Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • It was a slow, after-finals week for most WCC teams, but the pace picks up considerably this weekend. Early-season top dogs Saint Mary’s and Portland cruised to expected wins – the Gaels by a score of 75-56 over UC Riverside at home and the Pilots in a closer-than-expected 71-64 win at Denver – and Gonzaga continued its slide against Top 25 teams, losing to Notre Dame in South Bend to fall to 4-5 for the first time in many people’s memory.
  • Loyola-Marymount and San Francisco scored home wins, Santa Clara lost on the road to Pacific, Pepperdine fell in Fresno and San Diego snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 82-57 thrashing of Laverne.
  • Player of the Week: Rob Jones, Saint Mary’s - Gaels coach Randy Bennett has said his goal with transfer forward Rob Jones is to turn him into a scoring leader, and Jones may have gotten the message this week with lines of 24 and 11 against UC Riverside following a 17 and 11 outing against Denver. Jones, who was a solid but unspectacular force in his first two years at San Diego, took on more responsibility for the Gaels in its need to replace the frontcourt scoring and rebounding punch of Omar Samhan and Ben Allen. He has shown signs of being able to surpass Allen’s production, lessening the pressure on Kenton Walker, Tim Williams and Mitchell Young to collectively fill Samhan’s shoes. Standing out in the UC Riverside stat sheet: Jones’ 6-9 mark from the three-point line.

Power Rankings

  1. Saint Mary’s (8-2): One of the knocks on Saint Mary’s so far this season is a lack of true road wins, with a 69-55 loss at San Diego State its only foray into an opponent’s gym. That could change before Christmas, as the Gaels travel to Las Cruces to face the New Mexico State Aggies next Thursday, following a December 18 matchup with Long Beach State in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim. New Mexico State (3-7) is a far cry from the NCAA team of last year, but the Aggies are still smarting from the 100-68 loss suffered in Moraga last November. They will do all they can to repay the Gaels’ rude hospitality.
  2. Portland (8-3): While they picked up their third true road win on Saturday, a 71-64 victory over Denver, the Pioneers (2-8) made the Portland Pilots work for it. Denver led by one at halftime before the Pilots’ three-point-shooting duo of Nemanja Mitrovic and Jared Stohl, aided by rebounding machine Luke Sikma, powered the Pilots down the stretch. Mitrovic, the game’s leading scorer with 18 points, made three three-pointers in a row to spark an 11-2 run in the game’s final minutes that sealed the win. Mitrovic and Stohl combined for 9-15 shooting from beyond the arc, while Sikma notched his fifth double-double of the year with 11 and ten.
  3. Loyola Marymount (6-5): The Lions are nursing a three-game home win streak, the latest victory being a 72-67 come-from-behind effort over South Dakota on December 11. The wins have come over lowly competition, including Cal Poly and Sacramento State, but the fun ends this coming Saturday, when the considerably tougher Florida State Seminoles roll into Gersten Pavilion. Some of Florida State’s wins in a 7-2 season have come over suspect teams like Mid-Continent and North Florida, but the ‘Noles recently topped Clemson 75-69 and have lost only to in-state rival Florida (55-51) and Big Ten power Ohio State and its dynamic freshman Jared Sullinger (58-48). You could say the bar will be raised considerably higher for Max Good’s revamped Lions, who have been improvising with the loss of stars Jarred DuBois and Ashley Hamilton and the slow rehabilitation of Edgar Garibay. New names such as freshmen Anthony Ireland, Godwin Akonji and Ayodeji Egbeyimi (call him “Deji”), have been finding their way alongside veterans Vernon Teel, Drew Viney and Larry Davis.
  4. Santa Clara (5-5): SC looked to be steadying itself with a 67-63 road win over cross-town rival San Jose State on Friday, but the wheels fell off when the Broncos went a little farther afield against Pacific in Stockton on Tuesday. Starting the unconventional lineup featuring Chris Cunningham in place of Marc Trasolini for the second straight game, the Broncos fell behind by as many as 21 points (60-39) late in the second half and lost by ten, 69-59. Pacific (6-4) has no signature wins this year and lost to Pepperdine last week, but handled Santa Clara easily. Kerry Keating has a chance to continue experimenting with his lineup on Friday, when the Broncos host Houston Baptist, but had better settle on his best troops before they face Washington State on Sunday.
  5. Gonzaga (4-5): The Zags found some balance in its not-as-close-as-it-looks 83-79 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, but they’re still struggling to find a floor leader (did I hear the name “Bouldin” whispered in the wind?). Elias Harris had 19 points, Steven Gray 18 and Robert Sacre 16 for the Zags against Notre Dame, and those numbers are what the world was expecting this year. But even with strong production from its core players, the Zags found themselves trailing the Irish by 14 in the second half, with another rout seemingly in the works. Only a lethargic effort by Notre Dame down the stretch prevented that, and the Zags are struggling to find a steadying force in the backcourt to supplement their power players. Transfer Marquise Carter doesn’t look like the answer so far, and veteran Meech Goodson has not put a strong stamp on the team. With a breather Thursday against Lewis Clark State in Spokane, the Zags are thrust right back into the fire on Saturday with a game against Baylor in Arlington.
  6. San Francisco (4-5): A light week was good news for a team struggling to find healthy bodies, and the Dons rewarded themselves with a 50-48 overtime win over rugged Montana. Guard Cody Doolin, who went down in the Dons’ loss at Louisville last week, returned to help his teammates hold off the Grizzlies, but it was his backcourt mate Michael Williams who stole the show. Williams accounted for 23 points and 13 rebounds in the low-scoring affair, and was joined by Perris Blackwell with 12 and ten. The Dons will need efforts like those and much more as it travels to Seattle on Saturday to face streaking Washington.
  7. Pepperdine (4-8): The Waves racked up 27 turnovers in its 64-51 road loss to Fresno State. Conference POY candidate Keion Bell had eight of them. Pepperdine will hope to get back on track Saturday when it hosts UC-Irvine.
  8. San Diego (2-8): USD had something to celebrate with Monday’s 82-57 pasting of Laverne, and could overlook the fact that its first victory in nine tries came at the expense of a 3-4 NCAA Division-III squad that doesn’t grant athletic scholarships. Why quibble? Bill Grier may have found some answers with the second straight strong games from burly 6’11 center Chris Gabriel and transfer guard Darian Norris. Adding fuel to a small glow of hope for the Toreros was the play of freshman forward Trevor Fuller, who elicited some excitement as a star for Episcopal School of Dallas, but has mainly sat the bench for San Diego. Gabriel, Norris and sophomore Ken Rancifer scored 14 points each, while Fuller contributed six points in 17 minutes. Things might not be so cheery next week in Honolulu when the Toreros take on the likes of Baylor, Washington State or Mississippi State in the Diamond Head Classic.

