Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2010

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

A Look Back

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

Player of the Week: Keion Bell, Pepperdine

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

Power Rankings

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

A Look Ahead

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

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 2nd, 2010

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC Conference

A Look Back

Saint Mary’s lost two out of three from tough opponents outside Moraga, Gonzaga got a brief respite from its grueling pre-conference schedule and Portland righted itself after losses to two tough foes. The expectation of a pulse from pre-season darling Loyola-Marymount was raised by a win over Long Beach State (then dashed by a loss to UC Santa Barbara), and the rest of the pack stumbled along with no break-out performances.

Player of the Week

Portland’s unapologetic three-point bomber, Jared Stohl, shot himself into Player of the Week honors with strong performances against Washington State and UC Santa Barbara: 5-12 on threes in the Pilots’ 84-68 loss to Washington State and 6-9 in their 75-63 win over Santa Barbara. For the week, Stohl averaged 23.5 PPG, shooting a combined 12-23 from the field, 11-21 from three-point range and 12-13 at the foul line.

Power Rankings

1. Saint Mary’s (6-2) roared into the South Padre Island Invitational finals with a convincing 88-56 win over the Big 12’s Texas Tech, but got Jimmer-jammed in the championship game against soon-to-be conference foe BYU. Cougar All-American guard Jimmer Fredette gave the Gaels fits all night, capping off a 24-point performance with a three-pointer with a little over 10 seconds remaining that put BYU up 72-70. Saint Mary’s called timeout, planned its last-second strategy and then watched in disbelief as Matt Dellavedova’s mugging in the lane failed to draw a foul call. Two BYU free-throws following Dellavedova’s miss and Mickey McConnell’s desperation three-pointer at the buzzer made the final 74-73. There was no suspense in the Gaels’ match-up with sizzling San Diego State, however, as the Aztecs revenged a 22-point loss last year in Moraga with a convincing 69-55 victory in San Diego.

Looking Ahead: The Gaels ease into the winter term break with home games December 8 against Denver and December 14 against UC Riverside.

2. Portland (6-2) continued to be near-invincible on its home floor, easily topping UC Santa Barbara 75-63 and holding off Rick Majerus’ Saint Louis Billikens 69-60 in the Chiles Center. The one-two combination of Stohl on the outside and Luke Sikma on the inside paced the Pilots in the two wins. Sikma recorded his third double-double of the season against Santa Barbara, going for 12 and 13, and topped that with a 26-point barrage against Saint Louis.

Looking ahead: The Pilots face two difficult road opponents in the week ahead, travelling to the unfriendly confines of Missoula, MT to take on Montana on Friday (Dec. 3) and to Seattle to face Pac 10 powerhouse Washington in Seattle on Dec. 6.

3. Gonzaga (4-2) had an easy week, polishing off Eastern Washington at home by 86-57 and resting up for its showdown with Big Ten contender Illinois before meeting Washington State in the Battle in Seattle on Saturday. They didn’t need him against EWU, but Elias Harris was held out of the game, still feeling tightness in his foot. Will his heel ever heal?

Looking ahead: After facing the Illini, the Zags have two more difficult road contests against Washington State on Wednesday and

4. Santa Clara (4-3) faced its first tough competition of the season, losing to Arizona 82-59 and Ohio 78-72 in the Las Vegas Invitational. Junior forward Marc Trasolini was the Broncos’ stalwart for the week, pouring in 19 points in each of the two losses, while early-season scoring leader Kevin Foster fell off to 13 against Arizona and ten against Ohio on 3-of-14 shooting.

Looking ahead: It’s the Broncos turn to host UC Santa Barbara on Saturday, then go on the road against Bay Area foes San Jose State next Friday and Pacific the following Tuesday.

5. San Francisco (3-3), which gave its fans a thrill with an overtime win over Colorado, suffered a road loss to Montana State (76-59) and a heartbreaking 63-62 home loss to Loyola (Chicago) before squeaking by the Bay Area’s Holy Names University 89-86 on Wednesday.

