The eight teams headed to Salt Lake City for this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament were unveiled Sunday, and they include No. 1 seed Gonzaga.
The Bulldogs, 31-2 and winners of the West Coast Conference title, will play 16th seed Southern (23-9). The winner of that game will play the winner of No. 8 seed Pittsburgh (24-8) and No. 9 Wichita State (26-8).
No. 3 seed New Mexico (29-5) and No. 14 Harvard (19-9) will play in Salt Lake City, and No. 6 Arizona (25-7) and No. 11 Belmont (26-6) will face each other. The winners of those games will face off in the third round.
All games in Utah, to be played at EnergySolutions Arena, are in the West Region of the bracket. All second-round games in Utah will be played on Thursday, with third-round games on Saturday.
by Loren Jorgensen
Getting to the NCAA Tournament is commonplace for Gonzaga these days. The Bulldogs, in fact, have been to "The Big Dance" 15 straight years now. No big deal.
But being a No. 1 seed? That's a biggie.
Sunday marked a first for arguably the most consistent basketball program in the western United States the past two decades. The Zags, 31-2 and riding a 14-game winning streak, are the No. 1 seed in the West Regional and will face Southern University (23-9) on Thursday at EnergySolutions Arena.
"It's an honor (to get a No.1 seed)," Gonzaga coach Mark Few told ESPN Sunday night. "There were a bunch of teams that deserved it. Whether or not we deserved it over them, I don't know. I was honored just to be in the conversation."
Gonzaga is ranked No. 1 in the national polls, but there was some question as to if it would gain a No. 1 seed since it is often criticized for its weak strength of schedule playing in the West Coast Conference. But the Bulldogs have made noise over the years in the NCAAs. They also played — and beat — a number of Big 12 teams this preseason in Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Baylor. Plus they dominated the WCC, which has at least a few tough outs in rivals like Saint Mary's and BYU.
"Gonzaga gets everybody's best shot when they show up," selection committee chairman Mike Bobinski said during the CBS selection show. "In our judgment that's a very complete and very strong basketball team, and in our collective estimation they deserve to be on that 1 line."
Gonzaga is led by center Kelly Olynyk (17.5 ppg) and power forward Elias Harris (14.9 ppg).
Southern, meanwhile, is just happy it doesn't have to play on Tuesday in a first-round play-in game.
"In our (Southwest Athletic) conference sometimes, out RPI is not as high and you get penalized," Southern coach Roman Banks told the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. "But I think (the NCAA selection committee) looked at our body of work. We bypassed the play-in game. That's a testament to these guys going out on the road and playing."
The Jaguars are led by guards Derick Beltran (15.9 ppg) and Malcolm Miller (15.8 ppg).
GONZAGA (31-2) vs. SOUTHERN (23-9)
Thursday, approx. 2:10 p.m. MT, TBS
The Bulldogs: In a season of firsts, the Zags rose to the top spot in the polls following a Feb. 8 win over BYU in the Marriott Center. . . Center Kelly Olynyk is the top scorer (17.5 ppg), forward Elias Harris leads the team in rebounding (7.4 rpg) and point guard Kevin Pangos is a good all-around floor general (11.5 ppg,, 3.2 apg) . . .The only two teams to beat the Bulldogs this season were Illinois and Butler. . . . Impressive wins include victories over West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Baylor.
The Jaguars: A 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed, but Southern hopes to change that. Malcolm Miller is one of the nation's top 3-point shooters, making 46 percent of his attempts beyond the arc. . . . This is Southern's first NCAA appearance since 2006. The Jags are 1-7 all time in the NCAAs . . . Southern, located in Baton Rouge, La.. beat Texas A&M in non-league action. . . . The Jags went 15-3 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference just two years after finished last in that league.
