Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on January 16th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.

Looking Back

Did the earth move or was it merely a hiccup?

Somehow, Randy Bennett And Saint Mary's Just Keep On Winning Games (Photo credit: Jason O. Watson/US Presswire).

Randy Bennett is back for Saint Mary’s. (Jason O. Watson/US Presswire).

One could see portents in Santa Clara’s upset of Saint Mary’s (57-55) on the Gaels’ court last Thursday, and in Gonzaga’s slip at Portland (82-73) the same night. After all, Gonzaga had won 22 straight conference games and 20 in a row over Portland, and Santa Clara had beaten Saint Mary’s only once before in Kerry Keating’s seven seasons at the helm. So, the upsets indicated anything but business as usual in the WCC. But don’t go rushing out and proclaiming the dawn of a new champion in the WCC, which has been dominated by Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s for the past decade. The Gaels bounced back from the Santa Clara loss with a solid 87-73 pounding of San Francisco, which came to Moraga with a 4-1 conference mark and intentions of staking a claim at the top of the standings. The San Francisco game also marked the return of Randy Bennett to the Gaels’ bench after an NCAA-imposed five-game ban on leading the team. Although top assistant Eran Ganot guided Saint Mary’s to a 3-2 mark, including two conference road wins, everyone in Gael Nation breathed easier with Bennett back in charge.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 14th, 2014

Go home Mountain West, you’re drunk! How else to explain looking at the standings two weeks in and seeing Nevada – they of the eight non-conference losses, including to such luminaries as Pacific, Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, and New Orleans – alone atop the conference standings? How about Boise State and UNLV, two teams expected to contend for NCAA Tournament bids prior to the season, sitting back at 1-2? How about the worst team in the conference, San Jose State, giving New Mexico everything the Lobos can handle? How about the conference, home of terrific home court advantages up and down the West, sporting just a combined 10-9 record in league play so far? How about a San Diego State team in a rebuilding year with a work-in-progress offense carrying the banner for the conference with a top 15 ranking in the most recent RTC Top 25? Face it. Not a lot in this conference makes a ton of sense this year. And it is fascinating.

Deonte Burton Has Led A Wolf Pack Resurgence In Conference Play (US Presswire)

Deonte Burton Has Led A Wolf Pack Resurgence In Conference Play. (US Presswire)

Team of the Week

Nevada – This team was – not to put too fine a point on it – awful in the non-conference. They didn’t share they ball, they couldn’t rebound, they couldn’t defend. Less patient athletic directors may have begun their next coaching searches before Christmas. Now, while we’ve still no reason to suspect that the Wolf Pack are actually going to challenge for the conference title, much less an NCAA Tournament bid, these guys have turned into a real team. You actually want to find a way to watch them just to see what’s going on. They’ve got an NBA talent in Deonte Burton; they’ve got newcomer A.J. West providing some toughness up front; and they’ve got a handful of talented ancillary parts. And with sophomore Marqueze Coleman now back from injury, they’re starting to get back to whole. And – get this – they’re actually allowing less than a point per possession in four conference games. Maybe you can believe in this team, at least for a little while.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 9th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

The Atlantic 10 Versus the World (the rest of Division I actually):

Table01140109

Note: conference teams had no games versus team from the Atlantic Sun, the Sun Belt and the SWAC. Those conferences are not shown in the table.

With conference play starting this week, the Atlantic 10 has only four non-conference games left on the composite schedule. A look at the table shows conference teams have won 70 percent of their games against other Division I teams. While the winning percentage looks good overall, it masks a disappointing 36.5 percent (19-33) mark versus the power conferences (defined here as the five BCS conferences — the ACC, B1G, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — plus the AAC and Big East) that should trouble those fans who anticipate four or more NCAA bids in March. Chances to close that win deficit, with a single power conference game outstanding, are virtually nil. Scheduling nearly 60 percent of its games with opponents from the lower 23 conferences placed a ceiling on the highest ranking the conference could achieve. Several teams such as Massachusetts and George Washington have solid RPIs (Ken Pomeroy would also count St. Louis and Virginia Commonwealth among the “solid showing” group), and should help those considered more “bubble” than “in” over the next month with conference games.

