Ready For His Close Up

Gonzaga’s Success

Before getting into the top players this past week, special recognition must go out to Gonzaga again. They have gotten great praise from me on this blog all season, but now they sit as the lone undefeated team in college basketball and have climbed inside the national top five rankings. Gonzaga will be accomplishing even greater feats next week. They have won 21 games in a row and are one win away from tying their all-time longest win streak of 22 back in 2014-2015. By next Thursday, they will have the opportunity to win their 23rd game to start the year and clinch the new record.

Biggest of all, Gonzaga should be ranked as the new #1 team in the land next week. Top ranked Villanova, #2 Kansas, and #4 Kentucky all fell. That leaves #3 Gonzaga (as of Friday) to secure full control of the driver's seat at #1. The miraculous, dominant season for the Bulldogs just seems to keep getting better.

Player of the Week

Cam Oliver, F, Sophomore, Nevada Wolfpack

Cam OliverCam OliverOliver takes the Player of the Week award again, after claiming the top spot in December. He and his team are playing even better then they were then. He has been and will continue to be a prime factor and lead the Wolfpack. He has led Nevada to a 17-4 mark, going 6-2 in conference and they have been leading the Mountain West Conference just about the whole season. He is averaging 14.4 points per game, 8 rebounds per game and is shooting 45.1 percent from the field. Since I last wrote about him, he has raised his points per game mark from 13.4 as well. His three-point shot has diminished from where it once was this season, but in its place, he has become a dominant down low force. He is one of the best rim protectors in all of college basketball, averaging a whopping 3.0 blocks per game and has had seven games of 4+ blocks. He has also recorded six games of double digit rebounds and five of them have been double-doubles in rebound and points. In the last two weeks, he has games with 15 and 16 rebounds.

Oliver was one of the top mid major players to watch coming into this season and he has not disappointed. Actually, he is significantly underrated as one of the top players in the country, based on his impact in the game AND leading his team to a stellar season. Oliver flashed potential last year that he could be a NBA worthy player and in his sophomore year he has built upon that. The 6’8” forward has length, size, a perfect combination of speed and athleticism and he is on a winning program with a positive attitude. Right now, according to Joe Lunardi, if the season ended, Nevada would be a 12-seed playing a five seed matching up with a reeling Duke team. Oliver should be a treat to watch on the national scale, no matter who he plays. He can energize his team and will remain one of the most explosive, and physically gifted players on the floor. He has first round NBA potential and should continue to have lots of scouts watching him.

Who’s Hot

Evan Bradds, F, Senior, Belmont Bruins

Who should top seeds in the Big Dance be worried about come March? Teams like Belmont who are led by quality big man Evan Bradds. Bradds has led his Bruin team to a 14-4 record and 8-0 conference record in the Ohio Valley East Conference. He is averaging 21.0 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game and has a superb 61.1 field goal percentage. He, like Cam Oliver, has five double-doubles and has scored 20 or more points in 10 games. He is a scoring machine and anytime you have a 55 percent field goal percentage or higher is amazing no matter what team you are on. He has done all his damage just from two-pointers and free throws, only attempting seven three-pointers on the season. What is just as impressive is he has the Bruins playing their best basketball of the season. Belmont has won 10 games in a row, 13 of their last 14 and are running away with the East side of the conference. The West side is lackluster compared to them so they should have no problem getting to the NCAA Tournament in March. Bradds is leading the Bruins on a charge right now, making them one of the hottest teams in the country and a squad that can truly cause some March Madness.

Marcus Keene, G, Junior, Central Michigan Chippewas

Serious question: Has anyone in the country been hotter than Marcus Keene this season? Do you know anyone else that has the chance to average 30 points per game for the first time in two decades? Nope, just Keene.

Keene was player of the week at the end of January and he was playing lights out and balling then. How’s he doing now? Just the same as before, stroking 29.8 points per game and letting the shots fly. He is still averaging his 20.6 shots per game…no that was not a typo. He has led the Chippewas to a 13-7 record and 3-4 conference record, but they are just one game out of the lead in the MAC West Conference standings. The biggest thing that gets him on this list was his performance on Saturday the 21st. He had one of the best, if not THE best single game performance this season. He scored 50 points, shot 10-15 from three, 10-10 from the free throw line and shot 65 percent from the field in a 101-92 victory over Miami (OH). If he can keep his play up and get his team to win their conference, this man could be dynamite in the Big Dance and make some shockwaves. He is also one of the most underrated players in the country and he absolutely deserves to have more praise and recognition for the feats he has accomplished and the feats he is closing in on accomplishing.

