Cleat Geeks

Full Court Press: Quiet Surprises – College Basketball

December in college basketball has been full of unpredictable outcomes. Teams are trying to get as many good wins on their resume before the highly anticipated dog fights of conference play get going. With so much talent this year, many teams are quietly flying under the radar, poising themselves to be real sleepers come conference play. Here are a few more of college basketball’s surprise teams so far:

Seton Hall:

The Seton Hall Pirates are showing that they never should have dropped from the rankings in the first place. After a two game stretch where Seton Hall played then No. 22 Texas Tech before traveling to No. 17 Louisville, the Pirates have come out a very impressive 2-0. Sophomore Myles Powell has really stepped up his game lately for the Pirates, scoring 19 against Texas Tech. If the Pirates can continue to come out each game with a balanced scoring attack, they can certainly compete with any team in the country. If it weren’t for that one point loss to Rhode Island at the Barclays Center, the Pirates would be undefeated, and a top 10 team in the nation. Watch out for them come conference play.

Image result for myles powell seton hall

Houston:

The Cougars have been playing perfect ball since an early season slip up with Drexel. Since that loss they have won 6 straight and look like they are primed to make a run in a very much improved American Athletic Conference. Led by seniors Rob Gray, who is averaging 21.5 points per game, and Devin Davis, who’s been getting 12.9 points per game along with 7.7 rebounds per game, the Cougars seem ready to finally get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010. The Cougars just recently beat a very good Arkansas team 91-65, proving to the nation that this team is ready for the big time. Houston has some great opportunities ahead to get some more big resume wins thanks to a very tough schedule and contests against Providence and LSU before league play begins.

Image result for rob gray houston

Syracuse:

After the Uconn game Tuesday night, there was a lot of talk about both teams not being exactly what they used to be. However, Syracuse Basketball is far from dead this year. The Syracuse Orange’s only loss this season comes at the hands of the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks, which was expected. The Orange do have some solid wins against Maryland and Uconn, and they are currently 8th in the country in rebounding. Tyus Battle has been amazing so far, scoring an impressive team high 20.3 points per game. With winnable games against Colgate and Georgetown up ahead, look for the Orange to build upon their win total before they open up conference play against Virginia Tech.

Image result for tyus battle syracuse

Boise State:

Once March rolls around, the Broncos have a chance to find themselves at the top of the Mountain West standings along with Nevada. Boise State is led by Justinian Jessup and Chandler Hutchison, and have an outstanding 8-1 record. Not to mention they are just coming off of their most impressive win at Oregon on a Lexus Williams game winning shot as time expired. The Broncos resume also includes a blowout win over an impressive Loyola-Chicago bunch. This team is ready to get back in the NCAA tourney and seems like they might just have what it takes to get there.

Georgia:

Image result for yante maten georgiaGeorgia is quietly playing some great basketball this year. With wins over Saint Mary’s and Marquette, the Bulldogs are building up a pretty good resume. The SEC features a lot of good teams this year so they will have many opportunities to get resume building wins. Georgia is led by senior Yante Maten and his insane numbers of 18.5 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game. Maten is helped by William Jackson who is currently averaging 12.5 points per game. The Bulldogs are looking very impressive early on, with only one loss to a good San Diego State team on their record. A big game against Temple later on December will be a huge test for Georiga right before SEC play opens up.

St. John’s:

Friday night will be a very telling day for the Red Storm, as they go out to California to face the No. 16 Arizona State Sun Devils. Up until now, the Red Storm have been 8-1, holding opponents to 60 points per game. So far the Red Storm has overcome foes such as UCF, Grand Canyon, and Nebraska (noteworthy now after their win over No. 14 Minnesota Tuesday night). Despite the solid record, the St. John’s is yet to receive any national attention, particularly because of their lack of signature wins, which brings us back to Friday’s game against Arizona State. A win against the Sun Devils could gain the Red Storm top 25 votes, but a loss could send them back into a state of mediocrity. The thin St. John’s roster is going to have to defend without fouling against the high scoring Arizona State offence, but if they succeed, you will be hearing about the Red Storm a lot more in the upcoming weeks.

