Stanford Isn’t Ready For The Limelight Yet

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 12th, 2013

Mike Lemaire is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s Stanford vs. BYU game in Palo Alto. 

The season isn’t even a week old and there is still plenty of time to make improvements, but considering the preseason expectations as well as the prolonged NCAA Tournament drought and coaching uncertainty within the program, Stanford’s home game last night against BYU was one the Cardinal really needed to win. It might not have been the Cardinal’s marquee non-conference match-up — that will be a game against Michigan right before Christmas — but it was a nationally televised opportunity for the program to make an early statement against a potential NCAA Tournament team.

Johnny Dawkins Is On The Hot Seat And He Didn't Do Much To Silence His Critics Last Night (credit: Danny Moloshok)

Johnny Dawkins Is On The Hot Seat And He Didn’t Do Much To Silence His Critics Last Night (credit: Danny Moloshok)

Instead, in front of a listless home crowd that was repeatedly drowned out by the BYU contingent, the Cardinal fell flat, losing 112-103 and allowing the Cougars to basically do whatever they wanted to offensively. Led by guards Matt Carlino (26 points on 8-0f-16 shooting), Kyle Collinsworth (14 points and nine assists), and Tyler Haws (31 points on 10-of-18 shooting), the Cougars shot better than 53 percent from the field and repeatedly got into the lane and pushed the tempo to find easy baskets. On the other end of the floor, Stanford scored a lot of points, but they never looked comfortable attacking BYU’s zone defense and, despite its obvious size advantage, ended up settling for a lot of long and contested jump shots.

Don’t make the mistake of pinning all of the blame on Stanford’s shortcomings, because the Cougars are a really good team. Haws is a legitimate All-American candidate and when Carlino and Collinsworth get going and are able to create offense by attacking the rim, BYU is going to be tough to stop. But Stanford wasn’t overmatched in any facet of the game, they just looked confused and uncertain on both ends of the floor while some of head coach Johnny Dawkins‘ moves exacerbated the issues.

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Pac-12 Team Preview: Oregon Ducks

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on November 4th, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.

Oregon Ducks

Strengths. The talent that Dana Altman has assembled in the post can compete with anyone in the Pac-12. Headlining that frontcourt is UNLV transfer Mike Moser, who just might be the biggest one-year pickup in the country this season. Moser is the fifth senior to transfer into Altman’s program in the past three years, and he brings star power, quickness and explosiveness as a face-up four along with him. Starting at small forward will be Northwest Florida State transfer Elgin Cook. Cook is replacing the do-everything E.J. Singler, and he provides a varied skill set that gives point guard Dominic Artis a lot of options. Finally, there’s forward/center Ben Carter. Carter may be the least talented of the trio at the start of the year, but he is highly-valued in Eugene as the designated “hustle player,” much like Arsalan Kazemi last season.

Moser Will Get A Chance To Fly Above California As A Member Of The Ducks In 2012-13 (credit: Stephen Lam)

Moser Will Get A Chance To Fly Above California As A Member Of The Ducks In 2012-13 (credit: Stephen Lam)

Weaknesses. As good as those above three will be in the post, the depth behind them is incredibly thin. With a solid one-two punch at the one and two and talent at small and power forward, the backups in the frontcourt could be the thing that drops this team from a top two Pac-12 finish to in the top four. Senior Richard Armadi has the body of a center but will have to play at the four, and sometimes even the three, because of the lack of depth. Armadi has some raw talent but it may be tough to display in a new role. And that’s the highlight of the second-string forwards and centers. Junior Jalil Abdul-Bassit and redshirt freshman Arik Armstead will also see time in the post, but only when needed.

Non-Conference Tests. All of Oregon’s acquired talent will be on full display on opening night in a made-for-ESPN tilt with Georgetown from Camp Humphreys, South Korea. Things ease up a bit after that, but a four-game stretch in mid-December may be one of the toughest in the Pac. Oregon goes to Mississippi, then meets Illinois in Portland before finishing the stretch by hosting a pair of likely NCAA Tournament teams, UC Irvine and BYU.