A Look Ahead

This Saturday will be the broadest showcase for WCC teams in the current season. Some of the marquee matchups include Saint Mary’s vs. Long Beach State in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim; Gonzaga vs. Baylor in Arlington; Loyola vs. Florida State in Los Angeles; San Francisco vs. Washington in Seattle; and Portland vs. Portland State in – where else? – Portland (Portland State is the home team).

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • It began as a whisper earlier in the season, but recent events have given it full throat – the WCC is down this year. Gonzaga, which has waved the conference’s banner brilliantly for over a decade, has stumbled to a 4-4 record, most recently Wednesday’s 81-59 beat-down at Washington State. Saint Mary’s, coming off a Sweet Sixteen year with high expectations, has whiffed in its only two statement games, losses to BYU (close, 74-73) and to San Diego State (not so close, 69-55). A rout of a weak opponent, Wednesday’s 77-47 win over Denver, did little to erase the sting of those defeats.
  • Even the newest pretender to WCC superiority, Loyola Marymount, has under-performed mightily so far in 2010-11. Weakened by injuries to starting two-guard Jarred DuBois (ankle – out for season) and strong forward Ashley Hamilton (hand – out 4-6 weeks), and the slower-than-expected recovery of 6’10 post man Edgar Garibay, the Lions have managed only an 80-77 overtime win at Long Beach State as a quality win. Fans were even rejoicing over Tuesday’s 69-49 win over woeful Sacramento State (2-6 record, including an 84-36 loss to Washington State) that brought them to 5-5 on the season. Talk about lowered expectations.
  • Among this carnage, one team has managed to exceed expectations and set itself up for a successful season – Eric Reveno’s Portland Pilots. Because Portland lost so much talent to graduation, most observers forecast a retreat from two seasons of challenging Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s for conference leadership. Instead, Reveno has leaned on veterans Luke Sikma and Jared Stohl, quietly given junior guard Nemanja Mitrovic a stronger role and nursed freshman point guard Tim Douglas into the spot vacated by T.J. Campbell. The result: a 7-2 record, including eye-openers such as a 69-60 win over St. Louis at home and a 58-54 win over Montana in Missoula. True, they were spanked 79-48 by Kentucky, and, most recently (Dec. 6) 94-72 by Washington, but are in position to enter WCC play with 11 or 12 wins.

Player of the Week: Keion Bell, Pepperdine

You loved him in those YouTube videos vaulting over five – then six – teammates en route to a monster dunk, now Pepperdine’s Keion Bell is proving himself in game action. How good has he been? How about 25.3 PPG, good for sixth in the nation. Among his performances are a 25-point outburst in the Waves’ breathtaking 70-60 road win over Pacific on December 1 and 31 in an 86-81 loss to Texas-San Antonio last Saturday. For good measure, he put up 17 as the Waves came oh-so-close to upsetting Utah on Tuesday before losing 67-60.