 

Full Court Press; The Best Games Of The Week

December is officially upon us, and with that we are inching closer to the New Year, which will be full of tight, in-conference match-ups night in and night out. However, this college basketball season has been particularly special because of the amount of high quality games in November and December, giving teams the opportunity to gain resume-building wins right away. Lets take a look at some of the best games on the schedule for the first week of December:Image result for crosstown shootout 2017

No. 11 Cincinnati at No. 21 Xavier

When: 12:00pm Saturday, FS1

It will be exciting to kick off this weekend with one of the greatest out of conference rivals in college basketball. Coming off of a momentum-building win against a talented Baylor team, the Musketeers have an opportunity to add another resume building win as they host Cincinnati. This Cincinnati team is top 6 in the nation in rebounds per game and least amount of points allowed, so seniors J.P. Macura and Trevon Bluiett will have to score efficiently against the strong Cincinnati defense. The Xavier big men will also have to be aggressive on the glass to have a shot at winning. This is arguably Cincinnati’s first real test. Whoever wins this game will be making a huge statement.

No. 8 Wichita State at No. 16 Baylor

When: 2:00pm Saturday, ESPNU

Both teams are 5-1 coming into this game. The Shockers are missing junior Markis Mcduffie, who averaged 11.5 points per game and 5.7 rebounds a season ago, while the Bears will be missing senior Terry Matson who has been averaging 11.7 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game. Manu Lecomte (17.7ppg) and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (13ppg,10rebounds) lead the Bears at home against Landry Shamet (14.2 ppgg), Shaq Morris (13.7 ppg) and the Shockers. Wichita State is one of the best offensive teams in the nation, and is currently 2nd in the country in rebounding. Look for Baylor to be putting forth its best defensive effort of the season thus far. This game is going to be a ton of fun and is a great early test for both clubs. Both teams losses have came against ranked foes within in the past week, and both teams look like they can be playing in the second weekend off the NCAA tournament. Buckle up.

Providence at Rhode Island

When: 5:00pm Saturday, CBSSN

This is another interesting match-up, with a Rhode Island team that has faced some tough losses against great teams, and a Providence team that has found themselves in a few close games down the stretch. Look for the hosting Rams to get the crowd involved with this cross-town rivalry, as the talent level for this game will be pretty dead even.

Image result for anas mahmoud louisvilleSeton Hall at No. 17 Louisville

When: 4:00pm Sunday, ESPN2

After a tough loss at Purdue earlier this week, Louisville will be looking to bounce back this weekend against the formerly ranked Seton Hall Pirates. If Seton Hall wants to win this game, they need to bring their defensive A-game and rebound. It will also be interesting to see how Seton Hall deals with the shot blocking presence of Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding, who have been combining for over 5 blocks a game. The Pirate should look to carry on that defensive momentum from their impressive win over No. 22 Texas Tech Thursday night. Will we see Seton Hall return to the top 25 next week?

Rutgers at No. 12 Minnesota

When: 6:00pm Sunday, BTN

These are two teams coming off of hard fought, 5 point home losses against power five opponents. Though Minnesota certainly has the talent to win this game, it won’t come easy. This is a Rutgers team that beat St John’s in an exhibition this year, and only lost to a talented Florida State team by 5. Deshawn Freeman’s ability to rebound and cause problems in the paint allows for Rutgers to hang around in games. Don’t sleep on the Scarlet Knights, because if you do, you will find yourself in a tight game as the clock winds down.

Florida State at No. 6 FloridaImage result for jalen hudson florida

The battle for the Sunshine State. Florida is looking as good as anyone. If it was not for a late collapse against Duke Sunday night we may be talking about the Gators as the new No. 1 team in the nation. Mike White has his squad looking like a major title contender. The Gators are led by guards KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza, but the real game changer for Florida this season seems to be Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson, who has been averaging 21.8 points per game thus far (He averaged 8.4 at VA Tech). With this ball club leading the nation in scoring at 99.5 points per game, Florida seems poised to beat the ‘Noles for the first time since 2013.

No. 4 Villanova V.S No. 15 Gonzaga

When: 7:00pm Tuesday, ESPN

What a surprise! Villanova is back towards the top of the college basketball world. Oh what’s that? So is Gonzaga? Wow! I am not shocked at all. Well anyway these two programs will meet up at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night and will put on a show. Gonzaga coming off a loss in what is probably the game of the year so far against Florida in the PK80 tournament. Make no mistake; the Bulldogs are hungry for a marquee win. This will be Villanova’s biggest test of the year and they will have a large backing because of the short trip from Philadelphia to New York. Both teams have offensive talent, but which defense will prevail?