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Breaking Down Pac-12 Non-Conference Schedules: Colorado and Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 15th, 2013

October is here, and that means we are just weeks away from real, live basketball games. In order to prepare you for the first two months of the season, we’re going to break down all 12 non-conference slates over the next couple of weeks. Up next; the schools in the Rockies.

Teams are listed in order of which they will be played. Last season’s RPI in parenthesis. Potential opponents (one round in advance) are italicized. All times listed are Pacific.

Colorado

Cream of the Crop: vs. Baylor (70) in Dallas, vs. Harvard (92), vs. Kansas (5), Oklahoma State (27) in Las Vegas

Tad Boyle And The Buffaloes Will Renew Rivalries With Three Former Big 12 Conference Foes

Tad Boyle And The Buffaloes Will Renew Rivalries With Three Former Big 12 Conference Foes

For a team with high expectations, Tad Boyle has put together a schedule worthy of the attention. They begin with a talented Baylor team on what amounts to the sport’s opening night, but that’s just the first of three quality games against former Big 12 rivals. Their two biggest non-conference games are the other two of those three games, against the two favorites in the Big 12, with Kansas coming to Boulder on December 7, and the Buffaloes meeting Oklahoma State in Las Vegas two weeks later. The good news is that none of those games are true road games, so the Buffs should find a way to win at least one of those three against the Big 12; if they win two, they’re golden. But, just in case everything goes to hell against those Big 12 teams, the Buffs do get a chance to welcome in a Harvard team that has the chance to be a fixture in the Top 25 for much of the year; the bad part is that the Crimson are a team that could give CU all they can handle.

Solid Names: vs. Wyoming (73), @ Air Force (79), @ Colorado State (18), vs. Georgia (140)

Aside from the big names on the schedule, the Buffaloes will also face three Mountain West teams and one SEC team. The bad news there is that none of these teams are expected to be NCAA Tournament contenders this season. Nevertheless, wins over these four teams, especially those two tough in-state roadies, could help bolster the team’s RPI numbers.

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Breaking Down Pac-12 Non-Conference Schedules: Oregon and Oregon State

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 9th, 2013

October is here, and that means we are just weeks away from real, live basketball games. In order to prepare you for the first two months of the season, we’re going to break down all 12 non-conference slates over the next couple of weeks. Up next; the Oregon schools.

Teams are listed in order of which they will be played. Last season’s RPI in parenthesis. Potential opponents (one round in advance) are italicized. All times listed are Pacific.

Oregon

Dana Altman's Oregon Team Is On The Rise, But They Have A Few Tests To Handle Before Pac-12 Play Begins In January. (credit: Alex Brandon)

Dana Altman’s Oregon Team Is On The Rise, But They Have A Few Tests To Handle Before Pac-12 Play Begins In January. (credit: Alex Brandon)

Cream of the Crop: vs Georgetown (11), vs Illinois (40)

Oregon has managed to get two high profile, neutral site games on its non-conference schedule. The Ducks will face Georgetown on opening night at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, in a game to be televised by ESPN. The Hoyas finished 2012-13 with a 25-7 record and notched six victories over Top 25 opponents. Of course, the last time we saw Georgetown, it was getting dunked all over by Florida Gulf Coast in an NCAA Tournament opener. Oregon’s second marquee opponent is Illinois, who they will meet in Portland on December 14 at 6:00 PM in a game also televised by the ESPN family of networks. It looked as if this would be a return game for former Oregon State point guard Ahmad Starksbut his transfer waiver was denied last week by the NCAA. The Fighting Illini are still loaded at guard, with both Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand returning.

