Let’s play a little word association game. I say WCC, you say… Gonzaga – right? But when I say Gonzaga, there are bound to be a dozen or so words that will escape your lips before you say WCC. This only makes sense, because for as long as anyone can remember, Gonzaga has been the WCC. Or, at the very least, that interchangeability has served as a quick and easy (and fairly accurate) mental shortcut. But here in 2013-14, the times are a changin’ as Gonzaga has shown more fragility than it has in a long while, but more importantly, the rest of the conference has taken a significant step forward.
BYU Is A Big Part Of The More Balanced West Coast Conference We Have Seen This Year. The Cougars Are Also One Of Many WCC Teams That Should Be Even Better In 2014-15.
That pairing of Zag vulnerability and WCC uprising was on full display Saturday night in the WCC quarterfinals, where a Santa Clara team that finished eighth in the league pushed Mark Few’s team to the final buzzer. Gonzaga managed to narrowly escape the Broncos’ challenge (on a David Stockton coast-to-coast layup in the final seconds) and is still the clear favorite to take the WCC Tournament title this week, but are these more balanced days here to stay and flourish in the WCC?
The WCC will likely only send two teams to the 2014 NCAA Tournament (an outside shot at three if Saint Mary’s or San Francisco can steal the WCC Tournament title), but even with Gonzaga slightly down, the league has been better than it has been in a very long time. Their current conference RPI and KenPom ranking of #9 is the best since the 2004-05 season, and there may be even better days ahead. Saint Mary’s core of seniors leaves Randy Bennett’s team vulnerable to a significant drop-off next season (the SMC situation almost demands its own post, honestly), but outside of the Gaels and a senior-laden Pacific team, most every WCC team will return the bulk of its core. The young nuclei around the league have all had their moments this season, and coaching staffs at Pepperdine, San Diego, Portland, Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara should all be expecting improved teams to return in 2014-15.
Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.
Five Things I Loved This Week
I LOVED…. the swag of the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. Absurd (and questionably timed) alley-oops, the wing walk, tongues wagging, unknown jigs while running downcourt – it’s hard not to like the amount of fun that these kids have on the court, and they have the talent to back it up.
Florida Gulf Coast: the Story of the NCAA Tournament This Year
I LOVED…. Duke’s defense on Creighton. The Blue Devils didn’t play well in this one, but man did they defend. I thought Creighton got the exact pace they wanted and the ideal defensive effort to slow down Duke’s perimeter play, and it still didn’t matter. Duke just continued to bang with a relentless Doug McDermott and got the stops that allowed them to finally pull away when a few threes began to drop. That’s the kind of game you have to grind out in March, and they did it comfortably.
I LOVED…. that I don’t have to watch Marshall Henderson for another weekend (and believe me, I was worried there for a while). In case you were wondering, Henderson’s stats in the tourney were about as prolific as the regular season – 14-of-42 from the field (33%), and 7-of-27 on three-pointers (26%). I’d love to see the Ole Miss coach explain to his players why they would build their team next year around a guard that shoots too much, and not particularly well.
I LOVED…. the statement game. For me this was an easy one to pick – Michigan seemed to be fading a bit, but they put on an absolute clinic against a very talented VCU team and showed just how versatile they can be when freshman Mitch McGary can stay on the floor for an extended period of time. It opens up everything else for the Wolverines, and with Trey Burke dancing around the lane and Tim Hardaway, Jr., able to spot up, this looked like a squad ready to make a legit run.
Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s game between Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.
Here’s a tip. Gonzaga is good. Real good. Also water is wet, basketballs are round, and Kelly Olynyk’s long hair and head band combination is a, well, “interesting” look. But with the Zags now 20-2 overall and 7-0 in the WCC after drilling Loyola Marymount on the road Thursday night, and with rankings (both computer and human) placing them in or near the top 10 nationally, just how good is Mark Few’s team compared with this year’s batch of nationally relevant teams, and just how good are they compared to teams in the school’s recent history?
