RTC Summer Updates: West Coast Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 5th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our first update is from the West Coast Conference and comes courtesy of Will Green, an editor and writer with The Slipper Still Fits.

Readers’ Take One

Summer Storylines

  • Brigham Young University Joins The Conference: When this story was first reported back in September, it was largely forgotten. BYU’s move was a football one with basketball repercussions, not the other way around. If anyone was talking about the Cougars, the dialogue was centered around how much money it would receive from it slew of nationally televised football contests this coming fall, and how many years the vaunted program would remain as an independent before choosing to join another league, securing even more lucrative contracts. The move, however, might make a greater impact on the collegiate basketball landscape than the football one, competitively speaking. For one thing, resident king Gonzaga’s streak of conference championships – which is older than most of your children – or at least its general reputation as the WCC’s top dog, is seriously endangered.  With Jimmer Fredette seizing all available national attention like a Venus flytrap, lost on many fans last year was the fact BYU was not merely a fortuitous program enjoying an unusually good year. The Cougars have been a top 40 RPI team since 2006, with a pair of top 20 finishes. That’s not a second Gonzaga — that’s better than Gonzaga. They also bring by far the largest student body and largest fan base that the league has ever seen. Indeed, the league can leverage BYU’s prominence to grow its influence and scope (more on that later). Despite being a “football move,” BYU’s departure from the Mountain West Conference is not, as so many of the recent realignment moves have been, a casualty of circumstance. The aforementioned “repercussions” became a mutually beneficial improvement for both the Cougars and the league. Credit alert diplomacy and geographical convenience to why commissioner Jamie Zaninovichwas able to lure a team into his league that’s also, statistically speaking, better than any team in his current league.

    Brandon Davies, if Reinstated by BYU, is an X-Factor for the Cougars in 2011-12 (Getty/E. Miller)

  • The League Gets A New TV contract: Over the course of the 2000s, the WCC did a remarkable thing: It became the most widely televised college basketball league of all the leagues in the West, while being only the fourth highest-rated league by RPI of the six in the region. Resident behemoth Pac-12 trusted its games to the insipid hands of Fox Sports’ cluster of regional networks. The Mountain West conference was largely marooned out on “The Mtn,” a network that truncated both its name and its audience by being available in a far more limited number of homes than the heavy-hitting Pac-12. The Western Athletic Conference enjoyed the occasional ESPNU game. The WCC, on the other hand, had its most intriguing matchups beamed into peoples’ living rooms in prime time on Thursday and Saturday nights (and for a time, on Big Monday) via ESPN or ESPN2. Both sides had such a good time putting the whole mess together that when their previous contract expired on June 1, it took exactly one week to renegotiate an eight-year extension. The new deal increases the amount of ESPN games featuring WCC teams by an average of at least five per year, possibly much more, and is spread across Thursday, Saturday and select Monday nights. While some critics contend the new ESPN contract isn’t much of an improvement over the previous one, their voices were provoked loudest during the rather dwarfing aftershock of the Pac-12’s mammoth deal with the same network. While this upcoming season could mark the first time in a long while that the WCC won’t be the most-watched west coast league, the league strengthened its relationship with ESPN and is poised to showcase what should be its most successful year ever in front of its widest audience to date.  In an era of scrambling realignment and a fragile economic landscape, this is a still a huge win.
  • The University of San Diego Suffers A Bribery Scandal: In April, this story looked crippling. San Diego had just finished one of the worst seasons by any WCC team ever when news broke that Toreros’ all-time leading scorer and current Memphis Grizzlies protégé, Brandon Johnson, was allegedly used to solicit current USD player Ken Rancifer on behalf of a delinquent named Steven Goria and several others to fix a game against the University of Portland on February 24. Also revealed was the news that Johnson himself had allegedly fixed a game during his senior season one year earlier. The good news for USD is that the story is quickly losing momentum, due in large part to the recent news that the 2011 team has largely been cleared of wrongdoing (Rancifer turned down the bribe from those attempting to fix the game) Repercussions from the 2010 game will ensue once the FBI is done investigating the entire case, and could involve recruiting sanctions or a postseason ban. Frankly, the Toreros are so deep in the throes of rebuilding that they might not enjoy any such postseason for the NCAA to ban in the first place. All told, this could have been much, much worse for USD. The true damage of the scandal is neither physical nor fiscal, but is still potentially very heavy. While it’s growing steadily, the WCC is not yet a national brand and one dominant negative story can define the WCC and USD for a large group of fans who aren’t very familiar with a non-power six league that’s on TV after they go bed. Show-stealing years from perennial contenders like Gonzaga and BYU, as well as postseason disruptiveness by the likes of St. Mary’s and Santa Clara, would be a good first step toward taking casual fans’ focus off of the scandal. Of course, if USD itself can somehow bounce back from a 6-24 record and win a few games they’re not supposed to, they just might turn themselves into national feel-good story.

Power Rankings Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 21st, 2010

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

[ed note: this post was written prior to Tuesday night's games.]

