Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (sympathy cards sold separately in Ames, where Iowa State is three games away from completing the first winless season in Big 12 play since TCU in 2013–14):
SIX PRESSING QUESTIONS FOR THE SELECTION COMMITTEE
March is here, and we are inside of two weeks until Selection Sunday. Many mid-major conference championships are either underway or about to start. Which means it is crunch time for teams trying to make the NCAA tournament.
This pandemic season offers more complications than most for the selection committee that is tasked with picking and seeding the field of 68. The Minutes looks at some of the issues.
1. Will late-season scheduling crunches matter?
Michigan State (1) started and finished like a team low on energy Sunday at Maryland (2), outscored 11–0 to start and 24–11 in the final 9 1/2 minutes. There was a good reason why: The Spartans were playing their fourth game in nine days, while the Terrapins had had a week off. Tom Izzo made reference to that disparity right off the top of his postgame comments: “Write it however you want it, but that team gets seven days off."
There will be no rest for Izzo’s team this week, with a home game Tuesday against Indiana, a trip to rival Michigan Thursday and then a return game with the Wolverines Saturday. That will mean seven games in 16 days to close the regular season. For a team that seemingly vaulted onto the right side of the bubble with wins over the Hoosiers, Illinois and Ohio State at the start of this gauntlet, fatigue may now play a role in bursting said bubble.
As it stands, Michigan State could need two more wins to feel good about keeping its long NCAA tournament appearance streak alive. Given how the Wolverines have been playing, that makes the Tuesday game against Indiana a must-win—get that one, plus one in the Big Ten tourney, and the odds should be in the Spartans’ favor. But they won’t be very fresh when the Hoosiers come to town.
Chances of getting a schedule-based reprieve from the committee seem slim—in a pandemic, you play the hand you’re dealt. And Michigan State complicated its hand by playing no games for 20 days in January due to its own COVID-19 issues. But there’s little doubt that the Spartans have the toughest final two weeks of any bubble team.
2. How much will the number of games played factor into bubble decisions?
There are some wide discrepancies among teams that figure to be fighting for the final at-large spots in the bracket. Examples: St. Bonaventure (3) has played 16 games; Drake (4) has played 27. If it came down to weighing those two, would the Bonnies (13–3) be docked for playing 41% fewer games than the Bulldogs (24–3)? The argument during football season was that more games played meant more chances to suffer losses. Or would the Bonnies get credit for playing a higher percentage of Quad 1 games than Drake (25% to 7%)? Or is it a toss-out as an appraisal tool?
Some other bubble teams on the lower end of games played: Wichita State (17), Connecticut (18), Xavier (18) and Colorado State (19). On the higher end: Belmont (27), Stanford (25), Maryland (25), Boise State (24) and Indiana (24).
3. How much weight will be given to injury absences?
There are at least four bubble teams dealing with key injuries right now to players who could return to competition. The list:
Stanford (5). The Cardinal (14–11, 10–9 in the Pac-12) have become a country song: kicked off their own campus for two months due to COVID-19 restrictions; taking a heartbreaker loss Feb. 20 at Washington State; and then a reported foot injury to leading scorer and rebounder Oscar da Silva before the home series last week against Oregon and Oregon State. Stanford lost both games without da Silva, likely pushing it to the wrong side of the bubble—but does the committee excuse those defeats if he returns to play effectively this week against USC or next week in the Pac-12 tourney?
VCU (6). The Rams (17–6, 10–4 in the Atlantic 10) lost leading scorer Nah’Shon (Bones) Hyland to a foot injury during the game against George Mason Feb. 20. They wound up losing that game, and then dropped the regular-season finale against Davidson Saturday as well. That put a fairly secure bubble situation in peril. Hyland is tentatively expected back when VCU begins play in the A-10 tourney quarterfinals Friday, where a win or two could secure a bid for the Rams.
