonzaga did just enough today in Salt Lake City to survive and advance.  A dominant first half bought enough equity for the Zags to withstand a furious and relentless Northwestern comeback attempt that ended with some officiating controversy.

No Matter Your Opinion of the Call, Gonzaga is Moving On (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Playing less than a 40-minute game is playing with fire. Gonzaga was in total control of this game at halftime, but then came out and had very little second half answer for a Northwestern team that went all-in on trapping its posts and cheating into the passing lanes. In the second 20 minutes, the Bulldogs committed a staggering 11 turnovers and allowed 17 points off those miscues. On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and posted an offensive efficiency of 129.3. As the competition level increases in coming games, Gonzaga is going to need to bring a lot more if it’s going to be as happy at the end of the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend as it is right now.
  2. Gonzaga’s frontcourt isn’t just big, it’s deep. Everyone knows about Przemek Karnowski inside but freshman center Zach Collins carried the Bulldogs in the second half, scoring 12 points on 3-of-3 shooting and 6-of-8 from the line. He regularly absorbed triple-teams and still scored, showing a great touch and an ability to finish off screen-roll dives. He wasn’t alone, however. Fellow freshman Killian Tillie also had a solid eight points, combining for 10 rebounds and five blocks on the afternoon.
  3. Officiating needs to improve significantly in the second weekend. In a game that had 150 possessions, it’s a tough case to convincingly make that a single call or play was the difference between winning and losing the game. That said, the blown goaltending combined with the subsequent technical foul on Chris Collins really diminished what was shaping up to be a legendary finish. The officiating from the notorious Pac-12 crew left much to be desired, and blowing that call — if it didn’t decide the game — at least, significantly impacted the game. Northwestern was deprived of an opportunity, and that should never happen simply because of an egregious mistake by the officials.

Star of the Game. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga. The WCC Player of the Year was the best player on the court today, blitzing Northwestern to the tune of 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists in addition to hitting a cold-blooded three to silence Wildcat fans during one of their second half runs. He can score from every spot on the floor; he is an active participant in the rebounding effort; and he’s got plenty of moxie.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Gonzaga 66, #16 South Dakota State 46

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 16th, 2017

Gonzaga was just too much physically and athletically for a South Dakota State team whose fans were very happy just to see their Jackrabbits in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs never got into what one would consider a strong offensive flow, but their defense carried them today and they bracketed the half with spurts that ultimately made the difference.

It Wasn’t Pretty but It Counts All the Same (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Gonzaga’s defense may be what saves them. The Bulldogs’ defense simply overwhelmed South Dakota State, holding the Jackrabbits to 31 percent shooting and an Offensive Rating of 65.7. It has to be some comfort to head coach Mark Few that on a day when his offense was largely missing in action, Gonzaga can still dominate the other end of the court well enough to win.
  2. The Bulldogs’ versatility is a big part of who they are.  As much as Nigel Williams-Goss handles the ball, the versatility of Jordan Mathews, Johnathan Williams and Silas Melson is crucial on both ends because the Zags can switch virtually everything that doesn’t involve Przemek Karnowski. Four different guys can bring the ball upcourt and initiate the offense.
  3. A slow start is not a habit you want to form. Gonzaga had only 19 points through the game’s first 16 minutes and an offensive efficiency at the half of 81.3, well below its season average. It was just one game, but slow starts like that are the stuff upon which upsets are built.

Star of the Game. Jordan Mathews, Gonzaga. The transfer guard didn’t exactly tear it up today in 32 minutes, but he led the Zags in scoring through the meaningful portion of the game, grabbed five rebounds and didn’t turn the ball over. This was an ugly grind-it-out game, and ‘star’ may be a stretch, but Mathews was solid if not spectacular for Gonzaga.

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RTC Bracket Prep: West Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 13th, 2017

All day on Monday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCWestRegion).

West Region

Favorite: #1 Gonzaga (32-1, 17-1 WCC). The Bulldogs still possess their share of skeptics, but 32 wins in 33 games played proved sufficient to earn Mark Few’s team a #1 seed and favorite status in the West Region. Gonzaga rebounded from a Senior Night loss to BYU to win three games in Las Vegas at the WCC Tournament by an average margin of 19.7 PPG and enter the NCAA Tournament poised for a deep run. The Zags also own a neutral court victory over West #2 seed Arizona from early December, and efficiency ratings still love their body of work: KenPom ranks them a comfortable #1 in his metrics. Gonzaga failures of recent March pasts will surely entice many bracket-fillers to look to the #2 line or below for their champion from this region, but on both paper and the hardwood, the Zags are an extremely worthy West favorite.

