Top of the O26 Class: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, WAC & WCC

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 10th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Western region of the U.S: Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, Western Athletic Conference, West Coast Conference. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region, Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region and the Southern region.

Top Units

Mountain West

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II need to step up offensively for the Aztecs. (Ben Margot — AP)

Guys like wing Dwayne Polee II will need to step up offensively for San Diego State. (Ben Margot/AP)

  • San Diego State – 2013-14 record: 31-5 (16-2). San Diego State will be very good defensively, that much we know, but whether it can replace do-everything guard Xavier Thames (17.6 PPG, 120.0 ORtg) is the most pressing concern this time around. The Aztecs – which have ranked among the top-20 nationally in defensive efficiency in three of the last four seasons – return several long-armed stoppers like Dwayne Polee II and 6’10’’ center Skyler Spencer (best block percentage in the league) while adding a highly-touted Arizona transfer in 6’9’’ Angelo Chol. But Thames was the only consistent offensive threat last year and points were hard to come by when he struggled, so the ability of guys like Polee and guard Winston Shepard to thrive in more prominent scoring roles is crucial. Steve Fisher’s club should win the Mountain West considering the talent he has on hand (five-star forward Malik Pope also joins the mix), but the team’s offensive development, especially in the backcourt, will determine its ultimate national stature.

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2013-14’s All-Underappreciated Team

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 17th, 2014

We’ve seen All-American list after All-American list over the past few weeks, and the familiar names are all deserving: McDermott, Parker, Smith, Wilbekin, and so on and so forth. But what about the players who are nowhere to be found on any of these honor rolls, yet still deserve mention for their valuable contributions this season? Below is a team of five players – none of them All-Americans, or really anything especially close – who all played important but overlooked roles for their successful teams.

Quinn Cook Was An Underrated Player For Duke In 2013-14

Quinn Cook Was An Underrated Player For Duke In 2013-14

  • PG: Quinn Cook, Duke – If you are a McDonald’s All-American and seek a successful but unheralded college career, Duke would seem like as good a destination as any. Somehow, Cook has avoided plaudits from most observers during his time in Durham, and at times has even been seen as the weak link for the Blue Devils. His play isn’t always as consistent as Coach K would like, but after a season in which he posted a 120.2 Offensive Rating (better than more heralded teammates Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood) and an assist rate of 27.7 percent, it’s time to appreciate Cook for what he was this year — one of the best point guards in the country.
  • SG/SF: Tekele Cotton, Wichita State – We heard plenty about Cleanthony Early, Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker this season, but what about the Shockers’ unsung hero, Cotton? The 6’3” junior was the best defensive player on the 12th most efficient defensive team in the country, and shot 37 percent from three-point range en route to a gaudy Offensive Rating of 118.2. Not everyone missed Cotton’s value to WSU; he was one of four Shockers to receive a first-place vote for MVC POY, and was awarded the league’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy. Read the rest of this entry »
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O26 Top Five (and More), Because It’s Never Too Early

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 7th, 2014

Don’t look now, but college basketball season is only seven months away! Sure, this one hasn’t technically ended yet, but with Dayton respectably bowing out in the Elite Eight and only one game left to play between two power conference teams, O26 folks need something to look forward to. So let’s examine a few teams sure to make some noise in 2014-15.

Top Five

Players like Mo Alie-Cox will have increased roles for VCU in 2014-2015. (vcuramnation.com)

Players like Mo Alie-Cox will have increased roles for VCU in 2014-2015. (vcuramnation.com)

