As crazy as it may seem seeing as the current No. 1 team in the country resides in the WCC, there’s a pretty good chance that this conference could end up being just a one-bid league this year.
Gonzaga has been fantastic, and while they may not actually be the best team or the national title favorite, they are every bit deserving of their current spot atop both polls. The problem, however, is that the two other powerhouse programs in the league are both struggling through a bit of a down year. BYU whiffed on their four shots at quality non-conference wins, got swept by both St. Mary’s and BYU, and then lost four of their last seven league games, including dates with San Diego and San Francisco. St. Mary’s had the bad luck of losing to plucky Pacific in the Anaheim Classic and seeing Utah State, Drexel and Harvard struggle this season, which crushed their non-conference schedule strength.
The Gaels caught a break, however, when they picked up a win over a then-struggling, now-thriving Creighton in BracketBusters, which may be the win that gets them an at-large bid if they can get to the WCC finals and lose to the Zags.
Ironically enough, Gonzaga has plenty to play for right now as well. A loss could cost them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
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Obviously. The Zags rolled through WCC play undefeated. Outside of a fluky loss at Butler in January, Gonzaga hasn’t lost since Brandon Paul did Brandon Paul things to them in Spokane in early December. Kelly Olynyk has come out of no where to be a National Player of the Year candidate, making Elias Harris a forgotten man in the front court and the talented back court of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell suddenly vastly underrated.
And if they lose?: St. Mary’s and BYU are the two teams with enough firepower to give the Zags a scare on a neutral court. The Gaels are led by phenomenal senior point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who may be the nation’s best ball-handler in pick-and-roll actions, while the Cougars have a pair of all-conference players in Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws. St. Mary’s may be the better team, but BYU’s size makes them a better matchup with Gonzaga. If chalk holds, those two will meet in the semifinals.
Sleeper: Santa Clara is the team to keep an eye on. Kevin Foster is a volume shooter capable of dropping 40 if he gets into a rhythm. Marc Trasolini is a stretch four that can draw Gonzaga’s big men away from the basket and Evan Roquemore may be the league’s most underrated player. While the Broncos were manhandled in Spokane a few weeks ago, they gave Gonzaga all they could handle at home back in January.
– Kevin Foster, Santa Clara: Foster put 30 on St. Louis in November, gave Duke 29 in Cameron in December and dropped 29 on the Zags in their first matchup.
– Anthony Ireland, Loyola Marymount: It’s a shame that the Lions aren’t better, because Ireland is the real deal.
– Johnny Dee, San Diego: The 6-foot-0 sophomore is San Diego’s leading scorer and has a name straight out of a Happy Days episode.
CBT Prediction: I’m going to pick an upset. I’ll take St. Mary’s getting revenge in the third matchup of the season with Gonzaga. Mostly, I just want to see Dellavedova in the tournament one last time.
Bonzie Colson rushed back from a broken foot to try and help his Notre Dame team get into the NCAA tournament this season.
They were bumped out of the field when Davidson upset Rhode Island and earned the Atlantic 10’s third bid to the league tournament. The Fighting Irish were NIT bound, and in their second round loss to Penn State late last week, Colson reinjured the left foot that held him out of action for eight weeks.
On Wednesday, Yahoo reported that Colson suffered another fracture in the foot.
“I’m sitting there and he’s limping off and I’m going, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” coach Mike Brey said after the game. “Everything we’ve been through? I thought we were out of the woods with him.”
There was a poignant moment at the end of the game.
Colson’s injury came during the third quarter. He returned to the bench at Purcell Pavilion with ice on his foot after going into the locker room. With 30 seconds left and a loss imminent, Colson walked right past Mike Brey, said “I’m going in”, and finished his college career on the court.
Colson is a potential second round pick. He was an all-american last year and a preseason selection this year. He was averaging 19.7 points, 10.2 boards and 2.2 blocks when he was injured.
N.C. State star to consider turning pro and transferring
It appears as it Omer Yurtseven’s time as a member of the N.C. State Wolfpack will be coming to a close.
On Wednesday morning, the program issued a release announcing that Yurtseven has “expressed his intentions to either pursue a professional career or consider transferring.”
Yurtseven, who was initially recruited by Mark Gottfried, averaging 14.9 points in his first season under new Wolfpack head coach Kevin Keatts while also shooting 46 percent from three. Yurtseven is projected as a second round-at-best pick in the NBA Draft.
Keatts announced that he would grant Yurtseven a release if it comes to that.
2018 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview: Ranking the eight games
The Sweet 16 is going to kick off in less than 36 hours, which means that it is time for us to dive into the matchups and the games themselves.