Solid Names: San Francisco (167), Pacific (97), Cal Poly (164), @ Mississippi (48), UC Irvine (126), BYU (63)

Mississippi headlines the second group, and the Ducks and Rebels will meet December 8 in Oxford. The game will tipoff at 2:00 PM and be carried by ESPNU. Dynamite senior Marshall Henderson is back after leading Ole Miss with 20.1 PPG last year, and while the guard is currently suspended, he will likely be back by December. Outside of him, however, the Rebels are pretty thin, and a finish in the lower half of the SEC is likely. BYU presents a challenge for Oregon. The Ducks and Cougars will play December 21 in Eugene, and the team that won 24 games in the 2012-13 campaign is expected to compete with Gonzaga for the WCC title. Pacific is the only other team on Oregon’s non-conference slate with a double digit RPI.

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Morning Five: 09.26.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 26th, 2013

morning5

  1. A random late September day was an odd time for the tried-and-true “baseball model” argument to once again rear its ugly head, but Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney did his part in making a discussion of one-and-done headline-worthy on Wednesday. His stated premise is one that we’ve heard hundreds of times before: that the NBA (and interestingly, he also mentions the NFL, which is usually immune from this argument) and colleges should work together to allow elite basketball and football players to enter the “pro ranks” — whether through the minor leagues, IMG training, or whatever else — immediately out of high school. As he puts it, “if an athlete wants to professionalize themselves, professionalize themselves.” Forgetting the dripping irony implicit in comments from someone who has done more to “professionalize” his conference than any other administrator, he relies on the value of collegiate “brands that have been built over 100 years” to suggest that college athletics will be just fine without the star power of Nerlens Noel, Anthony Bennett, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, and the rest. Here’s the thing: they won’t be. While it’s true that Michigan fans will continue to watch Michigan football in the same way that Kentucky fans will watch Kentucky basketball regardless of the talent wearing those uniforms, the rest of the country will not. Casual fans of both sports want to see stars, the “next big thing,” and as we already know from the awful preps-to-pros era of college basketball (roughly 1997-2005), the game suffered as a result of the loss of its best players before they ever made it to campus.
  2. Now, this isn’t to say at all that league rules forcing basketball players to spend a “gap year” between high school and the pros in college, overseas, or in the D-League is fair to them either — the above argument relates more to what’s best for the sport of college basketball rather than the elite players themselves. As such, Dana O’Neil gives the flip side of the debate, which is to ask what true positive effect does that single year between the ages of 18 and 19 have on NBA Draftable players like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker? She figures that Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel lost approximately $2 million as a result of his knee injury last season, but she doesn’t address the money that #1 pick Anthony Bennett made for himself because of his one successful year at UNLV (the same dichotomy might be shown in a comparison between the stock drop of UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad versus the rise of Kansas’ Ben McLemore). Still, her point about the NBA protecting itself from draft mistakes is a salient one — teams hope to avoid the next Kwame Brown by evaluating men playing against other men — but her underlying question as to “the point” of the one year in college seems forced. The point is that the one-and-done rule is actually better for nearly all parties involved except for the tiny percentage of highly-evaluated high schoolers whose stock ends up dropping during that one season — it’s better for the NBA, its teams, college basketball, its teams, and even some of the players themselves (the ones, like Anthony Bennett and Kyrie Irving, whom it helps). Two years would be even better.
  3. We mentioned yesterday that SI.com‘s Andy Glockner is unveiling his top 20 current college basketball programs this week, using a methodology that includes historical and contemporary success, sustainability, budget, facilities, league affiliation, fan base, and recruiting pipeline. The biggest surprise in our view in the #16-20 grouping was the inclusion of Illinois at #19, but his latest group has a couple more interesting placements. At #15 was Memphis, which no doubt has a great fan base and facilities, but my goodness, it’s tough to swallow a program that has underachieved relative to its talent in each of its head coach’s four seasons on campus. The other peculiar placement is certainly UCLA at #12, behind a football-first school of Florida at #11 and back-to-back Sweet Sixteens Indiana (somewhere in the top 10). With a brand new Pauley Pavilion, this is probably based on some hesitation about Steve Alford as the new head man in Westwood, but if he can prove to have even an average recruiting touch in Southern California, it would be hard to buy this program falling outside the top 10. We’re looking forward to his rankings on Thursday — how will he handle North Carolina and Syracuse — do they fall into the second five behind Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisville and Michigan State?
  4. Arkansas‘ Bud Walton Arena suffered a good bit of water damage due to torrential rains in the area last Friday, and as a result the men’s and women’s basketball teams have been forced to hold preseason practice sessions at the school’s PE/Rec building. While flooding of a school’s home arena isn’t a typical occurrence, the outsourcing of the team’s workouts to the intramural courts highlights the school’s need for a permanent basketball practice facility. Arkansas remains the only of the 14 SEC programs without one, and the Razorbacks’ 15-year long dalliance with mediocrity is partially to blame, especially from a recruiting standpoint. The damage to the arena isn’t expected to be long-term, certainly good news for the Fayette-nam Rim Rockers and all the other intramural stalwarts tired of ceding their best courts to the SEC’s most middling program.
  5. One of the best health stories of the past few years in our sport has been that of BYU’s Dave Rose. He was one of the very small percentage of survivors of pancreatic cancer, having a large tumor removed from the organ back in 2009. He recently spent another few days in the hospital after a six-month scan revealed a few more cancerous spots on his pancreas, and the Salt Lake Tribune filled us in on how he is feeling heading into a new season. Rose has proven to be someone with an eminently positive attitude, and it shines through in the piece. Still, a relapse from his remission with such an aggressive disease is cause for concern. We will certainly send equally positive thoughts his way, and hope for the best as his team heads into what should be a quite promising season on the hardwood.
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Morning Five: 09.10.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 10th, 2013

