LaQuvionte Gonzalez NFL Draft profile

2018 NFL Draft profile: LaQuvionte Gonzalez

LaQuvionte Gonzalez has made a few more stops in his football career than most NFL prospects.

Originally a 4-star recruit from the class of 2013 out of Cedar Hill High School in Texas, Gonzalez signed with Texas A&M.

Gonzalez played in all 13 games his freshman year with the Aggies. He caught 21 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown. He also had 164 kick return yards in the first three games of the season.

Gonzalez’s playing time took a dive in his sophomore season. He only saw action in eight games with five catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.

After his second season with the Aggies, Gonzalez decided to take his talents elsewhere. His wide receiver coach at Texas A&M, David Beaty, was hired as the head coach at Kansas. Gonzalez decided to follow him there and after sitting out the 2015 season, had his best season to date with the Jayhawks.

Gonzalez played in all 12 games his junior year, including 11 starts, and finished as the team’s second-leading receiver. He caught 62 passes for 729 yards and three touchdowns and also returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Gonzalez, along with fellow starting receiver Steven Sims Jr., were able to thrive as receivers despite the team’s poor quarterback play.

In July of 2017, just over a month before the Jayhawks’ first game, Gonzalez was dismissed from the football team due to an issue with his grades. With little time before the season started, Gonzalez joined Southeastern University, an NAIA school in Florida and a football powerhouse. He was eligible to play right away due to NAIA transfer rules.

LaQuvionte Gonzalez NFL Draft profile

Photo by Ben Queen, USA TODAY Sports

Gonzalez found Southeastern due to a connection he had with offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. Lebby, a former assistant at Baylor, had recruited Gonzalez back when he was in high school.

Gonzalez said he choose Southeastern for more than just the football though. He enjoyed the competition in the SEC and Big 12 conferences, but got more out of his experience at Southeastern than just football.

“It’s a Christian school. So I just went there and I really did get closer to God,” Gonzalez said. “I really enjoyed that part. I enjoyed the football part too.”

Gonzalez had an incredible senior season, catching 60 passes for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns in just eight games. He averaged 127.3 yards per game, which ranked second in the NAIA, and 7.5 catches per game, which ranked fourth.

Gonzalez is now focused on preparing himself for the draft and making himself the best receiver he can be. He is working out with D-Rob, who has trained some of the NFL’s best receivers like Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Gonzalez is looking to improve things like his 40 yard dash time, vertical and route running.

Gonzalez is definitely a speedster as his fastest 40 yard dash time is 4.36. He is also working to improve his run-blocking skills. He believes he is a guy teams can count on to make plays.

“I feel like I’m a dynamic player,” he said. “If they need a guy to make a big play, I feel like I’m a guy they can go to.”

LaQuvionte Gonzalez Scouting report

While being 5-foot-11 won’t draw him any comparisons to Calvin Johnson, it is still ample height to be a receiver on the inside or outside of an offense, as receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. are that size and are stars. He will need to add some weight to his 175-pound frame to help fight through contact at the NFL level, but that should come with an NFL team’s weight-lifting program.

Gonzalez is quick off of the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball. He finds the soft spots when going against zone coverage, while his speed helps him separate against man-to-man coverage. His route running is solid, but if improved, could really help him get open at the NFL level.

He catches the ball well, and once he gets the ball in his hands, he is hard to contain. Gonzalez has good agility and moves, which makes him hard to catch and tackle. As a senior in high school, Gonzalez was able to rush for nearly 1,500 yards, which is where he probably honed his ability to make people miss. He also uses these abilities to help him return punts and kicks, which is an asset he can use to make an NFL team.

At Kansas in 2016, he had a great season despite not having the greatest quarterback play. While facing the adversity of a losing season at Kansas, Gonzalez did not give up and played hard.

His speed will get him in the door with an NFL team, but if he can prove to block and run routes well, he could make the roster.

Full interview with LaQuvionte Gonzalez:

*Josh Burris interviewed Gonzalez, while Joe DiTullio provided the scouting report.

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Final Four Preview and Predictions

The day has finally arrived! Four teams have a shot to achieve their dream this weekend in San Antonio at the Alamodome. This NCAA Tournament has provided fans with everything they could have wanted. Fans saw the greatest upset in Tournament history when UMBC took out top overall seed Virginia. The lovable Loyola-Chicago Ramblers won over the hearts of the nation with Sister Jean as they will attempt to become the first double-digit seed to win it all.

While the left side of the bracket was pure chaos, the right side was pure chalk. Top-seeded Villanova and Kansas took care of business in the East and Midwest to meet and have a chance to cut down the net in San Antonio. This begs the question: who will move on and meet Monday night and play for ultimate glory? Let’s look at the matchups and find out!

No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago

This game should shape up to a defensive battle. Both the Wolverines and the Ramblers attempt to dictate the pace of play with their defensive pressure. Each offense is capable of lighting up the scoreboard, but each is prone to occasional stagnation.

We all know Marques Townes and Loyola have a flair for the dramatic (AP Photo/John Amis).

It is safe to say that most casual fans in the nation will be pulling for Loyola-Chicago to continue to shock the world tonight. The showdown between Loyola’s offense and Michigan’s defense will decide the winner of the game tonight. Loyola’s offense does a fantastic job of putting a defense on its heels with their ball movement. The Ramblers average 16 assists per game and are the definition of unselfish.

However, these Wolverines might be up to the task of halting Loyola’s highly efficient offense. Michigan sports three of the best on-ball defenders in the country with Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. These guards are long, athletic and quick laterally. Michigan does a great job of maintaining physicality with their body and hands without picking up fouls.

The key for Michigan is to stay at home against Loyola’s pump fakes. Loyola does a good job at getting their defender in the air since they are such a good jump shooting team. This helps the Ramblers invert the defense as Clayton Custer, Donte Ingram or Marques Townes are all capable of taking their defender off of the dribble and creating plays in the middle of the defense. When the defense collapses Loyola will kick the ball back out and proceed to shoot, take it back in or swing the ball on the perimeter.

Loyola has a way of demoralizing opponents with their use of the shot clock as well. Their ball movement allows them to use all 30 seconds of the clock and get a good look at the rim. The Ramblers, as a team, shoot 50.9 percent from the field. Michigan’s defenders need to work on pressuring the Ramblers and contesting their attempts from the field without fouling.

Moe Wagner needs to have a big game to keep Michigan dancing (Harry How/Getty Images).

On the opposite side of the ball, Moe Wagner figures to cause all sorts of trouble for Coach Porter Moser and this Rambler defense. While the Ramblers are ultra-versatile, they lack the big man who can step out to the perimeter and guard Wagner effectively. Cameron Krutwig has done a masterful job of locking down the paint for Loyola, but he will be in uncharted territory tonight.

Wagner is so dangerous because he not only has the ability to consistently knock down three-pointers but also utilize his lateral quickness and take the ball to the rim. Wagner is two inches taller than Krutwig and 15lbs lighter. If I were Moser, I would not leave Krutwig on an island against Wagner.

Michigan’s offense is very hit or miss. The Wolverines showed the world what they are capable of doing to good teams when their offense is clicking, as they rampaged their way through the Big 10 Tournament. But they have struggled to find the same consistency throughout the Tournament.

Michigan wants to utilize on and off ball screens to free up shooters and create open passing lanes to the basket. Loyola needs to stay disciplined when they face these screens and communicate effectively on their switches. If they fail to do so, Michigan will run them out of the building.