Drake. Nobody has had worse foot luck than the Bulldogs: They lost leading scorer ShanQuan Hemphill to a broken foot in early February; then they lost point guard Roman Penn to a broken foot last week. The good news: Hemphill is expected to return after the Missouri Valley tournament and thus would be available for the Big Dance. The bad news: Penn is done for the season. Drake was 19–1 before the injuries struck and is 5–2 since then.
Belmont (7). The Bruins were 24–1 and hadn’t lost since early December when leading scorer Nick Muszynski got injured in practice last week. Without him, the Bruins’ 21-game winning streak gave way to a two-game losing streak at Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State. Belmont is hopeful it will have the 6-foot-11 Muszynski in action this week for the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.
4. How does the committee deal with the Georgia Tech (8) thing?
Josh Pastner would love a November mulligan. Mindful of potential virus shutdowns, he kept players separated and avoided contact in preseason practices. The result was a team unprepared to play: Tech was upset by Georgia State in four overtimes in the season opener, then was upset again two days later by Mercer. Those two Quad 3 losses remain a blemish on the record.
Since then the Yellow Jackets have played at a high level. They have wins over North Carolina, Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech, and no other bad losses. The committee must decide whether the full body of work keeps Tech out, or excuses the 0–2 start that was born out of an overabundance of caution.
5. Who wants to be the fourth No. 1 seed?
Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan have seemingly sewn up three of the spots on the top seed line. Ohio State (9) was the clear choice for the fourth—and now the Buckeyes have torn up that script by losing three straight.
The Buckeyes could still get that spot with a strong finish, but they have absolutely opened the door to the competition. And the competition starts in the same league, with Illinois (10). This is a huge week for the Illini, with games at Michigan and Ohio State and star guard Ayo Dosunmu’s availability still unclear after having his nose broken on a dirty play by Michigan State big man Mady Sissoko last week. Illinois already has the most Quad 1 wins in the nation with eight (tied with Michigan); if it adds to that total this week it will have a No. 1 seed résumé heading to Indy for the Big Ten tourney.
At the moment the only other contenders appear to be Alabama (11) and West Virginia (12). The drawbacks: The Crimson Tide were a lukewarm 5–4 in nonconference play, and the Mountaineers have a .500 record in Quad 1 games (6–6). But West Virginia does get to close with three games at home, including résumé-enhancing opportunities against Baylor Tuesday and Oklahoma State Saturday.
6. Does anyone get a brand-name bubble boost?
Thinking specifically here of Duke (13), although Michigan State could be in line for similar consideration. The Blue Devils (11–9, 9–7 in the ACC) fought their way back into bubble discussion with a four-game winning streak that included a takedown of then-ACC-leading Virginia. They backslid a bit Saturday with an overtime loss to Louisville, but that’s not a terrible defeat. If they sweep or split their games this week—at Georgia Tech, at North Carolina—they’d figure to go into the ACC tourney in definite at-large contention. Make no mistake, a Big Dance with the winningest coach in history and his lightning-rod program would be more interesting than one without them. Does the committee let that seep into their thinking?
BIG TOURNEY MOVERS—IN BOTH DIRECTIONS
The Minutes looks at a handful of teams that are improving their stock down the stretch, and a handful of others who are damaging theirs.
Arkansas (14). The record: 19–5, 11–4 in the SEC. The streak: six straight victories. The Razorbacks have not just won six in a row; the last four of those wins are against NCAA tournament teams. Much as he did at Nevada, Eric Musselman has constructed a deep roster that is heavy on transfers—but he’s augmented it with a trio of talented in-state freshmen led by Moses Moody. The Hogs are playing fast and loose, exuding confidence, and watching their NCAA tourney seeding skyrocket over the past three weeks.
