Checking In On… the Big West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 28th, 2012

David Gao is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can also find his musings online at Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, or on Twitter @dvdgao.

Reader’s Take 

 

The Week That Was

  • Long Beach State Halfway Home: UC Riverside’s David Chavarria was one made free throw away from handing the 49ers their first conference loss of the season on Thursday, with the game all tied up at 63 and two seconds left. Fortunately for Long Beach State, he missed, and the game went into overtime. Coach Dan Monson’s crew proceeded to take control of the extra period, propelling the 49ers to a 77-70 win and a sparkling 8-0 conference record halfway through the 16-game schedule. Thursday’s UCR game would have been a classic letdown game after Saturday’s impressive blowout of UC Santa Barbara on national television, but it’s clear that Long Beach State is determined to win out.

    Dan Monson Has Long Beach State Playing Excellent Basketball

  • Cal Poly Ties NCAA Record: The Mustangs made their first 11 three-pointers against Cal State Northridge on January 21, tying the all-time NCAA record for consecutive made threes. Cal Poly shut an incredible 71.4% on the night from long distance, going 15-21. Of course, they followed that up by shooting a paltry 3-29 the following game against Pacific (10.3%). The two nights added together equal 18-50, good for 36%, or their approximate season average.
  • Big West Lands Slew of Midseason Transfers: Some of the future stars of the Big West officially enrolled for the spring semester recently, with Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton the big winners. Arizona State star and southern California native Keala King is transferring to Long Beach after averaging 13.7 points in 13 games with the Sun Devils this year. Rumored to have character issues since high school, it will be interesting to see if King can settle in to lead the new era of 49er basketball along with fellow transfers Tony Freeland (DePaul) and Edgar Garibay (Loyola Marymount). In addition, Cal State Fullerton pulled in yet another D-I transfer (they currently have eight on their roster) in UTEP’s Darius Nelson, a freshman who never played a game for Tim Floyd. While some D-I transfers have excelled as expected (Orlando Johnson comes to mind), others haven’t received as much playing time as anticipated (Nate Garth, Johnson’s teammate).

Casper Ware And The 49ers Have Control Of The Big West. One Question Sure To Be Asked Is Whether They Have The Insurance Policy Of An At-Large Resume Worthy Of A Bid. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Long Beach State (15-6, 8-0) – Long Beach State fans were able to let out a huge sigh of relief on Thursday against UCR during the aforementioned missed free throw from David Chavarria with the game on the line, as Long Beach went on to complete the first half of conference play at a perfect 8-0. What’s more impressive is that arguably their three toughest games in conference, on the road against Cal Poly, UCSB and UCR, will all go down in the books as wins. Their supposed biggest test coming into conference play against UCSB at the Thunderdome, a game televised nationally on ESPNU, turned out to be a laugher, as the 49ers ran away with a lopsided 71-48 win. The question going forward remains the same: can Long Beach’s heavily used starting group stay fresh and maintain enough energy to close the season strong? Edis Dervisevic being reinstated from his academic suspension helps as the 49ers look to keep their NCAA at-large chances alive. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 10th, 2011

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference

A Look Back

The budding Battle Royale for second place in the conference standings – and the valuable bye to the WCC tournament semifinals that goes with it – was joined last week with San Francisco’s 68-62 win over Santa Clara on the Dons’ court. The win moved San Francisco (6-2) into sole possession of second and dropped the Broncos into a tie for third with Gonzaga at 5-3. It also gave San Francisco a series sweep over Santa Clara, which will help if tie-breaking rules are invoked at season’s end. In a signal that conference games are tightening up, all six last week were decided by nine points or fewer.

Gonzaga, which appeared to right itself with two straight conference wins after dropping a rare home court game to Saint Mary’s on January 27, stumbled at home against Memphis 62-58 last Saturday. The loss dropped the Zags to 15-9 for the season and dimmed their hopes for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid if they don’t secure the WCC’s automatic invite that comes with winning the conference tournament in Las Vegas in March.

