Nate Austin, Kelly Olynyk

NCAA Picks: A quick breakdown of some 2013 Final Four possibilities

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This has been a season of upsets, underdogs, and unpredictability. The conventional wisdom has been that the NCAA tournament will follow suit. But will it? Will we see four No. 1 seeds in Atlanta, or none at all? Check out the tiered preview below:

The Top: These are the teams that, when judging by seed alone, should have the best shot at making the Final Four

Indiana

The Hoosiers began the season as the No. 1 team in the country and are looking to come full circle and win a national title in Atlanta. Yes, they have weapons like Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford, and Yogi Ferrell, but the key will be how each of those gets involved. Oladipo will be the do-everything forward, but Zeller needs to be assertive and physical down low. Because of that, beware of a team that can push the Hoosiers around on the interior.

Louisville

The Cardinals pulled off an immaculate comeback to beat Syracuse in the Big East title game, but it will ultimately come down to guard play for Louisville. If Russ Smith and Peyton Siva are clicking offensively and the defense is forcing turnovers, they’re very tough to beat. If those two are off track for a game, though, the Cardinals could be sent home early.

Gonzaga

Gonzaga hasn’t gotten as much national respect as it perhaps should have, even when it reached No. 1 in the national polls. This is their time to prove their worth. Kelly Olynyk is one of the country’s most mobile and versatile big men and will be at the center of everything the Zags do. Expect an early challenge from Pittsburgh in the Round of 32.

Kansas

Kansas powered through the Big 12 on the backs of Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey but turnovers will be the biggest stumbling block for the Jayhawks on the road to the Final Four. Especially if Kansas meets VCU in the Sweet 16, we could have an upset. If they keep that under control, though, coach Bill Self’s team has the firepower to make a Final Four push.

The Non-No. 1s: Just because they’re not No. 1 seeds doesn’t mean they can’t challenge for a Final Four

Ohio State

The Buckeyes won the Big Ten title the same way they have won games all season: defense. Their ability to defend on that end of the floor will never be in question, but we’ll need to see how they work offensively to get a good taste of how far this team can go. Deshaun Thomas cannot be the only scoring option. Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, LaQuinton Ross, Evan Ravenel, and the rest can all find ways to contribute.

New Mexico

The Mountain West has been as brutally competitive as nearly any conference in the country this year and from it emerges a Final Four sleeper pick, New Mexico. How are the Lobos a sleeper pick as a No. 3 seed? Because many know little about them. Keep an eye on Kendall Williams, Tony Snell, and Alex Kirk, all of whom need to be going offensively for the Lobos to shift into gear. The major concern will be shooting percentage. New Mexico has to hit shots consistently to advance.

Miami

At the beginning of the season, Miami was not expected to do what it has done. Point guard Shane Larkin is a big reason for that, but it has also been a matter of team cohesiveness and the ability to play at different paces. Reggie Johnson needs to be a factor on the interior and the Hurricanes have a chance to make life tough for opponents if Kenny Kadji is stretching the defense from the power forward spot.

Georgetown

Otto Porter, defense, and more Otto Porter. That will be Georgetown’s gameplan in the NCAA tournament. Porter does a little bit of everything well, but will need help from Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera offensively for the Hoyas to make it to the Final Four being in the same regional as Kansas.

The Mid-Majors: These teams are dangerous in March. They might have come from smaller leagues, but watch out.

VCU

Coach Shaka Smart and the Rams live off of turnovers. They force close to 20 per game and it becomes the lifeblood of a transition offense that can put points on the board in a hurry. Against Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 championship game, VCU erased a 13-point deficit in close to three minutes.

Saint Louis

Saint Louis, the team that beat VCU to win the A-10 title, is efficient, poised, and smart with the basketball. In a region like the Midwest where Louisville is the No. 1 seed, the Billikens match up favorably. If they can control turnovers, it hurts what Louisville can do offensively. Kwamain Mitchell against Peyton Siva would be one to watch.

Creighton

When your team features one of the country’s best players, you’ll always in a position to be dangerous in the NCAA tournament. Doug McDermott will be the centerpiece of this team, but Grant Gibbs, Gregory Echenique, and Austing Chatman aren’t to be discounted, either. We all should be rooting for a Creighton-Duke matchup in the Round of 32, if for no other reason than to see Ryan Kelly go head-to-head with McDermott.

Bucknell

If you don’t know Mike Muscala’s name yet, you likely will when this NCAA tournament tips off. The Bucknell big man anchors the paint for the Bison and is part of a defensive team that likes to grind teams down to a halt. It’s not always an easy way to win, but Muscala will be the engine behind a push.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

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AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

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The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org