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Checking in On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 8th, 2014

After the slowdown around the holidays, the Mountain West is back in full swing. Conference play is underway; everybody has played at least one game against a conference opponent; and San Diego State ended non-conference play on a big high, scoring a thoroughly impressive win at Kansas over the weekend. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s jump right in, after recognizing that right now we have Air Force and Nevada – two teams we have been making fun of all season – tied atop the conference standings with 2-0 records.

Team of the Week

Behind Player Of The Week Xavier Thames, The Aztecs Are Outperforming Their Expectations (Kent Horner, Getty Images)

Behind Player Of The Week Xavier Thames, The Aztecs Are Outperforming Their Expectations (Kent Horner, Getty Images)

San Diego State – The Aztecs got conference play underway well by going on the road to Colorado State, getting a good early start, and then maintaining a solid lead the rest of the way. Then on Sunday, they capped off a dream day for San Diego sports fans, backing up the Chargers’ playoff win with a win of their own at Allen Fieldhouse. They’re not a perfect team, but this squad likes each other, works exceedingly well together, and Steve Fisher is getting every last drop out of it in what is turning out to be yet another masterful coaching job. While we maybe have been a step behind on fully believing in this team, those days are over; the Aztecs are the clear favorite in the Mountain West.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on January 7th, 2014

Looking Back

Where’s the threat? Gonzaga was apparently in a fragile position as last week’s conference play ensued. Archrival Saint Mary’s was coming to town, and Zag starters’ Sam Dower and Gary Bell, Jr. were sidelined with injuries, Kevin Pangos continued to struggle with turf toe, and even gritty former walk-on David Stockton was said to be iffy because of the flu. Panic? Meltdown?

Despite a slew of setbacks, Mark Few and Gonzaga keep on chugging along. (Getty)

Despite a slew of setbacks, Mark Few and Gonzaga keep on chugging along. (Getty)

How about domination? The Zags simply throttled Saint Mary’s, holding the hot-shooting Gaels to a 32 percent field goal performance and a pathetic 1-of-12 from three-point range (supposedly the Gaels’ strength) on the way to a 73-51 romp. Zags’ sophomore Prezmek Karnowski not only got in Brad Waldow’s face, he apparently got in his mind, too, blocking seven shots and holding him to five points and three rebounds.

Gonzaga continued the week with an equally-dominant win over Pacific, 86-64, completing a four-game conference homestand at 4-0 and holding all four teams to fewer than 65 points. The Zags’ injuries? Turns out Dower is okay after injuring his hip against Kansas State; Stockton should contact the medical establishment about a cure for flu; and Pangos limped to 31 points in the two games, playing more than 30 minutes in each. Bell remains sidelined for at least another month with a broken hand, but former subs Drew Barham and Kyle Dranginis have stepped up admirably and the Zags seem strong enough to stay atop the WCC.

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (14-2, 4-0)
  2. Saint Mary’s (11-4, 2-1)
  3. Pepperdine (10-6, 3-1)
  4. San Francisco (10-6, 3-1)
  5. Loyola-Marymount (10-6, 2-2)
  6. Santa Clara (9-8, 2-2)
  7. BYU (9-7, 1-2)
  8. Portland (9-7, 1-3)
  9. Pacific (9-5, 0-3)
  10. San Diego (9-7, 0-3)

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Checking in on… the West Coast Conference

Posted by Michael Vernetti on January 1st, 2014

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

Looking Back

Every week in a conference season is its own self-contained drama with winners, losers, and in-betweeners. The opening week is more dramatic than most because portents are seen and chances are calculated. After the opening weekend of the nine-week WCC season, some definite winners and losers emerged. Whether they stay that way will depend on what happens from now until March 1.

Marty Wilson and Pepperdine picked up arguably the best win of the weekend. (US Presswire)

Marty Wilson and Pepperdine picked up arguably the best win of the weekend. (US Presswire)

Winners: Loyola-Marymount, Pepperdine, and Gonzaga made the most of opening at home by sweeping both opponents. Most impressive: Pepperdine’s 80-74 win over BYU, which had defeated Stanford and Utah State on the road and Texas at a neutral-site game.