Saint Mary’s (8-1) held its place atop the league with home wins over Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine, but neither win came easily. In a rematch with up-and-down Loyola Marymount, whom the Gaels routed 98-75 in Los Angeles in early January, the Gaels eked out a 79-70 win even though Loyola Marymount was without leading scorer and rebounder Drew Viney, who was sidelined with problems stemming from migraine.

Player of the Week: Rashad Green, the 6’4 Long Island native who transferred to San Francisco last year, won the honors with his performance in the Dons’ win over Santa Clara: 18 points on 7-12 shooting and a stellar defensive effort against Santa Clara’s high-scoring guard Kevin Foster. Green, brother of former North Carolina star Danny Green, helped the Dons to their best start since 1981.

Power Rankings

1. Saint Mary’s (20-4, 8-1) has not scared anyone with its last three conference outings – an 85-70 pasting by Portland following the inspirational upset of Gonzaga in Spokane and lackluster wins over Pepperdine (79-71) and Loyola Marymount last week. Maybe it’s just February blahs, but the Gaels will have to shake them off to get through this week’s games against traditional foes Santa Clara and San Francisco. It is not a long journey from Moraga to Santa Clara and San Francisco, but it is one fraught with peril for Randy Bennett’s crew. A stumble or two while its foes sweep their games would knock the Gaels out of first place for the first time this season.

2. The excitement is building in San Francisco (12-11, 6-2), as the Dons remind their fans of the glory days of the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. Rex Walters has worked out a solid rotation featuring the improving Cody Doolin at point, high-scoring Mikey Williams at shooting guard, Anthony Caloiaro at one forward spot, Green at the other and the formidable Perris Blackwell in the post. He is getting solid minutes off the bench from 6-3 freshman guard Avery Johnson from Huntington Beach, California, and 6’10 senior Moustapha Diarra. The rotation is tight and is working well together as the Dons prepare for the home stretch and their first shot at a significant role in the conference race in a long time.

3. Santa Clara (15-10, 5-3) faces a moment of truth this week, as the promise created by its 85-71 upset of Gonzaga on January 20 fades into the memory of last week’s loss to San Francisco. A loss to Saint Mary’s on Thursday would give the Broncos four league losses and make its attempt at a second-place finish extremely difficult.

4. The same can be said for Gonzaga (15-9, 5-3), which goes on the road against Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine in its attempt to hold its league loss total to three. The Zags looked anything but road-ready in their contest with Memphis in the Spokane Arena, and must put that disappointment behind them as they head to Los Angeles.

5. Portland (17-7, 4-4) lost a chance to end Gonzaga’s league hopes and vault itself back into contention with a 67-64 loss to the Zags at home on Feb. 3. The Pilots now must win out and hope the leaders stumble down the stretch to get back in the hunt.

6. Pepperdine (10-16, 4-5) racked up its fourth league win by topping San Diego 70-63 in overtime on the road, then gave Saint Mary’s all it could handle before succumbing 79-71. The Waves suspended high-scoring but high-maintenance guard Keion Bell after the Saint Mary’s game and will finish out the season without him.

7. Loyola Marymount (9-15, 1-8) continued to be the team no one can figure out, losing to San Diego and Saint Mary’s and causing observers to wonder if they will win another game this season.

8. San Diego (5-19, 1-8) picked up its first conference win with the 66-63 home victory over Loyola Marymount and hopes to leap over the Lions and get out of the WCC cellar.

A Look Ahead

Push comes to shove Thursday at the Leavey Center on the Santa Clara campus, when Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara square off at 8 p.m. Pacific in an ESPNU featured game. The Gaels smacked down the Broncos 84-59 in Moraga on Jan. 15, but no one expects the rematch to be so one-sided. Santa Clara can fall back on its upset of Gonzaga five days after the Saint Mary’s loss and its rise to third place in the standings for inspiration. Backed by a big and vocal student body, Kerry Keating’s team will go all out to remain in contention by upsetting the Gaels.

If Saint Mary’s survives the Leavey Center snake pit it will find itself in another one, the venerable War Memorial Gymnasium on the San Francisco campus, two nights later. The resurgent Dons will have more on the line in this game than for any other contest in recent memory, as beating the Gaels following a victory over San Diego on Thursday night could propel them into a tie or sole possession of first place.