A Look Back

Just like everywhere else, it was a sleepy week around the conference in terms of the number of games, as the student-athletes leaned more to the student side of the equation this week. TCU hasn’t even played a game since the last time we did this, and only two teams around the conference, UNLV and Wyoming, played more than one game this week. But still, there were some eventful games around the conference as, among other things, the number of undefeated teams in the conference dropped again after UCLA upset BYU at the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, leaving San Diego State as the sole remaining unblemished team. The Aztecs, meanwhile, took UC Santa Barbara out behind the woodshed just days after the Gauchos handed UNLV their second loss of the year in improbable fashion. Elsewhere, New Mexico is now whole, getting junior forward Drew Gordon eligible for his first game of the year, and the four-team race for the conference title is fully joined, with SDSU remaining the favorite.

  • Team of the Week: San Diego State – There was just one game for the Aztecs this week, but they handled it with ease, as they had six players score in double figures on the way to a 26-point blowout of a UC Santa Barbara team that had just done in UNLV three days earlier. The Aztecs bounced back from their first really bad shooting night of the season against Cal Poly last Monday by shooting lights out against the Gauchos, going for a 66.7 effective field goal percentage, including 12 threes on 24 attempts – quite the turnaround from the 0-18 effort against Cal Poly. Of some concern for head coach Steve Fisher was his Aztecs were outrebounded by the Gauchos, including an 18-11 margin on the offensive glass, but that is easily glossed over when you’re shooting at such a remarkable clip. The Aztecs now sport the second-longest winning streak in the nation (behind Duke’s 20-game run), and have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the MWC teams as the favorite for the regular season conference title.
  • Player of the Week: Will Clyburn, Junior, Utah – 22 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four threes, including the game-winner with 11 seconds left, capping a furious second-half comeback against Boise State. Yup – That’ll earn the Player of the Week award. Clyburn continued his spectacular season this week with perhaps his most complete game of the year (although given some of the lines he’s posted, it’s a tough task to pick just one) and he continues to lead the Utes in points, rebounds, steals, threes and three-point shooting percentage.
  • Newcomer of the Week: Clyburn.
  • Game of the Week: UC Santa Barbara 68, UNLV 62 – While the Utah win over Boise State perhaps had the most exciting ending, and the BYU-UCLA game had its share of action as well, this curious loss by the Rebels at home against UCSB deserves a closer look. This was a game of widely varied statistics, with each side doing some things very well and some things very poorly on the way to this final score. For instance, in just looking at the field goal percentages, you would think that UCSB won this game by more than six points as they hit 50% of their shots while the Rebs just hit 29%. To make matters worse for UNLV, they hit just six of their 29 three-point attempts and only hit 20 of their 34 free throw attempts. But that’s only the start of the numbers explaining how UNLV stayed in this game – they got to the line twice as often as the Gauchos, and, they killed UCSB on the boards, with 24 offensive rebounds (although given their shooting percentages, there were certainly a lot of offensive rebounds to be had). UNLV used their defensive pressure to force 25 UCSB turnovers but gave too many back, spilling the milk 17 times themselves. All things considered, this Rebel team is showing all the signs of being the team we thought they were at the start of the season, a squad that doesn’t feature a lot of great shooters, but a team that is going to defend hard and try to outwork their opponents. Unfortunately for them on this night, their shooting was bad enough to overcome any good they could do on defense.

Power Rankings

1. San Diego State (12-0): They’re the #5 team in the nation according to the RTC poll. They’re the only remaining undefeated team in the conference. They’ve got the second-longest winning streak in college basketball, and they’ve got what appears to be a downhill slide to a 15-0 record prior to their MWC opening trip to TCU in two weeks. Darn right they’re the top team in these power rankings. They are without a doubt, the team to beat in the conference. But, despite their success so far, and despite being superior to the rest of the conference, they’re going to lose some games in conference play and they’ve got more than a couple of all-out battles looming ahead of them. So far, they’ve done what they have needed to do, but bigger tests await.

A look ahead: The Aztecs play in the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic, in a field that is anything but classic. There’s a matchup with San Francisco tonight and the second neutral-site matchup with IUPUI on the season – the Aztecs won by 15 in Oxford, Ohio a month ago.

2. BYU (10-1): The Cougars traveled to Anaheim for the Wooden Classic and had some trouble with the physicality of UCLA. The Bruins did a pretty good job in corralling Jimmer Fredette (and he still had 25 – what does that tell you?), and BYU had no good answer for the frontline play of UCLA as Josh Smith, in particular, gave the Cougs’ more slender frontline players all sorts of trouble. Dave Rose and company got some good news this week, as Chris Collinsworth played for the first time in over three weeks due to an ankle injury, and led the team with seven rebounds in relief of Noah Hartsock, who was still a little groggy following a concussion that he sustained last weekend against Arizona.

A look ahead: BYU gets to stay close to home for the holidays, with an in-state trip to Weber State on Tuesday followed by a visit from UTEP on Thursday.

