RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Northwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2010

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

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

Northwest Region (UT, WY, MT, ID, AK, WA, OR, NorCal)

  • Isaiah Thomas – Jr, G – Washington. For the Pac-10 favorite Huskies, it is the smallest guy on the floor who will have the biggest impact. In each of Isaiah Thomas’ two previous collegiate seasons in Seattle, he has been at best a secondary option. Two years ago it was Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon who were the senior leaders (even though Thomas still led the team in scoring) and last year it was Quincy Pondexter. Nowadays, the 5’8 junior point guard is clearly the face of the program, a lightning-quick, high-flying, pint-sized lefty with a penchant for scoring, even over larger defenders. Thomas is a versatile offensive player, at his best with the ball in his hands and going to his left, but capable of being a scoring threat in all manner of situations.  He is not yet a great three-point shooter, but upped his average to a solid 33% as a sophomore and seems poised to push that number up a couple points again this season, a tool which could be deadly given his explosive first step and ability to finish with any number of acrobatic shots in and around the lane. Thomas also excels at drawing fouls and getting to the line, where he also upped his efficiency as a sophomore to 73%, a number upon which he should improve yet again. One offensive area where Thomas is still finding himself is in terms of getting the rest of his team involved. For instance, there was a stretch of three games at the start of the Pac-10 season last year where he handed out just one total assist. He picked things up in this area down the stretch and averaged two more assists per game in the last 14 games of the season than he did in the first 22, and not coincidentally, the Huskies were a better team over that span, posting an 11-3 record. With senior Venoy Overton and sophomore Abdul Gaddy also capable of running the point for the Huskies, Thomas does have the ability to play off the ball for head coach Lorenzo Romar, but Washington is just more dangerous when Thomas has the ball in his hands, and if he can continue to improve his playmaking skills while still maintaining his explosive scoring ability, everybody on the team will be better for it. Defensively, Thomas is excellent in the open court and away from the basket with his quick hands and feet, but, as is the case with anyone his size, he has been a defensive liability at times in the halfcourt game, a weakness somewhat mitigated by the Huskies’ use of aggressive pressure from Thomas and Overton to keep opponents from getting comfortable in a half-court set. And really, wherever Thomas is on the floor, his talent and ability make it difficult for any opponent to get too comfortable.

Thomas May be Small in Stature, But Not Talent

  • Jeremy Green – Jr, G – Stanford. Last season the Stanford Cardinal were, by and large, a two-man gang. Green and Landry Fields were the only two players to score in double figures and between the two they accounted for almost 39 of Stanford’s average of 69 points per night. With Fields now plying his trade at the next level, the onus for the Stanford offense falls squarely on Green. Green came into last season with the reputation as a designated shooter, after knocking down over 45% of his threes as a freshman on his way to 6.4 points per game, and although he showed an increased proficiency off the bounce as a sophomore, it is still his shooting that opponents need to fear. With his minutes doubled last season, his production more than doubled as his scoring average jumped to 16.6 PPG nightly. In the process, he set a new school record for threes in a season with his 93 makes, and more than half of all his attempts, and makes, were from behind the arc. Green will be called on again to be a big scorer for Johnny Dawkins’ club, and he’ll need to show that he is capable of wearing a target on his back on a nightly basis and still succeeding. Despite Green’s increase in scoring as a sophomore, he did see his three-point percentage dip seven points to 38% last season, and minus Fields’ ability to create opportunities for teammates, Green could find matching last season’s efficiency more difficult. However, expect the Cardinal to run plenty of plays for him, running him off screens both with the ball and away from the ball, allowing him to find shots in both catch-and-shoot situations or even off the dribble. While Green is not an explosive athlete and isn’t often a threat to take the ball all the way to the rim, he is effective at using his dribble to find a spot from which to hit his jumper, although it would be nice to see him attack defenders more with an eye towards getting to the line; he only attempted 92 free throws last season, a shame for an 80-plus-percent shooter. Also, with the ball in his hands, Green doesn’t present much of the threat to the rest of the defenders on the court, as Green is ineffective at finding his teammates for open looks, notching just 25 assists all of last season. Green is a pretty good rebounder for a guard, grabbing 3.8 rebounds per game last season, while defensively, he is merely competent. With his running mate from last season now departed, Green is clearly the go-to guy on the Stanford offense, and he’ll need to show that he is capable of handling those duties, but the next step for the proven shooter is to find ways to get his teammates involved more often, and find ways to get himself to the charity stripe on a more regular basis.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on February 16th, 2010

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

Standings (through games of 2/13/10)