One thing to keep an eye on is free throw shooting down the stretch, Michigan is a notoriously poor free throw shooting team. The Wolverines only shoot 66.2 percent from the line and Loyola will target Simpson (51.1 percent) and Matthews (57.4 percent) near the end of the game. If Michigan cannot put Loyola away, the Ramblers showed the world what they are capable of doing to teams at the buzzer (just ask Miami, Tennessee and Nevada).

Ultimately, this game will be a battle of willpower with defense ruling the day on both ends. Michigan’s defense, despite Loyola’s passing attack, is difficult to break down and Michigan will struggle to get open looks from the outside. In the end, Michigan is still a top 15 team in the nation and has too many weapons on offense to hold down all game. Michigan’s defense will keep Loyola in check.

Prediction: Michigan 66, Loyola 63

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 1 Kansas

This game should be the exact opposite of Michigan-Loyola. Two blue-bloods with top-5 offenses that play fast-paced should have fans on the edge of their seat from start to finish. This showdown will also feature two Wooden Award finalists going head-to-head with a chance to further cement themselves as legends within their respective programs.

What is interesting about this game is that both teams have a distinct advantage when they are on the offensive end. This does not mean that either team plays poor defense, but that each team presents unique challenges on the offensive end that have troubled defenses all season. For Villanova, it is their positionless versatility. For Kansas, it is their four-guard lineup with a 7-foot, 280lb matchup nightmare in the middle.

Omari Spellman’s versatility is critical for Villanova (Yong Kim/The Daily Inquirer).

Let’s start with Villanova. Coach Jay Wright usually plays six players significant minutes throughout the game. All six of these players can spread the floor, knock down three-pointers and attack the rim in different ways.

The engine of the Wildcat offense is Jalen Brunson. The unique aspect of Brunson’s game is that he can run the offense on the outside or in the paint. Brunson is the best post-up point guard in the nation. He excels at using his strength to back down opponents while using his exceptional court vision to find open teammates if the opposing team brings the double team. Brunson can also attack the rim from the perimeter while consistently knocking down three-pointers and mid-range shots.

Omari Spellman looks to give Kansas problems too. Wright has done a wonderful job with the development of Spellman this season. Spellman, a 6-foot-9, 245lbs freshman, has turned into a dual threat on offense. Spellman has the highest three-point percentage on a Wildcat offense that lives off of the three at 44.6 percent. Spellman does a great job of flexing out to the corner/wing and hitting threes consistently. He presumes to be a huge matchup problem for the Jayhawks.

Throw in potential NBA lottery pick Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall and any opposing defense has serious problems. If Bill Self chooses to remain in man-to-man, Villanova will have a serious height advantage against the Jayhawk four-guard lineup. Self would most likely put Malik Newman, who completely shut down Grayson Allen in the Elite Eight, on Brunson. However, who would guard Spellman? Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa do not have the lateral quickness to stay with Spellman on the wing. Self could bring in Mitch Lightfoot to shadow Spellman, but look for him to draw up a hybrid zone that is designed to guard the three-point line.

Changing focus to the other side of the ball, Kansas does a great job of decimating opposing teams in transition. Devonte’ Graham has fantastic court vision and touch as a passer when running the break. Kansas’s wings tend to flank out and widen the court while their big men charge down the middle looking for the lob. This gives Graham the option to throw the long lob or hit Malik Newman, LaGerald Vick or Svi Mykhailiuk on the wing where they can either shoot the three, throw the lob or attack the rim.

Graham’s playmaking ability is critical for Kansas on offense. He averages over 7 assists per game and can shoot the rock or take it to the rack. Graham has struggled with his efficiency throughout the Tournament so that bears keeping an eye on.

The duo of Newman and Graham need to light the lamp offensively tonight for Kansas (Getty Images).

The MVP of the entire Tournament to this date is Malik Newman. Newman is an absolute assassin from three and is an underrated defender on the other end. Self likes to run Newman on the baseline off screens to get him open looks from the corner. Newman is capable of creating his own shot off of the dribble as well. If Kansas wants a shot to move on to the title game, they desperately need Newman to score at least 20 points.

Despite all of this, Udoka Azubuike is where Kansas’s advantage lies. There is not a single player on Villanova who can handle Azubuike’s physicality in the paint. “Dok” is the most efficient player on the floor, shooting 77.2 percent from the field. His size allows Graham and Mykhailiuk to throw entry passes over the defense to him as well. Spellman, while a serviceable defender, does not have the strength or size to stop Azubuike. Wright needs to decide whether he will send the double off of a player like Vick or play him straight up.

However, Wright may not even need to decide if Azubuike gets into foul trouble. Azubuike has had extreme difficulty staying out of foul trouble and this limits his playing time severely. Kansas cannot take advantage of this mismatch if Azubuike is on the bench.

Ultimately, look for Self to fall into a creative zone that fixates on defending the perimeter, but this will not stop the Wildcats from putting up big numbers. Kansas will score as well, but Azubuike will fall into foul trouble once again. Villanova’s defense is the reason they slipped by a pesky Texas Tech team in the Elite Eight and that’s the reason they will move on to the title game Monday night as well.

Prediction: Villanova 84, Kansas 79

 

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Kansas Jayhawks Final Four

Final Four team breakdown: Kansas Jayhawks

The 2018 Final Four has been set. Fans are buzzing and pundits are predicting who will cut down the nets in San Antonio. Throughout this week, I am going to highlight each of the four remaining teams and break down their roster and their chances to win it all. Today, we will be focusing on the Midwest Regional champions: the Kansas Jayhawks. Let’s do this!

offense

This Kansas offense can be described in one word: deadly. These Jayhawks were expected to take a step back after losing reigning Wooden Award winner Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson and Landen Lucas. However, Bill Self proved to the world, once again, that he is a Hall of Fame head coach with the development of Devonte’ Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Malik Newman and countless others.

The offense starts with Graham, a Wooden Award finalist. Graham’s development has been nothing short of incredible this season. Graham entered Kansas as a fringe Division I recruit. He slowly grew into a reliable 3-point shooter, and now he is Self’s top all-around player. Graham has averaged 17.2 points, 7.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game this season.

Kansas Jayhawks Final Four

Malik Newman’s scoring and defense propelled Kansas to San Antonio. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo)

The tournament has been a different story for Graham though. Aside from his explosion against Penn with 29 points, six rebounds and six assists, Graham has struggled to score consistently. He has averaged 11.7 points per game on 31 percent shooting, excluding his performance against Penn. But Graham has found other ways to be effective as he has averaged over 6.3 assists per game in the tournament and has made big plays late in games.

The best player for Kansas this tournament has unquestionably been Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman. Newman has developed into Self’s secondary playmaker on offense and his most reliable 3-point shooter. Newman’s ability to rise to the occasion in big moments cannot be overstated as he scored all 13 of Kansas’ points in overtime in their 85-81 win over Duke.

Newman is shooting 44.8 percent from three in the tournament and is averaging 21.8 points per game. His ability hit threes from NBA range and create his own shot off of the dribble results in the ultimate nightmare for the defender that draws him.

After only playing three minutes against Penn, Udoka Azubuike has returned to form after spraining his left MCL before the Big 12 Tournament. Azubuike was the key to Kansas’ win over an underrated Seton Hall team in the Round of 32 as he went toe-to-toe with Angel Delgado. Azubuike’s 7-foot, 280-pound frame helps Kansas control the paint on offense. He is a fantastic finisher in the paint and especially adept at snagging lobs from Graham over the top of the defense.

As a whole, Kansas plays its offense similarly to Villanova. They usually roll out four guards and a center and decimate teams from behind the arc. Three of Self’s four starting guards shoot over 40 percent from 3-point range. Kansas has the ability to shoot most teams out of the game within a span of minutes if they get hot.