Full Court Press; November Surprise Teams

Since the start of the season on November 10th, college basketball has been full of tough match-ups and unprecedented outcomes. This frenzied first month has left us with less than 21 undefeated teams remaining in the country (out of 351). With this first month of college hoops in the books, we have a much better idea of what many of these teams are all about. Of course we know teams like Duke, Michigan State, and Kansas have been playing well as expected, but we’re about to highlight a few teams that have surprised many this November, and could become forces to be reckoned with come March. Lets kick it off with the Pac 12:

Arizona State:Image result for tra holder asu

With an undefeated record, and wins over quality teams such as Kansas State, San Diego State, and most importantly a 102-86 win over a ranked Xavier team that reached the elite 8 a season ago, No. 20 Arizona State has made a name for themselves. This team can straight up put the ball in the basket, averaging 96 points a game so far, led by senior guard Tra Holder’s 23 points per game. JUCO transfer De’Quon Lake has been an absolute steal for the Sun Devils, making nearly 81% of his shots from the field (2nd in the nation). With the questionable depth of UCLA along with the current demise of Arizona, who just dropped out of the rankings after going 0-3 in the battle for Atlantas, Arizona State is looking like a legitimate favorite to win the PAC 12.

Washington State:

The Pac 12 just saw an Ernie Kent Coached Washington State team, projected to finish in the basement of the Pac 12, go on to win the Wooden Legacy tournament, leaving Titan Gymnasium with impressive wins over Saint Mary’s and San Diego State. With their undefeated record, the Washington State Cougars find themselves receiving top 25 votes in the AP Poll for the first time in years. With their next four games being very winnable, the Cougars have a chance to gain even more momentum before they host Kansas State and begin conference play. With other schools in the Pac 12 relatively down, this might just be the year Washington State really competes. We’ll have to wait and see.

Florida State:

Image result for phil cofer fsuThis is an undefeated Florida State team that no one seems to be talking about just yet. They love to get after it on the defensive end reminiscent of Leonard Hamilton’s teams circa 2009-2012. This team’s schedule has not been grueling by any means, but they have yet to lose and are coming off an impressive road win against a Rutgers team that is much improved and has a chance to be a middle of the pack Big Ten team. Phil Cofer is finally healthy and is balling out. Terrance Mann has stepped up as a key role player and a leader. C.J Walker had 22 second half points for the Seminoles against Rutgers and if he can continue to provide that kind of consistent output, watch out for this team. Guard wise this team is very deep and they’ll play aggressive all game. The ‘Noles are going to be fun to watch progress, as they are very young. A big test against #6 Florida is coming up this Monday.

Virginia:

At the start of this season, experts weren’t so sure that Virginia would be as good as they were a year ago. And while this team can certainly struggle to put the ball in the basket some nights, their superb defense has kept them undefeated so far this season, with impressive wins over VCU, Vanderbilt, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. Virginia definitely has some solid players, with guards Kyle Guy and Devon Hall shooting well from three. In addition to that, sophomore forward Mamadi Diakite has become increasingly more dependable. If the Cavaliers can figure out how to score more efficiently, watch out ACC, Virginia’s 1st in the nation with the least amount of points allowed.

Miami:

Image result for dewan huell miamiAnother undefeated team out of the ACC, folks knew about how dangerous the Miami Hurricanes could be during the preseason, especially at the guard position with senior Ja’Quan Newton leading the pack amongst the highly talented Bruce Brown Jr. and five star freshman Lonnie Walker IV. However, coming off of a convincing victory at No. 12 Minnesota, it is clear that a key difference maker for this team is sophomore forward Dewan Huell and his thunderous dunks. He has gone from averaging 6 points a game as a freshman to leading the team in scoring with 15 points a game. He is a big reason why the Hurricanes are a dangerous top 10 team going into December.

Nevada:

If your team draws the Nevada Wolfpack in March, good luck to you! This team is a surely a force to be reckoned with. Caleb and Cody Martin transferred in from N.C State and they are rolling. Caleb is getting 19.3 points per game along with 5 rebounds, while Cody is getting 15 points per game with 6.5 rebounds. In addition to that deadly scoring duo, Jordan Caroline is back after a great season last year and is picking up right where he left off, averaging close to a double double (17 and 9). Iowa State transfer Hallice Cooke will get going soon enough and this team will be scary. Lindsey Drew is also a great point guard and controls this team very well. This team set the tone early on by beating a great Rhode Island team and haven’t looked back since. After a match-up with the Anteaters of UC Irvine Saturday night, they will go on to play two ranked Big 12 schools, traveling to #22 Texas Tech before returning home to host #23 TCU. After this week we will all know about the Wolf Pack. If they can take down the Big 12 schools, they should enter Mountain West play undefeated.