Looking ahead: The Dons will try to create some road momentum against Cal State-Bakersfield on Saturday before upping the ante in a big way against Louisville in Louisville on Wednesday.

6. Loyola Marymount (3-5) saw a jolt emanate from Max Good’s beleaguered Lions last week. Fans certainly hope the 80-77 overtime road win over Long Beach State was the beginning of the end to their pre-conference woes. Clearly the game preceding it, a 55-48 road loss to Cal Poly, didn’t do their nerves any good, but the strong performance against Long Beach – picked as one of the favorites to compete for the Big West title – gives hope. For one thing, senior guard Vernon Teel, one of the objects of Good’s wrath earlier in the season, had the type of game fans had been expecting, going for 20 points and 11 rebounds. Junior forward Drew Viney continued the excellent play that has carried him to fourth place in WCC scoring at 16.1 ppg. UC Santa Barbara dimmed the Lions’ enthusiasm with a 77-67 win in Santa Barbara on Wednesday.

Looking ahead: The Lions can look forward to their first home game after six on the road with a rematch against Cal Poly on December 4, the first of four home games that could go a long way to curing their early-season blues.

7. Pepperdine‘s (3-5) fans received great new in the form of the return of junior guard Keion Bell, who was out for two games with a wrist injury, in the Waves’ 88-74 loss to Northern Arizona. Bell dropped 33 points on the Lumberjacks, along with six rebounds and six assists, but his teammates couldn’t top Northern Arizona’s Gabe Rogers (31 points) or Cameron Jones (23 points). Pepperdine bounced back with an impressive 70-60 road win against Pacific on Wednesday.

Looking ahead: The Waves entertain Texas-San Antonio in Malibu on December 4, then travel to Salt Lake City to battle Utah next Tuesday.

8. San Diego (1-5) continued to struggle, losing to New Mexico 75-46 at The Pit and to UC Irvine in a fast-paced game Wednesday night at home.

Looking ahead: The Toreros travel to Cal State Fullerton on Saturday, then host Fresno State on Tuesday.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players: National Wrap-Up

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2010

Over the past month-plus, we’ve been presenting our RTC Impact Players for the 2010-11 season. From coast to coast and the Canadian border down to Mexico, we’ve selected the sixty players nationally who we believe will have the most impact on the game this year.  Each of the ten geographic regions was allotted five “starters” and a “sixth man,” an artificial construct that was easy to fill in some areas while much more difficult in some of the others.  In case you’ve missed the series along the way, this post will serve as your wrap-up.  We’re rank-ordering the ten “teams” by geographic region and list some of the near-miss players in each one.  Each regional post has a much more extensive writeup on each player chosen, so be sure to click on its respective link if you’re looking for additional information.  Here’s the view of the 2010-11 college basketball world from 500,000 feet.

The 2010-11 RTC Impact Players Map

The Ten Regions

(* denotes current injury, suspension or ineligibility)

1. Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL). Wow, and imagine if Robbie Hummel hadn’t gotten hurt.  Another group of first-rounders has everything, but what really sets this team apart is the inside dominance that Sullinger and Johnson can impose.  There isn’t a region on our list this year that would be able to stay out of foul trouble against those two, especially with the heady play of Mack, McCamey and Moore finding the big men in the right spots time and time again.  It’s no coincidence that the nation’s best conference — the Big 10 — has its footprint located here.

  • Shelvin Mack, G, Butler
  • E’Twaun Moore, G, Purdue
  • Chris Wright, F, Dayton
  • Jared Sullinger, F, Ohio State
  • JaJuan Johnson, C, Purdue
  • Demetri McCamey, G, Illinois (6th)

Near Misses: William Buford, Ohio State; Maurice Creek, G, Indiana; John Shurna, Northwestern

2. South Atlantic Region (VA, NC, SC). Obviously, if you can’t find a space for a likely all-american like Nolan Smith, this is a sick team.  Its only weakness is that other than Tracy Smith, it is extremely perimeter-oriented.  Granted, nobody can put a more talented five on the floor, but if a team like the above can pound the ball inside on them, that could make the difference.

