Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Blue Skies! North Carolina Earns Redemption, 6th National Championship

College Hoops Player of the Day for Monday, April 3, 2017

North Carolina 71 Gonzaga 66

It wasn't pretty, but after 40 minutes of helter-skelter basketball, 44 fouls, 52 free throws, and 76 missed shots from the field, the North Carolina Tar Heels did what they came to do: redeem themselves for last year's last-second loss in the championship game to Villanova.

For some time during what had to be one of the more intense physical and defensive struggles of Final Four fare ever, there was doubt that North Carolina would win their sixth national championship. Gonzaga was tough, determined, and equally aware of the task at hand. In the end the game was decided by the play of a couple of upperclassmen - senior forward Isaiah Hicks and junior guard Joel Berry II - turning adversity into opportunity late in the second half that led the Tar Heels to basketball's promised land with a 71-65 triumph and a National Championship trophy.

In the first half, while North Carolina was shooting at a sub-30% rate, Gonzaga forged as much as a seven-point lead, which turned out to be the largest of the contest. When the teams broke for halftime, the Bulldogs led, 35-32, an advantage that was quickly erased as the Tar Heels went on an 8-0 tear to open the second half. In addition to two Justin Jackson free throws, Berry made a steal on the opening inbound play, tossed in a breakout layup, fed Kennedy Meeks for another score and hit a short jumper with just 2:20 gone in the period.

As had been the case throughout the tournament for the Tar Heels, they could not keep their advantage for long. Over the next minute and nine seconds, the Bulldogs regained the lead, 41-40 on a Zach Collins jumper and subsequent free throw and a three-pointer from Jordan Mathews.

From there until the final two minutes of the game, neither team could consider themselves safe, as the lead changed hands and the scored tied multiple times.

With 1:55 remaining, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss put the Zags up 65-63, but Jackson tied the game and put the Tar Hells ahead 66-65 with a layup plus one on a foul. Following a Gonzaga timeout, Hicks came up big, hitting a short runner in the lane for a 68-65 edge with 27 seconds left. On Gonzaga's ensuing possession, Kennedy Meeks blocked a shot from Williams Goss and Berry recovered the ball, feeding a streaking Justin Jackson for an emphatic slam dunk which sealed the deal. Berry, who had 21 points and was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, capped off his 22-point night with a final free throw.

Berry made four three-pointers, had three rebounds, a steal, and six assists.

The victory pushed the North Carolina basketball program into even more elite status. It's six national championships are the third most by any school, behind UCLA's 11 and 8 by Kentucky. The Tar Heels broke a tie with Duke and Indiana, both claiming five national titles.

Carolina head coach Roy Williams upped his status as well, winning his third national championship, all with the Tar Heels. Adding to his wins in 2005 and 2009, Williams joins Jim Calhoun (Connecticut) and Bobby Knight (Indiana). Ahead of them are Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Kansas' Adolph Rupp with four. UCLA's legendary "Wizard of Westwood," John Wooden, led the Bruins to 10 national titles over a 12-year span.

Thus, the 2016-17 men's college basketball season comes to an abrupt close. College Basketball Daily will return again this fall to bring readers more coverage of the great sport and of course, the player of the day throughout the 2017-18 season.

Until then, keep your laces loose and practice your free throws,

Fearless Rick,

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
FINAL: Through Monday (4/3) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 11-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (6)
Big East (7) 6-7 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (3)
Big Ten (7) 8-7 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 9-6 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (3), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 11-5* Florida (3), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (3), South Carolina (4)
PAC 12 (4) 10-4 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (4), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 6-2 Gonzaga (5), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) (4-23) Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

*One SEC loss and one SEC win occurred in the East Regional Final, South Carolina 77, Florida 70

Monday, April 03, 2017

NCAA Tournament Final Preview: Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. North Carolina Tar Heels

Bulldogs vs. Tar Heels For All The Marbles, 9:20 pm ET, CBS

Is this not how it should be? Number one seed from the West, Gonzaga, meets #1 from the South (should have been East), North Carolina. First-timer vs. thoroughbred, a team that's never been to a Final Four, much less a championship game, will be facing a team that's been to 20 Final Fours and has won the national championship five times (1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009). Roy Williams, head coach of North Carolina, is seeking his third national championship, which would tie him with Jim Calhoun and Bobby Knight (John Wooden won 10, Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp each won four). Mark Few, who, for 18 years, has labored diligently as the head coach of the Gonzaga Bulldogs - and built an impressive, successful program - has never won a national title.

So, who's got the goods? Spoiler alert: College Basketball Daily isn't making a pick. Since we have no dog in this fight (and we almost never do), there's no point in jading this column into being something it's not. Let's throw out some numbers and observations and enjoy what should be an exceptional exclamation point to another college basketball season.

For those of you with a gambling problem, who just have to make a wager, good luck. North Carolina is a one-point favorite, meaning, as expected, it's just about impossible to predict a winner. The over/under number comes in at a robust 155, seeking a game that ends up something like 80-75, which should be about enough scoring for anybody.

A quick recap of the path to the championship is in order, but one condition sums up why this match-up may be entirely too close to call: the total margin of victory for the five tournament games is North Carolina, 57; Gonzaga, 57. That's right. Both teams have won five games by the same total number of points.

On Saturday, the Tar Heels managed to slip past an aggressive and determined Oregon squad by missing four straight free throws at the end of the game, securing a 77-76 win.

Surely, that was not the Tar Heels' desired strategy, but, as it worked out, the object lesson is that North Carolina led the nation in rebounding during the regular season and, apparently, no team does it better, or, at more opportune times.

For Gonzaga, Saturday afternoon in Phoenix was no vacation. Facing the South Carolina Gamecocks, the #7 seed from the East region, the Bulldogs built a second half, 14-point lead, only to see it evaporate in the span of four minutes, putting the Gamecocks up by two with just over seven minutes to play. Seconds later, Zach Collins notched a three-pointer, Gonzaga began building their lead again and never game it up, eventually coming away with the 77-73 victory.

A few key takeaways from the semi-final games:
  • Both Gonzaga and North Carolina faced teams with solid, if not special defenses, however...
  • North Carolina was outshot by Oregon, 36.8% to 37.9%
  • Gonzaga shot 48.3% to South Carolina's 37.9%
  • Oregon tied North Carolina with 43 rebounds
  • Gonzaga had 41 rebounds; South Carolina, 36
  • Gonzaga hit 9 of 19 three-pointers; North Carolina made 8 of 21 vs. the Ducks
  • North Carolina's bench scored just 9 points; Gonzaga's scored 22
  • Of course, the Tar Heels won by one point; Gonzaga won by four

With those figures in perspective, and, in case you didn't see the games (how could you miss them?), North Carolina didn't pass the eye test. They looked, especially in the first ten minutes of the first half, disorganized, unconnected, and uninspired. They appeared to be playing without any emotion. However, they looked the same way at the end of the game - emotionless - so maybe that's just their look.

But, if you saw both games, the Zags looked much the sharper. Additionally, a couple of key players stood out. For the Tar Heels, Joel Berry II appeared nearly hobbled throughout. There's been much said about his sore ankles, and they showed up in the game against Oregon. Still, Berry played 35 minutes, In that time, he scored 11 points on 2-for-14 shooting. If Berry is actually hurting (and there's nothing to say that he isn't), Theo Pinson, and especially, Nate Britt, are going to get many more minutes.

The other player that one couldn't help but notice was struggling was North Carolina forward Isaiah Hicks, who appeared to be completely lost on offense and ineffective on defense. Hicks played 20 minutes, scoring 2 points on 1-for-12 shooting and had a mere three rebounds.

