5 things to watch as college tourneys unfold at Vegas Madness

Updated March 5, 2019 - 5:48 pm

The Big Dances are still a couple weeks away. The Little Dances, though, start Thursday.

Welcome back to Vegas Madness.

For nearly two weeks, men’s and women’s college basketball teams from four Division I conferences will congregate in Las Vegas and attempt to solidify coveted automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament, which begins for the men March 19 and for the women March 22.

The best team in men’s college basketball will be here at The Orleans Arena.

The best player in women’s college basketball will be, too, at the MGM Grand Garden.

Can the Rebels make a surprise run in Mountain West tournament play? Will Cinderella make a cameo and steal an at-large bid by unexpectedly winning a tournament?

We’ll find out over the next 10 days.

Here are five things to watch as Vegas Madness unfolds.

1. Gonzaga — not a mid-major program

The six-time defending West Coast Conference tournament champions return to Las Vegas with legitimate national title aspirations as the No. 1 team in the country. Potential NBA lottery pick Rui Hachimura leads the way with 20.6 points per game on 61.3 percent shooting to go with 6.7 rebounds.

He’s flanked by veterans Brandon Clark (16.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg), Zach Norvell Jr. (15.7 ppg) and Josh Perkins (11 ppg, 6.5 ppg).

Gonzaga has the talent, the experience and the coaching with Mark Few to make a Final Four push in April.

See for yourself during the WCC men’s tournament at The Orleans Arena.

2. The sensational Sabrina Ionescu

The junior guard logs 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game for No. 6 Oregon and is perhaps the best player in the country. She’s eligible for the WNBA draft next month and could be the No. 1 overall pick if she declares.

The Aces will be picking first, by the way.

Catch her at MGM Grand Garden in the Pac-12 women’s tournament.

3. The Wild, Wild Pac-12

The so-called Conference of Champions concludes its regular season this week without a men’s team ranked in the AP Top 25. That could change by the time the conference tournament begins March 13.

But the parity could make for an interesting week at T-Mobile Arena.

4. Double-double machine Kristine Anigwe

California’s senior forward/center had 32 points and 30 rebounds in the regular-season finale to record the first 30-point/30-rebound game in women’s college basketball since 2002. She’s averaging 23.1 points and 16.4 rebounds per game for the Golden Bears and is in line to become a first-round pick in the WNBA draft next month.

She’ll also be at MGM Grand Arena for the Pac-12 women’s tournament.

5. Locals return home

Centennial grad Sam Thomas (Arizona) and Bishop Gorman alum Maddie Robinson (Oregon State) are among local products returning home for conference tournament play. On the men’s side, Desert Pines product Nate Grimes (Fresno State) and former Las Vegas High standout Tyler Bey (Colorado) are back in their hometowns.

Las Vegas is a hub for high school basketball talent. Some of it is coming home.

At least for a few days.

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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