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.)
What a Saturday! We hope you had as much on Saturday as we did, sitting around in our sweats in front of a family member’s HD flatscreen while the wind pushed thermometers to nearly zero outside. If there was ever a day for lazing around and watching nothing but college hoops, this was it. And the games did not let us down. From Minnesota to Gonzaga/Arizona St. to Xavier to Steph Curry, there were upsets, great finishes, shocking blowouts and a struggling all-american for good measure.
Game of the Year (to date).Connecticut 88, Gonzaga 83 (OT). For our money, the Connecticut-Gonzaga game in Seattle was the game of the year thus far. Each team brought NBA-level talent and NCAA Tournament intensity to this one, and it took an extra period to finish it off. We really felt as if we were watching a March game in December. Both teams ran out to leads where they appeared the far superior team, and both teams made huge plays to get back into the game, capped off by a simply astounding three to send the game into OT by AJ Price (where he was floating left and had a man right in his face upon the release). For large portions of this game, Gonzaga looked like a F4 team, with Austin Daye’s captivating talent (13/5) all over the court, Josh Heytvelt’s steady interior play (15/3) and Jeremy Pargo’s timely forays (16/4 assts) into the paint (not to mention Steven Gray’s 23/7/4 assts off the bench). The Zag D held UConn to 43% shooting, while hitting half of its own shots, and yet, UConn showed a resolve and toughness that we haven’t seen out of a Calhoun team since Emeka Okafor left campus. The Huskies really had no business pulling this game off, especially since big man Hasheem Thabeet spent the last fifth of the game on the bench in foul trouble, but team leader AJ Price (24/10 assts) kept finding penetration into the lane for easy looks and trips for his teammates to the foul line. This was a take-notice game – we’ve been down on UConn until now because we still weren’t sure they had the chemistry and resolve to win six tough games in March. Now we’ve taken notice. UConn will go as far as Price takes them, and that could be all the way. It wouldn’t surprise us at all to see a rematch of this game in Detroit in April.
Upset of the Weekend.Minnesota 70, Louisville 64. Ok, Louisville is officially the most disappointing team in America right now. We sensed something was wrong with them the last couple of times we watched them play (and that’s not even including the WKU loss), but the Minnesota game proved to us that this is a team without a soul right now. The Cards have enough pure talent to compete with any team in college basketball, but they don’t seem to want to give the effort that it takes to do so. And the Edgar Sosa situation has every hallmark of another exceptional talent crawling into a hole and dying under Pitino’s tutelage (we’re channelling Rodrick Rhodes here) – it’s amazing just how ineffective he has become. As for Minnesota, they’re now 11-0 and this was the signature win the Gophers needed to announce that Tubby Smith is once again building a competitive program. The Gophers played hard, held Louisville to 38% shooting, and made all the right plays down the stretch to secure the win (when UL crept back within four pts). Tubby has now won his last four games against his mentor, and suddenly the Big 10 is looking a lot stronger than it did a month ago.
Super Saturday is a term usually reserved for the final Saturday of the US Open where the two men’s semifinals and the women’s final are played, but this Saturday of college basketball trumps any day at Flushing Meadows (unless we could somehow get a Kournikova-Ivanovic final). Normally I would cover all the interesting games on the docket, but today is so good that I’m only going to cover the ones featuring ranked teams matched up against each other.
No naps this Saturday afternoon
The Undercard: On any other Saturday, these games would be the headliners, but today they are merely an appetizer to get you ready for the even bigger match-ups to follow.
– #22 Michigan State at #5 Texas at 2 PM on CBS: Tom Izzo’s Spartans come into Saturday badly in need of a victory against a quality foe. Although Michigan State comes in with a respectable record of 7-2, they have been underwhelming and certainly nowhere near the level they were predicted to be coming into the season (AP #5 back on November 24th). On the other side, the Longhorns have been surprisingly strong with their only loss coming against Notre Dame (81-80) in what was the best game of the Maui Invitational. Texas has responded well to the setback with wins over 2 ranked teams in December (UCLA and Villanova). The last time Michigan State played a team of this caliber was in their much-anticipated match-up against UNC (clearly Texas isn’t quite at that level), they were blown off the court in a virtual home game. Tom Izzo will need a big game from Raymar Morgan and hope that his defense can contain A.J. Abrams and Damion James if he hopes to steal one in Austin.
