Thoughts on the Pac-12 Quarterfinals, Evening Session

Posted by AMurawa on March 15th, 2013

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-12 Conference. He filed this report after the second session of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas on Thursday evening.

The evening pair of quarterfinals began with the expectation that there was no way it could live up to the atmosphere and excitement of the afternoon session. And, while it took some time for all of the fans to filter in from happy hour, by the second half of the first game, we had a really good crowd. And what a game that first one was as Utah stormed back from an eight-point second-half deficit against California, survived a seven-minute scoreless streak and got a miraculous Jarred DuBois three over the outstretched arm of 6’10” David Kravish in the waning moments to force overtime, where they would eventually win the game. Lots of little things to mention from this contest:

  • First and foremost, gotta give props to Larry Krystkowiak. Aside from rebuilding his roster from scratch, he’s also done a great job getting incremental improvements out of this team over the course of the season. Remember when this team lost to Stanford by 31? Or lost at the Oregon schools by an average of 14.5 points per game? Now this team is riding a four-game winning streak, shows all the hallmarks of being a well-coached team and is a deserving semifinal entrant. Just wait until the talent level gets to where he wants it.

    Larry Krystkowiak, Utah

    Larry Krystkowiak Has Done A Great Job Getting A Rebuilding Program Into The Pac-12 Semis

  • Utah freshman Jordan Loveridge struggled early, missing seven of his first nine shots, but then hit back-to-back threes to give Utah its first second-half lead, then hit another big three at the start of overtime to extend the Utes’ momentum. He’s had some ups and downs in his first year for the Utes, but he’s a special talent who will eventually, maybe as soon as next year, be an all-conference guy.
  • Richard Solomon continues to be one of my favorite/most-frustrating players in the conference. Dude’s got all the talent in the world, but his motor is often lacking. Case in point tonight: He got 37 minutes of action, probably competed really hard for about 20 of those minutes, and wound up with eight points, 11 boards and three steals.
  • Cal’s Ricky Kreklow, who has missed 24 of his team’s 31 games this season due to a foot injury, played 18 minutes tonight, his most in a game since November, and knocked down two big threes in the first half that kept the Bears sticking around when little else was going right. A lanky wing with a nice shooting touch, it would be a nice addition if he’s good to go without concern for his foot.

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Celebrating Utah Senior Jason Washburn

Posted by AMurawa on March 9th, 2013

When Utah hosts Oregon today at the Huntsman Center, it will not only be a game that has a major impact on our eventual Pac-12 regular season champion, it will also be the day where five Ute seniors will be honored in their final home game. Among that group will be one guy – David Foster – who hasn’t played a minute in either of the school’s two seasons in the Pac-12 (and yet who still will go down as the all-time leader in blocks at the school), another – Ryan Osterloh – who has earned a total of six minutes this season (and in his career), a third – Jarred DuBois – who only played one season in Salt Lake City, after parts of four at Loyola Marymount, and a fourth – Cedric Martin – who spent just two years wearing the Block U and is averaging just 7.4 points per game this year. All of these guys have their own stories and all make for an interesting take (until just moments ago, Foster was going to be the main target of this post), but today we’re going to look at the career of senior center Jason Washburn.

There Hasn't Been Much Team Success, But Jason Washburn Has Steadily Improved In His Four Seasons

There Hasn’t Been Much Team Success, But Jason Washburn Has Steadily Improved In His Four Seasons

After a redshirt season to start his career with the Utes under then-head coach Jim Boylen, Washburn got his playing time started in 2009-10, at the same time as Foster returned from his LDS mission for his sophomore season, giving those Utes their version of a twin tower frontcourt. That year’s Utah team also featured Marshall Henderson as a freshman in near-constant danger of slipping into meltdown mode and  junior Carlon Brown in the midst of yet again failing to live up to the potential he had flashed as a freshman two years earlier. Washburn was clearly playing second fiddle in the middle to Foster in his first year, earning just a third of the minutes available to him, but flashed plenty of potential in posting a career-high offensive rating (according to Ken Pomeroy), shooting free throws at an unsustainable 86% rate, and blocking better than 6% of his opponents two-point field goals, that last one a number that stayed pretty steady.