Nigel Williams-Goss will lead #1-seeded Gonzaga into the NCAA Tournament (Photo: Campus Insiders)

Should They Falter: #2 Arizona (30-4, 16-2 Pac-12). Arizona’s late push for a #1 seed fell short, but the Pac-12 Tournament champion enters the NCAA Tournament as winners of 24 of their last 26 games. Allonzo Trier’s late January reintegration into the lineup was relatively seamless, as the sophomore guard and Pac-12 Tournament MOP has led the Wildcats with 17.3 PPG since returning. The Wildcats are young – three freshmen play key roles and Kadeem Allen is the only senior contributor – and their success this season has been somewhat unexpected, but balance, selflessness, and the steady hand of Sean Miller will present Arizona a real opportunity to make a sustained March run.

Grossly Overseeded: #6 Maryland (24-8, 12-6 Big Ten). Florida State’s seed line (#3) fairly drew the ire of critics after bracket reveal, but Maryland’s placement as a #6 seed should be equally befuddling. Conference mates Wisconsin (#8 seed) and Michigan (#7 seed) each won more games against Big Ten opponents, possessed better non-conference victories, and finished the season stronger than the slumping Terrapins (4-6 in their last 10 games), yet received lower seeds. The exact role of advanced metrics in the committee’s methodology continues to be unclear, but they appeared to have little consequence in Maryland’s case, KenPom’s 45th ranked team. Kudos to Mark Turgeon, Melo Trimble and the rest of the Terrapins for making more out of this season than most expected, but a #6 seed the Terrapins are not.

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Examining the Conference Unbeatens: Which Teams Can Go the Distance?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 10th, 2017

With one month left in the regular season, it’s no longer too early to consider which of the remaining conference unbeatens have a legitimate chance to enter March without a loss. So let’s dig in. (Chances of going unbeaten based on KenPom win probabilities).

Mark Few Appears to Have It All Figured Out (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga (25-0, 13-0 West Coast). America’s only remaining undefeated team, Gonzaga tops almost every relevant poll and metric thanks to nearly three full months of flawless basketball. Of the Bulldogs’ 25 wins, 22 have come by double-figures, including an astonishing 26.6-point margin of victory in conference play alone (with seven wins by 30-plus). Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (15.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.7 APG) has been worthy of All-America consideration; freshman forward Zach Collins (10.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG) has been one of the most efficient players in the country; center Przemek Karnowski (12.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG), who was sidelined nearly all last season with a back injury, hasn’t missed a beat. It’s been an all-around remarkable season, especially for a unit whose top five scorers weren’t on the active roster in 2015-16. Up until last month, Gonzaga was projected to lose at Saint Mary’s—college basketball’s 16th-best team according to KenPom—this Saturday night. Now, the Bulldogs are favored to win by two. If they can escape Moraga unblemished, Mark Few’s team would almost certainly enter the postseason without a loss.

Chances of going unbeaten: 56.3%

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O26 Power 13: New Year, New Order, Same Teams on Top

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 4th, 2017

With 2017 now upon us and conference play ramping up, let’s take a step back and reexamine the best of the best across the O26.

1. Gonzaga (14-0) West Coast. Despite its cast of untested newcomers, chemistry and balance have not been an issue for Gonzaga this season. The Bulldogs have cruised to a 14-0 start behind a lineup whose top six scorers all average between 9.3 and 13.8 points per game. In fact, only two players—Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski—get more than 30 minutes per night, thanks largely to the effectiveness of bench players like Zach Collins (10.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG) and Killian Tillie (4.6 PPG). Mark Few’s club has been equally excellent on both sides of the ball, ranking among the top 12 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. That well-roundedness helped the Zags notch three neutral court victories over KenPom top-30 opponents, giving them a non-conference resume that should hold up very well in mid-March. A win or two over Saint Mary’s would only strengthen the cause. The Zags are once again a legitimate Final Four contender.

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary's opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary’s opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

2. Saint Mary’s (12-1) West Coast. Since its jarring, 14-point home loss to UT Arlington on December 8, Saint Mary’s has held five straight opponents under 0.90 points per possession. That’s a positive sign for a unit that has often struggled to win games when its offense goes cold. The Gaels—with victories at Dayton and Stanford—have also proven their ability to win on the road, which is not something they could claim last season (the NCAA Selection Committee took notice). With one of the nation’s elite point guards (Emmett Naar) and a center, Jock Landale, who currently ranks second in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings, it’s hard to imagine this team slipping much in WCC play. January 14, Saint Mary’s first tilt with Gonzaga in Spokane, can’t come soon enough.

3. Wichita State (12-3) – Missouri Valley. The Shockers’ 100-66 dismantling of Bradley on New Year’s Day perhaps best captures this team’s identity. Sixteen different players saw action (Wichita State leads the country in bench minutes); ball movement was crisp (25 assists on 34 made baskets); and the physicality was unrelenting. Put simply, Wichita State is going to pummel a whole bunch of inferior opponents in Missouri Valley play. With an already-tenuous at-large resume, however, one major question remains: can the Shockers avoid losing more than one or two games in the conference? With Illinois State and Missouri State both surging, nothing is guaranteed.

