January 29, 2009 12:10 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
This is totally unprecedented. In nearly five years, there has never been more than one G!O!T!N! at a time. But tonight, there's no way to choose. Maybe you can pick between these supergood gems, but we can't.
Nevada at Utah State (Western Athletic)
Dee Glen Smith Spectrum - Logan, UT
9:05 PM EST
After a half a season filled with posing and pretending, it's time to truly get our WAC on.
Nevada (12-7, 5-1) is in rebuilding mode every year because they make the tragic mistake of always finding really good players. And Mark Fox's charges fell off the radar after a 7-6 nonconference start that included losses to the marginal power-conference teams that they usually beat. But now, the Wolf Pack is on a five-game streak leading up into the megatussle at the top of the league, and sport the best freshman at this level, young master Luke Babbitt. There's no real question about that: he's 6-9, athletic, and averaging 15.9 ppg and 7.7 rpg despite just 19 games of college experience. I'd recommend advertising him as 6-5, 140 lbs. and assigning some of his baskets to other players, so that the NBA scouts don't get too frisky. As for the rest of the Pack, they're covering shaky shooting with truly astounding rebounding and defense. They've allowed less than a point per possession for five straight games, and haven't been outglassed since Dec. 14 against Southern Illinois.
Let's see how all that holds up in the Spectrum, where the curds are chewy and dreams go to die. Utah State, the No. 4 team in our State ratings, has the most efficient offense in the country, scoring an average of 1.152 points per possession, which may seem like a small number, but it's a lot when taken over the course of a game. Here's another small number: USU turns the ball over just 10.8 times per game, a national top-ten figure. The Aggies own a 14-game win streak, are 19-1 with only a single loss (to BYU), and have a bandwagon with plenty of available seating. No seats in the actual arena (although Full Court viewers can peek inside), and the fans will be well-prepared, trust me.
Saint Mary's at Gonzaga (West Coast)
McCarthy Athletic Center - Spokane, WA
11:00 PM EST
Can you think of a time in the decade-long Gonzaga era when the Zags seemed this vulnerable at this point of the year? OK, so you probably can, but this is a team that always gets things together by March -- there's a string of NCAA bids that goes all the way back to 1999. The difference this time around is that there's a clearly defined New Hottness in the WCC, one that's already established itself as a threat for the top spot by splitting this series over the last two seasons. The next step for the Gaels (17-1, 5-0) is to steal one in Spokane; they've held their home court so well that they haven't dropped a Zag game since 2006, but there's been no luck whatsoever up north. SMC enters this battle of undefeateds on a 15-game winning streak, and boast the best front line in mid-majordomâ„¢: we'll repeat the names Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan until they're household names.
And we obviously don't talk about Gonzaga (14-4, 5-0) that much, because they transcended this level a long time ago and can write their own schedule full of nonconference power-league games as well as their own TV ticket. I mean, there are Gonzaga sweatshirts for sale in sporting goods stores in New York City. New York City! And it's really hard to find a weakness on this squad -- previous issues with aggressiveness seem to have dissipated with the resurgence of Josh Heytvelt (did I mention the time he hit me in the face with a basketball?) and a staggering 40-rebound average in league games. Our hunch is that it's going to take 3's to win this... Patty Mills, whose errant boomerangs have been margin-for-errored away by the great play of the forwards, will need to have his best game of the year.
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