Another potentially dramatic showdown will take place in Los Angeles on Thursday night when Gonzaga takes on Loyola Marymount at 8 p.m. Pacific on ESPN2. Despite their disappointing season, Loyola Marymount still possesses the horsepower to stun somebody this year and the Lions faithful hope it’s the Zags. In their 79-70 loss to Saint Mary’s last week, the Lions without Viney closed to within four points of the Gaels with a few minutes left. They got solid performances from their Big Three of Ashley Hamilton, Edgar Garibay and Godwin Okonji and their Little One of Anthony Ireland to hammer the Gaels inside and out. If Viney is healthy enough to play against the Zags, Loyola Marymount has more than enough firepower to pull off the upset.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

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

A Look Back

It’s been mostly preliminary skirmishing in conference play so far, but the race heats up next week with some key showdown games. Saint Mary’s (4-0) and Gonzaga (3-0) remained undefeated in conference play, with Portland and San Francisco tied for third with 2-1 marks. Santa Clara (1-2) kept a half-game lead over Loyola Marymount, which continued to struggle at 1-3, the same record as Pepperdine, while San Diego (0-4) is still searching for its first win.

Saint Mary’s boasts the conference’s longest winning streak at ten in a row, and the Gaels eased into the national rankings for the first time after strong home victories last week over San Francisco (71-57) and Santa Clara (84-59). The Gaels were ranked 22nd in the AP Top 25 poll and 21st in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll, while Gonzaga placed 29th in the AP poll and 30th in the Coaches poll.

Portland may be looking over its shoulder at three teams who look as if they could challenge for third or fourth place behind the Gaels and Zags: San Francisco, Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount. San Francisco may have gained the most confidence – and the most respect – in last week’s play, as the Dons fought Saint Mary’s hard in the first half in Moraga and ended up losing by “only” 14 points. The face-saver in that is the Gaels’ average margin of victory this year has been 22-plus points. The Dons also chalked up road wins over Santa Clara (74-67) on January 8 and over San Diego (65-55) on Saturday.

While the Dons surged, Portland treaded water frantically. The Pilots blew a seven-point lead with less than three minutes remaining against Loyola Marymount last Thursday, then needed two overtimes to beat the Lions 79-78. Two nights later, they shot only 30% from the field in the second half in a 57-42 win over Pepperdine. One factor remained constant for the Pilots, however – Luke Sikma continued his outstanding season with 24 and ten against Loyola Marymount and 15 and nine against Pepperdine. For the season, Sikma is averaging 13.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

Although Loyola Marymount went 0-2 in its Pacific Northwest swing, falling to Gonzaga 79-59 two nights after the heartbreaking Portland loss, Max Good finally has his full team available. Slow-recovering post man Edgar Garibay played 34 minutes in the Portland loss, contributing 10 points and four rebounds, then came back for 14 minutes against Gonzaga. Perhaps more cheering for Lions fans, Garibay was joined in the frontcourt by Ashley Hamilton, coming back from a hand injury, who logged 33 minutes against Portland and 19 against Gonzaga in putting up six points and five rebounds. Baby steps, but Good will gladly accept them.

Santa Clara squeezed in a 61-52 road win over San Diego last Thursday between the disappointing loss to San Francisco and the scorching by Saint Mary’s to keep alive its hopes of a top-four finish.

Player of the Week: Gonzaga’s 7’ post man Robert Sacre has been solid all season, anchoring a sometimes-sporadic offense with consistent production. He outdid himself in a pair of games last week, however, earning WCC Player of the Week honors for his performances against Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine. The LMU game was a somewhat typical Sacre outing with 18 points and seven boards, but he was literally perfect against Pepperdine, notching 24 points on 8-for-8 shooting from the field and the same mark from the free throw line. Perfect is good.