– #20 Davidson vs. #18 Purdue at 4 PM on CBS: Both teams are all but assured of NCAA tournament bids. However, neither team has a signature win yet. Davidson certainly has the marquee value with national POY contender Stephen Curry, but they lost their only game against a ranked team (82-78 at #14 Oklahoma on November 18th). While the Wildcats can hardly be faulted for losing a road game against Blake Griffin and the Sooners, it still leaves them without a win they would need to merit a potential 5 seed or better. If they are unable to win today in Indianapolis, their only other chance to beat a top 25 team will be on January 7th against Duke at Cameron (ESPN might be hyping that game a little bit in the time leading up to the BCS title game). The Boilermakers are in a similar situation albeit without a star anywhere close to the level of Curry. The Boilermakers lost their only games against ranked teams back-to-back (87-82 in OT against Oklahoma on November 28th and 76-60 at home against Duke on December 2nd) and after tomorrow they don’t have a game against a currently ranked team until February 3rd against Ohio State. This game will likely come down to how well the Boilermakers can contain Curry (31.9 PPG and 6.8 APG) and limit his sidekick on the inside Andrew Lovedale (13.9 PPG and 10.7 RPG). The Boilermakers will counter with a much more balanced attack (4 players averaging between 9.9 and 15.6 PPG).
– #11 Syracuse at #21 Memphis at 6 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Orangemen (other than Jim Boeheim) responded well to their crushing loss at the buzzer on Monday night. However, they will be without Eric Devendorf for at least 2 games so Jonny Flynn will have to hope that Paul Harris and/or Arinze Onuaku can pick up the slack as John Calipari will almost certainly be focusing on Flynn on the perimeter. The Tigers could use a quality win here as they have lose both of the games they have played against quality opponents (Xavier and Georgetown). Tyreke Evans and Shawn Taggert will need to play well, but this is a game that the Tigers should win.
The Title Bouts: These games are as good as you will find any time this season (in-conference or out-of-conference) until we get to March.
– #7 Xavier vs. #6 Duke at 2 PM on CBS: Although this game is a “neutral” site game and quite far away from North Carolina, East Rutherford, New Jersey has become a de facto home for Coach K and the Blue Devils over the past 20 years. Despite that edge, I don’t think Coach K will be starting his bench (including everybody’s favorite whipping boy Greg Paulus) like he did in the Blue Devils last game against UNC-Asheville. Sean Miller didn’t have quite the same luxury in Xavier’s last game as they had to fight hard to beat crosstown rival Cincinnati 76-66 a week ago. Both teams rely on a balanced scoring attack, but the outcome of the game will likely be decided by Duke’s ability to hit the 3. The Blue Devils don’t shoot a particularly high percentage from 3 (32% for the season), but they are such high-volume shooters (20.6 attempts per game compared to 15.3 attempts per game for the Musketeers) that it becomes a major factor in all of their games. Their only loss this year was their rematch against Michigan in Ann Arbor where they opened the game hitting 3 of their first 27 attempts for 3 point range before hitting 4 in a row late to close the gap. The key match-up in this game should be Kyle Singler versus Derrick Brown, which should be interesting to watch if Singler tries to pull Brown away from the basket with his outside shooting. This should be a close game, but look for Duke to win this one as they have had a tendency to pull out big games before conference play starts.
