Set Your TiVo: 03.05.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 5th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Four conference tournament titles will be decided this evening. The most important game may be in the Colonial where the loser of the game needs to make a good impression for the NCAA Selection Committee. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Colonial Athletic Association Championship: Drexel vs. VCU (at Richmond, VA) – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

Will Shaka Smart Earn Himself More Nets Tonight?

  • This is a huge game because the loser is going to be sweating it out for the next week. Drexel won the first and only meeting between these teams way back on January 8. The Dragons bring the #4 eFG% defense to the table along with one of the slowest tempos in Division I. That combination could really frustrate a VCU team that likes to play faster and score in transition. The Rams are the best team in the nation when it comes to defensive turnover percentage but creating turnovers against Bruiser Flint’s Dragons is going to be very difficult. It’s always easier to slow a team down than it is to speed one up and that’s exactly what Drexel has to do in order to win in Richmond tonight. Drexel point guard Frantz Massenat will have to play a complete game and set the tone for his team in front of what should be a quasi-road atmosphere.
  • The one problem an aggressive team like Shaka Smart’s group can have is foul trouble. Drexel is a solid free throw shooting team (76% in CAA play) so VCU needs to avoid fouling and putting the Dragons in the bonus early and often. VCU’s defensive free throw rate is not good and Drexel had a remarkable 89.7% free throw rate when these teams got together in Philly in early January. VCU simply can’t afford another effort like that if it hopes to win the CAA’s automatic NCAA bid. The Rams are not a particularly great shooting team but Bradford Burgess and Troy Daniels pose major perimeter threats. Burgess has last year’s experience to fall back on in a pressure situation and you have to believe that helps when faced with what should be a very close elimination game.
  • The point guards could decide this game. Massenat can distribute and shoot with the best of them in this conference while VCU’s Darius Theus must play the role of facilitator and not as the go-to scorer. Theus went 1-6 from the floor in the first meeting but did record six assists. A few less shots and a couple more assists could be the difference for VCU tonight. For Drexel, Samme Givens has to come up big on the boards. The 6’5” swingman is a terrific rebounder for his size and should look to take advantage of VCU’s weakness on its offensive glass. We think this is going to be a contest that comes down to the very end. With an NCAA bid on the line and no guarantees for the loser, it should be quite an atmosphere in Richmond on this night.

West Coast Conference Championship: #20 Gonzaga vs. #24 St. Mary’s (at Las Vegas, NV) – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

  • These teams will meet for the third time after splitting the regular season series, each winning at home. Gonzaga smashed BYU on Saturday night behind 30 points from Kevin Pangos and the Bulldogs will look to do more of the same against a St. Mary’s defense that is vulnerable to the three-ball. The Gaels allow opponents to shoot 37.5% from deep and that’s not something Randy Bennett wants to see when going up against a shooter as talented as Pangos. While the SMC defense is a concern, the Gaels shoot more threes than Gonzaga and can gain an edge because of it. When Clint Steindl and Matthew Dellavedova are knocking down triples, St. Mary’s is tough to beat. Gonzaga’s defense is pretty good on the perimeter but it will be tested significantly by the Gaels’ guards and forwards. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 02.17.12 – 02.19.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 17th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

While BracketBusters is always solid, the overall slate over the next few days is full of good, but not great, games. Still, tune in to these games as conference races head down the stretch and the NCAA Tournament field begins to take shape.

#13 St. Mary’s at #24 Murray State – 6:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (****)

  • Since losing to Tennessee State, Murray State has rebounded with two wins over Austin Peay and Southeast Missouri State. On Saturday night the Racers will get their chance to show the nation they are for real. Playing at home in front of a juiced up crowd on national television, there is no excuse for Murray State to come out anything less than fired up. The three point line is this team’s best friend on both ends of the floor and it will be important against St. Mary’s. Murray State shoots 41% from deep (#8 nationally) and defends the arc very well. Against a St. Mary’s team that ranks a putrid #305 against the triple, that’s a huge advantage for the Racers at home. Steve Prohm should do everything in his power to ensure Isaiah Canaan (47.3%) and Donte Poole(39.3%) get quality shots from the arc against the porous Gaels’ defense. Defensively, the Racers must lock down the arc as they usually do. St. Mary’s shoots a lot of threes and while they don’t make a great percentage they do get just a shade under 30% of their total points from the arc.