  • Kyrie Irving, G, Duke
  • Malcolm Delaney, G, Virginia Tech
  • Kevin Anderson, G, Richmond
  • Harrison Barnes, F, UNC
  • Kyle Singler, F, Duke
  • Tracy Smith, F, NC State (6th)

Near Misses: Nolan Smith, Duke; Andrew Goudelock, College of Charleston

3. Plains/Mountains Region (KS, CO, WY, OK, TX). This is a ridiculously talented region, with first-rounders everywhere on the floor.  The only possible issue would be who would be willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team, but if Selby is eligible to run the show, we’re not sure there’s a much better group anywhere else in America.  This region is so strong we had to leave a high-major conference POY (Culpepper) off the team.  Wow.

  • LaceDarius Dunn*, G, Baylor
  • Jacob Pullen, G, Kansas State
  • Perry Jones, F, Baylor
  • Marcus Morris, F, Kansas
  • Cory Higgins, F, Colorado
  • Josh Selby*, Kansas (6th)

Near Misses: Alec Burks, Colorado; Gary Johnson, Texas; Randy Culpepper, UTEP

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Southwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 1st, 2010

Welcome to our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Southwest Region (NM, AZ, NV, HI, SoCal)

  • Jio Fontan – Soph, G – USC. Last year, USC was the talk of the college basketball world for a stretch, when senior point guard Mike Gerrity, a transfer from Charlotte, took over the team in December and promptly led the Trojans to an upset blowout victory over then #8 Tennessee in his first game of the season. The Trojans went on to win their next five games, including the inaugural Diamond Head Classic, with Gerrity serving as a big spark. In 2010-11, head coach Kevin O’Neill and his team will welcome another Division I transfer to the active roster over the winter break, and they hope to sustain the bump in talent they’ll get when Fontan joins the team as a midseason transfer from Fordham. In fact, Fontan was in the midst of an on-campus visit last December 19 when Gerrity was leading the Trojans to their win over the Volunteers and he committed to the school just days later, perhaps seeing the blueprint for his own success in Gerrity’s. Luckily enough for O’Neill and the Trojans, Fontan will have more than just the one semester of eligibility that Gerrity had.  But while their paths to the USC roster may seem similar, their games are different. Fontan is more of a combo-guard, capable of running an offense, but more adept at creating for himself than being a pure distributor. Not that he isn’t capable of handing out assists – he averaged more than four assists per night during his one season plus five games at Fordham – but Fontan is at his best with the ball in his hands, able to both blow by defenders and hit from long range, scoring the ball to the tune of 15.3 points per game in his freshman season on his way to Atlantic 10 rookie of the year honors. Paired with established frontcourt returners Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson and a talented group of newcomers, including 5’7 point guard Maurice Jones who will handle the lead guard duties until Fontan is eligible, Fontan will be surrounded by far more talent than he ever was in his time at Fordham. And if things go as well as could be hoped for, Fontan will have a chance to reprise Gerrity’s Trojan debut, as Southern Cal will travel to Kansas (and then, three days later, they’ll play the return game in the Tennessee series) for Fontan’s first game, giving USC a chance to make another big mid-season splash on the national stage.
  • Tre’Von Willis* – Sr, G – UNLV. For a good part of last summer, Tre’Von Willis, the star shooting guard for the Runnin’ Rebels, may have thought that his collegiate career was over thanks to his June 29 arrest for felony battery involving an ugly incident with a woman in nearby Henderson, Nevada.  Willis ultimately copped to a plea agreement of a lesser charge of misdemeanor domestic battery, and in interviews since the incident he has shown considerable sincerity and self-awareness in suggesting that he placed himself in a bad situation.  After he serves a mandated three-game suspension meted by coach Lon Kruger, Willis will likely be back in action for UNLV’s second regular season game against Southeastern Louisiana.  And it’s a good thing that he will be, as the Rebel program has eyes on putting together its best season since the understated head coach rolled into town several years ago.  Considering that the Rebs have been to a Sweet Sixteen and won 30 games in a season under his tutelage (both in 2006-07), those are lofty goals.  But they are also realistic ones so long as some of the injury problems that Willis and several others have recently endured are controlled.  Willis in particular continues to experience knee pain as a result of arthroscopic surgery in August to repair cartilage, a recurring problem which caused the capable scorer to lose some of his lift at the end of last season and definitely impacted his effectiveness.  As an example, after scoring twenty or more points ten times through mid-February, Willis only hit the figure one more time during the last eight games of the year, a sure indication that he was not at 100%.  The hope is that his summer surgery,  a new outlook on opportunity as a result of his legal troubles, a sprinkling of maturity (he also had a daughter) and much-needed rest will encourage Willis to come back with an all-America caliber season.  He was chosen as a first-team all-MWC guard in 2009-10 when he contributed an all-around game of 17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 3.5 APG while increasing his previously-sketchy shot selection to the point where he added nearly 10% (from 38% to 48%) on his field goal percentage.  If he can truly put everything from last summer behind him and remain healthy for an entire season, the new Aria Hotel may not be the only must-see on The Strip this winter.

