NCAA

Kelly Olynyk emerges as star for No. 8 Gonzaga

Kelly Olynyk emerges as star for No. 8 Gonzaga

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) Gonzaga forward Kelly Olynyk figured he wouldn't get much playing time behind Robert Sacre and Elias Harris last season, so he redshirted.

Good move.

The junior has emerged as the leading scorer for No. 8 Gonzaga (16-1, 3-0 West Coast Conference) this season.

``He grew up and his game grew up,'' coach Mark Few said of Olynyk's redshirt season. ``In the past he was a little out of control and made a lot of turnovers. Now, he is in control and his game is more mature.''

Olynyk, a 7-footer, is averaging 18 points and 6 rebounds per game, and he's shooting 66 percent from the field. He dropped a career-high 33 points on Santa Clara on Jan. 5 and followed that up with 31 against archrival Saint Mary's last Thursday.

He was named the West Coast Conference player of the month for December.

Olynyk is a big reason Gonzaga is off to the best start in its history as a Division I program, as the Zags prepare this week to play at Portland on Thursday and at No. 13 Butler on Saturday.

All the attention is a big change for a player who before the season might have been considered an afterthought on Gonzaga's deep front line.

``He's improved more than anybody in college basketball,'' Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said after Olynyk made 11 of 19 shots against his team. ``We were prepared for him and he still did it to us.''

Olynyk is from Kamloops, British Columbia, and was heavily recruited out of high school by the likes of Syracuse, Providence and North Carolina State. He chose Gonzaga in part so he could play closer to home. Playing time was hard to come by his first two seasons, and Olynyk averaged only 5 points and 4 rebounds as a little-used sophomore.

Then he went to coaches with the idea of redshirting because he didn't figure to displace Sacre, now with the Los Angeles Lakers, and Harris, one of the team's best players. A season of sitting on the bench opened Olynyk's eyes to the intricacies of the game, Few said.

``He got to see things from a coaching point of view that could be beneficial to all players,'' Few said.

Olynyk credited lots of playing time in practice with the scout team for his improvement.

``You can take some bad shots and make mistakes because it really doesn't matter,'' Olynyk said. ``You're meant to make mistakes.''

This season, Olynyk figured to split time with Harris, Sam Dower, and Przemek Karnowski on the front line. But as the season has worn on, it is Olynyk and Harris who have taken the lion's share of the minutes.

``The one downside to great depth is that,'' Few said.

Asked if he had ever seen a player improve so much during a redshirt year, Few offered a different opinion.

`That's implying he wasn't very good when he got here,'' Few said. ``He's adjusted his game is what he's done. He quit settling for 3's and became a very good player.''

``He is one guy that is not afraid to make a play,'' Few said. ``He is multi-talented in regards that he can drive it comfortably. He can pass it, and you guys know that he can shoot it.''

The formerly clean-cut Olynyk also grew out his hair, so that he now needs headbands to keep it out of his face. That prompts plenty of opposing fans to chant ``get a haircut.''

``If that's what they want to focus on, it's OK with me,'' Olynyk said.

He's been playing well all season, but the past couple of weeks have been a real coming-out party. Olynyk scored 21 points each in wins over Baylor and Oklahoma State, 16 points in the conference opener versus Pepperdine and then the 33 against Santa Clara and 31 against Saint Mary's. The last Gonzaga player to have consecutive 30-point games was Adam Morrison in 2006.

``I'm happy with the way I'm playing now,'' Olynyk said. ``My teammates are getting me the ball in great position.''

Guard Kevin Pangos said Olynyk has emerged as the vocal leader of the Zags.

``He's being a true veteran,'' Pangos said.

Bracketology Round-up: Who’s hot and ignoring the bubble

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USA TODAY Sports

Bracketology Round-up: Who’s hot and ignoring the bubble

Now is the time that teams need to make their late season push. Whether a team is in the tournament or otherwise, the games now matter more than ever.

Yet, it is the teams solidly in the field that have been slipping as of late. Rarely have we seen losses from teams on the bubble.

The last 10 days saw the four teams that many assumed were locks for a No. 1 seed all fall to an unranked opponent. None of the falls being quite as bad as Purdue’s who suffered through a three-game losing streak. Nearly across the whole board the Boilermakers only dropped to a No. 2 seed, but their margin for error is a lot smaller than many of the teams around them.

READ ALSO: VIRGINIA REMAINS No. 1 AS TOP 25 IS RE-SHUFFLED

Other Big Ten schools continue to rise with strong showings in conference play. Ohio State is now getting some love as a No. 4/ No. 5 seed and Michigan is not too far off either. The Spartans of Michigan State have begun to leapfrog teams that passed them in January as they are on the No. 2/ No. 3 seed line. 

Texas Tech rode a seven-game winning streak to now a emerge as a contender for the top-8 seeds in the tournament. Auburn has also snuck into that conversation as well.

