NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #1 Gonzaga (34-1). If the Zags were the West region favorite before play started last Thursday, there’s no reason they shouldn’t continue to maintain that status. Sure, there were slow points in each of Gonzaga’s two victories over the weekend — namely, the first half against South Dakota State and the second half versus Northwestern – but Mark Few‘s team ultimately emerged from each unscathed. With West Virginia and possibly Arizona awaiting in San Jose, the road stiffens from here, but there’s no reason Gonzaga shouldn’t still feel like the front-runner.

Gonzaga is two wins away from the program’s first ever Final Four appearance (Photo: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #4 West Virginia (28-8). The Mountaineers enter the Sweet Sixteen as a scary team. Depth and pressure — two West Virginia hallmarks — carried it through early round victories over #13 Bucknell (86-80) and #5 Notre Dame (83-71). Now those strengths will be relied upon to harass #1 Gonzaga into an uncharacteristically turnover-heavy game. The Zags rank 26th in the country in lowest turnover percentage, but Notre Dame also led the nation in that category before the Irish turned the ball over on 21 percent of their possessions against Press Virginia (seven percent higher than their season average). Gonzaga is also just an average offensive rebounding team, which limits its ability to take advantage of West Virginia’s biggest weaknesses — collecting defensive rebounds behind the press. The match-up is solid, the team is capable, and Bob Huggins is on the bench — in sum, the Mountaineers have a chance to surprise in San Jose.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #11 Xavier (23-13). Less than three weeks ago, Xavier was a sub-.500 Big East team that had lost six straight games. Its star point guard was lost for the season and hopes of another NCAA Tournament appearance flickered with each outing. Now, on March 21, the Musketeers are fresh off a 25-point Second Round rout of Florida State and is back in the Sweet Sixteen. Xavier is a fantastic piece of proof that things can change quickly in March, but the verdict on this Musketeers’ season won’t be altered negatively from here on out: A remarkable turnaround last weekend saved a season.

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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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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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Gonzaga’s New Big Men Corps Turning Supposed Weakness Into a Strength

Posted by Luke Byrnes on November 16th, 2016

After a run to the Sweet Sixteen in last year’s 2016 NCAA Tournament, Gonzaga experienced significant roster turnover with Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Wiltjer, Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis all graduating and/or leaving for the NBA. The arrivals of transfers Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Jordan Matthews (California) and Jonathan Williams (Missouri), along with a freshman class that includes Zach Collins, Killian Tillie, and the return of Przemek Karnowski after a medical redshirt, give the Zags several new pieces to integrate this season. Considering the influx of backcourt talent, Gonzaga’s long-running history of stellar guard play combined with the losses of forwards Sabonis (lottery pick) and Wiltjer (rookie free agent) to the NBA, most analysts predicted Mark Few would return to a guard-oriented offense. And with good reason.

Nigel Williams-Goss (USA Today Images)

Nigel Williams-Goss Looks Forward to Another Great Year in Spokane (USA Today Images)

Williams-Goss, a redshirt junior, was a consensus top-50 recruit in 2013 before playing two seasons at Washington, where, as a sophomore, he led the Huskies in scoring (15.6 PPG) and assists (5.9 APG). Matthews, a graduate transfer, averaged 13.5 points per game and shot 42.7 percent from three-point range in his last two seasons at Cal. Furthermore, the Bulldogs also returned guards Kyle Perkins and Silas Melson. Perkins started all 36 games last season, led the team in assists (4.1 APG) and averaged 10.1 points per game, while Melson saw action in every game and emerged as a key contributor by averaging more than 10 PPG over the final 10 regular season games.

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2016-17 RTC Preseason O26 All-America Teams

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 11th, 2016

At long last, college basketball has arrived. Here are our Preseason O26 All-American and Player of the Year selections.

Player of the Year

Valparaiso's Alec Peters is our pick for O26 Player of the Year. (Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images)

Valparaiso’s Alec Peters is our pick for O26 Player of the Year. (Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images)

  • Alec Peters – G – Valparaiso. Peters, an outstanding shooter with tremendous size, could have transferred nearly anywhere he wanted this offseason and probably started immediately—something people thought might happen following the departure of head coach Bryce Drew in April. Instead, the senior chose to withdraw from the NBA Draft and return to Valparaiso, making the Crusaders instant favorites to win the Horizon League and establishing himself as a legitimate AP All-American candidate. As a tall, mobile, high-percentage outside shooter (44% 3FG), Peters’ ability to stretch the floor is virtually unparalleled in the mid-major ranks, enabling him to create and exploit mismatches all over the court. His usage numbers are substantial (82% Min, 25.2% Shots), but you wouldn’t know if from his sparkling true shooting percentage (64.7% TS) or Offensive Rating (127.1 ORtg)—the 20th-best in college basketball. What’s more, Peters became a better offensive rebounder last season, which, along with his improved post game, helped him become nearly as dangerous in the paint as he is on the perimeter. The Illinois native could average more than 20 points per game this season, and even non-conference opponents like Oregon, Rhode Island and Kentucky may have a difficult time stopping him.