However, Kansas is at their most dangerous when they get out on the break. Graham has fantastic court vision and Kansas’ wings and bigs run the floor very well. Not only that, but when Kansas pushes the pace, their shooters tend to widen the court. What this means is that Newman, Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick will sprint out to the opposing corner to await a pass from Graham to either shoot a three or attack the rim. Kansas also loves throwing fast break lobs to either Azubuike or Silvio De Sousa.

However, Kansas can find itself in trouble if or when Azubuike gets into foul trouble. Azubuike has had difficulty staying on the court throughout the season as he seems to always find ways to pick up fouls early in the contest. While De Sousa has proven himself a more than capable reserve, Kansas is a much better team with Azubuike on the court.

defense

Kansas is by far the worst defensive team in San Antonio, and that could be problematic as they face Villanova, the nation’s top offense. The Jayhawks are ranked 40th in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.

Kansas tends to stick with their traditional man-to-man defense against most teams. While this group can play at elite levels from time to time, the Jayhawks are prone to falling asleep on defense, especially if they have a lead. Whether it is lazy closeouts or a lack of communication on ball screens, Kansas lacks the full 40 minutes of intensity that is required of a top-notch defense.

Kansas Jayhawks Final Four

Svi Mykhailiuk’s defense against Marvin Bagley sparked the Jayhawks in the Elite Eight. (Photo by Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Regardless, Bill Self is a mastermind at wiggling Kansas out of supposed defensive disadvantages. Look at their matchup against Duke in the Elite Eight. Kansas faced a monumental size disadvantage going up against Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. Self tasked Mykhailiuk with guarding Bagley (who is three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier) and doubled their bigs off of Trevon Duval, who struggles from the outside. This strategy resulted in Duval having a big game, but Mykhailiuk held Bagley to his worst performance of the tournament and Newman completely shut down Grayson Allen.

Self will have his work cut out for him against Villanova though. Omari Spellman is much more versatile than Azubuike or De Sousa as both of these players are limited from the outside. Both figure to struggle staying with Spellman on the perimeter, which is critical as Spellman shoots 44.6 percent from three.

Self should avoid daring Spellman to beat them from the outside, just ask West Virginia what he is capable of doing. Self’s strategy of doubling off of another player may not work either as all of Villanova’s main rotational players are capable of knocking down outside shots consistently. Based on his recent performance, the most likely candidate would be Phil Booth, but Booth has the potential to light it up from the outside at any time.

Self will need to get creative with his defensive scheming to slow down the versatile Wildcats. Whether this means sitting back in a hybrid zone that is predicated on guarding the 3-point line or trapping at the mid-court line, Kansas will have its work cut out for them.

X-factors

Kansas Jayhawks Final Four

Udoka Azubuike’s ability to stay on the court is key for Kansas. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Udoka Azubuike’s fouling: As stated above, Azubuike is a game changer for Kansas. That is, when he is on the court.

In both games that Azubuike played without minute restrictions (Clemson and Duke), he was limited to 25 and 19 minutes respectively due to foul trouble. It is worth noting that Azubuike fouled out of both games. Despite only playing 25 minutes against Clemson, he recorded a double-double, grabbing 11 rebounds and scoring 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting.

There is not a single player that matches up to Azubuike’s physicality remaining in the Final Four. If Azubuike can find a way to stay on the court for over 25 minutes, he will provide Kansas with a serious edge in rebounding and scoring in the paint.

Silvio De Sousa: De Sousa played his first game of the season on Jan. 13. He struggled to find his role until the Big 12 Tournament, where he filled in for the injured Azubuike serviceably. De Sousa’s sound play continued in the NCAA Tournament. He played 26 big minutes against Duke and grabbed 10 rebounds.

If Azubuike gets into early foul trouble, Self will most likely call upon De Sousa to step up and play significant minutes in San Antonio. He will be relied upon to hold his own and control the glass.

conclusion

This was the Kansas team that was not supposed to reach the Final Four. However, Bill Self showed the world how great of a coach he truly is. The Jayhawks have the offensive firepower to outgun any of the remaining opponents outside of Villanova. The key for Kansas will be how they adjust to Villanova’s ultra-versatile lineup with Azubuike or De Sousa on the floor. If Kansas can slip by Villanova, they should be favored to cut down the nets in San Antonio.

 

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Villanova Wildcats Final Four

Final Four team breakdown: Villanova Wildcats

The 2018 Final Four has been set. Fans are buzzing and pundits are predicting who will cut down the nets in San Antonio. Throughout this week, I am going to highlight each of the four remaining teams and break down their roster and their chances to win it all. Today, we will be focusing on the Eastern Regional champions: the Villanova Wildcats. Let’s do this!

Offense

When this team gets going offensively, watch out. Villanova can outscore any team in the nation on any night. Coach Jay Wright tends to send out six players for significant minutes on a game-by-game basis. Ranked No. 1 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency by KenPom, this Wildcat squad torches teams with their outside shooting.

The three ball has become the bread and butter for Wright’s team this season. Collectively, Villanova shoots 40 percent from 3-point range. The Wildcats also have six players who shoot over 38 percent from three.

Villanova Wildcats Final Four

Jalen Brunson’s dynamic offensive play could send Nova to the title game. (Photo by AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Wildcat offense is led by Wooden Award favorite Jalen Brunson. Brunson has averaged 17.5 points and four assists per game in the NCAA Tournament. What makes Brunson so dangerous is that he is the best post-up point guard in the nation. Brunson loves to back down his defender in the paint. This tends to draw the double-team, allowing Brunson to find an open teammate on the wing for an open 3-point shot. If he does not draw the double, Brunson has the quickness and strength to finish around the rim against his defender.

Brunson also has the ability to take over a game with his scoring. In Villanova’s 90-78 Sweet 16 win over West Virginia, Brunson poured in 27 points on 53.3 percent shooting. He is Wright’s ultimate weapon heading into the Final Four.

Mikal Bridges is most likely on a crash course to be selected in the NBA Draft as a lottery pick. Standing at 6-foot-6, Bridges tends to do most of his scoring on the perimeter. He shoots 51.2 percent from the field and 43.6 percent from three. Bridges has averaged 16 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. Bridges does a great job of finding space on the perimeter as the ball is worked inside. He is almost automatic when stepping into a kick-out three ball.

One of the key players on offense for Villanova in the tournament so far has been Omari Spellman. Only a freshman, Spellman has struggled to find his role on this team throughout the season. But Spellman has grown instrumentally during the Big East Conference Tournament, and that has shown in the big dance. Spellman’s versatility and skill allows him to work inside out.

Spellman has torched defense’s with his three ball and his offensive rebounding. His growth was on full display against West Virginia when he scored 18 points, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots and recorded two steals.

Despite the all-around potency of this Villanova offense, it can be slowed down. In Villanova’s 71-59 Elite Eight victory over Texas Tech, the Wildcats only shot 33.3 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from three. A common trend in three of Villanova’s four losses this season is poor 3-point shooting. In Villanova’s losses to St. John’s, Providence and Creighton, the Wildcats averaged a mere 25 percent from behind the arc. The moral of the story is if you want to take down Villanova, you have to guard the 3-point line.

DEfense

One of the biggest knocks on Villanova this season has been their defense. Throughout the season, the Wildcats tended to rely on their scoring to beat teams. However, Wright’s crew has taken their defense to the next level in the NCAA Tournament. That is bad news for the remaining three teams.

