St John's v Syracuse

Return of Syracuse’s James Southerland changes national picture

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There’s no denying that not only is there not a dominant team in college basketball but also that No. 9 Syracuse was a team capable of getting to Atlanta even without senior forward James Southerland.

But his return after missing six games for academic reasons makes the Orange a team capable of winning not only the Big East but also a national title.

Southerland shot just 4-of-10 from the field and scored 13 points in Syracuse’s 77-58 win over St. John’s but his return gives the Orange a consistent perimeter threat, something they lacked while he was sidelined.

Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair scored 17 points apiece to lead the Orange, with Carter-Williams also dishing out eight assists and Fair grabbing nine rebounds. St. John’s, who played without head coach Steve Lavin due to the passing of his father, was led offensively by freshman JaKarr Sampson (21 points).

Southerland’s return gives Syracuse four players who can get them double figures consistently, with Carter-Williams, Fair and senior guard Brandon Triche being the others. And the task of scoring becomes “easier” for Syracuse now that their best perimeter shooter is back on the floor, as Southerland’s presence also opens the floor for Carter-Williams to set teammates up for quality looks.

Twenty of Syracuse’s 29 field goal were of the assisted variety, as the Orange found the gaps in the Red Storm zone at will and shot 53.7% from the field and 10-of-22 from three. In the six games Southerland missed Syracuse averaged 11.2 assists per game, with a high of 16 in their 63-47 win over No. 25 Notre Dame last Monday, and shot 41.8% from the field.

There isn’t a national title contender this season that doesn’t have a flaw and the same can be said for Syracuse, who will need more from big men Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita as they approach the stretch run (Keita played well on Sunday, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds).

But there should be little doubt that the return of James Southerland makes Syracuse a contender to win the national title.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: