Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.
It’s been a while since we could say this: All four No. 1 seeds remained in place between bracket updates: Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas and San Diego State.
Elsewhere, more than a handful of teams still have significant resume questions. And several current bubble teams have important showdowns this weekend – including key matchups in the Big 12 / SEC Challenge.
On a closing note … remember that the Selection Committee evaluates a team’s entire profile, from beginning to end. How a team performed in its last ten games is no longer an official criteria (although each Committee member may have his or her own perspective on its importance). So while Ohio State and Michigan, as examples, have both struggled of late, each team’s early wins remain relevant considerations with regard to team sheet evaluation.
The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …
UPDATED: January 24, 2020
FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
Oklahoma vs. VCU
Minnesota vs. Texas Tech
PR VIEW AM vs. NORFOLK ST
MONMOUTH vs. ROBERT MORRIS
SOUTH – Houston
WEST – Los Angeles
16) PV-AM / NORFOLK ST
16) MONMOUTH / ROB MORRIS
8) Wichita State
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST
13) S.F. AUSTIN
13) NEW MEXICO ST
11) Virginia Tech
11) NC State
3) West Virginia
14) LITTLE ROCK
2) Florida State
15) AUSTIN PEAY
EAST – New York
MIDWEST – Indianapolis
1) SAN DIEGO STATE
9) Ohio State
5) Penn State
13) NORTH TEXAS
11) Oklahoma / VCU
11) Minnesota / Texas Tech
14) WRIGHT STATE
10) Saint Mary’s
2) SETON HALL
2) MICHIGAN STATE
15) WILLIAM & MARY
15) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
Last 4 Byes
Last 4 IN
First 4 OUT
Next 4 OUT
Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State Seed List
Breakdown by Conference … Big Ten (11) Big East (6) ACC (5) SEC (5) Big 12 (5) Pac 12 (5) American (3) West Coast (3) Atlantic 10 (2) Mountain West (1)
College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Baylor and Gonzaga lead the way
Baylor is not the No. 1 team in my poll, and I suspect that they are going to be the No. 1 team in the country when the AP poll is released on Monday morning. The only reason they weren’t No. 1 last week is because four people (like me) had Duke at No. 1, stealing votes from the Bears. That … did not go well, so here we are.
I also want to talk through something else: Last week, I wrote extensively about why I think that it’s foolish to allow the result of one possession games to have a significant impact on the way that you view a team. One shot in a 70 possession game that is just one of more than 30 games that will be played this season is insignificant when determining the quality of a team, and I truly believe that.
But I also think it is important to consider how and why teams are winning close games, not just games that are one-possession games.
So let’s use Duke and Baylor for this example once again.
One thing that the Bears have proven over and over this season — at Texas Tech, at Kansas, at Oklahoma State — is the ability to close out a tough game, particularly on the road. That’s because they have a number of players on the roster that are capable of taking and making clutch shots. Against Tech, it was Jared Butler. Against Oklahoma State, it was Devonte Bandoo. The Bears may not look as good in the metrics because they haven’t obliterated the mediocre teams they have played, but they are 15-1 because they come through in the clutch.
Now, some of that may eventually regress. I believe in the clutch gene because I think life — not just sports, but everything every human being does — is confidence. Baylor has confidence in clutch situations, as much as anyone in the country. They do not get rattled by the moment, and they have a number of different options they can go to down the stretch.
Duke, on the other hand, does not. Their three losses this season have all been close games where the Blue Devils have struggled to find an outlet for offense in the final minutes. Maybe that will come with more experience — Duke is loaded with freshmen, Baylor is as old as anyone in the country — but as it stands, that’s the difference between these two teams.
The other thing that I want to discuss in this space is where I have San Diego State and Dayton ranked in the college basketball top 25. They are currently sitting and eighth and ninth in my poll, exactly where they have been for a couple of weeks now. And that is where they are going to stay for the foreseeable future.
The reasoning for me is simple: I don’t want to fall into the trap where I’m bumping a team up in the rankings simply because they keep winning in a league that is not as tough as the leagues where the rest of the teams in consideration for the top ten are playing, and losing.
I’m sure there are going to be people in San Diego and Dayton that call me a hater for this, and that’s fine. Maybe I am being a hater.
But the truth is this: I love both of these teams. SDSU is so tough defensively and Malachi Flynn has proven himself to be a flat-out winner at the point, while Dayton runs a pro-style, aesthetically-pleasing offense heavy on three-balls and Obi Toppin.
I just don’t believe they are one of the top six or seven teams in the country, and beating the likes of Nevada and Saint Louis is not going to change my mind.
Anyway, here is the rest of the NBC Sports college basketball top 25.
Before the season, we took a look at the players that we thought had a chance to be breakout stars this season.
We’re now halfway through the year, which means that it is time to take a look at the guys that actually did breakout.
Here is the second installment college basketball’s Ten Most Improved Players. The first can be found here:
JOEL AYAYI, Gonzaga
Last Year: 1.7 ppg, 5.6 mpg This Year: 10.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.2 spg, 35% 3PT
I’ll be honest: I expected next to nothing out of Joel Ayayi this season.
Part of that is because he did next to nothing as a redshirt freshman for the Zags. Part of that is because Ayayi is somewhere between a lead guard and a combo-guard, and Gonzaga went out and recruited two grad transfers — Admon Gilder and Ryan Woolridge — as well as freshman Brock Ravet to play in their backcourt.
When redshirt freshmen that average 5.6 minutes are getting recruited over, that usually is not a sign that the coaching staff trusts that player.
But Ayayi has not only been playing for the Zags, he has been one of the keys to their season.
As Few said, one of the biggest areas of improvement for Ayayi has been his shooting. He’s knocking down 35 percent of his threes this season, and he certainly did not enter the program known as a shooter. For a team that is built around pounding the ball into the big fellas in the paint, having guards that can space the floor is a necessity.
But that’s not the only part of his game that has improved.
To hear Ayayi tell it, the biggest change in how he plays has been his ability to read the game. He spent the offseason focused on drilling down his ball-screen reads by playing 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 in very specific situations.
“It’s all about making the right read,” he told me. “The more you know how to read those situations, the better. All those 2-on-2 reps help you see those situations more often. If you’ve never seen the read you can’t make the read.”
Ayayi has also been helped by, you know, actually playing. It’s one thing to work on things during the offseason. It’s another to actually get on the court during 5-on-5 action and execute those things you’ve been working on. Ayayi was arguably France’s best player at the U19 World Cup — he scored 33 points against Lithuania in the third-place game and averaged 20.9 points and 3.4 assists at the event — and was able to crack Gonzaga’s rotation early in the season. He never left.
“It’s just about playing more and more games,” he said. “All those first games I felt like a freshman, playing meaningful minutes this year. I have the coaches’ confidence, and I have confidence in myself.”
YVES PONS, Tennessee
Last Year: 2.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg This Year: 11.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 33.3% 3PT
“He’s as hard a worker as we’ve had.”
That’s a quote from Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes referring to Yves Pons, Tennessee’s starting power forward. That is tremendously high praise coming from a coach that just saw two guys from his team, Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, get drafted after being after thoughts on the recruiting trail.
Put another way, Tennessee’s culture is built on hard work and player development, and everyone you talk to in Knoxville will say the same thing: Yves Pons is the hardest worker.
And what he’s done is turn himself from being college basketball’s apex athletic freak into a very legitimate NBA prospect. He’s one of the best defenders that you’ll find in the collegiate ranks. He’s built like D.K. Metcalf, he can move like a ballet dancer and he has the vertical of someone that can win an NBA dunk contest. Players like that don’t come around too often. He can guard 1-5 at the college level. He’s top 15 nationally in block percentage. He’s a 6-foot-6 wing.
Like I said, freak.
But where he’s grown this season is offensively. He’s now able to make threes, and a large part of that has to do with his confidence — as one person close to the program said, “confidence is huge with him” — but there is more to it than that. He’s playing the four this year instead of being thrust into a spot at the two or the three. That means instead of having to run off of pindowns in order to get shots, he’s able to catch-and-shoot while facing the basket.
Put another way, shooting step-in threes from the top of the key as a trail-man is far easier than being a back-to-the-basket shooter that runs off screens like Rip Hamilton or J.J. Redick.
Yves can do the former. He’s not so good at the latter.
And the former is what he would be asked to do in the NBA.
If Trevor Booker can play eight years in the NBA, Yves Pons has a shot.
LUKA GARZA, Iowa
Last Year: 13.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 0.5 bpg This Year: 22.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 35.6% 3PT
If there is one word that I would use to describe Luka Garza, it is unrelenting.
His motor is unrelenting. He effort is unrelenting. His wind is unrelenting.
He’s a 6-foot-11, 260 pound center with bushy eyebrows, a mop of brown hair that is permanently sweat through and a gait that screams old-man game. He will never be known for his athleticism, or his speed, or his leaping ability.
What he’s known for is the fact that, unlike just about every other human being on the planet, Garza does not actually get tired. He can play every second of an overtime game, and on that final possession, he will be running just as hard as on the first possession.
“He’s just such a relentless player,” Northwestern Coach Chris Collins said after Garza scored 27 points in 24 foul-plagued minutes against his team. “I admire how he plays. He’s just a relentless competitor. He just plays and plays and plays. When you get a little tired, that’s when he really kicks in. He’s arguably been the best player in the conference to this point.”
Guys like that, you hate to play against them and love to have them on your team … until you have to guard him in practice.
The big question with Garza moving forward is on the defensive side of the floor.
Effort can only get you so far when you are asked to get out on the perimeter and guard in space, as bigs are forced to do in the modern era of basketball. It’s not for a lack of trying, but at some point 260 pound men are going to have a difficult time moving their feet quick enough to stay in front of Big Ten point guards, and that is very much true with Garza.
“Teams consistently pull him away from the basket in pick-and-roll when they’re in man, knowing that he can’t guard away from the basket,” said Sam Vecenie, the Athletic’s NBA Draft guru. “That leads Iowa to playing a pretty real amount of zone, which they aren’t all that good at.
“He’s gotten better as an interior defender, but the problems away from the hoop lead to more problems than his taking up space inside solves.”
Those issues existed last season as well, and one only needs to see that Iowa — who ranks fourth in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric — has improved from 111th to 73rd this year in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Garza may still be a liability defensively, but he’s at least trending in the right direction. That’s enough to earn him a spot on this list when he is the only player in college basketball putting up 20 and 10 every single night.
Iowa was always going to be a team that needed to be elite offensively to win, and Garza is the biggest reason there are that.
CHARLIE MOORE, DePaul
Last Year: 2.9 ppg, 1.3 apg, 28.6 FG% This Year: 16.5 ppg, 6.7 apg, 2.0 spg
Now, this one may be cheating.
Last year, Charlie Moore was in a different place. Literally. He was a redshirt sophomore playing at Kansas behind Devon Dotson, and he wasn’t playing all that well or all that often. So Moore — who’s from Chicago and who started his college career at Cal — transferred home. He wasn’t supposed to play this season, but he received a waiver from the NCAA to make him eligible, and while Paul Reed is the guy getting the attention and the NBA plaudits, Moore has been the engine that makes this DePaul team run.
Remember, he averaged 12.2 points and 3.5 assists as a freshman. He put in a redshirt season developing his game at Kansas. No one at DePaul is surprised to see him play as well as he has played this year. He was recruited over, and the guy Kansas got looks like a first-team All-American this season.
Good for Kansas.
And, frankly, good for DePaul.
We saw why on Tuesday night, as he posted 29 points and six assists as the Blue Demons forced Villanova to overtime before losing on the road.
And unfortunately, that has been the story of DePaul’s Big East season. They are off to an 0-4 start with those four losses coming by an average of 5.0 points. They’re one of those teams that are better than their record, the biggest victim of the Big East’s level of talent and balance this season.
It’s possible, but it will be rough-sledding to earn an NCAA tournament bid this season. That said, the Blue Demons are certainly good enough to do it.
And Moore’s play this season is the biggest reason why.
There is not a player in the country that improved his shooting this offseason as much as Aaron Nesmith has.
As a freshman, he shot just 33.7 percent from beyond the arc. As a sophomore, that number has ballooned to an absurd 52.2 percent, and given that Nesmith is getting more than eight threes up per game, there is an argument to be made that the kid averaging 23 points is not only the best shooter in the SEC, but the best shooter in college basketball.
“Nesmith could be the Player of the Year in our league,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said before their teams faced off last week. “He is a definite pro and I don’t throw those terms out lightly. I’m just really impressed with him. Great shooter, quick release, makes tough shots, does a lot of other things as well. Great size, prototypical NBA scoring guard. He’s dangerous.”
He’s also injured.
Nesmith suffered a foot injury that is expected to keep him out for the remainder of the season.
That’s a shame. It would have been fun to see him square off with the likes of Tyrese Maxey, Isaiah Joe, Anthony Edwards and Isaac Okoro (again).
MINNEAPOLIS — Daniel Oturu scored a career-high 30 points and Minnesota went on a late 11-0 run to beat No. 19 Michigan 75-67 on Sunday.
Marcus Carr had 21 points and 12 assists for Minnesota (9-7, 3-3 Big Ten), while Alihan Demir scored 13 points.
Zavier Simpson had 19 points and nine assists for Michigan (11-5, 2-3). Franz Wagner scored 17 points.
The Gophers pulled away late after a back-and-forth second half.
Eli Brooks hit a 3-pointer with 3:20 to play to put Michigan ahead 65-64. But Oturu answered on the other end with a basket in the low post to give Minnesota the lead for good with 3 minutes left.
Michigan’s next two possessions ended in turnovers, and the Gophers made them pay with a bucket in the paint by Demir and two free throws by Carr.
Then, after Jon Teske’s short hook rolled out, the Gophers got a corner 3-pointer from Payton Willis to take a 73-65 lead with 1:02 to play.
Michigan took an early lead and was in control for much of the first half. A 3-pointer by Teske gave the Wolverines their biggest lead at 30-19 with 5 minutes to play in the half.
But the Gophers closed on an 11-1 run that was bookended by two baskets from Carr, the last coming with 29 seconds to play. Minnesota’s defense then forced a miss on a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer as Michigan took a 31-30 lead to the locker room.
Oturu’s jumper to start the second half gave Minnesota its first lead of the game at 33-32.
Carr was 2-for-7 shooting in the first half, but he came to life after the break. After hitting two free throws and a driving layup, he made a 3-pointer and then fed Oturu for an alley-oop dunk to put the Gophers up 45-41.
Michigan: The Wolverines lived and died from beyond the arc. They made five of their first six 3-pointers, but then hit just one of their final eight attempts from deep in the first half.
Minnesota: The Gophers struggled to find offense from anyone other than Oturu in the first half. Through the first 15 minutes, Oturu had scored 16 of Minnesota’s 19 points. He finished the first half 9 for 12 from the floor, while his teammates went 4 for 16.
Michigan: Two of the top three offenses in the Big Ten will square off on Friday when the Wolverines travel to Iowa. It’ll be a rematch of the conference opener, which Michigan won 103-91.
Minnesota: The Gophers host Penn State on Wednesday.
Cassius Winston leads No. 8 Michigan St to 74-58 win over Minnesota
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Cassius Winston scored 18 of his 27 points in the second half while Xavier Tillman finished with 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, leading No. 8 Michigan State to a 74-58 win over Minnesota on Thursday night.
The Spartans (13-3, 5-0 Big Ten) led by just four points at halftime before pulling away for their eighth straight victory, staying atop the Big Ten standings as the only team without a conference loss.
The Golden Gophers (8-7, 2-3) were very competitive in the first half, which had five lead changes and five ties, but couldn’t slow down Winston after halftime.
Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu had 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting, 10 rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Marcus Carr scored 11 points and Alihan Demir added 10 points for the Gophers.
Minnesota: Oturu needs more help. The Gophers have four players who average in double figures, but didn’t have anyone get there other than Oturu until Demir made a 3-pointer with 1:31 remaining.
Michigan State: After taking full advantage of a home-heavy schedule, the Spartans will play three of their next four games on the road.
The Spartans are the highest-ranked team with three losses, making it difficult for them to move up in the poll.
Minnesota: Hosts No. 19 Michigan on Sunday and No. 20 Penn State on Wednesday night, facing a third ranked opponent in a week.
Michigan State: At Purdue on Sunday.
Best Bets: Previewing Oregon-Michigan, Arizona-Gonzaga and Memphis-Tennessee
The lines have not yet been posted for Sunday’s games. We’ll be looking at these games using KenPom’s projections until they are live.