Power Rankings

  1. Saint Mary’s (7-2) romped over Denver, shooting nearly 60% and out-rebounding the Pioneers by a 39-15 margin. The biggest development, however, was in the Gaels’ starting line-up, where redshirt sophomore Tim Williams replaced Kenton Walker in the post position. Walker, counted on to step into the departed Omar Samhan’s shoes, has been disappointing, creating an opportunity for the explosive Williams and hyper-active Aussie Mitchell Young. Williams was less-than-overwhelming in his maiden start, however, preferring to watch Denver’s Princeton offense (translation: boring) rather than chase his man through the endless dribbles, back-door cuts and switches that constitute its attack. Gaels’ coach Randy Bennett, who likes mid-season adjustments to his starting line-up as much as he does root canal, jerked Williams several times and gave him only 14 minutes on the floor, the same as the deposed Walker. Young, on the other hand, made the most of his opportunity, racking up 14 points in 22 minutes. Will Bennett juggle the line-up once more for the Gaels’ next opponent, UC-Riverside, on the 14th? Stay tuned.
  2. Portland (7-3) had only the loss at Washington on its schedule last week, but the Pilots were not handled as easily as the 94-72 score would indicate. They moved to within 68-62 with a little more than eight minutes remaining – after trailing by 15 at the half – but couldn’t corral Washington’s three-point shooters down the stretch. Sikma notched his fourth double-double of the season with 14 and 16 against the Huskies, Mitrovic added 15 and Stohl and Douglas contributed 12 each. Portland should get its eighth win on Saturday (Dec. 11), when they travel to Denver to meet the Pioneers, who were unimpressive against Saint Mary’s on the 8th.
  3. Loyola Marymount (5-5) got another of its walking wounded, stellar forward Drew Viney, back for the Sacramento State game, and he responded with 15 points off the bench, including 3-5 from long range. Injuries have forced the Lions to lean on newcomers Anthony Ireland at guard and Godwin Okonji at forward, and the results have been positive: Okonji racked up 11 points, five rebounds and six blocked shots in the Sac State win, and Ireland dished out six assists. Holdover guard Larry Davis has also stepped up with DuBois’ injury, firing for 13 points. The Lions’ four-game home stand continues Saturday against South Dakota, and the Lions would do well not to take the team from Vermillion, SD lightly. Although only 3-6 on the season, South Dakota boasts an 80-70 win over Wyoming and a close loss (76-61) to Wisconsin. Besides, the Coyotes will be so glad to be in southern California and out of the frozen steppes of South Dakota that they might put up quite a fight.
  4. Gonzaga (4-4) is in shock. Not only did the Zags lose decisively to Washington State, a team they used to treat almost as a practice squad, but they face five more difficult games before the conference gets underway in January: Notre Dame in South Bend this Saturday, Baylor in Dallas, TX on the 18th, Xavier and Oklahoma State in Spokane and then Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, NC.  Holy Schedule-Maker, Batman! Speaking of which, Zags coach Mark Few commented after the Washington State shellacking, “The schedule is just beating us up and really taking its toll.” Uh, just who signs off on that schedule, Mark? As tough as things are for the Zags, they showed no progress in figuring things out against Washington State. Gonzaga has traditionally acted as if defending the three is a criminal offense, but giving up 11 of21seems to be stretching a point. Elias Harris remains a mystery, proving to be ineffective again against the Cougars: six points and three rebounds in 21 minutes. Is he still recovering from the Achilles strain suffered against San Diego State? Does he have shoulder problems as well? No answer from Zagland, but he is a ghost of the slashing, dunking whirlwind who blew into the conference last year.
  5. Santa Clara (4-4) continues to take one step forward and two steps backward. Kerry Keating seems to be leaning toward a three-guard attack featuring returning superstar Kevin Foster, last year’s rookie point guard Robert Smith and newcomer Evan Roquemore (no Frenchified American, he pronounces it “rock-a-more”). Fair enough – they’re all talented and Keating’s front-line recruits, Niyi Harrison, Yannick Atanga and John McArthur haven’t exactly dazzled. So, push the three guards along with the steady Marc Trasolini, plug in workmanlike Ben Dowdell and see what happens. Except, Trasolini scored zero points in the Broncos only game last week, Saturday’s 80-69 loss to UC-Santa Barbara. How can that happen? Trasolini is a load, able to score from outside or inside equally well, but he took only four shots against Santa Barbara, missing all of them. ‘Tis a mystery, one that probably won’t be resolved when the Broncos “travel” (well, they will probably get on a bus) to the San Jose Event Center to take on San Jose State on Saturday.  The improved Spartans are 5-2 this year, including a 74-64 win over San Francisco back in November.
  6. San Francisco’s (3-5) Season of Promise may be turning into a Season of Surgery, as injuries reduced the Dons to eight available players in Wednesday’s 61-35 slaughter at Louisville. Those eight accounted for only 11 points in the second half, putting their production at a little more than 1.4 points-per-person. Promising freshman guard Cody Doolin was the latest Don to go down, following Dominique O’Connor’s second season-ending injury in a row and injuries to Marko Petrovic and Rashad Green. Until Petrovic or Green return, coach Rex Walters is left with only two guards on his roster, sophomore Mikey Williams and freshman Avery Johnson. Walters’ diminished forces will face a rugged Montana on Sunday (12/12) at home, then powerful Washington in Seattle on the 18th.
  7. Pepperdine (3-7) almost pulled off another shocker to go with its 70-60 road win over Pacific, but faded in the second half against Utah in Salt Lake City on Tuesday and lost 67-60. The Waves led at the half, but Utah shot 53.6% in the second half to pull away. The Waves face Redlands at home on Thursday (12/9), then travel to Fresno to face Fresno State on the 11th.
  8. San Diego (1-7) fought hard but was unable to hold on for a home win over Fresno State on Tuesday, falling 74-70. Continuing his search for a consistent contributor among a host of new bodies, coach Bill Grier turned to JC transfer Darian Norris for leadership on Tuesday, and Norris responded with a team-high 14 points and five assists. Things don’t get any easier for the Toreros this week, as they face #14 San Diego State on Saturday. The cross-town rivals have run roughshod over the WCC this pre-season, vanquishing Gonzaga in Spokane on November 16 (79-76) and Saint Mary’s (69-55) last week. San Diego may not be the team to end SDSU’s pillaging of the conference.

A Look Ahead

The next week is only sprinkled with games on the schedule with finals nearing. Only 19 games are on the docket between Friday and next Sunday. For teams like San Francisco, it’s a good chance to buy time for injured players, while talented schools like St. Mary’s and Gonzaga can gear up for the start of conference play.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2010

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

Looking Back

  • With an overall record of 24-16 through games of Nov. 23, the WCC might appear to be cruising along in the non-conference portion of the 2010-11 season. But looks can be deceiving, as only Gonzaga and Portland have faced challenging schedules so far while the rest have been staging versions of Patsy of the Week. Saint Mary’s is the poster child for weak competition, as Randy Bennett’s Gaels have romped over College of Idaho, Point Loma Nazarene, Mississippi Valley State and, most pathetically, Chicago State, whom they blistered 121-52. If the hapless Cougars from the Great West Conference had doubled their scoring through Divine intervention they still would have lost. A 76-71 win over St. John’s of the Big East has been the Gaels’ only proud moment so far.
  • Gonzaga has posted an unusually mediocre 3-2 record, including a rare two-game losing streak, but the Zags have faced, in succession, a tough San Diego State (L, 79-76), third-ranked Kansas State (L, 81-64) and Marquette, whom they topped 66-63 to end the brief skid. Portland took on powerhouse Kentucky and Pac-10 up-and-comer Washington State, but probably wished they hadn’t, being demolished by Kentucky 79-48 and wilting against Washington State 84-68.
  • Loyola Marymount has been given a chance for a break-out season and a challenge to Gonzaga’s stranglehold on the league championship (ten in a row), but the Lions haven’t given any indication so far that they are up to the task. Max Good has had trouble getting his players’ attention, going so far as benching fifth-year senior guard and putative team leader Vernon Teel in a 73-63 loss to Rider. LMU has also gone down to Morgan State and Bradley, while topping only weak sisters Chapman, LaSierra and Dowling.
  • San Francisco has probably had the most hopeful pre-season, as Rex Walters’ young Dons have beaten Seattle (97-76) and Colorado (83-81, OT), while losing on the road to an improved San Jose State (74-64).

Player of the Week

Angelo Caloiaro – San Francisco: The rangy small forward has done a lot to ease fans’ concern over the departure of high-scoring Dior Lowhorn, winning WCC Player of the Week honors following his stellar effort against Colorado. Caloiaro, whom the Dons list as 6-8, scorched the Buffalos for 6-for-7 shooting from three-point range en route to a career-high 26 points. It’s a close call whether that effort eclipsed Saint Mary’s forward Clint Steindl’s 7-for-10 three-point barrage against St. John’s, but it’s clear the Bay Area has a nice rivalry between sharpshooting small forwards.

