Big 12 Morning Five: Columbus Day Edition

Posted by dnspewak on October 10th, 2011

  1. More proof the season has almost arrived: the Big 12 announced its preseason awards last week, and at first glance, there are only a few points of controversy. Keeping in mind that preseason speculation means essentially nothing, it’s worth debating whether or not Texas guard J’Covan Brown should make the All-Big 12 team after starting zero games for the Longhorns in 2010-11. Also, Baylor’s Pierre Jackson and KU forward Kevin Young have decent arguments for Newcomer of the Year over Royce White, and Texas guard Myck Kabongo could push LeBryan Nash for Freshman of the Year honors. In the end, though, it’s all meaningless. Wake us up when the real awards come out in March.
  2. In your Surprising Realignment News of the Day, it appears Air Force actually told the Big 12 it was not interested in joining the league. In one of the more candid quotes of the week, AFA athletic director Hans Mueh said he simply “can’t recruit against Texas, Oklahoma [and] Oklahoma State.” Mueh’s programs would probably have trouble recruiting in any power conference, but the Big 12 likely won’t shed any tears after losing out on Air Force. That is, unless the rest of the Big East leftovers turn it down.
  3. For now, it doesn’t look like the Miami firestorm surrounding Missouri coach Frank Haith has affected his staff’s recruiting efforts much. Haith’s Tigers picked up a verbal over the weekend from Negus Webster-Chan, a 6’7″ forward from Huntington, W.V., and most of the credit for this commitment goes to assistant coach Tim Fuller. Webster-Chan pledged to Louisville originally, but when Fuller left the Cardinals for Columbia, he backed out of his commitment. Webster-Chan is the fifth recruit to verbal to MU for the Class of 2012, and while none are traditional blue-chip recruits, it’s at least a sign that players aren’t terrified of Haith’s job status. By the way, may as well throw this out there: Webster-Chan attended the same high school as former USC superstar O.J. Mayo. Counts for something, right?
  4. SLAM magazine published an article on Friday about Baylor’s Perry Jones, and the sophomore stud made some interesting comments to the magazine. He addressed last season’s suspension from the NCAA and also discussed his future plans for the NBA, saying he wants to be a “superstar.” As the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, he certainly has a chance to nab that title.
  5. All anyone ever wants to talk about with realignment is who may be joining; but what about how many should join? Tom Keegan at the Lawrence Journal-World has some advice: and that’s for the Big 12 to stay at 10 teams. After 15 years of having 12 schools, Keegan argues further expansion would disrupt the balance of the league and cause many of the same problems that have plagued the Big 12 since its inception: losing out on BCS bowls because of a league championship game (see: Missouri, 2007) and unbalanced basketball scheduling.  Interesting argument.
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RTC Summer Updates: West Coast Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 5th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our first update is from the West Coast Conference and comes courtesy of Will Green, an editor and writer with The Slipper Still Fits.

Readers’ Take One

Summer Storylines

  • Brigham Young University Joins The Conference: When this story was first reported back in September, it was largely forgotten. BYU’s move was a football one with basketball repercussions, not the other way around. If anyone was talking about the Cougars, the dialogue was centered around how much money it would receive from it slew of nationally televised football contests this coming fall, and how many years the vaunted program would remain as an independent before choosing to join another league, securing even more lucrative contracts. The move, however, might make a greater impact on the collegiate basketball landscape than the football one, competitively speaking. For one thing, resident king Gonzaga’s streak of conference championships – which is older than most of your children – or at least its general reputation as the WCC’s top dog, is seriously endangered.  With Jimmer Fredette seizing all available national attention like a Venus flytrap, lost on many fans last year was the fact BYU was not merely a fortuitous program enjoying an unusually good year. The Cougars have been a top 40 RPI team since 2006, with a pair of top 20 finishes. That’s not a second Gonzaga — that’s better than Gonzaga. They also bring by far the largest student body and largest fan base that the league has ever seen. Indeed, the league can leverage BYU’s prominence to grow its influence and scope (more on that later). Despite being a “football move,” BYU’s departure from the Mountain West Conference is not, as so many of the recent realignment moves have been, a casualty of circumstance. The aforementioned “repercussions” became a mutually beneficial improvement for both the Cougars and the league. Credit alert diplomacy and geographical convenience to why commissioner Jamie Zaninovichwas able to lure a team into his league that’s also, statistically speaking, better than any team in his current league.

