2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 15 Gonzaga Bulldogs

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 32-3, 16-0 WCC (1st); Lost in the Round of 32 to Wichita State

Head Coach: Mark Few (15th season at Gonzaga: 374-93 overall, 178-22 WCC)

Key Losses: Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris, Mike Hart, Guy Landry Edi

Newcomers: Gerald Coleman, Angel Nunez, Ryan Edwards, Lucas Meikle

Projected Lineup

G: Kevin Pangos, Jr.
G: Gary Bell, Jr.
F: Gerald Coleman, Jr.
F: Sam Dower, Sr.
C: Przemek Karnowski, So.
Bench: Angel Nunez, So.; Kyle Draginis, So.; David Stockton, Sr.; Drew Barham, Sr.

They’ll be good because …: Gonzaga returns one of the most underrated back courts in the country. Kevin Pangos looked like he was on the verge of becoming an All-American caliber player after a big freshman season, and Gary Bell was the perfect back court compliment. But with Kelly Olynyk turning into a lottery pick and playing alongside Elias Harris last season, the focus of that Gonzaga team went from their perimeter attack to their massive front line.

Olynyk and Harris are gone, however, and while Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower are quality post players, the focal point of this team is going to be the back court. Pangos and Bell are the names you’ll recognize, along with David Stockton. But Few has some depth to work him this year as well. Gerald Coleman averaged 13.2 points as a sophomore at Providence. Angel Nunez, who will be eligible after the first semester, was a high-profile recruit at Louisville before leaving. Even Drew Barham and Kyle Draginis should be able to provide some minutes.

source: AP
AP photo

But they might disappoint because …: Don’t get me wrong, the 1-2 punch of Karnowski and Dower up front is nice. Karnowski earned the nickname Mt. Poland because, well, he’s massive: 7-foot-1, 305 pounds, which is probably a generous number. He knows how to get position and hold position, and he has soft hands and a nice touch around the rim. Dower? He’s been ultra-productive in limited minutes for three years, doing many of the same things that Elias Harris did.

But here’s the problem: after those two, Gonzaga doesn’t really have anyone on their front line. They bring in a pair of freshmen, and Kyle Wiltjer is redshirting, but that’s it. All the more concerning is the fact that Karnowski has conditioning issues. The downside to being his side is that it takes a lot of energy to do anything, and he issn’t exactly a modicum of fitness in the first place. Can he play 32 minutes a night? Can he stay out of foul trouble? If not, Few is going to have to get creative with some of the lineups that he uses.

Outlook: Gonzaga’s reputation took a massive blow last season. After posting a 32-2 regular season record and earning themselves a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Zags went down in the Round of 32 to Final Four darling Wichita State. Given the amount of hype that various pundits had heaped upon the Zags entering the tournament, no one is going to trust Gonzaga again. It’s not going to help matters that the Zags will likely be playing a weak — by their standards — non-conference schedule this season. West Virginia, Kansas State and Washington State are all down this year. If Gonzaga loses to Dayton in the Maui Invitational’s first round, then Memphis in February could end up being the only ranked team they play all season long. Put it all together, and don’t be surprised to see Gonzaga with yet another impressive record come March.

Having said all that, I still believe that the Zags are not only a tournament team, but one capable of making it to the second weekend. There are some very obvious question marks — I haven’t even mentioned the potential issues on the defensive with their small back court and slow front court — but this is a team that is going to be able to spread the floor, will hit a lot of threes and should score plenty of points. On the nights their shots are dropping, they will be a tough out.

No. 2 Michigan State beats Wisconsin, wraps up Big Ten

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Cassius Winston scored 20 points and went 6 for 6 from the 3-point line, and No. 2 Michigan State held off Wisconsin 68-63 on Sunday to earn the outright regular-season Big Ten title.

Winston hit two 3s during an 11-2 run in the second half — the second with a defender in his face from well beyond the arc — to lead the Spartans (28-3, 16-2).

Brad Davison finished with 30 points for Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11), including a 3 with 4.7 seconds left that had hometown fans holding out hope for an upset.

Miles Bridges wrapped up the Spartans’ 12th straight win with two foul shots.

It was a milestone victory in what has been a challenging season off the court for Michigan State basketball.

One issue involved Bridges. The star forward had 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting in his first game since getting cleared by the NCAA following a Yahoo! Sports article on Friday that identified him as one of many players who may have received improper benefits.

Winston and Nick Ward, who had 14 points, picked up the scoring slack. Winston’s 3 with 4:45 left gave the Spartans a 58-51 lead, a huge cushion in what had been a tight game.

Davison nearly single-handedly brought Wisconsin back, giving the Badgers a huge boost even after aggravating a left shoulder injury. The freshman sprinted to the locker room with a trainer with about 14 minutes left before returning a couple minutes later and checking right back into the game to rousing applause.

He scored Wisconsin’s next six points, popping perimeter jumpers to electrify an already vocal home crowd in the regular season finale.

The teams dueled the rest of the way until Bridges’ late foul shots.