  1. Gonzaga 9-1 (21-4)
  2. Saint Mary’s 8-3 (21-5)
  3. Portland 7-3 (16-8)
  4. San Francisco 6-5 (11-15)
  5. Loyola Marymount 4-6 (13-13)
  6. Pepperdine 3-7 (7-19)
  7. Santa Clara 3-8 (11-17)
  8. San Diego 2-9 (9-18)

The Dynasty Continues

Barring a collapse of unimaginable proportions, the Gonzaga Bulldogs will win their tenth straight WCC Championship in 2010 – an almost-unprecedented string of single team domination in college basketball. After swatting down pretenders Portland (76-49) and Saint Mary’s (80-61) on consecutive Thursday nights at home, the Zags face a road trip this week to the less-than-fearsome Loyola Marymount Lions and Pepperdine Waves, then finish up the conference schedule at home against lowly Santa Clara on the 25th and San Francisco on the 27th. San Francisco brings the only substantive credential – an 81-77 upset of the Zags on Jan. 30 – into the final weekend, but Gonzaga showed by its overwhelming defeats of strong Portland and Saint Mary’s teams that it has recovered from whatever jim-jams caused it to lose to San Francisco. The Zags never let either Portland or Saint Mary’s get into their offenses, bringing stifling defense and potent offensive efforts by Matt Bouldin, Elias Harris, Robert Sacre and others to authoritatively separate themselves from their closest pursuers. There is no reasonable hope that anything will keep the Zags from running the table on the remaining games, including the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas March 5-8. The Zags’ main preoccupation for the next several weeks will be determining how high a seed they will receive in the NCAA Tournament.

Randy Bennett’s Saint Mary’s Gaels had a terrible trip to the Pacific Northwest after posting six straight wins following a closely-contested 89-82 loss to Gonzaga at home on Jan. 14. The Gaels were 8-1 in conference play and 21-3 overall heading into the Feb. 11 showdown against Gonzaga with the conference lead in the balance. With a win, Saint Mary’s would have put a little daylight between itself and the Zags because of the Zags’ earlier loss to San Francisco. For about 24 minutes the Gaels played as if they were serious about threatening Gonzaga’s long reign as WCC champs, but unfortunately college games are 40 minutes long. After an Omar Samhan basket tied things at 43 all with 16 minutes left, it was all Gonzaga. The Zags’ hounding defense produced numerous turnovers by Gael guards Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova, and to underline the worst game of his college career, McConnell – averaging nearly 14 points per game – was shut out.

McConnell bounced back with a team-leading 25 points in the Gaels’ game against Portland two nights later, but his teammates were unable to stem Portland’s strong guard play and lost 80-75 in overtime. Pilots’ senior point guard T.J. Campbell scored a career-high 24 points and backcourt mate Jared Stohl added 16 to lead their team. Portland pulled even with Saint Mary’s in the loss column with the victory, and is looking to finish its final four games on a roll to gain the number two WCC Tournament seed and an automatic advance to the conference semifinals. The Pilots accompany Gonzaga on the southern California road trip this week to Pepperdine and LMU, then return home to face San Francisco and Santa Clara to end the season. If the Gaels, who have a road game against San Diego and two home contests against Pepperdine and LMU, also win out, they and Portland will tie for second place at 11-3. It will take a lot of head-scratching to determine who earns the number-two seed in that case, as the teams split against each other, with both games being decided by five points, and both lost twice to Gonzaga. Portland, however, had a larger point differential in its two losses to Gonzaga – 30 – than Saint Mary’s, which had a 26-point deficit.

With the league-leaders completing conference play against bottom-tier teams, there are many opportunities for those teams to score significant upsets. San Francisco is playing the strongest ball among the non-contenders, having won four out of five games including a 77-47 rout of Pepperdine and a convincing 75-66 win over LMU at home last week to solidify its hold on fourth place. However, the Dons travel to Bay Area rival Santa Clara on Feb. 20 for a rematch against a team that edged them 66-65 earlier, then head to the northwest to end the season against Gonzaga and Portland. Hard to predict a Dons’ upset of the northwest squads.

