Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
San Diego 5-2
Saint Mary’s 3-1
Santa Clara 3-3
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.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West CoastConference. Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Saint Mary’s (8-6)
San Diego (7-7)
Santa Clara (6-8)
Loyola Marymount (6-8)
Matt Bouldin (G), Gonzaga
Kevin Foster (G), Santa Clara
Dior Lowhorn (F), USF
Kevin Young (F), Loyola
Omar Samhan (C), Saint Mary’s
6th man. Nik Raivio, Portland
Impact newcomer.Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s
What You Need to Know.
Going International. The 2010 season marks the WCC’s most pronounced bow to international athletes, with every team having at least two foreign-born players and two of the predicted top three finishers – Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s – pinning their season hopes on the performance of foreigners. Saint Mary’s gave the trend its biggest boost by establishing an Australian pipeline that produced Daniel Kickert, the Gaels’ all-time leading scorer, and Patty Mills, who opted for the NBA after two sensational seasons. The Gaels continue as the Koala’s best friend this year, with five Aussies expected to make contributions and one, freshman guard Matthew Dellavedova, looming as a potential star. Gonzaga’s Pacific Northwest pipeline that supplied stars Adam Morrison, Dan Dickau and Blake Stepp, among others, may be temporarily clogged, but the Zags have turned to Canada (Manny Arop, Robert Sacre and Kelly Olynyk), Germany (Elias Harris), and Sudan by way of Canada (Bol Kong), to maintain their position atop the conference. USF joined the crowd in a big way this off-season, luring a Czech (Tomas Bruha), two Frenchmen (Moustapha Diarra, Nikola Stojiljkovic) and a Canadian (Perris Blackwell).
Room at the Top: Gonzaga, with nine WCC titles in a row, and Saint Mary’s, a perennial runner-up under Randy Bennett, have dominated the conference in recent years. But Gonzaga lost four of its main contributors from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team (Austin Daye, Josh Heytvelt, Jeremy Pargo and Micah Downs) and Saint Mary’s said goodbye to Mills, all-time leading rebounder and shot-blocker Diamon Simpson, starting forward Ian O’Leary and a trio of valuable back-ups in Yusef Smith, Lucas Walker and Carlin Hughes. That’s why Portland, with all five starters back from last year’s 19-13 team that finished third in the conference, can’t wait to shove its way into the top spot. Santa Clara’s Kerry Keating and USF’s confident newcomer Rex Walters, entering his second year, have recruited aggressively and well, indicating that they, too, are up to challenging Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s in the next few years.
Multiple NCAA Bids: The conference was shocked last year when Saint Mary’s, 25-6 overall and second place in the conference behind Gonzaga, did not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, leaving the Zags as the sole WCC entrant. Just the year before, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and San Diego received bids, the first time in anyone’s memory that three teams had gone to The Dance. Whether the conference elevates itself in the NCAA Selection Committee’s eyes in 2009-10 is one of the biggest question marks looming over the season.
RTC interns Matt P. and Mike L.are our NCAA Tournament East Region correspondents.
Isn’t it amazing how perfectly paired the Sweet 16 games look in the South Region? It’s almost as if the best four teams advanced, or something like that. Currently, Ken Pomeroy has both match-ups at nearly 50-50 odds: UNC with a 55% likelihood of beating Gonzaga and Syracuse with an even slimmer 52% of moving on over Oklahoma. Here’s hoping both games come down to the last shot so all the chalk haters out there can’t complain about a boring tournament.
Team That Almost Went Home
The Gonzaga Bulldogs were 0.9 seconds, some semblance of transition defense, and an acknowledged timeout away from going to an overtime session with Western Kentucky. Luckily for them, none of that happened and a guy who averages 3.8 points per game hit the shot of his life at the buzzer helping Mark Few’s team advanced. Things don’t look to get any easier though. After WKU’s starting guards, A.J. Slaughter and Orlando Mendez-Valdez, dropped 24 and 25 points each on the Zags, they get to try to slow down a rested Ty Lawson and hot-shooting Wayne Ellington from UNC.
Team That Has Cruised So Far
After their marathon time in the Big East Tournament, Syracuse desperately needed two no-sweat wins in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, in which they only trailed once – a 24 second stretch in the first four minutes against Arizona State. Most likely, the ho-hum affairs end when they meet Oklahoma in Memphis. Guard Jonny Flynn is currently projected as a mid/late first round draft pick, but a dominant performance against Blake Griffin’s team could boost him into lottery contention.
Team With the Most to Prove
Despite having the player expected to be Player of the Year and first pick in the upcoming draft, there is still a bit of uncertainty surrounding Oklahoma. They’ve yet to win that defining game. They seemed to sputter a bit at the end of the season, but much of that is due to Blake Griffin’s injury. But what seems most uncertain is how freshman guard Willie Warren will play when facing the more experienced guards of Syracuse.