    Brandon Davies, if Reinstated by BYU, is an X-Factor for the Cougars in 2011-12 (Getty/E. Miller)

  • The League Gets A New TV contract: Over the course of the 2000s, the WCC did a remarkable thing: It became the most widely televised college basketball league of all the leagues in the West, while being only the fourth highest-rated league by RPI of the six in the region. Resident behemoth Pac-12 trusted its games to the insipid hands of Fox Sports’ cluster of regional networks. The Mountain West conference was largely marooned out on “The Mtn,” a network that truncated both its name and its audience by being available in a far more limited number of homes than the heavy-hitting Pac-12. The Western Athletic Conference enjoyed the occasional ESPNU game. The WCC, on the other hand, had its most intriguing matchups beamed into peoples’ living rooms in prime time on Thursday and Saturday nights (and for a time, on Big Monday) via ESPN or ESPN2. Both sides had such a good time putting the whole mess together that when their previous contract expired on June 1, it took exactly one week to renegotiate an eight-year extension. The new deal increases the amount of ESPN games featuring WCC teams by an average of at least five per year, possibly much more, and is spread across Thursday, Saturday and select Monday nights. While some critics contend the new ESPN contract isn’t much of an improvement over the previous one, their voices were provoked loudest during the rather dwarfing aftershock of the Pac-12’s mammoth deal with the same network. While this upcoming season could mark the first time in a long while that the WCC won’t be the most-watched west coast league, the league strengthened its relationship with ESPN and is poised to showcase what should be its most successful year ever in front of its widest audience to date.  In an era of scrambling realignment and a fragile economic landscape, this is a still a huge win.
  • The University of San Diego Suffers A Bribery Scandal: In April, this story looked crippling. San Diego had just finished one of the worst seasons by any WCC team ever when news broke that Toreros’ all-time leading scorer and current Memphis Grizzlies protégé, Brandon Johnson, was allegedly used to solicit current USD player Ken Rancifer on behalf of a delinquent named Steven Goria and several others to fix a game against the University of Portland on February 24. Also revealed was the news that Johnson himself had allegedly fixed a game during his senior season one year earlier. The good news for USD is that the story is quickly losing momentum, due in large part to the recent news that the 2011 team has largely been cleared of wrongdoing (Rancifer turned down the bribe from those attempting to fix the game) Repercussions from the 2010 game will ensue once the FBI is done investigating the entire case, and could involve recruiting sanctions or a postseason ban. Frankly, the Toreros are so deep in the throes of rebuilding that they might not enjoy any such postseason for the NCAA to ban in the first place. All told, this could have been much, much worse for USD. The true damage of the scandal is neither physical nor fiscal, but is still potentially very heavy. While it’s growing steadily, the WCC is not yet a national brand and one dominant negative story can define the WCC and USD for a large group of fans who aren’t very familiar with a non-power six league that’s on TV after they go bed. Show-stealing years from perennial contenders like Gonzaga and BYU, as well as postseason disruptiveness by the likes of St. Mary’s and Santa Clara, would be a good first step toward taking casual fans’ focus off of the scandal. Of course, if USD itself can somehow bounce back from a 6-24 record and win a few games they’re not supposed to, they just might turn themselves into national feel-good story.

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Morning Five: 06.21.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 21st, 2011

  1. Consider this a cautionary tale in terms of trusting online entities claiming to have primary source information, especially when it comes to recruiting.  Meet Jonathan Paige, the recruiting guru who wasn’t.   In just two short months, Paige, a pseudonym for someone claiming to follow “AAU basketball all summer every summer,” gathered over 500 Twitter followers, was cited on numerous reputable blogs and team message boards, and generally became an up-and-coming “name” within the sometimes-shady scouting and recruiting information industry.  In his words, all he did to develop his growing profile was to tweet and re-tweet confirmed information from other sources, mine the major message boards for rumors, tailor his posts to specific fanbases, and make up the rest.  There’s no telling how much further he could have taken this should he have chosen to do so, but we should all learn from “Troll’s” deception — not in the sense of thumbing our nose at the guy, but rather to remind ourselves that anything read or viewed online needs to served correspondingly with a healthy dose of skepticism.
  2. It’s been a tough several days for San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher.  Last week, several establishments including RTC noted that Fisher’s 400th career victory, achieved on January 12 against UNLV last season, was not in fact a milestone win given the NCAA’s new “Calipari Doctrine.”  Over the weekend, former SDSU transfer commitment Kevin Young announced that he would instead attend Kansas for his final two seasons of eligibility.  As a result, Fisher vented to the San Diego Union-Tribune that he was angered that Kansas (and by proxy, Bill Self) had recruited someone  he says had “made an eight-month commitment” to the Aztec program but had been swayed in recent months to view Kansas as an alternative.  Self, to his credit, claims that Young had already “de-committed” from SDSU before KU got involved, but the fact remains that Fisher will enter 2011-12 not only a few years away from that elusive NCAA-verified 400th win, but also without a roster (including Young) prepared to re-build from the loss of his top four players.
  3. When we read something like this article outlining the mammoth salaries that the six BCS conference commissioners make as CEOs of their leagues, we really start wondering just how much longer the NCAA as we know it will continue to exist.  From Jim Delany’s $1.6M Big Ten salary (2009) to John Marinotti’s $366K prorated pay (half of 2009), it’s easy to forget that these organizations supposedly looking out for the best interests of their student-athletes are 501(c) non-profits.  As anyone who knows anything about the world of non-profits, when they are run like profit-making entities, the clients that they purport to serve are usually the first ones left by the wayside.
  4. The long Fayetteville nightmare is over, as Arkansas guard Rotnei Clarkewas finally given his release by the school to transfer wherever he likes.  As reported by several outlets over the weekend, Clarke had asked for his release several times but new head coach Mike Anderson appeared to be stonewalling his best returning player in an attempt to keep him around for his senior year.  The 6’0 all-SEC second team guard is originally from Verdigris, Oklahoma, a town just outside of Tulsa, which makes us wonder if Travis Ford, Lon Kruger and Doug Wojcik already have the prolific scorer on their speed dials.
  5. We missed this over the weekend, but June 19 wasn’t just Father’s Day it was also the 25th anniversary of former Maryland forward Len Bias‘ tragic death in 1986.  Bias is on a short list of players whose mythology over the intervening years has probably outgrown his proven abilities, but make no mistake, the guy was a stud in college and could have become an NBA superstar in the right situation.  His shocking death, a mere two days after he had been drafted by the then-NBA Champion Boston Celtics, carried repercussions beyond sports that are still felt to this very day in America’s criminal justice system.  As Salon’s Jonathan Easley outlines in an interview with the House counsel that helped write the shameful 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, a law that Congress passed that summer that would ultimately result in an explosion of America’s prison population for drug-related crimes and utilizing an arbitrary and racially-tinged “logic” behind making the distribution of crack cocaine more “criminal” than that of powder cocaine.  The death of Len Bias, a seemingly innocent and well-spoken young man by all accounts, helped to drive this legislation in the Nancy Reagan-led Just Say No era.  It’s a very interesting read, and one you probably won’t hear when watching sentimental testimonials to Bias such as this one from ESPN’s John Saunders last week.