  1. VCU. The Rams lose Juvonte Reddic – the team’s leading rebounder, second-leading scorer and an unquestioned leader – along with Rob Brandenberg, who’s been a reliable offensive weapon for the past four years. Still, contrary to what folks in Milwaukee had us recently believing, it does not appear they will lose Shaka Smart to another program. And that’s a victory in itself. The coveted head coach will remain in Richmond to lead a group that could be even better than this year’s unit, which grabbed a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and ranked sixth overall in adjusted defensive efficiency. Dynamic weapon Treveon Graham returns along with quick-handed guard Briante Weber and a cast of other players capable of wreaking HAVOC in 2014-15. To boot, Smart welcomes his best recruiting class yet, led by top-50 forward Terry Larrier, who should see significant playing time right away.
  2. Wichita State. Star forward Cleanthony Early graduates along with role player Nick Wiggins and forwards Chadrack Lufile and Kadeem Coleby, so Wichita State will miss some big-time pieces next year. But the Shockers still return a solid core from this season’s 35-1 squad, including point guard and Missouri Valley Player of the Year Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter. The frontcourt might be a bit thin – redshirt freshman Shaq Morris and incoming seven-foot transfer Bush Wamukota need to contribute alongside Carter – and Early (a likely NBA first-rounder) is probably irreplaceable, but Gregg Marshall has always relied more on balance and depth than he has on individual talent. Another conference title and single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament should be doable for next season’s bunch.
  3. San Diego State. Can the Aztecs contend for the Mountain West title next year without Xavier Thames? Why yes, yes they can. Sure, the conference Player of the Year was their only reliable offensive threat for much of this past season, and yeah, rebounding maven Josh Davis also graduates. But Steve Fisher welcomes back a core of long-armed athletes, including NCAA Tournament stud Dwayne Polee and 6’10’’ shot-blocker Skylar Spencer, along with a top-notch recruiting class. Among the incoming freshmen are five-star forward Malik Pope, four-star forward Zylan Cheatham and four-star point guard Trey Kell, each good enough to find minutes right away. Oh, and Arizona transfer Angelo Chol, an athletic 6’9’’ power forward, will also be eligible after sitting out this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Gonzaga: What Gives?

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 25th, 2014

Gonzaga has been playing Division I basketball for 57 years. In that time, they’ve made 17 NCAA Tournaments. Sixteen of those 17 appearances have occurred consecutively over the last 16 years. And Mark Few has been the head coach for 15 of those. Just to be clear: Mark Few has taken Gonzaga to 15 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, a streak which accounts for 15 of the program’s 17 tournament appearances in school history. After the Zags’ big Elite Eight breakout surprise in 1999, Few entered as head coach and took the Bulldogs to the Sweet Sixteen in the following two seasons, marking three straight appearances in the Tournament’s second weekend for the burgeoning program. In the 12 years since the run from 1999-2001, they’ve made it to just two more Sweet Sixteens, losing in heartbreaking fashion to eventual national runner-up UCLA in 2006, then getting blown out by eventual national champion North Carolina in 2009.

Gonzaga Basketball Is Defined By The Mark Few Era (AP)

Gonzaga Basketball Is Defined By The Mark Few Era. (AP)

Mixed in there, however, are more underachievements based on seed line than overachievements: a 2002 first round loss as a #6 seed; a 2004 round of 32 loss as a #2 seed; a 2005 round of 32 loss as a #3 seed; and most famously, last year’s round of 32 loss as a #1 seed. Only twice has Gonzaga outperformed its seed in the NCAA Tournament since 2001 — that took place in 2003 where they won one game as a #9 seed (note that the Zags also then gave #1 seed Arizona one hell of a game in the next round), and in 2011 when they won a single game as a #11 seed.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Arizona 84, #8 Gonzaga 61

Posted by AMurawa on March 24th, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Points Off Turnovers. The first 11 turnovers in the game belonged to Gonzaga; Arizona scored 19 points off of those miscues on the way to building a 21-point first-half lead. There it is. For all practical purposes, that was the game. Turn the ball over and give the Wildcats six dunks (Aaron Gordon had four first-half dunks himself) and four layups before halftime and you should have no expectation that you’re going to be in the game. Clearly, Mark Few made limiting turnovers a high priority in the halftime locker room, but coming out of the break, they turned it over on the first two possessions. For the night, they turned it over 21times, leading to 31 points for the Wildcats. That’s the ballgame, right there.

    Aaron Gordon And The Wildcats Ran Gonzaga Off The Court Early And Often

    Aaron Gordon And The Wildcats Ran Gonzaga Off The Court Early And Often

  2. Arizona Halfcourt Offense = Questionable . To pick a nit, as good as the Wildcats were in forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, their halfcourt offense was so-so. They made just eight of 25 field goal attempts in the first half in the half-court and scored just 27 points on their 27 first half possessions that were not scores off turnovers. In the second half, they were much better, shooting 11-of-26 from the field, but again not really scoring in the halfcourt, averaging a shade under a point per possession in the second half. So, clearly, the key to stopping the Wildcats is forcing them into a half-court game and not allowing them to get points in transition, something that is far easier said than done.
  3. Highlight Reels Plays. Nick Johnson running down David Stockton and rejecting his breakaway layup. Gordon throwing down his now-patented reverse layup on the alley-oop. Gordon dunking over two Gonzaga big frontcourt players on an offensive rebound follow-up. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson providing a ridiculous in-your-face dunk in the halfcourt game. There are probably another half-dozen plays I’m forgetting that deserve mention as well, but the fact of the matter is, the Wildcats didn’t just beat the Zags by 23 points, they embarrassed them continuously throughout the game.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Gonzaga 85, #9 Oklahoma State 77