Villanova Wildcats Final Four

The length of Mikal Bridges is problematic for opponents. (Photo by Getty Images)

Villanova tends to start off their defense with a 1-2-2 press as the opponents bring the ball up the court. This culminates in a trap as soon as the opposing point guard brings the ball across half court. Wright tends to send Bridges over from the middle of the court to complete the trap due to his length and quickness. The way this trap differs from the likes of West Virginia is that it is not turnover or bust. Villanova quickly falls back into their man-to-man if they cannot force a turnover.

Villanova’s athleticism and versatility allows them to play a switching-based, man-to-man defense. They switch off their man on ball screens and apply high pressure on the perimeter. They also do a better job than most teams in the tournament at not fouling. This is mostly a testament to Jay Wright as Villanova is easily the most disciplined team playing in San Antonio this weekend.

One issue Villanova may face in the tournament is defending the paint against bigger opponents. This directly relates to their upcoming matchup with a healthy Udoka Azubuike and Kansas. Azubuike gave a big Duke lineup fits when he was on the floor in the Elite Eight. Spellman, who only stands at 6-foot-9, will draw the 7-foot, 280-pound center. This is certainly an area of concern for Wright and company.

X-Factors

Villanova Wildcats Final Four

Phil Booth’s shot is the x-factor for Villanova in the Final Four. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images North America)

Phil Booth: The junior guard simply has not been the same after returning from a fractured hand injury. Before his injury, Booth had a deadly outside shot and played a highly efficient offensive game. However, since breaking his hand, Booth has only hit double-digit scoring in four out of eleven games. Not only that, Booth has only shot 35.4 percent from the field since returning as well.

Booth has struggled shooting the ball in the NCAA Tournament, but Villanova’s depth and scoring prowess has allowed them to overcome Booth’s lack of offensive contribution. Booth has averaged only 6.3 points per game on 33.3 percent shooting in NCAA Tournament play. Back in 2016, Booth helped propel Villanova past UNC with a team high 20 points in the National Championship. If Booth rediscovers his shot in San Antonio, Villanova will be unbeatable.

 

The three ball: The way that you beat Villanova is lowering their efficiency from beyond the arc. Villanova, regardless of how effective it is, is going to shoot a lot of threes. It is simply how they play offense. This game plan is not without its flaws though. A talented perimeter defense can slow down Villanova by running them off the 3-point line or contesting their shot attempts.

Even though Texas Tech fell to Villanova in the Elite Eight, the Red Raiders provided the remaining three teams a blueprint on how to take down the Wildcats. The Wildcats only hit four threes the entire game out of 24 attemps. However, Villanova’s defense won them that game against a Texas Tech offense that could not get going. If another team remaining can keep Villanova in check from behind the arc, they have a great chance to knock off the Wildcats.

Conclusion

Quite frankly, Villanova should be the consensus favorite to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Their offense is nearly unstoppable once they get going, their defensive pressure has been cranked up a couple of notches, and their discipline is next to none. However, if a team can force the Wildcats to have an off night from three while capitalizing on the other end, Villanova will be in trouble.

 

Featured image by AP Photo/Charles Krupa.

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Previewing Friday’s Sweet Sixteen games

What a difference Thursday and Friday is. Thursday? A rather unpredictable slate of games of teams that weren’t necessarily the experts picks to have moved on. Friday is exactly what most people assumed. Both the one seeds play on Friday and only Syracuse falls in the outlier category when on thursday more than half of the teams are seeded 7th or higher.

With a trip to the Elite Eight on the line Fridays slate of Sweet Sixteen games will be intense battles between historic coaches. Coach K, Bill Self and Jay Wright all headline an impressive friday slate. Who will make it to the Elite Eight and who will get their dreams crushed? Lets take our shot at predicting the unpredictable.

Kansas and Clemson:

Clemson is recently coming off a very strong win against the SEC regular season champions in Auburn. They face a Kansas team under Bill Self that has come on strong as of late and is getting a minutes restriction lift off of Udoka Azubuike. The difference is this game is just that.

While Clemson scores well and is balanced throughout their team, they lack a big man. With Udoka Azubuike on the floor, as well as the emergence of freshman Silvio De Sousa, the Clemson Tigers will have a tough time locking down the paint. As soon as they struggle with that, the lethal shooters on Kansas will get going.

Kansas will win this game 71-62 due to their ability to control the paint as well as the backboards.

West Virginia and Villanova:

Two of the very best college basketball coaches square off in this one. Jay Wright is leading a Villanova team that is looking very good in the NCAA tournament so far and West Virginia is coming off a dominant win against Marshall on Sunday. West Virginia or “Press” Virginia is a difficult team to prep for for some. Marshall had just two days to prep for them and it ended up costing them 18 turnovers which is a season high for them.

The Wildcats are different though. They have two guards in Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVencenzo who have been fantastic all season. They refuse to turn it over or speed up their games. This will be a game that questions if West Virginia can score in bunches offensively to keep up with the number one scoring offense in Villanova.

The best matchup in this game will be Jevon Carter drawing Jalen Brunson. Carter is nothing but productive and seems to make the game go however he and the press dictate. Jalen Brunson is exactly the same type of leader for Villanova. He never gets outside of himself and never does things to hurt their teams chances of winning the game.

Whoever wins that matchup will probably be on the winning side at the end of the 40 minutes. I think Nova takes this one 74-67 due to their tremendous offense and tremendous guards.

Duke and Syracuse:

Mens College basketball

Syracuse and Duke matching up.

Ah the battle of the zones. Duke has been much better offensively throughout this tournament. Instead of letting mediocre teams hang around they are taking big leads early and not looking back.

Syracuse is coming off an upset victory against Michigan State that has people thinking their zone just throws teams all out of sorts. Syracuse has the potential to be a zone killer because well one they practice against it every single day, and two because they have a guy in Marek Dolezaj who makes great decisions at the high post. Syracuse is not a particularly spectacular shooting team and needs Frank Howard and Tyus Battle to step up their scoring.

On the otherside we have a team that could potentially struggle against a good zone. Syracuse is a long zone and could make things tough for Duke. Duke has two tremendous three point shooters in Gary Trent jr and Grayson Allen. After that they don’t shoot it particularly great. Duke will struggle offensively and in turn we will see just how good their defense is.

Duke will win a very close one here. I have Duke winning this one 68-63 in a game that is close almost the whole time. If Syracuse can score well enough, they could even sneak out a huge upset win.

Texas Tech and Purdue:

I can’t imagine Isaac Haas playing in this game which could be a huge loss for the Boilermakers. The Red Raiders have dominated the defensive end all season. The stifle your offense and make you grind out long defensive possessions on the other end. They are effectively exactly what Virgina does. Keenan Evans has been very good scoring the basketball and will need to be in this game.

Purdue will struggle from the outside even though they have 4-5 guys that shoot it well and Texas tech will win this game 67-60 and absolutely shut down the Boliermakers’ offense.

 

Featured image from USA Today.

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2018 NCAA Bracket regional analysis and Final Four picks

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The after Selection Sunday is utter madness and insanity. Pundits are declaring their final four picks and fans are frantically researching to try to find that one sleeper team that is poised for a run. Now I’m not saying I am an expert or anything, simply an average Joe who nailed three of the Final Four teams, the title game match-up and the champion last season.

What I am saying is if you want to know the ins and outs of each region and the eventual regional champ, keep reading below. Let’s get to it!

South Region

The South region starts and ends with the most dominant team in college basketball this season: Virginia. The two-loss Cavaliers steamrolled their way to an ACC regular season and tournament championship. Coach Tony Bennett’s crew, buoyed by their impenetrable pack line defense, led the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Virginia forces opponents into contested looks better than anyone in the nation and rarely gives up transition buckets.