Akron Zips and UNC Wilmington Seahawks

Way back when, one of my first blogs this year, I mentioned Seahawks player Chris Flemmings as a Who’s Hot player and mentioned that he had his team off to a tear to start. Boy has this team kept that going. Right now, UNC Wilmington is also one of the hottest and most underrated teams in the country. They are 20-2 and 9-0 in conference play, are 10th in the country in points per game with 86.4 and have four players averaging 12 or more points per game. It is unreal that they still are not a ranked team, but each week they get more and more votes from the AP Poll. This Seahawks are on fire and can light it up from the field and score at will.

The Zips are much in the same boat as UNC Wilmington. They are 17-3 and undefeated in conference play and playing stellar basketball. They may not have stellar stats or anything explosive like the Seahawks, but the Zips are just dominating their East side of the MAC Conference and sit a solid three games ahead of the next closest opponent. Much like Belmont, they have also won their last 10 games and seem primed for a trip to the Big Dance. It’s hot teams like Akron and the Seahawks that bust brackets.

Who’s Not

Rhode Island Rams

The Rams had very high hopes coming into the season. They had a lot of positives to build upon from last season and they were returning arguably their best player E.C. Matthews from injury the year before. To start the year, they got off to a great start going 5-1 and staying ranked. Soon after, they became far too inconsistent and could not find their rhythm. Matthews play began slipping and others were forced to pick up the slack. Not too long ago, Matthews regained some of his previous form and other players like Kuran Iverson, Jared Terrell and Hassan Martin began stepping up and playing well (Terrell was even on my Who’s Hot list). Now, it seems the magic might have run out this regular season. They stand middle of the pack in the Atlantic Ten Conference, with a record of 12-7 and 4-3 in conference. Dayton, Richmond and VCU are the favorite to come away with the regular season title and the Rams currently sit in Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out for the tourney. Unless they string together a solid end of the season and conference tournament, they may be looking in from the outside.

Top 5 Cinderella Story/Upset Predictions for March

Unfortunately, it seems that we can’t call Gonzaga, Cincinnati or St. Mary’s potential Cinderella stories anymore after their exquisite play so far. There are several other mid major teams out there who could cause chaos this March Madness.

5. Illinois State Redbirds

The Redbirds made my Who’s Hot list last week and have not cooled down one bit. They still remain undefeated in conference play at 9-0 and 17-4 overall. They are led by a stout, shutdown defense that only allows 62.2 points per game, which is tied for 12th best in the nation. They also play in a conference with Wichita State and have beaten them once already and beating the Shockers speaks volumes to how ready you are to play the big dogs.

4. Belmont Bruins

Belmont is back on this list too for the exact reasons that got them on the Who’s Hot list above. Strong down low play, streaking through their conference and great team play sharing the rock where they average 16.6 assists per game (35th in college basketball).

3. UNC Wilmington Seahawks

As stated above, strong offense and balanced scoring will keep you in a game with just about anyone in the tournament. Their offense can score at will and a hot offense or couple players can carry teams far into the postseason.

2. Nevada Wolfpack

Sometimes it’s the gritty, hard-nosed teams that out hustle the opponents to win and this is exactly what the Wolfpack do. This team never gives up no matter what stage of the game and always fights. Cam Oliver is the driver of their toughness and will make it tough for any opponent to score easy baskets. With Oliver and their leading scorer Marcus Marshall, the Nevada present a difficult matchup to pushover.

1. Valparaiso Crusaders

The Crusaders have been led by National Player of the Year candidate Alec Peters, who has broken many school records including all-time scoring and rebounding. He and his 24.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per game are leading Valpo to a Horizon League title and solid berth in the tourney. Right now, Lunardi has them as a 13 seed against Wisconsin in the first round, but we all know and have seen that all it takes is one player to get hot and play well to lead a team past anyone. One of the best players in the country, Peters and the Crusaders are dominant enough to upset anyone in the Big Dance.

Robb_C's picture
Registered User
Joined: 05/29/2009
Posts: 1572
Points: 3470
I like this Article!! Good to

I like this Article!! Good to see my guy Cam Oliver getting some more pub!

Robb_C's picture
Registered User
Joined: 05/29/2009
Posts: 1572
Points: 3470
Fresno St is also a team to

Fresno St is also a team to keep an eye on.. I believe they can possibly steal the Mountain West bid.. Very tough team.

RSS: Syndicate content