Zags' Maestro

Player of the Week

Nigel Williams Goss, G, Junior, Gonzaga Bulldogs

Nigel Williams-GossNigel Williams-GossIn a perfect season so far in Spokane, one of the biggest factors in propelling the Gonzaga Bulldogs to #1 in the country has been the play of Nigel Williams-Goss. Williams-Goss made the Player of the Week a couple weeks back after his mammoth performance against San Francisco, where he went for 36 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Now that the Bulldogs are the top team in the land, he is finally getting recognized by the whole country. In January, he was named as a finalist to the 2016 Wooden Award Midseason Top 25. Just recently, ESPN named him to their Wooden Watch Top 5 list, alongside with Josh Hart, Frank Mason III, Lonzo Ball and Caleb Swanigan.

The battle tested junior has all but proven to be the most dominant transfer in the country. After he transferred from Washington, many wondered how he would fit into Mark Few’s system. This season, he has averaged 15.6 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game and 4.8 assists per game. One of the most compelling factors for him to win the Wooden Award is just how integral he is to his team. He leads the Zags in points, assists and minutes per game and is JUST .1 rebounds per game away from leading in that department. He has just about put the team on his back this season and lead in every aspect. Just Thursday night, against tough opponent BYU, he played all 40 minutes and put up the second most points of his season with 33. Filling up his stat sheet, he secured seven rebounds, dished out four assists and swiped three steals in an 85-75 victory in Utah. He showcased why is one of the most efficient players in the land, shooting 12-18 for a 66.7 percent clip and going 7-7 at the free throw line. Williams-Goss was rested in Gonzaga's most recent game against Santa Clara with a sore ankle, but is expected back in their next game against Loyola Marymount.

Nigel Williams-Goss built a reputation in AAU ball for always winning. And that has apparently carried over to his college career, at least at Gonzaga. He has gone from potential impactful transfer to national stud in a matter of months. He has become the definition of a “five tool player” with his ability to score, rebound, pass, defend and limit mistakes (that’s my own “five tool player” list). If his play continues and the Zags run the table and finish the regular season undefeated, Williams-Goss should get strong consideration for National Player of the Year for what he has accomplished. One must wonder if he is the player Mark Few has been waiting for to get Gonzaga into the Final Four and compete for a title. Only time will tell…

Who’s Hot

Troy Caupain, G, Senior, Cincinnati Bearcats

Cincinnati is usually a guarantee to put out a solid squad each season, very capable of making the Big Dance. This season is different. This season, the Bearcats have a special bond, something driving them to play twice as well as previous teams, a hungry mentality to work harder than the opponent. Head coach Mick Cronin is off to his best start in his 11 seasons at the helm, with a 20-2 mark so far and sitting at #14 in the country. You could easily call it a total team effort as to why they are clicking so well. I’m sure most of the players would tell you it’s senior point guard Troy Caupain.

Caupain was one of the players to watch in the American Athletic Conference heading into the season, being named as the conference preseason Player of the Year by many. He got off to a slow start and wasn’t’ as impactful as many hoped. About half way through the year and since conference play, though, he has showed up in so many ways for Cincinnati. He averages 10.9 points per game, 5 rebounds per game and leads the team with 4.5 assists per game. While his stats are not stellar or eye-popping, he has led this team by example and is easily the most influential part to their success. Being a senior point guard, the whole offense and defensive starts with him. He does his job each game, whether that be scoring, passing or defending harder than the rest of the guys. What also makes him so good is his ability to excel in each category. On any given night, he has the ability to score upwards of 20 points, dish out a near 10 assists or scrap up three steals. He is also defined by his clutch-ness. Against Tulsa last week, he nailed the game winning jumper with just over four seconds to play and extend the Bearcats winning streak to 13 games.

He’s certainly not the flashiest or most explosive player in the conference. What he does do is show up each game, give it his all and do whatever his team needs to win. He has given Cincinnati an edge that separates this squad from previous Cronin squads and made them a very dangerous team to play in March.