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 21st, 2014

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Przemek Karnowski's Ability To Score Inside Gave Gonzaga A Presence Oklahoma State Couldn't Match (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Przemek Karnowski’s Ability To Score Inside Gave Gonzaga A Presence Oklahoma State Couldn’t Match (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

  1. Battle of Match-ups. Coming into tonight’s game, each team had an apparent strength against the opponent. Gonzaga had a bunch of frontcourt size in Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski to throw at an undersized Oklahoma State front line. Meanwhile, there was no apparent solution on the Gonzaga roster for having to check both Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. The Cowboys were able to get plenty of offensive production out of their duo (to the tune of 43 points), but Gonzaga’s ability to throw the ball into Karnowski and suck the Oklahoma State defense into the paint provided a big advantage in the early part of this game.
  2. Gonzaga Balance. The Bulldogs feature excellent balance on the basketball court. They’re #16 in the nation in defensive efficiency and #46 in offensive efficiency. They’ve got two frontcourt guys at 6’9” or bigger who average at least double-figures and a trio of solid veteran backcourt players. Today, that balance was on full display. The Zags were able to throw the ball into Karnowski on a regular basis and get buckets, but when they needed a big play to stop a run, guys like Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. were there to knock in big jumpers. With 11 minutes left and Oklahoma State on a 7-0 run, Bell stepped into a three, and then mere seconds later, Pangos turned a steal into a layup to stop the bleeding. With 7:47, a Pangos three did much the same. The Bulldogs’ ability to get production from both inside and outside was the difference against a backcourt-heavy Cowboy team. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Afternoon

Posted by Brian Otskey, Andrew Murawa, Walker Carey & Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2014

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Half the day is in the books, and eight teams are headed home. We may not know what the Thursday evening sessions might have in store for us, but we can be confident in thinking there will be lots of excitement. Let’s continue our analysis of all of today’s games with the evening slate of eight contests.

#3 Duke vs. #14 Mercer – Midwest Region Round of 64 (from Raleigh, NC) – at 12:15 PM EST on CBS

Parker and Duke Face Mercer Today

Parker and Duke Face Mercer Today

Last season, the Atlantic Sun Tournament champions advanced to the Sweet 16. Mercer will try to repeat that accomplishment this season, but winning Friday’s game against Duke will be a very tall task. Duke forwards Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood lead a very talented Blue Devils squad that is an elite scoring team. There are no teams with close to Duke’s talent in the Atlantic Sun so Mercer has no basis for comparison leading into Friday afternoon’s action. Another thing that is working against Mercer is its lack of NCAA Tournament experience. The Bears have not been to the tournament since 1985. On the other hand, Duke has played in every NCAA Tournament since 1995. If Mercer is able to keep it close Friday, it will be because of its strong offense going up against an iffy Duke defense. Mercer averages an impressive 79.5 points per game and is shooting 47.5% from the field. Bears senior guard Langston Hall has been an impressive player throughout his collegiate career and his ability to make plays will be paramount to the team’s fortunes Friday. Mercer is a scrappy bunch that can keep it close in the first half, but expect Duke’s talent to take over in the second half and lead the Blue Devils to a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke

#6 Baylor vs #11 Nebraska – West Regional Second Round (at San Antonio, TX) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV

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O26 Bracketbusting: East and West Regions

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 19th, 2014

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The most joyous time of the year is finally upon us, and I’m not talking about tax season. I’m talking about buzzer-beating threes and scoring sprees, nickel-dimers and Nantz one-liners, back-door cuts and Farokhmanesh guts. I’m talking about the NCAA Tournament. And since O26 squads often make the most magic in March, let’s examine the prospects of each non-power conference unit in the upcoming Dance. Yesterday, Adam Stillman reviewed the South and Midwest Regions. Here, Tommy Lemoine looks at the East and West regions.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a legitimate chance to reach the second weekend, and perhaps even the Final Four.