Kelly Olynyk’s Breakout Year Has Gonzaga As One Of The Nation’s Elite Offensive Teams (USA Today Sports Images)
The first question first: offensively, the Zags are at least in the same conversation as some of the elite offensive teams in the nation. Gonzaga is one of five teams in the country with an adjusted offensive efficiency at 120 or higher; the other four are Michigan, Florida, Indiana, and Creighton. And make no mistake, the Bulldogs are every bit as capable of putting the ball in the hoop in a variety of different ways as any of those teams. Olynyk’s breakout season has put him on the National Player of the Year radar, and at 7’0”, he’s an inside-outside threat who is a walking offensive mismatch. Senior Elias Harris has been on the national radar so long, he’s probably taken for granted at this point, but he’s having his best season of a remarkably consistent career; and paired with Olynyk, he is even more impressive. We’ll even just glance over guys like Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski (efficient, physical threats themselves) on our way to discussing a talented backcourt. Between Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell (who knocked in five of his six first-half attempts from deep), you have one of the better three-point shooting backcourt tandems this side of Hinkle Fieldhouse (sorry Zag fans, you probably didn’t want to read those two words so soon). Throw in a ton of depth (including playmaker David Stockton and all-glue-guy Mike Hart) and Few has no shortage of options.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Buzzer Beaters – Last-second decisions stunned two WCC teams last week and left one elated.
Wearing smiles as they departed Provo were the Saint Mary’s Gaels, who saw their leader, Matthew Dellavedova, execute one of the most efficient take-downs in college hoops this season. Trailing BYU 69-67 on a typically brilliant Tyler Haws leaner in the paint, with 2.5 seconds on the clock and no timeouts left, Delly didn’t hesitate. He sprinted down the right sideline, clapped his hands in case Beau Levesque might have thought about inbounding to someone else, took Levesque’s pass around midcourt, made a neat crossover dribble to avoid a BYU defender and let loose a 35-footer with 0.6 seconds left. Nothing but net, as the announcers say, and the Gaels had a small rush-the-court moment of their own in the cavernous Marriott Center. It was a strange celebration, with the Gaels and their coaches jumping in excitement and the 15,000 BYU fans standing in dazed silence.
Matthew Dellavedova’s buzzer beater added another exciting chapter to the Saint Mary’s-BYU rivalry (AP)
Two nights later in the venerable Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University, Gonzaga felt the sting of another incredible finish. The Zags were in even better shape against Butler than Saint Mary’s was against BYU: They not only held a 63-62 lead, but also had possession of the ball at midcourt after a seemingly-devastating blunder by Butler’s Alex Barlow. Barlow’s travelling violation trying to make a move similar to Dellavedova’s showed how delicate it is to position one’s body for a shot with time running out. All the Zags had to do was inbound the ball, take the inevitable foul and make some free throws to ice a memorable win. But David Stockton made a lazy, looping pass towards Kelly Olynyk and Butler’s Roosevelt Jones played it like an NFL cornerback. He swooped in front of Olynyk to snatch the pass and covered the rest of the court in time to launch a runner before 3.5 seconds ticked off. Jones’ shot was good, but Gonzaga’s night was ruined.
Gonzaga (4-0, 17-2): As painful as it was to endure, Gonzaga’ loss to Butler didn’t affect its position atop the WCC. Coming after a routine dismantling of Portland by 71-49, the week’s efforts left the Zags as the conference’s only undefeated team.
BYU (5-1, 15-5): Saint Mary’s spoiled BYU’s perfect conference record, but the Cougars bounced back against another undefeated team, San Diego, with an authoritative 74-57 win over the high-flying Toreros. It was Dave Rose’s 200th career win at BYU, and featured a 25-point effort by the unstoppable Haws, following his 23 points against Saint Mary’s. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.
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.
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)andLoyola 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
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.
In the history of college basketball, Gonzaga’s string of 11 straight conference titles is second only to UCLA’s streak of 13 straight Pac-8 titles during the heyday and immediate aftermath of the Wooden era. Gonzaga, a small Jesuit school in Spokane, Washington, with an undergraduate enrollment of less than 5,000 students and no real history of basketball success prior to its first NCAA Tournament in 1995, has put itself into the same paragraph as one of the most dominant teams in sports history, even if the Bulldogs are playing on a different level than the Bruins were.
However, there is no doubt that recently Gonzaga’s dominance in the West Coast Conference has been challenged. Saint Mary’s has emerged as the conference’s most serious contender to the Zags’ throne, twice in three years finishing just a game back in the conference. And last year, with just three conference games remaining and SMC holding a two-game lead, the Zags saw the Gaels somehow lose to San Diego (a 6-24, last-place WCC team) and then knocked off Saint Mary’s in their head-to-head matchup to salvage a tie for the regular season title. It’s been creeping closer and closer, but could this finally be the year where Gonzaga fails to win the WCC? After losing by 21 points at Saint Mary’s on Thursday night, it is certainly a possibility.
