The Other 26: Week 11

Posted by KDoyle on January 28th, 2011

Introduction

We are just about halfway through the conference schedules and the true contenders are beginning to reveal themselves, while the pretenders are wallowing away after deceiving the country for so many weeks. Take a team like Central Florida, for instance. They looked like a legitimate top 25 team and a definite candidate for an at-large berth after breezing through the non-conference with an unblemished record, but their 1-5 record in Conference USA makes that great run in the non-conference all for naught. Conversely, take a gander at Duquesne. The Dukes went a modest 8-5 in the non-conference with losses to Robert Morris and George Mason, but have gone onto take the Atlantic 10 by storm. Suffice to say, it is hard to gauge just how good some teams are based solely on the non-conference. Some coaches will elect to challenge their team by scheduling a tough OOC schedule, while others will stockpile a bunch of cupcakes to pick up easy wins. The distinction between the pretenders and contenders will continue to be illuminated all the way up until the conference tournaments. Up until then, we sit and watch teams rise above expectations heading into conference play and watch others flounder.

The Other 26 Rankings

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Checking in on… the MAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 28th, 2011

Alex Varone is the RTC correspondent for the Mid-American Conference.

A Look Back

First, a quick look at the Mid-American Conference Standings (with conference records only).

East

Buffalo                   4-2
Kent St.                  4-2
Miami (Ohio)          4-2
Bowling Green       4-2
Akron                     2-4
Ohio                       2-4

West

Ball State               5-1
Western Michigan  3-3
Northern Illinois     3-3
Central Michigan   2-4
Eastern Michigan   2-4
Toledo                   1-5

The conference season is just heating up, but the early returns in league play indicate that this conference is wide-open and full of surprises. This is most true in the East Division, where the preseason favorites were OhioAkron, and Kent State. Only the Golden Flashes have lived up to the promise so far, and are arguably the MAC’s most complete team. With quality talent coming back at Ohio and Akron, both teams were supposed to be right there with Kent State competing for a MAC regular season championship, but now thanks to the surprising strong play of Buffalo and Bowling Green, the Bobcats and Zips might just have a tough time escaping from the cellar of the standings.

Out West, Ball State has taken control of the division without much resistance. Overall, this was supposed to the season where the West narrowed the gap between itself and the East, but the bottom of the West is as weak as ever. Meanwhile, three-time defending West regular-season champ Central Michigan stumbled out of the gate and hasn’t recovered to this point. Considering the expectations surrounding the Chippewas this season, Central Michigan has been as disappointing as any team in this conference.

Star Watch

Buffalo’s surge to the top of the MAC East standings can be attributed to the surprising play of Javon McCreaByron Mulkey and Zach Filzen. The freshman McCrea is third on the Bulls in scoring at 10.7 PPG, and his 67.8% field-goal percentage is good for third in the nation. The senior Mulkey is second on the Bulls in scoring at 14.3 PPG, and his 3.0 steals per game is the sixth-best total in the country.

But Buffalo’s leading scorer is junior Zach Filzen (14.8 PPG), who has emerged as one of the top offensive threats in the MAC after only playing just over seven minutes per game last season. In the Bulls’ last two wins, Filzen has made 11 three-pointers, and on the season, Filzen is shooting 42.2% from three-point range and his mark of 62 treys on the campaign pace the conference and ties him for tenth in the nation.

Power Rankings (last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Ball State (1)
13-6 (5-1), RPI: 139, SOS: 316

The excitement of a seven-game win streak and a 13-4 (5-0) start has worn off a little after Ball State’s current two-game losing streak, which includes a sloppy two-point non-conference home loss to Morehead State, and a discouraging 13 point home loss to Kent State. The two losses don’t change the fact that the Cardinals have been the best team in the Mid-American Conference to date and should still cruise to a West Division title.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 vs. Ohio, Feb. 1 at Miami (Ohio), Feb. 5 vs. Buffalo, Feb. 9 at Bowling Green

2. Kent State (2)
13-7 (4-2), RPI: 83, SOS: 84

After establishing itself as the top team in the MAC during the non-conference season, Kent State struggled through a perplexing three-game losing streak to ring in the new year. The Golden Flashes have since rebounded with four wins in five games, culminating in the most impressive conference win of the season by a MAC team–a 13-point win at previously unbeaten Ball State. Kent State has a chance to put some distance between itself and the rest of the East Division with home games coming up against three of the worst teams in the MAC.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 30 vs. Toledo, Feb. 2 at Western Michigan, Feb. 5 vs. Central Michigan, Feb. 9 vs. Eastern Michigan

3. Buffalo (7)
12-6 (4-2), RPI: 130, SOS: 228

After a pair of three-point losses against Bowling Green and Miami (Ohio) to open the conference season, Buffalo responded with a three-point victory of its own against Akron. Buffalo also rolled over Kent State by 24 points, and won road games at Ohio by five points and at Western Michigan by eleven points. Four straight wins have vaulted Buffalo into contention, and with home games coming up against bottom-feeders Northern Illinois, Toledo, and Central Michigan, the Bulls should remain near the top of the East Division standings.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 vs. Northern Illinois, Feb. 2 vs. Toledo, Feb. 5 at Ball State, Feb. 8 vs. Central Michigan

4. Miami (Ohio) (3)
9-11 (4-2), RPI: 100, SOS: 8

A 21-point road loss at Kent State this past Sunday was not a good sign for Miami (Ohio), but the RedHawks got a much-needed road win Thursday night at Central Michigan to snap a win-loss-win-loss streak that has occurred over their previous four games. After a tough schedule to start MAC play, the RedHawks’ slate finally gets a little easier over the next couple of weeks, with games against Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois, and Toledo coming up.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 vs. Western Michigan, Feb. 1 vs. Ball State, Feb. 5 at Eastern Michigan, Feb. 9 vs. Northern Illinois

5. Bowling Green (8)
9-11 (4-2), RPI: 249, SOS: 281

Is Bowling Green really the fifth-best team in the MAC? Probably not. But Bowling Green is playing as well as anyone in the conference lately, having won eight of its last ten games. The Falcons recently defeated Miami (Ohio) and Ohio by comfortable margins before suffering a five-point setback at Akron. Bowling Green avoided a further letdown by beating lowly Toledo on the road by six points. With three of their next four at home, the Falcons have a chance to continue its climb into contention.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 vs. Eastern Michigan, Feb. 2 at Northern Illinois, Feb. 5 vs. Western Michigan, Feb. 9 vs. Ball State