Tre'Von Willis Has to Sit Three Games (LV Sun/S. Morris)

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RTC Conference Primers: #12 – West Coast Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 25th, 2010

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

Predicted Order of Finish

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

All-Conference Team

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

6th Man

Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s

Impact Newcomers

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

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

What You Need to Know

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

Predicted Champion

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

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The RTC Big Four State Tournament: First Round (day 2)

Posted by rtmsf on September 2nd, 2010

Yesterday we introduced our 2010 RTC Big Four State Tournament, and it was great to see some of the responses and feedback on it.  We’re convinced this is going to be a fun series.  Today we’re back for the second day of First Round games (the right side of the below bracket), including our analysis and projected winner, but we encourage you guys to make your picks for each game in the accompanying polls.

In case you missed yesterday’s post explaining what we’re talking about, here’s our selection criteria:

  1. Similar to the Fanhouse post, we picked the top four programs in each of the 33 states (including DC) with at least that many D1 universities.
  2. We then chose the top sixteen states based on the current status and power of those four programs within each state.
  3. Next, we chose a starting lineup ”dream team” of players from those programs in each state, thinking about how to best integrate them by position (three guards & two bigs; or vice versa).
  4. We also chose two subs — one guard and one big man — as well as a head coach.
  5. We limited each school to two starters and one bench player for a maximum of three per team (sorry, Duke).  We also made sure to include at least one player from each of the four chosen programs (hi, Seattle).
  6. Finally, we seeded the sixteen teams into our bracket and analyzed the matchups.  We encourage you to use the polls below to do likewise.

#2 North Carolina vs. #15 California

The first thought we had when analyzing this matchup is… that’s all you got, Cali?  Good grief — the nation’s most populous state by far can only muster a lineup of players that includes Jorge Gutierrez as a starter?   No offense to the ponytailed energizer bunny from Cal, but this game is a mismatch from start to finish.  Sadly, even if we had included every single one of California’s 24 D1 schools and added some studs like Stanford’s Jeremy Green, LMU’s Drew Viney and Vernon Teel, Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster, San Jose State’s Adrian Oliver and the St. Mary’s backcourt of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavadova, the Tar Heel Staters still wipe the floor with this team.  Maybe California could draft Kobe Bryant, Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry to their squad?  There’s simply too much talent on Coach K’s team from top to bottom (sound familiar?) for his team to sweat this one too terribly much.  The only area that North Carolina has a problem with California is in the post, where SDSU’s Kawhi Leonard can take advantage of the slighter frames of the NC bigs to put in some work.  But the speed, athleticism and scoring punch of the #2 seed is far too powerful here.  North Carolina rolls in a blowout.

RTC Choice: North Carolina 82, California 59.