3. UNLV (10-2): The Rebels’ loss to UCSB is detailed above, but they got a chance to get back to winning when they beat up on Southern Utah this weekend. Despite a 22-point win in which they never trailed, the Rebels again struggled shooting the ball, hitting just three of their 16 three-point attempts in this game, putting them at just nine of 45 on the week. Carlos Lopez notched a double-double with career highs in both points (12) and rebounds (11), while sophomore guard Anthony Marshall also went for a career-high 17 points. Knocking off Southern Utah while struggling from behind the arc is one thing, but for the Rebels to have a chance against Kansas State tonight, they’ll need to regain their touch from deep.

A look ahead: Kansas State tonight then Central Michigan on December 30, and then all these preliminaries are out of the way and an incredibly appealing matchup with BYU on January 5 awaits.

4. New Mexico (9-1): The games themselves were forgettable this week, as the Lobos dispatched with Longwood and Citadel by an average of over 31 points per game, but the players were of interest. UCLA transfer Drew Gordon played his first game as a member of the team in the last of those two games and contributed 11 points in 20 minutes, while five other players scored in double figures at some point this week (none of them named Dairese Gary). Picking a key player on this squad is difficult because not only do somewhere north of ten players play on any given night, but many can contribute. It was freshman Kendall Williams with 20 points, six assists and three steals against Longwood, while junior Phillip McDonald led with 17 points, six rebounds and three threes against the Citadel, but altogether a total of six players have led the team in scoring on the season, four have led in rebounding and three have led in assists. There isn’t anything on the Lobo schedule so far that indicates a quality win, but things start to get a little more interesting over the next couple of weeks.

A look ahead: The remainder of the UNM non-conference schedule is not exactly a murderer’s row, but things do pick up a little bit, starting with a pair of games in the Las Vegas Classic, starting with a matchup with Colorado on Wednesday, followed the next night by a matchup with either Northern Iowa or Indiana.

5. Utah (7-3): We mentioned the big Utah come-from-behind win over Boise State above when we awarded our MWC Player of the Week to Will Clyburn, but he got plenty of help from his teammates in that game. Four other Utes scored in double figures and the team tallied ten total blocks on the night, including three by sophomore wing Shawn Glover who has been up and down for Jim Boylen. Glover added 12 points and nine rebounds against the Broncos, while playing a season-high 30 minutes, but has also played five games this year where he failed to garner 20 minutes. With normal starter Jay Watkins still limited due to an ongoing back injury, and with freshman J.J. O’Brien not ready after a stress fracture (he may be ready for some minutes this week), Glover has a chance at more minutes, and if he can continue to contribute like he did this week, he may earn himself more minutes as the season progresses.

A look ahead: Christmas in paradise for the Utes, as they head to Honolulu for the Diamondhead Classic, but they’d better bring their A-games with them as Butler awaits as their first opponent on Wednesday night.

6. TCU (7-4): No news for the Horned Frogs, as they haven’t played in nine days due to finals.

A look ahead: TCU returns to the court tonight against Northwestern State before earning another week off.

7. Colorado State (5-3): The Rams played their first game since December 11 last night and worked through some of their rust on the way to a 14-point victory over Northern Colorado whom CSU has thoroughly owned over the course of their 75-year rivalry. Wes Eikmeier led the Rams with a career-high 17 points, and the Rams earned their margin of victory basically by outscoring the Bears 27-11 from the free throw line. It was a successful, but by no means particularly impressive, return to action, but things pick up for CSU from here.

A look ahead: Tim Miles packs his team up for a trip to Cancun for the Governor’s Cup, where they’ll face Appalachian State in the opening round before likely facing Ole Miss in round two, assuming both teams win their openers.

8. Air Force (7-2): The Falcons padded their gaudy record with an 11-point victory over 0-10 Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday behind a season-high 24 points from sophomore Michael Lyons. After falling behind in the first half, UAPB used a burst of six threes in a hurry to spark a 20-6 run to tie the game at 36 at the 14:22 mark of the second half. But Air Force responded strongly with a 14-4 run and UAPB was never really heard from again. Sophomore center Taylor Broekhuis continued his strong recent play with 11 points and eight rebounds, and he has now scored in double figures in every outing this season save his seven-point performance in a win over Wofford.

A look ahead: The Falcons travel to Flagstaff for a matchup with Northern Arizona on Wednesday for their only game of the week.

9. Wyoming (6-6): A three-game winning streak for the Cowboys! Yes, they were wins over Denver, Western State (of Division-II fame) and Centenary, who are a combined 3-30, but when you’ve got losses to North Florida, South Dakota and UC Irvine on your resume, you take those wins and don’t look back. The Cowboys were solid in these games, with four players scoring in double figures in the first two games, but those two games couldn’t have been more different. Against Denver, Wyoming shot just four three pointers the entire game, while against Western State, they boosted 29. However, the one thing the two games had in common was the Cowboys getting after the glass early and often, outrebounding Denver 32-13 and Western State 48-33. Against Centenary last night, the Cowboys were back to bombing from deep (connecting on just six of 21 attempts), but they made their hay by outscoring their opponents 20-5 from the free throw line. While the Cowboys’ performance continues to be all over the map, at least Heath Schroyer seems to have settled into a rotation.

A look ahead: The Cowboys host Wisconsin-Green Bay on Wednesday, still not playing world-beaters, but a significant upgrade in the level of competition over the last three games.

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