Maybe Hicks just had a bad game, and maybe Berry will feel better before tonight's tip-off. In any case, coach Williams will make an accurate assessment of both situations and make the needed adjustments. So too, Mark Few, a zealot for detail and preparedness.

For Gonzaga, point guard Josh Perkins played 22 minutes and had two points, but, he only hoisted up two shots, both threes and both misses. He had just one assist and fouled out. He was a non-factor, even though he's not generally a key to the Bulldog scoring.

On the other hand, seven-foot freshman Zach Collins had 14 points and 13 rebounds in 23 minutes, really stepping up his game.

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks scored 25 points and had 13 rebounds. Without him, the Tar Heels would have lost, and lost badly. It's not going to be as easy for Meeks - not that it was against the Ducks - against Gonzaga, in addition to Collins, 7'1" Przemek Karnowski weighs in at 300 pounds. Meeks, however, won't be alone, and he may have the edge. He's no doubt quicker than Karnowski, and, he's stronger than the lanky Collins.

The two players upon whose shoulders victory or defeat will probably land are Gonzaga's Nigel Williams-Goss and Carolina's Justin Jackson. Both led their teams in scoring during the regular season and each is the "go-to" guy in pressure situations. They both played well in the semis and are expected to be at their best in the final.

In the end, there really isn't much separating their last two teams standing, which should make for a thrilling conclusion to the college hoops season.


Sunday, April 02, 2017

Zach Collins Leads Gonzaga Past Gamecocks; Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina Hold Off Oregon

College Hoops Players of the Day for Saturday, April 1, 2017

Gonzaga 77 South Carolina 73

In the first national semi-final on Saturday, the Gonzaga Bulldogs did just enough to defeat a pesky #7 seed from the East Region, South Carolina, 77-73.

Essential to the success of the Bulldogs was the play of freshman forward, Zach Collins, who had possibly the best game of his brief college career, scoring 14 points with 13 rebounds and six blocked shots.

The lanky seven-footer came off the bench for 23 minutes of floor time and made every one of them valuable to the team effort, taking advantage of the smaller Gamecock forwards and defending the paint with his size and agility.

After a back-and-forth first half, Gonzaga finally seized a nine-point lead heading into the break and eventually led by 14 points, though a furious South Carolina spurt brought the Gamecocks all the way back and briefly into the lead at 67-65 with just over seven minutes left to play, but Collins' crucial three-pointer put the Bulldogs back on top and they would not trail the remainder of the game. In the final minutes, the Bulldog defense was too much for South Carolina, holding the Gamecocks to just two points in the final 2:30. When Killian Tillie notched a pair of free throws with 2.2 seconds left, putting the Bulldogs up by four, the celebration began.

Gonzaga's first ever trip to the Final Four will now also include a first ever championship game when they meet the North Carolina Tar Heels Monday night at 9:20 pm ET for the national championship. The top seed from the West, Gonzaga haeds into the game with the best record in the country, 37-1.

North Carolina 77 Oregon 76

North Carolina narrowly escaped an upset at the hands of the Oregon Ducks with one of the strangest final seconds of any game, tournament or otherwise, missing four free throws in the final 5.8 seconds while managing to hold onto a one-point lead, eventually advancing to the National Championship game with a 77-76 victory.

With the score at 77-76, Kennedy Meeks, who led all scorers by tying a career-high 25, stepped to the foul line with 5.8 seconds left, for two shots. Missing them both, an alert and aggressive Theo Pinson knifed in for the rebound, getting it outside to Joel Barry II, who was immediately fouled. Berry, normally a clam, 79% free throw shooter, also mangled both of his freebies, but Meeks grabeed the rebound from between two Oregon players and pitched it outside to Pinson, who took two dribbles before throwing the ball high into the air as time expired.

While the Tar Heels led most of the game, the Ducks would simply not go away, and had a legitimate chance at the win, but the Tar Heels, who led the nation in rebounding, did what they did best at the end, denying the Ducks a final scoring opportunity.

Throughout the game it was Meeks who kept North Carolina motoring toward the victory, finishing with 25 points on an incredible 11-for-13 shooting performance, with 14 rebounds, eight of them on the offensive end.

The Tar Heels meet Gonzaga in the National Championship Monday night. The game will be televised live on CBS with the tip at 9:20 pm ET.

Check College Basketball Daily on Monday morning for a preview of the National Championship match-up.

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through Saturday (4/1) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 10-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (5)
Big East (7) 6-7 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (3)
Big Ten (7) 8-7 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 9-6 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (3), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 11-5* Florida (3), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (3), South Carolina (4)
PAC 12 (4) 10-4 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (4), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 6-1 Gonzaga (5), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) (4-23) Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

*One SEC loss and one SEC win occurred in the East Regional Final, South Carolina 77, Florida 70

Friday, March 31, 2017

NCAA: South vs. Midwest National Semi-Final, North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Oregon Ducks

North Carolina vs. Oregon, Saturday, April 1, 2017, 8:49 pm ET, CBS

The nightcap of the National Semi-Final includes one team that's been to the Final Four on multiple occasions - the North Carolina Tar Heels - and one that hasn't been since winning it all in 1939, the Oregon Ducks from the vastly underrated PAC-12 conference.

As shown below in CBD's Tournament Conference Scoreboard, the PAC-12, which sent a mere four teams to the tourney, has outperformed nearly all other conferences with 10 wins and just three losses. Only the SEC, now represented only by South Carolina, has more wins, with 11. The ACC, which sent nine teams - the most of any conference - has just nine wins, and the Tar Heels have accounted for four of them. Three ACC teams went down in their opening tournament game, and none, other than Carolina, won more than one game.

Thus, the dichotomy between the ACC and PAC-12 is clear, muddying the waters of the Final Four with an unusual conference set-up.

Statistics may tell another story about the relative chances of the Ducks and Tar Heels to advance to Monday's championship game. The most telling is North Carolina's dominance on the boards. They were the leading rebounding team in the nation during the regular season (43.5 per game) and that has continued during the tournament. The Tar Heels have grasped an average of 45.3 rebounds per game during their tournament run, winning by an average margin of 14 points, the most of any remaining team.

By contrast, Oregon has hauled in 37 rebounds per game during the tournament, wining their four games by an average margin of just 8.5 points per game, the lowest of the four competitors heading to Phoenix.

Oregon's wins are something of an oddity in themselves. After dropping #14 seed Iona in the opening round by 16, 93-77, they slipped by #11 Rhode Island, 75-72 and held on against #7 Michigan by a mere point, 69-68. Thus, when the Ducks met up with #1 seed in the Midwest, Kansas, there were doubters, but the Ducks played remarkably well on defense, holding the Jayhawks to a season-low 60 points in a no-doubt, 74-60, victory, posting their decond-largest winning margin.

See CBD's Final Four team stats here.

With the win over Kansas in hand, the task before the Ducks is daunting, because North Carolina has more scoring options than the Jayhawks, rebounds far better, share the ball better (18.0 assists per game during the tourney) and have an assist to turnover ratio of 1.36.

In the paint, the Ducks are short-handed, with stalwart Jordan Bell the only defender and rebounder of excellence since the injury to Chris Boucher. Bell had a monster game against Kansas (11 points, 13 board, 8 blocks), but will have his hands full against 6'10" Kennedy Meeks and 6'9" Isaiah Hicks. North Carolina will no doubt be going strong to the hole on every opportunity, as point guard Joel Berry II and forward Justin Jackson have driving, scoring and passing ability on a par with any team in the country.