The Virginia Cavaliers remained as the near-unanimous No. 1 overall seed from the following bracketologists. They rebounded with a solid road win at Miami this past week.

For these reasons, no one is worried about who is in and who is out of the tournament, unless of course your team is involved. The drama around the bubble, for now, is subdued.

For the mid-major fans, Wichita State (now in the AAC) is in the mix as well for a favorable seed. They grabbed their best win of the season at Cincinnati on Feb. 18 in a ‘prove-it’ contest for both teams.

But with all of the lesser Power 5 teams winning against top tier opponents, it is not helping many mid-majors that are floating around the bubble. St. Bonaventure, Temple, and even St. Mary’s basically all face win-out situations.

These projections are based on their latest bracket as of Feb. 19.

Joe Lunardi (ESPN):

East Region:
No. 1 Villanova
No. 2 Duke
No. 3 Cincinnati
No. 4 Ohio State

Midwest Region:
No. 1 Xavier
No. 2 Purdue
No. 3 Clemson
No. 4 Tennessee

South Region:
No. 1 Virginia (No. 1 overall)
No. 2 Auburn
No. 3 Texas Tech
No. 4 Wichita State

West Region:
No. 1 Kansas
No. 2 Michigan State
No. 3 North Carolina
No. 4 Arizona

Last Four in: Baylor, Texas, St. Bonaventure, and Syracuse
First Four out: UCLA, USC, Washington, and Nebraska

Mid-Atlantic Interest:

No. 1: Virginia (South, ACC Champ) vs. No. 16 Nicholls St./ Savannah State
No. 10: Virginia Tech (West, at-large) vs. No. 7 Alabama

Dave Ommen (NBC Sports/ Yahoo/ Bracketville):

East Region:
No. 1 Villanova
No. 2 North Carolina
No. 3 Cincinnati
No. 4 Gonzaga

Midwest Region:
No. 1 Xavier
No. 2 Duke
No. 3 Purdue
No. 4 Wichita State

South Region:
No. 1 Virginia (No. 1 overall)
No. 2 Michigan State
No. 3 Texas Tech
No. 4 Tennessee

West Region:
No. 1 Kansas
No. 2 Auburn
No. 3 Clemson
No. 4 Arizona

Last Four in: Washington, Baylor, St. Bonaventure, and Syracuse
First Four out: UCLA, LSU, Louisville, and Marquette

Mid-Atlantic Interest:

No. 1: Virginia (South, ACC Champ) vs. No. 16 Southern/ Savannah State
No. 9: Virginia Tech (Midwest, at-large) vs. No. 8 Oklahoma

Shelby Mast (USA-Today):

East Region:
No. 1 Villanova (No. 1 overall)
No. 2 Duke
No. 3 Cincinnati
No. 4 Ohio State

Midwest Region:
No. 1 Xavier
No. 2 Purdue
No. 3 Texas Tech
No. 4 Clemson

South Region:
No. 1 Virginia
No. 2 Auburn
No. 3 Michigan State
No. 4 Wichita State

West Region:
No. 1 Kansas
No. 2 North Carolina
No. 3 Arizona
No. 4 Tennessee

Last Four in: St. Mary’s (CA), St. Bonaventure, Syracuse, and Washington
First Four out: LSU, Marquette, UCLA, and Utah

Mid-Atlantic Interest:

No. 1: Virginia (South, ACC Champ) vs. No. 16 Wagner
No. 9: Virginia Tech (Midwest, at-large) vs. No. 8 Michigan
Maryland (“On Life Support”)

Chris Dobbertean (SB Nation) – Updated on 2/16:

East Region:
No. 1 Villanova
No. 2 Duke
No. 3 Michigan State
No. 4 Tennessee

Midwest Region:
No. 1 Xavier
No. 2 Kansas
No. 3 Clemson
No. 4 Gonzaga

South Region:
No. 1 Virginia (No. 1 overall)
No. 2 Purdue
No. 3 Cincinnati
No. 4 West Virginia

West Region:
No. 1 Auburn
No. 2 Texas Tech
No. 3 North Carolina
No. 4 Arizona

Last Four in: Louisville, UCLA, Texas, and Baylor
First Four out: St. Bonaventure, USC, Temple, and Syracuse

Mid-Atlantic Interest:

No. 1: Virginia (South, ACC Champ)
No. 10: Virginia Tech (at-large)
Maryland (also considered)

Jerry Palm (CBS Sports):

East Region:
No. 1 Villanova
No. 2 Duke
No. 3 Cincinnati
No. 4 Gonzaga

Midwest Region:
No. 1 Xavier
No. 2 Auburn
No. 3 Clemson
No. 4 Wichita State

South Region:
No. 1 Virginia (No. 1 overall)
No. 2 Michigan State
No. 3 Texas Tech
No. 4 Tennessee

West Region:
No. 1 Kansas
No. 2 Purdue
No. 3 North Carolina
No. 4 Arizona

Last Four in: Texas, Butler, Florida, and Syracuse
First Four out: Baylor, Utah, Washington, and Louisville