    Isaiah Canaan And Company Could Have A Big Day From Behind The Arc Against St. Mary's Average 3-Point Defense (Getty)

  • St. Mary’s has lost two of its last three games after starting the season 22-2. The Gaels are still a likely NCAA Tournament team, but a win here would ensure their place in the field of 68 for sure. In order to win on the road in a tough environment against a good team, St. Mary’s must use its edge on the offensive glass, make threes and get to the foul line. With strong rebounders like Rob Jones and Brad Waldow, St. Mary’s has a clear size edge over Murray State. Only Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel see significant minutes for the Racers inside, two of only three players on the roster who are at least 6’7” tall. While the Gaels have a huge edge inside, they’re going to have to overcome Murray State’s strong perimeter defense. Matthew Dellavedova and Clint Steindl are going to have to hit threes for Randy Bennett’s team to come out on top. Thirdly, St. Mary’s should look to take advantage of a Murray State defense that ranks in the bottom half of Division I in defensive free throw rate. The Gaels get to the line fairly well and make 71.9% of their free throws. It’s so important to control tempo and keep the crowd out of the game and getting to the charity stripe while controlling the boards definitely helps in achieving that goal.
  • This should be a very close game but the edge has to go to the home team. St. Mary’s is struggling a bit right now and Murray State seems to have righted the ship since suffering its first loss. One concern for the Racers is their turnovers (14 per game). If Murray State controls the ball, plays well on the perimeter and gets to the free throw line at its usual clip, this will be the Racers’ game to lose.
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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on February 2nd, 2012

Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.

Reader’s Take 

 

Looking Back

Saint Mary’s was in the spotlight last week and the Gaels did not shirk from the attention. First came a businesslike, 71-64, win over Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, then an epochal, 80-66, romp over BYU in Provo that seemed to unhinge everyone connected with BYU basketball. It wasn’t only the 22,000-plus rabid fans in the Marriott Center, it wasn’t only normally low-key BYU coach Dave Rose losing his cool, it wasn’t just Noah Hartsock earning a flagrant foul with a blatant forearm shiver to the neck of Gaels’ forward Rob Jones. It was almost a fan riot, an atmosphere so riddled with boos, objects thrown on the floor and technical fouls that ESPNU announcers Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham repeatedly warned about the need for officials to gain control.

The Battle On The Court Between Saint Mary's and BYU Wasn't The Only Storyline Of That Contest (AP)

Fat chance, as the officiating crew of Frank Harvey, James Giron and Glen Mayberry seemed incapable of providing the right answer to a surly crowd – calling the game tight on both sides and leaving it up to BYU officials to calm the masses. Instead, the crew seemed to come to a collective decision that ignoring repeated fouls by BYU players and cracking down on Saint Mary’s would do the job. This theory came to a head about halfway through the second half with a technical foul called on the Saint Mary’s bench for allegedly standing up and/or crowding the floor – it was never made clear. The spuriousness of that call was caught by a BYU fan who happened to be shooting video of the BYU and Saint Mary’s benches at the time the technical was called.

Check it out:

Everyone on the Saint Mary’s bench is seated at the moment the technical is called. Even if they were all jumping up and down, one wonders how the ref would know since he made the call with his back to the bench and from the opposite end of the court. It seems bizarre and indicative of the desperate measures the refs applied to deal with a bad situation. No one from BYU stepped forward to calm things down, no one addressed the crowd, no one made any placating gestures (except for a routine announcement from the public address announcer after the fans were warned for their first barrage of object-throwing). All in all a big black eye for BYU’s first year in the WCC and a testament to the cool of Randy Bennett’s Gaels, who didn’t panic under relentless pressure from BYU and the crowd.

Power Rankings

1.  Saint Mary’s (21-2, 10-0) spent another week at the top of the league standings and another week moving up in both major rankings – to #16 in the ESPN/Coaches Poll and to #18 in the AP poll. To top it all off, ESPN announced that Saint Mary’s would travel to Murray, Kentucky, on February 18 to play currently undefeated Murray State in the premiere contest of ESPN’s Bracket Buster event. Never mind that neither Saint Mary’s nor Murray State – ranked in the top 10 by both polls – needs the game to break into the NCAA Tournament brackets, it still will be a closely-watched contest with obvious benefits for whichever team wins.

2.  Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1) bided its time last week, topping Portland,74-62, in Portland in its only contest. The Zags saved their energy for their showdown with BYU tonight in Provo, a game with huge importance for both teams. The Zags are two games behind Saint Mary’s at present, although only one behind in the loss column. A loss to equally-desperate BYU would put them two back in the loss column with Saint Mary’s coming to Spokane on February 9.

Mark Few and Gonzaga Is Still Very Much Alive For The WCC Title (AP)

3.  BYU (18-6, 6-3) and Loyola Marymount (13-9, 6-3) (tie): Tonight’s contest with Gonzaga might be BYU’s last chance to salvage its season, as a defeat would drop the Cougars four games back from Saint Mary’s and three behind Gonzaga. Not only how it plays but how its team, coaches, and fans, behave will be under scrutiny for BYU, as a repeat of last week’s meltdown against Saint Mary’s could have dire repercussions for the school’s reputation and self-respect. Loyola split last week, following up the Saint Mary’s loss with a throat-tightening, 62-59, win over Portland that wasn’t decided until the final minutes. The win was important to keep LMU close to the conference leaders and to prove they could win a league game at home. Before dispatching the young Pilots, LMU was 5-0 on the road and 0-3 at home.

5.  San Francisco (15-9, 5-5) began to look more and more like last year’s team (well, it IS last year’s team), as it appears to be peaking at the same time. By beating Santa Clara on the road and San Diego at home, the Dons evened their conference record and began looking ahead to see how far they can advance in the standings. It’s crowded at the top, and it won’t be easy to move into fourth place and earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The Dons, with a tough challenge in Los Angeles against LMU on Saturday, seem ready to take it on.