– #2 UConn vs. #7 Gonzaga at 4 PM on CBS: This game could have very easily been a 2-4 match-up if Gonzaga hadn’t slipped up last week against Arizona in Tucson. One of the interesting subplots, which I’m sure that CBS will cover repeatedly, is that it was match-up that introduced the nation to Gonzaga basketball less than 10 years ago and propelled UConn to its first Final 4 trip. While I remember the game for its significance for Gonzaga’s program, I had completely forgotten that it gave UConn its first Final 4 trip ever (won the title that year in a nail-bitter over Trajan Langdon’s Blue Devils). This Gonzaga team is significantly different than the one you might see on ESPN Classic. They are no longer just the team that relies on exceptional skill and execution. Now they have the athletes to compete with anybody in the nation. However, UConn has been playing better than anyone in the nation not wearing baby blue so Gonzaga will have its hands full trying to keep up with the Huskies, who have a balanced scoring attack led by Jerome Dyson, Hasheem Thabeet, and Jeff Adrien. Dyson leads the Huskies in scoring at 15.4 PPG and provides Jim Calhoun with a versatile one-on-one scorer. Thabeet, his counterpart on the inside, has finally started to show some of the promise that has had NBA scouts salivating over him in the past as he has started to score on a consistent basis to compliment his always strong defensive presence. The one area that the Huskies need to improve upon if they want to compete for the national title (read: challenge UNC) is for A.J. Price to step up as an elite college PG. His 35% FG and 36% FT isn’t going to cut it in March and may even be a liability in Big East play, which may be more competitive than the NCAA tournament itself on a nightly basis. The Bulldogs have also been playing exceptionally well this year with the exception of their loss last week to Arizona last week. They also come in with a balanced attack, but they are led by PG Jeremy Pargo whose scoring is slightly down (12.1 PPG to 8.9 PPG) from the past 2 season as he has focused more on running the team (3.4 assist:turnover ratio compared to 1.8 last year). To beat the Huskies, Mark Few will need everybody–Pargo, Austin Daye, Josh Heytvelt, and Matt Bouldin–to be near the top of their games. In the end, the Huskies depth and superior interior defense will probably be too much for Gonzaga to overcome.
A10 Weekend. The A10 used three televised games on Saturday to announce its presence to America, knocking off an SEC, Big East and Big 12 team in the process (two of which were effectively road games). With the relative weakness of the Pac-10 and SEC this year, the A10 could make a run at a legitimate four NCAA bids this season. Today’s results could go a long way in the Tourney Committee’s minds toward that end. Great weekend for the Atlantic 10.
Temple 88, Tennessee 72. Every outlet in America is making the “Merry Christmas” joke, so we’ll refrain here, but suffice it to say that Temple’s Dionte Christmas stole Bruce Pearl’s cookies and blew up his sled with an explosive game where it seemed as if every shot he threw at the rim was flushing straight through. More importantly, Temple exposed Tennessee’s defense for what it is – simply not good enough to sustain any kind of legitimate run in March. The Owls shot a blistering 55%, led by Xmas’ 35 on seven threes, and it often appeared as if the Vol players had little interest in covering him. The roof nearly came off the place when he hit three trifectas in a row during a personal 1:30 run to blow open the game. Temple, who had not defeated a top 10 team since John Chaney was still on campus, celebrated with a spirited RTC, to which, we say – deserved.
Game of the Night.Gonzaga 74, Washington St. 52. This game, more than any other thus far this year, proves to us that Gonzaga is for real. More than the Maryland blowout one day after the Terps pounded Michigan State. More than the Tennessee win where the Zags held the high-scoring Vols to 36% shooting. No, while all you guys were sleeping on the east coast, the Zags were laying waste to their in-state nemesis in a rivalry game whom had frustrated and annoyed and outworked them in victories the last two seasons. Not this time around. Take a look at the gametracker below. Wazzu hung in there for a half, only going into the locker room down 32-29. After a quick post-halftime bucket, Gonzaga then went on a 15-0 run followed by another 10-4 run (totaling 25-4 for the mathematically challenged) to completely eviscerate the Cougs on their home court. What was the difference? Once again, the Zags played some serious defense. They held WSU to only 33% shooting from the field and a paltry 2-19 (11%) from three while grabbing seven steals and hitting ten threes on the other end. The Zags are currently 9th nationally in defensive FG% (34.7%) and 8th in defensive pts per possession (.80), and they’ve done so against the current RPI #2 schedule in the nation. Josh Heytvelt continued his renaissance with 22 pts, Austin Daye added 14, and Jeremy Pargo contributed 11/10 assts for the Zags. We were all over this team a year ago, but we didn’t realize the extent of Heytvelt’s injuries – now that he appears to be nearly 100% back, this team is legit.