Team With Highest Expectations
For Gonzaga, Syracuse, and Oklahoma, a trip to the Sweet 16 might constitute a respectable 2008-2009 season. For a North Carolina team that came in with talk of running the table, it would mean an embarrassing failure. The week off before Friday’s game against Gonzaga has to help UNC’s chances of surviving, giving point guard Ty Lawson a chance to heal the injured toe that hobbled him for much of March. It should be interesting to watch the Josh Heytvelt/Tyler Hansbrough match-up after the Zags center owned Psycho T two years ago, admittedly while Bobby Frasor was still UNC’s main point man. Then, the Heels went as Tyler Hansbrough went. Now, they go as Ty Lawson goes. He’ll be the key to any championship hopes in Chapel Hill.
Thanks to Vegas Watch for providing these graphs that measure the moving average of a team’s spread (moving avg.) over time vs. the spread for each individual game (indiv). If a team’s moving average is higher than zero, then Vegas currently has a higher opinion of them than Pomeroy, and vice versa.
Location: Spokane, Washington Conference: WCC, won the conference tournament Coach: Mark Few, 262-65 at Gonzaga 08-09 Record: 26-5, 14-0 Last 12 Games: 11-1, 9-game winning streak Best Win: 83-74 v. Tennessee, November 30th Worst Loss: 70-77 v. Portland State, December 23rd Off. Efficiency Rating: 117.9/ 5th overall Def. Efficiency Rating: 88.4/ 12th overall
Achilles Heel: At the beginning of the season, this looked like the best team the Gonzaga Bulldogs have ever fielded in terms of sheer talent on the roster. But the ‘Zags don’t really have a go-to scorer. Heytvelt is their leading scorer, but in a tight game late it is hard to see Mark Few ordering the ball to be fed to Heytvelt and let him take over. The team lacks a true star player that they can go to in crunch time.
Will Make a Deep Run if… Maybe the NCAA tournament will inspire Austin Daye to play up to his potential. The ‘Zags don’t desperately need Daye to be awesome to have success, but if he begins to play the way he is capable of, the ‘Zags will be a very tough team to stop. They have all the important pieces of a Final Four team, but they need a true scorer, and Daye has the potential to do it.
Will Make an Early Exit if… When the ‘Zags have struggled this season, it has been against supremely athletic teams. For example, Mark Few’s team looked overmatched when they got blown out by Memphis at home. If they run into a team like Siena in the first or second round, they could have a lot of trouble trying to guard the penetration of Siena’s athletic wing players.
Last Year Invited: 2008, lost in the first round to Davidson
Streak: 10 consecutive seasons
Best NCAA Finish: They made it to the Elite Eight in 1999 before losing to Connecticut
Historical Performance vs. Seed (1985-present): +0.16 wins per appearance
Six Degrees to Detroit: none
Distance to First Round Site: 352 miles away from Portland, Oregon
School’s Claim to Fame: Basketball?
School Wishes It Could Forget: Nothing is more embarrassing for a coach to learn that your star center would rather be at a Phish concert that playing basketball. But when Josh Heytvelt was suspended last year for marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms, that’s what Mark Few learned. The pot is a normal occurrence in the world of college sports, but the mushrooms? Was Heytvelt wearing a tie-dye Grateful Dead t-shirt as well?
Prediction: The ‘Zags looked absolutely dominant as they rolled through the West Coast Tournament, and Illinois is one of the worst five-seeds in the tournament. But if the ‘Zags make it to the Sweet 16, they will have to get through North Carolina, and they just don’t have the talent to match the ‘Heels.
Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower) Western Kentucky, #12 seed, (21-8, 15-3 Sun Belt)
Final Four Sleeper (#4 seed or lower) Clemson, #7 seed, (23-7, 9-7 ACC)
Carmelo Anthony Award James Harden, Arizona State– 20.8 points/game, 5.5 rebounds/game, 4.2 assists/game, 50.2 FG%
Stephen Curry Award Reggie Holmes, Morgan State– 16.9 points/game, 5.5 assists/game, 37.8 3PT%
Home Cooking North Carolina (#1 Seed), 50.7 miles away from Greensboro Radford (#16 Seed), 135.8 miles away from Greensboro
Can’t Miss First Round Game LSU v. Butler– Thursday, March 19th
Don’t Miss This One Either Illinois v. Western Kentucky– Thursday, March 19th
Lock of the Year Illinois will not make it out of the second round. Call me a Big Ten hater, but I am not a fan of any of the teams in the Big Ten, despite the fact they put seven teams in the tournament. Even if the Illini escape Western Kentucky, which will be difficult, there is no way this team will make it out of the second round. Chester Frazier is injured, and this team lacks any sort of offensive firepower. If they fall behind early, they aren’t capable of catching up
Juiciest Potential Match-up (Purists) North Carolina v. Gonzaga could meet in the Sweet 16. Just the thought of Jeremy Pargo matching up against Ty Lawson makes purists start to salivate. The ‘Zags have a ton of talent, and could be a trendy Final Four team, but they will have to make it through the best team in their region. Two great coaches matching wits, two uber-athletic teams, and two fantastic point guards? Count me in!