6.  San Diego (8-13, 3-6) showed some signs of life in its, 65-56, home win over Pepperdine – its third win in five games – but then regressed in an, 84-70, road loss to San Francisco. It was enough to keep the Toreros out of the depths of the conference’s lower half.

7.  Portland (5-17, 2-7) is in seventh place only because it has fewer losses than Pepperdine, but the Pilots were more than competitive against LMU and their 74-62 loss to Gonzaga wasn’t as lopsided as the score indicates. Eric Reveno’s achingly young troops scare everybody they play but Portland hasn’t figured out how to beat most teams. Yet.

8.  Pepperdine (8-13, 2-8) recovered from the loss at San Diego to topple hapless Santa Clara, 74-62, at home. The Waves continue the PCH Cup series with LMU tonight, then hitch up their shorts for the invading Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday – it may get ugly.

9.  Santa Clara (8-13, 0-8) continued its nosedive with losses to San Francisco and Pepperdine, and face Portland at home tonight before going on the road to face San Diego. Most observers feel the Broncos will pull out of this swoon some time, but the clock is ticking on the 2012 season.

The Post Intrigue Between Robert Sacre (left) and Brandon Davies Is Just One Of Many Key Matchups In Tonight's Big Contest Between Gonzaga and BYU

Looking Ahead

  • You don’t have to look far for this week’s drama, as Gonzaga vs. BYU in Provo (ESPN2, 8:00 PM Pacific) tonight should have all you want. BYU is barely hanging on in the WCC race and Gonzaga can’t afford to fall further behind Saint Mary’s, which has only tonight’s home game against San Diego.
  • A week from tonight comes the battle between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga in Spokane, which should be as riveting as the Gaels’ assault on BYU. The Gaels throttled Gonzaga, 83-62, on January 12, and the Zags have not forgotten.
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St. Mary’s Is in a Familiar Mid-January Position: Will It Hold Up?

Posted by rtmsf on January 18th, 2012

WCC fans: Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. It’s mid-January, and St. Mary’s is surging. Coming off a pair of weekend victories that included a blowout over bitter rival Gonzaga and a tough-but-expected win over pesky Portland, the Gaels currently sit at 17-2 overall and a pristine 6-0 in the WCC. The national media has taken notice, serving up Randy Bennett‘s team as the #24 team this week in the AP poll and #23 in the Coaches Poll. (Incidentally, SMC is #17 in this week’s RTC rankings.) Once again, things are looking up in Moraga as fans of the tiny East Bay school dream of an elusive WCC championship and, harking back to 2010, perhaps another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The question on everyone’s minds around the WCC, though, is whether this year’s SMC team is for real or another mirage in a basketball desert full of them. Consider the table below, showing St. Mary’s fortunes both before and after this point in the season over the last five years.

It’s not difficult to discern from the table that St. Mary’s tends to get off to a hot start each and every year. Somewhat peculiarly, the Gaels’ best team — the 2009-10 Sweet Sixteen bunch led by Omar Samhan — had the most losses of any team during this five-year window at this point in the season (three). But unlike that team, Randy Bennett’s other squads have largely faded down the stretch. The 2007-08 team lost four of its last six games to finish the season, while the 2008-09 squad crashed so badly after Patty Mills broke his hand that the Gaels were left out of what seemed to be a surefire NCAA Tournament bid that year. Last year’s squad was also nationally ranked at this mid-January juncture, having gotten off to yet another sizzling start. Three straight late February losses, though, allowed Gonzaga to keep its stranglehold on a share of the WCC regular season title, while a confounding road defeat to a horrible San Diego team likely relegated the Gaels to the NIT for the second time in three seasons.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on January 5th, 2012

Michael Vernetti is the West Coast Conference correspondent for RTC.

Reader’s Take 

 

Looking Back

  • Along with greater strength at the top through the addition of Brigham Young, the WCC was supposed to exhibit league-wide improvement in 2011-12. At least in the early stages of conference play, that hasn’t happened. In fact, the gap between the haves and the have-nots appears to be widening.
  • Opening games in WCC play found Gonzaga throttling Portland at home by a score of 90-51, Saint Mary’s skunking Pepperdine in Malibu by 74-45 and BYU beating San Diego at home by 88-52. That’s an average beat-down of 35 points, not indicative of a conference trending toward parity. In games not involving the league’s Big Three of Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU, Pepperdine beat San Francisco at home by a score of 77-61 and Loyola Marymount also topped San Francisco in overtime by 77-76. Completing a week of total futility, San Francisco’s loss to Loyola came on its home court.
  • Santa Clara spent last week splitting games in its own Cable Car Classic, topping Eastern Michigan by 77-55 and losing to Wagner 64-62 in a game so surreal it deserves a paragraph of its own (see below). Santa Clara is one of the WCC teams thought to be gaining in stature, but will have to wait until tonight to taste its first league action against Portland in Portland. The Broncos have given fans equal reason to have hopes for resurgence or despair  in non-conference play, balancing wins over New Mexico and Villanova with losses to Washington State (93-55 – it was the margin of defeat not the opponent that made this one sting) and Houston Baptist (72-71). The Broncos do not have a road win this year, giving Portland hopes for a chance to stop its own bleeding in tonight’s game.