Arkansas:

Image result for daniel gafford arkansasThis is a dangerous Arkansas team led by 3 senior guards: Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon, and Anton Beard, who have been averaging 20, 16, and 12 points per game respectively. In addition to that, they have a talented freshman in Daniel Gafford who’s been getting 12.8 points per game along with 5.7 rebounds. The Razorbacks play a very up-tempo style, making them must watch T.V. in the world of college hoops. This ball club had a huge showing in the PK80 tournament, where they beat Oklahoma, lost a heartbreaker to UNC, then bounced back with a blow out win over Connecticut. If you like to watch fun basketball then you must tune into the Razorbacks, as they are sure to compete night in and night out in the SEC. They are senior led, and seniors in college basketball are always doing something special.

 

December is normally more of a dead month in college basketball, but with many teams scheduling tough opponents this year, it should be quite exciting. Stay tuned.

Final National Championship Analysis: UNC vs Gonzaga

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The #1 seed (South division) North Carolina Tarheels are your 2017 NCAA Men’s College Basketball National Champions by beating the #1 (West division) Gonzaga Bulldogs with a 71-65 score. It was not a pretty game for either the Tarheels or the Bulldogs as they played very inefficient on both sides of the court. Both teams had problems getting the ball consistently into the basket. Outside the questionable refereeing, there were fouls that could have been avoided from both teams.

The Tarheels were 1st in the nation in rebounding as they accounted an average of 43.7 rebounds per game before the game of the season against Gonzaga. They were also 12th in points per game (84.8 points) and 4th in assists per game (18.1 assists). They would need to rely on the rebounding ability of F Kennedy Meeks and F Isaiah Hicks to avoid any potential 2nd chance buckets. They would also be crucial in the paint offensively like they have been all season for the Tarheels. F Justin Jackson also needed be a big part of the offense for the North Carolina considering the nagging injury to Joel Berry II and both of his sprained ankles before the start of the Tournament. Instead of driving more to the basket, Jackson settled for 3-point shots but was 0-9 from behind the arc.

Luckily for North Carolina, Joel Berry II was not as limited as many people thought and turned up big for the Tarheels at the right time. Berry accounted for 22 points (7 for 19 field goal attempts), 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 1 block. He was on fire in the 2nd half when Gonzaga slacked off on pressure to focus on conserving their big men like C Przemek Karnowski and F Zach Collins who were in foul trouble.

In the 1st half, the Gonzaga Bulldogs held the Tarheels to a 31% field goal percentage thanks to them crashing in on driving lanes and smothering the players in the paint. It seemed smart at first because of the fact that the Tarheels are not a good 3-point shooting team but the more the foul count started to go up on the defenders in the paint, the more the Bulldogs eased off.

Outside of G Nigel Williams-Goss and G Josh Perkins, the Bulldogs could not find consistency with their players especially from Karnowski. When he was given many chances to score one-on-one in the 1st half, he was hesitate and often times passed the ball back to the players in the perimeter. Karnowski did not get a field goal until the 2nd half but in the end he finished with an inefficient performance including 9 points (1-8 on field goals), 7-9 on free throws, 9 rebounds, 1 block, 4 turnovers and 4 fouls. Collins did well for the short amount of time he was in the game with 9 points (4-6 on field goals), 7 rebounds and 3 blocks but fouled out late in the critical point of the game.

Overall the Bulldogs accounted for a inefficient 33.9% field goal percentage, a 42.1% from the 3-point perimeter and a 65.4% from the free throw line. The Bulldogs also turned the ball over 14 times and allowed 8 blocks from the Tarheel’s defense. While the Tarheels weren’t any better on offense with a 35.6% field goal percentage, 14.8% from the 3-point arc and 57.5% from the free throw line, they did have more players who played better than Gonzaga. Jackson accounted for 16 points (when he did drive to the basket), 4 rebounds, 1 steal and 2 blocks. Kennedy and Meeks were big in the paint as Hicks accounted for 13 points (5-9 on field goals), 9 rebounds and 2 blocks while Meeks accounted for 7 points (3-5 on field goals), 10 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks.