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Pac-12 Report Card: Volume I

Posted by AMurawa on January 9th, 2013

Starting this week and continuing through the rest of the season, we’ll take a moment in between games to run down every team in the conference, grade their previous week’s performance, highlight the performance of one of their players (either for good or for bad) and look ahead briefly to their upcoming schedule.

Arizona State: A

The Sun Devils put aside concerns that their 11-2 record going into the week was built mostly on wins over bad teams by giving the home folks a healthy dose of optimism to start the conference season.

Focus on: Jahii Carson. While Jordan Bachynski was dominating in Sunday’s win over Colorado, I was most intrigued by Carson’s performance. With CU’s Spencer Dinwiddie keeping him locked down most of the night, Carson didn’t force things, got the ball in the hands of his teammates with better match-ups and kept ASU on point, even while being limited to his lowest number of field goal attempts this season. This proves that he doesn’t need to always score to be a positive force for his team.

Looking ahead: The Sun Devils have shown their improvement, but if we’re to believe that this team’s postseason aspirations should be any higher than the CBI, we’ll need to see them win on the road. A trip to Oregon State on Thursday looks like a possible chance, while getting Oregon following its game with Arizona could mean ASU catches the Ducks in a trap game. Speaking of which, ASU could benefit mightily this year from having the ‘Cats as a traveling partner, as teams could be either looking forward to or recovering from their game with U of A.

Jahii Carson Showed Maturity On Sunday In Resisting The Urge To Force Shots (USA Today)

Jahii Carson Showed Maturity On Sunday In Resisting The Urge To Force Shots (USA Today)

Oregon: A

Any win in conference play is good. Any road win in conference play is great. Any road win in conference play in a rivalry game is a reason for outright celebration. Check all three boxes for the Ducks after one game.

Focus on: Arsalan Kazemi. In his first game back from a concussion, the senior Kazemi temporarily relinquished his starting spot to Carlos Emory and saw limited action. But, even in just 21 minutes, he was an impactful player, making four of his five field goal attempts, grabbing eight boards, handing out a couple assists and, per usual, coming up with a couple steals due to his relentlessly quick hands.

Looking ahead: The consensus, around here at least, is that the Ducks are going to be legitimate factors in the Pac-12 race. They get a chance to prove that this week when they host Arizona in a battle of contrasting strengths. While Zona has been through the ringer a time or two this season, these Ducks feature a pair of freshman guards ready for their first big spotlight. Meanwhile, the Ducks’ frontcourt features plenty of veterans, while the ‘Cats mix their three freshman with senior Solomon Hill.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.08.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on January 8th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. Three months ago, Malcolm and Marcus Allen committed to Stanford. But as we get into the thick of hoops season, the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a nice feature on the twins yesterday. The Allens, out of Centennial High School (Nevada), have both earned astounding 4.8 GPAs while in high school, which resulted in offers from Harvard, Yale, and Columbia, among others. When asked why they chose Johnny Dawkins and the Cardinal over the rest, the brothers said that Stanford’s perfect mix of athletics and academics was just too good to pass up, not to mention the fact the Pac-12 is a “premier conference.” The one and two guards will be battling Chasson Randle for minutes in their freshmen season next year.
  2. It was painful for fans of upsets everywhere on Saturday afternoon when Arizona continued to give Utah chance after chance at beating the Wildcats on their home floor, only to see the Utes tighten up in the closing minutes. Scoring has been a problem in the Larry Krystowiak era, but as of late, it’s been the three-point shot that has plagued the Utes. Utah missed three of its final four shots from behind the arc, a stinging stat considering the Utes suffered only a three-point loss. Utah’s leading scorer, Loyola Marymount transfer Jarred DuBois, is in the midst of a big slump, and it seems to be contagious. Their outside stroke won’t be needed to earn a split on the weekend, considering offensively-challenged USC rolls into Salt Lake City on Saturday, but if the Utes have any shot at an upset of UCLA earlier in the week, DuBois and the rest of the team need to do some serious slump-busting.
  3. The guys over at House of Sparky continually churn out great stuff, and yesterday they took a look at why the Sun Devils’ win over Colorado was so huge for the program. The first sentence pretty much sums up my thoughts on the win. I had been skeptical for all of November and December of the Sun Devils, thinking that their win total was just the product of an easy schedule. But on Sunday, Arizona State proved it was legit. The Devils completely took Andre Roberson out of the game, and with a combination of Jahii Carson, Carrick Felix, and Jordan Bachynski all attacking the ball, ASU gave the Buffaloes a migraine on defense. If they can keep up this level of play for the next two months, an NCAA Tournament bid isn’t out of the question.
  4. Sticking with HoS and Arizona State, if the Sun Devils do want to return to the Big Dance, they’ll need to knock down clutch free throws as games wind down. They haven’t done a great job in this area so far in 2012-13, shooting at less than a 63% clip from the charity stripe. One thing that is becoming a noticeable trend with ASU is that all of its shots — but specifically free throws — are falling short towards the end of games. And of course, that makes sense; the more tired you get, the tougher it is for players’ legs to launch the ball to the hoop. But I want to start talking about Herb Sendek‘s guys as a legitimate Pac-12 contender, and contenders make big shots down the stretch rather than leaving them short when their bodies start wearing down.
  5. For every “make you feel good” underdog story, there is another one to tell on the other side of the spectrum. The team lost in the shuffle after the first week of Pac-12 play was Colorado, who looked flat-out awful in the 45 minutes following Sabatino Chen‘s waved off game-winner at Arizona on Thursday. But as head coach Tad Boyle points out, nothing is given to you in conference play, and the Buffs need to have a short memory. Because as he puts it, they’re currently on the road to 0-18, and if they don’t prepare well for a visit from the LA schools, that road will get quite a bit shorter by Saturday night.
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Pac-12 Burning Questions: What Has Been the Biggest Surprise So Far This Year?