Oregon may have to lean heavily on Tyler Dorsey, who has scored 20 or more in every tournament game thus far and has been on target from three-point range. They;ll also get scoring from Dillon Brooks and hope that Dylan Ennis steps up his game. The Ducks may play a lot of zone defense against North Carolina, forcing them to shoot threes, the one area of North Carolina's game that may be considered a slight weakness. The 31-7 Tar Heels are shooting just 32% from beyond the arc in the tourney. 33-5 Oregon is hitting threes at 43%, with Dorsey the main contributor.

Head to Saturday, the oddsmakers have North Carolina a mere five-point favorite. While Oregon has demonstrated throughout the tournament that they can defend well, they have not faced a team as deep and talented as the Tar Heels. North Carolina's rotation goes nine deep; Oregon is a stretch to get seven quality players into the game at this juncture.

North Carolina's depth and general advantage in the paint could produce a monstrous blowout, especially if the Tar Heels establish a lead early and defend the three-point line. There's also the intangible factor of North Carolina's last-second loss to Villanova in the tournament final last season that comes into play. The Tar Heels are hungry for retribution which only a national championship can provide, making them the overall favorite to emerge victorious, not just in this game, but again on Monday night. Oregon could see the end of the line despite a solid run.

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through Sunday (3/26) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 9-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (4)
Big East (7) 6-7 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (3)
Big Ten (7) 8-7 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 9-6 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (3), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 11-4* Florida (3), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (3), South Carolina (4)
PAC 12 (4) 10-3 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (4), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 5-1 Gonzaga (4), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) (4-23) Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

*One SEC loss and one SEC win occurred in the East Regional Final, South Carolina 77, Florida 70

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Final Four: East vs. West Regions, South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs

East meets West, Saturday, April 1, 6:09 pm ET, CBS

Gonzaga enters the national semi-final against South Carolina as a considerable favorite of 6 1/2 points, a somewhat surprising number since the Gamecocks are playing at such a high level, having already dusted tournament low seeds such as Duke (#2), Baylor (#3), and Florida (#4) by solid margins.

In terms of margin of victory, the two teams appear to be on a collision course with the Zags' average margin during the tournament being 13.25 and South Carolina's at 13.5.

Gonzaga, having defeated - in order - a 16 (South Dakota State), an 8 (Northwestern), a 4 (West Virginia), and an 11 (Xavier) by scores of 20, 6, 3 and 24, respectively. It's worth noticing that the lowest margins of victory were actually against the better teams (i.e., the lower-numbered seeds) and it's entirely possible that the upset-minded Musketeers from Xavier simply ran out of gas against the Bulldogs after beating #2 Arizona, 73-71.

Seeds of 11 or higher generally don't make the Final Four. In fact, no team seeded higher than 11 has ever reached the promised land of college basketball. Three 11 seeds have, those being LSU, in 1986; George Mason in 2006; and VCU in 2011. None of them won.

So, the 24-point romp over Xavier, which finished the season with a very respectable 24-14 record has to be weighed against their overall quality. The Musketeers were 9-9 in the Big East conference. The Big East may have been massively overseeded, sending seven teams and finishing with a record of 6-7 in the tournament. Only Xavier, Villanova (knocked out in the second round), and Butler won games. Not to belabor the point, but the Bulldogs may have had one of the easier paths to the Final Four, thanks, in part, to Xavier, for whipping the #2 and #3 seeds in the region, Arizona and Florida State.

Gonzaga's three-point win over #4 seed West Virginia is another indicator that the Bulldogs may not be competitive against the very best in the country. Though they have, during the regular season, posted wins over Florida, Iowa State, and Arizona, but those games were all played on their home court, a definite advantage.

See College Basketball Daily's Final Four Stats post for more.

Looking at South Carolina's wins, they came against #10 Marquette, 93-73; #2 Duke, 88-81; #3 Baylor, 70-50; and #4 Florida, 77-70. The Gamecocks took down three of the four top seeds in the region, and, it's possible that they may have been in business against #1 Villanova, but Wisconsin (beaten by Florida in the Sweet 16) beat them to it.

The quality of South Carolina's wins are very high, as are some other revealing tournament stats. The Gamecocks are scoring an average of 82.0 points per game; Gonzaga, 72.3. South Carolina is also shooting better, .476 to .432, and making their free throws. They were shooting freebies at a 69% rate and are knocking them down at 75% during their tourney run. Gonzaga has gone in the opposite direction, making 74% during the regular season and devolving down to 59% in the tourney.

While the Bulldogs carry into the game the gaudy 36-1 record (best in the country), South Carolina pales by comparison at 26-10, but they appear to be very much in the mold of a team playing with purpose and conviction. Team leader, Sindarius Thornwell is a senior and was the SEC Player of the Year. Among other scoring options for South Carolina are the shifty PJ Dozier and Carlos Silva on the interior. 6'10" freshman forward, Maik Kotsar emerged as a real threat in the win over the Gators, scoring 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting.

For Gonzaga, they always need a big effort from leading scorer Nigel Williams-Goss (16.7 ppg regular season) because after him, the talent level falls off in fairly dramatic fashion, but the Bulldogs are fairly deep and play excellent defense.

In the final analysis, it's difficult to see how the Bulldogs can defeat this solid bunch from South Carolina by more than a few points, if at all. Taking the 6 1/2 points would seem to be just about a no-brainer as the Gamecocks may prove to be one of the best 8-seeds of all time.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Key Players For NCAA FINAL FOUR: North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Gonzaga

Tournament Final Four Key Players

North Carolina Tar Heels (31-7)

It's difficult to identify just one key player for the Tar Heels, but if anyone fits the bill, it is point guard Joel Berry II. Berry leads the team in assists, is second in scoring (14.6 points per game), and runs the offense. Available to either drive the ball, lead the fast break or shoot threes, Berry is always a key component to the Carolina offense.

Defensively, nobody plugs the middle like Kennedy Meeks, the 6'10" double-double machine. Meeks is imposing in size and a strong defender and rebounder. Against Kentucky in the South regional final, Meeks had just seven points, but collected 17 rebounds. The Wildcats didn't get many second shots and the Ducks likely won't either if Meeks is on his game.

Oregon Ducks (33-5)

Oregon's offense flows through 6'4" guard Tyler Dorsey, who averaged 14.5 points during the regular season, but has stepped up his game significantly in the post season, scoring 20 or more points in seven straight games, including 27 in each of the Ducks' wins over Rhode Island (75-72) and the blowout 74-60 victory over Kansas in the Midwest Regional final.

Deadly from beyond the arc, if left open, Dorsey makes the opposition pay dearly, stroking it at 65.4% (17-for-26) during the tournament, his three-point shots have proven to set the Ducks flying time and again, and will be a potent weapon against the Tar Heels.

A stalwart on defense is 6'9" forward Jordan Bell, who scored 11 points with 13 rebounds and 8 blocked shots in Oregon's win over Kansas. He'll be up against a variety of long and lanky Tar Heels in the paint, but is tough to root out once he's established position. Bell will be a key for the Ducks on both the offensive and defensive boards.

South Carolina Gamecocks (26-10)

Averaging 25.8 points per game, Sindarius Thornwell is on pace for Tournament Most Outstanding Player should South Carolina move forward to the National Championship. The Gamecock forward is generally unstoppable for an entire game and Carolina looks to him constantly throughout contests to pace the offense and especially in tight conditions at the end of the half or the game. Thornwell is the leading scorer among players remaining in the tournament and will have to be at his best if the Gamecocks are to reach the tourney final. Preparedness is high on the "to do" list for South Carolina, so expect Thornwell, the SEC Player of the Year (and there were some good ones in the conference), to be focused and show leadership.

