Gonzaga deserves No. 1 ranking, but not necessarily a No. 1 seed


It’s official: for the first time in school history, Gonzaga is the No. 1 team in the country.

51 of the 65 voters in the AP Poll put them there. So did 29 of the 31 voters in the Coaches Poll.

(CLICK HERE: To see both the AP and the Coaches top 25)

Does this mean that Gonzaga is the best team in the country? Of course not. If there’s anything that we have learned this season, it’s that there really isn’t any single ‘best’ team. Indiana and Kansas and Duke and every other team in the top eight or nine right now is just as good as the Zags. Maybe better.

But as of today, that doesn’t matter.

Because the way the polls work, if you lose, you drop. If you continue to win, you move up. It doesn’t matter whether or not those wins are coming against Portland while those losses are coming of the road to Virginia or Maryland. That’s part of the reason that, thankfully, top 25 rankings play absolutely no role in determining anything in our sport beyond what the little number is that shows up next to a team’s name during broadcasts.

Here’s the bottom-line: Gonzaga has as much of a right to the No. 1 ranking as anyone in the country right now, regardless of conference affiliation. They beat West Virginia by 34. They beat Oklahoma by 25 in the Old Spice Classic. They beat Kansas State — who just so happens to be in the top 10 — by 16. They beat Baylor by seven. They went into Stillwater and knocked off Oklahoma State. In other words, the Zags would be battling Kansas for Big 12 superiority if they were located in Shawnee, KS, instead of Spokane, WA.

Let’s take it a step further: Gonzaga’s two losses this season came when Brandon Paul lit them up for 36 points and when Roosevelt Jones made one of the most exciting and fluky plays of the season.

There shouldn’t be any doubt that Gonzaga belongs in the conversation among the other national title contenders.

But what’s intriguing about this team is that, even if they win the WCC tournament next week, there’s a chance that they could end up falling off the No. 1 seed line in the NCAA tournament.

Only twice since 2000 has a No. 1 seed had a strength of schedule that was lower than Gonzaga’s, which is currently 71st in the country. Both times it was Stanford, who had a schedule strength of 96th in 2004 and 82nd in 2000. There have only been three times where a No. 1 seed has come from outside the Power Six conferences, and all three times — Memphis in 2008, St. Joe’s in 2004, and Cincinnati (then of Conference USA) in 2002 — had schedule strengths in the top 50.

(USA Today’s Eric Prisbell did the legwork researching those numbers.)

This isn’t entirely Gonzaga’s fault, mind you. West Virginia was predicted to be a top 25 team and Baylor was thought to have a chance to crack the top 15. Washington State wasn’t expected to finish at the bottom of the Pac-12, and it just so happens that BYU and St. Mary’s are both a bit down this season. It happens to everyone, I know, but when you play in a mid-major conference and seven of your top ten opponents are worse than expected, it’s going to sting.

There’s only so much that the Zags are able to do, and in my mind, they’ve done enough to be ranked No. 1.

Because it’s irrelevant.

What matters is where they are seeded, and whether or not they deserve a No. 1 seed is a different post for a different day.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.


2018 NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 Power Rankings

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There are 16 teams left in the NCAA Tournament, which means that it is time for us to re-rank the teams left in the field based on the chances that they can win the NCAA tournament.

So let’s get do it:


This is what the Orange are going to have to do just to get to the national title game, assuming that seeds hold (LOL!): Beat Duke, beat Kansas and beat Villanova. Then, once there, they’re going to have to take down Kentucky, or Gonzaga, or Michigan. The Orange have, without question, the most difficult path of anyone left in the field, and they’re the lowest-rated team on KenPom, which of course means Jim Boeheim is taking this group back to the Final Four.


I think I would have Kansas State higher on this list if there was any kind of certainty about the status of Dean Wade. He’s Kansas State’s leading scorer and he has missed the last three games with an injury. Even if he is playing, I don’t think that I would take Bruce Weber’s Wildcats to beat the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet 16, not with the way that Kentucky has been playing of late.


I still don’t quite understand how Florida State did what they did in the first weekend of this tournament. They beat down Missouri in the first round and then erased a 12-point deficit in 10 minutes against the No. 1 seed in their region. Please, someone explain this to me. Until that someone does, I am not a believer. Sorry, ‘Noles.


I’m a believer in Loyola-Chicago. They can really, really defend, and they are balanced enough defensively that you can’t really key in on one guy. Plus, they have God on their side. Sister Jean has apparently sent up enough Hail Marys that Clayton Custer’s last-second jumper against Tennessee was able to, somehow, find its way into the bucket:


I’ve overlooked Clemson all season, and I have not learned my lesson. The Tigers, like Syracuse, have just a brutal path to even get to the national title game. They play Kansas in the Sweet 16 before playing, if seeds hold, Duke then Villanova. Give Brad Brownell’s team credit. They got Clemson someplace that no one in the country thought they could get to back in November. They’re playing with house money now.