A Look Ahead

Now it gets interesting, as someone once said. Saint Mary’s undergoes the biggest trial-by-fire of its season with a three-game sojourn to Nashville to take on previously-ranked Vanderbilt on Saturday (1/22), then to Spokane for a barnburner against Gonzaga on Thursday (1/27). If the Gaels have anything left in the tank they’ll take it to Portland two nights later (1/29) to finish off the trifecta against the Pilots. The Vanderbilt game is the closing act of a home-and-home set that began with a 72-70 Vandy win last season in Moraga. Ironically, the Gaels moved into the national rankings the same week the Commodores fell out following their 67-64 loss to Tennessee in a game they once led by 17 points. The ‘Dores (12-4, 1-2 SEC) would love nothing more than to move back in to the Top 25 courtesy of a win over the Gaels.

The Thursday night matchup between the Gaels and Zags is the most compelling West Coast game of the season so far. All that is at stake is the Gaels’ national ranking, their desire to post their first win at Gonzaga since 1995, first place in the WCC and Gonzaga’s unwillingness to cede leadership in the conference it has dominated with ten straight regular-season titles. Some games need no excess hype, and this is certainly one of them.

Portland is hoping to play the role of coup de grace administrator as it has the past two years. Saint Mary’s limped into Portland following a deflating loss to Gonzaga in 2009 which saw a near-season-ending injury to Patty Mills, and last year after failing to engage the Zags in an 80-61 embarrassment heightened by McConnell’s 0-for-5 shooting night. McConnell rebounded with a 25 and 4 effort against Portland, but it wasn’t enough to stave off an 80-75 overtime loss. Ouch! and double ouch! has been the tale for Saint Mary’s the last two years in the Great Northwest, and it will be a true test of their mettle to avoid that fate in 2011.

At the other end of the conference geographically, Loyola Marymount will visit Pepperdine in Mailbu on Saturday for the annual slugfest between the two LA-area schools. Loyola Marymount has not won on the Waves’ court in many years, and Pepperdine will be geared up to continue that trend. After bombing out at Portland and Gonzaga last week, Loyola Marymount cannot afford to drop another conference contest. Game on.

Gonzaga will repeat the annual Bay Area trip to Santa Clara and San Francisco that proved difficult last year with a narrow (71-64) win over the Broncos and an 81-77 OT loss to the Dons. Portland will also be along for the ride.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2011

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

A Look Back

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

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

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

Player(s) of the Week

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

Power Rankings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Look Ahead

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

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • It was an “almost” week for Santa Clara and San Francisco, Gonzaga got its mojo back, Saint Mary’s picked up its first true road win of the year and Portland kept on cruising. Loyola-Marymount, Pepperdine and San Diego continued their losing ways.
  • As Santa Clara battled Washington State evenly on Dec. 19 before succumbing 85-79 in overtime, and San Francisco took undefeated San Diego State to the wire two nights later in a 61-56 loss, visions of a stronger, more successful West Coast Conference flickered before fans’ eyes. It was that old conference war horse, Gonzaga, however, that gave the conference two big wins last week – 68-64 over then ninth-ranked Baylor in Dallas on Dec. 18 and 64-54 over Xavier in Spokane on the 22nd.
  • Saint Mary’s continued its cautious way through the pre-conference season, topping Long Beach State 82-74 at the Wooden Classic in Anaheim on Dec. 18, and New Mexico State 73-53 in Las Cruces on the 23rd. The New Mexico State game was only the Gaels’ second true road game of the season.
  • Portland, meanwhile, stayed on course to a successful pre-conference slate by topping old nemesis Portland State 78-67 on the road – across town – and kicking off a three-game home stand on Dec.  22nd with an 88-79 win over Boise State.
  • Loyola Marymount continued to confound observers who picked them to challenge for the WCC title, losing to Florida State at home 74-63 on the 18th and to South Dakota in Vermillion, SD, 82-70 four days later.
  • It was the same ol’ same ol’ for conference bottom-dwellers Pepperdine and San Diego, with the Waves splitting home games against UC Irvine (W 76-69) and Cal Poly SLO (L 70-64), and San Diego falling to Baylor (83-50) and Mississippi State (69-52) in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.