Talented Senior Rob Jones Has Sparked An Excellent Start For St. Mary's (SF Chronicle)

Power Rankings

  1. Saint Mary’s (13-2 overall, 2-0 in WCC play): Continued its post-Baylor rise with an eye-opening throbbing of BYU in Moraga by the unlikely score of 98-82, then followed up with a thorough dispatch of Pepperdine, which may have harbored hopes of an upset after beating San Francisco by 16 in its league opener. Close observers of the Gaels concede strong games every outing from senior forward Rob Jones (14.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG) and junior point guard Matthew Dellavedova (14.3 PPG, 6.5 APG), but say lesser-known players Clint Steindl, Stephen Holt and Jorden Page must step up if the Gaels are to be an NCAA team. They’re stepping, as Holt has had games of 16, 21 and 14 points since a relatively quiet performance against Baylor, and Page has had three double-digit outings of his own (10, 13 and 14 points) over the same span. Steindl hasn’t been stepping anywhere since turning an ankle against Missouri State. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 12.23.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 23rd, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Las Vegas is the place to be on this Friday night before Christmas. Sin City hosts three quality basketball games at two different venues this evening .

California @ #20 UNLV – 5:00 PM EST on CBS Sports Network (****)

Moser Has Been Outstanding in a UNLV Uniform (LV Sun/S. Morris)

  •  Chace Stanback was simply fantastic for the Runnin’ Rebels on Monday against Louisiana-Monroe, scoring 29 points on 10-13 shooting (including 8-9 from downtown). UNLV needs its swingman to have another solid game against a very good California team. The Rebels play fast and shoot lots of threes but Mike Moser can have the biggest impact on the game in the post. When Moser is playing well, it’s so much easier for Dave Rice’s team to get open looks from deep. Playing that inside-outside game with good distributors at the guard position in Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield, UNLV has no problem getting into an up-and-down game where it’s often easier for them to make shots in transition. The Rebels are a well-balanced team capable of hanging plenty of points on the opposition.
  • California has been dealing with plenty of health issues recently. Senior leaders Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp have been fighting illnesses while Richard Solomon is out with a stress fracture. Gutierrez and Kamp should play tonight and that will be important as the Golden Bears need to show poise in a tough environment on the road. Guards Gutierrez and Justin Cobbs need to play smart and control the tempo by protecting the ball and running efficient half court sets. Cobbs had 25 points on 10-12 FG against UC Santa Barbara on Monday for the 10-2 Golden Bears. California doesn’t shoot many threes but Allen Crabbe is a big time deep threat for Mike Montgomery. The budding sophomore hits on 45.8% of his triples and represents a major threat to a UNLV defense ranked #205 against the three-ball.
  • Cal’s two losses have come against the better teams on its schedule. This is another chance for the Golden Bears to prove they’re the best team in a watered down Pac-12, something they’ve yet to do in convincing fashion. California has a strong interior defense led by Kamp and freshman David Kravish, although the absence of Solomon could cause problems if Cal’s big men get in foul trouble. Cal needs to control the backboards against Moser and company. If Gutierrez and Cobbs can control tempo, Cal will have a good chance to pull off the road victory. One area to watch is if Cal can keep UNLV off the foul line. The Golden Bears have the #4 defensive free throw rate, an important statistic against a Rebels team that shoots 73.4% from the stripe. With all of that being said however, it’s hard to predict a Golden Bears victory in what should be a raucous Thomas and Mack Center. California hasn’t proven it can win a big game yet and until they do, UNLV has to be the choice.

#5 Baylor vs. West Virginia (at Las Vegas, NV) – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 12th, 2011

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

[Ed. Note — a previous version of this CIO misrepresented several of the author’s thoughts. We have reverted it back to its original format, and for the oversight the editing team apologizes.]

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • Who Fears the Pac-12? Not Us:  Sunday’s 93-55 beatdown of Santa Clara by Washington State notwithstanding, the WCC has compiled a 5-4 record against Pac-12 teams so far in 2011. Most notable were Loyola Marymount’s season-opening 69-58 upset of then-#17 UCLA at the LA Sports Arena (Pauley Pavilion is being remodeled) before UCLA’s troubles were well-known (heck Reeves Nelson actually played in the game), and Brigham Young’s 79-65 victory over Oregon on December 3 at a “neutral” site in Salt Lake City. BYU doubled up on the Pac-12 by dumping Utah, 61-42, on December 10, again in Salt Lake City, where Pac-12 teams come to die. There are three more games in this conference rivalry, and before it is all over, the Pac-12 might regain its supremacy if not its swagger: San Diego at Stanford on December 17 (big edge to the Pac-12), Gonzaga hosting Arizona in Seattle, also on December 17 (a toss-up), and Pepperdine at Washington State on December 22. Pepperdine will not be allowed to watch the tape of the Santa Clara-Washington State game.
  • Those BYU Boys Can Really Play:  This was not the perception initially, as the Cougars limped out of Logan, Utah, on the wrong side of a 69-62 tussle with Not-As-Good-As-Usual Utah State on November 11, and followed that with a 73-56 faceplant against #11 Wisconsin in a Chicago-area tournament. Then, presto-chango, wily Dave Rose ended the Brock Zylstra point guard experiment, anointed freshman Anson Winder to run the offense and allowed the sharp-shooting Zylstra to go back to bombing from the wing. The wins started coming, perhaps none more impressive than the 94-66 thrashing of Weber State on December 7 at the Marriott Center. Weber State thought it was a good team, what with having the nation’s leading scorer, Damian Lillard, in its backcourt, but, BYU put the brakes on Lillard by holding the senior to 15 points (he averages 28.2 points per game), got a double-double out of veteran forward Noah Hartsock (19 points/12 rebounds) and were off to the races. Winder can enjoy his day in the sun until vaunted transfer Matt Carlino becomes eligible on December 17.