#7 Washington vs. #10 Tennessee

 

The matchups at the two guard spots and the wing are tantalizing in this game. The fatal flaw with the boys from the Volunteer State is their lack of a true point guard. Adding Melvin Goins or Brad Tinsley to the roster would have meant sacrificing one of Wesley Witherspoon, Scotty Hopson, Jeffery Taylor or bench ace John Jenkins, and it’s hard to blame coach Pearl for not making that move. Luckily for him, his team is loaded with intriguing first round talent, albeit at times inconsistent and frustrating talent. It also helps that Washington’s point man, Isaiah Thomas, isn’t much of a distributor either. Although Elias Harris may be limited by the length of Taylor, it’s his Zag teammate Robert Sacre that’s primed for a monster performance being guarded by Brian Williams at 2-3 inches shorter and the inexperienced Tobias Harris. Plus, we haven’t even mentioned Klay Thompson, a popular choice for Pac-10 Player of the Year.  It’ll be a well-played back-and-forth game, but we have the Washingtonians moving on.

RTC Choice: Washington 81, Tennessee 77.

#3 Pennsylvania vs. #14 Wisconsin

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WCC Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2010

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

Final Standings (through games of 2/27/10)

  1. Gonzaga                      12-2 (24-5)
  2. Saint Mary’s                11-3 (24-5)
  3. Portland                      9-4 (18-9)
  4. San Francisco              7-7 (12-17)
  5. Loyola Marymount     7-7 (16-14)
  6. Santa Clara                  3-11 (11-20)
  7. San Diego                   3-11 (10-20)
  8. Pepperdine                  3-11 (7-23)

Eyes on the Prize

Although one could reasonably forecast a WCC tournament championship game featuring no. 1 seed Gonzaga battling no. 2 seed Saint Mary’s for the automatic NCAA bid, a lot of interesting basketball will be played before that final matchup on Monday night, March 8 (ESPN, 6 p.m. Pacific) in Las Vegas. The last week of conference play settled the torrid battle for fourth place between San Francisco and Loyola Marymount (San Francisco got the nod and a first-round tournament bye because of a better conference record than LMU, including beating the Lions twice), and also set the stage for the most intriguing tournament contest. Before discussing that, however, here’s a look at the overall tournament schedule:

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on February 23rd, 2010

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

Standings (through games of 2/20/10)

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

San Francisco or Loyola Marymount?

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

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

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

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

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

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on February 8th, 2010

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

Standings (through games of 2/6/10)

  1. Saint Mary’s                 8-1 (21-3)
  2. Gonzaga                       7-1 (19-4)
  3. Portland                       5-3 (14-8)
  4. San Francisco               4-5 (9-15)
  5. Loyola Marymount       3-5 (12-12)
  6. Pepperdine                   3-5 (7-17)
  7. Santa Clara                  2-7 (10-16)
  8. San Diego                    2-7 (9-16)

Moment of Truth, Part II

Gonzaga triumphed in its trial-by-fire three-game stretch to Portland, Saint Mary’s and San Diego last month, and now it’s Saint Mary’s turn to run the gauntlet. After holding serve at home last week against Santa Clara (74-62) and San Francisco (73-57), the Gaels face a showdown with the Zags Thursday night (Feb. 11) in Spokane, a tough rematch with Portland two nights later, then a final road game on Feb. 18 against San Diego. This is make or break time for Saint Mary’s, which can sew up a regular-season WCC title and a probable NCAA bid with a sweep, or face the same uncertainty it did last season when it failed to beat Gonzaga in three tries.

Although the Gaels could salvage their season with a win over Gonzaga in the WCC tournament March 5-8 in Las Vegas, it would do wonders for their peace of mind if they did the trick Thursday night before a sold out and rockin’ McCarthey Athletic Center, where the Zags have lost only four times in the last six years. The epic contest, perhaps the most meaningful west coast college basketball game this year, will be televised at 8 p.m. Pacific on ESPN2. Are Randy Bennett’s Gaels up to the task?