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Morning Five: 06.20.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 20th, 2011

  1. From the In Case You Missed It file, late last week we published a piece analyzing the weird NCAA/Kentucky/John Calipari love triangle that occurred as a result of the school honoring Cal’s 500th win last season.  If you were on vacation or otherwise pre-occupied last week, the synopsis goes like this: Everyone is aware that the NCAA has vacated  42  of Calipari’s wins at UMass and Memphis because of the use of ineligible players (Marcus Camby and Derrick Rose).  Recently,  though, the NCAA learned from a “rival fan” that Kentucky’s official media materials still included the 42 wins as a part of Calipari’s aggregate total, thereby resulting in a “500th win” celebration that occurred late last season after a game against Florida.  The NCAA requested that Kentucky make good on reconciling its win total with their own, and, after some lawyerly back-and-forth over the issue, Kentucky eventually acceded to the governing body’s request rather than face a hearing in front of the Committee of Infractions.  As we stated on Friday, this is all fine and well — the win total should be the one recognized by the NCAA — but we’re not sure that the NCAA recognized the bag of worms centipedes it was opening with this very issue.  In our analysis, we found three examples of active coaches who “boast” vacated wins themselves — Steve Fisher at San Diego State, Todd Bozeman at Morgan State, and Mike Jarvis at Florida Atlantic — as but three more situations where their schools’ media guides represent a picture different than one warranted by the NCAA.  Will the NCAA begin knocking on those schools’ virtual doors in coming weeks as well?  We can’t imagine that the NCAA really wanted to waste its scarce and valuable resources on something so fundamentally trivial, but if the organization doesn’t step up and take responsibility for the mess it’s created here, then what little credibility it might have had pertaining to accusations of selective enforcement will be completely lost amidst a pile of balloons and confetti.
  2. They all come home eventually.  Former Indiana superstar Calbert Cheaney, still the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer nearly two decades after his graduation, will return to Bloomington to become Tom Crean’s Director of Basketball Operations next season.  Arguably the last great player Bob Knight coached, Cheaney was a three-time All-American at IU, culminating in becoming the consensus NPOY during the 1992-93 season.  When the old-timers talk about “Indiana Basketball,” Cheaney’s Hoosier teams are the most recent version of what they have in mind — during his junior and senior seasons at IU, Indiana went 58-11 while making a Final Four (1992) and Elite Eight (1993) under his on-floor direction.  Cheaney spent 13 seasons playing in the NBA and the last couple of years working as a special assistant in player development to the Golden State Warriors, but with a strong sense that the Tom Crean era in Bloomington is reaching a now-or-never point, Cheaney may be well-positioned to move up the ladder there quickly if he shows any coaching acumen at all.
  3. Bill Self picked up an impact player over the weekend who should be able to contribute to his Jayhawks immediately next season in the form of 6’7 Kevin Young, a former Loyola Marymount wing who spent last year getting his grades in order as a volunteer assistant coach at Barstow (KS) Community College.  The bouncy swingman is a great last-minute addition for Kansas, who even with its prolific depth of talent will still have some trouble absorbing the loss of seven players next season.  Young presumably could step right into a starting role next year, having performed at a high level (10/6 in two seasons) at LMU and possessing more experience than anyone else on the 2011-12 roster at his position.  KU fans are likely feeling considerably better today about their upcoming squad than they did just a few short days ago.
  4. We mentioned a little over a week ago that USA Basketball’s World University Games training camp roster included 22 current collegians in the hopes that next year’s NPOY wouldn’t end up riding the pine as former Ohio State superstar Evan Turner did on 2009’s team.   We’re still waiting to hear how those selections turn out, but the USA Under-19 three-day training camp concluded this weekend, and a lucky 13 rising freshmen and sophomores will represent the United States in international competition beginning in June 30 in Latvia.  The roster includes:  Keith Appling (Michigan State), James Bell (Villanova), Anthony Brown (Stanford), Jahii Carson (Arizona State), Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Michigan), Joe Jackson (Memphis), Jeremy Lamb (UConn), Meyers Leonard (Illinois), Khyle Marshall (Butler), Javon McCrea (Buffalo), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Tony Mitchell (North Texas), and Patric Young (Florida).  The two biggest surprise omissions were the reigning Pac-10 ROY, Allen Crabbe (California) and all-ACC rookie Travis McKi (Wake Forest).
  5. It now appears all but certain that the November 11 Veteran’s Day game between Michigan State and North Carolina will take place on the USS Carl Vinson, the same aircraft carrier that — how should we put this? — disposed of Osama bin Laden’s body a little over a month ago.  The game will take place on the flight deck, and since it’s usually 70 degrees and clear in San Diego regardless of the time of year, the odds are that this thing will go off without a weather hitch.  Still, it would be amusing if a few light breezes blew in during the second half to make the shooters adjust on the fly, a little like this.  We can always dream.
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RTC Conference Primers: #12 – West Coast Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 25th, 2010