Juiciest Potential Match-up (Media) North Carolina v. Oklahoma would only meet in the Elite Eight, but if they do, I can already see the media firestorm that would engulf the game. Not because they are the two best teams, but because ESPN would love to get a Tyler Hansbrough vs. Blake Griffin storyline going. Griffin is assuming the throne from Hansbrough, and the thought of the two best big men in college basketball squaring off might even knock A-Rod out of the headlines.
We Got Screwed Butler, #9 seed, (25-4, 15-3 ACC). So let me get this straight. The Bulldogs lose only four games all season by a combined total of 19 points, and they get rewarded by playing a, the strongest #8 seed in the whole tournament, and if they win that, they only have to play what amounts to a home game for North Carolina. The Bulldogs had a fantastic season, but it doesn’t look like they have a great shot to make moves.
Strongest Pod North Carolina vs. Radford and Butler vs. LSU. From a talent standpoint, there are probably other pods in this region that are the strongest. But from a relative standpoint, you won’t find a better 16 seed, 8 seed, or 9 seed in the entire tournament. A lot of people will pick North Carolina to win it all, but just in this bracket alone we have the SEC regular season champ, one of the best mid-majors in the country, and a vastly underrated team which features a potential lottery pick in Radford’s Artsiom Parakhouski.
NBA scouts will be watching this region closely as there are a ton of juicy pro prospects. Here is a Top 10 list:
1. Blake Griffin (Oklahoma)…(No. 1 on NBA Draft Net’s Big Board)
2. James Harden (ASU)…(No. 3)
3. Willie Warren (Oklahoma)…(No.18)
4. Ed Davis (UNC)…(No. 28)
5. Ty Lawson (UNC)…(No. 29)
6. Tyler Hansbrough (UNC)…(No. 32)
7. Wayne Ellington (UNC)…(No. 40)
8. Trevor Booker (Clemson)…(No. 51)
9. Jonny Flynn (Syracuse)…(No. 53)
10. Josh Heytvelt (Gonzaga)…(No. 59)
So-Called Experts UNC. Almost every expert from CBS and ESPN has picked the Tar Heels to move on to Detroit.
Four More Automatic Bids Tonight. We’re combining this feature tonight because every game of interest involved a conference tournament final. The CAA, MAAC, SoCon and WCC all crowned champions tonight, and only one of the four would be considered a surprise. The other three will all be very tough outs for whichever team(s) have to face up against them in the first round of the NCAAs next week.
#6 – VCU (24-9, 14-4) – Anthony Grant’s VCU Rams rode a home crowd to a 71-50 obliteration of George Mason for its second CAA championship in the last three seasons. You already know Eric Maynor from his game-winner over Duke in 2007’s first round; also keep in mind his 6’9 frontcourt mate Larry Sanders (not the host of a dated HBO show), who dominated GMU with 18/20/7 blks tonight – this talented duo will make any higher seed nervous on Selection Sunday.
Projected Seed: #10
Something to Remember: VCU wasn’t a good road team this year, going 7-6 compared to 11-3 two years ago when the Rams last made the Dance, but they were 2-1 against the RPI top fifty (an 11-pt loss against Oklahoma).
This is Why We Love Championship Week (photo credit: AP/Steve Helber)
#7 – Chattanooga (18-16, 11-9) – This is exactly why conferences are moving away from penalizing high seeds from playing on opponents’ home floors in conference tournaments – instead of having a Davidson in the NCAAs with a chance to win a game or two, the SoCon will send Chattanooga to become cannon fodder for a #1 seed. Chattanooga came into the SoCon Tourney three days ago as a team with a losing record – tonight they left it with more than a winning record; they also got a ticket to the Big Dance by virtue of their 80-69 win over College of Charleston (who may have still been feeling the effects of knocking out Davidson yesterday). The Mocs used a 20-0 run bridging the half to build a commanding lead that left CofC shellshocked.
Projected Seed: #16
Something to Remember: Chattanooga started the season 2-8, and has one of the worst defensive efficiency ratings in the nation (#296). Take the over.
#8 – Gonzaga (26-5, 14-0) – The Zags made quick work of a St. Mary’s team that still looks a little lost while Patty Mills tries to return to form from his wrist injury, defeating the Gaels 83-58. Six players reached double figures for the Zags, led by Josh Heytvelt’s 17/6. Gonzaga won its nineteenth in twenty tries, with the only defeat coming at the hands of a red-hot Memphis team in February. It’s definitely difficult to ascertain whether the ‘potential Zags’ have crossed over into actualization, but if things are clicking and they continue to play strong defense (#5 nationally), the Zags are a darkhorse for the Final Four.
Projected Seed: #4
Something to Remember: The Zags are the #1 team in America in 2-pt defense (38.9%), but when the Zags struggle (and lose), they also have a tendency for poor shooting – Memphis, Arizona, Utah and Portland St. all held them under 43% shooting from the field.