LMU and Pepperdine both entertain Gonzaga and Portland this week, and LMU especially will be looking to earn back some respect it has lost since an early-season upset of Notre Dame in South Bend. Max Good has most of the LMU walking wounded back for the Gonzaga and Portland showdowns, with transfer guard Larry Davis the only prominent player still on the sidelines. The Lions are a game-and-a-half back of San Francisco and would love to redeem their early-season promise by ruining the seasons of the top dogs and moving up in the standings. They have the opportunities, but will have to overcome strong momentum to topple either Gonzaga or Portland this week, or Saint Mary’s in the final conference game on Feb. 27 in Moraga.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on February 1st, 2010

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

Standings (through games of 1/30/10)

  1. Saint Mary’s                 6-1 (19-3)
  2. Gonzaga                       6-1 (17-4)
  3. Portland                       5-2 (14-7)
  4. San Francisco               3-4 (8-14)
  5. Pepperdine                   3-4 (7-16)
  6. Loyola Marymount       2-5 (11-12)
  7. San Diego                    2-5 (9-14)
  8. Santa Clara                  1-6 (9-15)

Now it Gets Interesting

San Francisco’s 81-77 overtime win over Gonzaga at home on Jan. 30 did several things, among which were stopping the Zags’ current nine-game winning streak, its 22-game WCC winning streak and its 27-game streak in regular season play (its last loss was in the 2007 conference tournament final against San Diego). More important than all that, however, it gave new life to the second half of the WCC season.

By proving itself vulnerable against a fired-up San Francisco team that had suffered mostly disappointment this season, Gonzaga may have opened the door for Saint Mary’s or Portland to entertain serious hopes of stopping its most impressive streak – that of nine straight conference championships. A tenth straight seemed likely after the Zags swept its most difficult stretch of road games against Portland, Saint Mary’s and San Diego Jan. 14-21, but signs of Zag distress turned up before the San Francisco stunner: they allowed Pepperdine to score 55 second-half points in an unexpectedly close 91-84 home win on Jan. 21, struggled to a halftime tie against Loyola Marymount two nights later before winning 85-69, then trailed Santa Clara almost the entire game on Jan. 28 before pulling out a 71-64 squeaker. The San Francisco loss two nights later before a packed and vocal War Memorial Gymnasium crowd seemed like the next stop on a trip to Problem City.

But is that trip over now? Or do the Pilots and Gaels have a better chance during the second phase of the conference season than they did in the first? It won’t take long to find the answer, as Portland rolls into Zagland Thursday night (Feb. 4) fresh off a weekend trip to the Bay Area in which it played more like Gonzaga than Gonzaga. The Pilots first handled San Francisco 74-58 behind Jared Stohl’s 22 points on 6-12 three-point shooting that put Stohl just three behind Portland’s all-time long-range record of 211. Stohl quickly broke that record two nights later as the Pilots dismantled the same Santa Clara team that had stymied Gonzaga, 74-52. The junior from Marysville, WA, canned four three-pointers against Santa Clara on the way to a team-high 16 points. Since moving into the starting lineup for injured guard Nik Raivio four games ago, Stohl has averaged 18.5 ppg and Portland has won all four contests.

So, does Portland have the momentum that will allow it to accomplish this week at Gonzaga what it couldn’t pull off at home on Jan. 9? In that game, the Pilots played the Zags tough and rallied late to close within three points in the final seconds. Stohl’s seemingly-impossible buzzer-beater from the sideline looked good until it rimmed out to give the Zags an 81-78 win. Portland certainly looked confident against Santa Clara, holding off the same furious defensive pressure that Kerry Keating’s troops showed against Gonzaga. The Pilots relentlessly pounded the ball into the paint to Luke Sikma, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half. Robin Smuelders, the more prolific of the Pilots’ frontline stalwarts, scored only six against Santa Clara, but was almost unstoppable in the first Gonzaga game. The rugged 6’10 senior from Braunschweig, Germany, made 9 of 10 shots against Gonzaga on the way to a game-high 24 points. The matchup of Smuelders and Gonzaga’s Elias Harris, another German, will be one of the most intriguing of Thursday night’s game. It will be televised by ESPN2 at 8 p.m. Pacific.

Saint Mary’s begins the second half with games at home against Santa Clara on Thursday and San Francisco on Saturday. The Gaels handled both easily on the road to open the season, and are coming off an impressive road swing to southern California last week in which they throttled Pepperdine 88-71 and Loyola Marymount 85-67. The games against two long-time Bay Area rivals, both energized by their performance against Gonzaga, will set the stage for the Gaels’ own Zag showdown next week. Saint Mary’s also played Gonzaga tough in their initial meeting in Moraga on Jan. 14, losing 89-82 after cutting a 15-point second-half lead to 84-80 with less than a minute left. But they haven’t won in Spokane since 1995, and Gonzaga has won 32 of 38 games since then.

The Feb. 11 showdown will give the Gaels a chance to overcome that history and record a signature win for the season that will improve their chances for an at-large NCAA bid if they fail to capture the WCC’s automatic invitation. Saint Mary’s has the memory of last year’s NCAA snub, when they were 26-5 but lost all three games to Gonzaga and, thus, didn’t get an at-large bid, etched deeply in its memory. Regardless of how Portland fares this Thursday, the Gaels will head north on a mission, and their road success this season (8-0) gives them added hope. They are only one of two teams in the country to be undefeated in true road games, the other being Syracuse with a 5-0 road mark.

