Gonzaga Bulldogs 28-6, 15-3
Once again representing the West Coast Conference is a tournament mainstay in the Bulldogs. They are making their 16th consecutive appearance in the Big Dance after adding another WCC regular season and conference tournament championship to their stockpile. This year’s Bulldogs team comes in with a strength of schedule ranked 97th and a 10-4 mark against the RPI top 100. All four of those losses came against teams in the top 50, including one of them to BYU, the only team in that range they defeated this season. Sam Dower is the top dog this year, leading the team in points (15) and rebounds (7.1). They have really solid guard play in Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., David Stockton and Kyle Dranginis. Sophomore center Przemek Karnowski, who comes in at an overpowering 7’1, 296 lbs., can be a real difference maker when he’s at the top of his game, but he’s still prone to foul trouble and inconsistency. Opposing coaches going after the same recruits as Gonzaga have started to refer to the round of 32 as the “round of Few” because the Bulldogs have only advanced past it once in the last seven years. If the Bulldogs don’t defend at a high level in the opening weekend, that recruiting tactic will continue to get used against them moving forward.
Oklahoma State Cowboys 21-12, 8-10
Star sophomore guard Marcus Smart passed on potentially being the second overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft to compete for a national championship this year. As a perennial winner in high school, Smart couldn’t handle leaving Stillwater early after going one-and-done in last year’s tournament. By earning the school’s 26th NCAA Tournament bid the Cowboys are still alive in the hunt for a title, but this has been the toughest season ever for Smart. Individually he’s done what’s necessary to keep his draft stock high, improving his shooting percentages from the field and three while trimming his turnovers down, but the Cowboys have underachieved as a team. They dropped eight straight and nine of 10 during Big 12 play and during the course of that stretch, Smart infamously shoved a fan and earned a three-game suspension. Since then the Cowboys have been playing better basketball, though, winning five of seven with their two losses coming to ranked teams Iowa State and Kansas in overtime. Defense was the key in their last five wins, as they didn’t allow more than 65 points in any of those contests. On the year they’ve given up 70 a night against the 41st most difficult schedule in the country. They’re a top 10 offensive team, scoring 82 on average. They cannot afford much foul trouble; they’re really thin after the dismissal of Stevie Clark and injury to Michael Cobbins. The last time the Cowboys advanced past the round of 32 was 2005. Without big efforts from Smart and his backcourt mate Markel Brown, that won’t change.
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