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

Predicted Order of Finish

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

All-Conference Team

  • G: Mickey McConnell, Saint Mary’s
  • G: Steven Gray, Gonzaga
  • F: Elias Harris, Gonzaga
  • F: Drew Viney, Loyola
  • C: Luke Sikma, Portland

6th Man

Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s

Impact Newcomers

  • G: Steven Holt, Saint Mary’s (12.7 ppg, 6.0 apg in senior year at Jesuit High School, Portland)
  • G: Ben Vozzola, San Diego (21 ppg, 6.0 apg in senior year at Centennial High School, Las Vegas)
  • F: Charles Standifer, San Francisco (24.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg in senior year at Capital Christian High School in Sacramento)
  • F: Yannick Atanga, Santa Clara (15.2 ppg, 14.8 rpg in senior year at Besant Hill, Ojai, CA)
  • C: Kenton Walker, Saint Mary’s (5.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg as sophomore at Creighton University in 08-09)

Just imagine the smile on Mark Few's face if he knocks off some of Gonzaga's top-flight nonconference opponents. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

What You Need to Know

The WCC sent 10-time regular-season champion Gonzaga and conference tournament champion Saint Mary’s to the NCAA Tournament last year, with the Gaels advancing to the Sweet Sixteen after victories over Richmond and Villanova and the Zags winning their first-round game against Florida State. Loyola Marymount and Portland also played in the CollegeInsider.com Post-Season Tournament (CIT), with the Lions losing to Pacific in the first round and Portland losing to Northern Colorado, also in the first round. The conference is hopeful to return to its high-water mark of 2007 when Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and San Diego made the NCAA Tourney. LMU is bidding for the third NCAA invite in 2010-11, counting on a strong performance from its veteran core (four of five starters return) that produced an 18-16 record last year. Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga will be favored to fight for the automatic NCAA bid or an at-large berth.

Predicted Champion

  • Saint Mary’s (NCAA: #10) and Gonzaga (NCAA: #6) will tie atop the WCC regular-season standings at 11-3 each, with Saint Mary’s receiving the automatic bid with a victory over Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament Championship. The Gaels will match their #10-seed of last year, while the Zags, on the strength of a monster out-of-conference schedule, (San Diego State, Kansas State, Duke/Marquette, Illinois, Xavier, Wake Forest and Memphis) receive a #6-seed.
  • The situation regarding Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga was best exemplified by SI.com’s preseason pick of the Gaels as the 15th-best college backcourt and the Zags as the 13th-best frontcourt. Will the Gaels’ wily veteran Mickey McConnell, he of the gaudy 51% three-point average, and Energizer Bunny Matthew Dellavedova, with his ill-fitting jersey and oversized mouthpiece, edge out the Zags’ fearsome frontcourt of 7’0 center Robert Sacre, 6’7 forward Elias Harris and either 7’0 Kelly Olynyk or 6’6 swingman Manny Arop? This face-off will headline the WCC race and might not be decided until the Feb. 24 showdown between the two in Moraga.
  • In the postseason, Saint Mary’s will be hopeful of crossing the Sweet Sixteen divide in 2011, erasing the memory of its collapse against Baylor (72-49) in the 2010 tournament. Gonzaga, which lost in the first round in ’07 and ’08, the Sweet Sixteen in ’09 and the second round in ’10, looks to revive the glory days of deep tournament runs.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on February 23rd, 2010