By beating Gonzaga, San Francisco not only enlivened the WCC race, but also gave hope to its fans for a worthwhile season under second-year coach Rex Walters. The Dons are tied with Pepperdine for fourth place in the league, and maintaining that position would make this year worthwhile. The schedule is not promising, however, as the Dons have a difficult road trip this week to San Diego on Thursday and across the Bay Bridge on Saturday to face Saint Mary’s. The San Diego game counts as a must-win, as the Toreros are one of the teams currently below San Francisco in the standings and must be beaten to stay that way. The Saturday contest against Saint Mary’s in Moraga will be a difficult rematch as the Gaels romped 83-62 in their first game. The Dons have the best chance to cement their position with a Feb. 11 rematch with Pepperdine at home, although the Waves creamed them 83-68 earlier in Malibu. After that game and a contest against LMU two nights later, San Francisco finishes with a brutal road swing to Santa Clara, Portland and Gonzaga. If Walters’ crew holds on to its fourth-place position, it will have earned it.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on January 19th, 2010

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.

Standings (through games of 1/16/10)

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

Conference: Week Two

After two weeks of conference play the WCC can claim at least two major surprises along with a host of expected results. The biggest surprise has to be seeing Pepperdine tied with Gonzaga atop the standings with a perfect 3-0 mark, the first time the Waves have been in that position since 2002. In that year, Pepperdine and Gonzaga tied for the conference championship at 13-1.

Surprise no. 2, although not as big, is Santa Clara’s inability to win any of its first four games, which included two at home. The Broncos were picked to finish as high as third by some media outlets, but now find themselves looking up from the bottom without having played two of the conference’s strongest teams, Gonzaga or Portland. With four games coming against those two, plus Saint Mary’s in Moraga, Kerry Keating’s squad will have to scramble to get out of the basement.

Pepperdine achieved the top spot by extending its hex over Loyola Marymount 79-75 in Malibu to start conference play on Jan. 9, squeaking by Santa Clara 61-60 on sophomore guard Lorne Jackson’s steal of a Robert Smith layup attempt at the buzzer, and pulling away from San Francisco 83-68 on the strength of a 24-9 run in the last seven minutes. All three wins came at home, and the Waves will be sorely tested this week with away games against Gonzaga and Portland. Still, Tom Asbury’s troops cannot be disregarded despite their many struggles in the pre-conference, where they went 3-12 including an embarrassing 67-65 loss to lowly Cal Baptist. Pepperdine is an extremely young team and has shown signs of coming together at just the right time.

How young is Pepperdine? Gonzaga coach Mark Few, the league’s master propagandist, has induced the national media to incessantly note that the Zags started the season with ten new players, while omitting the fact that two of its key contributors, Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray, are four-and-three-year veterans, respectively, and redshirt sophomore center Robert Sacre has been in the program for three years. Only 20-year-old European veteran Elias Harris, nominally a freshman, is a truly new face among players that Few has counted on most heavily.  Asbury, on the other hand, starts three sophomores (Jackson, Keion Bell and Taylor Darby), and two juniors, (Mychel Thompson and Jonathan Dupre, a junior college transfer). All five scored in double figures against USF, with Darby notching a double-double (15/12) and Bell just missing a triple-double with 18 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. It is a talented five , but they will be strong underdogs in Spokane Thursday night against the battle-tested Zags, who breezed through a daunting three-game road trip in Portland, Moraga (Saint Mary’s) and San Diego to take a lot of the early air out of upset balloons. Nevertheless, any game against undefeated co-leaders counts as a showdown, and Asbury’s pups will be pumped to throw a major scare into the Zags.

Of the predicted Gonzaga challengers, Saint Mary’s fared pretty well in the first two weeks of the conference season, and Portland slightly less well. The Gaels underwent a bad stretch at the end of the first half against Gonzaga on Jan. 14, letting a close 36-33 game deteriorate into a 45-33 halftime deficit by not scoring in the last four minutes. They would spend the entire second half trying to overcome that 12-point margin, outscoring the Zags 49-44 and coming to within 84-80 with just under a minute left and the ball in their hands. A three-point attempt by freshman Aussie Jorden Page rimmed out, however, and Gonzaga ran out the clock at the free throw line for its 89-82 win. The Gaels averted disaster two nights later by struggling to a 77-72 win over Portland.