Posted by AMurawa on December 21st, 2012

Last week it was all about negativity, as we dwelled on the biggest disappointments in the Pac-12 this year. This week, with the holiday season in full swing, it’s all about happiness and light, as well discuss the year’s biggest surprises.

“Which team, player, or other entity, has been the biggest surprise thus far this year?”

 

Andrew Murawa: Everybody loves to see a kid succeed against the odds, and I’m certainly no different in that respect, which is why Stanford’s Andy Brown has been one of the highlights of the season for me. After three torn ACLs in his left knee over the course of three seasons, there was very little chance that Brown would ever make a significant contribution on the basketball court for the Cardinal. Through no fault of his own, I’d certainly written him off. But this season, he has been Johnny Dawkins’ most consistent contributor off the bench. He’s played in all but one game and averaged better than 20 minutes per night when out there, including better than 20 in each of the last six games. He’s shown a nice three-point stroke, a great ability to poke a ball lose every now and then and a hustle and savvy that any ball club could use. And, best of all, he’s shown no ill effects from his previous injuries out there. Watching the kind of season that Brown is having in what is technically his senior year (academically at least, he can probably play a couple more seasons for Dawkins if he so desires) is not only the biggest surprise in the conference, it is also exactly the kind of thing that keeps me coming back to college athletics.

Andy Brown\'s Return From Three ACL Tears Has Been One Of The Pac-12\'s Nicest Surprises (AP Photo)

Andy Brown’s Return From Three ACL Tears Has Been One Of the Pac-12′s Nicest Surprises (AP Photo)

Adam Butler: There have been some surprises this year to be certain. In answering this BQ I’m quick to hat tip the State of Oregon, Jordan Adams, and the Utes. Each of these entities has exceeded early expectations – if we even bothered to have any in Utah’s case – and should be commended for such. However, the biggest surprise thus far, to me, has been the progress of ASU’s Jordan Bachynski. The big man has nearly doubled his rebounding and scoring numbers from a season ago and, most impressively, has been swatting shots away at an alarming rate; 17.6% to be exact (4.6 per game), good for fourth in the nation. His triple double (13 points, 12 boards, 12 blocks) was the first in the conference since 2007 and the first ever at ASU. He’s an integral piece to the Sun Devils’ surprising 9-2 start. We were pretty aware of what Jahii Carson and Carrick Felix were going to bring to this team. We even had a clue what Evan Gordon could deliver. But really for this squad to improve on their 10-win 2011-12, they were going to need to see some improvement from the existing pieces of this roster. They’ve received such from Bachynski and Jonathan Gilling. While ASU hasn’t quite been challenged yet and flopped in their biggest test to date (DePaul), any time you’re getting this kind of production out of a seven-foot-two-inch man, things tend to go surprisingly well.