Upset of the Night.Charlotte 70, Mississippi St. 64. Can we just go ahead and establish the SEC as a two-bid league this year? When a 2-6 team can come into the house of (supposedly) one of the better SEC West teams (6-2 prior to tonight) and run out to a 24-pt lead and never really be threatened, something is seriously wrong with the league. We’re certain RTC’s SEC correspondent Kurt Wurth will have something to say about this next week.
Mushing Eric Devendorf. You’ve probably heard by now that the Syracuse Judicial Board decided to boot guard and key cog Eric Devendorf out of school for “punching” a woman in the face on Nov. 1. Devendorf will probably get reinstated on appeal, but if you read the comments at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, you’ll learn about “mushing” someone who might be a little too amorous on the dance floor (and what Devendorf may have allegedly done to this woman). Great stuff. Check it out.
Other Games You Really Care About.
St. Peter’s 51, NJIT 38. 42 in a row. NJIT actually led 20-19 at the half. Short-lived.
Xavier 78, Ohio 56. Terrell Holloway returned from his foot problem to lead XU to its second-best start ever. Now they prepare for the Crosstown Shootout on Saturday at Cincy.
Indiana 66, TCU 56. We have to admit, Indiana is better than we thought they would be. We didn’t think they would win games like this one.
Oklahoma 78, Maine 52. Blake Griffin continues to slow down a little – only 22/10 tonight.
California 72, Utah 69. Nope, we can’t figure either of these teams out, but Cal is starting to make us think they’re finishing top three in the Pac-10 this year. Jerome Randle hit a three to win the game with six seconds left.
Butler 87, Bradley 75. Butler moves to 8-0 with a solid win over an MVC foe.
Creighton 77, Dayton 59. Dayton takes its first loss in a tough way, getting thumped by Creighton and their 13 threes, five of which came for Booker Woodfox, one of the best names in CBB this year.
Arizona 69, San Diego St. 56. A close game became not close as UA scored the last 11 pts of the game behind Jordan Hill’s 25/14.
BYU 94, Boise St. 56. BYU rode a 61-pt second half to a humiliation of Boise, and remained unbeaten as a result.
On Tap Thursday (all times EST):
Miami (OH) (-14.5) v. Wisconsin-Milwaukee (ESPN FC & 360) – 7pm
Villanova (-10) v. St. Joseph’s (ESPN2) – 8pm
Kansas St. (-5.5) v. Southern Mississippi (ESPN FC & 360) – 8pm
Michael Chin is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
So first, five things I noticed from WCC basketball this week:
If you haven’t notice by now, Gonzaga is for real. To beat Maryland, Oklahoma State, and Tennessee in one week is a feat so early in the season. If this is a foreshadowing of what’s to come, consider them a Sweet Sixteen lock.
Patrick Mills is not the best point guard in college basketball. I love, love, love the Gaels, but Mills is not NBA-ready. Throughout last week’s tournament you saw a player who continually forced the ball, trying to make too many difficult shots and passes. He has some really spectacular moments, especially in transition, but as a true point guard he didn’t run the offense well. I would say from a point guard standpoint I would put: Lawson, Collison, and Pargo all ahead of him.
San Diego is overrated. So I really had high hopes for these guys, but they have crumbled in games this year. Close game against Wisconsin, but lose to Miami by 20. Granted the U is a top 25 team, but if you are supposed to be a tournament team, you can’t get blown away. Oh, and I don’t really think UNLV is that good, and San Diego couldn’t hang there either. I think they still have the potential to be very good, especially when you have guys like seniors Gyno Pomare and Rob Jones, but this team needs to pick it up.
Eric Reveno of Portland has done an amazing job. Welcome back to relevancy, Pilots. I guess I’ll change your name back to UP from PU. One might have thought that after a loss to Portland St. this team was a fluke. I’m going on record and saying, “You’re Wrong.” While they don’t have a special player, Reveno has them playing good team basketball and he knows how to play to their strengths.