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

Standings (through games of 2/20/10)

  1. Gonzaga                       10-2 (22-5)
  2. Saint Mary’s                 9-3 (22-5)
  3. Portland                       8-4 (17-9)
  4. San Francisco               7-5 (12-15)
  5. Loyola Marymount       6-6 (15-13)
  6. Santa Clara                  3-9 (11-18)
  7. Pepperdine                   3-9 (7-21)
  8. San Diego                    2-10 (9-19)

San Francisco or Loyola Marymount?

Figuring out who is going to seize fourth-place in the regular-season WCC standings and a first-round bye in the March 5-8 conference tournament in Las Vegas is the compelling storyline in the last week of conference play. LMU, finally at full strength after months of nursing various players through injuries, completed the most impressive and surprising week in recent conference history by topping both Gonzaga (74-66) and Portland (77-68 in OT) at home. Not surprisingly, three of the restored Lions contributed mightily to the wins: redshirt freshman Ashley Hamilton with 17 against Gonzaga and 12 against Portland; junior guard Larry Davis, a transfer from Seton Hall, with 12 and 10; and sophomore guard Jarred DuBois with 10 and 10. They were joined by another transfer, forward Drew Viney from Oregon, with 16, and junior forward Kevin Young with 11, to place all five starters in double figures against Gonzaga. With all that offensive firepower, however, it was tough man-to-man defense that did in Gonzaga, as LMU held the powerful Zags to 34.4% shooting overall and a puny 25.9% in the second half.

San Francisco had only one game last week, edging Bay Area rival Santa Clara 71-68 in overtime on the road to hold onto fourth place, but will be hard-pressed to keep the Lions at bay this week. While the Dons must travel to the frenzied atmosphere of Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center on Thursday (Feb. 25) to face a wounded giant smarting from both the LMU loss and an equally-surprising 81-77 loss to San Francisco in January, LMU heads down the road to San Diego. Bill Grier’s Toreros, struggling with the loss of senior guard De’Jon Jackson, have offered little resistance to anyone in recent weeks, and LMU should be able to maintain its momentum at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. Thus, San Francisco and LMU could find themselves knotted at 7-6 in the standings after Thursday’s games, heading into the season-ending weekend. Both have tough contests on Saturday, with the Dons taking on a Portland squad looking to bounce back from its disappointing loss to LMU and the Lions facing an equally-motivated Saint Mary’s in Moraga.

The Gaels benefitted most directly from LMU’s upset of Portland, as that loss moved Saint Mary’s one game in front for second place and a bye to the semifinals of the WCC tournament. Saint Mary’s must defeat struggling Pepperdine on Thursday and LMU on Saturday to assure that precious semifinal bye that guarantees they will only have to play twice in Las Vegas. That is a major consideration for Randy Bennett’s Gaels, who go only seven deep and are down to three guards with the early-season loss of Wayne Hunter to a torn ACL and the pre-season loss of freshman Tim Harris to a torn hamstring. The Gaels’ backcourt trio of junior Mickey McConnell and freshmen Matthew Dellavedova and Jorden Page has provided yeoman service so far, but showed signs of fatigue in recent losses to Gonzaga and Portland. Saint Mary’s bounced back somewhat with a grind-it-out 61-49 victory over San Diego last week, but will have to suck it up to finish off the season with two more wins.

Gonzaga, despite the upset by LMU, does not seem in danger of surrendering its top spot and missing an opportunity to win a tenth straight WCC crown. San Francisco will come to Spokane pumped up by its January upset of the Zags, but Mark Few’s team has usually responded to adversity with a strong bounce-back. The Dons may face the wrath of a wounded warrior Thursday night, while Santa Clara faces an equally unpromising fate in the Zags’ season-ender on Saturday. With Saint Mary’s just a game behind in the loss column, look for Gonzaga to hold off both San Francisco and Santa Clara and head to Las Vegas with the top seed.

Portland has a shot at second place if it can also defeat San Francisco and Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s stumbles against Pepperdine and/or LMU. If Portland and Saint Mary’s tie for second with identical 10-4 records, Saint Mary’s would get the semifinal bye on the strength of a higher RPI, but if the Gaels fall to Pepperdine the nod would go to Portland even if Saint Mary’s beats LMU because Pepperdine is so low in the standings. There is a lot riding on the last week of conference play.