6. Akron (4)
11-9 (2-4), RPI: 153, SOS: 165

With only one win in its last five games, Akron has suddenly turned into one the MAC’s biggest mysteries. During this slump, the Zips have struggled on the defensive end, allowing 79 points in a home loss to Ohio, 73 points at Buffalo, 84 points at Miami (Ohio), and 83 points at Northern Illinois. The next four games will be crucial to Akron’s season, as all four are winnable contests against the league’s worst teams. But a couple of losses could put the Zips in a hole that it won’t be able to climb out of.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 30 vs. Central Michigan, Feb. 2 at Eastern Michigan, Feb. 5 at Toledo, Feb. 9 vs. Western Michigan

7. Western Michigan (6)
10-9 (3-3), RPI: 218, SOS: 249

All season, Western Michigan has shown flashes of being a quality team and the type of team that could challenge Ball State in the West Division. A 17-point thrashing of Eastern Michigan and an 82 point offensive outburst against Northern Illinois are recent evidence of that, but each of those wins was followed up with an equally disappointing loss. A 13 point loss at Toledo and a 11 point home loss against Buffalo could haunt the Broncos later in the year.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 at Miami (Ohio), Feb. 2 vs. Kent State, Feb. 5 at Bowling Green, Feb. 9 at Akron

8. Ohio (5)
9-11 (2-4), RPI: 209, SOS: 127

As has been documented in this space previously, Ohio has been victimized by some uncharacteristically tough losses. That stretch of close losses continued with a one-possession loss to Kent State, and was followed by losses at Bowling Green and vs. Buffalo that dropped the Bobcats to 8-11 (1-4) and last place in the East Division, a place that most Bobcat fans didn’t expect to see their team this season. Ohio bounced back with a double-digit win over Eastern Michigan, but this team needs to get on a hot streak soon, otherwise the Bobcats might have to once again win the MAC Tournament as a No. 9 seed (or worse).

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 at Ball State, Feb. 2 at Central Michigan, Feb. 5 vs. Northern Illinois, Feb. 9 vs. Toledo

9. Northern Illinois (9)
7-11 (3-3), RPI: 277, SOS: 278

If you watch a Northern Illinois basketball game, chances are it’s going to be a close contest. Just over a week after defeating Eastern Michigan by two points, the Huskies lost on the road at Central Michigan and at Western Michigan by a single basket each. Northern Illinois did manage to pick up its third conference win of the season in a comfortable nine-point win over Akron that once again showcasedXavier Silas’s outstanding scoring ability. Silas scored 39 points in the victory, his sixth 30-point game of the season, to lift his average to 24.4 points per game (tied for second in the nation).

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 at Buffalo, Feb. 2 vs. Bowling Green, Feb. 5 at Ohio, Feb. 9 at Miami (Ohio)

10. Central Michigan (10)
5-14 (2-4), RPI: 309, SOS: 263

Central Michigan’s disappointing season continues, as the Chippewas have now squandered multiple opportunities to win important games. After getting to 2-2 in MAC play with a win over Northern Illinois, Central Michigan dropped an ugly 41-38 affair at Eastern Michigan that saw the Chippewas only score 13 points in the first half. Thursday night’s home loss to Miami (Ohio) leaves Central Michigan gasping for air and with a very difficult upcoming slate, which includes three of the next four games on the road, all against quality MAC opponents.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 30 at Akron, Feb. 2 vs. Ohio, Feb. 5 at Kent State, Feb. 8 at Buffalo

11. Eastern Michigan (11)
5-14 (2-4), RPI: 331, SOS: 273

Eastern Michigan manages to stay out of the basement of the Power Rankings thanks to the aforementioned 41-38 victory over Central Michigan. But in the victory over Central Michigan, Eagles leading scorer and double-double machine, Brandon Bowdry, only contributed 6 points, and only followed that up with 8 points in a 14 point loss at Ohio.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 29 at Bowling Green, Feb. 2 vs. Akron, Feb. 5 vs. Miami (Ohio), Feb. 9 at Kent State

12. Toledo (12)
4-16 (1-5), RPI: 325, SOS: 216

Much as it did during the non-conference season, Toledo continues to compete in every game, which may not be enough to win often, but occasionally it will lead to a double-digit victory, as it did when Toledo defeated Western Michigan. Sophomore Malcolm Griffin shone brightly in that victory, as he has for the past four games, where he has averaged 25.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per contest.

A Look Ahead: Jan. 30 at Kent State, Feb. 2 at Buffalo, Feb. 5 vs. Akron, Feb. 9 at Ohio

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Highlighters & Headsets: The Jimmer Show

Posted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2011

Highlighters and Headsets is an occasional look at the coverage of college basketball – from television to print (they still make paper?), blogs to bracket busters, and Gus Johnson to Gameday – written by RTC contributor Steve Moore. He welcomes your comments, column ideas and Dickie (V) jokes at smoore71@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter @smoore1117.

With a Mountain West matchup taking a national stage for the first time, I’m sure there were plenty of college hoops fans – and mainstream sports fans (even Simmons was watching) – searching the cable guide for CBS College Sports Wednesday night.

All Eyes, Including Our Boy Steve's, Were On the Marriott Center On Wednesday Night

While unable to watch live, I did set the DVR and decided to see how this mid-major network handled its moment in the sun. By the time I pressed play, the Twitter explosion had already told me how the Jimmer show went down in Provo. But since I usually leave the on-court analysis to my RTC colleagues, the suspense wasn’t really what I was after.

Having only seen the occasional glimpse of action on CBS College Sports, I hopefully enter with no bias or prejudice. Hell, I don’t even know who’s on the call tonight. We’ll soon find out.

PREGAME: First disappointment: Realizing I don’t get CBS College Sports (CBS-C from now on) in high def. I understand they broadcast in it, and that some carriers offer it, but if you want to be a major sports network, you need to FORCE everyone to carry your HD feed (I’m looking at you, Fox Soccer Channel).

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Through the Lens: Fired Up

Posted by rtmsf on January 28th, 2011

Welcome to Through the Lens, an RTC photo tour through the game of college basketball.

This week’s topic: FIRED UP.