Oklahoma State (15). The record: 16–6, 9–6 in the Big 12. The streak: four straight. The young Cowboys keep stacking up quality wins, having beaten Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Arkansas and Texas Tech twice. They’ve also shown a flair for the dramatic, with three overtime wins in February (most recently over rival Oklahoma, with a rematch Monday night). Cade Cunningham is playing more and more like a guy demanding to be the first pick in the draft, averaging 22.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, three assists and two steals over his last eight games. Coach Mike Boynton is letting him play through his mistakes as well—Cunningham has averaged 5.4 turnovers in that time—where more controlling coaches might be tempted to take the ball out of his hands a bit more.
Maryland. The record: 15–10, 9–9 in the Big Ten. The streak: five straight, including four in a row at home, where the Terrapins had struggled much of the season. The Terps likely have battled their way off the bubble and into the field in the last couple of weeks, certainly helping themselves with consecutive wins over Rutgers and Michigan State. Mark Turgeon’s interchangeable collection of 6' 5" to 6' 7" guys is creating some interesting matchup dilemmas for opponents accustomed to dealing with smaller players on the perimeter and bigger players inside.
Clemson (16). The record: 15–5, 9–5 in the ACC. The streak: five straight. The Tigers’ season can be divided into three acts thus far: a very nice first six weeks (9–1), two weeks of misery (1–4, with all losses blowouts), and a redemptive February (5–0). Clemson doesn’t shoot it terribly well, but it sure doesn’t let the other team shoot it well, either. During the current winning streak, the Tigers have held opponents to 25.8% accuracy from three-point range.
Wichita State (17). The record: 13–4, 9–2 in the American. The streak: five straight. The Shockers have been out of action since Feb. 18, but that was quite a favorable last impression: upsetting AAC kingpin Houston, 68–63. That win sealed the deal for interim coach Isaac Brown to get the full-time job, which was announced last week. Wichita has figured out how to win the close ones, with an average winning margin of 4.4 points during this winning streak.
San Diego State (18). The record: 19–4, 13–3 in the Mountain West. The streak: 10 straight. In mid-January, the Aztecs were a wobbly 3–3 in the conference after being swept by Utah State. Since then they have not lost, capping the run with a sweep of a good Boise State team. Mix master Matt Mitchell, who has been battling injuries most of the season, is back to playing big minutes and making myriad contributions. In a competitive year at the top of the MWC, San Diego State has emerged late as the tournament favorite.
Missouri (19). The record: 14–7, 7–7 in the SEC. The stumble: lost four of the last five. The Tigers have a ton of quality wins, so their place in the NCAA tourney is secure. But it could be a short stay for a team that has lost its mojo. This is a veteran team that might have been further along than others starting the season, and it now appears that the SEC has caught up. Mizzou is prone to sudden collapses that are rife with turnovers and missed shots and defensive breakdowns, which is a poor trait to carry into March.
Ohio State. The record: 18–7, 12–7 in the Big Ten. The stumble: lost three straight, as noted above. The Buckeyes have misplaced their clutchness, failing to hit big shots or get big rebounds or make key stops when games are on the line. Defense is an ongoing concern. They don’t force many turnovers, and failure to put pressure on opposing guards makes it easy for them to throw the ball inside to big men who can operate against a small Ohio State front line.
Villanova (20). The record: 15–4, 10–3 in the Big East. The stumble: three straight road losses by double digits. Ohio State left the door open for someone else to grab a No. 1 seed, but the Wildcats have excused themselves from serious consideration for it with a string of road thumpings. The worst was the most recent, a no-doubt-about-it loss to ninth-place Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse Sunday. Villanova’s lack of athleticism and rim protection has been exposed at the defensive end.
Tennessee (21). The record: 16–7, 9–7 in the SEC. The stumble: a 4–4 February. The preseason SEC favorites are, for the moment, not in line for a bye into the tourney quarterfinals and thus could be looking at having to play four games in four days. They haven’t won more than two in a row since early January and haven’t beaten an opponent who will be in the Big Dance since Jan. 30. This is a very limited offensive team.