morning5

  1. We are still trying to piece together the news about BYU coach Dave Rose, who reportedly had “cancerous spots” removed during a semi-annual screening that he has after being diagnosed with a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor in 2009. By its nature, this finding was likely asymptomatic and given the vague nature of the description we do not even know where these “cancerous spots” were located in his gastrointestinal tract. However, based on the report the intervention appears to have been successful and Rose is expected to be back with the team by October 7 when they officially start practice.
  2. After a year spent in NCAA Tournament purgatory for their low APR scores Connecticut seems primed to potentially make a run this coming March. Those plans appear to have taken a slight detour after the school announced that forward Tyler Olander had been suspended indefinitely for what was initially reported to be a violation of team rules (later found out to be a DUI). Although Olander put up modest numbers last season (4.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game) he was expected to play significant minutes for a team that is lacking on depth on the inside. We are unsure of how long Olander’s suspension will last, but we suspect that it will be for at least a few games since Olander was also arrested in March for trespassing while on Spring Break in Panama City.
  3. One would think that being the head of a program that was embarrassed in front of a national audience less than half a year ago would you a pariah, but that does not appear to be the case of recently disgraced Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti. Pernetti, who was widely blamed for the school’s failure to react to Mike Rice’s actions, has somehow landed a job as Chief Business Officer of New York City Football Club. Now we have no idea how prestigious the job is (obviously it is a step down from Rutgers), but the fact that he was able to land a job with a professional sports team (ok, they don’t start playing until 2015) speaks volumes for how easily administrators and business people are willing to overlook such ridiculous behavior.
  4. We have been critical of the ways that colleges recruit and get commitments out of kids who are often still in middle school. So it may come as a surprise that we support the decision by Bradley to sign two brothers who are still in elementary school. The decision to sign the brothers–Johnah and Jarrett Sahrs–is not the result of some ridiculous YouTube video or even some coach looking to make a recruiting splash, but instead it is the result of five year-old Johnah’s 18-month battle with a high-grade neuroblastoma that he has fought with Jarrett, his nine year-old brother by his side. Obviously, these two have much bigger things to deal with than being part of the Bradley basketball team, but it was a nice touch by the school to help lift their spirits.
  5. If you are a Louisville fan and/or want to support a good cause, the school is selling pieces of this past season’s Final Four floor with proceeds going towards pediatric cancer research. With prices ranging for $99.99 for a 9″ x 12″ plaque with a section of floor on it to $499.99 for a 18″ x 13″ piece signed by Rick Pitino (“limited” to only 1,000 pieces) there is a pretty good chance that this sale will top the $200,000 that Kentucky reportedly earned last year for a similar sale. While the $499.99 price might seem ridiculous to some it is going towards a good cause and given the state of the economy (or at least the stock market) we wouldn’t be surprised to see many of those pieces sell.
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Early Look: Ranking the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon’s Top Five Matchups