It was in the 2nd half where Gonzaga found more luck in the 3-point game but also found themselves in more trouble when the Tarheels were focusing in on a more spread out zone defense. Nigel Williams-Goss tried to do it all for the Bulldogs when the game started to come down to the wire. Williams-Goss accounted for 15 points on 5 field goals out of 17 attempts, additionally he had 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Head coach Mark Few tried to exert Williams-Goss more but was a prime target of coverage so he had to settle for an inside game that was deteriorating.

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Despite the game going back and forth for the majority of the time, the game was sluggish and stopped due to multiple timeouts, challenges and fouls. There were a total of 44 fouls in the game with 52 free throw shot attempts. There was also a lot of transitioning going on in the game which gave the Tarheels a lot of time to get their big men down the opposite side of the court. With the combination of the game slowing down and the transitioning time, Tarheels head coach Roy Williams easily took advantage of the lacking fast tempo to slow down the game and take time off the clock. Gonzaga is a team that thrived off of a fast-pace offense, without it, the Bulldogs could not find consistency on the board.

Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tarheels have won their 6th National title as a program and their first since 2009. They turned a nightmare last year from the the loss to the Villanova Wildcats on a Kris Jenkins buzzer beat to a redemption story as they hoist that trophy one more time. They now turn their attention to the next season where they will rebuild on graduating seniors like Isaiah Hicks and possible early departures for the 2017 NBA Draft in Justin Jackson and the 2017 Final Four Most Outstanding Player in Joel Berry II. Only time will tell on Berry and Jackson but the Tarheels will be loaded with upcoming talent regardless. For Gonzaga, their first National Championship appearance did not end well but they started a program building step in which they hope to be at the National Championship game to redeem a loss like the Tarheels last year.

UNC Out Plays Gonzaga to Win National Championship

 

 

The North Carolina Tar Heels avenged their loss in the national championship last year by defeating Gonzaga 71-65, to win their 6th title. Joel Berry II led the way for the Tar Heels with 22 points and was given the Most Outstanding Player award.
“It was just an unbelievable feeling. And this is what we worked for,” Berry said. “And the ups and downs that we’ve had? It’s all worth it. And I can’t even describe my feeling right now, but I am just glad that I was able to do something with this team. And I think we just deserved it.”
 Justin Jackson, who struggled shooting most of the game added 16. Although Jackson struggled most of the game, he came up huge scoring the last 8 points for the Tar Heels.
Nigel Williams-Gross  led Gonzaga with 15, but struggled all night to get into a rhythm. Prezmek Karnowski struggled as well from the field only scoring 1 field goal on 8 shots.
Gonzaga played hard most of the game and actually led for most of it. They did an outstanding job defending the perimeter, as the Tar Heels only shot 14 percent from long range. What made the difference towards the end of the game was there inability to score and distance their selves from North Carolina.
Many fans and experts thought the game was poorly officiated, especially  when the referees failed to review a play with :50 seconds to go in the game. It looked like North Carolina touched it last, but they ruled it in the Tar Heels favor. After the game Mark Few showed respect towards the refs calling them,”three of the best in the country.”
After the game, winning head coach Roy Williams was pounded with question regarding an academic scandal looming at the university.
“I wish it got no attention here, because this should be about the kids,” Williams said. “I wish it got no attention. But I know it’s out there. But the last three or four years have been very hard. I told you, people have questioned my integrity, and that means more to me than anything.”
Roy Williams, who now has won three national championships (2005,2009,2017) is one of five coaches to win three or more championships. Williams has surpassed the late Dean Smith for most championships won at North Carolina as well. When he was asked about Dean Smith, he gave a humbling answer to reporters.

“When I looked up at one of the boards tonight and saw those guys, they had more titles than our North Carolina teams had, not Roy Williams, because I don’t like it that way, but that was a little emotional for a second,” Williams said. “But I really — I don’t know what to say. I mean, because that is — I’m very, very lucky. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do is to coach kids and trying to get them to have a common goal and make sacrifices. And it’s number three. But they’ve all been fantastic, and I’ve been very fortunate.”

Gonzaga defeats South Carolina; to Advance to National Championship

Led by Nigel Williams-Gross, who had 23 points, Gonzaga defeated South Carolina to advance to the National Championship game. Gonzaga set the tone early with their defense, by only allowing South Carolina to shoot 37 percent from the field. Mark Few and his squad came to play as they also shot the ball efficiently from the three point line.

