Raborn: The NCAA Tournament was perfect this year

The 2017 NCAA Tournament was one of the best tournaments in recent years for one simple reason: there was a lack of early upsets. Upsets are the staple of the NCAA Tournament, no? However, an excess of upsets is damaging to the layout of the tournament and prevents viewers from seeing the matchups they really want to see.

This year, there was one No. 10 seed over No. 7 seed upset as well as a couple of No. 11 seed wins over No. 6 seeds, and one No. 12 seed over a No. 5 seed. Outside of that, the first round was clean and made some great second round matchups. People got to see Kentucky and Wichita State in the rematch from 2016 and an improbable win with Wisconsin defeating the defending Champion Villanova Wildcats. Viewers also got to see one of the best matchups in the whole tournament when South Carolina’s stingy defense played against one of the most dangerous offenses in the nation in Duke. Upsets in the first round like were seen in in 2015 and last year would have prevented these matchups from happening.

The Sweet Sixteen featured a matchup between arguably the two best players in the nation: Malik Monk of Kentucky and Lonzo Ball of UCLA. The Sweet Sixteen was the highlight of the tournament this year when No. seed 11 Xavier upset No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 4 seed Florida stunned No. 8 seed Wisconsin on a buzzer-beating circus shot.

The Elite Eight did not feature any close matchups other than the No. 1 and No. 2 seed game between North Carolina and Kentucky. However, it forged one of the most interesting Final Fours in recent memory.

This year’s Final Four was one of the best I have seen in my lifetime. Two of the four teams, No. 1 seed Gonzaga and No. 7 seed South Carolina, had never been to a final four in their history as a basketball program. Also, No. 3 seed Oregon made its first Final Four appearance since the first NCAA Tournament in 1939 and No. 1 seed North Carolina returned to the Final Four in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008-2009.

South Carolina nearly managed to complete a legendary comeback, but fell short in a close four-point loss to send Mark Few and Gonzaga to the national championship game. North Carolina won in a thriller as Oregon was unable to box out during the final free throws of the game. This made for the first matchup between two No. 1 seeds since 2015 when Duke and Wisconsin squared off.

Is this not what everyone wants to see? The best teams in the nation playing each other on the biggest stage?

Fans got to see the best Gonzaga team in history with guard Nigel Williams-Goss and two massive 7-footers in Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins take on guard Joel Berry and North Carolina, who returned to the championship game for the second year in a row. The result was exactly what you would expect from such a great matchup. It’s the kind of quality product that is produced when the NCAA Tournament plays out like it did this year. North Carolina clearly deserved the national championship because it had one of the toughest roads to the championship of any team. There was a perfect mix of Cinderella teams like Xavier and South Carolina, yet there were plenty of elite matchups that were noteworthy.

Until next year, folks.

Edited by Robert Hughes

Featured image from wikimedia.org, courtesy of Creative Commons

Gonzaga: the Boise State of men’s basketball

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dirkhansen/

Gonzaga, despite only losing one game this season, has been somewhat of a sleeper thus far in the NCAA Tournament. A weak conference schedule led many to believe that the Bulldogs weren’t a legitimate contender, but a Final Four run has silenced most, if not all, of the doubters.

The Bulldogs’ run has been spectacular, but their future beyond this season remains uncertain. Will they be a powerhouse from here on out, or are they just a flash in a pan? Are they still going to be viewed as David, or are they Goliath?

Only time will tell what kind of program they’ll be, but so far, they’re a lot like Boise State football. Here’s why:

Weak conference play

The Bulldogs’ biggest flaw hasn’t been their play; it’s been their schedule. Gonzaga is the only school in the West Coast Conference with a win over an AP Top-25 team, and only one of two NCAA Tournament teams from the conference.

Perhaps the most notable moment in all of Boise State athletics history is the famous “Statue of Liberty” play executed against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl that won the Broncos the game.

That play is arguably one of the best plays in the history of college football. Boise State deserves a lot of credit for winning that game, and especially for going undefeated in the 2006-2007 season. But that 8-0 conference record and 13-0 overall record is slightly less impressive when viewed with the fact that Boise State played in the WAC at the time.

Perhaps if the Broncos had played in a Power Five conference, they would’ve been selected to play for the national championship. Instead, they were competing for a Fiesta Bowl championship.

The first championship in school history is still within reach for Gonzaga, but perhaps if its schedule were a bit beefier, the Bulldogs would have been awarded the No. 1 overall seed for the 2017 NCAA Tournament instead of Villanova, a team that had two more losses than Gonzaga.

No significant accomplishments

Sure, Boise State went 13-0 in 2006 and 14-0 in 2009. Yes, Mark Few has an .818 winning percentage in nearly two decades of coaching at Gonzaga.

Neither team has a national championship, however, and that’s what matters in sports. Neither team has sustained greatness for more than a handful of seasons, even. Especially in recent years, both teams have been great, but never the greatest.

Weird quirks

Yes, the fact that both Boise State and Gonzaga have been trendy teams that don’t win championships is worth noting. The most glaring similarity between the two programs, however, is that both have strange traditions.

Boise State has had a blue turf field since 1986.

It’s beautiful, it’s trendy, but it’s weird.

What’s even weirder is that it was installed in 1986, well before the Broncos began consistently winning games. It is worth noting, however, that Boise State defeated Humboldt State 74-0 in the first game played on the blue turf.