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 13th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Covering college basketball year-round can, in the months not filled with actual college basketball, turn into a scavenger hunt for interesting topics to write about. We’ve just about hit the nadir of the offseason college hoops news cycle, and trust me, the next month or so could get even worse. Luckily, ESPN came through early this week with a totally awesome diversion – its release of the schedule, ordered in lockstep with the actual succession of games three months from now, for the 2013 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon, which begins at 7:00 PM on November 11. It’s become annual appointment viewing for college basketball dorks, myself humbly included, and the match-ups this year are just as enticing, if not more so, than anything the Mothership has lined up since the event’s christening. Now that I’ve explained the basics, and there’s nothing else to do during this offseason dry spell but anxiously await the start of games this fall, it’s as good a time as any to pick out the Marathon’s very best games, five of them – which will only have the effect of intensifying your craving for the beginning of the season. But hey, I pine for November just as much as you do. With our mutual longing for the upcoming season now recognized, let’s look ahead to one of the year’s best non-conference events. I’ll be waiting, caffeine and sugary comestibles in hand, buttocks planted to padded recliner, cathartically rejoicing after a long offseason spent, well, doing this.

The Marathon’s final match-up could be one of the best games of the season, full stop. (USA Today)

1. Duke vs. Kansas (November 12, 10:00 PM ET, ESPN)

This selection could have been predicted when ESPN released its highly-anticipated Champions Classic duo a long while ago. There are two match-ups to consider here. First, we get two of the most culturally impactful, nationally successful, blueblood-identifiable programs in the country squaring off in a potential Final Four, or even National Championship, preview. These teams are going to be good. The top-ranked freshmen they inherited this season are even better. Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins are the main attractions — not just of this game, but of the entire college hoops season writ large; both are expected to enjoy wildly successful one-year stints in college, lead their respective teams on deep NCAA Tournament runs and land a spot in the NBA Draft lottery shortly thereafter. That process will get its formal introduction this November, in the second half of the Champion Classic’s cant-miss double-header (which coincides with the finale of the Tip-off Marathon). If you’re limiting your Marathon sampling size to just one game – first things first: I strongly urge you to reconsider – this is the game of choice, no doubt about it. It’s been a long time since college basketball has seen so much freshmen star power this enticing enter its ranks. Watching the very best of it, two generational NBA franchise-changers, going head-to-head during the first month of the season is a treat no fixture on the 2013-14 hoops calendar can possibly hope to live up to. Maybe the Final Four. Other than that? Nah.

2. Kentucky vs. Michigan State (November 12, 7:30 PM ET, ESPN)

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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on March 6th, 2013

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

WCC Tournament Preview

Untitled

Is there anything else to the WCC Tournament this week (March 6-11) in Las Vegas besides the official coronation of Gonzaga as absolute masters of the league and lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament?

Maybe, maybe not.

No doubt the format of the WCC tourney favors the Zags, as they won’t play until Saturday and will most likely face the winner of a Santa Clara/San Francisco tussle on Friday. The Zags fared better against Santa Clara than they did against San Francisco in the conference season, holding off a spirited upset bid in Santa Clara before winning 81-74, then demolishing the Broncos at home last week, 85-42.

