RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.
1. I’d be fairly shocked if Gonzaga is any lower than a #3 seed when the brackets are unveiled in March. In fact, I’d be fairly shocked if the Zags lost again this season. Think about it: they’ve already notched wins on the road against the three teams most likely to shock Mark Few’s team by dispatching Portland, Saint Mary’s and San Diego on a single road trip. They have one challenging non-conference game left against a rebuilding Memphis team in which Gonzaga will surely be favored. The only team I could see possibly stunning the Zags is Pepperdine and their explosive guard Keion Bell. The Waves only fell by seven in the Kennel this past week behind Bell’s 37 points, but they’re still 7-13 on the season and I highly doubt Bell is going to post 37 again on a stingier Gonzaga defense. Win out and Mark Few is looking at 27-3 (16-0) heading into the WCC tournament where they could finish with a 29-3 (18-0) overall record and an RPI in the top-20 with their only losses at Michigan State, at home against Wake Forest and Duke in MSG. That sets up Gonzaga for a #3 seed in the Spokane regional, meaning two quasi-home games until the regional (and they could be in the Salt Lake City regional). German import Elias Harris has spear-headed the Zags hot streak. He’s averaging 16/8 and shooting nearly 60% in a tremendous debut campaign.
2. Remember that Greivis Vasquez guy on Maryland who’s had a pretty damn good career? After scoring in the single digits in his first four games and struggling mightily with his jump shot in Maui, the brash and often polarizing emotional sparkplug for the Terps is heating up in a big way. And that’s bad news for the rest of the wide-open ACC. Vasquez has now scored in double figures his last 14 games including a 30-point outburst at Wake Forest and 22 in a big home win over Florida State. He played his most efficient game Saturday in the blowout win over NC State, notching 19 points on 7-11 FG and 3-4 3pt. Despite the concerning start, Vasquez is now playing like the ACC POY contender he truly is. His 43% FG is only second to his 44% as a freshman (but he only needs three more shots to match the amount taken that season), his 39% 3pt is far and away a career best, and he’s also contributing with 6.1 APG and 4.6 RPG, solid totals for a 6’6 guard. I fully expect Duke to win the ACC- they’ve already played two of their three most difficult ACC games- but Maryland is absolutely a contender to finish second behind Vasquez, the continued improved play of Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes (46% 3pt), plus the superb coaching of Gary Williams.
3. Other than maybe Georgetown or Notre Dame, the most disappointing team in the nation last season may have been Baylor. The Bears entered the season fresh off reaching the NCAA Tournament just a few years following the Dave Bliss fallout with Scott Drew being lauded as one of the best young coaches in the game. Even though a late-season Big 12 Tournament and NIT push healed some wounds, the 5-11 Big 12 mark a season ago was still a campaign to forget. What led to the downfall? For one, Baylor ranked #103 in defensive efficiency in 2008-09. During their crippling six game Big 12 losing streak, the Bears surrendered 95 points to Oklahoma, 89 to Missouri and 83 to Texas Tech. In a related story, Baylor is ranked in the top 25 this week and ranks 41st in defensive efficiency. What has sparked the change? A big reason is the human eraser Ekpe Udoh in the post, a Michigan transfer who ranks sixth in college basketball in block percentage (Baylor ranks first in the nation in the same category). Baylor as a unit has also turned up the intensity on the defensive end, ranking third in the nation in opponents two-point FG% behind just Mississippi State and Florida State. Baylor hasn’t forgotten how to score, either. They rank 15th in offensive efficiency and eighth in effective FG%. Anyone who watched the Bears go toe-to-toe with Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse last Monday knows this team can play.