Gonzaga Bulldogs (36-1)

There is one and only one key player for the Bulldogs, and he is known as Nigel Williams-Goss, the team leader in both scoring (16.7) and assists (4.6), and the second-leading rebounder (5.9). The 6'3" junior from Happy Valley, Oregon is a homegrown legend in the Pacific Northwest and the absolute key to Gonzaga's success. Capable of leaping out of his sneakers, Williams-Goss can penetrate or shoot three-pointers with the best in the nation.

As he goes, so go the Bulldogs, and, with just one loss, he's been going good all season long. Against Xavier in the West regional final, he did not shoot well (7-for-19), but had 23 points, making four of seven from three-point range, with eight rebounds, four assists, a pair of steals and a blocked shot. Williams-Goss has been Gonzaga's go-to guy and will be up to the challenge presented by South Carolina's stout defense.

Thursday: Analysis of East-West, South Carolina-Gonzaga National Semi-final
Friday: Analysis of Midwest-South, Oregon-North Carolina National Semi-final

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

2017 NCAA Final Four Stats; Gonzaga vs. South Carolina; Oregon vs. North Carolina

NCAA Regular Season and Tournament Stats

Regular Season Stats per game
Team points FG% FT% 3pt% Reb. asst. a/to steals blocks
North Carolina 84.9 .471 .705 .366 43.5 18.2 1.53 6.94 3.24
Oregon 79.1 .481 .711 .378 36.4 16.4 1.42 6.50 6.65

Gonzaga 84.6 .518 .738 .382 40.3 16.0 1.42 7.15 4.45
South Carolina 72.1 .414 .690 .338 36.3 12.6 0.94 7.84 3.88

Tournament Stats per game
Team points FG% FT% 3pt% Reb. ass a/to steals blocks
North Carolina 85.5 .474 .700 .321 45.3 18.0 1.36 8.25 4.50
Oregon 77.8 .500 .648 .432 37.0 12.3 1.11 6.75 3.75

Gonzaga 72.3 .432 .586 .350 41.8 10.0 0.82 6.00 5.75
South Carolina 82.0 .476 .752 .329 36.8 13.0 1.11 7.50 3.00

Tournament margin of victory
Team gm1 gm2 gm3 gm4 total avg.
North Carolina 39 7 8 2 56 14
Oregon 16 3 1 14 34 8.5

Gonzaga 20 6 3 24 53 13.25
South Carolina 20 7 20 7 54 13.5

The week ahead:
Wednesday: Key players, situations, strategies...
Thursday: East-West National Semi-Final Preview
Friday: South-Midwest National Semi-Final Preview

Monday, March 27, 2017

Luke Maye's Buzzer-Beater Sends Tar Heels Over Kentucky And On To Final Four

College Hoops Player of the Day for Sunday, March 26, 2017

Luke Maye played just 20 minutes in North Carolina's 75-73 victory over Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament South Regional final, but he made every minute of his time on the court count, especially in the final seconds of the game.

After Malik Monk tied the score at 73 with a miraculous three-pointer with 7.2 seconds left to play, North Carolina's Theo Pinson drove the length of the court and into the lane, pitching the ball to Maye, who was stationed on the three point line to the left for the basket.

Without hesitation, Maye let fly and swished the game-winner with 0.3 seconds remaining, sending North Carolina to the Final Four for the 20th time in the program's storied history.

Maye and his teammates celebrated on the court in Memphis, seeking redemption for last season's last-second loss to Villanova for the national championship.

The final shot was not the only contribution made by the 6'8" sophomore forward. Maye was mostly on target uring his various stints on the court, going 6-for-9 from the field for 17 points, including making two of three three-pointers and all three of his free throw attempts. He also added three rebounds, two assists and had a steal.

His point total was second to teammate Justin Jackson, who tallied 19, but was only 7-for-17. Kennedy Meeks was a major force under the rim, scoring seven points while hauling in 17 boards and blocking four shots in 32 minutes. Maye's accuracy and heady presence were critical to the Tar Heels prevailing, especially when everything was on the line in the closing seconds.

North Carolina heads to Glendale, Arizona, site of the NCAA Tournament Final Four, to face the Oregon Ducks, the #3 seed from the West region, making its first appearance in the Final Four since winning the tournament in 1939.

In the other regional final on Sunday, 7th-seeded South Carolina earned its first trip to the Final Four in the school's history, defeating #4 Florida, 77-70, in the East Regional, an all-SEC classic.

Sindarius Thornwell led all scorers with 26 points as the Gamecocks rallied from seven points down at the half. South Carolina faces the #1 seed from the West, Gonzaga, also making its first trip to the Final Four.

Both Saturday games are slated for broacast coverage on CBS, starting with the Gamecocks and Bulldogs at 6:09 pm ET. The North Carolina-Oregon match-up should tip at or around 8:49 pm ET.

College Basketball Daily will keep the hoops juices flowing during the week leading up to the National Semi-Final games in Arizona.

Here's a peek at the upcoming daily schedule:

Tuesday: Statistical Breakdown of Final Four Teams
Wednesday: Key players, situations, strategies...
Thursday: East-West National Semi-Final Preview
Friday: South-Midwest National Semi-Final Preview

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through Sunday (3/26) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 9-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (4)
Big East (7) 6-7 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (3)
Big Ten (7) 8-7 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 9-6 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (3), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 11-4* Florida (3), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (3), South Carolina (4)
PAC 12 (4) 10-3 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (4), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 5-1 Gonzaga (4), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) (4-23) Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

*One SEC loss and one SEC win occurred in the same game, the East Regional Final, South Carolina 77, Florida 70

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Jordan Bell, Tyler Dorsey Lead Oregon Past Kansas To Final Four; Gonzaga Advances From West

College Hoops Player of the Day for Saturday, March 25, 2017

After #1 seed Gonzaga dispatched #11 Xavier, 83-59, to capture the West region, sending the Bulldogs to the Final Four for the first time in school history, the stage was set for more drama as #1 Kansas squared off with #3 Oregon in the Midwest regional final.

Under coach Bill Self, the Jayhawks have had issues advancing to the pinnacle of college basketball. Kansas entered the fray 2-4 in Elite Eight games, putting pressure on the squad in front of 18,000+ fans in partisan Kansas City.

Oregon was facing its own moment in history. The team had not been to the Final Four since 1939, when Oregon captured the national championship.

As the game unfolded, it became clear that Oregon was better prepared and organized for the effort, seizing the lead after just four minutes of play and never looking back en route to a 74-60 victory.

A true team effort, the Ducks played magnificent defense and made shots when they mattered, led by the game's high scorer, Tyler Dorsey, who made six three-pointers in an overall 9-for-13 effort, going 3-for-4 from the foul line, Oregon was on the mark, shooting 50.9% from the field, making 11 of 25 threes (44%).

On the defensive end and in the paint - where Oregon dominated - it was all about Jordan Bell. The 6'9" junior has stepped up his game since the Ducks lost Chris Boucher to injury nearing the end of the conference tournament and he was the proverbial unmovable object in the lane against Kansas, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting, 13 rebounds (7 offensive), 8 blocked shots and foour assists.

If Dorsey's 27 points was the highlight for the offense, Bell's unselfish, cagey play on the interior was the heart of Oregon's defensive effort, holding Kansas - which had averaged 96 points in three tournament games coming in - to their season low in scoring, on 35% shooting and a horrific 5-for-25 from beyond the arc.