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ATB: Syracuse Survives but Gonzaga Doesn’t

Posted by rtmsf on February 19th, 2010

Orange Sweep. #5 Syracuse 75, #10 Georgetown 71.  Syracuse looked like a Final Four contender for the first 28 minutes last night. Their zone was impenetrable, their offense efficient and unselfish. Behind big first halves from Andy Rautins and Wes Johnson, the Cuse was able to build a 44-31 halftime lead, a lead they pushed to 23 points midway through the second half. But the Hoyas weren’t about to go away. As the Orange got complacent, the Hoyas started forcing turnovers and getting to the rim. Greg Monroe really began to assert himself in the paint, almost singlehandedly fouling out both Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku. All told, the Hoyas put a 33-11 run on Syracuse, cutting that 23-point lead all the way down to 71-70 with possession of the ball.  But on the one and only possession that Georgetown had with a chance to take the lead, the Hoyas settled for a deep, albeit open, three from Jason Clark, which he clanged off the front of the rim. At the other end, Kris Joseph took advantage of a mismatch, taking Greg Monroe to the hole to score with just nine seconds left for a three-point lead. The Orange fouled, Georgetown missed  a free throw, and Andy Rautins sealed it.  Rautins was the high scorer for the game, finishing with 26 points on 6-11 shooting while knocking down five triples. Wes Johnson had 14 of his 16 points in the first half. But perhaps the most important offensive performance came from Joseph. Joseph had been struggling all game long, but in the final two minutes, he got to the rim three times, twice scoring and the third time drawing a foul. It was his ability to take advantage of a mismatch that kept the Orange ahead late.  Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, and Greg Monroe all went for at least 20, but there was no balance to the Hoya attack. Those three and Jason Clark scored all but two of Georgetown’s 71 points. The Hoyas have now dropped two in a row and four of seven. With a tough final four games (@ Louisville, ND, @ WVU, Cincy), the Hoyas will need some serious help if they want to snag one of the double-byes in the Big East tournament.

Syracuse Held On For the Big Win in DC (D. Nett)

Ghosts of LMU PastLoyola Marymount 74, #9 Gonzaga 66.  The biggest upset by far tonight brought back shades of Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble, and yes, RTC favorite Jeff Fryer, as the LMU Lions did the unthinkable and defeated Gonzaga for their second WCC loss of the year.  It was the first Loyola win over a ranked team in two decades, harkening back to the LMU teams of yesteryear.  Tonight, though, instead of Gathers/Kimble/Fryer, it was Ashley Hamilton (17/6), Drew Viney (16/10/5 assts) and Kevin Young (11/5) leading the way.  The Lion defense frustrated the Zags into 35% shooting as a team, and held Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray to a miserable 7-26 night.  For the second time in a month, Gonzaga was shocked on the road by a vastly inferior team in terms of talent on the floor, and we’re wondering if these Zags are prone to losing focus.  Otherwise, how else to explain commanding wins vs. better teams at Memphis, St. Mary’s and Portland in the same time period?  One odd situation that came from this otherwise-huge win for the LMU program involved head coach Max Good and his sophomore forward Young.  At one point the two traded words and reports from the game suggest that Good placed his hand on Young’s neck.  When asked afterward if he had choked Young, he stated that he was merely trying to calm down an emotional player.  One thing is for certain, though.  His team didn’t choke — and the phalanx of students who RTC’d immediately following the buzzer verified it (send us a pic, LMU fans!) (thanks!).

LMU Fans RTC With Gusto (AP)

Leuer’s Return Unlucky. Minnesota 68, #15 Wisconsin 52.  Minnesota has had a disappointing season with all their off-court controversy and inability to win on the road, but if they plan on putting that behind them and getting back to the NCAA Tournament this year, tonight was an excellent start.  The Gophers used a solid performance from Blake Hoffarber (16/9), Ralph Sampson III (10/8) and Devoe Joseph (10/5/5 assts) to shut down everyone but the two UW stars Trevon Hughes (19/4 stls) and Jason Bohannon (18/3).  Jon Leuer made his return from injury tonight but he was clearly off his game, shooting 2-12 from the field for four points.  The Gophers have five games remaining (three at home), and you have to figure they need to win all of those.  It’ll be the two road games — at Illinois and at Michigan — that could determine how this season will end up for Minnesota.  The Badgers, of course, are safely in the Tourney, but their Big Ten regular season title chances took a huge shot with their fifth loss tonight.