Can San Diego State generate enough offense to make a deep run? (AP Photo)

Can San Diego State generate enough offense to make a deep run? (AP Photo)

  • San Diego State (#4, West) – This is the fifth straight season San Diego State has reached the NCAA Tournament, but only once in that span has it advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. The good news for Aztec fans is that this is the best overall defensive unit – not to mention highest-seeded outfit – since 2011, the year Kawhi Leonard and company made that run to the second weekend. Steve Fisher’s club ranks seventh nationally in defensive efficiency thanks to long-armed perimeter defenders like Winston Shepard (he’s a 6’8’’ two-guard) and interior stalwarts like Skylar Spencer. The Aztecs are aggressive, confusing and energetic on that side of the ball. They draw New Mexico State on Thursday, a sizable and athletic #13 seed that’s both offensively proficient and does a good job defending the paint. But they turn the ball over quite a bit, and there’s a good chance SDSU will seize on that sloppiness, even if they have trouble scoring. In the following round, they would meet either Oklahoma or North Dakota State – two really efficient offensive squads that have both shown weaknesses this season against athletic, pressure defense. Both are beatable for the Aztecs. Finding success in Anaheim, though, might be a different story. The offense will need to be more consistent than it’s been up to this point, especially against a team like Arizona – the nation’s best defensive unit (and most likely Sweet Sixteen opponent). If Mountain West Player of the Year Xavier Thames can play like he did in January and early March – when he put up numerous 20-plus point performances – and complementary pieces like athletic wing Dwayne Polee can make solid contributions, SDSU would have a shot. But if they can’t find buckets with regularity, the Aztecs won’t last long.
  • Gonzaga (#8, West) – It seems like everybody is sleeping on the Zags in favor of the ‘Marcus-Smart-can-make-a-run’ narrative, which is fine, and may very well happen. But do people realize that Mark Few’s bunch is ranked 20th overall in KenPom, with a top-15 defensive efficiency rating and a stellar effective field goal percentage? They might not be vintage Gonzaga, but these Bulldogs can still play. Their opening bout with Oklahoma State will probably be a good one – in fact, it has the highest ‘Thrill Score’ according to KenPom’s FanMatch – and  should be winnable if they can contain Smart and limit turnovers. The experienced backcourt of Kevin Pangos, David Stockton and Gary Bell will help in the latter department. If they manage to get past the Pokes, a match-up with Arizona in the round of 32 would be daunting, of course, but not necessarily insurmountable. Consider this: Three of the Wildcats’ four losses this season came against opponents ranked in the top-30 in effective height. Gonzaga, with 7’1’’ Przemek Karnowski and 6’9’’ Sam Dower in tow, ranks 25th. Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon will not be able to simply bully Few’s frontcourt into oblivion. If the big men hold their own and Pangos (41 percent) and Bell (42 percent) get hot from behind the arc, watch out. Admittedly, a deep run into the second weekend or the Final Four seems a bit farfetched for the WCC champions – especially considering their lack of quality wins in 2013-14 – but I’m not willing to completely push aside the possibility of a Sweet Sixteen run.

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 17th, 2014

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), Midwest (11:00 AM), South (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

You should also check out our upcoming RTC Podblast with Andrew breaking down the West Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

West Region

Favorite: Arizona, #1, 30-4. The Wildcats are the nation’s best defensive team – this is beyond debate. In 34 games to this date, they’ve allowed teams to score better than a point per possession just six times all year (and seven times they’ve held their opponent to less than 0.8 points per possession). They’ve got freshman Aaron Gordon, who is on the short list of most versatile defenders in the nation, capable of guarding players from power forward to point guard. Likewise, guys like Nick Johnson, T.J. McConnell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are terrific athletic defenders, while sophomore Kaleb Tarczewski is a rugged rim protector. Point is that it is going to be very hard for any opponent to score consistently on this team. Throw in the fact that the Wildcats are a quality offensive team as well (only six times all season have they scored less than a point per possession in a game) and that they’re playing arguably their best ball of the season at the right time for rising star Sean Miller, and the West is theirs to win.

