There’s a line of thinking that the NCAA tournament is a guard’s game, and there’s ample evidence of its veracity when we look back at runs by Kemba Walker’s UConn, Kris Jenkins and and Josh Hart’s Villanova and Russ Smith’s Louisville in recent years. Don’t, though, forget the big guys. Here’s a list of post presences that could help determine a national champion – and your bracket pool winner.
Marvin Bagley III, Duke: The Blue Devils freshman was the toast of the sport early in the season before being overshadowed by Trae Young, but he’s been consistently great. He’s great around the bucket, good enough from distance to keep defenses honest and rebounds at a high level. He may not be June’s No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, but he ain’t slipping past five, either.
Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic, Arizona: This is about as close to a throwback frontcourt as you’ll see – despite the fact that Ayton fits well enough in the modern game to be a potential No. 1 pick in June. It’s rare that a team can put two seven-footers on the floor and make it work, but Arizona’s pair can make it work. Still, it’s Ayton that fuels this pairing as he’s established himself as a dominant force inside and capable of keeping the Wildcats moving through the bracket.
Michael Porter, Jr., Missouri: Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon held down the fort inside all season long for the Tigers, but they’re now adding Michael Porter, Jr. to the mix – which could either make them fearsome up front or create a rocky fit. It’s one of the big bets of the NCAA tournament that coach Cuonzo Martin is making here. The upside is massive given Porter, Jr.’s talent.
Isaac Haas, Purdue: It’s pretty astounding that the Boilermakers lost Caleb Swanigan, one of the best big men the sport has seen in recent years, and somehow had a better season. Isaac Haas is a big reason why. The 7-foot-2 senior is on the floor more this year without Swanigan now that coach Matt Painer doesn’t have to juggle the two big men, and Haas has upped his production as a result. His size and skill bends the defense like few other players in the country.
Jaren Jackson and Nick Ward, Michigan State: Jackson is the darling of NBA scouts with his modern game while Ward is a more traditional big man – together they make up an incredibly dynamic and productive frontcourt for the Spartans. Ward is the country’s most prolific offensive rebounder and Jackson is one of the top shotblockers in the nation. And both shoot better than 60 percent from the floor.
Luke Maye, North Carolina: Maye went from a nice story on last year’s national champion Tar Heels to one of the most productive players in the country this year. He’s averaging a double-double of 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds as his role has exploded from bit player to star for coach Roy Williams.
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga: With all the turnover off last year’s national runners-up, Tillie has seen his role and his production trend way up. He’s one of the most efficient scorers in the country with a true-shooting percentage of 68.2, which is top-10 nationally. He’s not as proficient as a shotblocker and rebounder, but he’s a major problem for defenses.
Udoka Azubuike, Kansas: The Jayhawks’ roster is incredibly dependent on Azubuike given the dearth of other options inside, making his health status one of the more important subplots of the NCAA tournament. The sophomore missed the Big 12 tournament due to a knee injury, but is expected to return to the court this week. His presence inside really facilitates Kansas’ guard-oriented and 3-point heavy approach.
Mike Daum, South Dakota State: The 6-foot-9 Jackrabbit may be the best mid-major player in the tournament. He’s a high-usage player with a 59.5 true shooting percentage and rebounds on the defensive end at a high rate. His athleticism isn’t going to wow anyone, but his ability to score at every level and in unique ways makes him an incredibly tough cover. If South Dakota State turns into this year’s Cinderella, it’ll be Daum who fit them with the glass slipper.
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: The 6-foot-10 senior is a double-double machine, averaging 13.3 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. His prowess on the glass is what separates him from the rest of the big man pack as he’s elite on both the offensive and defensive ends on the floor in that area. He’s not a prolific scorer, but he creates extra shots for the Pirates and limits those extra opportunities for their opponents.
Tyler Davis and Robert Williams, Texas A&M: Another super-sized frontcourt that harkens back to a different era of basketball. Both of these guys are great around the rim, but not threats from the 3-point arc. Williams is a fantastic shotblocker while Davis is a great offensive rebounder.
Mohamed Bamba, Texas: Bamba appears to have healed up from a sprained toe and will try to help the Longhorns escape the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012. The 6-foot-11 freshman with an expansive wingspan is one of the most impactful defenders in the country as an elite shotblocker. His offensive game lags behind his defense, but he is capable of causing headaches for opponents on that end as well.
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Killian Tillie scored 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting, including connecting on all five 3-pointers, to lead No. 7 Gonzaga past San Francisco 88-60 on Monday night in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinal game.
Tillie has made all 10 3-point attempts at the tournament and is 19-of-23 from the field.
Top-seeded Gonzaga will be going for their sixth consecutive WCC Tournament title on Tuesday night. They await the winner of the Saint Mary’s-BYU game.
Also for the top-seeded Bulldogs (29-4), Rui Hachimura had 17 points and Zach Norvell Jr. added 14. Johnathan Williams had 10 points and 10 rebounds for Gonzaga, which won its 13th straight, and 16th at the WCC Tournament.
Nate Renfro led the fourth-seeded Dons (18-15) with 15 points. Frankie Ferrari and Souley Boum each added nine points for San Francisco, which lost its 14 straight to Gonzaga.
The Bulldogs played a nearly flawless first half, shooting 18-of-28 (64 percent), including 8-of-14 (57 percent) from 3-point range.
After the Dons scored the game’s first two points, the Bulldogs went on a 13-2 run and never trailed again. San Francisco went on an 11-6 run but came no closer the rest of the game. Gonzaga, which had a 23-point advantage in the session, led 48-27 at halftime.
Gonzaga’s lead never got below 19 and grew to as many as 33 in the second half. The Bulldogs finished from the field at 53 percent, and 46 percent from 3-point range.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs play in final against Saint Mary’s or BYU Tuesday night.
San Francisco: The Dons await a postseason invitation.
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Killian Tillie scored 17 points, Rui Hachimura added 16 and No. 6 Gonzaga beat San Diego 77-72 on Thursday night to clinch at least a share of the West Coast Conference title.
The Bulldogs (26-4, 16-1 WCC) defeated the Toreros (17-12, 8-9) for the eighth straight game and for the 19th time in their last 20 meetings.
Olin Cater III led San Diego with 21 points.
After trailing at halftime and falling behind by eight points in the second half, the Bulldogs didn’t seize the lead until midway through the second half, when Tillie’s 3-pointer made it 52-51.
It was a back-and-forth affair from there, with the Toreros relying on their stingy defense to slow the up-tempo Bulldogs. But Gonzaga had too much firepower and was helped by four straight free throws from Hachimura when taking the lead for good with four minutes remaining.
Gonzaga demolished San Diego in last year’s visit by 58 points. The Bulldogs built an early six-point lead in this one but San Diego bounced back, tying the score at 27 with five minutes left on the first of three straight 3-point baskets by Carter. When he hit his second one, San Diego had a three-point advantage, its first edge since the game’s opening bucket.
Tyler Williams’ mid-range jumper gave San Diego a 35-30 lead and it was 37-34 at halftime. San Diego finished the first 20 minutes by converting 4 of 7 3-point shots.
Gonzaga: When Gonzaga fell behind early in the game, it was the first time it had trailed in four games. … The Bulldogs have earned at least a share of the WCC title in 17 of the past 18 seasons and 18 of the last 20. … Gonzaga is the only team in the nation with seven players to score at least 20 points in a game this season.
University of San Diego: The highest-ranked team the Toreros have beaten is No. 14 UCLA in the 2002-03 season. … Forward Cameron Neubauer was honored before the game on senior night.
Gonzaga is at BYU on Saturday night.
San Diego is at San Francisco on Saturday night.
Tillie helps No. 12 Gonzaga hold off Pacific, 71-61
STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) — Killian Tillie had 21 points and 10 rebounds and made a key tip-in with 1:39 remaining, and No. 12 Gonzaga beat Pacific 71-61 on Thursday night.
Johnathan Williams added 10 points and 13 rebounds for his eighth double-double this season as the Bulldogs (22-4, 12-1 West Coast Conference) won their sixth straight. Zach Norvell and Rui Hachimura also scored 10 points while Josh Perkins had 12 on 2-of-11 shooting.
The win sets up Gonzaga for a chance at redemption against Saint Mary’s. The Gaels, who beat Loyola Marymount on Thursday night to remain unbeaten in the WCC, handed the Bulldogs their lone conference loss on Jan. 18 in Spokane.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few has tried to keep his players’ minds off the rematch. Now the clash between ranked teams will have conference title implications.
The Bulldogs put themselves in position by holding off a pesky but sloppy Pacific team. The Tigers (12-14, 7-6) were within 47-41 with 13½ minutes left but went scoreless over the next four minutes as they had trouble taking care of the ball.
Gonzaga took advantage and went on an 8-1 run, getting six of the points on free throws.
Pacific was within 59-51 following three free throws by Roberto Gallinat before Tillie tipped in Perkins’ miss to help Gonzaga hold on for its 12th consecutive win in the series.
Gallinat had 15 points, Miles Reynolds scored 13 and Jahlil Tripp added 12 for Pacific.
Perkins got off to a slow start offensively but repeatedly kicked the ball out to open shooters after driving the lane.
Tillie benefited the most from Perkins’ unselfishness. Gonzaga’s lone sophomore starter, Tillie had eight of the Bulldogs’ first 14 points and made five of his first six shots as they built a 24-15 lead.
Gonzaga: Perkins went 0-for-6 on 3-pointers, ending his career-high streak of 16 consecutive games with at least one 3. … The Bulldogs scored 36 first-half points for the third consecutive game.
Pacific: The Tigers have seven wins all-time over ranked opponents, the most recent coming in the 2004 NCAA Tournament when they knocked off Providence. … Pacific did a good job on the boards early but failed to score off four offensive rebounds in the first half. … Lafayette Dorsey returned after being carried off the floor late in the first half. He was hurt while fouling Silas Melson following a midcourt turnover and stayed down for several minutes. He rode a stationary bicycle at the start of the second half before checking in with 17 minutes left and finishing with nine points.
Gonzaga: Visits No. 11 Saint Mary’s on Saturday night.
Pacific: Hosts Portland on Saturday.
Gonzaga’s Collins to declare for draft and hire agent
Gonzaga’s first-ever McDonald’s All-American turned out to be a one-and-done talent.
Freshman Zach Collins will declare for the NBA and hire an agent, the school announced Tuesday evening.
“This was a significant decision for my family and me,” Collins said in a statement released by Gonzaga. “It was definitely one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. I just want to thank everyone at Gonzaga, especially the coaching staff and my teammates.
“This season was special and something I will never forget. It was the most fun year of my life. I want to thank all of the Zag fans for all of their support and passion. I’ll always be proud to be a Zag.”
The 7-footer averaged 10 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting 65.2 percent from the field. His play in the NCAA tournament was outstanding, reaching its peak in the Final Four win over South Carolina in which he tallied his first – and last – career double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds to go along with six blocked shots.
Given his size and skill – he projects as a player capable of stretching the floor, Collins is a potential lottery pick after just one season in Spokane.
The loss of Collins, along with senior Przemek Karnowski and Jordan Mathews, certainly hurts this year’s national runner-up, but coach Mark Few certainly does not have a bare cupboard at his disposal in 2017-18. In fact, NBC Sports projected the Zags as a preseason top-10 team, even without Collins.