Kansas once again failed in its quest for the Final Four (now 2-5 in Elite Eight games under Bill Self), but it wasn't so much a failure on their part, but successful strategy and superior execution and defense by the Ducks that made the game.

The Ducks will face the winners of Sunday's North Carolina-Kentucky South regional final which tips at 5:05 pm ET. Gonzaga will meet the winner of the East regional final between #4 Florid and #7 South Carolina which goes off at 2:20 pm ET. Both games are being broadcast live on CBS.

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through Saturday (3/25) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 8-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (3)
Big East (7) 6-7 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (3)
Big Ten (7) 8-7 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 9-6 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (3), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 10-2 Florida (3), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (3), South Carolina (3)
PAC 12 (4) 10-3 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (4), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 5-1 Gonzaga (4), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) (4-23) Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

De'Aaron Fox Pummels UCLA With 39 Points As Kentucky Advances

College Hoops Player of the Day for Friday, March 24, 2017

Prior to the Sweet 16 meeting between the #2 and #3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament South Region, Kentucky and UCLA, all the chatter surrounded the Bruins' fab freshman, Lonzo Ball. It was Ball, the pundits said, who would dominate the back court and Ball who would be the top pick in the NBA draft. Barely a word was spoken about Kentucky's freshman guards, Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox.

Once the game was underway, however, there was no mistaking who was handling the ball the pressure better. Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox seemed to be in complete control, the ball in his hands nearly every possession, and, more often than not, he was taking it to Ball and the Bruins, scoring at every opportunity.

By the time the final buzzer sounded and the Wildcats had secured their spot in the Elite Eight with an 86-75 tour de Fox, the baby-face, 6'3" freshman from Houston, Texas, had rung up a career-high 39 points, the most ever scored by a freshman in the NCAA tournament.

Fox completely outplayed and out-shined Ball, who may have been disserviced by the comments from his father, LeVar, who unabashedly lavished praise upon his son to anyone within earshot prior to the game. Ball was pretty much an afterthought, finishing with just 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting to go with eight assists. After the game, Ball confirmed that he would go pro, conceding that he had just played his final game for the Bruins.

Fox's evening was nothing short of sensational, thus far the finest individual performance of the entire tournament. In 36 minutes, he was 13-for-20 from the field, missing his only three-point attempt, and 13-for-15 from the foul line. When he wasn't dancing through the UCLA defense and whirling to the goal, he managed to dish four assists, grasp three rebounds and contribute a pair of pilfers on defense.

Fox's running mate, Monk, also played well, scoring 21 points on 8-for-17 shooting with four solid three-pointers. The first half was a see-saw battle, with Kentucky eventually taking a 36-33 lead into the ocker rooms. In the second 20 minutes, Fox and Monk took charge, but UCLA would not relent. When Bryce Alford hit a three at 14:43, The Wildcats led by one point, 50-49, but a 10-2 spurt by Kentucky over the next three minutes gave them a 60-51 lead that they would eventually expand to as many as 14 points when Fox made a layup with 1:58 remaining for a 79-65 advantage.

The Wildcats are set for a rematch with the region's #1 seed, North Carolina, on Sunday at approximated 5:05 pm ET. The two teams matched up back on December 17 in the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas, with Kentucky coming away with a 47-point effort from Malik Monk and a 103-100 victory. Their game Sunday will be the only #1 vs. #2 seeds of the tournament.

North Carolina advanced with a workmanlike, 92-80 win over #4 Butler.

In the East Regional semi-finals, #7 South Carolina dominated #3 Baylor, 70-50, and #4 Florida eventually dismissed a resolute Wisconsin squad, 84-83 in overtime.

On Saturday, #11 Xavier hooks up with #1 Gonzaga in the West Regional final at 6:09 pm ET prior to the Midwest Regional final between #1 Kansas and #3 Oregon at 8:49 pm ET. Both games will be televised by TBS.

Sunday's Kentucky-North Carolina match-up (5:05 pm ET) will be preceded by the East Regional final of #4 Florida vs. #7 South Carolina in an all-SEC clash. Sunday's games are to be broadcast by CBS, which also has exclusive rights to this year's Final Four games next weekend.

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through Friday (3/24) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 8-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (3)
Big East (7) 6-6 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (3)
Big Ten (7) 8-7 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 9-5 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (3), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 10-2 Florida (3), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (3), South Carolina (3)
PAC 12 (4) 9-3 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (3), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 4-1 Gonzaga (3), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) (4-23) Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Trevon Bluiett, #11 Xavier Knocks Off #2 Arizona, Advancing To West Regional Final

College Hoops Player of the Day for Thursday, March 23, 2017

Off a nice high-low feed from Malcolm Bernard, Sean O'Mara scored a layup with 40 seconds left, giving #11 seed Xavier a two point advantage, enough to upset No. 2 Arizona 73-71 in the West Region Thursday night. Arizona had a number of opportunities to score, but could not, their last chance a desperation heave from three-point land by Allonzo Trier that nicked off the front of the rim.

Leading all scorers was 6'6" junior, Trevon Buuiett, who has been nothing short of brilliant leading the Musketeers into the Elite Eight. Bluiett netted 25 points on 9-for-17 shooting with three three-pointers. He was 4-for-4 from the line and added two rebounds and a pair of assists.

Bluiett scored 21 in Xavier's 76-65 first round win over #8 seed Maryland, then had 29 when the Musketeers dumped #3 Florida State, 91-66.

Now having bested the #2 and #3 seeds in the region, Xavier next faces #1 Gonzaga on Saturday (6:09 pm tip), themselves narrow winners over #4 West Virginia, 61-58, in the other half of the regional semi-final.

At #11, Bluiett and his Musketeer mates are the highest seed remaining in the national championship tournament.

In the Midwest Region, #1 Kansas blew out #4 Purdue, 98-66; #3 Oregon barely escaped #7 Michigan, 69-68.

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through Thursday (3/23) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 7-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (2)
Big East (7) 6-5 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (3)
Big Ten (7) 8-6 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 9-4 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (3), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 7-2 Florida (2), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (2), South Carolina (2)
PAC 12 (4) 9-2 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (3), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 4-1 Gonzaga (3), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) 4-23 Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kentucky-UCLA Among Awesome Friday Sweet 16 Match-Ups

NCAA Sweet 16 South and East Regions Previews

South Region

(1) North Carolina Tar Heels vs. (4) Butler Bulldogs
7:09 pm ET, CBS

North Carolina (29-7) is the last remnant of the ACC, the conference that was touted by many "in the know" analysts as the best in the nation. What we know now is that the "best" conference has a record of 7 wins and 8 losses, leaving the Tar Heels (who won the regular season but lost in the conference tournament final to Duke) as the lone representative. Thus, it's not a stretch to believe that North Carolina is not long for this tournament. The logic is that since every other team has from the ACC has been eliminated, how soon will the Tar Heels fall?

So far, they've had it relatively easy, dropping #16 Texas Southern in the opening round, 103-64, then disposing of a very game #8 Arkansas squad in the second round, 72-65. The Razorbacks had the Heels on their toes, leading 65-60 with under three minutes to play, but North Carolina closed out the game on a 12-0 run to survive and move forward. The Heels shot just 38.1%, the worst for a Carolina squad in the tournament since 1968.

If Carolina plays as poorly offensively as they did against the Razorbacks, Butler may make them pay dearly and send them home early. The bulldogs come out of the Big East, which sent seven teams and has only two remaining (the other, Xavier), so this could be rated as a meeting between survivors of the two most overrated conferences. If that's the case, 25-8 Butler (2nd in the Big East, 12-6), a 7 1/2-point underdog, has a very good chance of upending the Tar Heels.