Team-by-Team

  1. Saint Mary’s (5-0) wasn’t challenged beyond the St. Johns game, but Bennett was concerned with shaking the rust off transfers Kenton Walker in the post and Rob Jones at power forward, and he has accomplished that, along with the rehab of starting guard Matthew Dellavedova. Dellavedova missed the entire pre-season practice schedule along with the Gaels’ two scrimmages with an injured hamstring.
  2. Santa Clara’s (4-1) big question mark – the fitness of returning two-guard Kevin Foster – has been removed by Foster’s strong start. Although the Broncos have not beaten anyone of note (Cal State-Bakersfield, Rice, Bethune-Cookman and Northern Colorado), Foster has been exceptional, averaging nearly 19 points per game.
  3. Portland (4-2) is still searching for a point guard to replace T.J. Campbell, but junior Eric Waterford and freshman Tim Douglas have shown flashes of leadership. Senior forward Luke Sikma has been a beast on the boards for the Pilots, averaging nearly 13 per game.
  4. San Francisco (2-1) is smiling over the poise and savvy of freshman guard Cody Doolin and Caloiaro’s all-around excellence.
  5. Gonzaga (3-2) has encountered several problems in its early-season stumbles, most notably finding someone to run Mark Few’s usually high-powered offense. Few reached far down his bench for redshirt freshman David Stockton, son of legendary Zags and NBA guard John Stockton, for help in the pasting by Kansas State. Stockton showed some of the poise and playmaking ability of his dad, but seems smaller than his listed height of 5’11 and may prove a defensive liability for the Zags.
  6. Loyola Marymount (3-3) has tested Good’s short temper by its showing so far, with players and the Gatorade container feeling his wrath. Lions’ fans hope Good can solve the team’s problems before the WCC race begins.
  7. Pepperdine (2-4) showed signs of a resurgence with a win over Nevada, but is sweating out the return of star guard Keion Bell, who is nursing an injured thumb that kept him out of the Waves’ last two games.
  8. San Diego (1-3) has juggled many players in the early going, but Bill Grier has yet to find a combination to get the Toreros on track.

A Look Ahead

  • The honeymoon is over for many of the WCC teams who have been skating over weak opponents: Saint Mary’s heads into the finals of the South Padre Island Classic this week with a game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Friday, followed by either BYU or South Florida on Saturday.  After the Gaels digest that post-Thanksgiving feast, they will face undefeated San Diego State in San Diego on December 1.
  • Santa Clara faces by far its toughest test of the year on the 26th as well, facing off against Arizona in the Las Vegas Invitational.
  • Portland will close out the month with a pair of home games against difficult teams: UC Santa Barbara on the 27th and St. Louis on the 30th.
  • The path ahead doesn’t get any easier for Gonzaga, as they face always-pesky Eastern Washington at home November 30, then take on Big Ten power Illinois in the Battle in Seattle four days later.
  • If Loyola Marymount can figure some things out through tonight’s  game against Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, it will be tested further in a pair of road games versus Long Beach State on the 27th and UC Santa Barbara on December 1.
  • A tough road also beckons for San Francisco, as it goes to Louisville on December 8 to face Rick Pitino’s Cardinals and to Seattle on the 18th for a game with the Washington Huskies.
  • A trip to The Pit on the Albuquerque campus of New Mexico is probably not what Grier would prescribe for his struggling Toreros, but it is what the schedule has in store for San Diego on November 28 nonetheless.
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RTC Conference Primers: #12 – West Coast Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 25th, 2010

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

Predicted Order of Finish

  • 1. Gonzaga (11-3)
  • 1. Saint Mary’s (11-3)
  • 3. Loyola Marymount (9-5)
  • 4. Portland (8-6)
  • 5. Santa Clara (7-7)
  • 6. San Francisco (6-8)
  • 7. San Diego (2-12)
  • 7. Pepperdine (2-12)

All-Conference Team

  • G: Mickey McConnell, Saint Mary’s
  • G: Steven Gray, Gonzaga
  • F: Elias Harris, Gonzaga
  • F: Drew Viney, Loyola
  • C: Luke Sikma, Portland

6th Man

Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s

Impact Newcomers

  • G: Steven Holt, Saint Mary’s (12.7 ppg, 6.0 apg in senior year at Jesuit High School, Portland)
  • G: Ben Vozzola, San Diego (21 ppg, 6.0 apg in senior year at Centennial High School, Las Vegas)
  • F: Charles Standifer, San Francisco (24.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg in senior year at Capital Christian High School in Sacramento)
  • F: Yannick Atanga, Santa Clara (15.2 ppg, 14.8 rpg in senior year at Besant Hill, Ojai, CA)
  • C: Kenton Walker, Saint Mary’s (5.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg as sophomore at Creighton University in 08-09)

Just imagine the smile on Mark Few's face if he knocks off some of Gonzaga's top-flight nonconference opponents. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

What You Need to Know

The WCC sent 10-time regular-season champion Gonzaga and conference tournament champion Saint Mary’s to the NCAA Tournament last year, with the Gaels advancing to the Sweet Sixteen after victories over Richmond and Villanova and the Zags winning their first-round game against Florida State. Loyola Marymount and Portland also played in the CollegeInsider.com Post-Season Tournament (CIT), with the Lions losing to Pacific in the first round and Portland losing to Northern Colorado, also in the first round. The conference is hopeful to return to its high-water mark of 2007 when Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and San Diego made the NCAA Tourney. LMU is bidding for the third NCAA invite in 2010-11, counting on a strong performance from its veteran core (four of five starters return) that produced an 18-16 record last year. Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga will be favored to fight for the automatic NCAA bid or an at-large berth.