Against San Francisco, the Zags won by “only” 14 at home (66-52), then ended a three-year history of losing in San Francisco by topping the Dons 71-61 on their home court. Whichever team survives the quarterfinals will be a heavy underdog against Gonzaga, as the Zags have been gaining momentum and can’t wait for the NCAA Tournament to begin to cement the #1 national ranking accorded them this week by both the AP and the USA Today/Coaches polls. Pencil Gonzaga in for the tournament championship game on Monday before a nationwide ESPN audience at 6:00 PM Pacific time.

The play of Kelly Olynk and Matthew Dellavedova will be key in deciding the eventual WCC tournament champion

The play of Kelly Olynyk and Matthew Dellavedova will be key in deciding the WCC tournament champ

But who will they face in that game, and will it be a meaningful contest? Read the rest of this entry »

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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 27th, 2013

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

Looking Back

Appreciating Assets – Solid weeks by Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, plus a rebound by Santa Clara, marked the WCC’s next-to-last week in the regular season. All three teams enjoyed a rise in prospects, although the degree of ascent differed greatly.

Gonzaga, by tearing through Santa Clara (85-42) and San Diego (81-50) while #2 Miami sleepwalked through a pasting (80-65) from lowly Wake Forest, moved into the #2 position in both the AP and USA Today Coaches polls, the highest ranking ever for the Bulldogs. It is of a piece with a dazzling season that has seen, among other triumphs: a return to the top of the WCC after Saint Mary’s won the undisputed title last year; the highest number of regular-season wins in its history (27), with two conference games to go; and an undefeated conference record, only the third time in its history as a Division I team if it holds up. In addition, it is a given among most bracketologists that Gonzaga is a compelling favorite to be the #1 West seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, meaning the Zags will make an easy trip from Spokane to San Jose or Salt Lake City for the opening two rounds of the tournament.

Could the nation's #1 overall ranking be in the cards for Kevin Pangos, Kelly Olynyk and Gonzaga? (Getty)

Could the nation’s #1 overall ranking be in the cards for Kevin Pangos, Kelly Olynyk and Gonzaga? (Getty)

Saint Mary’s may have removed itself from the shadow of the NCAA Bubble Watch by defeating BYU (74-67) and Creighton (74-66) at home last week, giving the Gaels a much-needed quality win over the previously high-ranked Creighton Bluejays and moving them into #23 in the Coaches poll. Of course, with the Gaels this year nothing comes easily, so the favorable comments on their chances are couched in must-dos: win the remaining two games on the WCC schedule (Pepperdine on the road and Santa Clara at home), and get to the finals of the WCC Tournament March 6-11 in Las Vegas. In a comment on the Darwinian nature of the competition for at-large berths in the NCAA Tourney, Creighton may have fallen from lock status to bubble team itself with the loss to Saint Mary’s.

Santa Clara, which has had more ups and downs than perhaps any 20-game winner in the country, could have taken an eight-count against Portland last Saturday after being eviscerated by Gonzaga two nights earlier. The 45-point loss to the Zags was its worst since 1998, but the Broncos rebounded for a 75-63 win over Portland and a sweep of that series to go with three other sweeps – against Pepperdine, San Francisco and San Diego. The latter sweep is important because the Broncos have a two-game lead over the Toreros with two games to go in a race for fourth place and a bye in the first round of the WCC Tournament. Third place is not out of the Broncos’ reach, as they enter the last week just one game behind BYU.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (14-0, 27-2): The Zags are not just defeating conference foes these days, they are annihilating them. That is not good news for upcoming opponents BYU, in Provo on Feb. 28, and Portland, in Spokane on March 2. BYU might be playing for its last shot at an at-large NCAA berth, but even a gritty effort against Saint Mary’s came up short and the Cougars may not have enough left in the tank to stall an onrushing Gonzaga. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 19th, 2013

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

Looking Back

Then There Was One: Gonzaga romped past its most challenging week in WCC play, throttling Saint Mary’s, 77-60, and holding off San Francisco, 71-61, and left little drama for the remainder of the conference season. The Zags have a moderately difficult game in Provo on February 28 against BYU, following what should be two routine wins at home against Santa Clara and San Diego, and one could make a case that BYU will be desperate for a season-saving win. Even if BYU pulls off the upset, however, it will be too late to do the Zags any harm, either to their conference standing or their national reputation. The win over Saint Mary’s gave them an effective two-game lead (the Zags have a final game on March 2 against barely-competitive Portland to bring their conference record in line with Saint Mary’s), and it would take a monumental collapse to overcome that. Not going to happen.