With that being said, Bennett will not have a cake walk to San Antonio this season. Assuming Virginia can make it into the Sweet Sixteen, they will most likely draw either No. 4 Arizona or No. 5 Kentucky. Both teams are peaking at the right moment as they each won their respective conference tournament championships.

Arizona seems to be a trendy pick in this region. Anchored by DeAndre Ayton, who is arguably the nation’s best player at the moment, the Wildcats dismantled opponents in the second half during the PAC-12 Tournament. Ayton scored 32 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in Arizona’s 75-61 victory over USC in the PAC-12 title game. Ayton is nearly unguardable when he receives the ball in the post and Coach Sean Miller will look to exploit this advantage nearly every possession.

The bottom half of the bracket features more defensive teams in Cincinnati, Tennessee, Miami and Texas. A potential upset pick could be Loyola-Chicago over Miami. Miami will be without Bruce Brown Jr. for the length of the Tournament after sustaining a foot injury. Brown’s injury weakens Miami’s offensive consistency as he averaged 11.4 points per game, one of only three players to do so for the Hurricanes.

This may be Tony Bennett’s best shot at reaching a Final Four (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports).

Cincinnati has ranked highly on basically every metric available, but has played relatively weak teams throughout the season. The Bearcats nonconference schedule featured numerous mid-major teams aside from Xavier and Florida (both of whom defeated Cincinnati). Cincinnati is a great defensive team, but is prone to stagnation on the offensive end.

When it is all said and done, I believe the Sweet Sixteen match-up between Arizona and Virginia will decide who comes out of this region. Arizona was a preseason favorite to reach San Antonio and compete for a national title, but they have failed to live up to expectations. That game will feature a battle of the pack line defenses (Arizona plays this style as well) and while the Wildcats have more talent, I’m riding with the team whose defense has not been solved yet.

Add in the fact that people are riding Arizona based on the fact that they won the PAC-12 in a season where only three teams reached the big dance (and the other two needed a play-in game to make it). Arizona’s defense is shaky and their guards struggle to consistenty feature Ayton in the offense. Give me a Cavalier team that dismantled the ACC this season.

West Region

Here is where things get tricky. Xavier, the fourth number one seed in the Tournament this season, is by far the weakest top seed in the Tournament this season. According to KenPom, the Musketeers were the ninth luckiest team in the nation this season. Pundits make Trevon Blueitt out to be the next coming of Kemba Walker, but Blueitt has been prone to shooting slumps throughout the season.

Blueitt has averaged 19.5 points per game this season on 44.2 percent shooting from the field and 42.3 percent from three. However, in Xavier’s 75-72 Big East semifinal overtime loss to Providence, Blueitt was limited to 13 points on 14 percent shooting from the field. Xavier has the offensive firepower to survive the first weekend if Blueitt has an off-game, but after that, the Musketeers need Blueitt to be on to make it to San Antonio.

With that being said, watch out for the No. 4 Gonzaga Bulldogs. This Gonzaga team may not have the hype of last year’s squad that lost to UNC in the national title, but these Bulldogs have even more versatility than that team. This team is long, athletic and well-rounded. Johnathan Williams lead the Zags with 13.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, but sophomore Rui Hachimura is the key for the Zags this year. If Hachimura can provide consistent low-post scoring and rebounding, the Zags will be a tough out.

Killian Tillie is poised for stardom in the big dance (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review).

The bottom half of this region has explosive potential. Headlined by the defending national champion North Carolina and scorching hot Michigan. North Carolina looked shaky throughout the year, but behind the offensive development of Theo Pinson, the Tar Heels look poised to make some noise once again.

Michigan roared its way to back-to-back Big Ten Tournament titles behind its defense. This is easily the best defensive team of the John Beilein era and the Wolverines are looking to take care of unfinished business this year. Avoiding foul trouble and free throw shooting are weaknesses for Michigan though. Star center Moe Wagner is prone to early fouls. If opponents can force him onto the bench early, Michigan will lose a serious offensive weapon.

Both Michigan and UNC should draw difficult Round of 32 opponents. UNC could be dealing with a dangerous Providence team that knocked off Xavier and pushed Villanova to overtime in the Big East Tournament. Michigan will either play a Houston team that defeated Wichita State and lost to Cincinnati by one point in the AAC title game or a streaking San Diego State.

When it’s all said and done, expect the top four seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. In a rematch of last year’s Western Regional Elite Eight, Gonzaga will eliminate Xavier behind strong performances from Killian Tillie, Zach Norvell and Williams. Michigan’s defensive pressure will force UNC out of its comfort zone on offense and Wagner will outduel Luke Maye to send the Wolverines to the Elite Eight.

I like Gonzaga to sneak by Michigan in the Elite Eight behind a strong game from Killian Tillie, who will force Wagner into foul trouble. Gonzaga has the length to handle ball screens and switching assignments. Tillie is versatile enough to check Wagner on the perimeter as well. The Zags will ride him back to the Final Four.

East REgion

Villanova has run college basketball for the past three seasons. Coach Jay Wright’s player development is nothing short of extraordinary, as he has turned Jalen Brunson into the frontrunner for the Wooden Award and Mikal Bridges into a lottery pick candidate.

This Wildcat team has the capability to run you off the court. They are relentless and disciplined and force you to play the full 40 minutes if you want to send them home with a loss. If Villanova has one weakness, it is that they are heavily reliant on the three ball. Six players on this team shoot over 38 percent from three, but this style of play lacks consistency at times.

When Villanova’s three pointers are not falling, this team can be beaten. In Villanova’s 76-71 loss to Providence in the regular season, the Wildcats only shot 15 percent from three. In their 89-83 overtime loss to Creighton, Villanova took 39 three pointers and only made 12. If Villanova struggles from behind the arc against any of the top teams in this region, watch out.

West Virginia is Villanova’s biggest threat in the top half of this region. The Mountaineers have looked dominant at times this season behind the play of senior guard Jevon Carter. West Virginia’s press defense can be difficult to prepare for in short notice and in single elimination tournaments. Press Virginia feasts on tired legs.

However, West Virginia’s defense can be susceptible to transition buckets if the opposing to team looks to score while breaking the press. That’s a big reason West Virginia struggled to contain Kansas in their three meetings. Villanova has the offensive capability to capitalize on offense after beating the press.

The bottom of the bracket is headlined by Texas Tech and Purdue. Purdue has had an extra week off after the Big Ten Tournament and was one of the hottest teams in the nation for most of the season. Purdue, much like Villanova, feasts off the three ball with the likes of Carsen Edwards and Vincent Edwards.

Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges can send the Wildcats to their second Final Four in three seasons (Joe Robbins/Getty Images).

Texas Tech suffocates teams with their half court defense. Their versatility allows them to switch through ball screens and guard multiple positions. Keenan Evans appears to be returning to normalcy after his turf toe injury later in the season. Tech’s offense can stagnate at times and relies on Evans’s play-making ability to bail them out. If the Red Raiders want to make some noise, they will need Zhaire Smith, Jared Culver and Tommy Hamilton to step up on offense.

A darkhorse in this region could be the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas rolls out two incredibly talented guards in Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon. Barford and Macon average 18 and 16.9 points per game respectively while each shooting 43 percent from three. Daniel Gafford, who stands a 6-foot-11, can go toe-to-toe with Purdue’s Isaac Haas if they end up squaring off in the Round of 32.

When it comes down to it, I expect mostly chalk as Villanova will square off against West Virginia and Purdue will take on Texas Tech. Villanova-West Virginia is set up to be an absolute war as Press Virginia will have some early success against the Wildcats. I was tempted to go with the Mountaineers, but the big question is whether they can get enough offense to catapult them into the next round. I don’t think so.