First Team

  • Jack Gibbs – G – Davidson. Gibbs led the Atlantic 10 in scoring last season (23.7 PPG) and is projected by Sports Illustrated to lead the entire country in that metric this season. He may not be Stephen Curry, but the 6’0″ point guard does far more than merely put the ball in the basket. Gibbs posted the conference’s second-highest assist rate, third-highest steal rate and drew more fouls per 40 minutes than anyone in the league a year ago. After shooting 43.4 percent from three-point range in 2014-15, he’s also (likely) a better long-range shooter than his 33.6 percent clip last season indicates; as one of the most heavily used players in college hoops, Gibbs may have fallen victim to late-season fatigue.
  • Nigel Williams-Goss – G – Gonzaga. A former McDonald’s All-American, Williams-Goss was nothing short of excellent during his two seasons at Washington. As a freshman, he led the Huskies in assists and was named to the All-Pac-12 Freshman Team; as a sophomore, Williams-Goss ranked second in the league in assists (5.9 APG) and seventh in scoring (15.6 PPG) on his way to second team all-conference honors. Now at Gonzaga, the junior arguably has more talent surrounding him than he did in Seattle, including California transfer Jordan Mathews (13.5 PPG) and 7’1″ center Przemek Karnowski, an All-WCC Preseason pick. Expect massive production in Spokane from Williams-Goss.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 10th, 2016

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the RTC 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 and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

1stteam

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O26 Power 13: WCC Teams Reign Supreme

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 8th, 2016

With the start of the regular season now just a few days away, it’s time to examine the O26 programs we think will shine in 2016-17. The school atop this list should come as no surprise.

1. Gonzaga  West Coast. No Kyle Wiltjer (20.4 PPG) or Domantas Sabonis (17.6 PPG, 11.8 RPG) this year? No problem. Like a true power program, Gonzaga simply reloads, adding three high-major transfers — guard Jordan Mathews (California), forward Johnathan Williams III (Missouri) and point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) — along with several elite recruits to an already-talented lineup. Williams-Goss, a second team All-Pac-12 performer in 2014-15, should be a legitimate contender for WCC Player of the Year, while Mathews (41.6% 3FG in 2015-16), Williams (7.1 RPG in 2014-15), and McDonald’s All-American big man Zach Collins add scoring pop and defensive strength to the roster. With guard Josh Perkins (4.1 APG), rim-protector Przemek Karnowski (now healthy) and several other contributors back in the fold, Gonzaga’s ceiling appears higher than ever.

The stakes will be high when Gonzaga and Saint Mary's meet up this season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

The stakes will be high when Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s meet up this season. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

2. Saint Mary’s — West Coast. Based purely on returning production, Saint Mary’s should probably top this list. The Gaels welcome back everyone from a unit that ranked 17th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, including All-WCC point guard Emmett Naar (121.6 Offensive Rating) and forward Dane Pineau (126.2 Offensive Rating), arguably the league’s two most effective players at their positions. But really, the offense is everywhere. Forwards Even Fitzner (8.7 PPG) and Calvin Hermanson (10.9 PPG) each shot better than 40 percent from behind the arc on 130-plus attempts. Joe Rahon (10.7 PPG, 4.5 PPG, 5.4 APG) is among the most versatile guards in the conference. Center Jock Landale — one of five Aussies on the roster — scored 8.0 PPG in just 14.5 minutes per game last season, and should see more of the court this year. This might be Randy Bennett’s best team yet in Moraga. Read the rest of this entry »

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Previewing Tight Races in the Mid-Majors: Part I

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 2nd, 2016

In this NCAA Basketball preview season, we are bombarded with lists. One common list is that of the trendy mid-major ready to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting college hoops world. Unfortunately, some of these high-quality teams find themselves in the same conference staring each other down for scarce March Madness bids. No mid-major is ever guaranteed an invitation to the Field of 68, of course, no matter how impressive it looks in November and December. Just ask the 2015-16 iterations of Monmouth and St. Mary’s about that. In this preseason post we will analyze several mid-major conference races that should be two-horse races, with details on each team, why they will (or not), and a bonus sleeper who isn’t yet in the conversation. Part I covering the WCC and Atlantic 10 will publish today. Part II on the Ivy League and MAAC will release later this week.

West Coast Conference—Saint Mary’s vs. Gonzaga

It's always fun when these two guys get their teams together

It’s always fun when these two guys get their teams together. (AP)

St. Mary’s

  • Who they are: Randy Bennett’s team came out of absolutely nowhere last year to become an offensive juggernaut, and the Gaels return every important piece from that 29-6 team. All six returning perimeter players are above average three-point shooters, with junior Aussie guard Emmett Naar looking an awful lot like the next Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Rahon acting as a capable secondary playmaker. On the inside, Dane Pineau is ruthlessly efficient and productive, and his backup Jock Landale is no slouch either. The Gaels play at a glacial pace and they don’t beat themselves.
  • Why they will win: This is going to be one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball once again. Last year’s team went 29-6 and last year’s team is essentially this year’s team with another year of experience. The Gaels could be second weekend good.
  • Why they will lose: If we learned anything last year, it is that St. Mary’s has no margin for error with Gonzaga also in the conference. The defense has to be good enough to compete and the outside shots have to fall. Otherwise, the Gaels may be on the outside looking in once again.

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