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One Year Later: Things in the Pac-12 Haven’t Changed A Bit

Posted by Connor Pelton on December 5th, 2012

Just a little more than a year ago, I wrote this article about the state of the Pac-12 and why the conference isn’t held to a higher standard than the other five power conferences. Seattle Pacific, Adams State, and Cal Poly had all beaten Pac-12 opponents just two weeks into the season. If it sounds familiar, you’re right. Nearly all of the preseason hype the league gained from the signings of guys like Shabazz Muhammad, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Grant Jerrett is gone. Oh yeah, don’t forget about Kyle Anderson, Brandon Ashley, or Josh Scott, all ESPN Top 40 players in their own right. UCLA and Arizona were being picked as Sweet Sixteen locks, and Stanford would definitely make the field of 68. And then there were the Californias and Washingtons, expected to make a run at the Tournament if they could put the right pieces together. But the bigger the hype, the bigger there is a chance of disappointment – and there’s certainly been a lot of that through the first three weeks of basketball in the Pac-12.

Games Like The Ones Colorado Has Played Against Texas Southern and Wyoming Has Tad Boyle Frustrated

The conference has lost a combined 24 games so far in the 2012-13 campaign, and an astounding 11 of those have been to teams in the non-power conferences. Basketball factories such as Sacramento State, SMU, Cal Poly, Pepperdine, Albany, and Wyoming have all notched victories against Pac-12 opponents, and there have been some near misses in other places. A Drake squad that ranks 254th in the nation in rebounding led California with 1:10 to play before eventually falling to the Golden Bears. A 1-7 Texas Southern team took Colorado to double overtime on the road before the Buffaloes pulled out a five-point victory. And then there’s UCLA, who entered the year ranked in at least the Top 20 of every preseason poll, getting taken to overtime by UC Irvine after the Anteaters missed two free throws – either of which would have won the game, with five seconds to play in regulation.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Three

Posted by AMurawa on December 3rd, 2012

While this past week may not have returned the types of results that should cause anybody to generate newfound confidence in the Pac-12’s ability to have multiple teams play a big part in the national picture, we’ve still found some jewels around the conference to recognize for their efforts over the past seven days.

Team of the Week – Arizona

It was admittedly not a sparkling week for the Pac-12. And as such, we wind up handing out our highest honor to an Arizona team whose biggest accomplishment was going into Lubbock and knocking off a Texas Tech team that is on the short list for this year’s “Worst Major Conference Team” award. Still, it goes down as a week in which the Wildcats played two games against two teams they were supposed to kill… and did. Wins over Northern Arizona and the Red Raiders this week were by an average of 35.5 points per game. And while Sean Miller’s club has yet to play anybody of any great significance, at least the ‘Cats deserve credit for their overall lack of drama thus far.

C.J. Wilcox, Washington

C.J. Wilcox Handled The Scoring Load For Washington This Week As The Huskies Got Back On Track With Consecutive Wins

Player of the Week – C.J. Wilcox, Washington

After a pair of losses to quality teams, the Huskies needed to bounce back in a big way, and Wilcox helped make sure that happened this week by averaging 24 points, 3.5 boards and a couple assists per game as UW knocked off a tough Saint Louis team midweek before inching past Cal State Fullerton last night. Against CSUF, it was Wilcox who provided the final two-point margin, knocking down a pair of free throws in the waning moments of the game to complete the Huskies’ successful comeback from a 14-point halftime deficit.

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Pac-12 M5:11.08.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 8th, 2012