Purdue-Texas Tech is clash of styles. Tech is a defensive juggernaut and Purdue can score with the best of them. Purdue’s biggest weakness is defending the pick and roll, as Haas struggles with lateral quickness on the perimeter. Look for Tech to utilize high ball screens to scramble Purdue’s defense and have some success. Tech will advance in a nail-biter.

Tech will look to slow down the pace against Villanova in the Elite Eight, work their defense through off-ball screens and run the Wildcats off of the three point line. However, Tech’s offense will stall during the final ten minutes of the game and Mikal “Big Shot” Bridges will send the Wildcats to the Final Four with his clutch play down the stretch.

Midwest Region

The Midwest is most certainly the region of death. At the one spot, we have Kansas led by Big 12 Player of the Year Devonte’ Graham. Graham’s development has been nothing short of breathtaking. Graham has anchored this Jayhawk unit by scoring 17.3 points and dishing out 7.5 assists per game. Graham has the ability to lead Coach Bill Self past the Elite Eight this season.

There are two big factors for this Kansas squad. The first lies in the health of Udoka Azubuike. Azubuike sprained his left MCL in practice before the Big 12 Tournament. Azubuike has been a dominant force in the paint for the Jayhawks, averaging 13.7 points on 77.4 percent shooting and grabbing 7.1 rebounds. Silvio De Sousa, Azubuike’s replacement, showed Self that he can provide strong rebounding and post scoring off of the bench. De Sousa torched West Virginia in the Big 12 title game with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman’s offensive consistency is critical as well. Newman lit the lamp throughout the Big 12 Tournament from beyond the arc, relieving Svi Mykhailiuk and Graham of some of the offensive burden. Newman averaged 24 points throughout the Big 12 Tournament. If Newman continues this hotstreak, watch out.

Duke and Michigan State appear to be on a crash course for a Sweet Sixteen clash. Michigan State has been the most popular pick to emerge out of this region. Michigan State is a deep team that has a dangerous front court in Jaren Jackson and Nick Ward. Miles Bridges runs the show in East Lansing, averaging 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Bridges is an incredible athlete, but struggles to create off of the dribble against press defense and falls in love with his jump shot from time to time.

Duke’s season turned around ever since Coach K implemented the 2-3 zone. According to KenPom, Duke is ranked seventh in the nation in defensive efficiency, a stunning turnaround for a team that was putrid on the defensive end early on. Duke can score with any team in the nation most nights. Duke’s frontcourt, featuring ACC Player of the Year Marvin Bagley and lottery pick Wendell Carter, is a fearsome duo that can be difficult to slow down. Grayson Allen is a marksman from deep, too.

Malik Newman’s offensive consistency is key for Kansas (Shane Keyser/The Kansas City Star).

Duke bowed out of the ACC Tournament with an ugly loss to UNC 74-69. Many people expected Duke to storm past an inferior Tar Heel team (including myself). Theo Pinson and Luke Maye shredded Duke’s 2-3 zone by finding the soft spot in the middle. If Duke runs into a team that solves the 2-3, they could be going home early.

The team most susceptible to an upset in this region is Auburn. Auburn squares off against an underrated Charleston team. Auburn got outclassed by Collin Sexton and Alabama in the SEC quarterfinals. The Tigers got outscored by 28 points in the second half and looked atrocious on defense. If Auburn’s three pointers are not falling, don’t be surprised if they bow out early.

My Sweet Sixteen consists of Kansas-Clemson and Duke-MSU. Kansas will squeak by a tough match-up against either NC State or Seton Hall (I have NC State in my bracket) and then breeze through an outmatched Clemson to Self’s third straight Elite Eight.

Duke-Michigan State could be one of the best games of the Tournament and will have a Final Four atmosphere to it. Fun fact: Tom Izzo is a mere 1-11 against Coach K during his career. This game feels like a toss-up, but I’m sending Duke to the Elite Eight. Duke has faced superior competition all year and has more talent. Michigan State will look to attack the 2-3 utilizing Jaren Jackson, so look out for him to have a big game. Duke will get hot from three and ride Bagley to the Elite Eight.

The ride will end their for the Blue Devils. It seems that pundits across America have implicitly agreed to send the winner of Duke-MSU to the Final Four. Kansas has the tools to shred Duke’s 2-3 zone. Look for Self to work the zone inside-out with either Legerald Vick or Mykhailiuk manning the high post. Newman, Graham and Mykhailiuk are three point assassins and could light Duke up from beyond the arc. De Sousa will be the X-factor and will contain Bagley enough to send Self to an unlikely Final Four.

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Surviving on the bubble

As the days to selection sunday dwindle, so do the hopes of many familiar teams.

Conference tournaments are a time for bubble teams to play their way into the NCAA tournament or out depending on the resume. Many teams have helped themselves squarely on the bubble but few have played themselves into it. Here’s how the bubble looks with three days to go before selection sunday.

Assessing the eliminated:

Syracuse: Well it seems like Syracuse is always on the bubble and this season is no different. The Orange beat Wake Forest 73-64 to extend their bubble hopes but dropped their Wednesday night game to North Carolina. Syracuse is 311th in the nation in points per game at 67.5 and have dropped four of their last six. Including conference tournament play, they finished 9-11 in conference.

A red flag is then shown because the committee does not favor under .500 conference records. Losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech killed ‘Cuse’s chances throughout this season as they are the two worst loses on the resume. Syracuse has a lot of things going against them and seem to be a long shot to find an at-large bid.

Oklahoma: It seems like Oklahoma hasn’t gotten a win since they beat Kansas January 23. The reason for that? Well they really haven’t. Since that huge win for the Sooners in Norman they are 3-9. They give up 81.6 points per game which is good for 337th in all of division one basketball. This is the same in conference 9-11 that Syracuse has only it is valued slightly more due to the depth of the Big 12.

Although Oklahoma has some very large wins, they are reeling right now. If a few at-large bids get stolen in the next couple of days, the Sooners, and Trae Young could be on the outside looking in.

The ones in trouble:

Arizona States Bench, (Pac12.com).

Oklahoma State: I find it hard to believe that Oklahoma will get in but Oklahoma State won’t. Oklahoma State is 2-1 against both Kansas and the Sooners themselves this season.

They have wins over Texas Tech, West Virginia and even Florida State. The Cowboys have many wins against teams that are more than likely making it to the NCAA tournament. They finished at the same 9-11 in conference that everyone has so far but has beaten the Sooners twice which is a team valued ahead of them. Oklahoma State is one of the best 68 teams in the country, we will see if they get in.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils wrap up the eliminated teams on the list. The Sun Devils have struggled ever since they were ranked fourth in the country. Since that day they are 8-11. They have lost five of their last six and got bounced in the first round of the Pac 12 tournament by Colorado.

The Sun Devils are 8-11 in conference this season and are trending in the wrong direction. Despite some very solid non conference wins, the Arizona State Sun Devils seem to be on the wrong side of a bubble that’s ready to pop.

The Teams with life:

March Madness

Aaron Holiday, (Pac12.com).

UCLA: The Bruins have really turned on the jets lately. They took care of business in their first Pac 12 tournament and are 8-3 in their last 11. The Bruins have put themselves in great position being that they are 12-7 in conference games this season and have a nice road win against Pac 12 regular season champ Arizona.

They now draw Arizona again and barring an embarrassing loss, look to have played their way into the NCAA tournament.

Boise State: Well Boise State has been very impressive. They are 23-7 this season and are second in the Mountain West only to Nevada. Nevada is arguable an at-large team and looked rather unimpressive against UNLV Thursday afternoon.