Predicted Champion

  • Saint Mary’s (NCAA: #10) and Gonzaga (NCAA: #6) will tie atop the WCC regular-season standings at 11-3 each, with Saint Mary’s receiving the automatic bid with a victory over Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament Championship. The Gaels will match their #10-seed of last year, while the Zags, on the strength of a monster out-of-conference schedule, (San Diego State, Kansas State, Duke/Marquette, Illinois, Xavier, Wake Forest and Memphis) receive a #6-seed.
  • The situation regarding Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga was best exemplified by SI.com’s preseason pick of the Gaels as the 15th-best college backcourt and the Zags as the 13th-best frontcourt. Will the Gaels’ wily veteran Mickey McConnell, he of the gaudy 51% three-point average, and Energizer Bunny Matthew Dellavedova, with his ill-fitting jersey and oversized mouthpiece, edge out the Zags’ fearsome frontcourt of 7’0 center Robert Sacre, 6’7 forward Elias Harris and either 7’0 Kelly Olynyk or 6’6 swingman Manny Arop? This face-off will headline the WCC race and might not be decided until the Feb. 24 showdown between the two in Moraga.
  • In the postseason, Saint Mary’s will be hopeful of crossing the Sweet Sixteen divide in 2011, erasing the memory of its collapse against Baylor (72-49) in the 2010 tournament. Gonzaga, which lost in the first round in ’07 and ’08, the Sweet Sixteen in ’09 and the second round in ’10, looks to revive the glory days of deep tournament runs.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on February 23rd, 2010

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

Standings (through games of 2/20/10)

  1. Gonzaga                       10-2 (22-5)
  2. Saint Mary’s                 9-3 (22-5)
  3. Portland                       8-4 (17-9)
  4. San Francisco               7-5 (12-15)
  5. Loyola Marymount       6-6 (15-13)
  6. Santa Clara                  3-9 (11-18)
  7. Pepperdine                   3-9 (7-21)
  8. San Diego                    2-10 (9-19)

San Francisco or Loyola Marymount?

Figuring out who is going to seize fourth-place in the regular-season WCC standings and a first-round bye in the March 5-8 conference tournament in Las Vegas is the compelling storyline in the last week of conference play. LMU, finally at full strength after months of nursing various players through injuries, completed the most impressive and surprising week in recent conference history by topping both Gonzaga (74-66) and Portland (77-68 in OT) at home. Not surprisingly, three of the restored Lions contributed mightily to the wins: redshirt freshman Ashley Hamilton with 17 against Gonzaga and 12 against Portland; junior guard Larry Davis, a transfer from Seton Hall, with 12 and 10; and sophomore guard Jarred DuBois with 10 and 10. They were joined by another transfer, forward Drew Viney from Oregon, with 16, and junior forward Kevin Young with 11, to place all five starters in double figures against Gonzaga. With all that offensive firepower, however, it was tough man-to-man defense that did in Gonzaga, as LMU held the powerful Zags to 34.4% shooting overall and a puny 25.9% in the second half.

San Francisco had only one game last week, edging Bay Area rival Santa Clara 71-68 in overtime on the road to hold onto fourth place, but will be hard-pressed to keep the Lions at bay this week. While the Dons must travel to the frenzied atmosphere of Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center on Thursday (Feb. 25) to face a wounded giant smarting from both the LMU loss and an equally-surprising 81-77 loss to San Francisco in January, LMU heads down the road to San Diego. Bill Grier’s Toreros, struggling with the loss of senior guard De’Jon Jackson, have offered little resistance to anyone in recent weeks, and LMU should be able to maintain its momentum at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. Thus, San Francisco and LMU could find themselves knotted at 7-6 in the standings after Thursday’s games, heading into the season-ending weekend. Both have tough contests on Saturday, with the Dons taking on a Portland squad looking to bounce back from its disappointing loss to LMU and the Lions facing an equally-motivated Saint Mary’s in Moraga.

The Gaels benefitted most directly from LMU’s upset of Portland, as that loss moved Saint Mary’s one game in front for second place and a bye to the semifinals of the WCC tournament. Saint Mary’s must defeat struggling Pepperdine on Thursday and LMU on Saturday to assure that precious semifinal bye that guarantees they will only have to play twice in Las Vegas. That is a major consideration for Randy Bennett’s Gaels, who go only seven deep and are down to three guards with the early-season loss of Wayne Hunter to a torn ACL and the pre-season loss of freshman Tim Harris to a torn hamstring. The Gaels’ backcourt trio of junior Mickey McConnell and freshmen Matthew Dellavedova and Jorden Page has provided yeoman service so far, but showed signs of fatigue in recent losses to Gonzaga and Portland. Saint Mary’s bounced back somewhat with a grind-it-out 61-49 victory over San Diego last week, but will have to suck it up to finish off the season with two more wins.

Gonzaga, despite the upset by LMU, does not seem in danger of surrendering its top spot and missing an opportunity to win a tenth straight WCC crown. San Francisco will come to Spokane pumped up by its January upset of the Zags, but Mark Few’s team has usually responded to adversity with a strong bounce-back. The Dons may face the wrath of a wounded warrior Thursday night, while Santa Clara faces an equally unpromising fate in the Zags’ season-ender on Saturday. With Saint Mary’s just a game behind in the loss column, look for Gonzaga to hold off both San Francisco and Santa Clara and head to Las Vegas with the top seed.

Portland has a shot at second place if it can also defeat San Francisco and Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s stumbles against Pepperdine and/or LMU. If Portland and Saint Mary’s tie for second with identical 10-4 records, Saint Mary’s would get the semifinal bye on the strength of a higher RPI, but if the Gaels fall to Pepperdine the nod would go to Portland even if Saint Mary’s beats LMU because Pepperdine is so low in the standings. There is a lot riding on the last week of conference play.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on February 9th, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.

1. One team that I believe could make a run for the Final Four that people seem to be slightly ignoring is Wisconsin. The Badgers should be favored in every game the remainder of their schedule other than possibly at Minnesota or at Illinois. Remember, Wisconsin already played their six games against fellow Big Ten contenders Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State and emerged clean with a 3-3 split. Finishing the season on a 6-1 run basically guarantees the Badgers a top-three finish depending on the fortunes of those rival teams and that could put Wisconsin in the tremendous position to play their first two NCAA games in nearby Milwaukee. Bo Ryan’s team is incredibly efficient, ranking in the top-20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’re top-40 in the nation in two-point FG%, FT%, blocks and steals and rank just below in effective FG%. The Badgers boast tremendous computer numbers- #9 RPI, #10 SOS, #53 non-conference SOS- and have three wins against the RPI top-15. Not many teams can match that overall portfolio. Throw in the committee factoring in the Jon Leuer injury, and it’s entirely plausible Wisconsin could go from being predicted ninth in the Big Ten to earning a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Throw Bo Ryan’s name in there along with Jim Boeheim, John Calipari and Steve Alford for National Coach of the Year.