Portland came even closer against the Zags than the Gaels on Jan. 9, mounting a furious comeback that culminated with sharpshooting guard Jared Stohl trying a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime. Stohl took a pass on the sideline going away from the basket, under close guard, somehow turned his body 180° and launched a prayer that seemed laser-guided to the basket. It somehow missed and the Pilots were denied a chance to pull out a win in overtime. As close as those games were, however, Gonzaga prevailed in both in hostile environments, and made it three-in-a-row with a routine dismantling of San Diego at the Jenny Craig Pavilion, 68-50. Portland was counting on the season-opening encounter with Gonzaga on its home court to put a new leader atop the conference, but instead finds itself 1-2 with losses to the league’s two top teams.

The Zags get to go home for the next two games, the Jan. 21 encounter with Pepperdine, and a tussle with Loyola two days later. LMU has stumbled in conference play so far, losing its opener to Pepperdine and the next contest to San Francisco 70-67, before righting itself for a convincing 81-70 win over Santa Clara on the 16th. Like Asbury, LMU’s Max Good has a rather untested, up-and-down team to take into the raucous environs of Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center, where the Zags are 67-4 since it opened in 2004. The Lions will try to focus on their 87-85 upset of Notre Dame in South Bend on Dec. 12 and summon the magic that downed the Fighting Irish.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2009

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

Standings (through games of 12/23/09)

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

Dark Horse Rising

All the top dogs took their lumps last week, while dark horse Loyola Marymount continued its rise in both confidence and the conference standings. The Lions leap-frogged sagging San Diego to take over fifth place and served warning on Santa Clara that its fourth-place berth may not be safe. And, in case you missed it or thought it was a media hoax, Pepperdine upset Utah 76-64 on Wednesday night (Dec. 23).

Gonzaga had only one game in the week, and it was a slap in the face. Travelling to Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19 to take on Duke and possibly move up in the national rankings from its #15 spot, the Zags instead got a strong dose of help defense and Jon Scheyer. The final score of 76-41 may have been “an aberration” as Zags’ coach Mark Few described it, but the game itself was a lesson in preparation. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had scouted Gonzaga perfectly, and his team cut off the passing lanes and double-teamed the Zags big men Robert Sacre and Elias Harris. With leading scorer Matt Bouldin possibly feeling the effects of a head injury suffered against Augustana on Dec. 9, the Zags barely topped 40 points and suffered their worst defeat in 25 years. They have a long time to recover before returning to action on Dec. 28 with a home game against Eastern Washington.

Saint Mary’s, cruising along at 10-1 and rising to a #21 RPI ranking, also fell rudely to earth. Like the Zags, the Gaels were undone by a stout defensive effort, in this case administered by resurgent University of Southern California. The Trojans, showing that their 22-point upset of ninth-ranked Tennessee (77-55) on Dec. 19 was no fluke, shut down both the Gaels’ powerful inside game of Omar Samhan and Ben Allen, and its cadre of outside bombers, Matthew Dellavedova, Clint Steindl and Mickey McConnell, in a 60-49 victory in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. After completing the Diamond Head schedule, the Gaels return to action in Moraga in the Shamrock Office Solutions Classic beginning Dec. 29.

Completing a trifecta of peril for WCC leaders, Portland continued its descent from national prominence with an 89-54 thumping by Washington in Seattle on Dec. 19. The Pilots bounced back with an 82-52 revenge win over Idaho at home three nights later, featuring Jared Stohl’s record-shattering 10 three-point baskets to account for all 30 of his points. Stohl broke his previous record of nine threes set against USF last January. The win over Idaho avenged an earlier 68-48 loss in Moscow, ID, and set the stage for Portland to continue its resurgence against Nevada in Reno on Dec. 28

There was no fall to earth for LMU following its 87-85 upset of Notre Dame on Dec. 12, as the Lions dispatched WCC punching bag Cal State-Bakersfield 84-71 on the 19th and then toppled tough Long Beach State 85-80 in overtime on the 21st. That three-game win streak is the Lions’ first since 2007 and doubled the teams’ win total from last year. Loyola also moved up in the WCC standings and appears to be in good shape to challenge for a spot in the upper half of the conference and a first-round bye in the WCC tournament.

If Loyola does so it will be at the expense of San Diego and Santa Clara, both of whom appear to be losing their grip on a top-four finish. San Diego lost both times in the Holiday Hoops Classic in Las Vegas, first a 70-68 heart-breaker to Southern Illinois and then 69-60 to the Big East’s South Florida. The Toreros have three home games, beginning with a Dec. 29 contest against Savannah State, to right themselves before conference play begins.  Santa Clara appeared to have taken a large step forward by beating tough Pacific 54-53 at home on Dec. 21, but then stumbled against so-so San Jose State 74-68 two nights later. The Broncos host the venerable Cable Car Classic on Dec. 28, opening against Northeastern.