#9 – Siena (26-7, 16-2) – Siena was the best team in the MAAC, and after what the Saints did to Vandy in last year’s first round of the NCAAs, nobody is going to want to see Fran McCaffery’s team in their pod. Tonight they held off a good Niagara team that had given them one of their two conference losses behind Kenny Hasbrouck, who shook off a 1-10 first half to score 17 second-half points on his way to 19/6/3 stls. This is a dangerous team – they return the bulk of last year’s squad, and they were competitive early in the season in losses at Kansas, Tennessee and Pittsburgh.
Projected Seed: #9
Something to Remember: Sienais an offensively balanced team, with six players averaging between 8-15 ppg, and all six of those players having at least one game of 20+ this year. Who do you stop?
QnD Conf Tourney Update.
The Big East, MAC, MEAC and WAC begin their tourneys tomorrow, but there are three more auto-bids in store.
RTC Aftermath will come to you each night where our correspondents are at the conference tournament games as a part of RTC Live. Michael Vernetti is in Las Vegas all weekend covering the WCC Tournament for RTC. RTC Live was onsite Friday through Monday, concluding tonight in the Gonzaga vs. St. Mary’s Championship Game.
It was a Gonzaga party in the WCC championship game as the Zags continued a tournament blitz with an 83-58 victory over Saint Mary’s. Gonzaga featured balanced scoring with five players scoring in double figures, led by Josh Heytvelt’s 17 points. Matt Bouldin played another all-around excellent game, scoring 14 points and handing out 7 assists with no turnovers. Other big contributors for Gonzaga were Steven Gray and Jeremy Pargo.
Matt Bouldin Was Tremendous All Weekend
Saint Mary’s returned-from-injury guard Patty Mills was ineffective in his second game back after suffering a broken hand in a Jan. 29 game against Gonzaga. Mills, showing the rust from his long layoff, went just 2-16 for 5 points and sat out much of the second half. Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan led the Gaels with 17 points each. Samhan also pulled down 9 boards for the Gaels and Simpson grabbed 6.
Gonzaga dominated the all-tournament team, placing guards Pargo and Bouldin, along with forward Micah Downs, who was voted tourney MVP. The rest of the all-star group included Saint Mary’s forward Simpson and Santa Clara center John Bryant. With the tournament championship, Gonzaga won an automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA championships, where they are hoping to ride their strong performance in Las Vegas to a high seed. Saint Mary’s will have to await the Selection Committee’s decision next Sunday, March 15 to see if they get an at-large bid.
Michael Chin is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
So now here it comes, the premiere game we have been waiting for all season in the WCC: Saint Mary’s vs. Gonzaga (1/29 at 11pm EST on ESPN2). Both are ranked, both are undefeated in conference play, and both are really talented. So with that said lets break this sucker down:
Point Guard – Jeremy Pargo v. Patty Mills:
Advantage: Saint Mary’s
Analysis: A few months ago, most analysts had Pargo winning this matchup. At the time Jeremy was the more physical of the two guards and was believed to be farther along from a maturity standpoint. Fast forward and I think Patty, by many expert’s accounts, wins this matchup. From a draft potential standpoint, one has to say that Mills has the bigger upside, but just looking at the stats, the two are about even. Patty is far and away the more prolific scorer this season, averaging nearly 20 points a game. However Jeremy has over 100 assists and has a 2.76 assists to turnover ratio whereas Patty’s is 1:1. In two matchups last year Pargo beat Patty up with his more physical style of play. I don’t think he will be able to do that this year. Mills’ most improved asset this year has been on the defensive end of the floor. If Pargo holds Patty to under 15, he wins this matchup, as I believe the trio of Bouldin, Downs, and Gray could more than make up those points. However it Patty goes off for 25+, the Gaels have a good shot of scoring the upset
Michael Chin is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.
WCC Conference Action opens this week. After what can only be characterized as a mediocre non conference season, the eight west coast teams will begin play on Friday. Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are heads and heels above the rest of the competition, the Gaels sporting an impressive 13-1 record and GU coming out 9-4 after playing the most brutal non conference schedule in the country. Other than the two headliners only Portland has exceeded expectations this season, posting a winning record going into action this weekend.
Looking towards March, I would say that if Saint Mary’s or Gonzaga do not win the conference tournament, don’t expect both to get a bid to the Dance. Although both teams may be deserving, the bottom half of the conference is simply terrible. Loyola Marymount hasn’t even won a game yet. With that said, here are some things to watch for over the conference season:
(1) Which Gonzaga team comes out to play?
When the Bulldogs are playing confident, as they did against Tennessee last night, they can play with anyone in the country. Between Stephen Gray, Austin Daye, Matt Bouldin, Josh Heytvelt, and Micah Downs, they have as many scorers and perimeter threats as anyone in the country. Additionally, this team has shown they have some heart, playing team defense without a force in the middle. However, as Mark Few has said himself, the Zags are thin down low. If their confidence takes a shot, they could be in for a few upsets and a surefire loss to the Gaels. However, if they hit their stride, and continue to stroke it, as they are capable of doing, watch out.
Tonight’s a special night at the East Coast RTC headquarters, as I will intently be watching a game on ESPN based on a little column I wrote a few days ago. The results of this game (more specifically how one player does) will lead to one of two options:
(1) He will go off and the site will be bombarded by hateful comments by people questioning my manhood and my intelligence.
