1. Is Gonzaga still a number one seed if they lose Saturday at St. Mary’s?
Zach- Personally, I think this Gonzaga team is the best I have seen. Better than the Adam Morrison teams, and better than the Kyle Wiltjer or Kevin Pangos teams. It annoys me to no end when people say that Gonzaga isn’t deserving of a one seed this season because they “haven’t played anybody.” Fun fact, Gonzaga is 5-0 against Kenpom top 50 teams this year. That is impressive enough in itself, but that they haven’t slipped up once against an upstart WCC team? Those two facts together make this one heck of a resume, possibly deserving of a number one overall seed. I think you may be able to make a case against them as a one seed if they lost to a lower rated WCC team, but losing on the road to a very good St. Mary’s club should not push them off the one line.
Ryan – I have to disagree here, and not at all because I dislike Gonzaga, but because it’s incredibly tough to give the Bulldogs the benefit of the doubt when they play in such a weak conference. Gonzaga simply isn’t challenged nearly enough in the West Coast Conference, and as a result, it’s difficult to forgive any loss the Bulldogs suffer in conference play. The bottom line is the Zags will need to run the table – or pretty darn close to it – to stay in the race for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. I can’t deny that Gonzaga has a respectable resume, which includes wins over Arizona, Florida, and Tennessee, but consider the sample size. The thing that really hurts the Zags is a lack of opportunities to bag a marquee win on an opponent’s home floor. In the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga just doesn’t have the chances to win a quality road game that teams in major conferences have in front of them. In the end, it will take at least 17 wins in the conference for Gonzaga to land a top seed, and perhaps the Bulldogs will even need to go 18-0 to feel completely comfortable. A loss at Saint Mary’s Saturday night could send the Zags’ chase for a number one seed to a screeching halt.
2. Which of the winners last night showed you more, UCLA or Duke?
Ryan – The Bruins and Blue Devils scored crucial home victories last night over Oregon and North Carolina, respectively. With both wins coming at home, it is imperative to read between the lines a tad to closely inspect the contests and eventually determine which triumph will carry more weight. Look, Oregon is darn good, and this was a chance for UCLA to gain the Pac-12 spotlight back, in essence, and the Bruins were successful, rallying from a double-digit second half deficit before closing out the Ducks in Los Angeles. And after trailing for much of the contest, Duke received solid play from stars Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen to record the win over arch rival North Carolina.
So, back to the question, which I will interpret exactly as it reads. Which team showed me more? It’s UCLA, and in my mind it’s not close. I expected Duke to beat North Carolina, especially in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils are simply too talented to be dropping games like this on their home floor, not to mention in a rivalry game. Switching gears back to the Pac-12. I actually predicted Oregon would go on the road and defeat UCLA, and it looked for most of the contest that I would be correct. Down the stretch, Lonzo Ball was absolutely special for UCLA. Bryce Alford and TJ Leaf contributed solid minutes. In the end, the Bruins defeated the team that I still believe is the premiere squad in the Pac-12, and that’s why I come to the conclusion that UCLA showed me a little more of what they’re made of than Duke did on Thursday night.
Zach- I have to agree with you here Ryan. Duke is supremely talented, and although they’ve had their troubles this is a game they should be winning. On the other hand, I have had my doubts about UCLA. They’ve looked spectacular at times on the offensive end, led by superstar freshman point guard Lonzo Ball. But as good as they have looked on the scoring end of the game, they have looked just as woeful on the defensive end. Missed rotations, lack of close outs and a general lack of intensity had me sounding the alarm in Westwood. I watched Oregon simply destroy Arizona last weekend, and thought that may carry on to the game at Pauley Pavilion. And while it did for a good portion of the game, UCLA showed their mettle with one heck of a comeback. Along with that, they held the potent Duck offense to just 31 second half points. If this team can continue to play with this sort of toughness and resolve, then I may just change my mind on the Bruins yet.
3. Who is more likely to miss the NCAA Tournament: Indiana or Michigan State?
Zach- Here, we have two historically good programs that may not be participating in the Big Dance this year. Michigan State has played a grueling schedule, particularly in the early season. This is a young group, a team that needed some time to develop and find their groove. That was not allowed due in part to the schedule but also due to the injury to big man Gavin Schilling. These early season struggles have carried into conference play, where the Spartans sit at an average 6-5. On the other hand, Indiana had a great start to the season, beating Kansas in Hawaii. After a slip up to lowly Fort Wayne, they seemed to have righted the ship with a win over North Carolina. However, a mixture of inconsistency and the injury bug have derailed the Hoosiers’ season. They have lost 4 of their last 5, and sit at 5-7 in the Big Ten.