Losers: Portland and Pacific, which blew opportunities to start the season with solid home wins, BYU, which bombed on the road at LMU and Pepperdine, and San Diego, which also lost two road games. It’s a toss-up whether Portland or BYU was most disappointing. Portland had winnable games against San Francisco and Santa Clara, but lost both, and BYU looked like anything but the team that is going to threaten Gonzaga for the conference title. Pacific had a wounded Saint Mary’s that was coming into the Spanos Center after a disastrous Diamond Head Classic performance (0-3) and was without head coach Randy Bennett, who was serving an NCAA-imposed five-game suspension. The Tigers lost anyway, 88-80, blowing a chance to make its debut in the WCC (after a 43-year absence) with a positive statement.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on January 1st, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

All-Conference — Midseason Edition

First Team

With about a third of the 2013-14 season in the books and conference play coming next week, it is time to review the strongest candidates for a midseason All-Conference Team. Some of the same players show up a second year in a row. Chaz Williams, for example, is doing what everyone thought he would… just better. Other names (Cady Lalanne and Cedrick Lindsay) might be new to the list, but fans of the Minutemen and Spiders know who they are.

The RTC pre-A10 first team consists on a eclectic group of standouts.

The RTC “Pre-A10 season” first team consists on an eclectic group of standouts.

  • Guard — Chaz Williams, Massachusetts. With the resurgence of the Minutemen program, Williams stands an excellent chance to take Player of the Year honors at season’s end. The senior guard leads the conference in total assists (82) and assists per game (7.8),and leads Massachusetts in scoring (173) and points per game (15.7).
  • Guard — Cedrick Lindsay, Richmond. The junior point guard leads the Spiders in points scored (205), points per game (18.6), assists (54) and minutes played (378). Given Chris Mooney’s preference for a deep rotation, the last statistic is especially impressive as it represents 76.3 percent of the available minutes at Richmond’s point guard spot. With three games left before they start conference play — two of them very winnable — the chances are good that Richmond will start conference play with at least 10 wins in the book.
  • Guard — Treveon Graham, VCU. The 6′ 6″ off guard leads Shaka Smart’s squad in scoring (203) and points per game (15.6) and is second in rebounding (85).
  • Forward — Dwayne Evans, St. Louis. Evans was named to the preseason All-Conference First Team along with Chaz Williams, and like his UMass rival, Evans has not disappointed. The 6’6″ senior forward leads the Billikens in points scored (207) and has been a crucial piece in their 11-2 season.
  • Center — Cady Lalanne, Massachusetts. The 6’10” center might be Williams’ teammate but also his biggest competitor for Player of the Year honors. Lalanne and Williams have both been named Player of the Week twice. The junior has started all 11 games for UMass, averages a double-double (14.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG), and leads the conference in blocked shots (32).

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Checking In On… the West Coast Conference

Posted by Michael Vernetti on December 24th, 2013

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

Looking Back

College teams use their pre-conference slates in a variety of ways, but debate usually centers on two approaches: build RPI and team character by challenging strong teams, sometimes on the road; or marshal team resources by playing a home-centric schedule with a modicum of challenging opponents. No conference exemplifies this split more than the WCC in 2013-14.

Dave Rose and BYU bullied their way through a tough non-conference slate. (BYU Athletics)

Dave Rose and BYU bullied their way through a tough non-conference slate. (BYU Athletics)

BYU, donning Gonzaga’s suddenly-unused traveling clothes, has compiled the boldest preseason schedule by far, traveling to Stanford (112-103 win), Kansas City for a tournament (86-82 win over Texas, 75-62 loss to Wichita State), Utah State (85-74 win), UMass (105-96 loss), Utah (81-64 loss) and Oregon (100-96 loss). Straddling a home game against ranked Iowa State (90-88 loss), the Cougars have played seven games outside Provo, three of those against ranked teams. Other than a penchant for travel, however, BYU’s boldness hasn’t revealed much about what kind of team it will be in the WCC, much less the postseason, if there is one. For one thing, BYU lost four of those tough games and gave up a bucket-load of points (88.6 PPG), with three opponents topping 100. One could say the Cougars are battle-hardened but still unproven.

