No. 1 Gonzaga picked a bad time to lose its first game of the season, falling to BYU, 79-71, in its regular-season finale Saturday.
“That’s not the game I thought they would lose,” CBS Sports bracket expert Jerry Palm said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “You’d think they’d lose away from home, but BYU seems to have their number there. That’s their third straight win at the Kennel. I was kind of surprised that was the game that they lost.”
The Bulldogs finished the regular season 29-1 and could miss out on a No. 1 seed if they do not win the West Coast Conference Tournament.
“Oh, sure,” Palm said. “In fact, this could be enough to get them off that top line. I don’t think so yet, but I think it makes them vulnerable to being jumped specifically by someone like Oregon or UCLA. But I think the best candidate would be Oregon. If Oregon were to win all the way out, win the Pac-12 title, they’d win both the regular season and the conference tournament – and especially if they’re beating Arizona and UCLA again – then that’s a team that could jump them just based on strength of schedule and the fact that they’ve only got four losses themselves. So I wouldn’t rule out Gonzaga getting jumped even if they win all the way out, although I think it’s more likely than not they’d stay on the top line.”
Gonzaga has won the WCC Tournament in 14 of the last 18 seasons, including four straight.
Moving to the Big Ten, Michigan State has suddenly won four of five and got its second win over a ranked team this season. The Spartans (18-11) beat No. 16 Wisconsin, 84-74, on Sunday.
Still, Palm does not believe Michigan State is assured of a tournament bid.
“It’s a very young team,” he said. “It got younger with the loss of Eron Harris to that knee injury at Purdue last week. That’s a senior guard. So they depend very heavily on four freshmen, and that’s not something that Izzo is used to having to deal with. It’s not something anybody – except for maybe Calipari – is used to dealing with where you’re relying so heavily on freshmen.”
Those freshmen are Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford, who are the team’s top four scorers now that Harris is out.
“(Izzo) obviously wasn’t planning for this,” Palm said, “but (Gavin) Schilling got hurt before the season, Ben Carter got hurt before the season, Eron Harris got hurt in the season – and all of a sudden, your veterans are dropping like flies and these freshmen have had to try and carry themselves through.
“But let me caution you about Michigan State,” Palm continued. “They’ve won four to of five, (but) all four of those wins came at home. The last two times they played on the road, they got beat by 17 to Purdue and they got beat by 30 at Michigan, and they’ve got two road games left that they could get beat. So Michigan State is not out of the woods yet. They’re going to have to take this mojo that they’ve built at home on the road – and that’s not always an easy thing for a freshman team to do.”
In other news, Palm was asked to identify the best point guard prospect in college basketball. He took Washington’s Markelle Fultz over NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr. and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball.
“Lonzo Ball is terrific,” Palm said. “He’s an electric player. If I were an NBA GM, I’d be hesitant to take him because I don’t know if I want to deal with his dad. I don’t know if I want to deal with the entourage of Lonzo Ball. He’s an electric talent, though. There’s no question about it.”