Gonzaga is for real…Oh I already mentioned that, but I can’t believe how talented this team is. I had them ranked low because I didn’t believe Austin Daye could play the four, or Josh Heytvelt would return to his normal self. They proved this writer wrong.
And we’re back… We hope that our fair readers had a luckier Thanksgiving weekend than we did. Due to substantial computer issues, we were unable to keep the site updated over the weekend. But we managed to watch a fair number of the multitude of games this weekend, so rather than recapping what has effectively become stale news, we’ll instead offer our observations.
What We Learned.
Old Spice Classic.
Maryland is equally as likely to pull a major upset as to lay a gigantic egg (beating Michigan St. by 18, then losing by 22 to Gonzaga and 27 to Georgetown).
Michigan St. isn’t going anywhere without a healthy Delvon Roe/Goran Suton and learn to make its FTs (49-84, .583 for the tourney).
A Gonzaga team that actually defends (with a healthy Josh Heytvelt) is a dangerous one. Oklahoma St., Maryland and Tennessee shot 36.7%/29% against the Zags.
Georgetown is going to be dealt with. With tremendous balance between their inside/outside players, the Hoyas should only get better as the year (and Greg Monroe) progresses.
Tennessee is far and away the best team in the SEC, and the Bobby Maze experiment at PG appears to be working (so far).
Our third installment of Set Your Tivos brings us what I consider the first legitimate tournament of the season–the Maui Invitational. It’s your yearly chance to see some of the biggest names in college basketball rocking Hawaiian t-shirts or polos. You could argue that I’m just being nostalgic over the most shocking upset in NCAA history (that barely anybody saw live) except that the famous game actually happened a little less than 3 months before I was born. Anyways, onto our weekly countdown. . .
#10: Boston College vs. #10 Purdue, Wednesday at 7 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: I’m curious to see how one of the Big 10 co-favorites (along with Michigan State and now Michigan) will do against a middle to bottom of the pack Big East ACC team. This game is about getting some respect for the Big 10. If the Boilermakers don’t win this game easily, it could be a sign that we’re in for another season of really bad Big 10 basketball.
#9: Duquesne at #5 Duke; Friday at 3 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: It will still be November when they play this game so the Blue Devils should win this game even though they have struggled at times this year. One of the revelations from last week’s Coaches vs. Cancer was that Brian Zoubek may still be a stiff, but he is a tall one. Look for Coach K to try to get Zoubek involved as he may be a key for Duke if they want to advance deep into the NCAA tournament this year. (Hint: Don’t put Duke too far in your March Madness bracket).
#8: Maryland vs. #7 Michigan State, Thursday at 7 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: This game seems more interesting on paper (program reputation) than it will be on the court (this year’s teams), but I’ll be tuned in to see what Tom Izzo actually has this season. The Spartans come in with a preseason #7 ranking, but got “UNLV-Duke 1990” crushed by Memphis in their Sweet 16 match-up and have lost their floor general Drew Neitzel. This year’s Spartan team has the potential to make it to Detroit (for the Final 4–I can’t imagine why you would want to go there for any other reason), but they’ll have to step it up several levels from where they were last week (beating Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne by 11 in a game that was as close as the final margin indicates).
#7: UAB vs. #14 Oklahoma, Wednesday 9 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: This game will be a match-up of potential All-Americans–Robert Vaden and Blake Griffin–although they won’t match-up against each other outside of the occasional switch off a screen. The Sooners looked like they were still basking in the glow of beating America’s sweetheart Davidson when they almost lost to Gardner-Webb although BIlly Gillispie may disagree. The thought here is that if Oklahoma could hold of Stephen Curry then they can do the same against Vaden.
#6: Saint Joseph’s vs. #8 Texas, Monday at 3 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Rick Barnes managed to get to the Elite 8 one year after losing national POY and the greatest freshman ever (I disagree with rtmsf) Kevin Durant. Now the question is how far he can get the Longhorns after losing All-American point guard D. J. Augustin. The early game of ESPN’s tripleheader will give us some insight into that. The Longhorns should win this one easily since Phil Martelli’s crew is in rebuilding mode (see their loss to Holy Cross), but the Hawks could show us some weaknesses that the Longhorns may have.