Butler got through round one by defeating #13 Winthrop 76-64, and then took down a highly-touted #12 in Middle Tennessee State, 74-65. As far as tenacious is concerned, the Bulldogs are as fierce as they come. North Carolina should not expect an easy time, but this group may not be as talented as some previous NC tournament teams, and they are very young and inexperienced. Thus, anything can happen, and Butler could come out ahead.

(2) Kentucky Wildcats vs. (3) UCLA Bruins
9:39 pm ET, CBS

In what could be the best Elite Eight game of all, the Bruins and Wildcats take back seats to almost no teams in the tournament. Kentucky cruised through the SEC regular season, posting a 16-2 mark (31-5 overall), two games better than runner-up Florida, and they won the conference tournament handily as well.

What's a little disturbing about the Wildcats - other than their relative youth, though that's become a feature of most tourney teams of late - is the closeness of their two wins: 79-70 over #15 seed Norther Kentucky, a team the Wildcats should have beaten by 30; and, their 65-62 victory in the second round over #10 Wichita State, which almost pulled off a monumental upset. The Shockers, however, may have been vastly underrated, so Kentucky can get a pass on that one.

At 31-4 UCLA has the look of a team nobody really wants to be playing at this juncture, largely because of the presence of the presumptive #1 draft pick, freshman point guard Lonzo Ball, who led the nation in assists, at 7.6 per game. Scoring an average of 14.7 per outing, Ball leads a team with six double figure scorers, a rarity in the college ranks. Ball will match up against Kentucky's freshman sensation, De'Aaron Fox, who's no slouch at 4.6 assists and 14.1 points per game, but he'll have his hands full on defense against the crafty Ball. The line favors the Bruins by one, but they could win by more if Ball is all he's supposed to be.

Both conferences are well-represented. The SEC sent five teams and three are remaining (Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida). The PAC-12 holds the best record of any conference at 8-1, having sent just four teams. Only USC has bowed out, but they won two games (First Four and First Round). UCLA, Arizona and Oregon remain.

East Region

(3) Baylor Bears vs. (7) South Carolina Gamecocks
7:29 pm ET, TBS

Baylor had a very solid season, but fell short in the strong Big 12, finishing tied with West Virginia and Iowa State for second place at 12-6, behind champion Kansas. The Bears are 27-7 overall, after dusting #14 New Mexico State in the opening round, 91-73, and slipping by a better-than-advertised #11 USC, 82-78. Baylor is probably the tallest team by position in the tourney, with seven-footer, Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., and 6'10" Johnathan Motley anchoring the front line. While they may be long and lanky, the Baylor forwards are not exceptionally strong, and South Carolina brings plenty of muscle, which they used to upend undersized and heavily-favored #2 seed Duke, 88-82, after disposing of #10 Marquette, 93-73.

The Gamecocks went through the regular season in and out of the Top 25, slipping up as the regular season ended with five losses in their final eight games and then losing to Alabama in the opening round of the SEC tournament, 64-53.

But, South Carolina has rebounded well and they will hit the boards hard against Baylor. If this turns into a front court scrum, look for South Carolina to at least cover the 3 1/2-point spread and possibly win outright. Sindarius Thornwell and Chris Silva will lead the charge, but the Gamecocks are not particularly deep.

(8) Wisconsin Badgers vs. (4) Florida Gators
9:59 pm ET, TBS

The elite Eight ends with a couple of rank outsiders matching up in what should be an exciting contest. Wisconsin's main claim to fame is beating #1 seed in the East, Villanova, 65-62, in the second round, marking them as giant-killers and raising all kinds of rancor from pundits who thought the Badgers were under-seeded as a #8. While that may be true - because they did go 26-9 and were runners-up in the Big Ten to Purdue, at 12-6 - they did tie with Maryland in second, and the Terps were shuffled off in the first round by Xavier. So, there are arguments either way, but the reality is that the Badgers are big and bad and disciplined, probably moreso than the Gators, who lost consistently to Kentucky this season, but were otherwise well-regarded, also ranked in the Top 25 throughout the season.

The Gators grabbed a #4 seed and it appears to be well-deserved. In the first round, they took care of #13 East Tennessee State handily, 80-64. In the second round, the Gators chomped down on #5 Virginia, holding the Cavaliers to 29.6% shooting (16-54) in a 65-39 rout. While Virginia was not regarded by anyone as a team of sharpshooters, the Florida defense was strangulating and the same kind of effort might turn this meeting against Wisconsin into a game of first-to-50.

That kind of grinding atmosphere might be right up Badger alley, but all indication are that the two-point favorite Gators are going to advance here.

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through Sunday (3/19) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 7-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (2)
Big East (7) 5-5 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (2)
Big Ten (7) 8-4 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 8-3 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (2), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 7-2 Florida (2), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (2), South Carolina (2)
PAC 12 (4) 8-1 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (2), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 3-1 Gonzaga (2), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) (4-23) Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

ESPN updated NCAA tournament bracket

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

2017 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16: Midwest and West Match-ups, Previews

Midwest and West NCAA Tourney Match-ups

With four games Thursday and four more Friday, the Sweet 16 will, by late Friday night, be reduced to the Elite Eight (and the unfortunate eight, the losers).

Thursday offers games from the West and Midwest regions, so we'll take a look at those contests today, and cover the East and South on Thursday. That way, everybody will have ample time to make their picks and either agree or throw things at College Basketball Daily's best guesses as to which teams are advancing.

Midwest Region:

(3) Oregon Ducks vs.
(7) Michigan Wolverines
(7:09 pm ET, CBS):

The Ducks come out of the PAC-10 as the runner-up in both the regular season and the conference tournament to Arizona. Oregon was ranked nationally all season, and they are currently #9 in the AP poll. Not that it should matter at this point, but Oregon has been highly-regarded all season, while the Wolverines were more or less an afterthought for an at-large bid until they won the Big Ten tournament and received the automatic bid. Otherwise, Michigan might be playing in the NIT, but, here they are, the #7 seed in the region, upsetting #2 Louisville, 73-69.

Oregon will continue to miss Chris Boucher, injured during the conference tourney, in the post, but they managed to ride the likes of Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey through wins over Iona (93-77), and Rhode Island (75-72). The Rams gave them a scare and they'd be wise to take the Wolverines very, very seriously. Michigan may just be the tournament's Cinderella team, plane crash, practice jerseys and all.

Michigan nailed 16 three-pointers and needed every one of them in their 92-91 win over #10 Oklahoma State, but proved multi-dimensional in beating the Cardinals, hitting just six from downtown. The Ducks can drain them as well, but this game may not be a shoot-around some are expecting. Look for Michigan to play better defense and exploit Oregon's inside weakness with crisp ball movement.

(1) Kansas Jayhawks vs.
(4) Purdue Boilermakers
(9:39 pm ET, CBS):

Kansas (30-4) has had its way with both opponents thus far, smashing #16 seed UC Davis, 100-62, and demoralizing Tom Izzo and his #9 seed Michigan State Spartans, 90-60, establishing the Jayhawks as the team with the largest average margin of victory remaining, at 29 points. That's usually a big factor when the tournament reaches this level, as teams that squeak by are normally eliminated by those that have routed their opponents and given subs some playing time and starters some rest.

Speaking of rest, the Jayhawks have had plenty of it, as they lost in the opening round of the Big 12 tourney but were assured a solid seed after dominating the regular season in the conference.

Kansas is led by senior Frank Mason III, an all-American if ever there was one, averaging 36.1 minutes, 20.8 points and 5.2 assists per game. His backcourt running mate, Josh Jackson is an explosive freshman, averaging 16.6 points and 7.1 boards per outing.