  1. Pac-12 basketball exhibition games are generally meaningless affairs where a big school beats up on an overmatched foe while the former’s head coach tinkers around with different lineups and different styles. Usually the Pac-12 team wins going away and no one loses too much sleep about the result one way or the other. Still, valuable information can be gleaned from some of these games: Which returnee has made the biggest strides, which of the newcomers can make an impact early in their careers, and who is getting passed up for playing time? For Arizona, with three new and talented freshman big men, sophomore forward Angelo Chol is battling for a spot in the lineup and he’s had some struggles in the team’s two exhibitions. He’s missed some point-blank shots and has lost some confidence, but head coach Sean Miller is still relying on him to earn minutes while senior leader Solomon Hill is doing his best to keep Chol’s head in the game. Hill, on the other hand, was nearly flawless in his latest outing against Chico State (an Arizona win, 98-60) , with only a late missed free throw and a single turnover as blemishes on his performance.
  2. We’ve all got our favorite Pac-12 blogs, but one of my personal favorites is Coug Center. There are times when it seems like you’ve got to hunt down information about Washington State, and over the years I’ve found Coug Center to be by far the best place to keep up to date with all things WSU. While football is still king there (and a lot of other places) for the time being, Kyle Sherwood, Jeff Nusser and Craig Powers did a great job running down their thoughts on the upcoming season. In light of the Reggie Moore dismissal, topic number one was who will play point guard and they’ve got no better answer than anyone else, other than the fact that Royce Woolridge, DaVonte Lacy and Mike Ladd are going to be forced into a lot of minutes and a point guard-by-committee situation. Who knows, it could work, but just remembering Arizona State last year without any real point guard leaves plenty of room for doubt.
  3. We’ve talked in the past about Utah’s complete remaking of its roster, and there is little doubt that Larry Krystkowiak has upped the talent level there. But with many other programs around the conference improved as well, the question remains whether his new roster will result in additional wins. Based on a ridiculously week non-conference schedule, one would hope the Utes would be able to notch at least six wins prior to conference play, but can they improve on last year’s three Pac-12 wins? Many around the conference are picking Utah at the back of the pack — they were 12th in the preseason Pac-12 poll — but with capable offensive players like Jarred DuBois, Aaron Dotson and Jordan Loveridge as well as a deeper bench than the Utes have had in a couple of years, you can probably expect their improved talent to be reflected in their final record, even if they’re still almost certainly doomed to a lower-division finish.
  4. Back on the recruiting trail, UCLA landed three-star wing Noah Allen in the Class of 2013 on Tuesday. A one-time Harvard commitment, Allen certainly isn’t the type of player that head coach Ben Howland landed last year — Scout.com recruiting guru Evan Daniels calls him “a four-year guy” who is more of a long-term project than an immediate impact player. Interestingly enough, apparently Howland made the offer without ever having seen Allen play in person. We’re guessing that there won’t be any eligibility concerns with this prospect roughly a year from now.
  5. Lastly, we’ll hop across town where USC head coach Kevin O’Neill has named junior J.T. Terrell as the starter at the two-guard, beating out returning starter Byron Wesley for the job. Wesley is still expected to get plenty of run, both in relief of Terrell and at the other wing spot, but, man, sometimes the things that O’Neill says just makes you shake your head in disbelief. “He’s finally starting to play hard,” said O’Neill, inferring that for the longest time, Terrell wasn’t playing hard. O’Neill then went on to say that Terrell is “more intelligent than I thought he was.” Goodness. It makes you wonder if O’Neill thought he was complimenting the transfer player, or if he was going out of his way to get a few jabs in his ribs. Terrell’s certainly a talented offensive player, but you know in order to play for K.O.’s Trojans, you’ve got to be committed to give good effort on the defensive end. I would suspect Terrell’s defensive intensity, or lack thereof, is where these latest back-handed compliments stem from.
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Utah Week: Ten Newcomers Breathe Life Into The Program

Posted by AMurawa on August 30th, 2012

As head coach Larry Krystkowiak begins to remake the Utah roster more to his liking, he welcomes in 10 new players next season, including three newly eligible Division I transfers, a couple of student-athletes returning from two-year LDS missions, four freshmen, and a junior college transfer. Coupled with three returning seniors, Utah will have a significantly more experienced team. Likewise, the talent level takes a big bump up from last year’s hastily assembled roster. Below, we’ll run down each of the newcomers in our guess as to the order of their importance to the 2012-13 squad.