BYU's Dave Rose Once Again Has His Squad Playing At A High Level. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

  • Where Trouble Lives: Who has a more turbulent program, San Diego or Loyola Marymount? San Diego, home of the perpetually-disciplined Toreros, hit mid-season stride on November 10 by announcing that massive junior center Chris Gabriel and seldom-used sophomore guard Jordan Mackie had been dismissed. Just to keep the pot boiling, word soon leaked out that last year’s prized recruit, guard Ben Vozzolafrom Las Vegas, was thinking about leaving the team as well. What does last year’s co-cellar-dweller need the least? Defections from its less-than-overwhelming ranks, it would seem. Max Good doesn’t have as much of a disciplinary problem at LMU — some would say there’s no discipline there at all — as a consistency one: making sure the same team shows up night after night. For instance, the same team that beat UCLA in its season-opener without injured star Drew Viney in the lineup, seemed pretty good. Unfortunately, the one that showed up two nights later for a 58-51 loss to Middle Tennessee State didn’t seem so good, not to mention the team that lost to Harvard and Columbia at home. It must be said that the actual lineup of an LMU team is subject to change as much as its performance: after Viney cycled back into the lineup to participate in two puzzling losses, the Lions lost stellar forward Ashley Hamilton and starting guard Jarred Dubois to injuries, then Viney again. The more things change…

Power Rankings

  1. Tie Between BYU (10-2) and Saint Mary’s (5-1) – Okay, it seems unfair because BYU has played twice as many games as the Gaels and has wandered into the deep woods with games at Utah State and against a ranked Wisconsin team in a preseason tournament. Saint Mary’s, on the other hand, under the ultra-cautious guidance of Randy Bennett, have wandered barely at all (Denver, CO, and San Luis Obispo, CA), and have played an early-season slate replete with patsies (Fresno Pacific and San Francisco State). BYU’s emergence as a WCC title contender was mentioned above, so that leaves Saint Mary’s. This was supposed to be the year of the Re-Emerging Center in Gael-land, with an imposing 7-foot transfer (Kyle Rowley) and a promising 6’9″ redshirt freshman (Brad Waldow) contending to fill the year-old empty shoes of Omar Samhan. Hasn’t happened, and Bennett has instead fielded the same lineup as last year’s with Matthew Dellavedova moving over to take the point guard spot previously handled by the sublime Mickey McConnell, and, in a real surprise, former walk-on Beau Levesque starting at one forward spot in place of veteran Clint Steindl. Seems neither Rowley nor Waldow has staked out the post as his own, although Waldow showed signs of life with a 13-point effort in 22 minutes of action in the Gaels’ closer-than-it-looks 59-54 win over Cal Poly on December 3. One constant for the Gaels has been senior forward Rob Jones, who was named the WCC’s Player of the Month for November on the strength of an 18 PPG, 11.4 RPG output – tops in the conference. The Gaels hope Jones’ teammates begin to click before they face Baylor on December 22 in Las Vegas. Read the rest of this entry »
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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.

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ATB: Rhythm Of The Saints And Baseline Complaints

Posted by jstevrtc on February 11th, 2011

The Lede. It was Day Four of Rivalry Week, and though the tag of “rivalry” on some of the games might have been questionable, there was no lack of storylines. Connecticut might have been indoors but still got caught up in one heck of a Storm, and Vanderbilt managed to dodge an entire Tide, though the majority of our friends and Twitter followees feel that the Commodores may have gotten a little help at the end. Oh, and there’s a little WCC team on whom you might want to keep an eye. Let’s jump in…

St. John's Had Walker Frustrated All Night (F. Franklin/AP)

