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No. 1 Gonzaga remains undefeated with impressive win at No. 20 Saint Mary’s

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Przemek Karnowski scored 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Johnathan Williams III added 17 points as No. 1 Gonzaga remained undefeated on the season with a 74-64 win at No. 20 Saint Mary’s on Saturday evening.

Gonzaga jumped out to an early 10-point lead and led by as many as 15 points late in the second half. The Gaels had a couple of runs in them but they never got within five points in the second half.

Nigel Williams-Goss had 14 points for Gonzaga while Jock Landale finished with 24 points and nine boards for Saint Mary’s.

Here are four things to take away from that game:

1. Gonzaga is probably going to go undefeated: It seems incredibly unlikely that the Zags will lose at some point during the rest of conference play. They have yet to play a game in league play that was kept in the single digits. They won by ten at BYU. They beat Saint Mary’s by 23 at home before Saturday’s win. They play three of their last four games at home.

Put simply, if the Zags can get passed Saint Mary’s, a legitimate top 25 team, why should we expect that San Diego and Pacific will be able to make things interesting?

What that means is that Gonzaga’s success in the WCC tournament will likely carry some weight for them heading into the NCAA tournament. In today’s bracket reveal, Gonzaga was given a No. 1 seed, but they were ranked as the fourth No. 1 seed, meaning that any slip-up in a conference where everyone other than Saint Mary’s is looked at as a bad loss is the kind of thing that can cost them dearly when the first -place team in the ACC is a No. 1 seed.

The Zags have earned a No. 1 seed and, barring some kind of insanity down the stretch of the season, I fully expect them to get it come Selection Sunday.

2. The reason Gonzaga can win it all is that this is Mark Few’s best defensive team: The discussion of whether or not this is Gonzaga’s best team usually centers around whether or not this group is better than the team that featured Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos in 2013, and there are some worthwhile points to be made on either side. What’s inarguable, however, is that this is the first time that Mark Few has had a team that ranks in the top five in defensive efficiency. As of Saturday, Gonzaga was fourth nationally in KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency metric. Prior to this season, the best finish Gonzaga’s ever had in KenPom’s defensive rankings was 18th.

The irony there is that the biggest concern about this team is their defense. Saint Mary’s was able to expose one of the issues early on in the game: the ability of Przemek Karnowski to defend in ball-screens. The Zags opened up a double-digit lead early in the first half, but the Gaels were able to fight back and tie the game as they exploited that very aspect of Gonzaga’s defense.

The other issue is with the back court. As well as Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins have played this season, what happens when they have to go up against one of the nation’s elite back courts, one that includes, say, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk or Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham.

We won’t get an answer about whether that’s truly the case until the NCAA tournament, but to date, this has not cost Gonzaga a game.

3. Yes, Gonzaga can win it all: I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this at this point, but I do. That’s what happens when you play in the league Gonzaga plays in and you have the tournament success that Gonzaga has had. The same things were said about Bo Ryan and Wisconsin before they got to their first Final Four in 2014. The same things were said about Jim Calhoun before he beat Gonzaga in 1999 and got to a Final Four. Eventually, the same things are going to be said about Sean Miller.

That’s how it works with fans. That’s the danger of a sport where the champion is determined by a single-elimination tournament involving college kids.

But trust me when I tell you that this Gonzaga team can win it all. They have size. They have depth. They have balanced scoring. They have two point guards that can play together and can both makes threes. They have an elite coach in Few. They are elite defensively. They rank No. 1 in KenPom, a predictive metric that is supposed to determine who would win in a game played on a neutral court.

The most important thing about this team, however, is consistency. Everyone else in college basketball has slipped up at some point this season, many more than once. Gonzaga? They haven’t been tested in months despite playing road games against Saint Mary’s and BYU. I’m not saying this team will be the one to do it – never make a guarantee before March Madness – but there is no doubt in my mind that they’re good enough to.

4. Saint Mary’s looks like they’re good, but what have they done to prove it?: Gonzaga’s best win this season is at Dayton in a game where Dayton, who is not a lock to make the NCAA tournament as is, was short-handed. Their second-best win? Beating a young Nevada team at home in their season-opener. After that, they beat BYU … and that’s it. The Gaels don’t have another top 100 win, according to KenPom.

They do, however, have two losses to the Zags by an average of 16.5 points. They also have a 14-point home loss to UT-Arlington, and they still have to play at BYU this season.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Saint Mary’s is on the bubble this season, but I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this team can afford to slip up down the stretch. 22-3 is 22-3, but that record wouldn’t look nearly as impressive with losses to, say, BYU and Santa Clara.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”