Pepperdine enlivened the bottom rung of the standings with its shocker over Utah, a perennial NCAA team and considered a top contender in the Mountain West Conference. Utah has been struggling and dropped to 5-7 with the Pepperdine loss, but the Waves had shown precious little to suggest they were capable of stepping up against the Utes. They came into the game at 3-10 following losses to Cal Baptist, Portland State and New Mexico State.

San Francisco suffered the same fate in the Holiday Hoops Classic as San Diego, falling to both South Florida and Southern Illinois, before bouncing back at the expense of hapless Cal State Bakersfield on Dec. 23. Dior Lowhorn with 27 and Kwame Vaughn with 22 points paced the Dons in their 82-73 win over the Roadrunners, but USF will not rest easily on its laurels: they face Pac-10 power Washington in Seattle on Dec. 27, and coach Rex Walters probably won’t show his guys the tape of Washington’s evisceration of Portland.

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That’s Debatable: What We’ve Learned…

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2009


Each week RTC will posit a That’s Debatable question or topic that is relevant to the world of college basketball.  Sometimes whimsical, sometimes serious, we’ll post the thoughts from our core editing crew (in 200 words or less), but we’ll also be expanding to include our contributors and correspondents as appropriate throughout the season.  We also invite you, the readers, to join us as we mull over some of the questions facing the game today.  Feel free to send us your takes and/or leave them in the comments below.

This Week’s Topic: Now that we’re through the majority of the early-season tournaments and the calendar has turned to December, what have you learned from the first several weeks of the season?

zach hayes – editor/contributor, RTC

I’ve learned that the Big Ten may be actually be overrated for once. Purdue picked up a quality win against Tennessee and Michigan State survived Gonzaga at home, but it was a very rough week overall for the conference. Michigan barely beat a Creighton team that ended up losing to Iona and finish in 8th place at the Old Spice Classic, then were crushed by Marquette and fell to Alabama. Illinois saw their freshmen guard duo take some serious lumps in stunning defeats to a down Utah team and Bradley. Minnesota fell to both Texas A&M and Portland in Anaheim. Northwestern’s stock dropped with Kevin Coble’s season-ending injury and their two wins this weekend over two likely-NIT teams in Notre Dame and Iowa State in Chicago aren’t that impressive. Penn State fell to UNC-Wilmington and Tulane in Charleston two weeks ago when Ohio State got demolished by a flawed North Carolina squad. The prevailing thought around college basketball is that the Big Ten can’t play up to the level of other conferences like the ACC, Big East and Big 12. While this year was supposed to change that notion, it has, frankly, only done the opposite for the conference as a whole. Winning the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for the first time would certainly change some people’s minds, including myself.

john stevens – editor/contributor, RTC

I’ve learned that, as of right now, the last ten teams listed in any Top 25 you can find are an absolute crap shoot.  If you examine the few polls we’ve had this season, you’ll see that pretty much everyone agrees on the first 15 teams, and after that… we don’t know.  It’s chaos.  I can’t remember a season where we’ve seen such craziness in the bottom half of the polls.  This week’s AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Polls are great examples.  In the AP, six of the bottom 11 teams are different from the previous week, five in the ESPN/USA Today.  California sits at #25 in the ESPN poll, #37 in the AP.  Four of the new teams in the AP poll LOST last week but still got in (two in the Coaches’), while unbeaten Oklahoma State sits at #26 in both.  This is all something to celebrate rather than lament, as it just means that there are more really good teams out there than a Top 25 poll can accommodate.  I’ll gladly buy any stock in Siena, Dayton, and Mississippi State if anybody’s selling, and you can come see me again in March.

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2009


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


  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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ATB: A Strange Sense of Distant Familiarity Fell Over UCLA…

Posted by rtmsf on November 27th, 2009


Word of the Day.  Exposure.  What we’re starting to see throughout this week of holiday hoops as good teams play other good teams is which teams are better than we all thought and which teams aren’t.  Like last night with Kentucky, some teams such as UCLA and Oklahoma are being exposed as works-in-progress with a lot of problems who are a long, long way from making any noise in March.  Others, such as Minnesota and Marquette, might be better than anyone thought they were and could be extremely underrated at this point in the season.  This is what’s great about this time of the year and all of these tournaments — it provides some clarity for how good these teams actually are — much moreso than the standard garbage game against Northeastern State U.