Player of the Week

As Portland has continued its steady re-adjustment under Eric Reveno, shoring up the point guard position vacated by the graduated T.J. Campbell has been a prime goal. True freshman Tim Douglas, all 5’10 of him, gave Reveno plenty to smile about last week with a strong performance against Portland State that netted him Player of the Week honors. Douglas, a gutsy penetrator who is not afraid to crash the lane, came off the bench to score27 points on 10-for-13 shooting from the field and 6-for-8 from the free throw line. It was his third straight game in double figures, moving his ppg average to 7.2 in less than 16 minutes per outing.

Team-by-Team

  1. Saint Mary’s (10-2) notched a pair of wins away from Moraga and elevated its third candidate to the position of Omar Samhan’s successor. During a hard-fought win over Long Beach State, Randy Bennett inserted 6’8 sophomore Mitchell Young in the post following earlier try-outs by transfer Kenton Walker and redshirt sophomore Tim Williams. Voila! Young exploited Long Beach’s over-emphasis on controlling forward Rob Jones by working himself open for a succession of bunnies and jump hooks, racking up a career-high 28 points in the Gaels’ 82-74 win. Showing the LBSU game wasn’t a fluke, Young went for 20 against New Mexico State.
  2. Portland (10-3) has provided a model of pre-season scheduling, losing to a few toughies – Kentucky, Washington State and Washington – but beating respectable teams like UC Santa Barbara, St. Louis and Montana to keep up morale. The Pilots’ win over Boise State put them in position to glide into the conference schedule with another two winnable home games against rebuilding Nevada and up-and-down Utah.  That would put them at 12-3 and make a 20-win season and post-season tournament consideration within reach. Not bad for a team that was supposed to be rebuilding if not recovering from major graduation losses.
  3. Gonzaga (7-5) shook off an unfamiliar losing record (4-5) with a three-game winning streak that established 7’0 center Robert Sacre as their go-to guy. Sacre and front-court mate Elias Harris were the big stories in the Zags’ wins over Baylor and Xavier, a development made even more important by the loss of senior guard Steven Gray to back spasms against Baylor. Gray sat on the bench as the Zags engaged in hand-to-hand combat with low-scoring but defensively nasty Xavier, leaving Sacre and Harris to account for 35 of their team’s 64 points. No other Zag – and Mark Few used a bunch of ‘em – scored more than six points in the Xavier win. No word on when Gray will return, but it cannot be soon enough for the Zags’ fortunes.
  4. Santa Clara (7-6) made Washington State re-think the wisdom of stopping off at the Leavey Center en route to the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, pushing the Cougars to the limit before dropping an overtime heartbreaker. Last year’s outstanding point guard Robert Smith left the team before the Washington State game, putting pressure on the Broncos to solidify a shaky offense, and Smith’s replacement, Evan Roguemore, did his part. Roquemore contributed 16 points to accompany Kevin Foster’s 29 against Washington State and ease the sting of losing Smith, by some counts the 14th player to leave or be dismissed from the Santa Clara program since Kerry Keating became head coach four years ago. Foster and Roquemore continued their excellence in the Broncs’ 99-79 road win over Cal State Northridge on Dec. 22, scoring 38 points between them, but Keating is suffering from a guard shortage with injuries to Julian Clarke and Michael Santos in addition to Smith’s departure. He reached far down the bench to insert walk-on Nate Mensah for a few minutes against Northridge.
