A familiar group of teams, and a familiar pool of players, awaits Gonzaga this week at the Honda Center. Three of the four teams that played in the 2018 Sweet 16, held just up the road at the Staples Center, will be on hand in Anaheim.
Here are five standouts and three sleepers to keep an eye on Thursday as the Bulldogs face Florida State and Michigan faces Texas Tech.
Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech: The do-it-all guard was named the Big 12’s Player of the Year after averaging better than 18 points, six rebounds and three assists during Texas Tech’s regular season. Culver’s production has seen an uptick in the postseason; in the past three games, he’s totaled 71 points, 28 rebounds, 16 assists, eight steals and five blocked shots.
Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan: Michigan lost Moritz Wagner to the NBA last season, but gained another European forward with a similar toolbox in Brazdeikis. The Lithuanian-born rookie hasn’t missed a start for Michigan in 2018-19 and was voted the Big 12 Freshman of the Year after averaging 14.8 ppg and 5.2 rpg. Brazdeikis scored a career-high 24 points against North Carolina and shot 40 percent from the 3-point line this year.
Zavier Simpson, Michigan: Simpson hasn’t missed a game for the Wolverines in three seasons and will play in his 115th consecutive contest Thursday against Texas Tech. He’s just a 9.1 ppg scorer, but has the highest assist average of any player in this pod (6.8) and led the Big Ten with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.6. Simpson also has been a linchpin of the Wolverines’ defense, earning All-Big Ten defensive honors.
Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State: FSU’s 6-foot-10 sophomore forward hasn’t started a game for the Seminoles all season and has four teammates who average more than his 21.4 minutes per game. Yet Kabengele is still FSU’s scoring leader, at 13.4 points per game, and has a team-high 1.5 blocks per game. The Ontario native won ACC Sixth Man of the Year honors and already has two 20-point games under his belt at the NCAA Tournament.
Terance Mann, Florida State: A steady scorer and rebounder for the Seminoles, Mann scored 19 and 18 points against Vermont and Murray State, shooting 68 percent from the field in those games. His efficient offense has been typical of a player who ranks 14th on the school’s career list with a field goal percentage of .556. Mann has also chipped in 24 rebounds in FSU’s past three contests, and he’s only three games removed from blocking eight shots against Duke in the conference tournament.
Trent Forrest, Florida State: Leonard Hamilton’s starting point guard received two votes for ACC Defensive Player of the Year and it’s no surprise, given that the junior is averaging 1.8 steals and 4.4 rebounds per game this season. Forrest is scoring nine points per game and is leading the Seminoles, averaging 3.7 assists.
Davide Moretti, Texas Tech: Culver has received almost every headline for the Red Raiders this season, but Moretti has been the second most consistent player for Chris Beard’s team. The sophomore guard from Italy has hit double digits in each of the past nine games for Texas Tech and he’s scary from distance, shooting 45 percent.
Charles Matthews, Michigan: He’s not often the Wolverines’ leading scorer, but Matthews can provide an offensive boost on a given night and has scattered seven 20-point games into his senior season in Ann Arbor. The 6-6 guard is also a good rebounder at his position, averaging 5.1 boards per game.
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