It’s hard to beat any basketball team three times and with a possible Nevada and Boise State Mountain West final looming, Boise State could either play their way in, or steal an automatic bid at the same time.

In the best shape:

March Madness

Collin Sexton, (WRUF.com).

This is obviously the teams in the best shape of the ones that have been listed.

Alabama: Yes they have won one of their last six, but Thursday afternoon’s win was a huge one for the Crimson Tide. They now draw a chance to play a reeling Auburn team that they have already beaten once this season. More importantly they live to fight another day and take their shot Friday and further solidifying their spot inside the bubble.

Finally we have Providence: with wins against Xavier and Villanova who both might be one seeds the Friars continue to make noise in the Big East. They knocked off Creighton Thursday and have severely increased their chances. With upperclassmen leadership all over the place, the Friars could be a tough out for any team in March.

Featured image from Syracuse.com.

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Unmasking contenders and pretenders of college basketball

As college basketball enters the final week of regular season play, teams on the bubble are scrambling to enhance their resumes and prove to the selection committee that they are worthy of a Tournament bid. Meanwhile, teams at the top of their respective conference are simply focused on winning out and capturing a Conference Tournament championship title.

Conference tournament week is simply a preview to the utter madness of the NCAA Tournament, but how reliable is it in showing the fans which teams are real contenders and pretenders?

Let’s look at last year for example. Heading into the Tournament, no team in the nation was as hot as Duke. The Blue Devils steamrolled their way to an ACC Conference Tournament title and were viewed as heavy favorites by fans to make a Final Four. However, Coach K’s squad bowed out of the Tournament after a shocking upset at the hands of a South Carolina team that looked dead in the water after losing its first game in the SEC Tournament against Alabama.

The moral of story is that while Conference Tournaments create a lot of headlines before the NCAA Tournament, it is not a fool proof way to understand which teams are true contenders heading into the the big dance. Let’s unmask the real contenders and pretenders of the college basketball universe as the regular season comes to a conclusion.

CONTENDER: VILLANOVA

Coach Jay Wright’s crew silenced the doubters in their 95-79 demolition of Big East rival Xavier. Xavier Coach Chris Mack assigned his best defender in Naji Marshall to shadow Jalen Brunson from start to finish. He dared other Wildcats to step up and beat them instead. The end result was the best team in the Big East flexing its offensive muscle power.

Projected lottery pick Mikal Bridges burned the Musketeer defense all night, loading the box score with 25 points on 66.67 percent shooting. Sophomore Donte DiVincenzo stepped up and showcased his ability to run the offense. DiVincenzo nearly recorded a triple double with 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

While Brunson is the unquestioned star of this team, DiVincenzo’s consistent offensive production may be the X-factor for Villanova in their quest to return to the Final Four. In Villanova’s 76-71 loss to Providence, DiVincenzo struggled from the field, only connecting on 30 percent of his shots, scoring six points and turning the ball over three times.

After Phil Booth fractured his right hand earlier in the season, Wright had to force freshman Collin Gillespie into more game action earlier than he would have preferred. Gillespie’s production and efficiency have seen exceptional improvement over the past week. In Villanova’s past four games, Gillespie has averaged 9.25 points while shooting 65 percent.

If Villanova can limit turnovers, they accumulated 19 in their loss to Providence, and receive consistent scoring production from DiVincenzo and Gillespie, expect to see the Wildcats make some noise come mid-March.

PRETENDER: XAVIER

Unmasking Contenders and Pretenders of College Basketball

Trevon Blueitt and Xavier have encountered a number of lucky breaks this season (Logan Bowles/USA Today Sports).

Xavier has accumulated numerous victories over quadrant one and two opponents throughout the season. However, their play has been incredibly inconsistent throughout the season as they have struggled against lower quality opponents throughout the season. In Xavier’s 96-91 overtime victory over Georgetown, the Musketeers required a four-point play with under 20 seconds to play to send the game into overtime.

Coach Chris Mack’s squad required help from the officials in their 72-71 win at Creighton. Sophomore point guard Quentin Goodin was fouled attempting a shot with 0.3 seconds remaining. There was contact on the play, but the call was questionable given the context of the play.

To add to this, KenPom ranks Xavier as the fourth luckiest team in the nation with a score of +.129.

Xavier’s offense has been synonymous of a roller coaster ride all season. The Musketeers are heavily reliant on senior forward Trevon Blueitt to provide consistent, high volume production. However, Blueitt has been prone to shooting slumps and inefficiencies. In their 72-71 victory over Creighton, Blueitt was shut down all game, only scoring six points on 33.3 percent shooting. This was a game Creighton should have won and they provided a blueprint to take down Mack’s team.

Xavier’s porous defense could prove to be their downfall come March though. In their biggest game of the season, Xavier allowed Villanova to shoot 60.3 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from three point range. This stems from poor defensive close-outs and communication on switching.

CONTENDER: Texas Tech

Coach Chris Beard has Red Raider nation buzzing with optimism. Texas Tech as the opportunity to not only capture its first Big 12 regular season title in school history, but also make some noise once mid-March comes around.

Tech sports one of the most dominant defenses in the nation. Ranked third in adjusted defense by KenPom, Beard has completely altered the culture and playing style of this Red Raider team. Beard prefers to utilize a pack line defense, but also focuses on crisp player rotation and communication. This forces opponents into poor shot selection and passing decisions.

Their offense runs through star point guard Keenan Evans. Evans is averaging 18.2 points on 48.4 percent shooting, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game. In Tech’s 59-57 loss to Baylor, Evans was sidelined the entire second half with a toe injury. The Red Raiders’ defense kept them in the game, but they had no offensive flow at the end of the game without Evans to handle the rock. Evans is listed as day-to-day, which should be a relief for Tech fans as their match-up with Kansas is on the horizon.

Evans has the defense and the team make-up in place to take on a role similar Kemba Walker this March and lead the surprising Red Raiders to the promised land.

PRETENDER: KANSAS

Unmasking Contenders and Pretenders of College Basketball

Kansas needs Devonte’ Graham to stay hot if they want to go far in March (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World).

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has moved Kansas back up to a No. 1 seed after the Jayhawks defeated West Virginia 77-69 at Allen Fieldhouse. However, Coach Bill Self’s crew required a 19-3 run to end the game to take down West Virginia. There were times during this game where Kansas did not look like they belonged on the same court as their Big 12 counterpart, as West Virginia dictated pace and dominated the offensive end of the court.

This Kansas team lacks the explosive offensive firepower that Coach Bill Self is used to having. The senior tandem of Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk lead the Jayhawks in scoring this season with 17.4 and 15.3 per game respectively. However, much of this scoring is reliant upon outside shooting, in particular the three ball. This ability allows Kansas to pick apart a zone defense, as shown by their 76-60 win over Syracuse.

However, when the three ball is not falling, the Jayhawks’ offense can fall prone to stagnation. Mykhailiuk struggles in taking defenders off the dribble, Graham is a volume scorer who only shoots at 39.8 percent and Udoka Azubuike has difficulty handling double teams down low.

If Kansas falls into a shooting slump against a team that plays strong defense, they could find themselves packing up and heading home early in March.

 

Featured image by Charles Fox/Philly Inquirer).

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NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Winners and losers from the NCAA preliminary bracket

The NCAA Tournament selection committee, for the second straight year, revealed who the top 16 seeds would be if the season ended this past Saturday. The committee deemed Virginia as the top seed of the Tournament despite its home loss to Virginia Tech. Villanova, Purdue and Xavier rounded out the remaining No. 1 seeds.