Mid-Atlantic Interest:

No. 1: Virginia (South, ACC Champ) vs. No. 16 Nicholls St./ Prairie View A&M
No. 9: Virginia Tech (West, at-large) vs. No. 8 Arkansas

Delphi Bracketology (Most accurate bracket projection of past two years – Updated 2/17):

No. 1 seeds: Virginia, Xavier, Villanova, and Purdue
No. 2 seeds: Kansas, Purdue, Duke, and Texas Tech
No. 3 seeds: Michigan State, Cincinnati, North Carolina, Clemson
No. 4 seeds: Tennessee, Arizona, West Virginia, Gonzaga

Last Four in: Texas, Baylor, Louisville, UCLA
First Four out: St. Bonaventure, LSU Temple, and Syracuse

Mid-Atlantic Interest:

No. 1 overall: Virginia (ACC Champ)
No. 9: Virginia Tech (at-large)

Local Rundown:

It is clear that Virginia’s loss to Virginia Tech will chalk up as just a blemish on an otherwise outstanding tournament resume. The Cavalier’s made that clear with their second half in Coral Gables on Saturday.

The top defensive team in the country does have some wiggle room as they close out the 2017-18 season with the madness from the teams behind them. A loss or two will not move them off the No. 1 line, and depending on which team, they might even maintain the top seed.

Virginia Tech, the team that beat the Cavaliers, is taking advantage of the upsets across the NCAA. Paired with their upset win, they went from a borderline bubble team to a No.9/ No. 10 seed. What does make things difficult for them is that their final four games are against three NCAA tournament teams and a bubble team in Louisville.

They honestly are going to need some other teams to fall or themselves to pull out some monster upsets to stay on the good side of the bubble.

With losses to Penn State and Nebraska, the Maryland Terrapins odds to get into the dance are all but vanquished. Only two bracketologists even mentioned the Terps in their analysis. However, they are not entirely out of it with their schedule and a small run in the Big Ten tournament. There remains a small chance, ever so slight. 

The rest of the Mid-Atlantic Region (Delaware, Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) is going to have to rely on upsets in conference tournaments to get more teams in. Keep an eye on these teams as they try and ride momentum into March: Old Dominion (21-5, 12-2 C-USA), VCU (15-2, 7-7 A-10), William & Mary (16-11, 9-7 CAA), Towson (18-11, 8-8 CAA), Radford (17-12, 10-6 Big South), and Mount St. Mary’s (16-13, 10-6 NEC), Navy (19-10, 10-6 Patriot).

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

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USA Today Sports Images

Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

On Monday, with the NHL trade deadline approaching, the Washington Capitals addressed a need for blue line depth by acquiring Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

But before you begin to analyze how the move impacts the Capitals' outlook heading forward, lets take some time to get to know the newest member of the Caps.

Who is Michal Kempny?

Michal Kempny is a 27-year-old defenseman from the Czech Republic. He was born on Sept. 8, 1990 in Hodonin, a small town in southwestern Czech Republic near the border of Austria and Slovakia. Kempny began his hockey career playing for SHK Hodonin. Kempny knew very little english upon arriving to the NHL, but credited his girlfriend Showtime shows to helping him become more comfortable speaking the language. 

RELATED: UPDATED NHL POWER RANKINGS

What International Experience Does Michal Kempny Have?

Michal Kempny played professionally for HC Kometa Brno of the Czech Extraliga and Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Kempny was a standout player on the international stage, playing for the Czech Republic U18, U20 and Men's National teams.

MORE ON THE TRADE: WHERE DOES KEMPNY FIT IN THE CAPS ROSTER

When Did Michal Kempny Make His NHL Debut?

Michal Kempny was signed to a one-year contract as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks in May, 2016 and made his NHL debut in October, 2016. Kempny scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 30, 2016 against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. Kempny appeared in 50 games for the Blackhawks during the 2016-17 season, recording two goals and six assists. The Blackhawks re-signed Kempny to a one-year extension during the offseason. Kempny played in 31 games this season before being traded to the Capitals.

What Type of Hockey Player is Michal Kempny?

Kempny is a 6-0, 194-pound defenseman with a strong left-handed shot. Known for his play on the offensive end, Kempny was never able to gain the trust of Joel Quenneville on the defensive end. But Kempny has a good bit of offensive upside, thanks to his passing skills and strong shot, which is why the Blackhawks took a flier on him in the first place and why he was an ideal trade candidate for the Capitals. But again, Kempny's size is less than ideal for a top-tier blue-liner and while he doesn't shy away from contact, he is rarely much of a physical presence. 

What Does Michal Kempny's Contract Look Like?

Michael Kempny is set to become an unrestricted free agent the the end of the 2017-18 season and has a cap hit of just $900,000.

RELATED: TROTZ REACTS TO RACIAL COMMENTS MADE BY CHICAGO FANS