NCAA Peek Tournament: Gonzaga remains the favorite, but the Blue Bloods are back


The NFL and college football crowned their champions, with the Los Angeles Rams and the University of Georgia winning titles. The Winter Olympics are in the rearview mirror. And the start of the Major League Baseball season is rocky because of a lockout.

But the men’s college basketball season is just getting started, with the NCAA Tournament slated to begin on March 15 before concluding with the Final Four in New Orleans in early April.

Here’s a look at the main themes of the college season so far.

Because Gonzaga is in the West Coast Conference — meaning most of his games air late at night on the East Coast — a lot of people don’t see the Bulldogs until March.

But a year after suffering their only loss of the season in the NCAA championship game against Baylor, the Bulldogs are again the favorites to win their first title. They’re ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll and Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and when the NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball committee announced their top 16 projected seeds on Sunday, Gonzaga was at No. 1. in the general classification.

Unlike last season, the Bulldogs (23-2, 12-0 WCC) will not enter the national tournament undefeated because they lost to Duke and Alabama, but they have won 16 straight games and won their 10th consecutive WCC regular season title. .

With the conference possibly sending four teams to the NCAA Tournament this year, Gonzaga coach Mark Few said “being undefeated is quite an accomplishment.”

Going into Tuesday, the Bulldogs led Division I with 89.5 points per game — and, again, a team will likely need to put up at least 85 or 90 points to have a chance of upsetting them in March. Five Gonzaga players are scoring in double figures, led by forward Drew Timme (18.0 ppg, 6.3 rebounds per game) and 7-foot rookie Chet Holmgren, who is averaging 14.4 ppg. 9.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game and is projected to be a top three pick in the NBA draft this summer. In a year when there haven’t been many elite point guards at the top of college basketball, Gonzaga senior Andrew Nembhard, who is averaging 10.9 points and 5.7 assists, is the one of the best.

Last year, Duke and Kentucky missed the NCAA Tournament that same year for the first time since 1976. Another powerhouse, Kansas, made the tournament as the No. 3 seed but were routed , 85-51, by Southern California, a No. 1. 11th seed, in the second round.

This season, the three blue bloods have come back strong and all have a legitimate chance to reach the Final Four and challenge for a title.

Kansas, 23-4 and 12-2 in its conference after beating Kansas State by 19 points on Tuesday, is atop the Big 12. Powered by National Player of the Year contender Ochai Agbaji, who is averaging 20.2 points and 5.2 rebounds, Kansas was projected as the No. 1 seed – along with Gonzaga, Auburn and Arizona – by the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, whose members include athletic directors and conference curators.

Duke and Kentucky, which feature a good mix of unique freshmen alongside older players, were projected as the No. 2 seeds.

Mike Krzyzewski, 75, is coaching his final season at Duke (23-4, 13-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) and appears to have what he needs to challenge for the program’s sixth championship.

The Blue Devils field five players who could be selected in the first round of the NBA draft, led by 6-foot-10 rookie Paolo Banchero, a top-three draft pick with an average of 16.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game; junior winger Wendell Moore Jr. (13.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists); and freshman guard Trevor Keels (12.0 points and 4.0 rebounds).

Keels recently said this year’s team has “better talent” and “better depth” than the 2014-15 Duke team that won the NCAA championship – and can “definitely” cut the nets.

Kentucky, which lost by 8 points to Duke in November at Madison Square Garden and beat Kansas on the road by 18 points in January, has a shot at winning the title as it mixes elite freshmen like point guard TyTy Washington, averaging 12.4 points and 4.1 assists per game, with older players and transfers.

Oscar Tshiebwe, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound junior transfer from West Virginia who was called a “mountain in disguise as a man” by the late talent scout Tom Konchalski, is averaging 16.4 points per game and a record of Division I with 15.2 rebounds. He is a top contender for the John R. Wooden and Naismith Awards, given to the top college basketball players.

Kentucky (22-5, 11-3 Southeastern Conference) also has a variety of other weapons: Kellan Grady, a graduate transfer from Davidson, is averaging 12.3 points per game while shooting 45.1 percent from 3 points, and Sahvir Wheeler, a junior transfer from Georgia, is a speedster averaging 9.6 points and 7.1 assists.