#5: Syracuse at #19 Florida, Monday at 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Jim Boeheim will need big games out of Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf to pull off the upset tonight. Despite struggling to put away Richmond last week, the Orangemen have the potential to pull off the upset against Billy Donovan’s young squad especially after the loss of last year’s starting PG Jai Lucas. I’m assuming that the Gators will return to the NCAA tournament, but if they want to have a successful season (Sweet 16 trip), they will have to be able to beat teams of Syracuse’s caliber.
#4: Indiana vs. #9 Notre Dame, Monday at 5:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Our first look at Tom Crean’s new squad (Bruce Weber has already told us what he thinks of them). Unfortunately this game isn’t at Alumni Hall. It will be interesting to see how the Hooiser faithful react to Crean and his JV squad. I am imaging the scene out of Hooisers at town hall where they vote Norman Dale out before Jimmy Chitwood shows up and saves the day. Unfortunately, I don’t think Eric Gordon can come back to Bloomington with any eligibility to recreate this. Bottom line: The Golden Domers will have something to look forward to after pelting their football players with snowballs after another embarrassing loss.
#3: #6 Pittsburgh vs. Texas Tech, Friday at 7:30 PM on HDNet: I’m guessing that Pat Knight’s boys won’t be putting up 167 tonight unless this game goes to 6 OTs. So far the Panthers have players compared to Shaq (DeJuan Blair) and Lebron (Sam Young) and that doesn’t even factor in Levance Fields, who may be the most important player on the roster. There is no question that Pittsburgh is the better team in this match-up, but I’ll be following this to see just how good the Panthers are and the Red Raiders have had a tendency to come up with big upsets early in the year.
#2: #3 Louisville vs. Western Kentucky, Sunday at 3 PM on Fox College Sports Atlantic: Our first good look at RTC pre-season bracketology national champion against some real competition. The Hilltoppers lost a lot in the backcourt (Courtney Lee, Ty Rogers, and Tyrone Brazelton), but they return a lot of experience in the frontcourt. If the Hilltoppers want to give Rick Pitino’s Cardinals a game they will need JUCO transfer Sergio Kerusch, Motlow State Community College transfer Anthony Sally, and Dejan Cvoro, a point guard from Serbia, to step up. I’m guessing that Western Kentucky will keep it close for the first 10 minutes before Louisville pulls away, but it should still be interesting to see just how good freshman Samardo Samuels is. If he is as good as advertised, Pitino may have a legitimate title contender.
#1:Oklahoma State vs. #11 Gonzaga, Thursday at 9 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Mark Few comes into this year with his 2nd highest ranked team ever (7th in the 2005-2006 preseason poll) and one of the most talented teams he has ever had. While the Zags lack the superstar they had a few years ago in Adam Morrison, they are not lacking in talent (Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, Austin Daye, and Josh Heytvelt). However, as the Zags have steadily moved up in the national conscience andthe regular season polls, they seem to have underperformed in the NCAA tournament. After losing to Cinderella (Davidson) in the first round last year, the Zags are hoping to bounce back and their first big test of the season will be against Travis Ford’s Cowboys. Ford has been quick to keep expectations realistic for his rookie season, but some experts have picked the Cowboys to be a surprise in the Big 12 despite their lack of interior play.
Michael Chin is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference (WCC).