 Gonzaga had to over come adversity to win this game, after nearly blowing a 14 point lead late in the second half. Killian Tillie, who only played 12 seconds in the second half, nailed two key free throws to ice the game for Gonzaga. He talked to reporters after the game.
 
“Of course I was [nervous],” Tillie said. “I was kind of nervous when I was on the free throw line. I just didn’t think about anything.”
 
Gross, who led the team in scoring always had the confidence that his team would get far.
 
“We didn’t shy away from it,” Williams-Goss said. “We wanted to win a national championship. That’s what we talked about. That was our goal.”
 
Mark Few, who is the head coach of Gonzaga, did a wonderful job leading and keeping his team on the right path. Many people doubted Gonzaga and thought they were overated, but they proved that was not the case. Few spoke to reporters after the game.
 
“And the story with these guys is it truly is — and I think it’s been kind of under-talked about — is how they came together,” Few said. “We had eight, nine guys that were new to the program. On Sept. 1, I mean when Jordan showed up, that’s when we were finally complete as a team. [Josh] Perkins and [Silas] Melson were the only ones that played the year before significant minutes. But yet from the jump, these guys have jumped into roles. They haven’t fought anything.”
 
Gonzaga will play North Carolina Monday night and they will be in a familiar spot, as they will come into the game as the underdog.

North Carolina is Back in National Championship

North Carolina will get to avenge their heart breaking loss in the National Championship last season, as they defeated Oregon 77-76. Kennedy Meeks led the way with 25 points on 11/13 shooting. Justin Jackson had 22 on 13 shots as well. Although both teams shot poorly from the court, the Tar Heels defense made the difference holding the Ducks to only 26 percent shooting from the three point line.
 Oregon rallied late as they surged back and almost pulled off the upset. I do not usually like to blame a loss on one player but, Jordan Bell’s missed offensive rebounds in the final seconds of the game, might have cost the Ducks the game. Bell expressed his feelings to reporters after the game.
“If I had just boxed out, I had two opportunities,” Bell said after the game. “People can tell me whatever they want, but I lost the game for us.”
Joel Berry junior forward on the Tar Heels expressed to reporters after the game why him and his teammates like to dance and celebrate after wins.
“I just kept on telling them, we’re the best team in the country,” Berry said. “And the biggest thing is we’ve just gotta go out there and have fun. … A lot of people say we dance too much or we laugh or smile too much but the thing is we’re enjoying it and at the same time we’re focused. On a big stage like that sometimes you gotta be a little loose to get the anxiety out of the way and the butterflies and just go out there and play.”
Roy Williams the head coach for the Tar Heels is no stranger to wining big games. He knows that his team has to play a lot better in the National Championship if their going to win it all.
“We’re relieved,” Williams said after the game. “We feel very lucky, feel very fortunate we’re still playing, but the fact of the matter is we’re still playing.”
North Carolina will be a huge favorite to beat Gonzaga in the National Championship Monday night.

2017 NCAA Tournament – Final Four Preview

 

The Final Four of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is upon us after an already having wild games and crazy upsets. Many brackets have been ruined from the high amount of upsets that have taken place from the Tournament already. We have seen the #1 Villanova Wildcats (East division) become a highly inefficient team losing to the #8 Wisconsin Badgers in the 2nd round of the Tournament with a 65-62 score. The #2 Arizona Wildcats (West division) lost to the #11 Xavier Musketeers in the Sweet 16 with a close 73-71 score.

The Final Four consists of the last two #1 seeds in the Tournament in the Gonzaga Bulldogs (West division) and the North Carolina Tarheels (South division) , the #3 Oregon Ducks (Midwest division) who knocked off the #1 Kansas Jayhawks in the Elite 8 and the Cinderella team in the Tourney in the #7 South Carolina Gamecocks. The North Carolina Tarheels are by far the most experienced team in terms of reaching the Final Four as they have gone to the Final Four a total of 20 times. This will be the Oregon Ducks 2nd ever time making to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament, the first since 1939. Finally this the first ever Final Four appearance for either the Gonzaga Bulldogs or the South Carolina Gamecocks.