When the list of 15 coaches vying for the Naismith Coach of the Year Award was released last week, it featured familiar names who have been leading their programs for years: Gonzaga’s Few, Baylor’s Scott Drew, Kentucky’s John Calipari and Auburn’s Bruce Pearl. Shortly, Drew and Pearl’s teams were ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll this season.

But two freshman coaches are also up for the award and for deep runs in March: Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd and Texas Tech’s Mark Adams.

Lloyd, 47, came to Arizona from Gonzaga, where he was head recruiter under Few, to replace Sean Miller, who failed to reach a Final Four in his 12 years with the program and whose l he team has been investigated by the FBI and the NCAA.

All Lloyd has done in his first season as head coach is lead the Wildcats (24-2, 14-1 Pac-12 Conference) to the top of the league standings with significant pick contributions. NBA lottery projected Bennedict Mathurin, a Montreal native 6-6 with an average of 17.4 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Adams, 65, was elevated to head coach at Texas Tech in April after Chris Beard left for Texas. Despite losing several players to transfers, Adams has rebuilt the roster and the ninth-placed Red Raiders (21-6, 10-4 Big 12) now have two wins over defending national champion Texas and Baylor. and have won 20 consecutive victories. home games following Tuesday’s win over Oklahoma.

“He always wants to get the best out of us, and he’s doing a great job right now,” junior guard Terrence Shannon Jr.

Juwan Howard, Penny Hardaway and Patrick Ewing have several things in common: they all played in the NBA and they are all now coaches in their alma mater.

They also all have difficulties at the college level.

Howard, the Michigan coach, was suspended for five games and fined $40,000 on Monday after slapping a Wisconsin assistant coach on the head in the handshake line after a loss to the Badgers on Sunday. Howard, who has apologized and will be eligible to return for the Big Ten Conference tournament, said he was upset by a late timeout called by Wisconsin coach Greg Gard as the Badgers held a lead at two digits.

Veteran coach Phil Martelli will lead Michigan (14-11, 8-7 Big Ten), which is on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament after being ranked No. 4, for the remainder of the regular season.

In Memphis, Hardaway spoke openly about his aspirations to win national championships, and the Tigers were among the preseason favorites after Hardaway persuaded Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren to upgrade and enter this season as what a rookie. But Bates, who has already been compared to a young Kevin Durant, struggled early and hasn’t played since late January due to a back injury. Without him, the Tigers (15-9, 9-5 American Athletic Conference) won six straight before losing to Southern Methodist on Sunday. They own impressive wins over Alabama and Houston, but remain in the NCAA Tournament bubble.

In Georgetown, Ewing and the Hoyas are making history – and not in a good way. They have lost 16 straight games and sit 6-20 overall and 0-15 in the Big East Conference. A year after winning the conference tournament, Georgetown is trying to avoid becoming the first Big East team to finish 0-19 in the league.

When Baylor won the NCAA title last spring, the team started two transfers (Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague) and brought two more to the bench (Adam Flagler and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua). Gonzaga started another transfer, Nembhard, at the point guard in his hunt for the title match.

Considering more than 1,700 players entered the NCAA transfer portal after last season, don’t be surprised to see them playing a role on advancing teams through March. Gonzaga, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Texas Tech all have key transfers on their rosters. After losing three players to the pros, Baylor brought in former Arizona and Georgetown guard James Akinjo, who is averaging 13.2 points and 5.8 assists for the 10th-ranked Bears .

At Auburn (24-3, 12-2 SEC), Pearl may have hit the jackpot with the additions of Walker Kessler (North Carolina), KD Johnson (Georgia), Wendell Green Jr. (Eastern Kentucky) and Zep Jasper (College of Charleston).

The 7-1 Kessler teamed up with Jabari Smith, the potential No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft, to give the Tigers a frontline that is the envy of some NBA teams. After averaging 4.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.9 blocks as a rookie with the Tar Heels, Kessler is averaging 12.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and a Division-best 4.6 blocks. -I. In a recent win over Texas A&M, Kessler had a triple-double with 12 points, 12 blocks and 11 rebounds.

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