Arizona Earned A #1 Seed In The West Region And Fortunate Geographic Placement

Arizona Earned A #1 Seed In The West Region And Fortunate Geographic Placement. (AP)

Should They Falter: Wisconsin, #2, 26-7. Aside from a head-scratching downturn in the middle of the season when the Badgers lost five out of six games, Bo Ryan’s squad has been excellent. Only once in the last 12 seasons has Wisconsin had a more efficient offense (2011, and even then, it is a razor-thin margin), but what is different about this team is an increased tempo, a sparkling shooting percentage, and a complete avoidance of turnovers. However, all of this offensive wonderment does not come without a price, as this is also the worst Badgers team on the defensive end in those same dozen years, with the team – especially in that bad stretch in January – failing to contain dribble penetration and regularly getting scorched. This happened again this past weekend against Michigan State, so the Badgers are not here without concerns. But in a region where there are few teams without some blemishes, the Badgers are the safest bet – beyond Arizona – to wind up in Dallas.

Grossly Overseeded: BYU, #10, 23-11. Let’s just refer back to 2012 in the West region and read what I wrote then. Sure, some of the details have now changed, but the gist of this is the same: Why is BYU in the field again? They’ve got a solid win over Gonzaga, they beat Stanford and Texas in the non-conference. Sure. But all of those good spots are balanced out by atrocious losses to Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Portland and Pacific. There aren’t a ton of other great options to go into BYU’s spot, for sure, and rewarding them for playing a tough non-conference slate is fine. But if anything, the Cougars should have to win their way into the field of 64 by getting through the First Four in Dayton.

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After Rocky Season, WCC Champs Gonzaga Back in Familiar Role of Underdog

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 14th, 2014

After securing a sweep of the WCC regular season and tournament titles on Tuesday night, Gonzaga should land somewhere on the #7-#10 seed lines on Selection Sunday. Obviously, that means there is a decent chance that the Zags will be a favorite in the round of 64, but a run deep into March is widely considered unlikely for Mark Few’s team this season. The “soft” label that has lingered around the program for years is still there, and the stench of a second-round loss as a #1 seed last season hasn’t fully dissipated, either. Critics also like to point to a paper resume that is devoid of marquee wins, which, to a large extent, is fair. The Gonzaga profile was so toothless that it kept the Zags out of NCAA Tournament lock territory all the way into the WCC Tournament, despite a 25-win regular season. Not exactly the typical Gonzaga treatment, eh? However, so-so profile and lack of national believers notwithstanding, Gonzaga may actually be well-positioned for an NCAA Tournament push, albeit from a lower seed line. Perhaps, after all these years, the slipper still fits.

The Zags Enter The NCAA Tournament Off The Radar, And Don't Think That They Mind

The Zags Enter The NCAA Tournament Off The Radar, And Don’t Think That They Mind

At the time, Gonzaga’s second round loss to Wichita State a year ago seemed to validate all the conversation about the Zags being overrated. Nevermind that Wichita State ended up rolling through the entire West region on the way to the Final Four, or that Gonzaga extended its streak of years with a Tournament win to five (Kansas and Syracuse are the only other programs with wins in each of the last five Dances). Suddenly Gonzaga was a chronic March failure that beat up on a weak mid-major conference every season before getting exposed by “real” teams. After a season in the national spotlight, the timing of the upset loss to the Shockers was less than ideal, but the overreaction to it was extreme. One loss does not define a program – particularly one with a lengthy, consistent track record like Gonzaga.

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Bracket Prep: Mount St. Mary’s, Milwaukee, Gonzaga, North Dakota State

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 12th, 2014

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As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. Tournament dreams became a reality for four more teams last night. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent quartet of bid-winners.

Mount St. Mary’s

Mount St. Mary's, .500 Record In Tow, Is Dancing. They Are Your NEC Champions.

Mount St. Mary’s, .500 Record In Tow, Is Dancing. They Are Your NEC Champions.