Trevon Hughes has emerged as a star during his senior year

2. One team that no high-major wants to see in the first round of the NCAA Tournament is Siena. We know their recent history of winning tournament games, toppling 4-seed Vanderbilt two years ago and pulling out a 2OT classic over 8-seed Ohio State a season ago largely due to the heroics of Ronald Moore. While the Saints did blow their chances to pick up quality wins out of MAAC play- losing to Northern Iowa, Georgia Tech and Temple- Siena is inching towards the polls, boasting an unblemished 13-0 conference record and a winning streak that stretches back to mid-December. A win in Hinkle Fieldhouse against Butler on February 20 would make it an absolute certainty Siena earns a bid regardless of the MAAC Tournament, but even with a loss the Saints should run through their conference regular season and postseason at 21-0 and garner a seed in the 9-11 range. Other than Kenny Hansbrouck, head coach Fran McCaffrey has nearly his entire squad returning from that Ohio State victory. Moore is averaging an incredible 8.1 APG to lead the nation while Edwin Ubiles appears to be inching towards 100% after a banged-up start to the campaign. Ryan Rossiter has developed into a legitimate low-post threat and effective rebounder and fellow frontcourt mate Alex Franklin is one of the most efficient scorers around. There’s plenty to like with regards to Siena’s chances to pulling off another first round upset: top-50 efficient offense, tremendous coaching, four double-digit scorers and, most notably, the experience of success in March.

3. There are a few reasons why the Atlantic 10 has earned an astonishing six bids in Monday’s bracket: 1) the Pac-10 turning into a one-bid league, 2) Big Ten teams like Michigan and Minnesota disappointing and 3) a mediocre middle of the Big East. Most of all, though, the league is just really good. The top-flight teams all challenged themselves out-of-conference and picked up impressive wins to show for it, from Temple knocking off Villanova, to Richmond downing Missouri and Florida, Rhode Island beating Oklahoma State and Charlotte dominating Louisville in Freedom Hall. With the exception of Rhode Island, all of the other five bid-earners have a win over the RPI top 25, and the Rams have the highest overall RPI of the bunch mostly because they played the 28th strongest non-conference schedule in the nation. Dayton could be the team closest to the bubble; if they had fallen to Xavier at home on Saturday, the Flyers likely would have been on the outside looking in this week. Still, Dayton did beat Georgia Tech in November and if they can split their two challenging road games at Temple and at Richmond in February, Brian Gregory’s team should be in decent shape. I’d fathom that Charlotte is still the most likely team to fall out even if they currently sit at the top of the standings. They barely edged George Washington and Fordham on the road this week and still have four games against these NCAA contenders, including roadies at Dayton and URI.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2009

checkinginon

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.

Standings (through games of 12/16/09)

  1. Saint Mary’s       8-1
  2. Gonzaga        8-2
  3. Portland         6-3
  4. Santa Clara      6-5
  5. San Diego      5-6
  6. Loyola-Marymount    4-7
  7. USF      3-7
  8. Pepperdine    3-8

Mysterious Doings

Although the overall conference landscape didn’t change much within the week, a mystery team has emerged in the form of Loyola Marymount. After stumbling through some early-season highs and lows, including a 67-59 win over cross-town rival USC on Nov. 21 that followed a deflating 84-78 home loss to UC Irvine, the Lions pulled off a stunning 87-85 upset over Notre Dame on Dec. 12 behind a Jared DuBois 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining. To say the Fighting Irish don’t often lose at home to non-Big East teams is a bit of an understatement – the last time it happened was four years and 41 victories ago.

Loyola had been hinting at a major turnaround from last year’s injury-plagued three-win disaster, but had been the epitome of close-but-no-cigar until the Notre Dame game. First of all the Lions restocked with high-profile transfers Drew Viney, a 6-7 sophomore forward from Oregon, and Larry Davis, a 6-4 guard from Seton Hall, and recruits Edgar Garibay, a 6-10 forward from Compton, CA, Alex Osborne, a 6-7 forward from Los Angeles, Given Kalipinde, a 6-3 guard from Zambia, Africa, and Ashley Hamilton, a 6-7 redshirt freshman forward from London. Combined with returning standouts Kevin Young, a 6-8 sophomore forward, Vernon Teel, a 6-4 junior guard, and DuBois, a 6-3 sophomore guard, coach Max Good had a strong nucleus to improve the Lions’ fortunes.

Besides the soul-satisfying win over USC, however, Loyola’s other games were mostly heart-breakers: a 90-87 squeaker to Boise State to open the University of Montana Tournament, topped by an even-closer 64-63 loss to the host Grizzlies; an 89-84 home loss to UC-Santa Barbara, then another crushing 76-70 defeat by Wyoming. Garibay then went down with a torn ACL, Davis missed four games with a heel injury and Kalipinde missed the Notre Dame game with a leg problem, but there is a lot of talent to make WCC foes wary of Loyola as the season moves ahead. With five winnable games (including two with Cal State Bakersfield) before conference play begins, the Lions could be well over .500 by then and ready to cause some serious trouble.

Steady as She Goes

Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga continued to coast atop the league standings, each winning two games in the week. The Gaels got additional bragging rights for the WCC by stopping Oregon 81-76 in Eugene for their third win in three years over the Ducks, and then revenged the league against Portland State of the Big Sky Conference with a 101-80 pasting in Moraga on Dec. 15. Portland State had upended the University of Portland and Pepperdine, both on their home courts, in earlier games, and posted perhaps the biggest upset of last year with a victory over Gonzaga on the Zags’ court.