The Bulldogs vs The Gamecocks- The first match-up of the Final Four will be the #1 Gonzaga Bulldogs taking on the upset hungry #7 South Carolina Gamecocks. The Bulldogs come into the Final Four as the favorites to win it all by BPI (Basketball Power Index) with a 55%. Even though they come from a weak West Coast Conference, they have played consistently as compared to the other teams in the Final Four. In the regular season, Gonzaga ranked 14th in the nation in points per game (83.2), 6th in rebounds per game (40.5 ) and 4th in points allowed per game (60.9). The Bulldogs are one of the most efficient offensives in the Tournament with a average field goal percentage of 50.9% per game. They are a team that does very well in making screens and going around holes on defenses. In this tournament though, Gonzaga has had problems getting 3-point shots to get into the basket. They are 26.2% from behind the 3-point perimeter in this tournament. This can be a problem for their defense handling the Gamecocks’ offense if the Bulldogs cannot keep up.

The #7 South Carolina Gamecocks might have some of the most impressive wins in this Tournament with wins over #10 Marquette (93-73), #2 Duke (88-81), #3 Baylor (70-50) and #4 Florida (77-70). Once again, South Carolina will be the underdog to a higher ranked team in the #1 Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Gamecocks have one of the most aggressive defenses in this Tournament despite only being ranked 30th in points per game (64.8). They have done a great job making predominate small ball offenses look bad like the Duke Blue Devils. They held Duke to only a 41.5% field goal percentage, forced G Luke Kennard to only account for 1 made field out of 6 attempts and forced 5 turnovers from F Jayson Tatum. In the Sweet 16 against the #3 Baylor Bears, they held the Bears to only a 30.4% in field goal percentage and 23.1% from behind the 3-point line.

Pictured: South Carolina G Sindarius Thornwell in the Elite 8 against the Florida Gators

Offensively, the Gamecocks have one of the best players in the Tournament in G Sindarius Thornwell as he scored 29 against Marquette, 24 against Duke and Baylor and 26 against Florida. Outside of Thornwell, the Gamecocks do not have much of a consistent scoring base excluding the fact that the Gamecocks have 4 players who average 10 points or more per game. Both Gonzaga and South Carolina’s defenses will need to be big but the Gamecocks will need a massive performance from someone other than Thornwell.

The Tarheels vs The Ducks- The 2nd Final Four game will be between the #1 North Carolina Tarheels and the #3 Oregon Ducks where many believed this match-up was expected. Though some did not believe the Ducks would make it past the Sweet 16 because of the ACL tear injury to star PF Chris Boucher, who was a huge part of their team input. Boucher suffered the injury during the PAC-12 conference tournament against California in the semi-finals. Boucher led the team with blocks per game (2.5 blocks), 2nd on the team in rebounds (6.5) and accounted for 11.8 points per game.

Since then, the #3 Oregon Ducks have changed their identity from a fast pace balanced offense to a high velocity deep shooting team. Before the Tournament, the Ducks were 38.3% from behind the 3-point perimeter but since their five match-ups in the Tournament they are are 43.5%. G Tyler Dorsey and F Dillion Brooks have been benefiting the most from this new offensive philosophy of small ball Basketball. Brooks accounts 16.3 points per game with a .496% field goal percentage and .410% from the 3-point arc while Tyler Dorsey accounts 14.5 points per game with a .472% field goal percentage and .423% from the 3-point arc. On defense, the absence of Boucher is definitely noticeable in terms of allowing points per game. Before the Tournament, the Ducks only allowed 65.5 points per game but now allow 72.6 points per game. Boucher defended the paint very well and even provided zone defense in the 3-point lane.

Luke May of North Carolina celebrating his game-winner against Kentucky. The Tar Heels move on to face Oregon in the Final Four on Apr. 1. (Photo : YouTube Screencap)