Your Watercooler Moment. There were very few points in this game at which Connecticut appeared to be playing at full speed, and even fewer at which St. John’s appeared to play at anything less. Sure, the Garden may have had a little to do with the Johnnies’ 89-72 win over the Huskies, but the bigger factor was that one team showed up for whole game and the other didn’t. UConn didn’t play its best basketball in the first half but at least seemed interested and stayed close enough to where their talent could have pulled them through in the end. Instead, in the second half, Connecticut didn’t defend in the half-court, didn’t get back in transition defense, didn’t seem at all prepared for St. John’s’ match-up zone, and did nothing to stop SJU’s Dwight Hardy. The St. John’s senior guard dropped 33 on the Huskies and got help with 20 more from D. J. Kennedy, whose 11 boards helped the Red Storm to a 41-31 rebounding edge. UConn got the help it’s been wanting from its non-Kemba corps — Roscoe Smith (16/6), Alex Oriakhi (12/8), Jeremy Lamb (13/5) all played well, though Lamb’s 2-7 from three was a bit of a pinch — it just didn’t defend for most of the game. Nobody expected that from a team who came into MSG ranked in the top ten nationally in FG% defense, especially inside the three-point arc. [Note: For our RTC Live summary and link to the coverage, see below.]

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Set Your Tivo: 01.27.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 27th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

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

Hofstra @ VCU – 7 pm on ESPNU (***)

VCU Will Need a Little More From Rodriguez This Evening

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

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2011

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

A Look Back

With the pre-conference season all wrapped up, let’s look all the way back to October and the WCC coaches poll for a reset on conference expectations. The coaches overwhelmingly picked Gonzaga to finish first, giving the Zags 48 total votes and six for first place. By a total of 42 to 39 they also picked Loyola Marymount to finish second over Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara (28 votes) to finish fourth and Portland (25 votes) fifth. How would the coaches vote if the polling were held today?

Gonzaga, with quality wins over Baylor, Marquette, Xavier and Oklahoma State, would probably retain its rank as conference favorite because no other team either matched the scope and difficulty of the Zags’ schedule, or conquered as many top-notch teams. Only Saint Mary’s, with wins over St. John’s, which might make some noise in the Big East, and Long Beach State, which could challenge for the Big West title, came close. The Gaels did post wins over two BCS teams, Texas Tech and Mississippi State, but those teams had early-season troubles that dimmed their luster.

It would be hard for WCC coaches or anyone to favor Loyola Marymount over Saint Mary’s based on results so far, and the same could be said for Santa Clara over Portland. It is safe to say that the performances of Loyola-Marymount and Santa Clara have been disappointing, while the Gaels and Pilots have surprised opposing coaches. The coaches’ early-season predictions notwithstanding, a survey of informal discussions around the league breaks down the race this way: Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s for first place; Portland in third; Loyola Marymount in fourth; Santa Clara and San Francisco in a dog fight for fifth; Pepperdine for seventh and San Diego in the cellar. Those last two match what the coaches saw in October, as neither team has done much to change perceptions.

Player(s) of the Week

Saint Mary’s senior point guard Mickey McConnell was named Player of the Week both by the West Coast Conference and TheHoopsReport.com after sterling efforts in Gael victories over Mississippi State and Hartford. He rocked Mississippi State for 28 points and 13 assists – his first double-double of the season – and followed that up with a 21-point, seven assist game against Hartford. The effort in the Gaels’ final two pre-conference games brought his scoring average to 14.2 ppg and assist total to 5.4 per game. McConnell’s 2.68 assist to turnover ratio is ranked 26th nationally, and he is shooting 46.3% from beyond the arc and 90.5% from the free throw line.

Power Rankings:

1. Saint Mary’s (12-2) has breezed to six wins in a row since being dusted 69-55 by San Diego State on Dec. 1, and has found its groove with a lineup featuring four players averaging double figures: Mickey McConnell at 14.2 PPG, Jones at 13.7 PPG, Matthew Dellavedova at 13 PPG, and Young (nominally a substitute, Young is garnering the majority of minutes at post) at 11.1 PPG. Clint Steindl, the fifth starter, is not far behind at 8.4 PPG, and can rightfully point to his duties as the Gaels’ primary defensive stopper as an excuse. Besides, Steindl, currently averaging nearly 42% on three-point shots, can light it up when the occasion warrants. Team balance, unselfishness and good backcourt play from McConnell and Dellavedova – averaging nearly 12 assists per game between them – have Randy Bennett smiling as league play begins.

2. Portland (12-3), also cruising with five straight wins after a lopsided 94-72 loss at Washington, has answered most of the questions critics might have raised following the loss of several quality players from last year. Yes, Luke Sikma can put up All-Conference numbers consistently at one forward spot; yes, Kramer Knutson is a steady warrior at the post position; yes, Mitrovic is ready to be a starter, possibly a star, in his junior year; yes, Jared Stohl can still scorch it from three-point land, and yes, either junior Eric Waterford, true freshman Tim Douglas or sophomore transfer Derrick Rodgers – or a combination of the three – can provide leadership at the point. Coach Eric Reveno has done his usual excellent job of molding his troops into a smooth-flowing force, ready to challenge Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s as the conference season unfolds.