Gonzaga Has Been Dominant In The WCC, But They'll Need Robert Sacre's Best To Win The Title This Season (photo credit: Associated Press)
Saturday, the Zags got back on track by heading to Los Angeles and squeaking out a road victory over Loyola Marymount, using a second-half opening 17-4 run predicated on eight forced turnovers to erase a two-point halftime deficit. But they had to hold on as the Lions fought back and turned it into a one-possession game for much of the final five minutes. Toughness has been a question mark for the Zags with junior forward Elias Harris even calling out his team for being outhustled and outcompeted by the Gaels, but on Saturday the Zags won down the stretch with toughness, hustling to loose balls and playing smart and hard-nosed defense. “In a game like this, it is about toughness,” said head coach Mark Few. “I thought we strung together some nice stops and got a little more confidence in our defense.”
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.]
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…
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 »
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.
Two games from the ESPN marathon highlight tonight’s slate but don’t sleep on a potential upset special in South Bend and a power conference battle in LA.
Detroit @ Notre Dame – 9:00 PM EST on ESPNU (***) (cross-posted on RTC Live)
Eric Atkins Looked Great in ND's First Game This Year
Point guard Eric Atkins carried the Fighting Irish to victory in their first game this season, one of four (including tonight) without senior forward Tim Abromaitis, currently sitting out due to a suspension. The sophomore Atkins poured in 27 points on 6-7 FG (along with six assists) in a win over Mississippi Valley State on Saturday. Against star Detroit point guard Ray McCallum, Atkins will have to protect the ball and run the offense effectively against a hungry Titans squad looking to upset a Big East squad on its home floor. As a result, Atkins’ scoring opportunities may be reduced. Without Abromaitis, Notre Dame is very thin and must turn to Scott Martin for a big offensive output. If Martin or Atkins is held in check, the Irish could be looking at their first loss in only their second game of the season.
Detroit’s offense is loaded with scoring threats from McCallum to Chase Simon and Nick Minnerath, among others. While McCallum deservedly gets most of the press, Minnerath and his front court teammate, LaMarcus Lowe, could be the difference in this game. Notre Dame has a collection of 6’5” and 6’6” type guys on its roster with only Jack Cooley and Mike Broghammer providing any kind of bulk in the paint. The Titans have a chance to really take advantage of the mismatch in the lane and offset any advantages Notre Dame may have elsewhere. Detroit and Notre Dame play at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of pace. Expect the Titans to push the pace all night, attacking Atkins defensively in search of turnovers and easy basket opportunities in the open floor. With McCallum’s play-making ability and Atkins coming off a four turnover game, this matchup sets up well for Detroit.
Will Mike Brey counter with the burn offense? It’s possible but Brey trusted Ben Hansbrough to run that for all 40 minutes last season. He’s no longer around so we doubt Brey will use it all game with a sophomore point guard. You may see it at times, especially if Detroit picks up a lot of easy buckets early, but the Irish just need to execute their normal half court offense and avoid turnovers. Pace, rebounding and defense will be what to watch for in this game. Cooley had ten rebounds last time out and a repeat performance may be needed for the Irish to avoid a loss. Neither team has a reputation for defending well so this could be a high scoring game. With Abromaitis out, Detroit may actually have more weapons to turn to offensively. The Titans have a terrific chance to win this game on the road.
Nebraska @ USC – 10:30 PM EST on Prime Ticket (**)
USC returns only one starter from last year’s team, Maurice Jones. At 5’7”, Jones has trouble getting his shot off and it showed against Cal State Northridge on Friday, going 0-7 (a major part of USC’s 0-15) from deep. It won’t get easier against Doc Sadler’s defense. USC is going to have to score points inside to win this game. Dewayne Dedmon and Aaron Fuller can do that but the Cornhuskers ranked #6 in two point defense last season. Kevin O’Neill also has to find some way for his team to rebound since Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson are no longer in LA. Nebraska outrebounded South Dakota 42-24 in its Friday victory.
Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.
When Jay Wright speaks, his Wildcat squad listens. The veteran coach knows how to communicate with his players and that is one of the reasons he has had such a successful tenure.