So who’s more likely to miss the NCAA Tournament? For me, it has to be IU. Their play has been trending down as of late, and it really doesn’t get any easier for them. Games at Minnesota, Purdue and Ohio State still loom, along with a tough home game against Northwestern. A lot of their production is out, with OG Anunoby out for the season with a knee injury and James Blackmon, Jr. hampered with a knee injury. There just isn’t anywhere else Tom Crean can go for production, and a guy like Thomas Bryant can only do so much. With the team trending the wrong way and the war of attrition being the way it is, it’s tough to see Indiana dancing in March at this point. That isn’t to say I think Michigan State is in much better shape, I just think it’s worse in Bloomington right now.
Ryan – It has to be Indiana right now, and by a wide margin if you ask me. Honestly, this just comes down to coaching, and there isn’t a person in America right now who wouldn’t take Tom Izzo over Tom Crean. Izzo will have his Spartans playing in the NCAA Tournament, I’m confident in that. Things are a bit shakier in Bloomington, where the Hoosiers now reside at 5-7 and in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten standings. Indiana missed an enormous shot at an impressive win at home last night versus Purdue, and it won’t get much easier for the candy stripers with MIchigan, Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue (again) looming on the schedule before the calendar turns to March. But before we continue bashing the Hoosiers, it’s important to acknowledge that this season has been derailed by coaching and playing deficiencies, sure, but also largely due to players not being able to stay on the court. Collin Hartman hasn’t played a single minute this season, OG Anunoby is done for the year, and James Blackmon Jr. and De’Ron Davis are banged up.
What it all comes down to is this: Michigan State is always worthy of fear as long as Mr. Izzo paces the sidelines for the Spartans. Even in their down year, this is not a team I would enjoy drawing in the big dance.
4. Where do you put a guy like Marcus Keene on your Wooden Award rankings?
Ryan – Look, averaging 30 points per game is impressive no matter what conference a player competes in. However, Marcus Keene of Central Michigan simply can’t measure up to the elite guards in college basketball, and not due to any fault of his own. Listen to this: the NCAA’s second leading scorer is MIke Daum, who plays for South Dakota State. Third is Dallas Moore of North Florida. Noticing the pattern here? With the level of competition in the MAC what it is, Keene and other quality low-level players simply don’t get the publicity that major conference players receive. Guards in lower conferences are able to average these point totals because of the defensive deficiencies present in these leagues. It’s safe to say that Keene wouldn’t be averaging 30.7 points per game in the Big Ten or ACC. It is impressive, no doubt – but remember the context.
So, to answer the question: where does Keene belong on the Wooden Award ranking? I’m not exactly sure, but it’s not in the top ten. He is a remarkable player, but doesn’t face near the level of competition night in and night out that he would need to compete against to garner serious consideration for such a prestigious national award.
Zach- I tend to agree with you here. I have watched Central Michigan multiple times this year just to see Keene play, and there is no doubt that he is an impressive talent. To dominate the way he does, regardless of level of play, is something special. However, let’s talk about that level of play. The MAC is rated as the 14th best league according to Kenpom, and there is quite a drop off after the 8 or so. The quality of play is mediocre at best, so we do have to take that into account. Along with that, 36.7% possessions run through Keene, good for 4th in the country. That means he gets a lot of touches, against mediocre competition. That is a perfect setup for a talented player like Marcus Keene to get his numbers as high as they are. 30 points per game is fantastic at any level, and Keene should be commended with a top 20 mid season ranking. However, I don’t necessarily think he is in play to actually win the award.
5. How big of a threat will Cincinnati be in March?
Zach- Cincinnati is among my most impressive teams so far this year. A few weeks ago I named them as my best defense in college basketball, and that has stuck through to now. They are on a 15 game win streak right now, and they are playing as well as anyone in the country.
When it comes to March, I would say they can be a second weekend team, where anything can happen. Their suffocating defense will be tough to prepare for, and they should be able to get enough on the offensive end to push them through some tight games. I am a big fan of freshman guard Jarron Cumberland, and Kyle Washington is very efficient, scoring 14 a game in only 24 minutes. The Bearcats have a lot of balance, with 4 players averaging at least 10 points per game. Balance is one of the key things I use to rate teams, and that balance can make them tough to beat in the Big Dance. Long story short, I probably won’t have them in my Final Four but don’t be surprised if they turn a few heads next month.
Ryan – Cincinnati could be an intriguing wild card in next month’s NCAA Tournament. The Bearcats play in the American Athletic Conference, which is relatively weak, so it may be tough to gather a true rating of the Bearcats. However, like Zach mentioned, the Bearcats are riding a 15 game win streak, and are only carrying two losses all season, to Butler and Rhode Island. Cincinnati can really defend, and defense tends to win quite a few games in the big dance. Their balanced attack will certainly come in handy down the stretch. It’s sort of baffling that this team continues to fly somewhat under the radar, considering their #11 national ranking, but Cincy continues to be underrated by most. The bottom line with Cincinnati is they are a squad that I could see make a run to the Elite 8 or crash in the first round against a solid mid-major.