Utah connection: Gonzaga backup guard David Stockton literally spent hundreds of hours at EnergySolutions Arena as a youngster. He is the son of Jazz legend John Stockton. . . . Most know that the Zags beat BYU both times the WCC teams played this season — in blowout fashion in Spokane and in a nail-biter in Provo. But the Bulldogs also have a win over Southern Utah, 103-65, in November.
by Randy Hollis
New Mexico and Harvard, two schools that have never met before in men's basketball, have walked down far different paths in the NCAA Tournament.
The Lobos, who won the championship of the Mountain West Conference — regarded by many as the best men's college basketball league in the country — are making their 14th all-time NCAA appearance.
The Crimson of Harvard, meanwhile, have only earned an invitation to the Big Dance three times in the entire history of their program — although this year will mark their second straight trip. Last year's bid was their first since 1947.
Thus, the stage is set for a matchup of highly contrasting personnel, styles and tradition when New Mexico meets Harvard in one of Thursday's four games at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Lobos (29-5) earned a No. 3 seed in the West Region — matching their highest NCAA seeding ever — by virtue of sweeping the MWC regular-season and postseason tournament titles.
"We know we're deserving of a very good seed," New Mexico coach Steve Alford told GoLobos.com after their MWC tourney triumph on Saturday night. "To go through our schedule, to go through this league, never lose two games in a row, (never) have a losing streak. … What these young men have done is amazing."
The 14th-seeded Crimson (19-9), who played just two games west of the Mississippi River this season — winning at Cal and losing at Saint Mary's — punched their ticket by winning a third consecutive Ivy League crown.
Alford's New Mexico teams have gone 2-2 in his previous two NCAA tourney appearances.
And while the Lobo and Crimson programs have never met on the hardwoods before and don't appear to have much in common, the same cannot be said for the two teams' coaches, who are both in their sixth seasons at their respective schools.
In March of 1987, Alford's Indiana University team, coached by Bobby Knight, beat Harvard coach Tommy Amaker's Duke squad in a regional semifinal game at Cincinnati. The Hoosiers turned back the Blue Devils 88-82, and Indiana went on to win the national championship.
NEW MEXICO (29-5) vs. HARVARD (19-9)
Thursday, approx. 7:50 p.m. MT, TNT
The Lobos: For the second straight season, they swept the MWC regular-season and postseason tournament titles. Kendall Williams leads a balanced attack with 13.5 points and 5.0 assists a game. Tony Snell adds 12.6 ppg with a team-high 63 3-pointers, and Alex Kirk contributes 11.9 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and also blocked 62 shots. New Mexico played 17 games against teams that qualified for the NCAA tourney this season, and the Lobos went 13-4 in those games.
The Crimson: Captured their third consecutive Ivy League championship and, for the first time in school history, will be making back-to-back trips to the NCAA tourney. Harvard has just three NCAA appearances all-time and is still looking for its first-ever NCAA tourney win. Sophomore swingman Wesley Saunders leads the team in scoring with 16.5 points per game, followed by freshman guard Siyani Chambers (12.9) and junior guard Laurent Rivard (10.4).
Utah connection: New Mexico coach Steve Alford's teams played Mountain West games in the Beehive State at the U. of U. and BYU before the Utes and Cougars left the MWC two years ago.
by Andrew Aragon
The Arizona Wildcats are back in the NCAA Tournament after a rare miss last season, but they aren't exactly putting fear into the postseason field.
The Wildcats, who were ranked as high as No. 3 earlier this season, were awarded just a No. 6 seed in the West Regional. Arizona will face a dangerous No. 11 seed, Belmont, the Ohio Valley Conference champions, in a second-round tournament game in Salt Lake City on Thursday.
Arizona is limping into the big dance, losing three of its last four games while going 5-5 in its last 10 contests. Inconsistent play on defense and at point guard has hampered the Wildcats. Arizona's 3-point defense isn't good, and the team just so happens to be opening the tournament against a club that can consistently bury 3-pointers.
Belmont's sharpshooters include Ian Clark, who averages 18.1 points per game and shoots 46.3 percent from 3-point range. Center Trevor Noack shoots 41.8 percent from 3-point range and averages 12.5 points per game.
