N.C.A.A. Tournament Peek: Gonzaga Remains the Favorite, but the Blue Bloods Are Back


The N.F.L. and faculty soccer have topped their champions, with the Los Angeles Rams and the College of Georgia successful titles. The Winter Olympics are within the rearview mirror. And the beginning of the Main League Baseball season is in flux due to a lockout.

However the males’s faculty basketball season is simply heating up, with the N.C.A.A. event set to start March 15 earlier than concluding with the Ultimate 4 in New Orleans in early April.

Right here’s a have a look at the key themes of the faculty season thus far.

As a result of Gonzaga is within the West Coast Convention — which means most of its video games air late at evening on the East Coast — lots of people don’t get to see the Bulldogs a lot earlier than March.

However one yr after struggling their solely lack of the season in the N.C.A.A. championship game in opposition to Baylor, the Bulldogs are as soon as once more the favorites to win their first title. They’re ranked No. 1 in The Related Press ballot and in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and when the N.C.A.A. Division I Males’s Basketball Committee introduced its projected High 16 seeds on Sunday, Gonzaga was at No. 1 general.

Not like final season, the Bulldogs (23-2, 12-0 W.C.C.) received’t enter the nationwide event undefeated as a result of they misplaced to Duke and Alabama, however they’ve received 16 straight video games and already wrapped up their Tenth straight W.C.C. regular-season title.

With the convention probably sending 4 groups to the N.C.A.A. event this yr, Gonzaga Coach Mark Few mentioned that “to be undefeated is kind of an accomplishment.”

Coming into Tuesday, the Bulldogs led Division I in scoring at 89.5 factors per sport — and, as soon as once more, a workforce will seemingly should put up at the very least 85 or 90 factors to have an opportunity at upsetting them in March. 5 Gonzaga gamers boast scoring averages in double figures, led by the expert ahead Drew Timme (18.0 factors per sport, 6.3 rebounds per sport) and the 7-foot freshman sensation Chet Holmgren, who’s averaging 14.4 factors, 9.6 rebounds and three.4 blocks per sport and is projected to be a top-three choose on this summer time’s N.B.A. draft. In a yr with out many elite level guards on the high of school basketball, the Gonzaga senior Andrew Nembhard, who averages 10.9 factors and 5.7 assists, may be essentially the most savvy flooring basic.

Final yr, Duke and Kentucky missed the N.C.A.A. tournament in the same year for the primary time since 1976. One other powerhouse, Kansas, made the event as a No. 3 seed however was destroyed, 85-51, by Southern California, a No. 11 seed, within the second spherical.

This season, the three blue bloods have come roaring again, and all have a legit shot to succeed in the Ultimate 4 and contend for a title.

Kansas, 23-4 and 12-2 in its convention after beating Kansas State by 19 factors on Tuesday, sits atop the powerhouse Huge 12. Powered by the nationwide participant of the yr candidate Ochai Agbaji, who’s averaging 20.2 factors and 5.2 rebounds, Kansas has been projected as a No. 1 seed — together with Gonzaga, Auburn and Arizona — by the Division I Males’s Basketball Committee, whose members embrace athletic administrators and convention commissioners.

Duke and Kentucky, which each characteristic a pleasant mix of one-and-done freshmen alongside skilled older gamers, had been projected as No. 2 seeds.

Mike Krzyzewski, 75, is coaching his final season at Duke (23-4, 13-3 Atlantic Coast Convention) and seems to have all of the weapons he must contend for this system’s sixth championship.

The Blue Devils characteristic 5 gamers who could possibly be chosen within the first spherical of the N.B.A. draft, led by the 6-foot-10 freshman Paolo Banchero, a projected top-three choose averaging 16.9 factors and eight.4 rebounds per sport; the junior wing Wendell Moore Jr. (13.9 factors, 5.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists); and the freshman guard Trevor Keels (12.0 factors and 4.0 rebounds).

Keels lately mentioned that this yr’s workforce had “higher expertise” and “higher depth” than the 2014-15 Duke squad that received the N.C.A.A. championship — and that it could actually “undoubtedly” minimize down the nets.

Kentucky, which misplaced by 8 factors to Duke in November at Madison Sq. Backyard and blew out Kansas on the highway by 18 factors in January, has a shot on the title as a result of it blends elite freshmen like level guard TyTy Washington, averaging 12.4 factors and 4.1 assists per sport, with expert older gamers and transfers.

Oscar Tshiebwe, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound junior switch from West Virginia who was referred to as “a mountain masquerading as a person” by the dogged expertise scout Tom Konchalski, is averaging 16.4 factors per sport and a Division I-best 15.2 rebounds. He’s a number one contender for the John R. Picket and Naismith Awards, given to the highest faculty basketball gamers.