3. Gonzaga (10-5), also boasting a six-game winning streak – notice a pattern here? – can actually breathe easier as the WCC gets underway. Following a whirlwind 36 hours consisting of 1) pasting formerly 11-2 and cocky Oklahoma State by 21 points (73-52) on Friday night in Spokane, and 2) flying cross-country to Winston-Salem, NC, for a 73-63 win over Wake Forest on Sunday, the Zags returned home to await Portland for an early home showdown on Saturday (1/8). Piece of cake. Mark Few has a core of Steven Gray (14.1 PPG), Robert Sacre (13.1 PPG) and Elias Harris (12.3 PPG) that is functioning smoothly enough to almost allow him to forget his trouble finding a commanding point guard. Meech Goodson, holding down the position for the third year in a row, is providing only 5.4 PPG and 3.3 assists per game, but no one else has been able to sit him down. Another troubling position for Few has been the second forward spot opposite Harris, as promising German freshman Mathis Monninghoff (there is an umlaut over the first vowel to make it sound like “Merhninghoff”), recently went down with an ankle injury after starting five straight games. Few swapped in another Mathis, this one a 6’5 freshman from France whose last name is Keita, and received a good effort in the wins over Okie State and Wake.

4. Santa Clara (9-7) is sitting in fourth place, right where the coaches predicted it to finish, but has hardly cemented its position with inconsistent pre-conference play. Zero quality wins, troubling losses such as 69-59 to Pacific and 54-53 to Delaware in its own holiday tournament, and a shifting lineup have raised questions about Kerry Keating’s squad. Kevin Foster has moved right back into a starring role after a year’s absence with injury, and Keating has uncovered another budding backcourt star in freshman Evan Roquemore. But Keating apparently has been unhappy with Marc Trasolini’s contribution in the frontcourt, bringing him off the bench instead of starting him, and sophomore Niyi Harrison is even farther down in Keating’s doghouse. That leaves the Broncos with a starting lineup of second-year forward Chris Cunningham, rugged Aussie Ben Dowdell and guard-forward Ray Cowels to go with Foster and Roquemore. Even with Trasolini contributing heavily off the bench, as he did with 22 points in the Broncos 85-70 win over Fordham on December 30, that is not a lineup calculated to challenge anyone above them. Is it strong enough to fend off Loyola-Marymount or San Francisco for fourth place in the conference standings? We’ll soon have the answer to that question.

5. Loyola Marymount (7-7) enters the 2011 conference race hobbled with injuries as it did last year. From a lineup that promised to feature 6’10 redshirt freshman Edgar Garibay, 6’8 sophomore strong forward Ashley Hamilton and 6’7 scoring whiz Drew Viney in the frontcourt, the Lions have morphed to Viney and freshman Godwin Okonji. Garibay has still not fully recovered from the ACL injury that sidelined him last year and Hamilton broke his hand a few weeks ago. To supplement the survivors, Max Good uses a three-guard lineup of super senior Vernon Teel, Big East refugee Larry Davis and newcomer Anthony Ireland, subbing for the injured Jarred DuBois. Ireland and Okonji, a 20-year-old from Nigeria who spent two years at Nevada’s Findlay Prep, are true freshmen forced into carrying a heavy load. The Lions’s pre-season-ending 87-80 road win over UC Irvine on Dec. 30 gave hints at what Good’s patched-up crew can accomplish: Viney and Teel combined for 42 points and Ireland chipped in 15 point and six assists. They will need to keep it up for the next eight weeks if the Lions are going to redeem their pre-season promise.

6. San Francisco (6-9) probably can’t take much solace from blasting Division II Dominican University 68-47 on New Year’s Day, but the Dons also topped Hampton 69-57 two days earlier to enter the conference season with a two-game win streak. Rex Walters counts on a threesome of Michael Williams, Rashad Green and Angelo Coloiaro to carry the scoring load, augmented by true freshman Cody Doolin at the point. The problem has been in the frontcourt, where Perris Blackwell and Moustapha Diarra, backed up by freshman Justin Raffington, have been inconsistent. The Dons’ hopes of moving up in the WCC standings will get an early test, as they kick off the conference race on Saturday, Jan. 8 at Santa Clara and travel the following Thursday to Saint Mary’s.

7. Pepperdine (6-11) was buoyed by an 84-64 home win on Jan. 2 over up-and-down Seattle (wins over Virginia, Oregon State and Montana State), but hope that Keion Bell’s absence from the game was only precautionary. The Waves will need a healthy Bell if they are going to emulate his YouTube antics and leap over their opponents when conference play begins.

8. San Diego (3-11) proved its harshest critics wrong with a Christmas Day win over Utah (67-64), but reverted to form on New Year’s Day with a 76-54 hammering by North Carolina State in Raleigh, NC. Those critics posited that the Toreros might not beat a Division I opponent this season (its other wins were over Occidental and LaVerne), but Bill Grier’s crew scuttled that by beating once-powerful Utah. Next order of business is adding some WCC wins to the ledger.

A Look Ahead

You don’t have to look far ahead to get some early answers to questions about possible conference standings: Saint Mary’s opens WCC play with a Thursday (January 6) battle against Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles; Portland travels to Gonzaga on Saturday (January 8); San Francisco heads up Highway 101 to Santa Clara on Saturday also; and Pepperdine entertains San Diego on Thursday and Saint Mary’s on Saturday. A couple of upset possibilities (Loyola Marymount over Saint Mary’s, Portland over Gonzaga), a key battle for fifth place (Santa Clara vs. San Francisco) and a leg up on avoiding the cellar (Pepperdine vs. San Diego) all in the first week of conference play.