Predicted Order of Finish:
Sleeper. San Francisco
WYN2K. For the last ten years the WCC national storyline has read “Gonzaga and the seven dwarfs.” However, as many have learned, Grumpy and Sleepy are finally growing up. Saint Mary’s and San Diego, both of which made the Big Dance last season, return 88% of their scoring and are primed for return trips to March Madness. Saint Mary’s is lead by lightning quick Aussie Patrick Mills and All Conference Defensive Player of the Year Diamon Simpson. Down south, the Toreros return forward Gyno Pomare and guard Brandon Johnson, both of whom made the All-Conference team a season ago. Don’t be fooled however, Gonzaga still has the bullets to defend their conference crown as they return WCC player of the year Jeremy Pargo and potential lottery pick Austin Daye. Aside from the “three wise men,” the remaining teams in the conference are rebuilding. Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and USF all have new coaches, while Santa Clara’s Kerry Keating is only in his second year as the head man of the Broncos. Portland looks to build on a young cast which includes Nik Raivio (brother of former GU All-American Derek) and Luke Sikma (son of Sonic great Jack Sikma).
Predicted Champion.Gonzaga (NCAA #3). The Bulldogs’ strength this year will be in its backcourt where they figure to go with three guard sets quite often. This team will go as far as Conference POY Jeremy Pargo will take them. After flirting with the NBA this summer, the Chicago native decided to return for a final year to hone his outside shooting skills. His backcourt mate Steven Gray is the sharpshooter of the bunch. The third guard for the Bulldogs is Matt Bouldin. After a stellar freshman campaign two seasons ago, Bouldin had an up-and-down year as a sophomore. Demetrius Goodson, a super athletic freshman point guard and Micah Downs, a former Kansas Jayhawk capable of playing the 2, 3, and 4 positions add significant depth to the GU backcourt. The frontline, though stellar on offense, lacks proven depth and a real defensive force. Austin Daye, the silky forward from Irvine, can shoot it from anywhere on the court and provides GU with a real mismatch when he plays at the 3 spot. The only true experienced big man on the GU roster is senior Josh Heytvelt. Injuries and personal problems have nagged at his career, however, but if he can bounce back from a constant foot problem and returns to his sophomore form, GU should have a solid post threat to go alongside their outstanding perimeter shooting. The depth for Gonzaga has potential, but right now it is unproven. The best of the bunch is 7-footer Robert Sacre, but last year Few used him in limited action on tips-offs. Another 7-footer, Will Foster, may provide some defensive minutes, but to date has not shown any offensive prowess. Coaches like Ira Brown’s toughness, but against a Diamon Simpson or Gyno Pomare, he will have a tough time. Freshman Andrew Poling and Iowa POY Grant Gibbs may end up redshirting this season.
Saint Mary’s (NCAA #10). Although the Patty Mills story is the biggest news around in the picturesque campus of Moraga, CA, the Gaels have more to be excited about than Kobe and Chris Paul describing Patty as “lightning quick.” Not only do the Gaels return last year’s freshman of the year (Mills) and Defensive POY (Simpson), but also two other starters and almost all of their scoring. However, what could put the Gaels over the top in the WCC is their depth. Unlike other WCC teams, the Gaels are arguably ten deep. The front line returns all three starters (Simpson, Omar Samhan and Ian O’Leary). Of the three Diamon is the most polished. His game can be described in one word – relentless. Already the senior from Hayward, CA, has broken the career blocks record at SMC and is currently in the top ten all-time in rebounds for the Gaels. Samhan, the only true center on the team, has a nice offensive skill set and has steadily improved his defense over the last two seasons. As mentioned, the bench provides the Gaels with a wealth of experience. Returners Yusef Smith and Lucas Walker, as well as 7-foot Indiana transfer Ben Allen provides the Gaels with true backups for Samhan and Simpson. In particular, Ben Allen’s shooting ability should allow Coach Randy Bennett to use some of the high post offense that got the Gaels to the Dance in 2003-04. In the backcourt, aside from Mills, the Gaels return redshirt junior Wayne Hunter to the lineup. The 6-2 guard would have been Bennett’s best on-ball defender, but because of the logjam last year, Bennett could not find a place for him. Should Hunter’s offense regress, expect the Gaels to go Aussie Carlin Hughes. Even if he doesn’t start, Hughes will see significant minutes as he is the best returning shooter on the Gaels roster. One guy to keep an eye on is freshman Clint Steindl. Another transport from down under, he may take minutes from O’Leary if the senior swingman’s offensive game goes cold. There is talk that Collin Chiverton, fellow teammate of UCLA recruit Drew Gordon, may also see time, but with the depth the Gaels possess, he may end up redshirting.