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Around The Blogosphere: January 28, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on January 28th, 2011


If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

Top 25 Games

  • Indiana 52, #18 Illinois 49: “These kids have been criticized for their lack of mental toughness. Lambasted for sagging energy and effort. Their coach occasionally derided for his substitution patterns and schemes. But on this snowy late January evening, there were no critics. Only a unified 17,000-plus screaming and shouting and cheering from every nook and cranny in one of college basketball’s great stadiums, rooting their team on to a spirited victory. This, my friends, was Indiana Basketball.” (Inside the Hall: Recap and Post-Game Interviews)
  • #20 Vanderbilt 81, Mississippi State 74: “Mississippi State trailed by three with 21 seconds left, but had the ball on their home court and a chance to prove that the Commodores had yet to figure out their late game woes. One monumental Jeffery Taylor dunk later, it was all over. Taylor stole Brian Bryant’s backcourt pass with just 17 seconds to go and threw down a vicious dunk to seal the win for Vanderbilt, securing Kevin Stallings’s first ever win in Starksville as the ‘Dores avoided Mississippi State’s upset bid. Vandy trailed by as many as eight points with 10 minutes to play, but showed that they could win tough conference games on the road with a gutsy performance at The Hump.” (Anchor of Gold)
  • Michigan 61, #23 Michigan State 57: “Michigan fell behind 6-0 in the first two minutes and appeared to be headed down the same dark road that we’ve seen far too often over the past 13 years. But Michigan didn’t fold, instead battling their way back to a 20-16 lead with 10:28 to play. I was relieved that they were still in the game at the time and would have never guessed that Michigan would hold onto the lead for the final 30 minutes of the game. Michigan State took its best shot, eventually cutting the lead to two points with less than a minute remaining, but Michigan had just enough answers to escape East Lansing with a victory.” (UM Hoops:Recap and Video Clips of Tom IzzoTim Hardaway Jr., Zach Novak and Darius Morris, and John Beilein)
  • #23 St. Mary’s 73, Gonzaga 71: “The roller coaster ride that is Gonzaga basketball 2010-11 continued this evening as the Bulldogs fell to the Gaels by a count of 73-71.  Personally, I’m at an interesting place right now in as much as that I think Gonzaga played about as good a game as this team is capable of tonight.  Were there turnovers?  Sure, Steven’s five and Elias’ three were brutal but, and I hate saying this, that is simply what this team is this season.  It is an inconsistent bunch that some twenty-odd games is still grasping at straws to figure everything out.” (The Slipper Still Fits)

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Morning Five: 01.28.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 28th, 2011

  1. It’s long forgotten given their respective trajectories thus far in the 2010-11 season, but Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen completely outplayed America’s darling, Jimmer Fredette, during the Second Round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.  Pullen went off for 34 points while holding Fredette to 21 on 5-14 shooting with five turnovers in K-State’s 84-72 victory.  This article interviewing Kansas State assistant coach Brad Underwood discusses how Pullen was able to neutralize this season’s leading (?) NPOY candidate.
  2. Speaking of The Jimmer, there is considerable debate pretty much, well, everywhere as to his NBA Draft-ability next June.  Just about everyone has a comparison player in mind, ranging from JJ Redick to Kyle Korver to Stephen Curry, and everyone also has an opinion as to how good he can be.  This TSN article asks some actual working scouts what they think.  Our position on Fredette is fairly clear — he’s a great, great college player.  Let’s enjoy the heck out of him this year because in our eyes it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever get much run in the pros.
  3. Another article posits an interesting player as a viable candidate for ACC POY: Georgia Tech’s Iman Shumpert.  Fresh off his trip-dub against Virginia Tech this week, AJC’s Doug Roberson asks whether Shumpert should at least be considered along with the more familiar names of Duke’s Nolan Smith, BC’s Reggie Jackson and Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney.  While it would take a herculean effort by Shumpert to win the award if Georgia Tech can’t win games away from home, it’s an interesting thought especially when you consider Shumpert’s defense as part of the total package.
  4. No need for additional verbiage:  here’s Luke Winn’s weekly Power Rankings.
  5. We’d like to say that this surprises us, but on an annual basis no other major city in America regularly gets walloped with snowstorms and everybody reduces to a catatonic state and cannot remember how to handle the white stuff.  This happens at least a couple of times every year in Washington, DC, and it’s like massive geographical-oriented amnesia sets in immediately after the last day of clean-up.  On Wednesday Towson, based near Baltimore, Maryland, set out four hours ahead of time to get to a game at George Mason seventy miles away — en route to GMU’s campus in Fairfax, their bus got stuck on the Capital Beltway so that they ultimately could not make it to the game and were forced to postpone it.  Yesterday the CAA publicly reprimanded Towson for not taking a proactive-enough approach with its travel plans to Fairfax; of course, that’s easy to say whilst CAA officials sit in their cozy offices to the south in Richmond.
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ATB: The Day After

Posted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2011

The Lede. Hopefully everyone was over their Jimmer hangovers by the time the games started tonight. Judging by Twitter, and…well, pretty much every sports outlet in the nation, the transitive verb “to Jimmer” has entered the American sporting lexicon with some serious impact. We can’t remember when a college baller’s name has ever been used in this fashion; nobody ever said “You got Turnered/Walled,” or “He Morrisoned them,” or “They Hansbrough’d the heck out of that poor team.” And the only name we can think of that contains a reverent “The” at the beginning that’s in regular use today belongs to U2 guitarist The Edge, though — and credit to Seth Davis for starting the trend — “The Jimmer” is now commonplace usage in referring to just about everybody’s favorite player.

Darius Morris and Crew Start the Celebration (J.Gonzalez/Detroit FP)

But enough of that for now. We’ll have many chances to discuss him later. Tonight we saw three tough conference road wins, two of them in games involving bitter rivals. We have a couple of RTCs we have to weigh in on, and a pair of outstanding tweets from the Gonzaga vs St. Mary’s game. First, though, we start…with Sparty.

Your Watercooler Moment. On the halftime coverage of ESPN2’s St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga game, when asked about how dire the situation was for Michigan State this year after their loss to Michigan tonight, even the understated Dan Dakich hesitated for effect and said gravely, “Well…it’s pretty serious.”

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Checking in on… the WAC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 27th, 2011

Sam Wasson, Co-Founder and Editor of bleedCrimson.net covering New Mexico State athletics, and Kevin McCarthy, Founder of Parsing The WAC, are the RTC correspondents for the WAC.

A Look Back

At the midway point of the conference schedule, the WAC race has become for all intents and purposes a race for second place.  Utah State dispatched another challenger in New Mexico State to jump out to a 7-0 start in conference play, two games better in the loss column than their nearest competitors, Idaho and Boise State (whom they defeated in the first of the two meetings).  Boise State made things more interesting in the middle of the pack as they took down rival Idaho in Moscow cluttering things up from spots two through six with just two games separating the five teams.  Nevada has seemingly found the magic formula and after starting out 1-3 in league play, the Pack has run off three in a row including a 19-point victory over New Mexico State to jump ahead of the Aggies an into the coveted Top Four.  Louisiana Tech continues to struggle at 0-7 in the league standings and San Jose State also continues to disappoint as they’re off to a 1-6 league start.  Hawai’i returned home to the islands where they promptly rattled off two more victories and have now won three in a row in conference play after starting out 0-5.  The second half of conference play starts this week as teams make the push for the Top Four.  The top two finishers earn double byes into the semifinals while the third and fourth place finishers earn first round byes.  Seeds five through eight must win four games in four days if they want to dance.