The constant for the Gaels was center Omar Samhan, who scored 22 against Oregon and 31 against Portland State to go with 25 rebounds in a good week’s work against the state of Oregon. Samhan is averaging over 20 points and 12 rebounds per game in an All-American-caliber season for the Gaels. He became the first player in Saint Mary’s history to have a 30-pt, 15-rebound game, and only the second in all of college hoops this season to record 15 field goals and 15 rebounds in a game. Samhan and his mates have a shot at another WCC-slayer Friday night (Dec. 18) with a home game against Pacific, then head to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Tournament over Christmas.

Gonzaga breezed to wins over a struggling Davidson in the Battle in Seattle and over the NAIA’s Augustana College in Spokane. The only event of note was a knock on the noggin suffered by the Zags’ nonpareil guard Matt Bouldin in the Augustana romp, which kept him out of the Davidson game. Gonzaga made no official announcement about Bouldin’s status but most observers expect him back as the Zags take on #7 Duke Dec. 19 in New York, a chance to improve on their #15 ranking. The Gonzaga-Duke game will be televised nationally at 1 p.m. Pacific time on CBS.

Portland had a quiet week, posting a 72-62 win over Denver University and gearing up for a showdown with 24th-ranked Washington in Seattle on Saturday (Dec. 19). After attaining its first top-25 ranking in 50 years with early-season wins over UCLA, Oregon and Minnesota, Portland dropped out of the rankings with losses to Portland State and Idaho. A win over the Huskies would re-start its once red-hot hopes and set up the Pilots for its final four non-conference games before a conference-opening barn-burner against Gonzaga at home on Jan. 9.

Has Santa Clara turned the corner and readied itself for a run at the conference leaders? With two wins over lightly-regarded foes (Dominican, Houston Baptist), the Broncos headed for Rice in Houston Wednesday with high hopes. The streak stopped there, however, as the Owls hung a 70-57 loss on them. Another question mark team, San Diego, had an up-and-down week that didn’t settle anything as far as the Toreros’ ultimate success. They suffered a tough 82-78 loss to undefeated and #19 New Mexico on Dec. 9 at the Jenny Craig Pavilion, then bounced back with a 59-56 road win over Boise State. It must have seemed like old times for Bill Grier’s troops, as Brandon Johnson drained a jumper with 29 seconds left to seal the win. San Diego heads to Las Vegas for the weekend, with games against Southern Illinois and South Florida in the Holiday Hoops Classic.

For Pepperdine and San Francisco it was more of the same last week. Pepperdine surprised even its harshest critics by managing to lose to an NAIA team, Cal Baptist, by a score of 67-65, to go with an 80-72 loss earlier in the week to Fresno State. USF came close but went down 66-63 to Loyola of Chicago on the road.

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2009

checkinginon

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

Standings

  1. Gonzaga     5-1
  2. Portland      5-1
  3. San Diego      5-2
  4. Saint Mary’s     3-1
  5. Santa Clara     3-3
  6. Pepperdine    3-4
  7. USF    2-4
  8. Loyola-Marymount    2-5

Looking Back

Zags, Pilots, Toreros Notch Tournament Wins to Lead WCC Teams

It has been a tournament-heavy pre-season for the WCC, and it was in venues ranging from Maui to Anchorage to Anaheim that the early-season leaders made their marks. Gonzaga led the charge by winning the venerable Maui Invitational with victories over Colorado (76-72), Wisconsin (74-61) and Cincinnati (61-59) in a hard-fought tournament championship in overtime on Thanksgiving eve. The Zags had padded their resume with early home wins over Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne and Mississippi Valley State, and put the college hoops world on notice that 2009-10 is not a rebuilding year by taking second-ranked Michigan State to the wire in a 75-71 loss in East Lansing, MI on Nov. 17.

In battling Michigan State evenly and winning in Maui, Gonzaga answered the question of how it would replace departed front-line stars Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt. Seven-foot redshirt sophomore Robert Sacre moved commandingly into the post position for the Zags with an eye-opening performance against Michigan State – 17 points in 19 minutes of play limited by foul trouble. In case no one noticed that, they certainly took note of Sacre’s front-line counterpart Elias Harris, who notched 17 points of his own against Michigan State in the first big-game college appearance for the 20-year-old freshman forward who has logged considerable time internationally with the German national team. Harris has emerged as the early star of Mark Few’s collection of international players, which includes Sacre, freshmen Kelly Olynk and Manny Arop from Canada and Bol Kong, also from Canada by way of Sudan.

As much as Sacre and Harris elicited oohs and aahs, it was the Zags’ veteran trio of guards Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson that led them. Bouldin has emerged in his senior year as the indispensible hub through which all things offensive pass for Gonzaga. An intimidating 6-5 guard, Bouldin stage manages the entire offensive show, plus contributes double-figure scoring from both outside and inside. He can spot up for a three-point jumper or take his man off the dribble. Gray, who has struck many observers as a marvelously talented but under-performing member of the Zags offensive show, evidently decided that his junior year was the time to answer the nay-sayers. He has been virtually unstoppable, moving constantly without the ball and receiving Bouldin’s pinpoint passes anywhere from beyond the arc to under the basket. His jump shot is as sweet as ever, but he is infinitely more aggressive and confident this year.  If opponents somehow limit Bouldin and Gray, Goodson might steal the show as he did in the Zags’ impressive win over the fearsome Cincinnati Bearcats in Maui. On a night when Bouldin was struggling on 1-7 shooting and totaled only 6 points, Goodson made key baskets in clutch time to rack up 12 points. Bouldin and Gray shared the MVP trophy in Maui, but Goodson was an unsung hero.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #14 – West Coast

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2009

seasonpreview

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.   Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials.

Predicted Order of Finish:

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

All-Conference Team:

  • Matt Bouldin (G), Gonzaga
  • Kevin Foster (G), Santa Clara
  • Dior Lowhorn (F), USF
  • Kevin Young (F), Loyola
  • Omar Samhan (C), Saint Mary’s

6th man. Nik Raivio, Portland

Impact newcomer. Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s

wcc logoWhat You Need to Know.