Jordan Loveridge, Freshman, Combo Forward, 6’6” 225 lbs, West Jordan High School, West Jordan, Utah – The 2012 Player of the Year in Utah was a huge get for Krystkowiak, the first step in proving that the new head coach can protect his back yard. As a senior, Loveridge led the state in both scoring and rebounding, notching 18 double-doubles along the way. In the Utes’ summer trip to Brazil, he scored in double figures in three of the four games and averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per game in limited minutes during that stretch, prompting even further hope for UU fans that Loveridge will be a special player. Still, Loveridge is a guy most suited to play the four, and at 6’6” that could prove to be something of a problem in the Pac-12. He’s got long arms, a great basketball IQ and the ability to extend his game out beyond the three-point line, but he still needs to prove his effectiveness against Pac-12-caliber competition. Eventually if he polishes his perimeter handles, he could shift to the three spot full-time and turn into a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses.

Jarred DuBois, Utah

Jarred DuBois Leads A Trio Of Transfers That Will Remake The Ute Backcourt (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Jarred DuBois, Senior, Combo Guard, 6’3” 180 lbs, Loyola Marymount University – A graduate student transfer from LMU, DuBois is a playmaker. Unfortunately, there have been times in his career when the number of plays he makes for the opposition are greater than the number of plays he makes for his own team. Still, if he can tighten up his handle, take better care of the ball and – this might be the toughest of his assignments – shoot a decent percentage from the field, DuBois has the athleticism and toughness to be a major asset for the Utes. His best season at LMU was his sophomore campaign where he hit 59 threes at a 40% clip while handing out a couple assists per night and keeping his turnover rate low. If he can replicate that type of line, he’ll be an upgrade in the backcourt.

Aaron Dotson, Junior, Shooting Guard, 6’4” 204 lbs, Louisiana State University –Dotson, a native of Seattle, committed to LSU as a highly regarded member of the 2009 recruiting class, ranked #45 overall by ESPNU. In two years at LSU, Dotson earned 38 starts (out of 63 games), averaging 6.8 points per game in his sophomore year, by far his most effective season. He struggled mightily as a freshman, turning the ball over regularly and shooting just a 32.6% eFG. While his turnovers remained steady as a freshman, Dotson improved his shot as a sophomore, leading the Tigers with 37.5% from deep, but with his mother fighting breast cancer, Dotson decided it was time to head back across country and play closer to home. His size and athleticism coupled with a sweet stroke from three mean that there is plenty of upside here. If Dotson is able to harness his talents, he could be a revelation in the Pac-12.

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on January 19th, 2012

Michael Vernetti is the West Coast Conference correspondent for RTC.

Reader’s Take 

 

Looking Back

  • Holding serve was the key note last week, as Saint Mary’s slapped down the second of its main competitors for the WCC title, Gonzaga, by a convincing 83-62 margin in Moraga. That followed the Gaels’ first-week trouncing of BYU by 98-82, also at home. Playing the cards dealt to them by an unbalanced conference schedule, the Gaels now have a one-game edge on both rivals before facing them on the road.
  • For Saint Mary’s, the nine-team schedule – reflecting the addition of BYU to the ranks – was front-loaded with rivals (and home court-loaded as well). Gonzaga and BYU, on the other hand, have yet to face each other and both had to travel to Moraga for their initial showdown with the Gaels. The WCC held on to its true round-robin form, however, so each team plays each other twice, meaning Gonzaga and BYU will have their shot at revenge. The Gaels travel to Provo on January 28 and to Gonzaga on February 9; BYU and Gonzaga tangle in Provo on February 2 and in Spokane on February 23.
  • Everything that has transpired in the first three weeks of conference play indicates that the league championship and seeding for the March 1-5 conference tournament in Las Vegas will be determined by those three teams.

Dellavedova and the Gaels Held Serve, Now What?

Power Rankings

  1. Saint Mary’s (17-2, 6-0): The key matchup in Thursday’s game with Gonzaga was supposed to be in the frontcourt, where the Zags’ trio of Robert Sacre, Sam Dower and Elias Harris was reputedly superior to the Gaels’ mixed bag of post players along with stalwart power forward Rob Jones. Sly ol’ Randy Bennett, however, had been tinkering with his post players throughout the pre-conference schedule and by league time had it figured out. The three-headed contingent of redshirt freshman Brad Waldow (6’9”), senior Kenton Walker II (6’9”) and junior Mitchell Young (6’8”) outscored and outrebounded Sacre and Dower by an overwhelming 31 points and 17 rebounds to 12 points and eight rebounds. Read the rest of this entry »
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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 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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