25-7 Purdue is not going to be bowled over by the impressive resume Kansas brings. They also won their conference - the Big Ten - handily, and lost in the opening round to - guess who? - Michigan, in the conference tournament. The Boilermakers are big inside and play a very controlled offense with few miscues. As it turns out, this may be one of the great match-ups of the tournament, with Purdue intent on controlling the paint and Kansas seeking to bomb from outside.

Oddsmakers have Kansas a 4 1/2-point favorite, but it may well be closer than that. Purdue beat #13 seed Vermont by 10 in the opening round and took down Iowa State (a thorn in the side of Kansas) 80-76. They're on a par with the Jayhawks here, but the game is really too close to call. Instinct says go with the #1 seed; emotion says pray for the underdog.

West Region:

(1) Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. (4) West Virginia Mountaineers
(7:39 pn ET, TBS)

Gonzaga (34-1) has been ranked in the top five all season and were undefeated until they lost the very last game of the season to BYU, 79-71. Apparently, the Zags just brushed it off, winning the WCC tournament with three straight wins, topping St. Mary's (for the third time this season) in the final, 74-56.

The Bulldogs whipped #16 South Dakota State by 20 in the opening round, then dispatched #8 Northwestern, 79-73, to move into this round. That game against the Wildcats may have been a tell for the Zags, as the knock on them is that they do not come from a major conference, thus, their gaudy record is unconvincing. Maybe so, but their non-conference schedule was not for the feint of heart, with Arizona, Tennessee, Florida, Iowa State and Washington in the mix, and they beat them all.

Gonzaga has been close before, but, with the field thinned down and the demise of the ACC, this could be their year.

West Virginia didn't scare anybody all season, but they finished tied with Baylor for second place in the Big 12, with a record of 12-6, and they were 28-8 overall, plus, they have the distinct advantage of being coached by one of the greats, Bob Higgins, who rose to fame with Cincinnati. Of course, Gonzaga's Mark Few is certainly no slouch, so this game may mark a high point in coaching acuity. The Mountaineers, who lost in their conference tournament final to Iowa State, have shown the ability to tear up opponent's game plans with a deep, nine or ten-man rotation and scathing defense. They may have had a case of nervousness when they beat Bucknell, 86-80 in their opener, but showed all their skills dominating #5 Notre Dame, 83-71.

West Virginia is a three-point underdog, which is acceptable, but they can beat the Zags if they're on from three-point land. They have four players, including starters Esa Ahmad and Jevon Carter, who can hit at nearly 40% from beyond the arc. If Gonzaga gives up open looks, the Mountaineers will make them pay.

(2) Arizona Wildcats vs.
(11) Xavier Musketeers
(10:09 pm ET, TBS)

Of all the metch-ups presented for Thursday night, this one looks to be the most lopsided and the oddsmakers agree, installing the Arizona Wildcats as 8-point favorites. That's not unexpected, as Xavier, a #11 seed is the highest (or lowest, according to your own perspective) seed in the Sweet 16. The Musketeers are the one of the two remaining teams from the seven sent by the Big East, which included #1 seed and last year's champion, Villanova, so perhaps the Big East wasn't as "big" as the selection committee thought.

However, Xavier is a scrappy bunch, checking in with a 23-13 mark, after going just 9-9 in conference. In a way, the Musketeers simply shouldn't be here. They lost six straight near the end of the regular season, but then won two games in the Big East tourney before falling to Creighton in the semis. Once into the NCAA tournament, however, Xavier raised its game, taking down Maryland, 76-65, in the first round, then absolutely crushing Florida State, 91-66, to reach this level.

Arizona is another story altogether. They conquered the PAC-12 both in the regular season and in the conference tournament, having to deal with top-notch squads from UCLA and Oregon en route. Their 32-4 record includes tournament wins over #15 North Dakota, 100-82, and #7 St. Mary's, 69-60, the same team the #1 seed in the West, Gonzaga, whipped three times this season, so the Wildcats have taken measure of what may be their ultimate opponent in the region.

That does not mean they can look past Xavier. The Wildcats can play inside and out, especially with their resident Finnish frosh, Lauri Markkanen, who is a double-double match-up nightmare, capable of stroking it from the outside or taking to the hole. He averages 15.8 points and 7.2 rebounds and hits threes at a .433 rate. Allonzo Trier is the leading scoring, putting down 17.1 per game. The Wildcats go nine deep and they an all play. As a team they hit at 39.6% from three-point range. Look out. They'll beat the Musketeers and maybe win the whole shooting match.

Tomorrow: East and South Region Previews

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

First And Second Round NCAA Tournament Post-Mortems

With the ACC decimated over the previous weekend, leaving North Carolina as the only representative, four conferences - the PAC-12, SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten - have emerged as the best in the nation, each represented in the Sweet 16 by three teams, replete with mountains of egg splashed across the collective faces of the tournament selection committee.

Remember when there was talk of 11 teams from the "elite" ACC headed to the NCAA tourney? Yes, there was madness circulating even before March. Now that Duke, Wake Forest, Virginia, Florida State, etc. have all been embarrassed and kicked to the collegiate curb, perhaps the genii which operates the tournament might consider smaller conferences or, perish the thought, more teams from the other power conferences.

Along with the ACC, the Big East took it on the chin pretty hard as well. After Villanova was bounced in the second round by Wisconsin (Big Ten strikes again), only Butler and Xavier remained of the seven teams originally offered bids to the tournament. The other four - Creighton, Seton Hall, Marquette and Providence - didn't win a single game. Another blunder by the almighty committee. Providence, which finished with a positive, 10-8, record in the conference, was awarded a play-in proposition, but couldn't muster past USC, from the PAC-12, which sent only four teams.

Of those, three remain: UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona, seeded 3, 3 and 2, respectively. Incidentally, the USC Trojans not only defeated Providence, but they also slipped by everybody's "sleeper" pick, #6 SMU in the East region, so the four teams from the PAC-12 have conspired against the tournament elitists to an 8-1 record, clearly the best of any conference. Maybe Utah (11-7 conf., 20-12) or Cal (10-8, 21-13) might have had a case, rather than the harping and crying over Syracuse, bounced out of the NIT by Ole Miss at the Carrier Dome?

There was much crying and griping in Philadelphia (Been there lately? You'd complain, too.) after sweetheart Villanova went down in disgrace to the #8 seed in the East, Wisconsin. The complaints generally questioned how a team that was ranked in the Top 25 almost all season could end up a #8, upsetting the path to the championship for the beloved Wildcats. One could lay the blame for that squarely on the selection committee's head again, which is why committees, whether they be in the corporate, political or sporting world, just plain suck. Next year, the NCAA might think about using computers to make up the 68 team field, rather than obviously flawed humans. But, I digress, because, after all, I'm a human, too. (I love my computer. Really, I do.)

Let's not forget the Atlantic-10 and American conferences when it comes to epic fails, though. The A-10 sent Dayton, VCU and Rhode Island to the tourney, none remain. VCU, in case anybody hasn't noticed, isn't the same kind of team since Shaka Smart left, and Dayton, despite winning the conference regular season with a 15-3 mark, lost their final game to George Washington and opened the conference tourney with an embarrassing 73-67 loss to Davidson.

The Flyers got whacked by Wichita State, 64-58. The Shockers were a solid team that took Kentucky, the #2 seed in the South, right to the final buzzer, losing 65-62. Not bad for a #10 seed. The Shockers made the case for Illinois State, as it were.