Minnesota (22). The record: 13–12, 6–12 in the Big Ten. The stumble: lost five straight. The Gophers have fallen out of contention for an at-large NCAA bid, with consecutive losses last week to the two worst teams in the league, Northwestern and Nebraska. There have been some poorly timed injuries down the stretch, but even before those, Minnesota had long stopped resembling the team that beat Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State in the first half of league play.
Virginia (23). The record: 15–6, 11–4 in the ACC. The stumble: lost three straight. Losing to Florida State and a resurgent Duke, both on the road? Those are understandable. But following that up with a home loss to North Carolina State? That’s when alarms start going off. This Virginia team has been unable to impose its defensive will on opponents like the best of Tony Bennett’s squads, and it lacks the offensive firepower to compensate for that.
THE LITTLE DANCE
March is synonymous with hope in college basketball, as conference tournaments begin and everyone gets a fresh opportunity at capturing some magic and earning an automatic NCAA bid. (Well, not quite everyone: The roll call of the hopeful does not include the teams that opted out and the ones who didn’t qualify for the conference tourney and the ones who self-imposed postseason bans.) It’s time for losing teams to go on an improbable run, for unsung players to get star turns, for weekday afternoon tournament basketball. After a long slog through a tough winter, this is the good stuff.
This week and next, The Minutes offers micro-previews and predictions of every league tournament:
When: semifinals Saturday, final March 13
Top seed: UMBC. The Retrievers went 14–5 overall, 10–4 in the league, winning four of their last five. Pomeroy Rating: 156.
Top threat to the top seed: Vermont. The Catamounts tied with UMBC for the regular-season title at 10–4 and are 10–4 overall.
Best player: Ryan Davis, Vermont. Burly junior post player averages 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds, using his power in the paint (64% shooting from two-point range) and his touch from the outside (42% from three).
Best coach: Vermont’s John Becker is completing his 10th-straight-winning season. The previous nine were all 20-win seasons, and this one probably would be if the Catamounts had played enough games. This is his fifth straight America East title team.
Minutes pick: Vermont (24). The Catamounts and UMBC split the regular-season meetings just last week, and they seem to be on a collision course for a rubber match. You may recall that it was an America East final upset in 2018 that propelled UMBC into the NCAA tournament, whereupon it made history by becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 (sorry, Virginia).
When: Thursday to Sunday
Top seed: Liberty. The Flames (20–5, 11–2) routed Division I newcomer Bellarmine Saturday to clinch the regular-season title. They also beat SEC teams Mississippi State and South Carolina early in the season.
Top threat to the top seed: Lipscomb. The third-seeded Bisons (15–11, 9–6) split with Liberty and swept Bellarmine in the regular season.
Best player: Darius McGhee, Liberty. Undersized at a listed 5' 9" but he’s given the Flames oversized production—especially down the stretch of the regular season. McGhee has been on a tear the past four games, averaging 27.3 points and making a sizzling 27 of his last 45 three-pointers.
Best coach: Ritchie McKay, Liberty. His record the last three seasons: 79–16. That includes a 2019 NCAA berth and first-round upset victory.
Minutes pick: Liberty (25). The Flames are on a nine-game winning streak, the last six of them by double digits. It would be a major upset if anyone else wins this tourney.
When: First three rounds Wednesday to Saturday this week, with the final on Selection Sunday, March 14
Top seed: St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies (13–3, 11–3) won a mess of a regular season, with teams playing wildly different schedules. They rely on an iron five starting lineup of juniors, all of whom have played at least 80% of the available minutes this year.
Top threat to the top seed: VCU if Bones Hyland is back at 100%, Saint Louis if he’s not. Both teams have beaten St. Bonaventure this season.
Best player: Hyland averages 19.2 points and has a tendency for big plays in big moments. He’s scored at least 16 points in each of his last 11 games. He also hasn’t missed more than one free throw in a game this season.
Best coach: Bob McKillop, Davidson. There are many good coaches in the A-10, but only one of them has taken a team to a regional final, and only one of them is finishing his 20th-straight-winning season.