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That’s Debatable: What’d You Learn From ESPN’s 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon?

Posted by rtmsf on November 18th, 2010

That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude.  Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people.  We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season.  We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

This Week’s Topic: What did you learn from this year’s ESPN 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon?

Dave Zeitlin, RTC Contributor

I learned that anyone who doesn’t root for St. Mary’s is clearly racist towards large, awkward-looking Australians who tend to never miss shots. I learned that it will likely be a running theme all season for people to joke that Robert Morris head coach Andrew Toole looks like a 15-year-old, but all I’m going to say is that I think he’s going to be a damn good head coach — his early-morning loss to Kent State aside. (Am I saying this because I’m legally obligated to mention a Penn alum in everything I write for RTC? Yes.) I learned that sometimes you just have to click the channel down button on your remote when there’s a better women’s game going on. (Sorry, Florida, you should have kept it close. The UConn-Baylor showdown was far more exciting.) And finally, I learned that if any other sport tried to pull this off, you’d fall asleep faster than Steve Fisher after dinner – which shows college basketball is truly the best sport on the planet. Actually, scratch that last one. I didn’t learn anything new there.

Kellen Carpenter, RTC Contributor

Jared Sullinger is for real. Harrison Barnes and Kyrie Irving, who I thought would be dueling for the position of best freshman in the country, are now both more than a few steps behind in their own race. While I tried not to read too much into how Sullinger dismantled the overmatched Aggies of North Carolina A&T (where he put up 19 points and 14 rebounds in 21 minutes), it’s impossible to ignore his domination over a ranked team like Florida, where he put up 26 points on an efficient 17 shots and pulled down 10 rebounds a full half of which were offensive. His offensive game is as polished as advertised and his passing from the post is sharp beyond his years. His play isn’t perfect, but this is where I remind you that he just played his second game in a college uniform. Can you imagine the havoc this guy is going to wreak in the spring?

John Stevens, RTC Editor

It’s de rigueur to heap praise all over ESPN’s 24-hour hoops marathon (as much as it has become, apparently, to live-blog the whole thing), and I usually fall right in line, but there’s one change I’d recommend — fewer games with more time in between. Wait, hear me out first. As it is, the games are packed over a few channels and it only takes one 60+ foul game and/or an overtime thriller to throw the whole thing off schedule. Then you’ve got games switching channels (a pinch, if you’re DVRing), simultaneous games of teams you want to see, and the occasional joining-in of games that have less than ten minutes remaining in the first half. And if there’s prime-time programming on a spare ESPN that the decision-makers refuse to bump or leave early, you’re screwed until the schedule clears. Three or four fewer games and a 30-minute buffer would help release the pressure buildup, it would mean less juggling of games between channels, and would prevent the late join-ins. There’s not much wrong with the marathon, but I think this is one of the few improvements that could make it even better.

Matt Patton, RTC Contributor

Virginia Tech has a long way to go.  Count me as one of those people who thought the Hokies would be a beacon of consistency after returning five starters on their way to finishing second in the ACC.  Kansas State really made Virginia Tech look bad, even without playing Curtis Kelly or Jacob Pullen the first half.  Even on the road, a top 25 team should have been able to take advantage of a team playing without its two best players.  I expect them to improve, but Virginia Tech showed me the reason they were left out of the Big Dance last year.  The second thing I took away from the Marathon was Florida’s press.  I know Ohio State has some point guard questions, but pressing gave Ohio State open shot after open shot.  The Buckeyes shot over 60% from the field on the road, largely thanks to the quality looks they were getting.  I can’t count the number of times Aaron Craft would sprint up the court, forcing Florida’s post man to leave Sullinger all alone for a free dunk.  My final takeaway was no surprise: San Diego State is the real deal (and Gonzaga was a little overrated).

Zach Hayes, RTC Editor/Contributor

I learned that Ohio State can win a national championship. With Jared Sullinger providing a scoring presence in the paint to complement a talented, multi-dimensional supporting cast in William Buford,  David Lighty and Jon Diebler, the Buckeyes’ road thrashing of Florida in which they surrendered just eight turnovers against the constant Gator pressure was the most impressive victory of the marathon. I also learned that San Diego State is the best team in the West. Billy White’s 30/9 and stud sophomore Kawhi Leonard’s double-double spearheaded a slaying of Gonzaga on a home floor where the Zags are 77-5 since 2004. The Aztecs are a legitimate Elite Eight contender. I learned that the freshman that will have the most impact for Josh Pastner’s heralded recruiting class is Memphis native Joe Jackson and Clint Steindl’s emergence may be the difference between a NCAA or NIT bid during the post-Samhan era at Saint Mary’s. I learned that Rick Pitino is at his best when he’s counted out and that Kansas State can win without big contributions from Jacob Pullen or Curtis Kelly. Most of all, though, was what was reinforced rather than learned as I watched 26 hours of hoops on Tuesday: college basketball is the greatest sport on earth.

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