The polar opposite of BYU’s approach was taken by Saint Mary’s, which rattled off seven straight home wins, some over quality opponents (North Dakota State, Akron, Louisiana Tech) before venturing to Boise and conquering Boise State 82-74. Those who argue that only the road forges steel were given support by the Gaels’ 78-71 collapse against Frank Martin’s rebuilding South Carolina Gamecocks followed by a loss to Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic. The Gaels will play George Mason on Christmas morning in the ignominious seventh-place game. From an at-large resume perspective, Saint Mary’s will need to leave the islands with at least one victory.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 24th, 2013

Last year, the Mountain West Conference earned, and received, five bids to the NCAA Tournament. Once there, things did not go as planned, but regardless, it was a good regular season for the conference, with non-conference neutral-site wins over UCLA and Connecticut along with road wins against California, Washington, Creighton, and Cincinnati, plenty of home wins and bad losses being kept to an absolute minimum except for the very bottom of the conference. This year, with some talented players leaving the conference, there was little doubt that a step back was due. But with just four teams currently in the top 100 of the RPI, a couple of teams sitting below 270, and the overall conference RPI ninth in the nation, any prayer of getting five teams dancing again can be forgotten. Now the question is, can they get three?

Team of the Week

Utah State – Slim pickings this week, as it seems like every team that played a halfway decent opponent came away with at least one loss. But the Aggies took care of business at the Basketball Travelers Classic on its own campus. While the bookend wins over Western Illinois and Troy don’t do much for anyone, the middle game, a six-point overtime win over a good UC Santa Barbara team, is a nice accomplishment. Especially considering the fact that the Aggies fought back from an eight-point deficit at the under-four timeout, and did so without center Jarred Shaw, who is suspended indefinitely. More on Shaw below.

Spencer Butterfield Had A Career-High In Helping Utah State Knock Off UC Santa Barbara In Overtime (John Zsiray, AP Photo)

Spencer Butterfield Had A Career-High In Helping Utah State Knock Off UC Santa Barbara In Overtime (John Zsiray, AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Larry Nance, Jr, Junior, Wyoming – The Cowboys have taken two losses in a span of three games since we last did this, but that isn’t Nance’s fault. Against Denver last weekend, Nance broke out for a career-high 38 points on 15/21 shooting, adding 12 boards for good measure. Then on Friday, against Southern Methodist, he backed that up with 16 points, 13 boards and three blocks. And last night he had 29 points on 14 field goal attempts, while grabbing 13 boards and blocking three shots against Northern Colorado. All told, that’s 27.7 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 2 BPG, and a 72.8 eFG% in those three games.

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Checking In On… the Ivy League

Posted by Michael James on December 20th, 2013

Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • Two-Bid Ivy – Traditionally, a second bid to the NCAA Tournament has been uniquely elusive for the Ivy League, since the lack of a conference tournament makes it hard for an at-large caliber team to miss out on the regular season title and automatic bid without doing too much damage to its profile. That paradigm began to shift in 2010-11, though, when Harvard lost an Ivy playoff to Princeton, but still had a top 40 RPI with two quality non-conference wins over bubble teams (vs. Colorado and at Boston College). The same perfect storm is brewing this season as well. Currently the Crimson boasts a top 25 RPI (supported by a top 30 Pomeroy ranking), while the Tigers snuck into the top 40 with their recent win at Penn State. The two teams are a combined 5-2 against current top 100 RPI opponents. A couple of those quality wins are expected to evaporate as the year moves forward, but both squads still have upcoming opportunities against quality non-conference foes including Harvard’s visit to Connecticut and Princeton’s trip to Las Vegas to play Pacific. It’s unlikely that both the Crimson and the Tigers will make it to Ivy play with legitimate at-large profiles, but it’s not impossible, which is pretty good for being nearly two-thirds of the way through non-conference play. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on December 19th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Dealing With Expectations

Forgive me if six weeks and 10 games (more or less) into this season I am a little dizzy from all the twists and turns. Most understood Massachusetts would be good, especially with Chaz Williams’ decision to take his last season of eligibility in Amherst, but undefeated? VCU would be nicked in the non-conference schedule — that much was a given — but three losses that include a 14-point loss to Florida State on a neutral court and a loss to Northern Iowa? That is a surprise.