  • Going International.  The 2010 season marks the WCC’s most pronounced bow to international athletes, with every team having at least two foreign-born players and two of the predicted top three finishers – Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s – pinning their season hopes on the performance of foreigners. Saint Mary’s gave the trend its biggest boost by establishing an Australian pipeline that produced Daniel Kickert, the Gaels’ all-time leading scorer, and Patty Mills, who opted for the NBA after two sensational seasons. The Gaels continue as the Koala’s best friend this year, with five Aussies expected to make contributions and one, freshman guard Matthew Dellavedova, looming as a potential star.  Gonzaga’s Pacific Northwest pipeline that supplied stars Adam Morrison, Dan Dickau and Blake Stepp, among others, may be temporarily clogged, but the Zags have turned to Canada (Manny Arop, Robert Sacre and Kelly Olynyk), Germany (Elias Harris), and Sudan by way of Canada (Bol Kong), to maintain their position atop the conference. USF joined the crowd in a big way this off-season, luring a Czech (Tomas Bruha), two Frenchmen (Moustapha Diarra, Nikola Stojiljkovic) and a Canadian (Perris Blackwell).
  • Room at the Top: Gonzaga, with nine WCC titles in a row, and Saint Mary’s, a perennial runner-up under Randy Bennett, have dominated the conference in recent years. But Gonzaga lost four of its main contributors from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team (Austin Daye, Josh Heytvelt, Jeremy Pargo and Micah Downs) and Saint Mary’s said goodbye to Mills, all-time leading rebounder and shot-blocker Diamon Simpson, starting forward Ian O’Leary and a trio of valuable back-ups in Yusef Smith, Lucas Walker and Carlin Hughes. That’s why Portland, with all five starters back from last year’s 19-13 team that finished third in the conference, can’t wait to shove its way into the top spot. Santa Clara’s Kerry Keating and USF’s confident newcomer Rex Walters, entering his second year, have recruited aggressively and well, indicating that they, too, are up to challenging Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s in the next few years.
  • Multiple NCAA Bids: The conference was shocked last year when Saint Mary’s, 25-6 overall and second place in the conference behind Gonzaga, did not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, leaving the Zags as the sole WCC entrant. Just the year before, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and San Diego received bids, the first time in anyone’s memory that three teams had gone to The Dance. Whether the conference elevates itself in the NCAA Selection Committee’s eyes in 2009-10 is one of the biggest question marks looming over the season.

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WCC Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2009

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.  He will be reporting from the WCC Tournament this weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Check for his game liveblogs at RTC Live: WCC Tournament throughout the weekend.

A little unexpected news on the injury front has turned what looked to be a rather drab WCC Conference Tournament into a hotbed of excitement. The news concerned the broken right hand of Saint Mary’s star guard Patty Mills, who had been told by his doctor not to count on being ready for the tournament. That was before a visit with the doc on Monday (3/2), at which time Mills was pronounced fit to resume practicing with the Gaels. Current plans from coach Randy Bennett had Mills participating in non-contact drills on Tuesday and Wednesday and full five-on-five scrimmages on Thursday, Friday and maybe even Saturday since Saint Mary’s doesn’t have to be in Las Vegas for its first game until Sunday at 8:30 p.m.

The condition of Mills’ hand is significant because it permits speculation about a possible rematch between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga with revenge and an NCAA tournament bid in the balance. As the number one and number two seeds in the tournament, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s need only to get by a single semifinal contest to face each other for a third time this season in the WCC championship game Monday night, March 9. Their first game on January 29 on Gonzaga’s home court in Spokane was shaping up to be Mills’ finest effort as a collegian, as he rattled the Zags for 18 points in the first 17 minutes of the game. Then as he eluded the Zags’ Jeremy Pargo on a dash into the key, Mills lost his balance and fell to the floor, with his right hand striking the hardwood first. Given the spills taken regularly by the fearless Mills it didn’t seem to be much to be worried about, but appearances were deceiving. He had broken metacarpal bones, requiring surgery, insertion of pins to stabilize the area and fitting of a cast. Things immediately went downhill for the Gaels, who were 18-1 and possessing the nation’s longest active winning streak at 15 heading into the Gonzaga game.

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Checking in on the… WCC

Posted by nvr1983 on February 24th, 2009

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

Bye-Bye Blues
My, my, what an intriguing set of scenarios is emerging in the WCC’s final week to determine the number two seed in the conference tournament. Oh yeah, Gonzaga wrapped up the conference title – its ninth consecutive – with a pair of routine wins over Loyola-Marymount on Thursday (2/19) and Pepperdine on Saturday (2/21).

The two seed is important because the holder gets a bye straight to the conference semifinals. That means no game on Friday, March 6 or the following Saturday – a chance to watch the lower-echelon teams scramble for position from the comfort of the stands. The top two teams play for the first time on Sunday, with the winners advancing to the championship game and chance for the automatic NCAA bid on Monday night in Las Vegas. At this time of year no team wants to play an extra game, and the thought of playing three games in a row over a weekend is daunting. That’s the kind of thing teams do early in the season, in such balmy climes as Honolulu, when they’re fresh.

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Checking in on the… WCC

Posted by nvr1983 on February 16th, 2009

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

There is no drama left in the race for the WCC conference title and favorite’s role heading into the conference tournament – it’s Gonzaga by a landslide – but that doesn’t mean the excitement is over in the West Coast Conference. With Portland’s emergence as a threat to Saint Mary’s for number two behind the Zags and a wild scramble underway to fill out the top four league spots, the last two weeks of play will be interesting.

Here’s how it is shaping up:

Saint Mary’s vs Portland
The Gaels may have righted themselves following the loss of Patty Mills on Jan. 29 by losing a winnable rematch against Gonzaga 72-70 (2/12) and pulling away from Portland in the second half to win 77-65 (2/14), both games in Moraga. Not only did the win over the Pilots give the Gaels as a team a much-needed confidence boost, it may have given even more to sophomore point guard Mickey McConnell. McConnell rebounded from a miserable outing as Mills’ stand-in against Gonzaga – six turnovers and five points is not a line to be remembered – to score 20 against Portland and post a gleaming line: four-for-four from three-point land and six-for-six from the foul line. McConnell has been up and down this year for the Gaels, but may be coming into his own at a crucial time. A coaches’ son from Mesa, AZ, McConnell has held coach Randy Bennett’s praise and confidence since arriving in Moraga, and now has a perfect opportunity to show everyone else what Bennett sees.

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