  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T: After rattling off their 13th consecutive victory of the season with a 59-49 victory over New Mexico State, the Utah State Aggies cracked the Top 25 for the first time since the 2008-2009 when they climbed as high as 17.  The UtAgs also now own the third-longest active home winning streak at 26 in a row, behind only Duke (36) and Kentucky (28).
  • Bracketbusters: The WAC has been an annual participant in the ESPNU Bracketbusters challenge, but this season, they may only garner one of the televised matchups.  Utah State at 18-2 and freshly ranked (25th) should receive top billing as the best mid-major in the Bracketbusters field and will likely face St. Mary’s.
  • Road Cooking No More: The top three teams in the WAC standings, Utah State, Idaho and Boise State are a combined 9-0 on the road.  The remaining six teams have combined for just five road wins against 18 losses.
  • Player of the Week: Nevada’s Deonte Burton was named the Player of the Week after lead Nevada to a pair of conference wins against New Mexico State (90-71) and Louisiana Tech (66-58).  In the win over New Mexico State, Burton tied for game-high honors with 22 points on 8-11 shooting, including 3-5 from three-point range. He also had a game-high six assists, five rebounds and three steals.  Against LA Tech, Burton scored a team-high 18 points making seven of nine field goals including a pair of threes.  For the second straight game, he recorded six assists and three steals.  For the week, Burton averaged 20.0 points, 6.0 assists, 3.0 steals and 3.0 repounds per game while shooting 75% (15-20) from the field and 71.4% (5-7) from three-point range.

Power Rankings

1. Utah State (18-2, 7-0)

Up Next: 01/27 at San Jose, 01/29 at Hawai’i

Seven up, seven down.  Utah State had no trouble dispatching Louisiana Tech 74-57) and New Mexico State (59-49) and in the process ran their conference regular season winning streak to a WAC-record 21 games.  Oddly enough, its 21 straight wins isn’t even their longest conference win streak, as they dominated the Big West for 23 straight during the 2000 and 2001 seasons.  Up next for the UtAgs is the dreaded San Jose/Honolulu road swing.  The Spartans offered up a bit of resistance in Logan at the beginning of the season, falling by nine, and Hawai’i pushed the UtAgs harder than any WAC team this season in an eight-point loss.  The potential for an upset is there at Hawai’I, where the Warriors are a vastly different team than they are on the mainland.

2. Nevada (7-13, 4-3)

Up Next: 01/27 vs. Fresno State

Don’t look now, but the young Wolf Pack are surging.  Winners of three in a row, including a 90-71 thumping of New Mexico State in Reno, the Wolf Pack are back in the hunt for a top-four spot in the conference race.  Freshman point guard Deonte Burton has carried the load for the Wolf Pack in the past four games, averaging nearly 21 points per contest.  The Wolf Pack have just one conference game this week, but it provides a chance to avenge an earlier conference loss to Fresno State.

3. Boise State (12-7, 5-2)

Up Next: 01/27 at New Mexico State, 01/29 at Louisiana Tech

After dropping two straight games in conference play, the Broncos rebounded nicely with a rivalry win over Idaho. Down six with ten minutes left to play, the Broncos persevered to win 70-67.  Boise State had four players in double-digits led by La’Shard Anderson‘s 21.  Defense is still an issue for Boise State, as Idaho shot 51 percent for the game.  It’s be something they must shore up as they head on the road to take on New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech.  The Broncos defeated both the Aggies and Bulldogs earlier in Boise.  They erased an eight-point second half deficit against New Mexico State and throttled Louisiana Tech (the final score was 71-60 but Boise State led by as many as 24).

5. Idaho (12-7, 5-2)

Up Next: 01/27 at Louisiana Tech, 01/29 at New Mexico State

The Vandals had their six-game winning streak snapped in the worst of ways, losing a second half lead to their in-state rival.  Idaho heads back to the road where they are a perfect 3-0 so far this season.  Their task will be to take down a listless Louisiana Tech team and avenge a five-point loss to New Mexico State.  The Vandals have the second best scoring defense in the league allowing just 60.9 PPG.  They are also the best free throw shooting team (73.9 percent) and the best field goal percentage team (49.2 percent) as well as the best field goal percentage defense team (37.6 percent) all good factors when venturing out on the road in search of wins.

5. New Mexico State (10-11, 4-3)

Up Next: 01/27 vs. Boise State, 01/29 vs. Idaho

Deja vu for New Mexico State.  The Aggies ventured on the road to Reno and Logan last season in search of a regular season title and got swept.  This season, the Aggies ventured out on the road to Reno and Logan with a chance to tie for first place and got swept.  It was an ugly weekend for New Mexico State, as they were outrebounded by a total of 28 in the two games combined (-13 at Nevada and -15 at Utah State).  To make matters worse, the offense sputtered in the final 60 minutes of that road trip as they shot just 30.3 percent in the second half against Nevada and just 37.7 percent for the game at Utah State. They went on to get stymied for less than 50 points for the first time since conference play in the 2004-2005 season.  New Mexico State hosts a pair of critical conference games as they try to keep pace with the league leaders.  A home sweep of Boise State and Idaho will put New Mexico State right back in the thick of the race for a top four finish while losing both at home would spell disaster putting them at least two losses behind the fourth place team in the league.  At the very minimum, the Aggies must gain a split.

6. Hawai’i (12-8, 3-5)

Up Next: 01/29 vs. Utah State

UH is definitely on the upswing, having notched three consecutive victories. Forward Bill Amis (now available as a pitchman for Rustoleum) has not only returned from a foot injury, but is a game night threat for a double-double. He notched three of these in the last trio of games, coinciding with the Rainbow Warriors’ winning streak. Center Vander Joaquim is proving to be a defensive force in the middle as well as an able rebounder. Hawaii just needs more consistency from its outside shooters to make a first division finish possible. Zane Johnson and Hiram Thompson are at 39 percent and 37 percent, respectively, in overall shooting during WAC play, and those numbers need an uptick. Freshman Bo Barnes checks in at 25 percent, andd 29 of his 36 shots have been trey attempts. UH still isn’t putting up impressive point totals, so the defensive play of the major minutes players has to remain effective.  The winning streak will be put on the line when the Warriors host league leader Utah State on Saturday.  They played Utah State tougher for 40 minutes than any other team has this season, and with just one game to prepare for this week, the Warriors are hoping to spring the upset.