What's new? UMass standout Chaz Williams is having another great season. (AP)

What’s new? UMass standout Chaz Williams is having another great season. (AP)

First Team

  • Chaz Williams (Massachusetts) — It may be hard to believe, but the unanimous pick has actually exceeded expectations. Williams has led the Minutemen to a 10-0 undefeated start and a #22 ranking in AP’s Top 25. UMass is the only conference representative.
  • Dwayne Evans (Saint Louis) — The Billikens’ slashing forward’s sluggish offensive numbers mirror the larger problems facing St. Louis this season. Evans can score inside as his 51 percent two-point completion rate attests, but absent a consistent long-range scorer, opposing teams find it very easy to stop the Bills — pack the lane and wait for Evans (or guard Jordair Jett) to drive. The stingy defense lives on, Saint Louis is ranked #3 defensively by Ken Pomeroy, but a team-wide three-point drought (Jake Barnett excepted) leaves Jim Crews’ squad with a one-dimensional offense.
  • Tyreek Duren (La Salle) — Hobbled by a troublesome plantar fasciitis condition that dates back to last May, the point guard has to adjust his energy to manage the Explorers’ offense rather than create it through his typical to-the-basket drives. There are many reasons the Explorers are struggling this season and with a better start Dureen’s inability to move laterally and plant for a jumper would be a footnote.
  • Treveon Graham (Virginia Commonwealth) — Graham continues the domination that established him as a first teamer last season. He leads the Rams in scoring (196 points, 16.3 PPG) and combines prolific scoring with efficient scoring, earning a 117.9 offensive rating from Ken Pomeroy. Questions on how to get VCU back on track should not start with Graham. He is on pace to accumulate last season’s numbers, and has improved his defensive rebounding to boot.
  • Juvonte Reddic (Virginia Commonwealth) — VCU’s second leading scorer (140 points, 11.7 points per game, 110.1) and leading rebounder (30-56-86) has stepped back slightly in offensive efficiency, but has improved in block and steal rates and in getting to the line. If his contributions hold steady through the season, Reddic should be in the thick of an All-Conference conversation come March.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on December 12th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Taking Stock – Atlantic 10 versus Division I

The conference roars along with a 69 percent winning percentage versus the rest of Division I, but is this year’s showing strong enough for the conference to maintain the three to four NCAA bid Selection Sunday pace the conference has grown accustomed to in the last decade? Maybe …

If a conference bubble team (Dayton?) finds itself in a side-by-side comparison with another team from another “basketball-first” conference (counting the Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Conference USA and the West Coast conferences here), the prospects are good, as the A-10 has won 80 percent of its games against those teams. Whether consulting the RPI or Ken Pomeroy, the Atlantic 10 sits atop that cluster of conferences.

Table01131212

(Note: A10 teams have no scheduled games with four conferences, those conferences are not listed here)

The A-10 ranks #7 in the RPI, ahead of the SEC, while Pomeroy ranks the league #8, well separated from the next best conference — the WCC. Power conferences, however, continue to bedevil all but the A-10’s four best representatives. Logging a 12-23 (34.3%) record to date is not good news. With under one-third of their games versus the power conferences (counting eight conferences here – the American, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, the Pac-12 and the SEC in this group… this season) remaining to play, finishing with a .500 record is theoretically possible but highly unlikely. Closing that gap may be a realistic goal as teams have four games remaining against the ACC (6-6 so far) and five versus the SEC (1-1 so far), two conferences where they have held their own. Virginia Commonwealth in particular can boost its postseason prospects with wins over Virginia Tech and Boston College, two ACC opponents the Hokies will face during Christmas Week.

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