Kelly Olynyk was his usual dominant self against the Gaels (USA Today)

Kelly Olynyk was his usual dominant self against the Gaels. (USA Today)

Although it ended in anti-climax with the Zags outscoring the Gaels 21-8 over the last six minutes after Saint Mary’s pulled to within four at 56-52 on a Matthew Dellavedova three-pointer, the Saint Mary’s-Gonzaga contest was not without its drama. For one thing the setting was college basketball tension at its best, with a packed and fevered McKeon Pavilion urging on the Gaels. As Saint Mary’s fought back from an early deficit behind Dellavedova’s 19 first-half points, the building seemed about to explode when Jordan Guisti’s three-pointer gave Saint Mary’s its first lead, 33-30, with less than two seconds left in the half. It would have made an interesting scientific experiment: How much noise can a crowd of some 3,500 crammed into a smallish gymnasium create? There was no personal conversation possible, just a wall of ear-thumping sound reverberating in the building.

The Gaels would take a one-point lead into the break after two Kevin Pangos free throws, but in the end it was too much Kelly Olynyk, whose 17 points and seven rebounds do not adequately describe his dominance. Olynyk had his hands on seemingly every rebound, batted ball and misdirected pass in the game, keeping offensive sets alive, disrupting passing lanes and scoring when necessary. He was, literally, larger than life in Moraga and that meant death for the Gaels and their chances of defending their WCC championship of a year ago.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (12-0, 25-2): The Zags will be forgiven if they were watching for the two national polls on Monday, as they had a chance to move up in both the AP and USA Today/Coaches Polls. They did move up on AP, from five to three, but held at three in the USA Today poll. All of college basketball was watching the Saint Mary’s game to judge the Zags in a difficult situation, and their performance should have removed all doubts.  Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 14th, 2013

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

Looking Back

Walk-on Wonders – There are many undiscovered threads in any college basketball season, but one of the most significant hidden stories in this year’s WCC race is the role that walk-ons have played in the battle between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga for conference supremacy. By now everyone (or at least everyone who has viewed an ESPN telecast) knows the story of Gonzaga’s hard-nosed redshirt senior forward, Mike Hart. A walk-on through friendship with some of Gonzaga’s scholarship players, Hart eventually worked his way into a starting position and, for a brief time, a scholarship of his own (he gave it up this year to facilitate a bumper crop of recruits). He doesn’t score much in his 16 or so minutes per game – he’s made 14 of 23 shots this year – but he affects the game through dogged work on defense and the boards.

Jordan Giusti has proved that hard work and dedication goes pay off (Saint Mary's athletics)

Jordan Giusti has proved that hard work and dedication goes pay off (Saint Mary’s athletics)

Hart has an analogue in Saint Mary’s redshirt junior forward Beau Levesque. Lightly recruited after a stellar career at East Bay powerhouse De La Salle High School, Levesque was a walk-on with an agenda – to become an integral part of Randy Bennett’s program. He made a splash in the Gaels’ Sweet Sixteen run in 2010, playing in all three NCAA tournament games, then sweated out his sophomore year with surgeries on both hips. As a redshirt sophomore last year he showed more promise in nearly 10 minutes per game, but he has blossomed this season into an outright star and potential all-WCC performer, averaging 11.0 PPG and 4.5 RPG in a little more than 20 minutes per game. He has had outbursts of 24 points on 6-of-7 three-point shooting against Santa Clara and 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting against San Diego.