Here are the eight games that we have on the docket on Thursday and Friday, with an in-depth look at each one, including some analysis on betting lines and how I expect each game to play out.
8. No. 2 DUKE vs. No. 11 SYRACUSE, Friday 9:37 p.m.
Line: Duke -11.5
Projected score: Duke 72.5, Syracuse 61
All the zone! Syracuse has been playing a 2-3 zone for as long as Jim Boeheim has been a surly, bespectacled basketball coach. But now, Duke is doing the same thing! They couldn’t guard anyone when Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter were forced to run around on the perimeter, guarding small fours and switching ball-screens, but now that Duke is in this zone, they can fully take advantage of their size without having to worry about dealing with the mismatches at the other end.
I think Duke runs away with this. For starters, they have better perimeter shooters than they get credit for — both Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. can stroke it — and Bagley and Carter are both skilled and versatile enough to be killers at the high-post. Throw in that Duke is the nation’s best offensive rebounding team and Syracuse gets annihilated on the defensive glass, and I think the Blue Devils roll.
PICKS: Duke and the under. Betting Duke unders has been very profitable of late, mainly because it took a while for the public to catch up to the pace — and defense — that Duke was playing with this zone. And Syracuse? They’re not much different than Virginia, only they play a zone instead of a 2-3 (and win in the tournament … too soon?) so while 133.5 is low, I would still hammer the under here. I think this ends up somewhere around a 75-55 game. When they played in Cameron a month ago, the final score was 60-44 Duke.
This Florida State team is not like the Florida State teams that you remember from Leonard Hamilton. In the past, Hamilton has seemingly recruited every big body that he can possibly find to pack into the paint and defend like hell while struggling to buy a bucket. This team? They have a slew of talented guards, they love to get out and run in transition and they’ll even play some small-ball.
To be honest, I think that will play into Gonzaga’s hands. The Zags have enough athletic and mobile big men to be able to handle any kind of matchup, particularly when Rui Hachimura is playing the way he has of late. The big question I have is for Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. They were not their best during the first weekend, and if they are not their best Gonzaga is only going to go so far relying on both Rui and Zach Norvell to have career performances.
PICKS: I do think Gonzaga wins, although I don’t love that line. What I do think is a sneaky-good bet is the over. The line is 153.5 while KenPom projects it at 158 points.
Let’s pretend that Florida game three weeks ago — the one that happened in the regular season finale for the Wildcats — never happened. Erase that from your memory, and the Wildcats have won their last nine games, and many of them in impressive fashion. They’re defending at the same level they’ve guarded all year long, but with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander playing the way that he has over the course of the last two months and Kevin Knox seemingly finding more consistency, I do think that Kentucky is playing as well as anyone left in this tournament not named Villanova or Duke.
The big question here is the health of Dean Wade. He told reporters after the win over UMBC that he would be playing on Thursday night, but we’ll see if that comes to fruition. If he does play, I can’t imagine that he’ll be at 100 percent.
PICKS: If Wade plays at 100 percent, I like Kentucky here. If Wade doesn’t play or is limited, I love Kentucky. I just think the Blue Wildcats are bigger, more athletic and more talented than Kansas State at every position, and that’s not good. Even if they guard Kentucky well, they are going to get killed on the defensive glass.
I have, not once this season, believed in Clemson. Not once. And every time I don’t believe in them — in the preseason, after Donte Grantham got injured, heading into the NCAA tournament — they do something to make me look like an idiot for not believing in them. So guess what? I’m not believing in them again!
Let me rephrase that. It’s not that I don’t believe in Clemson. I’ll admit it. I messed up. They’re really good; you have to be really good to beat the SEC regular season co-champions by 41 points. But I think that the way to beat Kansas is to be able to beat them up in the paint. Take advantage of the fact that they play Svi Mykhailiuk at the four. Clemson doesn’t really do that, so I think Kansas scoots on by Clemson to face Duke in the Midwest Regional final.
PICKS: Here’s the interesting thing about this game: The line is Kansas -4.5, and the projection on KenPom is Kansas -1. Generally speaking, those are inefficiencies to capitalize on, and it makes me want to take Clemson and the points even though my gut says go the other way. When that happens, I tend to stay away.
I think the worst thing that could have happened to Loyola-Chicago was for Nevada to win the way they won the last two games. It basically came down to Eric Musselman having guys on his roster that could makes play and didn’t care what the scoreboard said or the pressure of the moment. And now those dudes are confident.
Loyola is a good, well-coached basketball team. They execute offensively, they shoot the leather off the ball and they clearly have God on their side with Sister Jean. But I would not want to play this Nevada team with the Martin twins, Jordan Caroline and Kendell Stephens in this kind of a rhythm.