7. San Jose State (9-9, 1-6)

Up Next: 01/27 vs. Utah State, 01/29 vs. Fresno State

Breaking a double digit losing skein on the road with a 79-74 victory in Ruston over Louisiana Tech, the Spartans then fell hard at New Mexico State 78-53 and then at Hawaii by a 67-61 score. Thus began another negative road streak. Pulling down the Spartans is a 38 percent team shooting clip while allowing opponents to be successful on 47 percent of their collective attempts. SJSU is also -3.4 in rebounding. Only winless Louisiana Tech is keeping SJSU out of the WAC basement.  Adrian Oliver returned for the Hawaii game after missing the earlier two contests due to concussion-like symptoms but doesn’t appear to be quite the same performer as he was earlier.  It’s Utah State followed by Fresno State — both at home.  The Spartans need at least a split to separate themselves from Louisiana Tech in the WAC cellar

8. Fresno State (7-9, 3-3)

Up Next: 01/20 at Hawai’i, 01/24 vs. Seattle

“Slip-sliding Away” was a hit song by Paul Simon. He certainly didn’t have Fresno State basketball in mind when writing it but the title sure applies. A four game conference losing streak (Utah State and Idaho at home, New Mexico State and Hawaii on the road) has sent the Bulldogs to who-and-what-is-this-team territory. Thirty-six percent overall shooting from the floor during this quartet of games, along with 53 percent from the foul line, have propelled the drop.  The Seattle Redhawks came to town Monday night for a non-conference tilt and departed featherless after an 86-56 loss. Now Steve Cleveland’s squad has to carry that success over to WAC play.  Greg Smith continues his climb upward as he presently sits at 11.7 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in WAC play as all his numbers have risen since league action began. Point Steve Shepp‘s 24/9 assist-to-turnover ratio since his return to eligibility has also been a boost.  It’s roadin’ it at Nevada and San Jose State University next for the Bulldogs.

9. Louisiana Tech (9-12, 0-7)

Up Next: 01/27 vs. Idaho, 01/29 vs. Boise State

The ‘L’ train keeps rolling down the track for the Bulldogs as they dropped both games of their road trip losing 74-57 at Utah State and 66-58 at Nevada.  Olu Ashaolu had a monster game with 26 potions and 17 rebounds as he single-handedly kept the Bulldogs in the game.  Fellow Dog DeAndre Brown chipped in 14 points but Louisiana Tech simply has no firepower outside that duo.  It does not get any easier as the Bulldogs host Idaho and Boise State this week.  The Idaho pair sent the Bulldogs on their current seven game spiral.

A Look Ahead:

The marquee matchup of the week will be the Idaho schools at New Mexico State.  Thursday night sees Boise State at NM State; The winner of the past eight Bronco/Aggie showdowns has eclipsed the 80-point mark in each game, with the past eight games averaging a 92-85 final score.

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Checking in on… the Pac-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 27th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 conferences.

A Look Back

The big story in the Pac-10 last week was the battle between the prohibitive favorite in the conference, Washington, and its biggest supposed contender, Arizona. If you’ve followed this here series all year, you know that we haven’t really bought into the Wildcats as serious threats to the Huskies, but despite Washington’s 17-point win on Thursday night, Arizona did actually post what was, to me, by far their most impressive performance of the season on Saturday, when they followed up their disappointing loss with a tough road victory in Pullman over Washington State. While that one victory still doesn’t mean the ‘Cats are a serious threat to the Huskies, it does set up a battle this week between Arizona and UCLA, each 5-2 in the conference, for the inside track to the two-seed in the conference tournament come March. With this week wrapping up the first half of the conference season, this is a major battle. Elsewhere around the conference, Stanford looked awful in its road trip to Southern California, posting just a 30.5 effective field goal percentage on the weekend. Arizona State continued to look terrible, dropping a couple more games this week (they’re now 1-6 in conference play). And Oregon State continued its vacillating season with a come-from-ahead loss at home against in-state rival Oregon.

Team of the Week: Washington – Both the Huskies and UCLA posted 2-0 records on the week, but while the Bruins won their games in uninspiring fashion, the Huskies garnered the big win over Arizona, then added a tougher-than-expected win over Arizona State on Saturday. Isaiah Thomas continued to be just excellent in the role of point guard for Lorenzo Romar, posting another 18 assists this week, while he is still scoring in bunches (20.5 PPG this week), knocking down threes (three more this week), playing great pressure defense and keeping the high-octane Husky offense running smoothly. Matthew Bryan-Amaning also continued his hot play, averaging 24 PPG and 8 RPG this week.

Player of the Week: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, Washington – For the second week in a row, I’m dissing Derrick Williams and his spectacularly efficient numbers (19.5 PPG, 15 RPG this week and shooting a stunning 70% from three on the season, albeit on just 27 attempts – still amazing) in favor of the diminutive floor general in Seattle. In a 17-point win like the Arizona game on Thursday, it is hard to say that there is one play that determines the game. But, if there was that one play in that game, anyone who watched it knows what it is. With Washington clinging to a 56-50 lead, a Husky turnover led to an Arizona breakaway. Junior forward Darnell Gant hustled back to make a great block in transition, sending the ball towards the corner of the court, seemingly headed out of bounds. But Thomas didn’t stop, went hurtling head-first after the ball and was able to save the ball to teammate Aziz N’Diaye in bounds. After Thomas regained his footing, N’Diaye got the ball back to the Huskies’ leader who brought the ball back up court, drove into the meat of the Wildcat defense and was able to kick it out to an open Gant for a three-pointer, completing a five-point swing. From there, the Huskies slowly put the game away, sparked by the great hustle by both Gant and Thomas. That play, along with several others, prompted Arizona head coach Sean Miller to say the following about Thomas: “Isaiah Thomas, it’s not even close, there’s not one player in the country who’s more disrespected across the nation than him. Not one. It’s not even close. If he’s not one of the top four or five point guards in the country, then I’m going to tell you I want to invite these guys who vote to come and watch film.”