Minutes pick: Saint Louis (26). The Billikens looked like the best team in the conference before a one-month COVID-19 pause. They have the most talent, a senior nucleus and a coach in Travis Ford, who has pulled off some memorable conference tourney triumphs.
When: Monday to Sunday
Top seed: Winthrop. The Eagles (20–1, 17–1) absolutely rolled through the league, with the lone loss by two points in January. The only question is whether any rust has developed after not playing since Feb. 19.
Top threat to the top seed: Campbell. The Minutes would go with UNC-Asheville here, the only team to beat Winthrop, but the Bulldogs haven’t played since January. So the third-seeded Camels are the choice, coming in on a seven-game winning streak and playing a slow-down style that could frustrate Winthrop if they meet up in the final.
Best player: Winthrop’s Chandler Vaudrin is the guy who makes the Eagles go, a versatile senior who leads the league in assists (6.7 per game), is third in rebounds (6.8) and averages 12.3 points per game.
Best coach: Winthrop’s Pat Kelsey won the league’s Coach of the Year award, but the fact that Mike Jones again has a winning record and a No. 2 seed at Radford after losing star point guard Carlik Jones as a grad transfer to Louisville is quite impressive.
Minutes pick: Winthrop (27). The team that won the league by five games is the only choice.
When: Saturday, through March 9
Top seed: James Madison. The Dukes (13–6, 8–2) went on a seven-game winning streak in January and February to capture the title. They’re one of the better stories in the game, going from worst to first in a year after a coaching change and losing seven underclassmen that could have been on this team.
Top threat to the top seed: Northeastern tied for the regular-season title with JMU, but the Huskies have only played three games since January and none since Feb. 17. Hofstra is a factor as well.
Best player: This would have been JMU’s Matt Lewis, but he was lost for the season to injury in early February. So go with Northeastern’s Tyson Walker, a 6-foot scoring guard who hung 27 on North Carolina two weeks ago.
Best coach: JMU’s Mark Byington understandably won Coach of the Year in the league, but the choice here is Northeastern’s Bill Coen. He’s been a model of stability and has taken the Huskies to two NCAA tournaments.
Minutes pick: Northeastern (28). But honestly, just about anything could happen in this one.
When: Tuesday, through March 9
Top seed: Cleveland State. The Vikings (16–7, 16–4) won the tiebreaker with Wright State. The two split their regular-season series.
Top threat to the top seed: Detroit, if you consider Cleveland State and Wright State as co-favorites. The Davis duo (coach Mike, son Antoine) could dial up something big in this tourney. But they’ve got to get past an improving Northern Kentucky first in the quarterfinals Tuesday.
Best player: Antoine Davis. He’s second in the nation in scoring at 24.3 points per game, and coming off a 46-point, 10-three effort in the Titans’ opening-round win over Robert Morris.
Best coach: Scott Nagy. This is his 11th-straight-winning season, at South Dakota State and Wright State. He’s put teams in the Big Dance in four of the last eight that were held.
Minutes pick: Wright State (29). When in doubt—and there is plenty of doubt in this league—go with the team that plays the best defense and has the most size. Still, the athletically limited Raiders will be challenged by quicker teams.
When: Thursday to Sunday
Top seed: Loyola Chicago. The Ramblers (21–4, 16–2) won the league by a game over Drake and have won 14 of their last 15. The only loss was by a point in overtime to the Bulldogs.
Top threat to the top seed: Indiana State. Drake is injury-riddled, and third seed Missouri State was blown out twice by Loyola. So beware the fourth-seeded Sycamores, who split with Loyola and have won 10 of their last 12 games. They also could have extra motivation to send coach Greg Lansing out on top, if a report that his contract will not be extended proves accurate.
Best player: Cameron Krutwig, Loyola. The old-school, low-post presence scores, passes, defends and rebounds like a guy who has seen it all. And after playing 124 college games, he probably has.