  5. Loyola Marymount (6-7) might have erased the memory of a less-than-stellar pre-conference season by easing into a three-game home winning streak over weak sisters Cal Poly and Sacramento State and so-so South Dakota. Reality returned, however, in a visit by the ACC’s Florida State Seminoles, whom the Lions battled evenly before faltering in the stretch. The Lions, who were counting on front-court strength from redshirt freshman post Edgar Garibay and solid strong forward Ashley Hamilton, have seen Garibay struggle to recover from last year’s ACL tear and lost Hamilton to a hand injury. Garibay saw only 10 minutes action against rugged Florida State big man Chris Singleton, leaving freshman Godwin Okonji to bear most of the rebounding and defensive duties. As if losing a close one to Florida State weren’t bad enough, LMU next travelled east to complete a home-and-home engagement with the South Dakota Coyotes. Reversing a 72-67 loss to the Lions 11 days earlier, South Dakota piled on 50 points in the second half to win 82-70.
  6. San Francisco (4-8) had a season-making win seemingly in sight as it battled undefeated San Diego State deep into the second half on Dec. 21. A few breaks went the Aztecs’ way down the stretch, however, and the Dons fell 61-56 in the opening game of the Las Vegas Hoops Classic. The Dons’ bad luck continued against IUPUI in the second game of the Classic on Thursday, as they fell to the Jaguars 69-68 when San Francisco guard Michael Williams missed the front end of a one-and-one with his team up 68-66. The Jaguars Sean Esposito drained a three with five seconds left to give IUPUI the win.
  7. Pepperdine (5-9) found a way to lose to a weakened Cal Poly SLO – falling behind 12-0 was a good way to start – after posting a 76-69 win over UC Irvine. Leaving Malibu for the final two games of the pre-conference season, the Waves flow into the Deep South for games against Alabama and Miami.
  8. San Diego (2-10) did not find a visit to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic relaxing, as it ran into the meat-grinder that is Baylor’s zone defense and Mississippi State with embattled forward Renardo Sidney back in action. The results were not pretty.
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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • It was a slow, after-finals week for most WCC teams, but the pace picks up considerably this weekend. Early-season top dogs Saint Mary’s and Portland cruised to expected wins – the Gaels by a score of 75-56 over UC Riverside at home and the Pilots in a closer-than-expected 71-64 win at Denver – and Gonzaga continued its slide against Top 25 teams, losing to Notre Dame in South Bend to fall to 4-5 for the first time in many people’s memory.
  • Loyola-Marymount and San Francisco scored home wins, Santa Clara lost on the road to Pacific, Pepperdine fell in Fresno and San Diego snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 82-57 thrashing of Laverne.
  • Player of the Week: Rob Jones, Saint Mary’s - Gaels coach Randy Bennett has said his goal with transfer forward Rob Jones is to turn him into a scoring leader, and Jones may have gotten the message this week with lines of 24 and 11 against UC Riverside following a 17 and 11 outing against Denver. Jones, who was a solid but unspectacular force in his first two years at San Diego, took on more responsibility for the Gaels in its need to replace the frontcourt scoring and rebounding punch of Omar Samhan and Ben Allen. He has shown signs of being able to surpass Allen’s production, lessening the pressure on Kenton Walker, Tim Williams and Mitchell Young to collectively fill Samhan’s shoes. Standing out in the UC Riverside stat sheet: Jones’ 6-9 mark from the three-point line.