San Diego (NIT). Seniors Brandon Johnson and Gyno Pomare took the WCC by surprise last season with a strong finish, winning the conference tournament at home, then knocking off UConn in the first round of the NCAAs. The question now is whether their “one shining moment” will catapult the Toreros to the top of the WCC. The good thing for the Toreros is they return their entire team from a year ago. While Pomare and Johnson are the headliners, guards Dejon Jackson and Tremaine Johnson will have to continue their growth in order for their team to reach the Dance. Forwards Chris Lewis and Rob Jones also saw significant action next year and should also to continue to improve. However, in order to have a real shot at the Gaels or Bulldogs, USD will have to get some major contributions from some young players, most notably Brazilian transfer Roberto Manfra and Nathan Lozeau. The two are USD’s biggest bodies and must be able to hold their own against the likes of Josh Heytvelt, Omar Samhan, and Diamon Simpson. Another factor for the Toreros is that the tournament moves from the friendly confines of Jenny Craig Pavilion to a neutral site this year. The last two times USD made it to March Madness, they hosted the WCC Tournament. Here’s an audience-eye view of the big upset over UConn.
Fighting for Fourth.
Santa Clara. Center John Bryant, perhaps the best center in the conference, is a load. But aside from him the team is thin and unless junior guard Calvin Johnson and some transfers step up, the Broncos will only be a .500 team at best.
San Francisco. With the return of all conference forward Dior Lowthorn and former Rutgers guard Manny Quezada, USF has the offensive weapons to upset anyone in the conference. But if new coach Rex Walters wants to play with the big boys he will need to find some other pieces to go along with these two studs.
Portland. Quietly former Stanford assistant Eric Reveno has built a solid team in Portland. Most of his team returns, including guards Taishi Ito and Nik Raivio and forwards Luke Sikma and Robin Smuelders, but they don’t match up well with the likes of Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and San Diego.
Pepperdine. After the Vince Walhberg debacle, Pepperdine went to the archives and dug up former coach Tom Ashbury. With a promising but young team, Ashbury will need to teach these guys how to win so they have a chance in years to come.
Loyola Marymount. Like Pepperdine, Coach Bill Bayno is counting on next year when he brings in Seton Hall transfer Larry Hughes and Oregon Transfer Drew Viney.
All Conference Team.
Patrick Mills, St. Mary’s (POY)
Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga
Austin Daye, Gonzaga
Diamon Simpson, St. Mary’s (DPOY)
Gyno Pomare, San Diego
Prediction. Until another team proves otherwise, the Gonzaga Bulldogs remain at the top. However GU is not a unbeatable as some think (Sporting News ranks them #4 nationally). The Bulldogs can shoot the lights out with the best of them, but their frontcourt remains a huge question mark. On the other hand, Saint Mary’s can bang with anybody, but until someone can prove to be their go-to deep shooter, the Gaels will have a difficult time matching up against upper echelon athletic teams, especially those with great shooting guards. San Diego is the darkhorse, but to this analyst they look like a poor man’s Gonzaga. In order for all three to make a return appearance to the NCAAs they will have to perform well in brutal preseason schedules and manage the expectations. This shouldn’t be a problem for Gonzaga, as they are used to the pressure which comes from being the top dog, but as for Saint Mary’s and San Diego, it will be interesting to see what how they will respond as the hunted.
65 Team Era. The WCC is 20-34 (.370), but let’s not kid ourselves, the majority of those wins (12) are from Gonzaga during the last decade (4 others are from the run-n-gun LMU teams in the late 80s/early 90s). Still, in five of the last nine seasons, the WCC has been a multiple-bid league, including the best-ever showing of three bids in 2008. How interesting is it that the lowest seed, #13 San Diego, was the only team to win a game in the Tourney, while higher seeded #7 Gonzaga and #10 St. Mary’s were sent packing in their first game. With the collective strength of the top half of this conference this year and potentially into the future, there should be numerous opportunities for the WCC to have multiple teams advancing very soon.