The biggest question for Gonzaga is not its ability to win a Final Four game. The biggest question surrounding the Zags is that nobody knows what a “Zag” is.

The official mascot of Gonzaga is the Bulldogs, but fans of the program call their beloved team the “Zags.”

Apparently, fans just started calling their team “Gonzos” and “Zags,” and it appears “Zags” has stuck.

What sticks even more than nicknames, however, are championships, and the Zags just need two more wins if they want to call themselves “champions,” too.

Gonzaga faces South Carolina in Phoenix at 6:09 p.m. ET on Saturday in the first game of the Final Four.

Featured image by SD Dirk, courtesy of Creative Commons

Making a case for Gonzaga to win the NCAA tournament

Submitted Photo

After knocking off the No. 4 seed West Virginia Mountaineers in the Sweet 16, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are looking to win it all. The Bulldogs are the No. 1 seed in the West and are really coming on strong. Gonzaga compiled a regular season record of 32-1 and is looking as determined as it has all year long.

The matchup with the Xavier Musketeers will be as difficult a game as the Zags have played all year. This Xavier team is tough, gritty and has shown that they want to be in this tournament. Several key points to the Zags winning this game is to eliminate second-chance opportunities for the Musketeers, find a way to ignite their stagnant offense and shut down Trevon Bluiett. Bluiett burned the Arizona Wildcats in their Sweet Sixteen matchup, scoring 25 points in his 36 minutes

The defense is legit

Gonzaga takes more pride in its defense more than most other teams in the country. The Zags rely heavily on defensive stops to create fast break opportunities and spark their slow offense. This can become an issue the farther they go into the tournament, but can also be a great advantage. The Bulldogs are allowing only 61 points per game on average, which will help slow down many fast-paced teams.

However, the offense can lull behind

One of Gonzaga’s possible downfalls is offensive production. The leading scorer for the Zags is junior Nigel Williams-Goss, who is only averaging 16.5 points per game. This can be an issue when their defense cannot keep up with the pure scoring mentality of some other teams in the tournament. One shining star that can brighten the horizon is the post play that the Zags can produce. Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins are both seven-footers who can absolutely dominate in the lane against any team in the nation. Both are averaging over 10 points and five rebounds per game.

Overall, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are a tough matchup for any team left in this tournament. Their size is an advantage, their defense is outstanding and their coach is about as good as they come. In their Elite Eight game with Xavier, the Zags will shine bright and have a great shot at finally getting that elusive Final Four bid.

Edited by Quinn Pilkey

Submitted Photo

Making a case for Xavier to win the NCAA Tournament

Submitted Photo

Being Cinderella has to be pretty great. One day, you’re getting ridiculed by everyone. The next, you’re going to the ball with Prince Charming. The only problem is that the clock has to strike midnight eventually.

Xavier plays Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. Neither team has ever made the Final Four, so something’s gotta give. Here’s why Xavier will not only make the Final Four, but win the whole darn thing.

Midnight is Over

For the Xavier Musketeers, midnight has already come and gone. They’re just waiting for their happy ending.

With a record of 18-6 in early February, things were looking great for the Musketeers. A No. 1 or No. 2 seed may have been unlikely, but it certainly wouldn’t have been the No. 11 seed Xavier was eventually granted by the NCAA Tournament committee.

Then the bell rang.

A slew of losses began on Feb. 11 with a 73-57 defeat against the eventual overall No. 1 seed Villanova Wildcats and didn’t stop until nearly a month later.

Losing six games in a row is bad, especially when there are only seven regular season games left. Using the conference tournament to build some momentum, however, is good.

Creighton defeated Xavier in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, 75-72, but Xavier had picked up three much-needed wins in a row just before narrowly getting knocked out.

In the NCAA Tournament, the Musketeers made quick work of their first two opponents by beating Maryland 76-65 and bludgeoning Florida State, 91-66.

No. 2 seed Arizona tested Xavier, but couldn’t remove the glass slipper and lost, 73-71.

Balanced Scoring

Three players average more than 14 points per game for the Musketeers, including Edmund Sumner, J.P. Macura and Trevon Bluiett, who leads the squad with 18.7 points per game.

Bluiett has upped his scoring even more in the NCAA Tournament, and is averaging 25 points per game in the Big Dance.

It hasn’t been just Bluiett shouldering the load for the Musketeers, however. Xavier is getting help elsewhere, including the bench.

Macura is pitching in 11.3 points per game in the first three rounds of the NCAA Tournament, and bench player Sean O’Mara is adding 12.3 points per game from the post.

Bluiett might be the star of the show, but every Cinderella needs a little help from friends to find a happy ending.

Problems

The Musketeers are statistically average in relation to the rest of the country. Xavier is 127th in in scoring, putting up 75.1 points per game, and 140th in scoring defense, allowing 71.0 points per game.

In the NCAA Tournament, however, stats don’t really matter, but they are a good indicator of how a team will perform. And when the next opponent is 15th in the nation in scoring with 83.1 points per game, it raises a question mark. Gonzaga is an experienced team with the ability to score frequently and from anywhere on the court.

If the Musketeers can stall the Bulldogs’ scoring attack, then things will be looking up for the Cinderella of the tournament. If not, midnight may strike yet again.

Edited by Nathan Odom

Submitted Photo