The consensus of most observers, including Zag fans, is that an upset is possible but Saint Mary’s must be hitting on all cylinders to pull it off. Gonzaga dispelled any thoughts that they had fallen into a mid-season funk with their stunning loss to San Francisco on Jan. 30 by thrashing Portland at home 76-49 on Feb. 4, then pulling one of their patented cross-country jaunts to knock off a tough Memphis squad 66-58 two days later. The Zag express is rolling toward a certain trip to the NCAA tournament and will not want to be derailed by the Gaels on its home court.

To accomplish the improbable, Saint Mary’s must show it has learned some tough lessons from its 89-82 home loss to Gonzaga on Jan. 14. One of these is not to provide another contribution to a highlight reel that could be entitled “Forwards Go Off,” featuring huge games by the Zags’ Elias Harris (31 pts), Santa Clara’s Marc Trasolini (19 pts), Loyola Marymount’s Kevin Young and Drew Viney (27 pts each) and Portland’s Robin Smuelders (29 pts), among others. Simply put, the Gaels have inside defense issues stemming most directly from the departure of stout forwards Diamon Simpson and Ian O’Leary. Their replacements, Ben Allen and Clint Steindl, have given Bennett strong offensive performances from the 4-and 3-spots, but have not exactly played shutdown D. The Gaels don’t have to worry about their powerful offensive machine, which has proved to be a reliable provider of 80-plus ppg, but must clamp down on the Zags’ trio of Harris, Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray.

Eric Reveno must work hard this week to keep his Portland Pilots from licking their lips in anticipation of ambushing the Gaels two nights after they face the Zags. Portland will have a tuneup against unraveling San Diego on Thursday night, then can hope to inflict a disappointing second league loss on the Gaels if they upset Gonzaga or a crippling third one if the Gaels lose in Spokane. “Payback is hell” will be the Pilots’ motto this week, remembering their 77-72 loss to Saint Mary’s last month.

The hotly-contested fourth-place spot in WCC standings stayed with San Francisco this week, as the Dons squeaked out a 72-70 overtime win over San Diego before stumbling at Saint Mary’s. LMU supplanted Pepperdine in the fifth spot by beating the Waves 77-61 at Gersten Pavilion, but both southern California squads travel to San Francisco this week to stage a battle royal for the fourth-place position and first-round WCC tournament bye that goes with it. San Francisco is in the driver’s seat by hosting both of its nearest competitors, but even if it wins both games it faces a killing season-ending schedule of Santa Clara, Portland and Gonzaga on the road. This one isn’t over yet.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on January 25th, 2010

Standings (through games of 1/23/10)

  1. Gonzaga                       5-0 (16-3)
  2. Saint Mary’s                 4-1 (17-3)
  3. Portland                       3-2 (12-7)
  4. Pepperdine                   3-2 (7-14)
  5. San Francisco               2-3 (7-13)
  6. Loyola Marymount       1-4 (10-11)
  7. Santa Clara                  1-4 (9-13)
  8. San Diego                    1-4 (8-13)

Who Wants Fourth Place?

All things considered, it’s not a bad spot to be in: satisfaction of finishing in the top half of conference play, first-round bye in the WCC tournament, hope for next season. Yet, the various contenders for the spot keep falling all over themselves to pass it up. Pepperdine holds the spot this week, San Francisco had it last week and who knows what next week will bring?

Among fourth-place hopefuls, Loyola Marymount at 10-11 holds the most wins for the season and boasts that upset of Notre Dame in South Bend back in December. But the Lions fell hard on their trip to the Pacific Northwest last week, suffering a scorching 79-39 loss at Portland, but bouncing back to play better against Gonzaga, eventually losing 85-69 after being tied at the half. Lions coach Max Good can rightly point to injuries that have cost his team the services of Edgar Garibay, Jarred DuBois, Ashley Hamilton, Drew Viney and Larry Davis at various times this season (Garibay is done for the year), but still questions remain: can the Lions overcome crosstown rival Pepperdine, who beat them for the 12th straight year in Malibu two weeks ago; can they do better against the Zags and Pilots on their home court; how will they handle Saint Mary’s high-powered offense? Only by answering those with some wins can LMU hope to finish in the top four, and they get a chance this week with games at home against San Diego on Thursday, Saint Mary’s on Saturday and Pepperdine on Feb. 6.