Rhode Island was the only team from the A-10 with a win, over Big East blowhard, Creighton, but the Rams were eliminated in the next round by Oregon. Boo-f-ing-hoo.

Out of the American conference came SMU (we already know what happened to them) and Cincinnati, which won its perfunctory one game, downing Kansas State, 75-61 in the opening round. Honestly, the Wildcats of K-State should have gone to the NIT. They were 8-10 in the Big 12. They got stomped, but, proving that the American conference is anything but red-blooded, the Bearcats were easily handled by UCLA, 79-67, in the second round.

If anything is clear, it's that the PAC-12, SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 have the best teams remaining and those two "Big" conferences were fairly represented, with the possible exclusion of Kansas State, though the Wildcats did beat up wake Forest in the play-in game. Of the seven Big Ten schools, only two - Maryland and Minnesota - lost in the opening round, and from the Big 12, only the Cowboys of Oklahoma State failed to win a single game.

The SEC sent five teams, and three of them, Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina are still alive. Arkansas won one game, dumping Seton Hall (Big East) in the opening round before scaring the bejeezus out of Narth Carolina, losing to the Tar Heels, 72-65. Nobody was convinced Vanderbilt belonged, and those skeptical were rewarded with a first round loss to Northwestern, by a mere deuce. Speaking of Northwestern, since it was their first ever appearance in the tournament, they deserved to win, but they probably should not have been picked.

So, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Michigan will soldier on for the Big Ten and the Big 12 teams remaining are Kansas (overrated), Baylor and West Virginia.

All the excuses in the world cannot lift the veils of stupidity and bias from the selection committee. The NCAA tournament has become like everything else in America, too complex, over-hyped and flawed by excessive media attention, the same media that has polluted our politics, our prime time viewing and entire generations of formerly sensible people (Baby Boomers and GenXers, and Millenials).

If the United States of America is ever to rise from the ashes in which it currently smoulders, East coast bias must be trampled forever into dust. There's a real world out there in the hinterlands of Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah and elsewhere, and yes, some of those people can play hoops. When media powerhouses like CBS and TNT readily share blame for egregious lapses of sanity such as the NCAA seeding process, perhaps the country can move ahead again.

Of course, there might still be the circus known as the US congress in Washington, DC, with which to contend, but that's a story for another day, in another place.

Tomorrow: Match-up Madness in the West and Midwest Regions
Wednesday: South and East Sweet 16 Match-ups

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through Sunday (3/19) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 7-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (2)
Big East (7) 5-5 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (2)
Big Ten (7) 8-4 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 8-3 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (2), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 7-2 Florida (2), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (2), South Carolina (2)
PAC 12 (4) 8-1 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (2), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 3-1 Gonzaga (2), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) (4-23) Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Trevon Bluiett, Sindarious Thornwell, Moritz Wagner Lead Xavier, South Carolina, Michigan to Sweet 16

Editor's Note: Due to car issues and internet unavailability (when we say "off the grid" we mean it) College Basketball Daily fell flat on the most critical of weekends, but, happily, we're almost back in business. The vehicle is under repair, and the internet is well, available. We did manage to keep track of events as they unfolded over the past three days and are presenting the last three players of the day for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, plus the updated Conference Tournament Scoreboard, in this bonus posting. More as the week unfolds... we hope!

College Hoops Player of the Day for Friday, March 17, 2017

South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell was not only the high scorer in the Gamecock's 93-73 rout of Marquette, he was the high scorer of any of the 16 winning teams in the NCAA tourney on Friday. Only one player scored more. Norbertas Giga of Jacksonville State had 30 in a losing effort to Louisville.

Beyond his 29 points, Thornwell was also busy on the boards, collecting 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. The 6'5" senior from Lancaster, SC, was on target, making 10 of 19 shots from the floor, including a 3-for-6 effort from beyond the arc, adding 6-for-7 from the foul line.

Thornwell and his South Carolina teammates matched up with Duke on Sunday in a classic in which Thornwell had 24 points as the #7 seed Gamecocks ousted the #2 Blue Devils from the East Region. The result left the low seed in the region as #3 Baylor, who faces South Carolina Friday night in one of the two regional semi-final games.

College Hoops Player of the Day for Saturday, March 18, 2017

Junior swingman Trevon Bluiett helped Xavier defeat Maryland, 76-65, in Thursday night's "First Four" play-in game with 21 points, but he and his teammates made sure nobody underestimated them as the Musketeers slaughtered Florida State, 91-66. Bluiett led all scorers with 29 points, pitching in three assists and six boards in 36 minutes of floor time.

Bluiett was 8-for-14 from the field with three 3-pointers and canned 10 of 14 from the charity stripe. As a team, the Musketeers shot 55.6% from the field (30-54) and an amazing 64.7% from three-point land (11-17). The Seminoles were completely outplayed and outclassed, outscored by 10 at the end of the first half, and going down 47-32 in the second half.

Xavier, the #11 seed in the West region is the highest seed remaining in the tournament's Sweet 16. They face #2 seed Arizona Thursday night in San Jose, California.

College Hoops Player of the Day for Sunday, March 19, 2017

In a day replete with upsets, one of the biggest (and the earliest) was Michigan's stunning 73-69 defeat of #2 seed Louisville in the Midwest region. The seventh-seeded Wolverines hung with their ACC rivals throughout, and forged to a late lead to hang on for the victory.

Playing his best string music, 6'11" sophomore from Berlin, Germany, Moritz Wagner, scored a career-high 26 points in the effort, knocking down 11-for-14 from the field, including his lone three-point attempt, and hitting three of six from the foul line.

As winners of the Big Ten tournament, the 26-11 Wolverines received the automatic bid to the NCAA and are making the most of it, advancing to the Sweet 16 where they will face the region's #3 seed, the Oregon Ducks.

As the Wolverines set the stage for a memorable day of upsets, including South Carolina's 88-81 win over Duke in the East Region, as mentioned above.

The losses by Duke and Louisville, along with previous losses by Notre Dame, Florida State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami, and Wake Forest, left the North Carolina Tar Heels as the only team remaining from the ACC, now bearing the moniker of "overrated", the tournament selection committee with egg on all of their faces.

Of the major conferences, the team with the smallest representation (four teams) has the best record, that being the PAC-10 at 8-1, with only USC out of the mix. UCLA, Arizona and Oregon all advanced to the Sweet 16 round. The Big 12, which sent six teams to the tourney has an 8-3 record and three teams (Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia) advancing, along with the 7-2 SEC (Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina) and the 8-4 Big Ten (Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue).

NCAA Tournament Conference Scoreboard
Through Sunday (3/19) Games
Conference (# of teams) Record Winners (# of Wins)
ACC (9) 7-8 Notre Dame (1), Florida St. (1), Virginia (1), Louisville (1), Duke (1), North Carolina (2)
Big East (7) 5-5 Villanova (1), Butler (2), Xavier (2)
Big Ten (7) 8-4 Purdue (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (1)
Big 12 (6) 8-3 Kansas State (1), West Virginia (2), Iowa St. (1), Kansas (2), Baylor (2)
SEC (5) 7-2 Florida (2), Arkansas (1), Kentucky (2), South Carolina (2)
PAC 12 (4) 8-1 USC (2), Arizona (2), Oregon (2), UCLA (2)
Atlantic 10 (3) 1-3 Rhode Island (1)
American (2) 1-2 Cincinnati (1)
West Coast (2) 3-1 Gonzaga (2), St. Mary's (1)
All Others (23) (4-23) Mt. St. Mary's (1), UC Davis (1), Middle Tennessee (1), Wichita State (1)

ESPN Tournament Bracket (updated)