No. 10 OREGON at No. 5 MICHIGAN, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
SPREAD: Michigan (-3.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Michigan 70.5, Oregon 67
KENPOM: Michigan 70, Oregon 67
In Michigan’s wins this season, the Wolverines are shooting 42.3 percent from three. In their two losses, they are 6-for-37 from beyond the arc. I bring this up because Oregon’s defense – that matchup zone that they play – is designed to force teams to have to settle for bombing away from three, but the Ducks hold their opponents to just 28.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Those threes they make you take? They are, generally speaking, not good threes. That, combined with the fact that the Oregon zone should be able to help takeaway Michigan’s ball-screen offense, and I tend to lean towards Oregon.
This is a noon ET tip between a team in the central eastern time zone and a team in the pacific time zone. Oregon will be playing a game at what feels like 9 a.m. for them. That’s a tough spot to bet the road team, which leads me to what I think is probably the sharp bet in this game.
PICK: The under. We saw this same scenario play out with Arizona and Baylor last week, and that game was ugly and played in the 50s. At 137.5, I love it.
No. 6 GONZAGA at No. 15 ARIZONA, Sat. 10:00 p.m.
SPREAD: Arizona (-2.5)
IMPLIED SCORE: Arizona 76.75, Gonzaga 74.25
KENPOM: Arizona 77, Gonzaga 74
The game of the weekend is going to be the nightcap on Saturday, as the Zags make the trip south to take on Sean Miller and Arizona.
There are a couple of things to be wary of in this matchup. For starters, Gonzaga’s offense starts with their frontcourt, whether it is Filip Petrusev or Killian Tillie, and Arizona ranks fifth nationally in two-point percentage defense. I also think that it is worth noting that the way the Zags defend ball-screens – typically, it is drop coverage – plays into Nico Mannion’s hands, as he is really good in the mid-range.
That tends to make me lean towards Arizona.
But the flip side is that Arizona is young, Zeke Nnaji is not as good of a defender as the stats might indicate and this Gonzaga team is legit, which, again, leads me to what I think the sharp bet is in this game.
PICK: The over. Gonzaga and Arizona are both ranked in the top 12 in offensive efficiency this season, according to KenPom. They both rank in the top 30 in average offensive possession length. They both shoot better than 38 percent from three and neither guard the three-point like all that well. I was hoping to get the total under 150, but I still like the over at 151.
The line has also been bet down from (-3.5) to (-2.5). I like Arizona there. I think the Wildcats are, at the very least, as good as Gonzaga, which means the value is on Zona at home.
No. 13 MEMPHIS at No. 19 TENNESSEE Sat. 3:00 p.m.
SPREAD: Tennessee (-7)
IMPLIED SCORE: Tennessee 73, Memphis 66
KENPOM: Tennessee 74, Memphis 68
It’s never fun to bet rivalry games, not when there is as much animosity between the two programs as there is between Memphis and Tennessee.
The Tigers are still without James Wiseman and Lester Quinones, but that has not cost them yet this season. Their only loss of the year came against Oregon in Portland with Wiseman on the floor. I don’t think that Tennessee is going to be flustered by the pressure or the style that Memphis wants to play. Lamonte Turner is not a man that gets intimidated by anyone. I also think that the Vols have the athletes to hang with Memphis in this game.
My concern, however, is that Memphis forces a lot of turnovers, and Tennessee has been somewhat turnover prone this season. They rank 220th nationally in turnover percentage. That’s worrisome.
PICK: If forced to pick, I would probably lean Tennessee (-7) if betting a side, but this is another case where I feel better about better the over than I do betting either side. It opened at 142 and has been bet down to 139. I like that line.
No. 3 OHIO STATE at MINNESOTA, Sun. 6:30 p.m.
KENPOM: Ohio State 68, Minnesota 59
I am going to be fascinated to see where this line opens. In the last week, we’ve seen top five teams Maryland and Michigan both lose games on the road where they were underdogs to Penn State and Illinois. I don’t think that is going to be what happens here, because Ohio State is (probably) significantly better than either Maryland or Michigan while Minnesota is not as good as Penn State or Illinois.
So I think that the Buckeyes win this fairly easily.
Which would make a line like Ohio State (-7) very interesting, even on the road.
KenPom has it at Ohio State (-9). That’s getting a little too high for my taste, especially in a road environment. So it will be something to monitor as we get closer to Sunday.