Tough outs: Top NCAA seeds would rather avoid Ducks, Friars
There are several upset-minded teams lurking around the NCAA Tournament, just waiting to ruin the championship dreams of a high seed.
It’s what makes the annual sporting event a spectacle and some of most-watched reality TV on the air.
Don’t sleep on the likes of Providence, Oregon and giant-slayer Davidson.
They’re some of the teams that will likely be tough outs because of their guard play, their experience or their ability to create troublesome matchups.
Connecticut played the role last year all the way to the title.
The Huskies were a No. 7 seed entering the NCAAs, but the backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright got rolling and led the them to a surprise national championship.
With Selection Sunday looming, here’s a look at some of teams the favorites wouldn’t be happy to see in their part of the draw:
The duo of Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton have the ability to put up big numbers on anybody for the Friars (22-10).
Henton, a 6-foot-6 senior, entered the postseason averaging a team-best 20.1 points and had a career-high 38 in an upset of now-No. 11 Notre Dame in November. Dunn, a 6-3 sophomore, was averaging 15.5 points, 7.4 assists and 2.8 steals.
In their Big East tournament opener Thursday, Dunn had 17 points and 11 assists, while Henton had 20 points and 12 rebounds in a performance that had coach Ed Cooley calling Dunn a “maestro” and Henton a “junkyard dog.”
“These guys, when they play well,” Cooley said, “we’re a tough out.”
The Ducks (24-8) have the Pac-12 player of the year in senior guard Joseph Young, the league coach of the year in Dana Altman closed the regular season with a ton of momentum.
Young averaged about 20 points per game and a league-best 92 percent shooting from the foul line in the regular season. He leads an offense that ranks 22nd nationally in scoring (76 points) and 14th nationally in free-throw shooting (75.4 percent), so they can put pressure on a defense and capitalize at the line in a close game while also causing problems with their own pressure defense.
Oregon went 9-1 the final month of the regular season.
“I just hope they’re not satisfied with that,” Altman said before the Pac-12 tournament. “We’ve got a lot of work yet to do. We can get better here the next couple of weeks and hopefully win a few more games.”
NORTH CAROLINA STATE
Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried was a UCLA assistant when Tyus Edney’s unforgettable baseline-to-baseline buzzer beater kept the Bruins on course for the 1995 NCAA title.
“Guards can make plays in the tournament,” Gottfried said.
That’s why Gottfried is feeling pretty confident if the Wolfpack get into the NCAA Tournament. It lost to Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament Thursday, but N.C. State (20-13) is hard to beat when its guards are on.
Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey is an all-ACC pick, Ralston Turner can hit 3s in bunches and speedy point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber — assuming he’s healthy after being injured in an on-court collision Thursday — has improved outside shooting to go with his open-court speed.
Among N.C. State’s wins: Duke, at Louisville, at North Carolina.
“I don’t think a lot of teams would want to play us,” Lacey said.
New conference, no problem.
Davidson (23-6) made a surprise run to the Atlantic 10 regular-season crown, the latest success under coach Bob McKillop.
This year’s Wildcats have multiple scorers, can shoot from outside and don’t make many mistakes.
Led by league player of the year Tyler Kalinoski, they closed the regular season ranked fourth nationally in scoring (80.6 points) and eighth in 3-point shooting (40 percent) while leading the country in assist-to-turnover margin.
“I’m just overwhelmed with how well we are playing and how consistently these guys are getting better,” McKillop said after his team hit a program-record 20 3-pointers and had 35 assists on 40 baskets in its regular-season finale.
Davidson sits at No. 24 for its first ranking since 2008, the year the Stephen Curry-led Wildcats came within shot of a stunning Final Four appearance.
A year after falling on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble, these Bulldogs (20-10) are road-tested.
Georgia had a school-record six road wins in the Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs also threatened top-ranked Kentucky’s unbeaten season by leading the Wildcats by nine in the second half.
It’s an experienced team with five double-figure scorers, led by Marcus Thornton, and closed the regular season ranked 18th nationally in field-goal percentage defense (38.8 percent).
If No. 2 scorer and top perimeter defender Kenny Gaines is healthy after spraining his foot last week, Georgia could give someone fits if the Bulldogs get in the tournament.
“This is a complete team,” senior forward Neme Djurisic said. “We’ve just had a little bit of adversity with all of the injuries … but when we are healthy and complete, we are a pretty good team.”