(2) He will pull a 7-for-25 or something similar and the site will be silent. It’s not really right, but that’s just the way these things work. I guess I can be like a superstar walking out of an opposing stadium enjoying the sweet sound of silence. [Note: This doesn’t mean I would enjoy seeing Curry struggle. It would just add some validity to my theory.]
Anyways, onto the games. . .
– Davidson at #2 Duke on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Even though Duke is the obvious favorite here and the Goliath to Davidson’s, uh, David, I think the Wildcats have more pressure on them going into this game. They have had 2 shots at the big boys (Oklahoma and Purdue) and came up short both times including a beat-down at the hands of the Boilermakers. Even with a win over West Virginia, the Wildcats non-conference resume is a little weak for a team that came into the season ranked 20th in the nation after their scintillating run last March. If they lose this one, they can forget even getting a 6 seed. This isn’t a death knell for the Wildcats season (see last year), but it would be disappointing for Bob McKillop’s crew after coming into the season with such high expectations. To get a win at Cameron, Stephen Curry will need to have a huge game (40+ points) and get some help from Andrew Lovedale, who will probably have his hands full with Kyle Singler. In addition, McKillop will have to hope that the Blue Devils have an off-night beyond the arc like they did in their only loss this year. As you know the Blue Devils have a much more balanced attack led by Singler with help from Jon Scheyer, Gerald Henderson, and Nolan Smith. One of the interesting things to watch for early in the game will be the mobility of Smith, who will be guarding Curry and is coming off a knee injury. If Smith isn’t up to the task, the task of guarding Curry will be left up to blogosphere whipping boy Greg Paulus. If that is the case, I will be taking back my earlier prediction for Curry for tomorrow night.
The Cameron Crazies will be out in full force
– #21 Louisville at South Florida on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: The Cardinals will be riding high after their rollercoaster win over intrastate rival Kentucky on Sunday afternoon. They should be careful though going into the Sun Dome where the Bulls nearly beat then #11 Syracuse in a 59-54 game despite a horrendous night from Jesus Verdejo (3/17 FG including 0/10 from 3). Rick Pitino will be expecting a more consistent performance out of freshman sensation Samardo Samuels, who only had 4 points and 1 rebound in 11 minutes due to foul trouble. I’m sure Pitino will be praying for another solid performance from Edgar Sosa, who responded to Pitino’s interesting motivational techniques (reminiscent of my high school coach threatening to put all of us on JV before every game) with a season-high 18 points including a game-winning 3 with 2.8 seconds against Kentucky. Like usual, Louisville has the talent to run away with this game, but the question is whether they will continue to play down to the level of their competition.
– #15 Marquette at Rutgers on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: Honestly, this isn’t a particularly exciting game, but it should be fun to see if Rutgers finds the Golden Eagles below the level of their typical competition (last 3 games vs. last week’s #1 UNC, #2 UConn, and #3 Pittsburgh). The Golden Eagles are only considered the 15th best team in the country. You gotta love the Big East this year.
– College of Charleston at #3 UNC on Fox Sports South: See if the Tar Heels, currently in last place in the ACC, can dig its way out the cellar. Don’t say we didn’t warn you about the Tar Heels.
– Gonzaga at #24 Tennessee on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: That’s not a typo. The Bulldogs, who were once ranked 4th in the country, are no longer ranked. I’m not sure what to make of Gonzaga. After being the underdog for so many years, they suddenly became a favorite, but have continued to disappoint and frustrate the nation each March after repeated failures to live up to their NCAA tournament seed. This year, they rose to their 2nd highest ranking ever (spent 2 weeks at #3 at the end of the 2004 regular season) before going into a freefall losing their last 3 and 4 of their last 5 games. To be fair, those 4 losses have been by a combined 18 points and included 2 road games and an overtime loss to then #2 UConn. Despite that, there’s no reason that a national title contender should go through a stretch like that. The Volunteers will be looking to bounce back from a tough loss at Kansas. The key to this game will be on the inside with Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism battling against Josh Heytvelt and Austin Daye. If the Volunteers are able to control the paint, they will have a good shot at knocking off the Bulldogs, who will also need some help from their perimeter guys (Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray, and Jeremy Pargo).