For pure rags-to-riches drama, however, it doesn’t get any better than the story of Saint Mary’s other premier walk-on, redshirt freshman guard Jordan Giusti. Giusti was another East Bay standout (San Ramon Valley High School, alma mater of the Gaels’ Omar Samhan) who fell under everyone’s scouting radar except Bennett’s, and the Saint Mary’s coach thought enough of Giusti to ask him to redshirt his freshman year – unusual for a walk-on. He made a big splash in the Gaels’ December 31 home game against Harvard, showing down Harvard’s excellent freshman guard Siyani Chambers, and eventually forcing a turnover against Chambers that played a key part in the Gaels’ 70-69 victory. He has since become an indispensable part of the Gaels’ attack, giving Bennett a defensive stopper and allowing the coach to rest the other Gael guards, including do-everything whiz Matthew Dellavedova. With Giusti contributing in every game, Bennett has a more rested and versatile guard tandem than in any time in the past several years as the conference race goes down to the wire.

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ATB: Illini Come Up Huge, Wolters Drops 53 Points, and Missouri’s Plight…

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 8th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Stay Away From Number One. My best advice for teams trying to avoid losses: stay out of the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll. Every team should take the floor on a given night with that underlying objective – winning games is a generally good thing, I’d wager – which makes that logic a really interesting counterfactual. The only way to reach the top is by winning games, but if every team to inherit No. 1 dating back to January 7 (when Duke opened up the week at No. 1 for the fourth consecutive week) has gone on to surrender the ranking in the seven days that followed, it begs the question: are teams better off avoiding the coveted weekly AP crown? Of course not. That preamble was, in essence, a roundabout way to introduce you to the latest slain No. 1. On Monday, upon the AP poll’s customary afternoon release, it will be official – especially if Indiana falls at Ohio State Sunday. The Hoosiers were the main storyline from Thursday night, but they weren’t the only one.

Your Watercooler Moment. A Win Illinois Needed.

There is only one way to go about discussing Illinois’ win over No. 1 Indiana Thursday night. It is a season-defining moment. The Illini were fading fast in Big Ten play, descending into NIT territory far quicker than anyone could have imagined after an excellent nonconference season, but as we’ve seen time and again this time of year, one win can change everything. This win – which saw Illinois rip off a 13-2 run with under four minutes remaining after being down by double digits for most of the second half – changes the conversation around Illinois. It brings renewed optimism to a conference season that, up until Thursday night, had done more harm than good to the Illini’s Tournament chances. The road ahead doesn’t get any easier, and Illinois will need to improve its still-lacking 3-7 league record. But with a win of this magnitude in your back pocket, Illinois’ view on the rest of the season changes considerably. The final eight regular season games and Big Ten Tournament are no longer about hunting upset wins. The Illini got that Thursday night. From here on out, John Groce’s team needs to handle business against equal-to-inferior competition (Purdue, at Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska, at Iowa), watch the bubble soften up around them and sit back as its solid computer figures and stable of marquee wins carry them over the finish line. Those above games aren’t guarantees – such games don’t exist in this year’s Big Ten. But Illinois is more than capable of handling all of them. Few wins will mean more on Selection Sunday than this one; Illinois is back in the discussion, at the very least, and depending on how the at-large picture shakes out over the next month, the Illini could look back to Thursday as the night they sealed their Tournament fate.

Your quick Hits…

  • Wolters Goes For 53. Few mid-to-low major players in today’s college game hold as much national appeal as Wolters. Not to the casual post-Superbowl Hoops crowd; rather, he is something of a college hoops nerd’s cult fascination, for reasons understandable and not. On Thursday night, he did something memorable. Something that will stick with Wolters for the rest of his basketball-playing career. He scored a Division-I season-high 53 points. He converted nine three point shots, and 17 total field goals. He expanded the Wolters legend into a tangible and largely appreciable concept for college hoops fans previously unaware of his brilliance. Wolters is an excellent basketball player, but no one – not even the most ardent Wolters’ supporters – saw this coming.

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