Monmouth Hawks

Everyone remembers Monmouth for their crazy bench celebrations last year during games, but aside from that the Hawks are a solid team. Last year they were one of the biggest snubs who got left out the NCAA Tournament, but this year they have come out with a vengeance and devotion to get into the field of 68 this season. They currently sit at 18-5 and a very impressive 10-2 in conference record. They rank in the top 50 in all of college basketball in two categories: points per game (31st) and rebounds per game (48). They are led by senior guard Justin Robinson, who averages 18.6 points per game and has scored at least 20 in his last six. The Hawks are currently riding an eight-game win streak and look poised to make their first Big Dance in 11 years.

Who’s Not

MEAC, Northeast, and SWAC Conferences

This week, the Who’s Not list is going to do something a little different. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Southwestern Athletic Conference and Northeast conference are three of the lower performing conferences in the country. College basketball always has conferences that are much stronger than others, even mid major conferences that are stronger than the other mid major conferences. These three mid major conferences are all lacking in higher level talent to compete with the big boys. Each conference has only one team each that is above .500. Every other team in these conferences has a sub .500 record and cannot compete in out of conference games. These three conferences are pretty decided that only the conference tournament winner will make the NCAA Tournament and even those teams that will get in can be predicted. Whichever teams come out of these conferences will most likely be #16 seeds and get eliminated in the first round. I suppose this is how smaller conferences perform every season, but it’s unfortunate to see only one team from each barely scrape out off an automatic bid and lose first round of the Big Dance. Hopefully the next couple of seasons will see these small conferences post better records and post larger challenges to out of conference foes.

Top 5 Mid Major Coach of the Year Candidates

With just a couple more weeks left in the regular season, I went back and looked over the best mid major teams and their coaches. Some coaches have taken their teams to new heights and are poised for postseason runs.

5. Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

First off, let’s be honest: this is one of the best names in college basketball.

Second, Davis has been great for the Blue Raiders not just this year but in his whole time as their coach. He took the program from mediocrity and in the last five-six years has built it to a conference competitor and challenges for the Big Dance just about every year. This season he has led the Blue Raiders to a 20-3 record and 10-0 conference record in Conference USA.

4. Kevin Keatts, UNC Wilmington Seahawks

Keatts joined the Seahawks in 2014 after being an assistant under Rick Pitino and their championship season. In his nearly three seasons with UNC Wilmington, he has transformed them into an offensive machine and one that can put up a lot of points. This season, the Seahawks are in control of the Colonial Athletic Conference with a mark of 20-4 and a 9-2 in conference record. They are in great shape to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year and could be a favorite to score a first round upset.

3. Matt Lottich, Valparaiso Crusaders

An argument against putting Lottich on this list is to say their star forward Alec Peters has done all the work. While Peters is certainly the poster child and leader of the program, people forget or do not know that Lottich is in his first year as a head coach. He was an assistant for many years and this year he was thrust into the lead role. Not a bad first year it has been. The Crusaders are 19-4 with a 9-1 conference record and are dominating the Horizon League. Poised to get to the tournament in first year, Lottich has done a good job of keeping his team on top of their game.

2. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati Bearcats

Most of his stellar season was explained in Troy Caupain’s piece, but so far Cronin is coaching his best team since he came to Cincy. Cronin’s philosophy has been stout defense, but this year they have added a scoring component that has taken the team to new heights. With the Bearcats as the clear favorite to win the American Athletic Conference, Cronin should have serious recognition for National Coach of the Year.

1. Mark Few, Gonzaga Bulldogs

Not much to explain with this pick, it’s a no brainer. Since Few began coaching the Bulldogs in 1999, he has taken the school to the NCAA Tournament every year. He is one of the best coaches in all the country, let alone conference, and has amassed just under 500 career victories. This year is shaping up to be one of, if not the greatest team he has ever coached. Off to an undefeated start and their best record ever, Gonzaga will be expected to travel deep into the Big Dance. With a phenomenal coach like Few and the job he has done this season, there’s no reason to doubt they can’t.