Bad Santas.Portland St. 77, Gonzaga 70. Santa Claus made an early visit to the environs of Cincinnati, OH, and Spokane, WA, tonight, but instead of leaving toys and treats for the tots of Xavier and Gonzaga Universities, respectively, he left a couple of lumps of coal and another undisclosed brownish substance in their stockings. AP #7 Gonzaga and AP # 14 Xavier, both coming off of devastating Saturday losses (in different ways), were unable to shake off their hangovers from losses to UConn and Duke and instead dropped home games tonight that sent shocks throughout mid-major America. The more surprising upset of the two took place out west, where Gonzaga was thoroughly outplayed by the scrappier, guttier Portland St. Vikings. PSU was led by 5’6 Jeremiah Dominguez, who hit seven threes for a sick line of 25/6/5 assts. Yes, a guy shorter than you outrebounded all but Gonzaga’s 6’11 Austin Daye (9 boards) and 6’10 Josh Heytvelt (8) in this game. Portland St., who has losses to Hampton and Cal Poly on its resume, never wavered in the face of the superior athleticism and size of Gonzaga. GU, should have come out ready to eat glass in this one, but instead they allowed their heartbreaking loss to UConn over the weekend to mentally affect their play tonight. Would that have happened to UNC? Pitt? Duke? UCLA? Gonzaga needs to get tougher mentally. Butler 74, Xavier 65. Wasn’t Butler supposed to be rebuilding this year? Amazingly, eight of Brad Stevens’ top nine Bulldogs are freshmen and sophomores, whereas XU starts two juniors and one senior. So how is it that Butler was able to come into the Cintas Center and earn a victory in a location where Xavier had won its last fifteen games? Standard Butler-issue hardnosed defense and poise. Butler was able to keep Xavier under control from three (7-24) while also winning the battle of ball control (-7 turnovers) in a tough game that Xavier will regret losing come March. Matt Howard (19/14) and Gordon Hayward (19/10) both provided double-doubles, but the key stat of the game may have been Xavier’s 12-22 from the line. The 198th best FT-shooting team in America didn’t help their cause tonight, several times failing to convert both FT opportunities down the stretch. If Gonzaga and Xavier want to be taken seriously as “high mids” vying for the Final Four, they cannot afford to lose home games like these.
John Stevens is a featured columnist for RTC. His columns appear on Tuesdays throughout the season.
I can’t believe how I soaked my parents when I was a kid. Right after Thanksgiving they’d start asking me to make a Christmas list so they could just go ahead and start buying me everything on it and I’d have yet another memorable holiday. My sisters did the same thing. True, we were good kids; we racked up enough academic and athletic achievements during the rest of the year to keep them stocked in stories to bore the crap out of their friends and the rest of the extended family with, but looking back on it, we were really lucky. Still are.
These days, when Christmas rolls around, my wants are not of games for my Atari 2600, or life-size Shogun Warriors, or the like. Today, I only ask for one thing for the holidays, and that is Time. I want to sit in the recliner at our home in the country with a drink in one hand and a remote control in the other, my brain awash in college basketball images, Christmastime tournaments and match-ups lighting up my television screen until I can hardly remember my own name. There will be family time, present-opening time, time for playing with the nieces and nephews of the family. All of that is fantastic and it can’t be beaten. But this year I’m especially looking forward to having the time to just devour Mom’s cooking, forget what my next obligation is, stay warm from the marrow-cracking cold outside, and enjoy some college hoops as we close the book on non-conference play for this season.
Santa is Checking John's Holiday Wish List
But make no mistake. I’m a giver, as well. I don’t just want those things above for myself, I want them for everyone. And as I got a headstart on things this past Saturday by watching some freaking amazing games, I couldn’t help but wonder – what would be my college basketball wish list for this year? Hey, sounds like a column idea! So, here goes. Six things I want inside the world of college basketball for this season. Why six? Because I say so. I even ranked them for you. You’re welcome.
John Stevens’ Holiday Wish List
#6. Davidson to find other options. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE watching Stephen Curry and his lightning-quick release go nuts for 42/8/10, and I don’t want to minimize the work by Andrew Lovedale (13.5 and 10.1), for whom I actually feel a little sorry. Its not easy being Salieri, is it? Those are solid numbers and yet almost nobody knows this guy’s name. But after him there’s just not a lot going on. I think this is something we all suspected but didn’t want to admit because we’ve been mesmerized by Curry’s game, and we wanted to think this Stephen could lead this team to heights even loftier than last season. That is yet to be disproved, but the Purdue game this past Saturday was damning. Davidson’s tournament chances hinge on other options emerging when Curry is smothered by excellent defense like he was this past weekend, or when he’s just plain having a tough shooting night. ESPN’s Pat Forde had a great article about this topic yesterday, incidentally. We’ve seen what Curry can do as a virtual one-man show. Now I’d like to see other fellows step up and for the team to go even farther even if it means that Curry might take a hit on his scoring average.
(Will settle for: more amazing feats by Curry; no matter how deep Davidson’s tournament run, Curry is that enjoyable to watch.)
#5. A nice airplane companion for my Vegas trip in March. I haven’t taken that many flights in my life, but the ones I have taken have been pretty lengthy and there’s only been one case where I had an enjoyable neighbor in the seat next to me. I was flying to California this past Summer to attend a friend’s wedding and the fellow to my right just happened to play Division I college hoops about 40 years ago. He told me stories of games he played against Wooden’s UCLA and Rupp’s Kentucky; the secret, behind-the-scenes stuff was amazing, some of the best sports stories I’ve ever heard. I sat there motionless and listened until he got tired and actually had to take a nap. But that was my only pleasant experience so far, as far as who I’ve had next to me on a plane.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? You’re sitting there in your seat as the plane loads, watching who’s coming down the aisle, and every attractive girl who approaches you’re thinking, “Come on, come oooooon…” but then you end up getting some foul-breathed 400-pound pet store employee who didn’t have time for a shower that morning and wants to talk to you about how his life totally changed after he saw The Blair Witch Project. I don’t care if you’re single, married, or whatever, if you’re a male and you’re flying alone on a long trip, it’s the same. We all want the Padma Lakshmi or Robin Meade look-alike, or maybe the stray USC Song Girl, to slide into the neighboring empty seat, look at us with puppy-dog eyes and whisper to us about how she’s “the bad girl of the team” but, alas, doesn’t have a place to stay in your destination city. Hasn’t happened yet. Maybe someday.