Best coach: Porter Moser, Loyola. One guy in the league has been to the Final Four. Only one other guy (Northern Iowa’s Ben Jacobson) has been as far as the Sweet 16.
Minutes pick: Loyola Chicago (30). Ken Pomeroy’s metrics say this is the best defensive team in the country. It also forces opponents into the second-slowest possessions in the country. Expect the Ramblers to prevail in three low-scoring grinders.
When: Saturday, through March 9
Top seed: This remains up for grabs between Bryant and Wagner with a handful of games to be played early this week. As of Monday, Bryant leads the league at 14–5, 10–4—but the Bulldogs were thrust into a COVID-19 pause that canceled their remaining regular-season games and has jeopardized their chance to play in the tourney and attain their first-ever NCAA bid.
Top threat to the top seed: Wagner had won 10 straight before losing to Central Connecticut last Friday.
Best player: Alex Morales of Wagner had six 20-point games in February alone, but he’s more than just a scorer. The 6' 6" sophomore leads the team in rebounds (7.4), assists (4.5) and steals (1.8).
Best coach: Fairleigh Dickinson’s Greg Herenda is the only coach in the league to take his current team to the NCAAs twice, getting there in 2016 and ’19. The Knights won a First Four game in ’19 over Prairie View.
Minutes pick: Wagner (31). Given the uncertainty at Bryant, The Minutes is going with the best team that is most likely to be able to play in this four-team micro-tourney.
When: Wednesday to Saturday
Top seed: Belmont. Best offensive team in the league. As noted above, the Bruins (24–3, 18–2) stumbled late after losing their starting center and leading scorer. The two teams that beat Belmont last week, Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky, are the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds.
Top threat to the top seed: Morehead State. The Eagles (20–7, 17–3) have lost just once since before Christmas.
Best player: Terry Taylor, Austin Peay. He’s a career 2,000-point scorer and one of two players in the country averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. He’ll try to lead the Governors on a Cinderella run from the No. 6 seed.
Best coach: Belmont’s Casey Alexander has authored five-straight 20-win seasons, three at Lipscomb and now two at Belmont. Last year’s team won the OVC tourney and was NCAA-bound before the pandemic halted everything.
Minutes pick: Belmont (32). This assumes that Muszynski will be available and able to contribute. If that’s not the case, this tourney takes on added intrigue.
When: Wednesday, through March 14
Top seed: Navy. The Midshipmen (12–1) dominated their division in the Patriot’s oddball, three-division alignment. They also had the advantage of playing a nonconference slate, which most of the other league members did not do.
Top threat to the top seed: Colgate (11–1), the darling of the NCAA NET with a nonsensical No. 9 national ranking, is the other Patriot power. The Raiders lost a single game by two points, and 10 of their 11 wins were by double figures.
Best player: Santi Aldama, Loyola Maryland. You know how it says above that Austin Peay’s Taylor is one of two players in the country to average 20 and 10? Aldama is the other one. But he may not be around for long, since Loyola is the No. 9 seed.
Best coach: Colgate’s Matt Langel is 60–21 the last three seasons, with a regular-season title and a conference tourney title in that time.
Minutes pick: Colgate (33). We could have an extremely rare (if not unprecedented) conference tourney scenario here, where the two teams that meet in the final haven’t played each other all season. Navy coach Ed DeChellis is just 4–9 in Patriot League tourney games, 0–3 against Colgate.
When: Friday, through March 8
Top seed: UNC Greensboro. The Spartans (18–8, 13–5) have won at least 13 league games five straight years. This year’s team is the best defensive unit in the SoCon.
Top threat to the top seed: Wofford. The Terriers (15–8, 12–5) finished a half game behind UNC Greensboro and split the regular-season meetings. Wofford shoots a higher percentage of three-pointers than anyone in the country, so its tourney viability will largely depend on whether those are going in.