Kentucky (22-5, 11-3 Southeastern Convention) additionally has quite a lot of different weapons: Kellan Grady, a graduate switch from Davidson, is averaging 12.3 factors per sport whereas taking pictures 45.1 p.c from 3-point vary, and Sahvir Wheeler, a junior switch from Georgia, is a speedster averaging 9.6 factors and seven.1 assists.

When the listing of the 15 coaches in competition for the Naismith Coach of the 12 months Award was launched final week, it featured some family names who’ve run their packages for years: Gonzaga’s Few, Baylor’s Scott Drew, Kentucky’s John Calipari and Auburn’s Bruce Pearl. Few, Drew and Pearl’s groups have all been ranked No. 1 in The Related Press ballot this season.

However two first-year coaches are additionally within the combine for the award, and for deep runs in March: Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd and Texas Tech’s Mark Adams.

Lloyd, 47, got here to Arizona from Gonzaga, the place he was the chief recruiter underneath Few, to interchange Sean Miller, who failed to succeed in a Ultimate 4 throughout his 12 years with this system and whose workforce was the topic of F.B.I. and N.C.A.A. investigations.

All Lloyd has carried out in his first season as a head coach is to steer the Wildcats (24-2, 14-1 Pac-12 Convention) to the highest of the league standings with vital contributions from the projected N.B.A. lottery choose Bennedict Mathurin, a 6-foot-6 native of Montreal averaging 17.4 factors and 5.8 rebounds.

Adams, 65, was elevated to the pinnacle teaching place at Texas Tech in April after Chris Beard left for Texas. Regardless of shedding a number of gamers to transfers, Adams rebuilt the roster, and the ninth-ranked Pink Raiders (21-6, 10-4 Huge 12) now have two wins over each Texas and Baylor, the defending nationwide champion.

“He at all times desires to get one of the best out of us, and he’s doing an excellent job proper now,” mentioned the junior guard Terrence Shannon Jr.

Juwan Howard, Penny Hardaway and Patrick Ewing have a number of issues in widespread: all of them starred within the N.B.A. they usually all now coach at their alma maters.

They’re additionally all struggling in varied methods on the faculty stage.

Howard, the Michigan coach, was suspended for five games and fined $40,000 on Monday after he slapped a Wisconsin assistant coach in the head within the handshake line after a blowout loss to the Badgers on Sunday. Howard, who apologized and might be eligible to return for the Huge Ten Convention event, mentioned he was upset with a late timeout referred to as by Wisconsin Coach Greg Gard whereas the Badgers had a double-digit lead.

The veteran coach Phil Martelli will lead Michigan (14-11, 8-7 Huge Ten), which is on the bubble for the N.C.A.A. event after being ranked as excessive as No. 4, for the remainder of the common season.

At Memphis, Hardaway has talked brazenly about aspirations of successful nationwide championships, and the Tigers had been among the many preseason favorites after Hardaway persuaded the famous person recruits Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren to reclassify and enroll this season as freshmen. However Bates, who was as soon as in comparison with a younger Kevin Durant, struggled early and hasn’t performed since late January due to a again damage. With out Bates, the Tigers (15-9, 9-5 American Athletic Convention) received six straight video games earlier than shedding to Southern Methodist on Sunday. They personal spectacular wins over Alabama and Houston however stay on the N.C.A.A. event bubble.

At Georgetown, Ewing and the Hoyas are making historical past — and never in a great way. They’ve misplaced 16 straight video games and stand at 6-20 general and 0-15 within the Huge East Convention. One yr after successful the convention event, Georgetown is making an attempt to keep away from changing into the primary Huge East workforce to complete 0-19 in league play.

When Baylor received the N.C.A.A. title final spring, the workforce began two transfers (Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague) and introduced two extra off the bench (Adam Flagler and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua). Gonzaga began one other switch, Nembhard, at level guard in its run to the title sport.

On condition that greater than 1,700 gamers entered the N.C.A.A. switch portal after final season, don’t be stunned to see them play a job on groups that advance deep into March. Gonzaga, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Texas Tech all have key transfers on their rosters. After shedding three gamers to the professionals, Baylor introduced within the former Arizona and Georgetown guard James Akinjo, who’s averaging 13.2 factors and 5.8 assists for the Tenth-ranked Bears.

At Auburn (24-3, 12-2 SEC), Pearl could have hit the jackpot with the additions of Walker Kessler (North Carolina), Ok.D. Johnson (Georgia), Wendell Inexperienced Jr. (Japanese Kentucky) and Zep Jasper (Faculty of Charleston).

The 7-foot-1 Kessler has teamed up with Jabari Smith, the potential No. 1 choose on this yr’s N.B.A. draft, to present the Tigers a fearsome entrance line that’s the envy of some N.B.A. groups. After averaging 4.4 factors, 3.2 rebounds and 0.9 blocks as a freshman with the Tar Heels, Kessler is averaging 12.0 factors, 8.2 rebounds and a Division-I finest 4.6 blocks. In a current win over Texas A&M, Kessler had a triple-double with 12 factors, 12 blocks and 11 rebounds.



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