Newcomer of the Week: Lazeric Jones, Junior, UCLA – It was not a pretty week for the Bruins. Freshman center Josh Smith went down midway through the Cal game with a concussion and did not return the rest of the weekend. Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson struggled with foul trouble on Saturday, while junior guard Malcolm Lee fouled out early on Thursday night. And in both cases, the Bruins were awful lucky to have Jones, a junior college transfer, along to bail them out. On Thursday against Cal, the Bruins seemingly had the game under control late, with a comfortable lead. But when Lee fouled out, Cal freshman Allen Crabbe went wild, scoring 13 of his 17 points once his defensive shadow had been disqualified and getting the Bears right back into a tie game. But Jones kept the Bruins steady, knocking down eight of his ten free throws down the stretch on his way to a career-high 24 points. On Saturday, Jones added another 17 important points for a Bruin team lacking its normal big production from their frontcourt. And on the season, Jones is now averaging 11.5 PPG (including 16.5 PPG in his last four), 3.1 APG and a solid 1.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Game of the Week: Arizona 65, Washington State 63 – In a game that both teams considered very important to their postseason hopes, the Wildcats escaped from their Washington trip with a split when Klay Thompson’s clean look in the lane came up short and Faisal Aden was unable to get up a second shot before the buzzer sounded after securing the offensive rebound. Derrick Williams led the ‘Cats with 17 points and 19 rebounds, while WSU’s two top scorers, Thompson and Aden, struggled all night, combining to hit just six of their 23 field goal attempts and just two of their ten attempts from beyond the arc. Arizona’s Jamelle Horne, the lone senior on either roster, was the hero for the second time in four games, knocking down two big threes around the two-minute mark to extend a 56-55 Zona lead to a 62-57 game. From there, Washington State took advantage of some missed Arizona free throws, including two misses by Kyle Fogg with 15 seconds left, to get back within striking range, but Thompson’s miss at the end left WSU back at .500 in the conference.

Game of the Upcoming Week: UCLA (13-6, 5-2) at Arizona (16-4, 5-2), 1/27, 6PM PST, ESPN2 – There was a time in the recent past, where this game between these schools would go a long way towards deciding the eventual regular season champion. While both schools have struggled through some downturns of late, this rivalry is back on the map and the winner of this game remains just one game back of Washington in the conference. Josh Smith is expected back from a concussion for UCLA, but the biggest question for Ben Howland is how to slow Williams. Nelson will likely take much of that responsibility (with additional eyeballs on Williams at all times), but he has found himself mired in game-long foul trouble twice in the past two weeks, and the Bruins will need him to contribute offensively to have a chance to get the road win. For the Wildcats, they’re still waiting for a consistent second option to arise alongside Williams, to no avail yet. Horne has hit some big shots recently, but has failed to secure his head coach’s complete trust. Momo Jones has scored in double figures the last two times out, but he’s seemingly just as often a liability as an asset. And Solomon Hill, the ‘Cats second leading scorer on the season at 8.5 PPG, is more suited to the role of garbage man than as a go-to offensive player. So far, riding Williams has worked out just fine, but Miller may need to have somebody else step up in this game to secure this win.

Power Rankings

1. Washington (15-4, 7-1): In the last three games, head coach Lorenzo Romar has gone with junior Scott Suggs in the starting lineup, choosing to bring the energy of Venoy Overton off of the bench, and Suggs has produced four threes in those games. In the first two games as a starter, a sole three-pointer seemed to be the only production that Suggs contributed, but in the Arizona State game on Saturday, he knocked down two key second-half threes to help propel the Huskies to victory. With Thomas, Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday established offensive weapons, Romar just needs Suggs to provide the three-point threat and some solid defense in his minutes on the floor, but with gunners like C.J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross waiting in reserve, Suggs had better keep knocking down the threes in order to retain his starting job.

Looking ahead: The Huskies travel to Pullman on Sunday for a game that the Cougars are going to be very interested in winning. An in-state rival coming calling on a team who has not yet lived up to their lofty expectations for themselves? Yeah, the Huskies better be ready for a street fight on Sunday.

2. Arizona (16-4, 5-2): We’ve detailed Arizona’s visit to the Washington schools above, so let’s just take a look at their NCAA Tournament resume to this point. They’ve played four teams in Ken Pomeroy’s top 70 teams in the nation, and their win at Washington State on Saturday was their first positive outcome. In the three losses (to Kansas, BYU and Washington), they’ve lost by an average of over 15 points per contest. Aside from the WSU win, their best result was a road win over an underachieving NC State team that was missing its best player. Beyond that, a couple of ugly home wins against the Bay Area schools are the best thing they’ve got going. Sure, “16-4” looks real good, but upon closer inspection, there is just not a lot of meat on the bones of the Arizona resume, to the point where it is possible they’ll need some more appealing wins in the conference schedule in order to secure an at-large bid.

Looking ahead: This week’s homestand against the Los Angeles schools is a good place to start. Hosting UCLA on Thursday and USC on Saturday gives the Wildcats to pick up a couple more wins over KenPom’s top 70 teams.

3. UCLA (13-6, 5-2): The good news for the Bruins is that they posted a couple wins and overcame some adversity in order to do so; the fact that neither game was anywhere near a work of art is beside the point. Against Cal on Thursday, they blew a 14-point lead in a game that was seemingly in hand and had to get a spectacular tip-in by Nelson at the buzzer to avoid overtime. Then, against Stanford on Saturday, they got off to a terrible start, building up their own 14-point deficit early before turning it on late in the first half to get back to within one at the break and then skating through the second half to an 11-point win. While the defense has at times looked very much like a typically stout Howland defense, unfortunately the offense has looked very much like a stagnant Howland offense, a concerning development considering the offensive talent on the roster.

Looking ahead: To this point in the season, the Bruins have done very little to prove to their fans that the ’10-’11 version of the team is significantly different than the ’09-’10 version. On Thursday, they’ll have a good chance to change that perception. But given that they have a history of letting down after a big game, they’d be wise to make sure they don’t take Arizona State lightly on Saturday.

4. Washington State (14-6, 4-4): This was the week for the Cougars to get right back in the mix at the top of the conference. The schedule set up perfectly, with Arizona State coming in on Thursday and Arizona – off of its big battle with Washington – showing up on Saturday. But while they took care of business on the front end, cold shooting from their stars doomed them against the Wildcats. Thompson’s shooting percentage took a significant dip during last year’s conference play, but there is a major difference this year: he’s still able to contribute in other areas when his shot isn’t falling. Against Arizona, he hit just four of his 16 shots, but at least he was able to contribute team highs with eight rebounds and seven assists. But given that Thompson’s scoring is such a focal point of the Coug offense, what will be remembered from that game is his missed shots, and specifically, the final missed shot.

Looking ahead: The Cougs host Washington on Sunday to wrap up the front-end of the Pac-10 conference schedule. For Ken Bone’s club to hold any hopes of competing for a conference title, this is a game they absolutely have to have.