Belmont is making its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance and features a group of seniors who have won four regular season conference championships and three conference tourney titles. The Bruins played in the Ohio Valley Conference for the first time this year.
While Belmont is seasoned and could be a popular upset pick among bracketologists, the Wildcats are tough when they play to their potential. Arizona has the edge over Belmont in talent, size and athleticism. And if the Wildcats can play with as much fire as their coach, Sean Miller, showed toward officials in his team's loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament and in his ensuing postgame press conference, they'll be poised to advance.
Arizona did not reach the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in 19 seasons last year. Belmont is making its sixth NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006 but has yet to win a tournament game.
This will be the first meeting between Arizona and Belmont.
BELMONT (26-6) vs. ARIZONA (25-7)
Thursday, approx. 5:20 p.m. MT, TNT
The Bruins: They can put points up in a hurry, scoring an average of 77.2 per game. They have a well-respected coach in Rick Byrd, and feature a dynamic score in Ian Clark. … best wins: Stanford, Middle Tennessee, Ohio … worst losses: Northeastern, Tennessee State
The Wildcats: Mark Lyons is their top scorer at 14.8 points per game, but Solomon Hill is their best player. Arizona isn't peaking at the right time of the season, going just 5-5 in its last 10 games, but could still make a tourney run. … best wins: Miami, Florida, San Diego State … worst loss: USC
Utah connection: Arizona swept the Utah Utes in Pac-12 games this season, but had a difficult time doing so. The Wildcats beat Utah by a combined seven points in two victories, almost going to overtime in Arizona when the Utes' Jarred DuBois missed a 3-pointer as time expired in a 60-57 win.
by Amy Donaldson
Their fans may want to argue their No. 8 seeding, but the Pittsburgh Panthers celebrated their at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament as they watched Sunday’s Selection Show at Petersen Events Center.
Not only did the Panthers get an invite, they’ll take on another at-large team in No. 9 seeded Wichita State in Thursday’s second round at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City. Both teams lost in the championship games of their respective tournaments.
The Panthers are led by head coach Jamie Dixon, a California native who is in his 10th year as head coach. Pitt is one of only seven programs nationally to advance to the NCAA Tournament in 11 of the last 12 seasons.
The Panthers are led by senior guard Tray Woodall, who was named to the All-Big East Third Team. He averaged 11.7 points with 163 assists and 41 steals this season. Freshman Steven Adams, a native of New Zealand, was named to the Big East's all-rookie team, and he averages 2.1 blocks per game.
The Shockers are led by head coach Gregg Marshall, who became the first Wichita State coach to earn back-to-back Coach of the Year awards. He's guided the program to a school-record fourth straight season with 24 or more wins.
The team is led by MVC Newcomer of the Year Cleanthony Early, a junior forward who has averaged 13.6 points and 5.4 rebounds. Carl Hall averaged 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds for the team and was named to the all-conference second team. Oregon transfer senior Malcom Armstead, who is the only player to start all 34 games, averaged 10.4 points, 4 assists and 3.7 rebounds.
PITTSBURGH (24-8) vs. WICHITA STATE (26-8)
Thursday, 11:40 a.m. MT, TBS
The Panthers: Best wins: Jan. 8 victory against Georgetown (a No. 2 seed in the tournament), a Feb. 2 win against then No. 6 ranked Syracuse, a March 3 overtime victory against Villanova, a 9 seed in the South. Worst losses: A Feb. 18 51-42 loss to Notre Dame and Saturday's loss to Syracuse in the conference title game.
The Shockers: Best win: A November win against VCU (a fifth seed in the tournament) and a Feb. 19 win against Indiana State. Worst losses: A Dec. 13 loss to Tennessee and losses to Creighton at the end of conference play and in the MVC tournament.
Utah connections: Former Jazzman Antoine "Big Dog" Carr played at Wichita State.