A key for West Virginia‘s resurgence this season has been the turnaround of senior guard Casey Mitchell. Mitchell, who was thought to be a consistent player for the Mountaineers, battled inconsistency and conduct problems throughout the early part of the season.
UNC head coach Roy Williams revealed guard Dexter Strickland has been battling a knee injury for a few weeks. Strickland’s health will be a key to Carolina’s chances of making a deep run.
Marquette has struggled with defensive inconsistencies all season, but they have had great success getting to the hoop and drawing fouls. Look for Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom to exploit the Musketeers in an attempt to get easy hoops.
#13 seed Princeton is seeking a monumental upset as they prep to face Kentucky. The Tigers do have a history of pulling huge shockers in March, as they stunned defending champion UCLA in the first round in 1996.
Kansas State standout guard Jacob Pullen is battling the flu, but is expected to be a full participant in tonight’s tilt with Utah State. If Pullen is not 100%, one can assume Utah State’s chances for an upset get significantly stronger.
The fresh infusion of talent provided to Gonzaga by the emergence of Marquise Carter, David Stockton, and Sam Dower have been key to the Zags’ late season run. The play of all three will undoubtedly dictate if Mark Few‘s squad will make any noise.
Tom Izzo knows this season did not go exactly the way he wanted it to, but an experienced squad can be a huge factor if the Spartans make a run. Izzo is a great veteran coach, who has Final Four experience, so a big run may not be that surprising.
St. John’s associate head coach Mike Dunlaphas interest in the opening at Wyoming. Dunlap has a great track record as an assistant and a lower-level head coach and could thrive as the head man at Wyoming.
An interesting story has emerged about how Old Dominion head coach Blaine Taylor has endured bouts with alcoholism. His road to redemption is quite inspiring, as he did not let his demons put an end to his career.
“What’s wrong with Gonzaga?” is a question heard more and more throughout college hoops. It is not surprising considering the Zags’ unusual 15-9 overall record and shocking 5-3 mark (4th place) in the West Coast Conference that it has dominated for the past decade. When any powerhouse team goes into a slump there are myriad reasons, and the same could be said about Gonzaga. Focusing on two major ones, however, helps put the Zags’ current woes into perspective. Simply put, the Zags are suffering from the loss of two players and a vacuum created by those who failed to succeed them.
The Loss of Bouldin (and Pargo) Have Really Hurt the Zag Dynasty
The missing players are Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin. Pargo was the rugged, 6’2, 219-pound point guard who starred in the Zags’ backcourt for four years before graduating in 2009. He was named Player of the Year in the WCC after his junior year, and gave the Bulldogs a solid counterpart to the canny Bouldin. He could take defenders off the dribble, hit jump shots off screens and go to the hoop to flush the ball with authority. Gonzaga did not directly replace Pargo for the 2009-10 season, instead moving Bouldin into the point guard position and relaying on the mop-head’s court vision and outside shooting skills to maintain the Zags’ superiority in his senior year. The Bouldin-led Zags hit their first speed bump in the post-Pargo era in the 2010 West Coast Conference Tournament championship game against Saint Mary’s. The Gaels’ inside-out combination of Omar Samhan and Ben Allen in the frontcourt and Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova in the backcourt led the Gaels to an 81-62 upset.
Heading into the 2010-11 season, the Zags thought they had finally found a point guard to replace Pargo and Bouldin with JC transfer Marquise Carter, who was a star for Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Carter had impressive stats in two years at Three Rivers – nearly 18 PPG and 5.5 APG in his sophomore year – and led the team to the national JC championship game where he scored 35 points in a loss to Howard of Texas. Carter, however, who seems much slighter than his roster size of 6’4, 178 pounds (maybe the 178 is correct), has not caught on with the Zags. The Bulldogs started the season with journeyman backcourt player Meech Goodson at the point alongside all-around star StevenGray, and based their hopes on their strong frontcourt duo of Robert Sacre in the post and Elias Harris at power forward. Redshirt sophomore guard David Stockton, son of the legendary Gonzaga and NBA star John Stockton, has steadily rung up more minutes at the point as this season goes on, and may end up as the Zags’ regular lead guard by season’s end. Or not, as coach Mark Few has tinkered with his lineup from day one and may not be finished trying to find a solution.