The #1 North Carolina Tarheels are one of the most consistent offenses in the nation especially since they play mostly in a big man philosophy with an actual Center and Power Forward. The Tarheels are 9th in the nation in points per game (85), 1st in rebounds per game (43.7) and 3rd in assists (18.2). Justin Jackson is the team’s leading scorer with an average of 18.2 points per game and a .497 field goal percentage. With the impact from Kennedy Meeks (9.3 rebounds per game) and Isaiah Hicks (5.4 rebounds per game), the Tarheels are the best team in the nation in rebounds and account for a high number of offensive rebounds. 2nd chance buckets are critical to any team no matter how talented they are. Defensively the Tarheels allowed two big comebacks to a fast acting and assisting team in the Duke Blue Devils which is a similar offense that Oregon mostly runs now. The Tarheels defense is ranked 128th in the nation in points allowed per game (70.6).
Gonzaga has been defeating potential bracket busters all throughout the Tournament. Just scoring quick 2-point shots will not just do the trick, they will need to make some 3’s to shake off South Carolina. When you look at the Gamecocks’ wins all throughout the Tournament, you have to really question and analyze if South Carolina’s wins are actually called upsets. South Carolina has the tools to bring down the Bulldogs and continue their unbelievable Cinderella Tournament run. Sindarius Thornwell can make his case for the John R. Wooden Award with a win over Gonzaga and then a National Title but he will need to play very efficient to do so. The Ducks and the Tarheels will be in a classic battle of small ball Basketball versus big man Basketball. Despite the loss of the leading shot blocker and consistent paint scorer, the Ducks are confident they can score at an efficient pace to keep up with North Carolina. They will need to drain some difficult 3-point shots to throw North Carolina, fast pace assists will help Oregon. North Carolina must avoid a potential big comeback like the Duke Blue Devils have done on them twice this season especially since Oregon is a much faster running offense. The Final Four start on Saturday, April 1st.

Lonzo Ball Claims He is The Best Player in Draft

This time Lonzo Ball is doing the talking and not his father. Lonzo claims he is better than fellow draft prospect Markelle Fultz.  He claims that he has better “leadership ability” than the Washington standout.
Ball and Fultz are widely considered the best two players in the upcoming draft. Ball officially declared for the draft after loosing in the Sweet 16 to Kentucky.

“Markelle’s a great player, but I feel I’m better than him,” said Ball, who led the Bruins to a pair of blowout victories over Fultz’s Huskies this season.
“I think I can lead a team better than him,” Ball added. “Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

According to ESPN’S Chad Ford’s mock draft Fultz is the number 1 rated player in the draft followed by Lonzo Ball. Fultz averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists a game.

As far as comparring the two players on the court, here are the numbers. Ball averaged 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.8 steals and a Division I-leading 7.7 assists per game this season. Fultz, meanwhile, averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks per game for Washington.

But for what it’s worth, UCLA won both meetings against Washington this season. Not by a little, but by a combined 73 points. Overall the records in the regular season for the two teams stack up this way;  UCLA finished 31-5 overall, compared to the Huskies at 9-22.

It should also be noted, that if Lonzo wants to say he is a better leader, then he needs to have big performances in big games. And Ball may actually be to blame for his Bruins losing to the Wildcats as Lonzo had 10 points and eight rebounds in the loss.

So it begs the question. Who would you choose with the number 1 pick in the NBA Draft? Feel free to comment below.

Badgers Experience leads to Sweetness

The Wisconsin Badgers are currently in New York preparing for Friday nights game against the Florida Gators. The winner of Friday nights game will play in the regional final game Sunday. The winner of that game will have punched a ticket to next weekends Final Four.

With the top seeds in the Badgers region being Villanova who the Badgers eliminated themselves last weekend and Duke who was upset by South Carolina on Sunday night the Badgers region became wide open. We will find out this weekend if the Badgers get themselves to Phoenix Arizona but do not count them out.

The biggest reason to not count out Wisconsin is their experience. Four seniors on the roster. All of them have been here before. They understand what is required at this point if you want to keep playing. Not only do they understand what is needed to continue, they so far in the tournament have raised their own performance in the tournaments first weekend to ensure their college careers would reach Madison Square Garden.

Take Bronson Koenig who put in performances last weekend of 28 and 17 points respectively. In Wisconsin’s opening round win over Virginia Tech 8 of his 9 made shots were three pointers. Or Nigel Hayes who struggled hitting free throws all season only to hit 8 of 9 in the game against Virginia Tech.

But that is only part of the story of the current Badger senior class. The other part cannot be qualified on a stat sheet. The Badger senior class has played in 13 NCAA tournament games. I heard one of them commenting in a press conference this week that they have not had a spring break from school over their time in Madison. Why? Because this class of seniors has taken their spring break with their basketball all four year as this senior class reached the final four their freshman and sophomore year and will be at minimum participants in the sweet 16 in both their junior and senior seasons.

That is the Wisconsin wild card. Yes they raise their performance when it is needed most but more importantly they do not get rattled when the pressure mounts to its highest. These seniors have been here and done this. That is why Wisconsin has a legit chance to reach their third final 4 in the last four years.

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