5. USC (11-9, 3-4): Following their lost weekend in Oregon, the Trojans came out strong against Stanford on Thursday and just demolished them. They held the Cardinal to a 24.6 effective field goal percentage on the way to a 23-point victory. Relying on defense, slowing the tempo down on offense, and getting offense from Nikola Vucevic and Jio Fontan, USC looked every bit the part of the upper division Pac-10 team that they occasionally pretend to be. Against Cal on Saturday, it was back to the bad Trojans again, however. Outside of senior guard Donte Smith going absolutely bonkers from deep (eight of 11 threes for a career-high 24 points), the offense was non-existent. The Trojans defended well enough to still have a shot at the win on the final shot of the game, but the Fontan three at the buzzer came up short, a perfectly emblematic offensive possession for the Trojans.

Looking ahead: The Trojans will need to win both of their games in Arizona this week (ASU on Thursday, Arizona on Saturday), in order to complete the first lap of conference play above .500.

6. Cal (10-9, 3-4): Really, a two-point win and a two-point loss for a split on the Southern California road trip, that’s a perfectly defensible result. But the fact that the Golden Bears rallied from a 14-point second half deficit against UCLA and scored 23 points in the final 3:20 to get back to even for the first time since the score was tied at 6-6, then lost on a offensive rebound putback at the buzzer, had to be particularly heartbreaking. The flip side of that is that head coach Mike Montgomery was able to get his team to rebound from that crushing defeat with a fine performance against USC on Saturday is a credit to his coaching ability. Freshman Allen Crabbe continued his hot streak, averaging 14.5 PPG this week and has now hit double figures in six straight games, while junior forward Harper Kamp led the team in scoring in both games, averaging 20 points per contest and bumping his streak of double-digit scoring to eight games.

Looking ahead: The Bears host the Oregon schools this week, and given the way the Pac-10 has played out thus far, no one really knows what to expect in those games.

7. Stanford (10-8, 3-4): With the Cardinal’s two losses in Southern California this week, the team is now 1-5 in true road games this season and 1-2 in neutral site games. Those two wins? Over Arizona State and DePaul, and everybody beats Arizona State and DePaul. For a team with no real veteran point guard and a lot of freshmen counted on for serious contributions off the bench, struggling away from home is not an unheard of proposition, but the way Stanford struggled this week was particularly ugly. In the two games in the LA area, the Cardinal had a combined effective field goal percentage of 30.5%. Against USC, their traditional field goal percentage was 22.2%, their lowest total since the adoption of the 35-second shot-clock. Basically, this Cardinal team is a historically bad offensive team. Johnny Dawkins does have a commitment from class of ’11 recruit Chasson Randle, and he may be able to start at the point from his first day on campus. If he can turn into a playmaking point, the Cardinal could have quite a few nice pieces around him next year, with Jeremy Green and Josh Owens as seniors and youngsters like Dwight Powell, Aaron Bright and Anthony Brown with a year of experience under their belt.

Looking ahead: The Oregon schools come to Maples this week, so the Cardinal have a good shot at getting over .500 this week.

8. Oregon State (8-10, 3-4): Let’s start by saying that these last three teams in the conference are all a jumble. I’m putting OSU 8th based on talent and, you know, a better record, but this is a team that just got done losing at home to Oregon, arguably the least talented team in the conference (and really, there isn’t even much of an argument). While the Beavers have the type of talent that has their fans dreaming of competing for a conference title, those talented players are still awful young and inexperienced. Guys like sophomore Jared Cunningham and freshman Roberto Nelson have shown tantalizing touches of incredible ability, but in the game with the Ducks, those two combined to make just seven of their 21 field goal attempts and Nelson in particular needs to tighten up his shot selection considerably. Also of news this week was Nelson starting ahead of senior Calvin Haynes for the second straight game. It had been thought that the true changing of the guard wouldn’t take place until after the season, but it looks like Craig Robinson will be using the remainder of the season to get experience for his youngsters. While that is a perfectly cromulent decision, it is a shame to see a senior of Haynes’ ability and unselfishness lose minutes down the stretch of his senior year.

Looking ahead: The Beavers travel to Cal on Thursday, then to Stanford on Saturday, and the way they’re playing right now, anything is possible.

9. Oregon (9-10, 2-5): I don’t think it is doing a disservice to the guys on the Oregon roster to say that this is not an overly talented bunch. There aren’t any five-star recruits on this roster; I don’t think there are even any four-star guys here. But, so far this season they’ve played Missouri to a standstill, knocked off USC (a top-50 team according to Ken Pomeroy), and just this week knocked off intra-state rival Oregon State. You generally don’t give Coach of the Year consideration to a guy whose team is 9-10 on the year (with the majority of those nine wins against the dregs of Division I), but it cannot be repeated enough how great of a job head coach Dana Altman has done with these Ducks. This is an undersized, under-talented team that has had to deal with offseason defections, in-season injuries and more talented opposition, but Oregon has continued to scrap, Altman has begun rebuilding the talent base on the recruiting trail, and Duck fans have to be optimistic about the future of the program

Looking ahead: The Ducks travel to Stanford and Cal this week, and while road wins are not likely, given how hard this team competes, the Bay Area schools will be in for a fight.

10. Arizona State (9-10, 1-6): In the interest of remaining positive, wow, has Ty Abbott been on fire from deep lately. He’s had 22 threes in the last five ASU games, averaging 18.6 points per game over that stretch. Unfortunately, the only Sun Devil win over those five games was a non-conference win over Tulsa. ASU’s sole win in conference play was a road win in the final game at Mac Court.  Really, this collapse is almost inexplicable. The Sun Devils have as much talent on board as any of the five teams at the bottom of this conference, and they’ve got something that no other team in the conference can boast: three experienced seniors. While Abbott has been excellent of late, as a whole the senior class has had a very disappointing year, and as the old saw goes, “you’re only as good as your seniors.”

Looking ahead: The Devils welcome USC and UCLA into Tempe this week, and while they’ll be underdogs in both games, there is no good reason this team can’t be competitive in both of these games.

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RTC Live: USC @ Arizona State

Posted by rtmsf on January 27th, 2011

Game #117.  RTC Live makes its first trip to the desert Southwest with a trip to Tempe for some Pac-10 basketball.