PICKS: Give me the Wolf Pack. They were able to make shots on both Texas and Cincinnati, who were two of the very best defensive teams in the country this season. Playing against Loyola, who is a good defensive team in their own right, will feel like every shot is wide-open as a result. I’d lean the under here, but I probably will stay away myself.
This is a fascinating contrast in lineup builds. Michigan doesn’t have all that much size inside but is, instead, built on their ability to limit opponent possessions and stifle the ones they do get; they don’t turn the ball over, they don’t give up offensive rebounds and they are the best defensive team left in the tournament according to KenPom. The Aggies are absolutely massive upfront but have had questionable guard play all season long.
Here’s what I think the key will be: Zavier Simpson vs. T.J. Starks. Simpson can erase a point guard from a game, and Starks is a freshman that has been, at times, erasable. Will he be able to get the ball to Big Bob Williams and Tyler Davis where they can be effective? Will Simpson, and Moe Wagner, be able to create enough in John Beilein’s ball-screen offense to score on one of the nation’s top ten defensive teams?
PICKS: I think they will. I think Michigan muddies this game up, their perimeter pressure prevents A&M from getting any kind of rhythm going and they do enough offensively and on the defensive glass to win a rock fight. Michigan and the under.
What makes this game so interesting to me is that we don’t really know what Matt Painter has up his sleeve. I’m operating under the assumption that Isaac Haas isn’t playing, and that even if he does, we’re looking at a situation where he is out there for limited minutes as a motivation tool more than his usual self. I don’t care how good your brace is, imagine shooting jump-hooks with a broken elbow. I don’t see it.
Painter will have had three or four days to figure out an answer, and my guess is that they use more spread pick-and-rolls, looking to get Haarms rolling with four shooters around him. Texas Tech should actually matchup with that pretty well — I’d be more concerned about them trying to slow down Haas one-on-one on the block — given their athleticism. Hell, I could see them using lineups with Zach Smith at the five quite a bit. They also have the ultimate trump card in Keenan Evans, who has been one of the best closers in college basketball this season.
PICKS: Texas Tech with the points. The Red Raiders are good at chasing teams off of the three-point line, they matchup well with Purdue and they are, according to KenPom, the second-best defensive team left in the tournament. The best — Michigan — beat Purdue pretty handily in the Big Ten tournament title game three weeks ago. If forced to, I’d bet the under here.
1. No. 1 VILLANOVA vs. No. 5 WEST VIRGINIA, Friday 7:27 p.m.
Line: Villanova (-5.5)
Projected score: Villanova 79, West Virginia 73.5
I love Jevon Carter. I have the utmost respect for what Bob Huggins has been able to do with this West Virginia program. While what he does is the polar opposite from what Tony Bennett does at Virginia, the way they do it is not all that dissimilar: They find and recruit players that are going to buy into the program, that fit what they want to do and then, over the course of four or five years, develop them into stars. Some become pros. Most don’t. But they keep winning games.
But the reason that Press Virginia works is that their defensive identity speeds opponents up and forces them to make mistakes. No one is speeding Jalen Brunson up. No one is going to rattle him. Villanova doesn’t make mistakes. They don’t turn the ball over. But they do make a ton of threes, and what I’m picturing in my head is Jay Wright’s club breaking this West Virginia pressure with relative ease and getting open three after open three at the other end.
PICKS: I think Villanova covers fairly easily. The question here is whether or not you think West Virginia is going to keep their press on for the whole game. If they don’t — if they settle into a half-court defense or play a token, full-court man-to-man — then Villanova sometimes takes the air out of the ball. I’d bet the over, but I’m not entirely confident in that.
2018 NBA Draft Early Entry List: Who declared? Who is returning? Who are we waiting on?
A season that began with the firing of Rick Pitino in mid-October came to an end Tuesday night, as Louisville lost to Mississippi State 79-56 in a Postseason NIT regional final. There are a lot of questions to be answered, most notably who will lead the program moving forward after interim head coach David Padgett led the Cardinals to 22 wins.
As for the players, two announced following the loss that they will be going through the NBA Draft process. Junior wing Deng Adel and junior forward Ray Spalding both confirmed that they will be entering the NBA Draft but not hiring agents, so as to preserve their collegiate eligibility should they decide to return to school.
This will be the second time that Adel has entered the NBA Draft, doing so last spring before making the decision to return to school.
Playing just over 33 minutes per game, the 6-foot-8 Adel averaged 15.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest, shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 35.0 percent from three. Moving into the starting lineup after serving as a reserve in each of his first two seasons at Louisville, the 6-foot-10 Spalding averaged 12.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 27.4 minutes per game.