South: 1. Virginia, 2. Cincinnati, 3. Michigan State and 4. Tennessee.

East: 1. Villanova, 2. Duke, 3. Texas Tech and 4. Ohio State.

West: 1. Purdue, 2. Kansas, 3. North Carolina and 4. Arizona.

Midwest: 1. Xavier, 2. Auburn, 3. Clemson and 4. Oklahoma.

Let’s take a look at who the winners and losers of the committee’s judgement were this year.

Winner: Cincinnati

NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Junior guard Jacob Evans III looks to lead the Cincinnati Bearcats to a strong finish. (Photo by Laurence Kesterson/AP).

The Bearcats are sitting at 23-2 and in first place in the American Athletic Conference. While this record is impressive, Cincinnati has played a weak schedule thus far.

The Bearcats dropped both of their premier non-conference matchups against Xavier and Florida back in December. They defeated UCLA, Temple and Houston, but none of those teams are considered legitimate contenders come March.

The fact that the committee already has Cincinnati as a No. 2 seed shows that they are high on the Bearcats moving forward. Coach Mick Cronin’s squad has a huge opportunity to further bolster its stock with upcoming matchups against Wichita State and Houston.

If Cincinnati can continue its winning ways and another No. 1 team crumbles down the stretch (possibly either Villanova or Xavier), the Bearcats could steal a No. 1 seed in the tournament.

Loser: Texas tech

The Red Raiders are poised to capture their first Big 12 regular season championship ever, yet they are only ranked as a No. 3 seed. Coach Chris Beard probably feels somewhat disrespected by this choice, and he has every right to feel that way. The Big 12 is the deepest conference in college basketball this season, sporting four teams in the AP top 25 rankings and three in the top 16 above.

Texas Tech sports an impressive 9-3 Big 12 record that includes a one-point victory over West Virginia (back when the Mountaineers were No. 2 in the nation) and a 12-point win at Kansas. What hurt the Red Raiders was their weak non-conference schedule (their only impressive victory coming against Nevada) coupled with a stretch of Big 12 conference play where they lost three of four.

Regardless of their spot at the moment, Beard’s upstart team has ample opportunities to move up to a No. 2 seed and possibly even a No. 1 if they win out. However, this is easier said than done as Tech has rematches against Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia lined up in the future.

WINNER: THE BIG EAST

While the Big East only has two teams in the top 16, those two teams each captured a No. 1 seed. Villanova and Xavier have slowly developed a fun rivalry this season and have a highly anticipated rematch in Ohio slated for this Saturday. Even more important is that both squads have a significant chance to maintain their spot in the tournament over the next few weeks, especially if Xavier can knock off Villanova this weekend.

The revamped Big East has failed to live up the hype and intensity of the old school conference that featured schools like Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Pittsburgh and Georgetown. However, the Big East has been fairly competitive this season, both in and out of conference.

Competitive teams will not return the Big East to its former glory, but sending two teams into the tournament this season would be a significant step.

LOSER: THE PAC-12

Last season, the conference of champions (as Bill Walton would put it) had three teams vying for top seeds in the tournament at this point in the season. The season resulted in Arizona, Oregon and UCLA going to the Sweet 16 and Oregon making it to the Final Four.

This season has been much less kind to the Pac-12. Arizona entered the season as a national champion contender with top recruit Deandre Ayton coming to town. Coach Sean Miller also hauled in three other top 100 recruits per ESPN in Ira Lee, Emmanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph. Now the Wildcats might be the most disappointing team in the nation up to this point.

Neither UCLA or Oregon have the depth or firepower compared to their respective teams last season. USC entered the season as a dark horse contender for the Final Four, but have seemingly failed to recover from the offseason’s FBI investigation. Needless to say, Arizona is the Pac-12’s best shot at back-to-back Final Four appearances.

 

Featured image by Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports

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College basketball All-Star roster

Creating college basketball All-Star starting lineups

As the NBA, NHL and NFL All-Star weekends are all upon us, we look to fill a college basketball roster of Division I players deserving of falling under an “All-Star” title.

Steph Curry and LeBron James had an NBA All-Star draft, so now it’s our turn. Time to break down the best college basketball players as of Jan. 29.

Team Trae

College basketball All-Star roster

Trae Young (Photo from Sports Inquirer)

The captain of this team and starting point guard has to be Oklahoma’s Trae Young. Young is leading all of college basketball with 29.6 points and 9.6 assists per game. He may be the most exciting player in college basketball and has taken the league by storm.

Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: Trae Young’s biggest assets are people who can score around the rim. Who better to have on his team than a walking double-double?

Delgado is averaging 13.4 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. He dominates the paint and seemingly grabs every miss on the defensive end. His rebounding ranks fourth in Division I basketball.

Allonzo Trier, Arizona: Trier has been one of the most consistent guards in the country this season. He is averaging 19.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. Trier has benefited from having Deandre Ayton on his team, but he is scoring at a high rate and has been extremely important to the Arizona Wildcats’ success.

Devonte’ Graham, Kansas: Team Trae needed a strong off-guard, and Graham is exactly that. Graham is shooting over 41 percent from three and is averaging 17.3 points and 7.3 assists. Obviously Graham is more of a point guard, but he seems to shoot it better off the catch while Young shoots it better off the dribble. Graham is the leader of this nationally ranked Jayhawks team and has been the go-to scorer when they need it most.

Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s: The final member of Team Trae is Jock Landale, who has been unbelievably consistent. He is averaging 22.1 points per game and grabbing 10.4 rebounds as well. He is shooting over 65 percent from the field and has helped the Gaels get off to a 21-2 start this season. Landale is a big reason why the Gaels are nationally ranked and has 15 games with at least 20 points this season.

Team Marvin

College basketball All-Star roster

Marvin Bagley III (Photo by Dennis Wierzbicki)

At this point, you have to stay with the trend. Marvin Bagley III of the Duke Blue Devils will be the captain of the other team. Bagley is quite possibly the future No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft. He has a ton of athleticism and has the numbers to back that up. He is averaging a double-double like many others on these rosters.

Bagley is averaging 22.0 points per game this season along with 11.6 rebounds. He is shooting over 61 percent from the field and over 33 percent from three. Bagley is impressing and therefore is deserving of this captain position.

Deandre Ayton, Arizona: We obviously couldn’t put Ayton and Trier on the same team, that wouldn’t be right.

Deandre Ayton is another one of those athletic freaks at 7-foot-1 with a 44-inch vertical. Him and Bagley in the same frontcourt would be something we all would like to see. Ayton is averaging 19.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. He is also averaging just under two assists and two blocks as well. Ayton shoots nearly 62 percent from the field and over 34 percent from three.

Jevon Carter, West Virginia: Jevon Carter is the leader of West Virginia. He scores 17.3 points, dishes out 6.5 assists and grabs 5.1 rebounds per game. He is a guard that does just about everything for a very good Mountaineer team. Carter is a senior and has shown his experience throughout this season.

Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: Bluiett has been one of the more exciting players to watch throughout his career. His ability to hit contested shots and be a streaky and consistent shooter put him on this All-Star roster. Bluiett averages 18.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He is shooting a scorching 43 percent from three and 46.2 percent from the field overall.

Collin Sexton, Alabama: Sexton is a freshman who would go against Trae Young. He is averaging 18.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He shoots almost 36 percent from three and has turned Alabama into an SEC contender. Sexton is a tremendous ball handler who has the ball on a string, can finish in traffic and shoot both off the dribble and spotting up.

These are 10 of the best college basketball players so far this season. They all have performed at a high level, which earned them all a spot on these All-Star roster.

 

Featured image from PickandRoll.com

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