Michigan State muscled its way to a 34-27 halftime lead by taking control of the paint early before softening up the perimeter for Winston. The sophomore sharpshooter made 3 of 4 from beyond the arc in the first half, with a couple buckets coming quickly in transition.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: Documents in the Yahoo! story showed that the star forward may have improperly accepted benefits from an agency implicated in a federal investigation into bribery and other misdeeds in college basketball. The team said Saturday that the school’s compliance office conducted a “thorough internal review” and presented findings to the NCAA, which then cleared Bridges. … The Spartans had too much bulk up front for Wisconsin, building an early edge on points in the paint and finishing with a 40-28 edge on the boards.

Wisconsin: The team honored three reserve seniors in its final regular-season game, including fifth-year forward Aaron Moesch. He is the last link to the Badgers’ back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2014 and ’15, a little-used backup on each of those squads. The Badgers’ reliance on freshmen to play key roles in the rotation, especially in the backcourt, led to growing pains this season. They’ve shown signs of maturity of late, winning three straight games before Sunday.

UP NEXT

Michigan State: Opens play in the conference tournament in New York on Friday after earning a double bye as the top seed.

Wisconsin: Locked into the Big Ten tourney as the No. 9 seed, where it will play Maryland on Thursday.

No. 11 Cincinnati rallies for 82-74 win over Tulsa

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Gary Clark led a 24-4 run that put Cincinnati ahead to stay early in the second half, and the 11th-ranked Bearcats held on for an 82-74 victory over Tulsa on Sunday that preserved their one-game lead in the American Athletic Conference heading into the final week.

Cincinnati (25-4, 14-2) stayed ahead of No. 13 Wichita State (23-5, 13-3) in the race for the regular-season title. The Shockers won on Cincinnati’s home court 76-72 a week ago.

Wichita State plays at UCF on Thursday and hosts Cincinnati next Sunday in a potential showdown game. The Bearcats play at Tulane on Thursday before heading to Wichita State.

The Bearcats struggled defensively, giving up a season-high 14 3-pointers, but made a season-high 15 from beyond the arc. Clark and Jarron Cumberland had 17 points apiece.

Tulsa (17-11, 10-7) led by eight points early in the second before Clark scored during the decisive run. Junior Etou scored 21 for Tulsa, which had its six-game winning streak snapped.

Cincinnati completed its season playing at Northern Kentucky University while its on-campus arena is renovated, going 14-1 at BB&T Arena.

BIG PICTURE

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane is wrapping up a regular season that marks a step up for the program. Tulsa went 15-17 last season and 8-10 in the AAC, finishing seventh. It’s fourth in the league with two games to go.

Cincinnati: Even though the Bearcats rank second nationally in defense, they’d given up a lot of open shots in the previous two games, a concern to coach Mick Cronin. The Golden Hurricane got plenty of those, too, while shooting 59 percent in the first half. The Golden Hurricane led 47-44 at the break, the most points Cincinnati has allowed in a half this season.

UP NEXT

Tulsa: Golden Hurricane plays at East Carolina on Thursday. Tulsa opened AAC play by beating ECU 79-53 on Dec. 28.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats have won four straight and 14 of 15 against Tulane, including a 78-61 victory last season.

Bubble Banter: Sunday Funday on the bubble

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Sunday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

YET TO PLAY

TEMPLE
UCLA
PENN STATE
NEBRASKA
N.C. STATE

Georgia’s Mark Fox ‘disgusted’ by investigation into college basketball

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Georgia head coach Mark Fox did not hold back when asked about the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball, calling is “disgusting” and pleading with coaches and the institutions that employ them to do right.

“It starts with our coaches, and then you ask how the NCAA has handled it,” Fox said. “The NCAA is made up of member institutions. How are the institutions handling it? That’d be my first question. How are they handling it? Putting their head in the sand and looking the other way? I’m past anger, sadness. It’s just disgusting, and we’re really hurting the game, and the game has been so good to everybody.”

Fox is in a difficult position. He’s regarded as one of the nicer coaches in the business and is considered to be ‘clean’. He team also appears headed for another NIT, which could end up costing him his job.

“We’ve had some situations where we didn’t get players because of that reason, and other teams have, too,” Fox said.

“I’m disgusted,” he added. “I’m disgusted with how people have treated our game. It’s absolutely disgusting.”

Cuonzo Martin: ‘No timetable’ for a Michael Porter Jr. return

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There still is not clarity on whether or not Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr. will return to the court this season.

On Saturday, he participated in Missouri’s shootaround at Kentucky but did not run through warmups and did not play in the game.

“I don’t have a timeline,” Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin said after Saturday’s 87-66 loss. “He wants to play.”

“We have to make sure he’s ready to go.”

Porter has only had one full practice since he underwent surgery on his back in November, and that came on Friday. A source confirmed to NBC Sports that Porter was, in fact, cleared for full contact on Thursday afternoon after a visit with a doctor.

Porter is expected to continue practicing with the team. He told reporters earlier this month that he would like to get a few games prior to the start of tournament play if he happens to take part in any games.