  • NEC Champion (16-16, 12-7)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #216/#207/#220
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = -3.6
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #16 (First Four)

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. So much for the relative tranquility of the first few days of Championship Week (shouldn’t it really be called “Championship Ten Days”?). Mount St. Mary’s capped off an improbable NEC tournament run by thrashing top seed Robert Morris on their home floor, 88-71, sending the 16-16 Mountaineers to a likely date in the First Four in Dayton. If the Colonials still don’t know what happened tonight, the Mountaineers shot 61% from the floor, made 8-18 threes, and despite being one of the worst rebounding teams in America, found a way to outboard RMU (despite nine missed MSM free throws). Upsets happen in March, but the ease with which Mount St. Mary’s overcame their favored foe last night was truly shocking.
  2. For a team that finished 9-7 in the NEC, the Mountaineers aren’t that bad, I guess? Mount St. Mary’s was second best in offensive efficiency during conference play, and a modestly impressive 123rd nationally for the season. In averaging 70.1 possessions per game (33rd in the nation), MSM also has shown they don’t mind getting out in transition, where guards Rashad Whack (17.6 PPG, 79 3PM) and Julian Norfleet (17.5 PPG, 5.5 APG) thrive. But unlike many small conference teams, the Mountaineers pair their arsenal of pint-sized guards with a true post player, seven footer Taylor Danaher (6.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.3 BPG). Danaher won’t soon be confused with Dwight Howard, but his sizable presence won’t hurt when matching up with the bigger teams likely to inhabit the top seed lines.
  3. Mount St. Mary’s defends the three-point stripe reasonably well, but opponents should be able to find plenty of success inside the arc against the Mounts. MSM regular season foes shot 54.5% on two-point field goals in the regular season, which led to a field-day or three for the power conference teams on the November-December schedule. BYU went for 109, Texas Tech 100, and Michigan State 98 against the Mountaineers – all, of course, in resounding victories. Hard to believe much will be different if MSM finds their way into the 64-team portion of the Tournament.

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Saint Mary’s and San Francisco Depart Vegas on Markedly Different Paths

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 11th, 2014

Both Saint Mary’s and San Francisco will be invited to participate in one of the other national postseason tournaments, but while their seasons may not be officially over, Monday night brought a close to any improbable NCAA Tournament dreams. Saint Mary’s was routed (again) by Gonzaga in one WCC semifinal, while San Francisco came up a play or two short versus BYU in the other, ultimately falling to Tyler Haws and the Cougars in overtime, 79-77. There are plenty of similarities on a paper resume between SMC and USF this season (both have RPIs in the 60s and 11 losses each), but that resemblance belies the current state of affairs of Bay Area WCC hoops. It would seem that Monday’s mode of exit is a far better illustration of where these two programs currently sit – and where they are headed. The young Dons appear ready to compete like they did in Vegas (and really, all season) on a consistent basis moving forward, but for their neighbors acros the San Francisco Bay in Moraga, the future may not be as bright. The talent pool has dried up for Randy Bennett and the Gaels, and the proudest era in Saint Mary’s basketball history could be on the verge of extinction.

Stephen Holt's Departure Will Make Like More Difficult For Randy Bennett And The Gaels Next Season. Is The Golden Era Of Saint Mary's Basketball Nearly Finished?

Stephen Holt’s Departure Will Make Like More Difficult For Randy Bennett And The Gaels Next Season. Is The Golden Era Of Saint Mary’s Basketball Nearly Finished?

We’ll take the good news before the bad and discuss USF first. Progress has been slow since Rex Walters arrived in 2008, but the Dons have increased their win total in every season except 2012-13 under the former NBA journeyman and former Jayhawk. Incremental growth ran a bit faster this season, as Walters’ team really began showing signs of life. The Dons went 13-5 in a WCC that finished ninth in conference RPI, and are set to return their entire rotation next season save for leading scorer Cole Dickerson. Dickerson’s crafty offensive game will surely be missed in 2014-15, but expectations should justly be enhanced with the Dons returning so much proven talent.

After winning back-to-back national titles in the 50s with two of the greatest players in basketball history leading the way, USF has made the NCAA Tournament just one time in the past three decades, and the last Don to play in the NBA retired more than 20 years ago. It’s been a long, confusing dry spell for a tradition-laden program, indeed. There isn’t any NBA talent on this USF roster (or next year’s, most likely), but as the program ascends the ranks of the WCC standings, the NCAA Tournament should again be within reach for Walters’ team. That statement alone constitutes progress, but anyone who caught a glimpse of this San Francisco team – either on Monday night or throughout its 13-win conference campaign – could tell you that things are looking up in the City by the Bay.

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