Starting 5: Guards ready to carry teams to March glory, coaches I trust most and best Sweet 16 games
Welcome back to the Starting 5. The Starting 5 is written multiple times per week by Adam Spencer to keep you up-to-date on all the news and events in the world of college hoops. You can follow Adam on Twitter at @AdamSpencer4 and @SDSBasketball.
1. Guards win in March
We’ve all heard the old saying that you need great guard play to win in March. The famous examples are Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier carrying UConn to titles in 2011 and 2014, respectively. More recently, Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, Virginia’s Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, and a handful of others have helped their teams to Final Four and national championship runs.
So, which elite guards have the skills to put their teams on their backs over the next 4 days? Here are my 5 picks:
- Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga — Jalen Suggs has been perhaps my favorite player to watch in all of college basketball this year, so he is absolutely the choice for No. 1 on this list. There’s nothing he can’t do on the basketball court:
Jalen Suggs with the ridiculous acrobatic left hand finish. pic.twitter.com/BPPXaUhU6X
— Aram Cannuscio (@AC__Hoops) March 22, 2021
- Honestly, I’d take him with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. I just think Suggs gets what it takes to be a winner. Now, we’ll see if he can win a national championship before he moves on to the pros.
- Jared Butler, Baylor — Baylor has a few great guards, including Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell. But, Butler is the leader of this squad. Not only can he shoot the 3, he’s also elite in transition, as Wisconsin found out last weekend:
Butler was just too fast for Wisconsin in this one. Watch him here beat the last line of defense for the dunk. pic.twitter.com/vgPktZHXU9
— The Scouting Rapport (@ScoutingRapport) March 21, 2021
- Is this the year Scott Drew and the Bears get to the Final Four and potentially win a title? Butler will have a large say in that.
- Quentin Grimes, Houston — Since transferring from Kansas 2 years ago (a good move, in my opinion), Grimes has become a star. He averaged 18.1 points and 6 rebounds this past season. He scored 22 points and had 9 rebounds against Rutgers to keep the Cougars’ season alive.
- Max Abmas, Oral Roberts — Abmas was the nation’s leading scorer during the regular season, and he’s only continued his hot play during the tournament, when it really counts. He’s absolutely deserving of a spot on this list, and I think, win or lose, he’s going to have a heck of a scoring game against Arkansas this weekend.
- Jahvon Quinerly, Alabama — Quinerly has been rock solid for the Tide down the stretch this season. He was the SEC Tournament MVP and has continued to be a great player during the NCAA Tournament. He’s earned Nate Oats’ trust and UCLA is going to have its hands full guarding his quickness.
Now, let’s look at which coaches I trust to get the most out of their teams over the next 4 days.
2. Coaches I trust most
A team needs elite players to win. That’s undeniable. But, it also takes a great coach to push the right buttons. Naturally, now that we’re down to 16 teams left in the tournament, there are some elite coaches left. Here are the 5 coaches I trust the most moving forward:
- Mark Few, Gonzaga — Few has never won a national championship, but his team enters this weekend undefeated. He has the best collection of talent in the country thanks to his fantastic recruiting, but he also is a great in-game coach. It’s going to be tough to hand the Bulldogs their first loss.
- Jay Wright, Villanova — Wright won titles with the Wildcats in 2016 and 2018. What else needs to be said? He also has guided this team to the Sweet 16, despite losing key guard Collin Gillespie. He’s a heck of a coach and has a March pedigree better than any other coach left in the tournament.
- Nate Oats, Alabama — I am absolutely in awe of what Oats has done in Tuscaloosa this year. He led the Tide to the SEC regular-season and SEC Tournament titles. Now, he has this squad in the Sweet 16. He is the master of second-half adjustments, so I have high hopes for this team over the weekend.
- Porter Moser, Loyola-Chicago — How can you not love Moser? He coached circles around Illinois’ Brad Underwood in the second round. And, the Ramblers actually have a pretty interesting path to the Final Four. They went to the Final Four in 2018. If they make another trip this year, Moser has to join the ranks of best current coaches.
- Jim Boeheim, Syracuse — Every time I want to count Boeheim out, he keeps winning in March. Yes, his teams live on the bubble during the regular season, but when he makes it to March Madness, the guy knows how to push the right buttons to win.
Next up, let’s rank some unheralded guys who are poised to break out during the Sweet 16/Elite 8 weekend.
3. Breakout players to know
Next, let’s take a look at a few guys I don’t think are getting enough attention during this tournament. If their teams are going to survive and advance, they’ll need to come up big over the next 4 days:
- Devo Davis, Arkansas — I’ve raved about Davis’s defense in recent columns, so I won’t post the video of him defending Mac McClung of Texas Tech again (look up that video if you haven’t seen it, though). But, I’ve been equally impressed with his offense. He scored 12 points against Colgate and 15 against Texas Tech. He also contributed 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in those games, including this spectacular assist:
Arkansas, football school. pic.twitter.com/gwOW0Px5qs
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) March 19, 2021
- Davis has a great feel for the game. He’s coming on strong at exactly the right time for the Hogs.
- Chris Duarte, Oregon — Those in the Pac-12 know all about Duarte, but I don’t think he gets enough love on a national stage. He’s averaging a team-high 17 points per game and is a big-time playmaker:
CHRIS DUARTE DROPS THE HAMMER ? pic.twitter.com/POkHXFYysJ
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 22, 2021
- If the Ducks are going to advance to the Elite 8 and beat Pac-12 rival USC, Duarte is going to need to have a huge game.
- Isaiah Mobley, USC — Evan Mobley is going to be a top-3 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, but don’t forget about his brother, Isaiah. Isaiah is the one who had more points in the rout against Kansas, scoring 17 points to go with 8 rebounds and 4 assists:
No. 6 USC up 40-21 on No. 3 Kansas at the half ?
14 PTS | 6 REB pic.twitter.com/SXnogqioan
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 23, 2021
- The Mobley brothers are a tough combo in the low post. We’ll see if the Ducks are prepared for them on Sunday night.
- DeJon Jarreau, Houston — Quentin Grimes gets the national attention for Houston, and for good reason. But, Jarreau is an incredible player, too. Even with a hip that is really bothering him, he scored 17 points in 32 minutes:
Dejon Jarreau : 17 points on 6-12 shooting, 2-4 from 3, 3-4 from the FT line & 5 rebounds in 32 minutes pic.twitter.com/pQbwNIGOfa
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) March 22, 2021
- You can tell how much the hip is bothering him on those drives in the lane, but he showed his grit and toughness by staying in the game to help his team advance.
- Quincy Guerrier, Syracuse — Buddy Boeheim gets all the headlines out of Syracuse, and for good reason. His dad is the coach and Buddy is the team’s leading scorer. But, the Orange wouldn’t have gotten past West Virginia in Round 2 without Guerrier’s 12 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks. He’ll be counted on to keep Houston off the offensive glass on Saturday night.
Which of those guys will play big roles in their teams advancing? We’ll find out soon enough. Next up, let’s take a look at the best games over the weekend.
4. Outlet pass
There are 8 Sweet 16 matchups on the schedule for Saturday and Sunday. All of them will be intriguing, but here are the 5 I can’t wait to watch:
- 1-seed Michigan vs. 4-seed Florida State (Sunday at 5 p.m. ET on CBS) — This is easily my favorite game of the weekend. I picked LSU to beat Michigan in my bracket, but then I had LSU losing to Florida State in this round. I really like this Seminole squad, so the Wolverines will need to come out of the gates strong.
- 8-seed Loyola-Chicago vs. 12-seed Oregon State (Saturday at 2:40 p.m. ET on CBS) — With the way the Ramblers embarrassed Illinois in the second round, I expect them to roll past the Beavers. It’s going to be tough for Oregon State to score on this Porter Moser defense. But, I’ve also learned never to count the Beavers out! They’re super-hot right now.
- 2-seed Houston vs. 11-seed Syracuse (Saturday at 9:55 p.m. ET on TBS) — I’m calling it now. Syracuse wins and advances to the Elite 8. I think the other 3 double-digit seeds (Oregon State, Oral Roberts and UCLA) will lose in the Sweet 16. But, the Orange keep dancing. Of course, Houston has the talent to make my prediction look stupid.
- 2-seed Alabama vs. 11-seed UCLA (Sunday at 7:15 p.m. ET on TBS) — Yes, Alabama draws an 11-seed in the Sweet 16, but this is a power conference team, so it won’t be a pushover. Fortunately for the Tide, they have plenty of firepower and a stout defense I think will overwhelm the Bruins in the second half.
- 6-seed USC vs. 7-seed Oregon (Sunday at 9:45 p.m. ET on TBS) — The Pac-12 got 4 teams into the Sweet 16. The good news is that the conference is guaranteed to get at least 1 team into the Elite 8. But, will it be the Trojans or the Ducks? I’m picking the Trojans, but I can’t wait to find out!
Will we see more shocking upsets? Which teams will advance to the Elite 8 and, then, the Final Four? We’ll know which teams look poised for March Madness glory soon enough!
5. Buzzer beaters
Now, let’s answer a couple of random questions before we get out of here and enjoy the busy weekend of basketball:
Of all the schools left in the Sweet 16, which city would you most want to live in?
Well, I have lived in Philadelphia, and was there when the Villanova Wildcats won their most-recent national title (2018). I enjoyed my time in Philly, but I probably wouldn’t want to move back there. Been there, done that. Give me Eugene, where the University of Oregon is located. It seems like a great city. Very outdoorsy. I could get used to that.
What’s your favorite mascot of all the remaining NCAA Tournament teams?
Oh that’s an easy one. I love the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers’ mascot. “Ramblers” is the most-unique team nickname out there in this Sweet 16, and I’m a big fan of LU Wolf. Other than the Ramblers, there are some pretty common names — Bulldogs, Bears, Wildcats, Cougars, Blue Jays, Trojans, etc. I’ll take the Ramblers, thank you very much.
Enjoy the Starting 5? Have a question? Want to yell at me about something? Follow me on Twitter @AdamSpencer4 or email me at ASpencer@SaturdayDownSouth.com.