Texas A&M’s big men are going to physically impose their will on the Michigan front line on Thursday night … if the ball actually gets to them. The Aggies are on to, what, their fourth point guard on the season with T.J. Starks? And he’s going to have to deal with Zavier Simpson, who has held these guards to these stat-lines the last six games:

  • Jordan Bohannon, Iowa: 11 points, 3-14 FGs, 3 turnovers
  • Glynn Watson, Nebraska: 10 points, 4-12 FGs, 2 turnovers
  • Cassius Winston, Michigan State: 11 points, 3-10 FGs
  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue: 10 points, 4-16 FGs
  • Ahmaad Rorie, Montana: 15 points, 6-17 FGs
  • Rob Gray, Houston: 23 points, 8-22 FGs


I actually think West Virginia, with the way that they are playing, is one of the five best teams left in the tournament. So why do I have them 10th on this list? Because it is not possible to create a team that would be a worse matchup for Press Virginia than Villanova is. Bob Huggins’ defense relies on speeding teams up and forcing them to make mistakes. No one is ever going to speed Jalen Brunson up or force him to make a mistake. It’s just not going to happen. So if West Virginia throws a press at Villanova and that press doesn’t work, the Wildcats are going to get wide-open three after wide-open three. They aren’t Michigan State. They’ll make their threes.


If you’re going to take a flier on a team with good odds to win the national title, Nevada would be my pick. They’re talented, more talented than you realize. They have dudes that — and I mean with with respect — have absolutely no idea the magnitude of the moment they’re playing in. The Martin twins, Jordan Caroline, Josh Hall, Kendell Stephens. Those guys scrap, they’re tough and athletic, they are shot-makers, they can all get hot and put up 20 points in a half.

Oh, and they had the good juju with Mariah Musselman becoming a March superstar.


On the one hand, I think that there may be some sneaky upside to losing Isaac Haas to the season with that fractured elbow. Matt Haarms is definitely a better defender, particularly in ball-screen actions, and since there is so little tape on the Boilermakers playing without Haas, Matt Painter will have the element of surprise on his side. On the other hand, Purdue just lost a guy that averages 14.7 points and anchors their offense in the post. They are suddenly much more one-dimensional with games coming up against teams (Texas Tech, potentially Villanova) that don’t necessarily have the size to handle Haas inside.


The Red Raiders look exactly how I thought they would look in this tournament. They are a nightmare to try and score on, and they have a dude in Keenan Evans. He’s been one of the best players in the tournament to date, and is averaging 16.5 points … in the second half of games. He’s their closer, and their defense is good enough that you’ll never be able to pull away from them.


I would have Kansas higher on this list — I love Devonte’ Graham, I think they are dangerous given how well they shot the ball, I think that Udoka Azubuike is criminally-underrated — but the idea of Svi Mykhailiuk or LaGerald Vick being forced to deal with either Marvin Bagley III or Wendell Carter in the paint is the kind of thing that will give Bill Self an ulcer.


I don’t really know what to make of this group. They didn’t look all that good against either Montana or Houston, but they advanced on the strength of a defense that seems positively anti-Beileinian. You have to figure their inability to score is going to be figured out by Beilein, but that defense is always going to be there.


I know that the Zags have not been super-impressive through the first weekend of games, but think about this: They just got back a good Ohio State team in the second round of the tournament in a game where their two-best big men and their two fourth-year guards combined for 34 points. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Killian Tillie, Johnathan Williams III — they are not going to play that poorly again. But if Rui Hachimura and Zach Norvell stay hot, watch out.


The Wildcats are playing their best basketball of the season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looks like an all-american while Kevin Knox has been a more consistent scoring threat on the wing. They’re rebounding the ball, they’re defending, they’ve seemingly figured out rotations.

Oh, and they are not going to have to face a top six-seed before the Final Four and a top two-seed before the national title game. Remember when John Calipari was complaining about how difficult their path was? Hahahaha …


For my money, the winner of the Duke-Villanova Final Four game — assuming that game happens in San Antonio, and it has to happen, you owe it to us, Basketball Gods — will be the team that ends up winning the national title this season. Duke’s front line is just overpowering, and Villanova’s ability to rain threes is a game-changer. Think about it like this: Against Alabama, a team that more or less matched up with the Wildcats perfectly on paper, Villanova won by 23 points despite the fact that Jalen Brunson was just OK because Donte DiVincenzo went bonkers at the end of the first half and Mikal Bridges caught fire early in the first half. They are scary.