UCLA Gets Waxed in the 76 ClassicPortland 74, UCLA 47. Ben Howland took the worst loss of his UCLA era, as the Portland Pilots shot a blistering 57.9% from three-point land to defeat his Bruins in front of a large fanbase from nearby Westwood.  In a weird irony from the basketball weauxfgods, Steve Lavin, the last coach to get obliterated like this on the UCLA sideline, was there calling the game for ESPN.  Portland’s lead was as great as 31 (!!!) in the second half, and UCLA had trouble against a zone defense for the second time they’ve faced one this season. Pilot guards T.J. Campbell and Jared Stohl (yeah, it really does always go in) led the Pilots with 15 points each, as the former hit three treys and the latter was a perfect 5-5 from downtown — the whole team ripped UCLA for 54% while the Bruins could only muster 33% from the field themselves. Meanwhile, UCLA is searching for leadership that has yet to show itself (Michael Roll?  James Keefe?) and has another tough matchup against Butler on Friday. Portland is beginning to turn some heads and has a chance to make real noise in this tournament if they can  beat #16 Minnesota tomorrow.  As for UCLA, the best way to sum it up may be like this

Portland UCLA Basketball

  • #16 Minnesota 82, #10 Butler 73. Tubby Smith’s team looked the better squad from start to finish of this one.  Minnesota appeared much stronger, more athletic and quicker to the ball as the Gophers repeatedly got production from its deep bench (even with three players currently suspended).  The Minnesota bench contributed 46 pts (to 8 for Butler), but we were struck by how UM’s inside players such as Colton Iverson were getting to the rebounds and physically knocking Butler stars Matt Howard (who fouled out) and Gordon Hayward around.  The Gophers’ defense was in Butler’s face on everything, holding the Bulldogs to a tepid 33% from the field and (ouch) only 5-23 from deep.  While the big three of Hayward, Howard and Shelvin Mack combined for 56 pts, they were hard-earned, and the Minnesota defense was busy locking everyone else on the team up.  If Tubby gets his suspended players back in the lineup, his team could be one of the deepest in the Big Ten this year.
  • #8 West Virginia 85, Long Beach State 62.  LBSU looked completely outmatched today against WVU’s suffocating man-to-man defense and they were never really in the game.  The big story of course was that star forward Devin Ebanks dressed out but did not play, as his ‘personal issues’ seem to still be bothering him (snicker).  The Mountaineers hit twelve threes in a scintillating shooting peformance, led by Casey Mitchell, who went for 18 pts in only fifteen minutes of action.  In a nice sidenote, Jerry West’s son, walk-on Johnnie, also had a career-high eleven points to get in on the action.  Bottom line: WVU has the pieces, but Texas A&M will be a good test tomorrow.
  • Texas A&M 69, #19 Clemson 60. TAMU got into Clemson’s shorts defensively early in this game, and ultimately held the Tigers to 34% for the game and 3-18 from deep in a mild upset for the Aggies.  BJ Holmes and David Loubeau came off the bench to combine for 32 pts and 14 rebounds for Mark Turgeon, but the story of this game was their defense as only Trevor Booker (18/6) and Tanner Smith (14/5/3 assts) were able to get going.  Clemson will get well in a hurry with LBSU tomorrow, but A&M will need that defense against the top ten Mountaineers.

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Cooler Than You: Some Of The Best Of College Basketball

Posted by jstevrtc on November 6th, 2009

seasonpreviewJust about anyone can name the best teams in college basketball, and, as far as individual players, if you’re reading this site you can most likely reel off three or four of your own personal All-America teams.  But what about those individuals who specifically excel at a few of the more exciting aspects of the game?  There are certain plays that make everyone come out of their seats:  a massive and powerful dunk that liberates some poor defender of his pride;  a ridiculously long three-pointer, especially at crunch time; and a blocked shot where the ball goes into orbit.  And of course everyone loves basketball players with cool names.  So here they are:  RTC’s rankings of the best dunkers, best long-range bombers, best shot-blockers, and coolest names in the game today.

The Most Excellent Dunkers

Unlike the NBA All-Star Weekend, we’ll begin with the dunk artists.  Each player is listed with a link leading you to an example or two of his work.  Sorry, UConn fans.  We respect you and your team, but we had to put Summers over Robinson because…well, you know why.

  1. Paul George, Fresno State  (vs St. Mary’s 2008, practice video 2009, Open Gym 2009)
  2. Chris Wright, Dayton  (vs Ohio State 2008, vs Marquette 2008)
  3. Durrell Summers, Michigan State (vs UConn over S. Robinson 2009, vs Minnesota 2009)
  4. Stanley Robinson, Connecticut (vs Michigan State 2009, vs Villanova 2008)
  5. Isaiah Thomas, Washington  (Madness 09)
  6. Scotty Hopson, Tennessee (vs Arkansas 2009)
  7. Keion Bell, Pepperdine  (Madness 09, Madness 09 over 5 guys)

Honorable Mention (or, guys who will probably be on this list by year’s end): Will Coleman, Memphis; John Wall, Kentucky; Delvon Roe, Michigan State; Wes Johnson, Syracuse.