It’s been a trying first half of the Pac-10 season for Herb Sendek’s Arizona State Sun Devils, but there’s a lingering sense that they should be better than they are.  Having only played two home games en route to a 1-6 start, the schedule certainly breaks favorably for a renaissance. Two of the issues are that ASU’s usually staunch defense has been lacking and guard/forward Rihards Kuksiks has been in what seems like a season-long funk.  Tonight’s visit from USC provides an opportunity, as the Trojans come in struggling as well.  After starting off strongly by beating Washington State and UCLA, and nearly knocking off league gorilla Washington, USC lost to both Oregon schools away and split against the Bay Area schools last weekend at home.  Jio Fontan and Nikola Vucevic have played well, but there hasn’t been much consistency beyond those two.  It should make for an interesting game here tonight in Tempe.  Join us for a little Pac-10 hoops from the desert.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.27.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 27th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Tonight we highlight the little guys. First place is on the line in the Colonial while St. Mary’s looks to widen its lead in the WCC. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Hofstra @ VCU – 7 pm on ESPNU (***)

VCU Will Need a Little More From Rodriguez This Evening

Both teams are tied atop the CAA at 8-1 but the Rams are the favorite here at home where they’re undefeated on the year. VCU has lost only twice at home in the last three years and both defeats were to the same team: Northeastern. Shaka Smart’s team loves to shoot the three, but is missing a key part of that attack with Brandon Rozzell out due to a broken hand. Without Rozzell in the fold, VCU will turn to Joey Rodriguez and Bradford Burgess for the bulk of their three point shooting. Rodriguez is coming off a season high 28 points at Towson while Burgess is making 44% of his threes this season. Against a Hofstra defense ranked #290 against the trey, you can bet VCU will be firing up plenty of them tonight, as they usually do.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 27th, 2011

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

A Look Back

  • Mighty Gonzaga, which had lost only six conference games in the previous five years, lost twice on a trip to Bay Area schools Santa Clara (85-71) on Thursday and San Francisco (96-91 OT) two nights later. The 14-point loss to Santa Clara was Gonzaga’s worst loss to a WCC opponent in the regular season since 1999, although the Zags were drubbed 81-62 by Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament Championship game last March.
  • Portland, which had been gaining traction as a potential third-place conference finisher, also went down to both Bay Area schools. The WCC standings following the weekend seemed out of joint, with Saint Mary’s on top at 5-0, San Francisco in second at 4-1 and Gonzaga tied for third with Santa Clara at 3-2. Portland finds itself tied for fifth with Pepperdine at 2-3, with Loyola Marymount in seventh at 1-4 and San Diego in last place at 0-5.
  • Loyola Marymount’s descent has been almost as rapid as Gonzaga’s. Picked by WCC coaches to finish second ahead of Saint Mary’s, the Lions fell to cross-beach rival Pepperdine 78-75 in the 153rd meeting between the two southern California schools on Saturday. It was Pepperdine’s 13th straight win over Loyola Marymount in Malibu and the 24th win in the last 28 matchups. There must be something about that 19-mile drive down Pacific Coast Highway that upsets the Lions.
  • Saint Mary’s retained the top spot with a tougher-than-expected 67-56 win over San Diego last Wednesday, but the Gaels’ week was ruined with an 89-70 smackdown at the hands of Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday. The loss to the Dores cost Saint Mary’s some spots in the Top 25 rankings, but they held on to the #24 spot in the ESPN coaches poll as Vandy climbed from out of the Top 25 to #22 by virtue of the win.

Player of the Week: Anyone who watched Kevin Foster’s scintillating 36-point outburst against Gonzaga on January 20 would not be surprised to see the 6’2 redshirt sophomore guard from Santa Clara garnering Player of the Week honors. Foster, who sat out the entire last season with a broken foot, came back with 19 points in the Broncos’ 72-59 win over Portland to move over the 1,000-point mark in his brief Santa Clara career. Foster is leading the country with 74 threes this season, leads the WCC scoring (22.2 PPG) and is 35th in the nation in scoring average at 19.3 points per contest.

A Look Ahead

If there is a more compelling matchup this season than Thursday’s game between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga in Spokane, I have missed it. Gonzaga, nearly impregnable on its home court, finds itself two games behind the Gaels in the conference race, with critics questioning whether its 10-year WCC reign of supremacy can be sustained.

Saint Mary’s, after gaining some national respect for its ruthless efficiency and guard-led offensive heroics, stumbled badly in last week’s warm-up against Vanderbilt. In addition, the Gaels have not won in Spokane since 1995, and have not beaten the Zags in a regular-season conference game since the 2008 season. Buoying the Gaels is hope that senior point guard Mickey McConnell will bounce back from a sub-par outing against Vanderbilt (six points on 2-9 shooting, including 0-4 from three-point range) and lead Saint Mary’s as he did in the WCC tourney championship last March. McConnell scored 26 points on 10-17 shooting that night, and also dished out six assists. Which McConnell shows up Thursday night may determine the Gaels’ fate.

If the Gaels have doubts, the Zags must be wondering who took over their previously dominant team and substituted the bunch that sleepwalked through the Santa Clara loss, then lost to San Francisco for the second year in a row. The twin Bay Area losses marked three straight defeats to WCC opponents outside of Spokane, and the Zags will be counting on a giant dose of home support to right the ship. At 13-7, with two losses in conference and difficult road games ahead at Saint Mary’s, Portland and Loyola Marymount, the Zags simply cannot afford another loss if they hope to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the 13th straight season.

Meanwhile, the suddenly invigorated remainder of the WCC takes on this week’s games with relish. New second-place holder San Francisco must be licking its chops awaiting the outcome of the Saint Mary’s-Gonzaga game and an equally tough contest for the Gaels two nights later in Portland. The Dons travel to southern California to take on shaky Loyola Marymount on Thursday and Pepperdine on Saturday. A stumble or two by Saint Mary’s and a sweep by the Dons could have far-reaching consequences as the first half of WCC play comes to a close.

Santa Clara is nursing identical hopes as San Francisco, as it travels with its Bay Area rival to the same southern California venues, facing Pepperdine on Thursday and Loyola Marymount on Saturday. Both San Francisco and Santa Clara can be forgiven if they are carrying brooms along with them to remind them of the week’s goal.

Portland also awaits a giant opportunity for redemption in the coming week, staying home to entertain a weak San Diego team on Thursday and Saint Mary’s on Saturday, following the Gaels’ gut-checking contest with Gonzaga. At 14-6 and 2-3 in conference, the Pilots certainly realize this is the time to salvage a season that seemed promising only a week ago. Should they sweep on their home floor, the Pilots might squint a little at a February 3 home encounter with Gonzaga.

San Diego comes off a rare victory, Saturday’s 76-65 toppling of Cal State Bakersfield, as it heads into the Pacific Northwest hoping to play spoiler against Portland on Thursday and Gonzaga on Saturday.

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