NCAA Football

College basketball expert roundtable: Saint Mary’s, Creighton and other NCAA tournament participants

College basketball expert roundtable: Saint Mary’s, Creighton and other NCAA tournament participants

AthleticEamonn Brennan, Seth Davies, Brian Hamilton, Brendan Marks and Justin Williams contributed to this story.

With men’s college basketball seven weeks away from the start of the NCAA Tournament, Athletic recaps the 2022-2023 season and predicts what lies ahead. With this in mind, a panel of five experts will discuss various topics throughout the week. Next: A look from under the radar…

What is your sleeping team for the second half of the season?

Eamon Brennan: Saint Mary. In about 10 days in November and December, plus one very free night on December 18 at home, Hells did enough to throw everyone off the scent. St. Mary’s non-conference performance — when it lost to Washington, New Mexico and State of Colorado (and also Houston in a very close game in Fort Worth) — this ensured that the Gaels would have a hard time taking their “who you beat crowd” seriously, no matter what they did early in league play.

What they have done is dominate the same league that gave Gonzaga suitable The possession-adjusted numbers suggest that this is the best defensive group — matching Randy Bennett’s late-career evolution into a reliable builder of great defense — and one becoming “the best in the WCC except Drew Tim” freshman performance evaluation Aidan Mahaney and, above all, a senior forward Kyle Bowenwho flirts with the 50 percent mark from 3. Saint Mary’s is really good, and it won’t be until the Gonzaga game on Feb. 4 and/or again on Feb. 25 that most of the world realizes that fact.


Which men’s college basketball coach will be fired or retired next?

Brian Hamilton: Sorry, but I don’t have a deeper cut or a more original perspective than Saint Mary. Would really like to give you a big south side B and stay away from the program most people are familiar with or deselect Iman. I just can’t. I’m not sure why people don’t pay more attention to the hals, especially since the trend lines are so strong. They have the second largest positive change in Evan Miyakawa’s Bayesian Performance Rating over the last 30 days, behind only Alabama. They rank second in Bart Torvik’s rating in games since Jan. 1 (again behind Alabama) and have the third-best net rating in the nation (plus-28.8) over the last 10 games, according to CBB Analytics. Saint Mary’s guards you in submission, has stellar offensive balance and hits 3s at a pretty decent clip (37.9 percent as a team). And the goals seem to be improving on top of it all.

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Justin Williams: I don’t say Utah could win the title or even make it to the Final Four, but give me the Utes as a team to potentially make some unexpected noise in the Pac-12 throughout the stretch and win a couple of games in the NCAA Tournament. After going 11-20 in Year 1, Craig Smith led Utah to the plate for the first time since 2016, showing how he accomplished a similar turnaround in three seasons at Utah before arriving in Salt Lake City. The Utahns defend like hell, a matchup nightmare at 7 feet Burn Carlson (averaging 17 points and shooting 44 percent from 3-point range) and a knockdown shooter in Gabe Madsen (12.1 points, 38 percent from 3).

Utah to beat Arizona to 3pm at home on December 1st and leaves for Tucson on February 16th. The Utahns get a second strike against UCLAwho they lost by 19 in Westwood earlier this month at home on February 23.

Brendan Marks: OK, my sleeper probably isn’t a real title contender — I originally picked Xavier, which, you know, isn’t such a sleeper anymore — but give me … NC State. Yes, indeed. *ducks, avoids thrown objects duke and North Carolina fans*

It’s been 40 years since the Wolfpack won a title (and I don’t expect that to change this season), but as for a team that could make the tournament and make some noise? Well, I like the works that Kevin Keats has collected.

This optimism begins in the second year Terkavion Smith, a legitimate college star who can score as well as any guard in the country. Ole Miss transfer. Jarkel Joyner was the right partner for Smith to make a timely throw, easing the pressure on him. And as for the complimentary parts, a couple more shows — Casey Morsell (Virginia) and DJ Burns (Winthrop) — have been consistent contributors, especially Burns of late. (Beware of quick returns Dushan Mahorchich and Jack Clarkewho is also out with injuries, but adds much-needed size to Keatts’ rotation.) According to Bart Torvik, NC State ranks 19th in the nation in passing efficiency since the new year, better than all ACC sides except Virginia. Ranked 42nd in the NET (as of this writing) and with no major losses, the Wolfpack are firmly in the NCAA Tournament — and if they do qualify, it’s possible Smith and company could pull off a few upsets.

Seth Davis: Thank you all for leaving me mine Creighton Bluejays! It’s easy to forget that this team was ranked No. 9 in the preseason AP poll and lost to Arizona by just two points in Maui and Texas by five. When they endured a nasty six-game losing streak Ryan Kalkbrenner got sick and they lost a couple of tough ones recently in Ukante and Xavier. But I still think this team has a shot because they have so many ways to score. Creighton is also a lot better defensively than people give it credit for. The Jays are 21st in KenPom in defensive efficiency and in games played since Dec. 22, when Kalkbrenner, the reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year, returned, they are 13th in the nation in defensive efficiency, according to Bart Torvik.

Like almost everyone else, Creighton’s success in March will depend on matchups. The Bluejays’ defense is efficient but not devastating, and Kalkbrenner is a finesse player who doesn’t thrive on physical plays. But they also create difficult matchups for an opponent that can’t match their offensive pop. I gave Creighton a Buy-Plus rating in mine Hoop Thoughts Stock Report, and I see no reason to change it now.

(Photo by St. Mary’s guard Aidan Mahaney: Emil Lippe/Associated Press)

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