Gals Like Her Don't Sit in Coach...
(Will settle for: the plane to land in one piece, both coming and going.)
#4. A Final Four for Gonzaga. I’m not affiliated with the place in any way – didn’t go to school there, never have even been to the state of Washington, though I’d love to visit – so here’s my thinking on this. I’m hearing more and more alleged college hoop pundits using the terms “high mid-major” and “low mid-major” to denote a certain cadre of teams that…well, I probably don’t have to explain it. A few years ago there were just mid-majors. A few years before that there were just the big time programs and the rest of the world. I kind of miss those days. Now we have teams that actually feel insulted when you call them a low mid-major when they think they’re a high mid-major, and so forth. That’s pure crap. Gonzaga was the first team to really relish the “mid-major” moniker since I’ve been into this sport and they’ve certainly put in their time. Mark Few has always come off as a perfectly nice guy and quite honestly his teams, without exception, play a brand of basketball that’s always been fun to watch for me, even though I can’t point to one particular thing that makes it so. We’re long past the honeymoon phase with Gonzaga, meaning that it was one thing when they did well in the tournament while nobody was looking, but for over a decade now we’ve come to expect more from the Zags. It’s important that they get to a Final Four when people actually expect something from them – like maybe this season. I specifically admire Josh Heytvelt’s comeback and Austin Daye’s a pleasure to watch. A Final Four would also move Coach Few more toward that elite level of coaches, which is due for a new member.
Another reason: go back a few years to another Vegas trip. Some of the boys and I are in the front row of a standing-only section of one of the sportsbooks watching the end of a game; the start of Gonzaga’s first game of that tournament was a couple of minutes away. The Gonzaga supporters – and there were well over a hundred of them – gathered behind us and were definitely a polite crowd, meaning no pushing or jockeying to steal a spot in front of us, or anything. And they certainly came prepared to support their team. They were a fun lot, and definitely social. Many of them started conversations with us and we shared a few beers and so on. Pretty cool, eh? Well, I noticed that from where I was standing, just behind and to the right of me was a pretty dark-haired girl in a big Gonzaga sweatshirt and an almost-empty beer in her hand. I figured I’d maybe talk to her before the game started, so I turned to say hello, when, at that very millisecond, she takes a deep breath and, at a deafening volume, belts out: “GOOOOOON-ZAG-UH BAAAAAAS-KET-BAAAAAALLLLL!!!!” The crowd behind her echoed this offering. I thought, “OK, she’s cool, probably knows the game, definitely loves her team. Here we go…” and I turned around again. What does she do? She lets fly another, “GOOOOOOOOOON-ZAG-UH BAAAAAAS-KET-BAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!” at twice the original volume. The crowd behind her really began frothing. I was impressed on one hand but hoped she would be able to at least carry a conversation or scream another cheer. I never really found out, because for the next two hours, at random times she would scream this same cheer, in the manner of the Detroit Pistons’ announcer Mason. I never heard her say anything except that as she kept pounding those beers. So, maybe if Gonzaga finally gets to a Final Four, this girl, wherever she is, will feel that her yelling has done its job and she can now preserve her voice, or learn another cheer. In all seriousness, they were good fans, and they deserve a Final Four.
This Was Not Her
(Will settle for: an iTunes gift card.)
#3. Eric Devendorf to get this nonsense settled and rejoin his team. According to the ESPN.com article, Devendorf’s suspension for introducing his hand to a female student’s face earlier this year is that he has to complete 40 hours of community service before he can ask to be reinstated as a student by Syracuse University and resume his place on the basketball team. The spring semester on the Syracuse campus starts January 12th and the Orange(men) have a game two days later at Georgetown.
Devendorf has said all the right things in the press since this incident, and he seems genuinely contrite. He probably knows that to sock a female student in the jaw with the heel of your hand for any reason is the move of a black-belt douchebag and I’d speculate he understands the need for punishment. Fine. 40 hours. I say get it done as fast as you can, Eric. Do a Monday-through-Friday, eight hours a day. Better still, do four ten-hour days. By getting it done quickly, you get it over with, and you send a message to your teammates that you really can’t wait to get back on that squad, if they’ll have you. You’re showing them that you want to miss as little game and practice time as possible. That ruling, in point of fact, came down on December 19th, which means that by the end of today you could been DONE with this if you’d have chosen the ten-hour-day option. Whatever schedule you can set – the point is, get it done as fast as you can. You’ll impress your teammates, you’ll fulfill your obligation, you’ll send a message to your coaches, and I bet you’ll return to the Carrier Dome to more cheers than anything. Your team is good, but they’re better with you there. Despite their curious history in the NCAA Tournament, they are a dangerous team this year and I wouldn’t want to be the guy responsible for Syracuse fans wondering how good they could have been.