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Which is Easier to Maintain: Offense or Defense?

Posted by William Ezekowitz on December 27th, 2016

There are certain teams you can count on to have specific strengths seemingly every college basketball season. The high-flying athletes of North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky will score in bunches, while the rigid defensive systems of Virginia and Louisville will keep their opponents offensively flummoxed. The coaches in nearly every instance are who get credit for this year-to-year consistency, but which skill is more reliable? Is it easier to be a really good offensive team every year or a really good defensive one? In order to find out, we turned to KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings to actually determine if the same teams — or, more accurately, the same coaches — always finish at the top of their respective area of strength. We defined this as being among the top 25 offensive or defensive efficiency teams for five years in a row. Here are the results.

Every year, it seems like Roy Williams has a fleet of athletes ready to score points at a breakneck pace. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Every year, it seems like Roy Williams has a fleet of athletes ready to score points at a breakneck pace. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Offensive Efficiency (Top 25)

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Defensive Efficiency (Top 25)

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Florida’s Mike White and Wisconsin’s Greg Gard are only second-year coaches at their programs, but both have already shown such an aptitude for defensively-effective basketball that it seems appropriate to include them. With or without those two, though, it seems that it is much easier to produce a great defense year in and year out than it is for offense.

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The Extremely Tough Road Mids Face in Earning #1 Seeds

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 7th, 2016

A quick glance at the top of the college basketball rankings reveals that blue-bloods roam the landscape. Duke, North Carolina, Indiana, UCLA, Kansas, Kentucky and defending champion Villanova all currently inhabit the top 10. For a mid-major school, the path to a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is fraught with so many hurdles that it may seem all impossible. This is certainly not a new development, of course, as 37 of the last 40 top seeds in the Big Dance came from a power conference — the exceptions were Wichita State (2014), Gonzaga (2013) and Memphis (2008). Those three teams from the Missouri Valley Conference, West Coast Conference and Conference USA, respectively, entered the NCAA Tournament with a combined record of 98-3, and their three losses came to teams with an average KenPom ranking of #32. Furthermore, each of those non-power conference top seeds played a top-40 non-conference schedule.

Wichita State Parlayed a Perfect Regular Season into a #1 Seed in 2014

Wichita State Parlayed a Perfect Regular Season into a #1 Seed in 2014. (Getty)

The point of this is to show that mid-majors can most certainly earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, but their margin for error is next to nothing — the recipe seems to involve running the regular season table or suffering a maximum of one loss. This year’s crop of teams constituting the elite of the non-power conferences is made up of three excellent teams. There are significant barriers to entry, but each of the three has at least a respectable chance of joining the top line conversation on Selection Sunday if their regular season goes exceptionally well. Let’s examine what each team must do to get there.

Gonzaga

Gonzaga is the obvious choice if any mid-major this season has designs on a #1 seed. The Zags are currently #6 in the RPI and already have good-not-great wins over likely NCAA Tournament teams Arizona, San Diego State, Florida and Iowa State. With non-conference games still to come against power conference foes Washington and Tennessee, Gonzaga will have a case to make to the committee on Selection Sunday. An unbeaten regular season that would necessarily include at least two wins over St. Mary’s (currently #3 RPI) could put Mark Few‘s team into contention for a coveted top seed. A one-loss Bulldogs team would have a much tougher time given a non-conference schedule that rates weaker than years past and all the firepower at the top of the polls this season, so anything less than perfection probably means a ceiling of a #2 seed for the Zags.

 

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O26 Feast Week in Review: Winners, Losers and a Little Extra Stuffing

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 29th, 2016

With December nearly upon us and early-season narratives finally taking shape, let’s take a moment to assess which O26 teams fared well—and which didn’t—during last week’s onslaught of holiday hoops.

Winners

Gonzaga looked every bit like a Top 10 team during Feast Week. (Photo: ZagsMBB/Twitter)

Gonzaga looked every bit like a Top 10 team during Feast Week. (ZagsMBB/Twitter)

  • Gonzaga (6-0). Despite blowing a 15-point halftime lead against #21 Iowa State on Sunday, Gonzaga won the AdvoCare Invitational title and now owns one of the best resumes in college basketball. In addition to its early-season drubbing of San Diego State (a win which should only gain in value as the season progresses), the Bulldogs beat previously-undefeated Florida on Friday before taking down the Cyclones. That’s three wins in three weeks over NCAA Tournament-caliber teams, with Arizona, Washington, and MAC favorite Akron still on deck. Assuming Przemek Karnowski continues rounding into form—the now-healthy big man finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists on Sunday—the Zags have the pieces to be one of the deepest, most consistent groups Mark Few has ever had. And that’s saying a lot.

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