Why Gonzaga will make the Final Four…
Gonzaga has been the most dominant team in the entire country all year. The wire-to-wire number one team won all 26 of their regular season games with the smallest margin of 5 to West Virginia. Senior forward Corey Kispert has been fantastic this season, averaging over 19 points per game on a very efficient 54-44-89 shooting splits. Sophomore Drew Timme has also been very solid, scoring 18 points per game and shooting 65% from the field. While Jalen Suggs is just a freshman, he has been lights out all season and has pretty much secured himself as one of the first few names to be called in the draft after Cade Cunningham. One through five, this team is filled with guys that can score effectively and efficiently, as well as play solid defense. They are one of the few teams in the country that can be trailing yet still have live bet odds call for them as favorites, they are just that good.
Best Non-Number 1 Seed:
While Iowa has all the talent and arguably one of the top players in the entire region in Luka Garza, they do not play defense, and have had some injuries they have dealt with as of late. UVA is always a threat in March; they have a few disappointing loses, which pushed them into a four seed, but they were still 18-6 on the season. Active defensively, they have held opponents to under 60 points in 12 of their games this season. While they did lose by 23 to Gonzaga, that was a common occurrence among all teams this season, so it’s tough to hold that loss against them.
Creighton has struggled of late since some controversy surrounding their coach. I could see them sneaking passed a team that’s been up and down. 3-2 in their past 5 games including a 73-48 loss to Georgetown in their latest game. Can that be a confidence killer or will they recover? I like USCB because they are a team a lot of people are quick to doubt, which in March seems to always find a surprise team. If they can get passed Creighton, they face either Oklahoma or Missouri both of whom are beatable teams.
Sweet 16 Sleeper:
Arguably one of the best teams in the Pac-12, Oregon being a seven seed just seems low. In a pretty competitive conference, they finished 20-6 overall on the season, which is incredible. Virginia is ranked as a four seed with two less wins and two less games played. I like Oregon as a sleeper to make the sweet 16. I think they can matchup with Iowa well, and if they can slow down Luka Garza, they can definitely make it through the first two rounds.
Top Potential Matchup:
This is a potential second round matchup between two highly competitive teams, which could be a decently high scoring game. Personally, I think both teams match up well with each other and can result in a very solid matchup between a two seed and a team that could easily be higher than a seven seed. Oregon is led by multiple upperclassmen while Iowa is mainly the Luka Garza show.
Top First Round Matchup:
Missouri vs Oklahoma
A battle of two similar record teams might be the best matchup of the opening round. As the eight and nine seeds meet up for what should be a very solid game, this matchup looks to be interesting, as both teams are in similar positions entering the tournament. Missouri led by senior Dru Smith and junior Xavier Pinson will look to continue their solid seasons and knock out the eight seed. However, Austin Reaves and company will do everything they can to fend them off and move on to the round of 32.
Mark Few Gonzaga
Not only is his team undefeated, they have been the unanimous best team in the country for most of the season. He has a ton of talent and has coached up his guys, who have all improved under him. Gonzaga is a real threat to win it all and cap off a rare undefeated season. Only 7 teams have gone undefeated and won the National Championship, with the last time being Indiana in 1975.
Andy Enfield USC Trojans
There are a lot of solid coaches in the West region this year, but number five seed USC is by far the sleeper. He has done such a great job coaching this very young team, which has completely blown away all preseason expectations. USC has had a phenomenal season led by freshman Evan Mobley, and I can’t wait to watch them play the winner of the Drake/Wichita matchup.
Top Draft Prospects
1. Evan Mobley, Center, USC
The Pac-12 player of the year has been incredible this season and has also cemented himself at the top of the draft boards. The 7-foot freshman was a force on the court, averaging 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. Mobley also led the conference in rebounds per game, blocks per game by a whole block (2.9bpg) and had the second highest field goal percentage in the conference at 58%. He possesses the size and strength to dominate inside on both sides of the court, and has the vision to pass out of double teams and spot cutters. While his strength is definitely inside the paint, he can step outside and hit some shots when given the chance (29%). Evan works well in the pick and roll and is just a beast in the post.
2. Jalen Suggs, PG, Gonzaga
Suggs is a do it all point guard who can easily score from all three levels. Playing on a great team means he doesn’t always have to be the guy, but time after time he has proven that he can take over a game when necessary. He is a guaranteed top 5 pick in the upcoming NBA draft who has checked every box on the court this season. For the season, he is averaging 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists per game on 51-35-73 shooting splits. At 6’4”, he has great size for the position and rebounds very well for a point guard. His reach is very helpful on defense, where he averaged two steals per game. If he’s guarding you, you better take care of the ball because he will make you pay.
3. Corey Kispert, Forward, Gonzaga
The senior has taken such huge strides since stepping onto campus, but his improvement from last season to this season is night and day. He is playing less mpg, yet averaging almost 6 more points per game. This is largely due to him being able to almost automatically score the ball when he touches it. Shooting 7% better from the field and 8% better from the line, Kispert has become the definition of efficient. Although he is a senior and that may lower his “value”, this guy can score with ease and will fit in well at the next level.
4. Joel Ayayi, Guard, Gonzaga
The junior guard rebounds the ball extremely well, tying for the team lead in rebounds per game at 7. He’s also an efficient scorer (58-39-78 splits) and has averaged over 11 points per game in his 30-minute play time per game. Ayayi could either sneak his way into the second round or comeback and be a senior who hopes his performance is enough to outweigh his age.
5. Chris Duarte, Guard, Oregon
The senior guard had another great season. Playing about three more minutes per game, Duarte is able to score about 4 more points per game, and has shown he is an efficient scorer. His field goal percentage jumped from 41% to 53%, while from deep he is currently shooting 44% as opposed to 33% the year before. Duarte was a late bloomer after spending two years at a junior college, so as a senior he is not as highly valued as the freshman on the list, but he’ll make a good team better at the next level. Duarte had 9 games with 20+ points this season, including a stretch with three straight games in conference hitting 20 or more. While Duarte is not the most athletic guy in the class, he can really shoot the ball. Whether it’s off the dribble, spot up, or off a screen, Duarte can put the ball in the hoop. He can be the ideal there-and-D player at the next level, because while he might not be the best defender, he forces take aways and gives a high effort on that side of the ball.
Luka Garza, Center, Iowa
Garza was my BigTen player of the year last year and I still absolutely love his game. Sure, he’s slow and a bit of a liability on defense, but he can put the ball in the hoop from all three levels. The guy is a beast offensively and almost unstoppable; no matter what the defense throws at him, he can simply just find his spots and score in bunches. Garza was top three in the country in scoring at over 23 points per game on 54-40-71 splits.
Jay Huff, Center, Virginia
7’1” with a very solid stroke from deep (40%, 37% NBA range), the TS % from Huff is insanely high at 68%. Huff is an incredible free throw shooter for a seven-footer, shooting 83% on the season. Biggest negative is that he is a senior, but he had an incredible season that should see him go to the league as a second rounder.
Joe Wieskamp,: Guard, Iowa
The junior guard is a flamethrower from deep, shooting 47% on the season, improving his shooting percentages from the field, especially from deep (13%). Wieskamp can be seen as a three-point specialist at the next level, but is most likely going to be another mid second round selection. He projects around a 37% NBA three-point shooter.