Pepperdine and USF are at least as hard to figure as LMU, and both had a tough time last week. The Waves also lost both games in the Northwest, giving Gonzaga something to worry about with a 55-point second half behind Keion Bell’s outrageous 37 points in a 91-84 loss, then falling meekly to Portland 80-64 when Bell had “only” 21. Bell’s average for the week was 29 PPG but his team still suffered two losses and fell from a tie for first to fourth. USF had only one game, a rivalry contest against fellow Bay Area Jesuit institution Santa Clara, and lost 66-65 after closing hard in the final minutes and having the ball trailing by one point in the final seconds. The inbounds pass went right through the hands of sophomore guard Rashad Green, however, and with it the Dons’ chance for a victory. USF’s next two home games don’t get any easier, as they face Portland on Thursday and Gonzaga on Saturday.

Santa Clara’s victory over USF was its first in conference play, and it shares the cellar with San Diego, which fell 71-56 at Saint Mary’s, succumbing to an early display of Gael offense that bolted them into a 23-5 lead after 12 minutes. Santa Clara faces the Portland-Gonzaga onslaught at home along with USF this week, and San Diego’s hopes of moving out of last place hinge on success on the road against LMU on Thursday and Pepperdine on Saturday.

What all the turmoil in the 4-8 spots underlines is the predictability of the top three positions, with nine-time conference champ Gonzaga entrenched at 5-0, wannabe usurper Saint Mary’s one game behind at 4-1 and recovering Portland in third at 3-2 (same conference mark as Pepperdine, which is listed in fourth because of a poorer overall record). The Zags don’t seem to be in trouble with this week’s road games to the Bay Area, while Saint Mary’s will give Pepperdine (Thursday) and LMU (Saturday) a shot at them by travelling south to Malibu and Los Angeles. Portland will hope to continue bouncing back from losses to the Zags and Gaels as it accompanies Gonzaga on the Bay Area trip.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on January 1st, 2010

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

Standings (through games of 12/30/09)

  1. Saint Mary’s     13-2
  2. Gonzaga       9-3
  3. Portland         7-5
  4. Loyola Marymount       8-7
  5. Santa Clara      7-8
  6. San Diego        6-8
  7. San Francisco        4-10
  8. Pepperdine         4-11

Observations

Although several WCC teams have games remaining before conference play begins next Friday (Jan. 8), a few general observations appear to be safe. First, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s (or Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga if you prefer) have erased any doubts about their continued stranglehold on the top two positions. Gonzaga could finish its pre-conference schedule at 11-3 or 10-4 depending on its game on the road against Illinois on Jan. 2, but the Zags have made it perfectly clear they are up to the challenge of competing for a 10th straight WCC Championship. Winning the prestigious Maui Invitational with a scintillating 61-59 overtime win over Cincinnati in November, taking Michigan State to the wire before falling 75-71 in East Lansing and adding wins against Wisconsin and Washington State answered any questions about how Gonzaga would respond to a large-scale roster turnover. The Zags are back.

Saint Mary’s used the pre-conference period to make quite a statement as well: these are not your old, Patty Mills-led Gaels, but a whole ‘nother animal – one with very sharp teeth. The Gaels are putting up eye-popping offensive numbers (82.7 ppg) and playing much more efficiently with Mickey McConnell running the offense in place of Mills. Mills was a spectacular offensive force, but the dynamism of his game would sometimes leave the other four Gael players standing around watching along with everyone else. Everyone is involved this year, as witnessed by the three Gaels averaging double figures – Omar Samhan (20.8), Matthew Dellavedova (13.4) and McConnell (12.8) – and the other two starters close behind: Ben Allen (9.3) and Clint Steindl (7.9). Wayne Hunter was averaging 11 ppg before he went down with a season-ending ACL tear.  Heading into conference play next weekend with away games against San Francisco on Jan. 8 and Santa Clara on the 10th, the Gaels are shooting just under 50% from the floor and just over 40% from three-point range. Their efficiency is emphasized by a team assist/turnover ratio of 1.5, headlined by McConnell’s almost three-to-one pace of 96 assists to 37 turnovers.