Best player: Isaiah Miller, UNC-G. Senior guard is coming in hot, averaging 30 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists in his last two games. There aren’t many 6-footers who take more shots inside the arc than Miller, who averages 15.9 two-point attempts per game. (That’s more than 6' 11" Iowa low-post beast Luka Garza.)
Best coach: Wes Miller, UNC-G. The school stuck by him through five losing seasons to start his tenure, and he’s paid them back with five-straight-winning seasons since.
Minutes pick: Wofford (34). This looks like a three-team tourney: the Terriers, the Spartans and Furman. Wofford is 3–1 against them. They’ll have to hit shots to win it, but they have five players capable from deep.
When: Saturday, through March 9
Top seed: South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits (15–6, 9–3) played the fewest league games and also had the fewest league losses. They were just 5–3 in February.
Top threat to the top seed: North Dakota State. The third-seeded Bison split a pair against South Dakota State—losing by one point and winning by two. They haven’t won consecutive games since January but they’re certainly capable.
Best player: Max Abmas, Oral Roberts. If anyone could get on a shooting roll and take over the tourney, it’s Abmas. He comes in averaging 34.8 points over his last five games, twice scoring 40 or more.
Best coach: Dave Richman, North Dakota State. He’s won the last two Summit tournaments, and three of six since taking the job. He’s 12–3 in this event during his tenure.
Minutes pick: North Dakota State (35). Go with the coach who knows how to win in March, and with a solid defensive team that won’t be beaten on the backboard or at the foul line.
When: Friday, through March 8
Top seed: Georgia State, winner of the East Division, and Texas State, winner of the West, are the co-top seeds. The divisions did not play crossover games.
Top threat to the top seed: Coastal Carolina presents a fast-paced problem looming on methodical Texas State’s side of the bracket.
Best player: South Alabama guard Michael Flowers, a Western Michigan transfer, is averaging 20.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He’s also become an iron man, playing 40 minutes in six straight games and eight of the last nine.
Best coach: Louisiana’s Bob Marlin had a streak of six-straight-winning seasons snapped last year, but he’s back above .500 again this season at 16–8. He’s made three NCAA tournaments, two at Sam Houston State and one at Louisiana.
Minutes pick: Georgia State (36). This thing looks pretty wide open and unpredictable, but the Panthers have won six straight and possess the most efficient offense in the conference.
When: Thursday, through March 9
Top seed: Gonzaga. The No. 1 Zags bring a perfect record to Las Vegas, a 28-game-overall winning streak and a 19-game-conference winning streak. If they don’t win it will be one of the biggest upsets of all time.
Top threat to the top seed: BYU. The Cougars are a good team that will be in the NCAA field. But they haven’t come close against Gonzaga this season.
Best player: Corey Kispert, Gonzaga. The senior sharpshooter has improved his game in virtually every statistical category year over year, doing it all a bit better. He’s the heart of the program.
Best coach: Mark Few, Gonzaga. There is no second choice.
Minutes pick: Gonzaga (37), shockingly enough.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Terrence Johnson (38), Texas State. He took over as interim coach in the fall after longtime coach Danny Kaspar resigned amid allegations of racist taunts by former players. The Bobcats have gone 18–6 and won the Sun Belt West—but Johnson missed the clinching series against Louisiana-Monroe due to COVID-19 protocols. So Johnson drove his car to the arena and greeted his players behind closed windows, in one of the best scenes of the season.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Jim Boeheim (39), Syracuse. The Orange continued to recuse themselves from NCAA tournament consideration by continuing to lose away from Dome, sweet Dome. Losses to Duke (in an utter blowout) and Georgia Tech dropped Syracuse to 2–7 on the road, increasing the likelihood that the Orange must win the ACC tourney to go dancing. And good luck with that: Boeheim is 2–6 in ACC tournament games.
The Minutes went nowhere in the past week but has been enjoying the Sierra Nevada flavor of the moment, the Wanderland Nectarine Ale (40). Give it a try and thank The Minutes later.