We are normally fans of Seth Davis, but we have to strongly disagree with him on his response to Jake from Seattle (scroll down), though we would have accepted an answer that Jake was using the improper jargon and the appropriate phrase is “rush the court.” Ok, all kidding aside, Seth has a solid column (again) with some good stuff about all the questions surrounding Ohio State (have to go back a page from the original link). Still, we think it is worthwhile pointing out that, despite our name, we don’t think the actual act is necessary all the time, and that it should only be done at rare and appropriate times. We feel so strongly about this that we even wrote a post about it. That said, we do agree with Seth’s point that crowds need to be aware of their surroundings and watch for others around them as I witnessed at the only true RTC of which this author has ever been a part. The Providence fans were very courteous in letting me move to the side to avoid being trampled by the onslaught so I could get a better angle to report on it when I joined the students on the floor (see pics in the link above — apologies for the poor formating which is the result of some old audio files that seem to be missing).
Even though most people know Ken Pomeroy for his site and its rankings he also writes an interesting blog. A lot of the time his posts are about analyzing some new statistic, but he recently had an engaging post questioning how the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee should determine how it picks the at-large teams. It is worth a read and raises the question as to whether those involved with selecting the field should allow their personal viewing experience to influence who gets into the field. In an ideal world they would not, but then they’d be left without a way to understand basketball, which I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t want to have as a characteristic of the people who determine which teams make the field.
Someone mentioned a few days ago that people would start jumping on the UNC bandwagon pretty soon, and after the Tar Heels blew out the Eagles in Chestnut Hill it looks as though that was quite prescient as some people in the North Carolina media are starting to buy into the Heels even if many of their readers aren’t (see the comments in that link). It will be interesting to see if the media can convince themselves that UNC could actually play with their rivals a few miles down the road. We know that CBS will certainly be hyping it up like that, especially for a certain primetime game, but we still aren’t sure how many will actually try to get on the bandwagon as well.
We are a college basketball site, but we would be remiss not to offer a tip of the hat to Bob Hurley Sr. for winning his 1,000th game as a high school basketball coach. While some may argue that his son Bobby — the point guard on the back-to-back NCAA championship teams at Duke and still the NCAA record holder for assists in a career — is more well-known, it is his father who has impacted more lives, having sent countless players to college on scholarship or improved their lives through basketball. Hurley Sr. is the 10th high school coach to reach the 1,000 win milestone and is already pointing toward 100 more. Personally, we would like to see him out there for 1,000 more.
Speaking of well-known father-son combinations, Gonzaga has one in John Stockton and his son David Stockton. All right, maybe the father is a little more well-known than the son in this case. You all know about John’s accomplishments, but you are probably less familiar with David, who joined the Gonzaga team earlier this season as a freshman walk-on. Much like Jeff Jordan, the son of Michael Jordan (the man who prevented David’s father from winning a NBA championship ring) who was given a scholarship after walking on, David also received news that he too had been given a scholarship. For Mark Few‘s sake, we hope that David stays at Gonzaga longer than Jeff did at Illinois.
The Lede. Hopefully everyone was over their Jimmer hangovers by the time the games started tonight. Judging by Twitter, and…well, pretty much every sports outlet in the nation, the transitive verb “to Jimmer” has entered the American sporting lexicon with some serious impact. We can’t remember when a college baller’s name has ever been used in this fashion; nobody ever said “You got Turnered/Walled,” or “He Morrisoned them,” or “They Hansbrough’d the heck out of that poor team.” And the only name we can think of that contains a reverent “The” at the beginning that’s in regular use today belongs to U2 guitarist The Edge, though — and credit to Seth Davis for starting the trend — “The Jimmer” is now commonplace usage in referring to just about everybody’s favorite player.
Darius Morris and Crew Start the Celebration (J.Gonzalez/Detroit FP)
But enough of that for now. We’ll have many chances to discuss him later. Tonight we saw three tough conference road wins, two of them in games involving bitter rivals. We have a couple of RTCs we have to weigh in on, and a pair of outstanding tweets from the Gonzaga vs St. Mary’s game. First, though, we start…with Sparty.
Your Watercooler Moment. On the halftime coverage of ESPN2′s St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga game, when asked about how dire the situation was for Michigan State this year after their loss to Michigan tonight, even the understated Dan Dakich hesitated for effect and said gravely, “Well…it’s pretty serious.”