The Last Winless Team. Bryant 53, Wagner 51.  Bryant became the last Division I team in America to win a game in the 2009-10 season with their two late FTs to beat Wagner tonight, a mere 366 days after the school’s last win.  Even with a 1-26 record, Bryant isn’t the worst team in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistical profiles… they’re 346th of 347 teams.  The only team lower?  1-25 Alcorn State.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on February 8th, 2010

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

Standings (through games of 2/6/10)

  1. Saint Mary’s                 8-1 (21-3)
  2. Gonzaga                       7-1 (19-4)
  3. Portland                       5-3 (14-8)
  4. San Francisco               4-5 (9-15)
  5. Loyola Marymount       3-5 (12-12)
  6. Pepperdine                   3-5 (7-17)
  7. Santa Clara                  2-7 (10-16)
  8. San Diego                    2-7 (9-16)

Moment of Truth, Part II

Gonzaga triumphed in its trial-by-fire three-game stretch to Portland, Saint Mary’s and San Diego last month, and now it’s Saint Mary’s turn to run the gauntlet. After holding serve at home last week against Santa Clara (74-62) and San Francisco (73-57), the Gaels face a showdown with the Zags Thursday night (Feb. 11) in Spokane, a tough rematch with Portland two nights later, then a final road game on Feb. 18 against San Diego. This is make or break time for Saint Mary’s, which can sew up a regular-season WCC title and a probable NCAA bid with a sweep, or face the same uncertainty it did last season when it failed to beat Gonzaga in three tries.

Although the Gaels could salvage their season with a win over Gonzaga in the WCC tournament March 5-8 in Las Vegas, it would do wonders for their peace of mind if they did the trick Thursday night before a sold out and rockin’ McCarthey Athletic Center, where the Zags have lost only four times in the last six years. The epic contest, perhaps the most meaningful west coast college basketball game this year, will be televised at 8 p.m. Pacific on ESPN2. Are Randy Bennett’s Gaels up to the task?

The consensus of most observers, including Zag fans, is that an upset is possible but Saint Mary’s must be hitting on all cylinders to pull it off. Gonzaga dispelled any thoughts that they had fallen into a mid-season funk with their stunning loss to San Francisco on Jan. 30 by thrashing Portland at home 76-49 on Feb. 4, then pulling one of their patented cross-country jaunts to knock off a tough Memphis squad 66-58 two days later. The Zag express is rolling toward a certain trip to the NCAA tournament and will not want to be derailed by the Gaels on its home court.

To accomplish the improbable, Saint Mary’s must show it has learned some tough lessons from its 89-82 home loss to Gonzaga on Jan. 14. One of these is not to provide another contribution to a highlight reel that could be entitled “Forwards Go Off,” featuring huge games by the Zags’ Elias Harris (31 pts), Santa Clara’s Marc Trasolini (19 pts), Loyola Marymount’s Kevin Young and Drew Viney (27 pts each) and Portland’s Robin Smuelders (29 pts), among others. Simply put, the Gaels have inside defense issues stemming most directly from the departure of stout forwards Diamon Simpson and Ian O’Leary. Their replacements, Ben Allen and Clint Steindl, have given Bennett strong offensive performances from the 4-and 3-spots, but have not exactly played shutdown D. The Gaels don’t have to worry about their powerful offensive machine, which has proved to be a reliable provider of 80-plus ppg, but must clamp down on the Zags’ trio of Harris, Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray.

Eric Reveno must work hard this week to keep his Portland Pilots from licking their lips in anticipation of ambushing the Gaels two nights after they face the Zags. Portland will have a tuneup against unraveling San Diego on Thursday night, then can hope to inflict a disappointing second league loss on the Gaels if they upset Gonzaga or a crippling third one if the Gaels lose in Spokane. “Payback is hell” will be the Pilots’ motto this week, remembering their 77-72 loss to Saint Mary’s last month.

The hotly-contested fourth-place spot in WCC standings stayed with San Francisco this week, as the Dons squeaked out a 72-70 overtime win over San Diego before stumbling at Saint Mary’s. LMU supplanted Pepperdine in the fifth spot by beating the Waves 77-61 at Gersten Pavilion, but both southern California squads travel to San Francisco this week to stage a battle royal for the fourth-place position and first-round WCC tournament bye that goes with it. San Francisco is in the driver’s seat by hosting both of its nearest competitors, but even if it wins both games it faces a killing season-ending schedule of Santa Clara, Portland and Gonzaga on the road. This one isn’t over yet.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on January 1st, 2010

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

Standings (through games of 12/30/09)

  1. Saint Mary’s     13-2
  2. Gonzaga       9-3
  3. Portland         7-5
  4. Loyola Marymount       8-7
  5. Santa Clara      7-8
  6. San Diego        6-8
  7. San Francisco        4-10
  8. Pepperdine         4-11

Observations

Although several WCC teams have games remaining before conference play begins next Friday (Jan. 8), a few general observations appear to be safe. First, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s (or Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga if you prefer) have erased any doubts about their continued stranglehold on the top two positions. Gonzaga could finish its pre-conference schedule at 11-3 or 10-4 depending on its game on the road against Illinois on Jan. 2, but the Zags have made it perfectly clear they are up to the challenge of competing for a 10th straight WCC Championship. Winning the prestigious Maui Invitational with a scintillating 61-59 overtime win over Cincinnati in November, taking Michigan State to the wire before falling 75-71 in East Lansing and adding wins against Wisconsin and Washington State answered any questions about how Gonzaga would respond to a large-scale roster turnover. The Zags are back.

