In case your West region wasn’t wacky enough after the Round of 64, Saturday’s games cemented this quarter of the bracket’s status as the most unpredictable in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
It began with the No. 14-seeded Harvard Crimson, who shocked the Mountain West and the country by taking down trendy Final Four pick New Mexico in the Round of 64. Then Ole Miss, fueled by whatever keeps Marshall Henderson going, pulled an upset over Big Ten foe Wisconsin. Then it was La Salle, who beat a tough Boise State team in the First Four, coming through to beat Kansas State. But not to be outdone in this madness, No. 9 Wichita State outlasted No. 8 Pittsburgh, then eliminated the first No. 1 seed of the tournament Saturday night by beating Gonzaga.
So what are we left with? A No. 9 seed playing a 12- or 13-seed for a spot in the Elite Eight. A 6-seed in Arizona that has yet to be tested will face either Iowa State (who beat Notre Dame convincingly in the Round of 64) or Ohio State for its next chance to advance.
The reason for the madness in this region has been a mix of overseeding, matchups, and surprise performances. Gonzaga showed in its Round of 64 game against Southern that something was not right when the Jaguars ran the Bulldogs to the wire. Wichita State beat Pittsburgh at its own game to advance to meet the Zags. Ole Miss rode the wave of an SEC championship to beat a team that we have seen beat Indiana. La Salle’s guards matched up well against Kansas State and it got a big performance from Jerrell Wright to advance.
The real question now is if we will see an underdog emerge from all of this dust or if ultimately Ohio State or Arizona, teams that have spent time in the Top 10 this season, will represent this region at the Final Four in Atlanta. Judging by how things have gone, I’d favor madness over predictability.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few has added to his program’s banner season with an individual award, being named AP Coach of the Year on Thursday afternoon.
Few led the Bulldogs to their first Final Four. The Zags enter the national semifinal with a 36-1 record. Up until Feb. 25, they were flirting with a perfect season. A loss to BYU is currently the only blemish on their season.
Few also won his 500th career game during the course of the 2016-17 season. Since 2014, two coaches from outside the major conferences have earned his honor. Gregg Marshall was named AP Coach of the Year in 2014 after leading the Shockers to a perfect regular season.
This was a very competitive race this season. Sean Miller lost two players expected to be key pieces this season — and had Allonzo Trier miss 19 games — but guided Arizona to the Pac-12 Tournament championship. Jay Wright led Villanova to another Big East title despite two cornerstone pieces — Ryan Arcidiancono and Daniel Ochefu — gone from last season’s national championship team. For a while, Baylor’s Scott Drew seemed to be the favorite. The Bears didn’t receive a single vote in the preseason top-25 poll but went on to earn a No. 1 ranking.
Few’s season continues on Saturday against South Carolina.
Kansas point guard Frank Mason III was named the AP Player of the Year on Thursday afternoon.
The senior floor general for the Jayhawks headlined the AP All-American team, which included UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball, Villanova Swingman Josh Hart, Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan and North Carolina small forward Justin Jackson.
Mason averaged 20.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and shot 49 percent from behind the 3-point line during the 2016-17 season. He helped guide Kansas to its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title.
He becomes the fourth senior in a row to win the award, preceded by Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminksy and Creighton’s Doug McDermott.
He had previously been named player of the year by NBC Sports.
UCLA freshman forward TJ Leaf announced he is declaring for the 2017 NBA Draft on Thursday afternoon.
The 6-foot-10 Leaf averaged 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. His shooting numbers were also impressive, connecting on 62 percent of his field goals, including 27-of-58 from beyond the 3-point arc.
This news comes six days after Lonzo Ball officially announced he had played his last game at UCLA. Neither move is shocking, with Ball in the running for the No. 1 overall pick and Leaf also pegged as a first round selection.
The Bruins will have quite a bit of turnover next season with guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton exhausting their eligibility. UCLA head coach Steve Alford has a six-man recruiting class set to come in to help replenish the roster. It’s led by versatile forward Kris Wilkes, point guard Jaylen Hands, and big men Cody Riley and Jalen Hill.
For today’s episode, I spoke with the famous fans of the programs in the Final Four, from the greatest player in Gonzaga history to the almost-star of last year’s Final Four to the most famous dual Gonzaga and Oregon fan in the world.
Sindarius Thornwell has been the best player in the NCAA tournament to date, yet he was not in the building on Thursday when the South Carolina Gamecocks practiced and he was nowhere to be found during South Carolina’s media availability.
A school spokeswoman told reporters that Thornwell was back at the hotel, that he was sick and resting.
Thornwell is averaging 25.7 points in four games in the NCAA tournament. He’s been sensational. If he’s not at his best this weekend, that’s a massive blow for South Carolina’s chances of getting to a national title game, but South Carolina head coach Frank Martin doesn’t seem too concerned.
“I’ve got a bug myself. Luckily I don’t have to play,” Martin said. “He had a little body temperature last night when we landed. And he was a little better this morning. But I kind of told our trainer, just feed him fluids, do what doctors do and let him rest rather than stress him right now. He’s our most intelligent player. And I don’t mean to say that demeaning the other guys. He understands basketball at a high, high level, he doesn’t need to be on the practice court to understand what we’re doing.”