(Will settle for: Nothing. This one’s not negotiable.)
#2. An end to the objectification of Miss Erin Andrews. That’s right. I’m going to be the champion for Miss Andrews’ cause. I think it’s high time that we recognize the hard work this woman puts into actually being a journalist, interviewing coaches at halftime when they’re more annoyed than anything and don’t want to convey any real information to the viewers. It’s thankless, and I for one want to say a big Thank You to Miss Andrews. And on top of all that, she has to do it while most of the viewers are wondering how snug her shirt is or how high her heels are, probably not even hearing what she’s saying. I can’t even fathom the catcalls she must endure from horny college kids while she’s just trying to do her job. I even hear that some sports blogs actually use any possible reason to post pictures of her on their sites, hoping to generate cheap pageviews. I am appalled! Who, I ask you, WHO would do such a thing?!? Anyway, I think we need to do a better job of showing her how much we love her reporting as well as her…*sigh*…looks. And, I dunno, if Miss Andrews feels like talking about this subject with me, she can use the e-mail link for this site located at right, and perhaps we can discuss it over dinner. Not that I said all that stuff above for that reason, or anything.
I Have No Objectification to this Photo of Ms. Andrews
(Will settle for: Not taking a beating. You see what I’m doing there, right? Remember that kid back in, like, the 8th or 9th grade who was friends with all the girls because he sucked up to them like crazy? You know the guy, he always thought he could parlay that ill-gotten friendship into something else if he wanted (even though the girls knew it would never happen) once he got to high school, and he liked to rub your nose in it a little. I ALWAYS wanted to administer a beating for the ages to that guy. If you see what I’m doing with my above paragraph about Erin, you’ll exempt me from a similar throttling.)
(Will also settle for: ESPN to make some airtime for another Andrews, namely Thea, who I always dug in a major way even though Cold Pizza was an abomination.)
And finally, the number one item on the John Stevens Holiday List for 2008 is:
#1. A Duke fan to admit that…it’s getting to be a little much. Well, this should be good. It all started with those American Express commercials a couple of years ago where Coach K talked about how he doesn’t just prepare you for basketball, he also prepares you for life, etc. Then I’m sitting watching the amazing United States victory over the Europeans in the 2008 Ryder Cup on TV earlier this summer and what do I see? A smiling Krzyzewski on my TV screen doing a lead-in to the coverage about every hour; I mean, it’s a GOLF tournament. And it happened in Louisville, which means that among college basketball coaches, Rick Pitino would have been a more appropriate choice. It’s an event that Coach K’s mug should have been nowhere near. In my opinion, the most mind-blowing example of the Coach K free pass is his weekly hour-long talk show on Sirius XM, called “Basketball and Beyond with Coach K,” now entering its fourth season. It’s basically an hour of Coach K hanging out with special guests, talking about basketball, talking about life in general, talking about whatever he wants.
Many people have argued that these appearances by Krzyzewski constitute a recruiting advantage, and it’s a tough argument to refute. He seems to be the only coach out there doing it, though it should be said that he’s probably the most desirable spokesman out there, as far as coaches go. But honestly, in addition to everywhere else he shows up, the guy’s got an hour of satellite radio time every week where he kicks it with famous friends and espouses his opinions on just about everything – including subjects that might even come up during, oh, I don’t know…in-home and/or campus recruiting visits?
To be sure, I don’t know if these things provide much of a recruiting advantage; let’s be honest, even without Coach K’s extra appearances there’s a lot about Duke that sells itself. We all know the place’s academic reputation, and the basketball program had reached elite status long before Krzyzewski started with the commercials/promos/radio shows/etc. But the problem is that other coaches certainly don’t get to do these things. Yes, Krzyzewski has created these opportunities through his achievements as a college basketball coach. But let’s say Coach K retires tomorrow and Sirius XM decides to give a show to only one coach – say, Ben Howland, or Roy Williams, or Billy Gillispie, or Jamie Dixon. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the NCAA stepped in and nixed it, saying it provided an unfair advantage. As chronicled by this very website, the NCAA chooses to apply its disciplinary bitch-slap in such strange and uneven ways at times – but THIS, a weekly hour-long pulpit for a coach – ANY coach – to freestyle about any subject he wants to millions of people – is allowed? The NCAA claims to try to keep things fair, to keep the playing field even. Is that what we’ve had for the past few years with Coach K preening himself as the official brand face and name of college basketball?
So that’s my number one wish for this holiday season. One single Duke fan to admit that their coach, despite his successes, might just be getting away with something. In the meantime, enjoy this clever YouTube spoof of Coach K’s AMEX ads.
(Will settle for: a winning Powerball ticket. I’m more likely to actually get that.)