I’ve said, even since Duke made the switch to play the 2-3 zone full-time, that they are the best team in college basketball. I picked them to win it all at the start of the tournament. Of course I’m going to have them right here, at the top of the rankings, heading into the Sweet 16.

This is why: Duke’s front line is impossible to matchup with because they are just so big, but their opponents cannot take advantage of going small at the other end because of that Duke zone. Back when Duke played man, teams like Boston College and St. John’s were able to exploit Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter in ball-screens with smaller, quicker players. Now? In the zone? Carter doesn’t leave the charge circle and all Bagley has to do is be long, athletic and active. He can do that. So good luck with their big men.

Trae Young to declare for the NBA Draft

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Oklahoma’s freshman sensation Trae Young announced on Tuesday morning that he will be entering the NBA Draft.

This decision comes as no surprise, as Young played his way into the lottery with some sterling early season performances. But as his production dropped off in Big 12 play, a debate started waging over whether or not he will ever live up to the hype he had at the start of the year.

A projected top ten pick that could sneak into the top five, Young will likely be in the mix with Collin Sexton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the first point guard taken in this draft. I would take Young at the top of that list, and if I was a team drafting in the top five, I would seriously consider him at that level. His ability to pass, to read the game and to exploit the space that will be available to him at the NBA level will allow him to be a more effective player at that level.

Reports: Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley mulling UConn, Pitt options

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Even before Rhode Island’s NCAA tournament came to an end Saturday in the Round of 32 against Duke, speculation was running wild about the future of Rams coach Dan Hurley.

Stay or go. If it’s go, where to?

There was no clarity, but maybe some progress Monday.

Both Connecticut and Pittsburgh, the prime candidates to pry Hurley away from Rhode Island, spoke with the coach, but no decision had yet been reached, according to multiple reports.

Hurley was set to meet with Rams athletic director Thorr Bjorn on Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. Heart Connecticut Media’s Jeff Jacobs reported that UConn was “closing in on an agreement” with Hurley but that Pitt was continuing its pursuit.

Hurley has led the Rams to the NCAA tournament the last two years and signed a seven-year contract with Rhode Island worth approximately $1 million per year last off-season. UConn was paying Kevin Ollie, who led the team to the 2014 NCAA title before being fired after this season, an average of $3 million per season while Kevin Stallings reportedly was due a buyout of nearly $10 million when he was fired by Pitt this season.

What Hurley will have to weigh beyond the financial circumstances will be his ability to win at either UConn or Pitt, should he decide to move on from Rhode Island.

Ollie – well, really Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright – showed you can win a national title out of the AAC at UConn. The league adding Wichita State only strengthens that point. Pitt, meanwhile, may be a tougher job now than it was when Jamie Dixon had it rolling since their move from the Big East to the ACC.

CBT Podcast: Recapping the first weekend of the 2018 NCAA Tournament

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Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic joined Rob Dauster for an epic, two-hour podcast on the first weekend of the tournament. It was so good that we had to split the podcast into two parts. On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the South and West Regions, from Sister Jean to UMBC to Nevada’s comebacks to Kentucky’s chances at a Final Four.

On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the East and Midwest Regions, from Villanova and Duke steamrolling to Michigan State collapsing to Syracuse and Clemson and Texas Tech and Purdue. It’s all in there.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Eight viral heroes from first weekend of March Madness

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One of my favorite parts of the NCAA tournament is seeing who comes out of nowhere to turn into a viral celebrity during this month of madness.

By my estimation, we had eight true candidates for the award of March Madness Viral Celebrity of the Year. Here they are:


He was more fired up for Houston’s success in the tournament than any Houston fan in the history of basketball in the city of Houston.


Jordan Poole is spelled a lot like Jordan Peele, which inevitably led to people tweeting at Peele instead of Poole. Peele’s thank you tweet was a highlight of the first weekend.


Having to answer questions from a bunch of reporters after suffering the most humiliating moment of your life is not an easy thing to do. Having to answer ridiculous and stupid questions could be intolerable, which is why I loved Ty Jerome’s response to a stupid question he was asked:


I loved seeing Robert Williams’ teammate do a panotmine windmill in the background while Williams was throwing down a windmill in real time on Providence:


Nevada head coach Eric Musselman has led his team to the Sweet 16, cussed on live television and gone shirtless to celebrate with his team, but the star of the Musselman family is his daughter Mariah:


He really does have great hair:

2. @UMBCAthletics

This dude lived the dream of every twitter user out there. When your shot is there, you have to take it.


Mic drop: