2017 NCAA Tournament: Duke has a legitimate gripe after getting left off of the No. 1 seed line

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Once again, we have a Duke vs. North Carolina argument on our hands.

The No. 1 seed in the South Region was awarded to North Carolina despite the fact that the Blue Devils have a better résumé when it comes to their hated rivals.

Winning the ACC by two full games, as North Carolina did, is certainly impressive, but the Blue Devils can counter with more top-25 wins than any team in the country (eight) and more top 50 wins than anyone (13) while Duke also owned a 2-1 advantage in the head-to-head matchup with the Tar Heels. Eight of Duke’s 13 top 50 wins and six of their eight top 25 wins came away from Cameron Indoor Stadium.

That said, a No. 1 seed has also never had eight losses before, and the Blue Devils suffered the worst loss of any potential No. 1 seed when they fell at home to N.C. State.

None of Duke’s accomplishments ultimately mattered when it came time to deciding the No. 1 seeds. It was explained by Mark Hollis of the selection committee after the bracket reveal that the Blue Devils were a No. 4 seed as of Wednesday. The committee uses a process they call a “seed scrub” as the week moves on, which essentially means they compare teams to the team above them and see which profile they like better.

As Duke started piling up impressive wins in New York this week, they kept ascending up the seeding chart until they reached Arizona. Since the committee decided that the Wildcats had a stronger case than Duke, that is where the Blue Devils stopped in the seeding debate.

Duke, a team who could have easily been a No. 1 seed, was never even compared to the other No. 1 seeds. Based on Duke having five more top-25 wins than Arizona this season, the committee dropped the ball on that one.

The only other No. 2 seed who won their conference tournament was Kentucky in the SEC.

The Wildcats have been playing better ball lately. They have an impressive 18-4 mark against the top-100 teams, but they only have two top-25 wins on the season. Kentucky may have the talent of a No. 1 seed but they aren’t as proven against elite teams as the No. 1 teams the committee decided on.

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This season’s No. 1 overall seed had the unique advantage of being able to pick where they played the opening weekend, the top spot took on even more meaning this season. After a strong season that included a Big East championship in both the regular season and conference tournament, Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed as the Wildcats are the best defending champion college basketball has seen since Florida went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.

In a Championship Week where No. 1 seeds like Kansas and North Carolina dropped games early in conference tournaments — and Gonzaga only won the two-bid WCC — Villanova getting the No. 1 overall seed comes as no surprise given their overall body of work and conference-tournament title. With a 17-3 record against the top 100, the Wildcats have the most impressive record among the No. 1 seeds when it comes to facing quality competition as they’ll be a major factor in the East Region.

The selection of Gonzaga as the No. 1 seed in the West comes with minimal surprise after the Bulldogs took care of business in the WCC Tournament. With six top-25 wins and a head-to-head win over West Region No. 2 seed Arizona, Gonzaga had a stronger case than any of the Pac-12’s premier trio of teams this season to be a No. 1 seed.

Skeptics will always remain when it comes to Gonzaga being a top seed, but they have double the top-25 wins of Arizona, Villanova and UCLA while also having more top-25 wins than Oregon and North Carolina. If the Zags had gone unbeaten they might have been the No. 1 overall seed.

Midwest Region No. 1 seed Kansas might have dipped out of the Big 12 Tournament early with a shocking loss to TCU but it ultimately didn’t hurt the Jayhawks too much. Many considered Kansas to be the No. 1 team in the country before that loss to the Horned Frogs as the Jayhawks potentially cost themselves the No. 1 overall seed by losing in Kansas City.

With a 16-4 top-100 record and six top-25 wins, Kansas was as impressive as any team in the country when it came to quality wins as the Jayhawks won the Big 12 regular season once again.

But back to the point, the way Duke’s seeding was ultimately handled signifies that the committee really valued what teams did in the regular season with regards to conference championships. All four No. 1 seeds won their leagues by multiple games and that seemed to be something the committee respected a great deal.

Since Big Ten regular-season champion Purdue also received the league’s best seed as a No. 4 — despite an early quarterfinal loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament — that theory would seem to hold some weight. The Boilers getting a top-four seed after the Big Ten was shut out of February’s seeding reveal is proof that winning a regular-season title matters.

Arizona being seeded higher than Duke means the same thing. Since the Wildcats won the Pac-12 regular-season title (and also conference tournament title) the committee clearly liked that Arizona had handled business in their own conference.

With seven losses during ACC play, that ultimately left Duke out of the No. 1 seed discussion based on the committee’s values.

The Duke and North Carolina debate is what is going to ultimately drive the No. 1 seed discussion over these next few weeks since the committee had three relatively easy selections.

You can make a strong case for either of the Tobacco Road rivals to earn a No. 1 seed this season, but the committee at least had a pattern that they followed when it came time to pick the No. 1 seeds. Selection Sunday taught us that conference regular-season championships still hold a lot of weight despite the excitement of winning a conference tournament.

Gonzaga point guard Josh Perkins faces misdemeanor after arrest

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Gonzaga starting point guard Josh Perkins is facing a misdemeanor after being arrested early morning last Sunday for physical control of a vehicle while under the influence.

The school confirmed Perkins’ arrest on Friday, as head coach Mark Few released a statement on the matter. The release didn’t mention the penalties the school might potentially put on Perkins.

“We take this situation very seriously and we will give Josh the support that he needs to help him learn from this,” Few said in the release. “He understands the serious nature of the charge and has made a commitment to the process within the University.”

The 6-foot-3 Perkins was cited last Sunday and the case was filed on Oct. 10. He appeared in Spokane County District Court on Oct. 11 as the judge set a pre-trial hearing for Nov. 10.

It is unclear in the initial court records whether Perkins was parked or driving the car when he was cited, according to a report from Thomas Clouse of The Spokesman-Review.

As a redshirt freshman last season, Perkins averaged 10.1 points, 4.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game as the former top-100 prospect had a strong showing following

Former Cal guard Mathews headed to Gonzaga

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When shooting guard Jordan Mathews announced in late May that he would be leaving California as an immediately eligible transfer, Gonzaga was one of the schools first mentioned as possible destinations. Thursday night Mathews announced via his Twitter account that he has indeed committed to Mark Few’s program, giving the Bulldogs another quality perimeter option in a rotation that was already loaded.

Mathews will be one of two Pac-12 transfers on the Gonzaga roster next season, with former Washington point guard Nigel Williams-Goss eligible after sitting out last season. They join returnees such as Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, and one of the top perimeter shooters in the Class of 2016 in Zach Norvell in Gonzaga’s perimeter rotation.

Mathews averaged 13.4 points per game at Cal last season, shooting 42.2 percent from the field and 41.6 percent from beyond the arc. Adding him to a rotation that will not only have talent on the perimeter but in the post as well, with Przemek Karnowski being joined by Missouri transfer Jonathan Williams III and freshmen Zach Collins and Killian Tillie, makes Gonzaga an even tougher team to slow down offensively.

Already the preseason favorites to win the WCC, Gonzaga’s chances of making a national splash (which they were already expected by many to do) are even greater with the addition of Mathews.

h/t Jeff Goodman, ESPN.com

Looking Forward: Which programs are on the rise as we head into 2016-17?

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some programs on the rise heading into next season.

Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams’ second season in Blacksburg proved to be more successful than many expected, as the Hokies won ten ACC games (20 overall) and played in the Postseason NIT. What can they do for an encore? In all honesty the pieces needed for the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 are in place, with six of their top seven scorers from a season ago due to return led by forward Zach LeDay and guard Seth Allen. Expecting the Hokies to contend for the ACC title may be a bit much, but it’s fair to expect them to work their way into the Top 25 and the NCAA tournament in 2016-17.

Creighton: The Bluejays, picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll, nearly played its way onto the NCAA tournament bubble thanks to a much-improved big man in Geoffrey Groselle, transfer Maurice Watson Jr. and Cole Huff, and guard Isaiah Zierden. Groselle’s gone, but given the combination of returnees and the addition of former Kansas State guard Marcus Foster the Bluejays could be in line for another leap forward. The key for Greg McDermott’s team will be the return of Watson, who’s going through the NBA Draft evaluation process.

Wisconsin: At one point last season the Badgers were 9-9 overall and 1-4 in Big Ten play, with it appearing highly unlikely that Greg Gard would have his interim tag removed. But Gard’s team turned things around, winning 22 games and reaching the Sweet 16. Provided Nigel Hayes, who’s currently going through the NBA Draft evaluation process, returns to school the Badgers will be on the short list of Big Ten title contenders. Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ lead four other starters who will be back, and Andy Van Vliet (who the NCAA sidelined for last season) will help in the front court as well.

USC: The Trojans’ progression was a year ahead of schedule, as after producing consecutive 12-win seasons they earned an NCAA tournament berth in Andy Enfield’s third season at the helm. USC does have some questions in the form of guard Julian Jacobs and forward Nikola Jovanovic both going through the NBA Draft process, but if both return the Trojans will be a contender in the Pac-12. Jordan McLaughlin, Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu are among the returnees for a team that could return five of its six double-digit scorers — Katin Reinhardt being the lone departure — from last season.

UCLA guard Bryce Alford, center, attempts to move the ball past Kentucky guard Charles Matthews, right, as Jamal Murray, left, helps defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
UCLA guard Bryce Alford (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

UCLA: Staying in Los Angeles, this is a big year coming up for Steve Alford. The Bruins were a major disappointment last season, but the combination of some key returnees and a recruiting class led by Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf should propel UCLA back into the Pac-12 and national conversations. Ball should be handed the keys to the show from the start given his abilities at the point, which should result in plentiful scoring opportunities for the likes of Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Thomas Welsh. How good this team can be will depend on two things: how well the pieces mesh, and an improved commitment on the defensive end.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs reached the Sweet 16 last season, but the way in which they got there wasn’t what we’ve grown accustomed to with regards to Mark Few’s program as they needed the WCC automatic bid to ensure a spot in the field. Even with the departures of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga has the tools needed to be better in 2016-17, as a backcourt that made strides as the season progressed will be a year older with Josh Perkins and Silas Melson leading the way. Also, Przemek Karnowski will be back on the court after missing last season with a back injury.

Florida State: Leonard Hamilton received some good news, as both Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes decided to return after briefly flirting with the NBA Draft. They’ll be asked to lead the way for a team that adds a solid recruiting class led by McDonald’s All-American Jonathan Isaac, and putting points on the board won’t be much of an issue. If they can get back to defending at the level we’ve come to expect from Hamilton-coached teams, Florida State can make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012.

Rhode Island: Dan Hurley’s Rams began the 2015-16 season viewed as a team that could contend in the Atlantic 10. Then the injury bug hit, with E.C. Matthews being lost to a torn ACL and multiple key contributors (including Hassan Martin) missing time throughout the course of the year. URI’s healthy again, and with Four McGlynn being the lone major contributor out of eligibility 2016-17 should see the Rams rebound and make a run at the Atlantic 10 title.

No. 10 Syracuse outlasts No. 11 Gonzaga

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CHICAGO — Syracuse overcame a cold second-half stretch and used a full-court press to rally for a 63-60 win over No. 11 seed Gonzaga on Friday night in the Midwest Regional at the United Center.

Freshman big man Tyler Lydon came up with the game-sealing block on Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins when the Bulldogs trailed by one with 1.6 seconds remaining, and his ensuing free throws clinched the win for the No. 10 seed Orange. Michael Gbinije scored the go-ahead bucket with 21.9 seconds left to give Syracuse its first lead since the 10:30 left in the second half.

Lydon finished with four points, four rebounds and six blocks.

“There were a couple of chances that me and [DaJuan Coleman] could have stepped up and made some plays and block some shots,” Lydon said. “At the end of the game I just saw it unfold, and our guards got caught out, and I saw [Perkins] split in between them. So I knew I had to step up or stay back, and I had to make a quick decision, so I just decided to step up and try and make a play. ”

Syracuse (22-13) was led 20 points from Gbinije as their zone defense gave Gonzaga’s offense issues for much of the game. With the Orange trailing, 59-54, with just under three minutes left, head coach Jim Boeheim incorporated a full-court press that helped force turnovers and get the Orange back in the game.

“It’s just our practice. We go over the press almost every day in practice,” Syracuse assistant Gerry McNamara said. “The more impressive thing was that we could make a sub, bring in Franklin [Howard], and we don’t miss a beat. He had his responsibilities. Everyone was in-tune and handled their responsibilities down the stretch.”

Gonzaga had 17 turnovers on the night, which led to 14 Syracuse points, including a huge steal by senior Trevor Cooney (15 points) to get a quick layup that got the Orange’s momentum rolling.

Malachi Richardson also added 10 points for Syracuse while big man Tyler Roberson added nine points and 12 rebounds, with nine of those rebounds coming on the offensive glass.

“I’m proud of this team,” Boeheim said. “They played their hearts out. We’ve been the underdog every game and they fight their way through it. We’ll be the underdog again on Sunday but we’ll be ready.”

Senior Kyle Wiltjer was clearly in a zone early, but the Gonzaga star didn’t have much help for the first 30 minutes of Friday night.

Wiltjer finished with 23 points on 9-for-17 shooting as his early 3-point shooting helped Gonzaga stay in the game. The senior’s help finally came down the stretch in the form of sophomore center Domantas Sabonis.

The 6-foot-11 Sabonis, who registered his 23rd double-double of the season, finished with 19 points and 17 rebounds as he got going in the second half after a slow start on the offensive end. Sabonis scored the final nine points for Gonzaga as their offense once again stalled the last part of the game.

“I think we stuck to the plan,” Sabonis said. “Shots fall; they don’t fall. On defense, we held them to 33 percent. I think we did a great job. We just didn’t play well the last minute and they won.”

Gonzaga (28-8) finishes their season having made at least the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. It looked like the Bulldogs might snap their NCAA tournament streak with the way they were playing late in the regular season, but the Bulldogs went on a run and won the WCC Tournament before picking up convincing NCAA tournament wins over Seton Hall and Utah.

This will be a different-looking Gonzaga team without Wiltjer next season — and it’s hard to say if Sabonis decides to go pro — but the Zags have two impact transfers in Nigel Williams-Goss and Jonathan Williams III coming in that should help contribute right away with returnees like Josh Perkins.

And who could have expected Syracuse to be in the Elite Eight one year after they self-imposed a postseason ban? While many didn’t expect this team to be selected into the at-large field to begin with, Syracuse certainly has earned their way to this point. Critics will argue that the Orange have beaten two double-digit seeds to make the Elite Eight, but the Orange have played very solid defense during the tournament and the Gonzaga comeback showed that they can finish off a good team in a tight game.

Syracuse moves on to face No. 1 seed Virginia on Sunday at the United Center. With Syracuse and Virginia both winning, it means that the entire right side of the bracket is filled with ACC teams. It also means we’ll see an ACC rematch in one of the national semifinals at the Final Four. The Orange played the Cavaliers earlier this season and lost, 73-65, on the road on Jan. 24.

No. 11 Gonzaga rolls past No. 6 Seton Hall

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There were two questions heading into Midwest No. 6 Seton Hall’s matchup with No. 11 Gonzaga. How would the Bulldogs deal with Big East tournament Most Outstanding Player Isaiah Whitehead? And how would the Pirates defend Gonzaga’s talented front court tandem of Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer? In the end it was Mark Few’s team that had the answers, as they beat the Pirates 68-52 behind a dominant performance from Sabonis.

The sophomore from Lithuania led the way with 21 points, 16 rebounds and four assists, and despite shooting 9-for-20 from the field he (and his teammates) set the tone from a physicality standpoint. Seton Hall began the game defending him straight up and not sending over help, but the change to doubling the post didn’t do much to deter Sabonis either. Wiltjer chipped in with 13 points and seven rebounds, and while Gonzaga had its moments on the offense it was their defense and rebounding that decided the outcome.

As a team Seton Hall shot 32.3 percent from the field and 4-for-21 from three, with their talented point guard struggling mightily. Whitehead shot 4-for-24 from the field, which is incredibly tough to overcome despite the fact that he dished out eight assists. The sophomore played tired for most of the game in Denver, and while the altitude can be cited Gonzaga’s defense had a lot more to do with it. The Bulldogs used multiple defenders on Whitehead, making him work for everything, and more often than not he settled for challenged shots or looked to force the issue.

With Derrick Gordon being the lone rotation player out of eligibility, the Pirates will enter next season with the expectations of being a contender in the Big East. But Thursday night Kevin Willard’s group ran into a program that’s now won at least one game in each of their last seven NCAA tournament appearances.

Next up for Gonzaga is No. 3 Utah, which took care of No. 14 Fresno State in its tournament opener. And with the Runnin’ Utes being led by center Jakob Poeltl, the Bulldogs will need another high-level performance from their front court Saturday night while taking better care of the basketball (20 turnover vs. Seton Hall).