Power Rankings

  1. Saint Mary’s (8-2): One of the knocks on Saint Mary’s so far this season is a lack of true road wins, with a 69-55 loss at San Diego State its only foray into an opponent’s gym. That could change before Christmas, as the Gaels travel to Las Cruces to face the New Mexico State Aggies next Thursday, following a December 18 matchup with Long Beach State in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim. New Mexico State (3-7) is a far cry from the NCAA team of last year, but the Aggies are still smarting from the 100-68 loss suffered in Moraga last November. They will do all they can to repay the Gaels’ rude hospitality.
  2. Portland (8-3): While they picked up their third true road win on Saturday, a 71-64 victory over Denver, the Pioneers (2-8) made the Portland Pilots work for it. Denver led by one at halftime before the Pilots’ three-point-shooting duo of Nemanja Mitrovic and Jared Stohl, aided by rebounding machine Luke Sikma, powered the Pilots down the stretch. Mitrovic, the game’s leading scorer with 18 points, made three three-pointers in a row to spark an 11-2 run in the game’s final minutes that sealed the win. Mitrovic and Stohl combined for 9-15 shooting from beyond the arc, while Sikma notched his fifth double-double of the year with 11 and ten.
  3. Loyola Marymount (6-5): The Lions are nursing a three-game home win streak, the latest victory being a 72-67 come-from-behind effort over South Dakota on December 11. The wins have come over lowly competition, including Cal Poly and Sacramento State, but the fun ends this coming Saturday, when the considerably tougher Florida State Seminoles roll into Gersten Pavilion. Some of Florida State’s wins in a 7-2 season have come over suspect teams like Mid-Continent and North Florida, but the ‘Noles recently topped Clemson 75-69 and have lost only to in-state rival Florida (55-51) and Big Ten power Ohio State and its dynamic freshman Jared Sullinger (58-48). You could say the bar will be raised considerably higher for Max Good’s revamped Lions, who have been improvising with the loss of stars Jarred DuBois and Ashley Hamilton and the slow rehabilitation of Edgar Garibay. New names such as freshmen Anthony Ireland, Godwin Akonji and Ayodeji Egbeyimi (call him “Deji”), have been finding their way alongside veterans Vernon Teel, Drew Viney and Larry Davis.
  4. Santa Clara (5-5): SC looked to be steadying itself with a 67-63 road win over cross-town rival San Jose State on Friday, but the wheels fell off when the Broncos went a little farther afield against Pacific in Stockton on Tuesday. Starting the unconventional lineup featuring Chris Cunningham in place of Marc Trasolini for the second straight game, the Broncos fell behind by as many as 21 points (60-39) late in the second half and lost by ten, 69-59. Pacific (6-4) has no signature wins this year and lost to Pepperdine last week, but handled Santa Clara easily. Kerry Keating has a chance to continue experimenting with his lineup on Friday, when the Broncos host Houston Baptist, but had better settle on his best troops before they face Washington State on Sunday.
  5. Gonzaga (4-5): The Zags found some balance in its not-as-close-as-it-looks 83-79 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, but they’re still struggling to find a floor leader (did I hear the name “Bouldin” whispered in the wind?). Elias Harris had 19 points, Steven Gray 18 and Robert Sacre 16 for the Zags against Notre Dame, and those numbers are what the world was expecting this year. But even with strong production from its core players, the Zags found themselves trailing the Irish by 14 in the second half, with another rout seemingly in the works. Only a lethargic effort by Notre Dame down the stretch prevented that, and the Zags are struggling to find a steadying force in the backcourt to supplement their power players. Transfer Marquise Carter doesn’t look like the answer so far, and veteran Meech Goodson has not put a strong stamp on the team. With a breather Thursday against Lewis Clark State in Spokane, the Zags are thrust right back into the fire on Saturday with a game against Baylor in Arlington.
  6. San Francisco (4-5): A light week was good news for a team struggling to find healthy bodies, and the Dons rewarded themselves with a 50-48 overtime win over rugged Montana. Guard Cody Doolin, who went down in the Dons’ loss at Louisville last week, returned to help his teammates hold off the Grizzlies, but it was his backcourt mate Michael Williams who stole the show. Williams accounted for 23 points and 13 rebounds in the low-scoring affair, and was joined by Perris Blackwell with 12 and ten. The Dons will need efforts like those and much more as it travels to Seattle on Saturday to face streaking Washington.
  7. Pepperdine (4-8): The Waves racked up 27 turnovers in its 64-51 road loss to Fresno State. Conference POY candidate Keion Bell had eight of them. Pepperdine will hope to get back on track Saturday when it hosts UC-Irvine.
  8. San Diego (2-8): USD had something to celebrate with Monday’s 82-57 pasting of Laverne, and could overlook the fact that its first victory in nine tries came at the expense of a 3-4 NCAA Division-III squad that doesn’t grant athletic scholarships. Why quibble? Bill Grier may have found some answers with the second straight strong games from burly 6’11 center Chris Gabriel and transfer guard Darian Norris. Adding fuel to a small glow of hope for the Toreros was the play of freshman forward Trevor Fuller, who elicited some excitement as a star for Episcopal School of Dallas, but has mainly sat the bench for San Diego. Gabriel, Norris and sophomore Ken Rancifer scored 14 points each, while Fuller contributed six points in 17 minutes. Things might not be so cheery next week in Honolulu when the Toreros take on the likes of Baylor, Washington State or Mississippi State in the Diamond Head Classic.