The All-Jeff Fryer Team

This list of the best long-range bombers is named after the legendary (in our minds) Loyola Marymount guard who still holds the record for most three-pointers made in an NCAA Tournament game, an incredible 11 against Michigan in 1990’s second round.  If you can catch that game on ESPN Classic, it is something to behold.  You have to be a little nuts to be a bomber; you have to forget your last miss like it never happened and be willing to keep firing even when they just won’t fall (our editors are familiar with this feeling).  Here’s our ranking of 25 of this season’s best:

  1. T.J. Campbell, Portland
  2. Rihards Kuksiks, Arizona State
  3. Jared Stohl, Portland
  4. Andrew Goudelock, College Of Charleston
  5. Mike Roll, UCLA
  6. Jerome Randle, California
  7. Brandon Hazzard, Troy
  8. Ryan Staudacher, Montana
  9. Corey Allmond, Sam Houston State
  10. Ryan Wittman, Cornell
  11. Josh Young, Drake
  12. Corey Stokes, Villanova
  13. Jonathan Tavernari, BYU
  14. Gordon Hayward, Butler
  15. Troy Cotton, Wisconsin-Green Bay
  16. Tweety Carter, Baylor
  17. Rotnei Clarke, Arkansas
  18. Corey Lowe, Boston University
  19. Ricky Harris, Massachusetts
  20. Mac Hopson, Idaho
  21. Andy Rautins, Syracuse
  22. Nic Wise, Arizona
  23. Willie Warren, Oklahoma
  24. Jimmy Langhurst, Robert Morris
  25. Kelvin Lewis, Houston

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RTC 2009-10 Impact Players – Northwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 2009


Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South, Mid-South, Lower Midwest, Upper Midwest, Mountains and Southwest) are located here.

It’s time for the tenth and final installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of cool, wet Pacific states known as the Northwest Region.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Northwest Region (AK, WA, OR, northern CA)


  • Matt Bouldin – G, Sr – Gonzaga.  As anyone in Spokane or among Gonzaga’s growing national fan base can tell you, most of the talk about Gonzaga this off-season has concerned itself with what the Bulldogs have lost.  Understandable, as the excellent Zag firm of Daye, Heytvelt, Pargo, and Downs are a tough bunch to replace, to say the least.  Consider also that Gonzaga is bringing in something like 37 freshmen onto this year’s squad, and one can easily conclude that Mark Few finds himself with his most interesting coaching predicament yet.  With such an inexperienced squad, what’s the one thing Few needs most?  A savvy, intelligent senior leader.  Enter Matt Bouldin, a 2010 preseason Wooden Award nominee to absolutely nobody’s surprise.  Check these stats from last year:  49.1% from the field, 42.3% from three-point range…but only 13.6 PPG.  Even with several other offensive options on his team, you’d expect a shooting guard with those percentages to average more than 13.6 PPG.  But, this means that when Bouldin does shoot, it’s usually a good shot in terms of shot selection, something coaches will tell you is one of the real keys to winning at this level, and an incredibly difficult thing to teach.  Mind you, those percentages are up from his sophomore season even though he registered more attempts as a junior.  Without a doubt, Bouldin’s touches and minutes will increase this season, despite leading last year’s team with 31.7 minutes a game.  He might need to get to the line a little more this year, but with his ability to take care of the ball, Coach Few should have no apprehension adding this to Bouldin’s responsibilites, if he chooses.  Bouldin’s 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio was third in the conference (behind two of his teammates!) and is exceptional for a shooting guard.  So go ahead, feel sorry for Gonzaga if you must.  We know what they lost, and we know Portland might be a fun pick in the WCC.  But with a coach like Few, a leader like Bouldin, and a non-conference pressure-cooker like the one Gonzaga has in store, if Portland so much as twitches, Gonzaga will take them down.  And look at their NCAA Tournament history.  Except for 2007, Gonzaga does best when they get a 10-12 seed and nobody’s looking.  Mark Few is spectacular when it comes to keeping numerous talented players happy and, perhaps better than anyone in the country, instilling in all of his players an immense pride in the name on the front of the jersey as compared with the one on the back.  When you watch Few’s Gonzaga teams, you can almost feel the love the players have for that uniform.  Matt Bouldin possesses this pride just as much as any of his Wooden-list predecessors like Morrison or Dickau.  We guarantee you — he will not go quietly.

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