Observation no. 2 Portland has not stepped up its game following last year’s 19-13 record and third place conference finish. This columnist picked Portland to wrest the WCC crown from Gonzaga based on its senior-laden roster and steady leadership from Coach Eric Reveno, but that prediction was predicated on the Pilots’ seizing the moment. For the moment, they have been seized by an inability to win on the road and a penchant for being blown out by strong opposition: 84-66 by West Virginia and 89-54 by Washington. Last week’s 78-69 loss to Nevada in Reno didn’t lessen fears that the Pilots will be undone on the road in the WCC, although they get an early opportunity to regain their swagger with a conference-opening home battle against Gonzaga on Saturday (Jan. 9).

Observation no. 3. Loyola Marymount is for real, with peril to San Diego and Santa Clara in the battle for fourth place in the conference and an opening-game bye in the conference tournament in Las Vegas in March. The Lions won their fifth in a row on Dec. 30, a 104-89 victory over the troublesome Seattle Redhawks in Gersten Pavilion, and topped 100 points for the first time since 1998. Coach Max Good has succeeded in grafting high-caliber transfers (Drew Viney, Larry Davis), holdover stars (Vernon Teel, Kevin Young and Jarred DuBois) and newcomers (Alex Osborne, Given Kalipinde) into a compelling force. LMU has only a rematch against Cal State-Bakersfield, which it beat 84-71 on Dec. 19, before entering conference play Jan. 9 at Pepperdine. It then hosts USF on the 14th and Santa Clara on the 16th, giving it a chance to open conference play at 3-0.

Santa Clara and San Diego seem vulnerable to Loyola’s resurgence because of erratic play. Santa Clara fell under .500 on the season with a pair of unimpressive performances in its own Cable Car Classic Dec. 29-30. The Broncos lost to Northeastern 62-50 in the opener and to the Wofford Terriers 80-72 in the consolation game, and have two more non-conference contests before opening WCC play at home Jan. 8 against San Diego. The games, against 5-5 New Hampshire and 9-3 Harvard, don’t figure to be ones to get the Broncos well, as New Hampshire is coming off a 63-55 win over Colgate and Harvard boasts wins over George Washington (66-53)  and Rice (85-64), a team that handled Santa Clara 70-57. Harvard is led by sensational senior guard Jeremy Lin of Palo Alto High School, who will be hoping for a strong performance before a Bay Area crowd.  San Diego won its only game last week, 63-56 over lightly-regarded Savannah State before losing to Mississippi State on New Year’s Eve, and has a final pre-conference game on Jan. 3 against Florida A&M, also at home. The Jan. 8 game with Santa Clara on the Broncos’ court will tell a lot about how those two teams will compete for fourth-place against LMU.

Pepperdine did little to show that its Dec. 23 upset of Utah presaged a turnaround, as the Waves were sliced up by Georgia 64-47 a week later in Athens, GA. Pepperdine’s final pre-conference game is against Miami in Malibu on Jan. 3, leaving the Waves to anticipate the beginning of WCC play at home on Jan. 9 against LMU.  USF can take some solace from its 86-71 loss to Washington in Seattle on Dec. 27, especially in a 14-4 run that brought them within four points halfway through the second half. A three-pointer by freshman guard Michael Williams topped off the rally, and the Dons got another strong performance from junior transfer Moustapha Diarra, who totaled 14 points and 12 rebounds. Another transfer who has been mostly silent for USF in the pre-season, guard Rashad Green, also scored 14 points, giving the Dons hope for a better fate in conference play than their 4-10 pre-conference record. USF has one more tuneup, against Holy Names on Jan. 2, before taking on Saint Mary’s at home in its WCC opener on Jan. 8.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2009

checkinginon

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.

Standings (through games of 12/16/09)

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

Mysterious Doings

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

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

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

Steady as She Goes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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