A Look Ahead

This Saturday will be the broadest showcase for WCC teams in the current season. Some of the marquee matchups include Saint Mary’s vs. Long Beach State in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim; Gonzaga vs. Baylor in Arlington; Loyola vs. Florida State in Los Angeles; San Francisco vs. Washington in Seattle; and Portland vs. Portland State in – where else? – Portland (Portland State is the home team).

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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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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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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 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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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by nvr1983 on December 10th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Standings (through games of 12/8/09)

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

The Best

With approximately one-quarter of the 2009-10 season completed, does it make any sense to designate the league’s best team so far? If so, what criteria should be used? Saint Mary’s has the best winning percentage and leads the conference in several key statistical categories (scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, rebounding margin, and blocked shots), but has compiled that record against a mixture of strong (Vanderbilt, San Diego State, and Utah State) and weak teams (Cal Poly, New Mexico State, and San Jose State).

Gonzaga has two losses, but they came against powerhouse Michigan State on the road and up-and-coming Wake Forest at home. The Zags’ three wins at the Maui Invitational were over a resurgent Colorado, Big Ten stalwart Wisconsin and potential Big East contender Cincinnati. That performance, plus a come-from-behind 74-69 victory over Washington State at home on Dec. 2 was enough to vault the Zags to a high of No. 16 in the ESPN/USA Today poll before they fell to No. 22 following the loss to Wake. Zag fans would argue strongly that their more difficult schedule in the early going gives them the nod over the Gaels, and the national media agrees by awarding Gonzaga a Top 25 ranking while casting only a few votes for Saint Mary’s.

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2009

checkinginon

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

Standings

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

Looking Back

Zags, Pilots, Toreros Notch Tournament Wins to Lead WCC Teams

It has been a tournament-heavy pre-season for the WCC, and it was in venues ranging from Maui to Anchorage to Anaheim that the early-season leaders made their marks. Gonzaga led the charge by winning the venerable Maui Invitational with victories over Colorado (76-72), Wisconsin (74-61) and Cincinnati (61-59) in a hard-fought tournament championship in overtime on Thanksgiving eve. The Zags had padded their resume with early home wins over Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne and Mississippi Valley State, and put the college hoops world on notice that 2009-10 is not a rebuilding year by taking second-ranked Michigan State to the wire in a 75-71 loss in East Lansing, MI on Nov. 17.

In battling Michigan State evenly and winning in Maui, Gonzaga answered the question of how it would replace departed front-line stars Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt. Seven-foot redshirt sophomore Robert Sacre moved commandingly into the post position for the Zags with an eye-opening performance against Michigan State – 17 points in 19 minutes of play limited by foul trouble. In case no one noticed that, they certainly took note of Sacre’s front-line counterpart Elias Harris, who notched 17 points of his own against Michigan State in the first big-game college appearance for the 20-year-old freshman forward who has logged considerable time internationally with the German national team. Harris has emerged as the early star of Mark Few’s collection of international players, which includes Sacre, freshmen Kelly Olynk and Manny Arop from Canada and Bol Kong, also from Canada by way of Sudan.

As much as Sacre and Harris elicited oohs and aahs, it was the Zags’ veteran trio of guards Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson that led them. Bouldin has emerged in his senior year as the indispensible hub through which all things offensive pass for Gonzaga. An intimidating 6-5 guard, Bouldin stage manages the entire offensive show, plus contributes double-figure scoring from both outside and inside. He can spot up for a three-point jumper or take his man off the dribble. Gray, who has struck many observers as a marvelously talented but under-performing member of the Zags offensive show, evidently decided that his junior year was the time to answer the nay-sayers. He has been virtually unstoppable, moving constantly without the ball and receiving Bouldin’s pinpoint passes anywhere from beyond the arc to under the basket. His jump shot is as sweet as ever, but he is infinitely more aggressive and confident this year.  If opponents somehow limit Bouldin and Gray, Goodson might steal the show as he did in the Zags’ impressive win over the fearsome Cincinnati Bearcats in Maui. On a night when Bouldin was struggling on 1-7 shooting and totaled only 6 points, Goodson made key baskets in clutch time to rack up 12 points. Bouldin and Gray shared the MVP trophy in Maui, but Goodson was an unsung hero.

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