Saint Mary’s used the pre-conference period to make quite a statement as well: these are not your old, Patty Mills-led Gaels, but a whole ‘nother animal – one with very sharp teeth. The Gaels are putting up eye-popping offensive numbers (82.7 ppg) and playing much more efficiently with Mickey McConnell running the offense in place of Mills. Mills was a spectacular offensive force, but the dynamism of his game would sometimes leave the other four Gael players standing around watching along with everyone else. Everyone is involved this year, as witnessed by the three Gaels averaging double figures – Omar Samhan (20.8), Matthew Dellavedova (13.4) and McConnell (12.8) – and the other two starters close behind: Ben Allen (9.3) and Clint Steindl (7.9). Wayne Hunter was averaging 11 ppg before he went down with a season-ending ACL tear.  Heading into conference play next weekend with away games against San Francisco on Jan. 8 and Santa Clara on the 10th, the Gaels are shooting just under 50% from the floor and just over 40% from three-point range. Their efficiency is emphasized by a team assist/turnover ratio of 1.5, headlined by McConnell’s almost three-to-one pace of 96 assists to 37 turnovers.

Observation no. 2 Portland has not stepped up its game following last year’s 19-13 record and third place conference finish. This columnist picked Portland to wrest the WCC crown from Gonzaga based on its senior-laden roster and steady leadership from Coach Eric Reveno, but that prediction was predicated on the Pilots’ seizing the moment. For the moment, they have been seized by an inability to win on the road and a penchant for being blown out by strong opposition: 84-66 by West Virginia and 89-54 by Washington. Last week’s 78-69 loss to Nevada in Reno didn’t lessen fears that the Pilots will be undone on the road in the WCC, although they get an early opportunity to regain their swagger with a conference-opening home battle against Gonzaga on Saturday (Jan. 9).

Observation no. 3. Loyola Marymount is for real, with peril to San Diego and Santa Clara in the battle for fourth place in the conference and an opening-game bye in the conference tournament in Las Vegas in March. The Lions won their fifth in a row on Dec. 30, a 104-89 victory over the troublesome Seattle Redhawks in Gersten Pavilion, and topped 100 points for the first time since 1998. Coach Max Good has succeeded in grafting high-caliber transfers (Drew Viney, Larry Davis), holdover stars (Vernon Teel, Kevin Young and Jarred DuBois) and newcomers (Alex Osborne, Given Kalipinde) into a compelling force. LMU has only a rematch against Cal State-Bakersfield, which it beat 84-71 on Dec. 19, before entering conference play Jan. 9 at Pepperdine. It then hosts USF on the 14th and Santa Clara on the 16th, giving it a chance to open conference play at 3-0.

Santa Clara and San Diego seem vulnerable to Loyola’s resurgence because of erratic play. Santa Clara fell under .500 on the season with a pair of unimpressive performances in its own Cable Car Classic Dec. 29-30. The Broncos lost to Northeastern 62-50 in the opener and to the Wofford Terriers 80-72 in the consolation game, and have two more non-conference contests before opening WCC play at home Jan. 8 against San Diego. The games, against 5-5 New Hampshire and 9-3 Harvard, don’t figure to be ones to get the Broncos well, as New Hampshire is coming off a 63-55 win over Colgate and Harvard boasts wins over George Washington (66-53)  and Rice (85-64), a team that handled Santa Clara 70-57. Harvard is led by sensational senior guard Jeremy Lin of Palo Alto High School, who will be hoping for a strong performance before a Bay Area crowd.  San Diego won its only game last week, 63-56 over lightly-regarded Savannah State before losing to Mississippi State on New Year’s Eve, and has a final pre-conference game on Jan. 3 against Florida A&M, also at home. The Jan. 8 game with Santa Clara on the Broncos’ court will tell a lot about how those two teams will compete for fourth-place against LMU.

Pepperdine did little to show that its Dec. 23 upset of Utah presaged a turnaround, as the Waves were sliced up by Georgia 64-47 a week later in Athens, GA. Pepperdine’s final pre-conference game is against Miami in Malibu on Jan. 3, leaving the Waves to anticipate the beginning of WCC play at home on Jan. 9 against LMU.  USF can take some solace from its 86-71 loss to Washington in Seattle on Dec. 27, especially in a 14-4 run that brought them within four points halfway through the second half. A three-pointer by freshman guard Michael Williams topped off the rally, and the Dons got another strong performance from junior transfer Moustapha Diarra, who totaled 14 points and 12 rebounds. Another transfer who has been mostly silent for USF in the pre-season, guard Rashad Green, also scored 14 points, giving the Dons hope for a better fate in conference play than their 4-10 pre-conference record. USF has one more tuneup, against Holy Names on Jan. 2, before taking on Saint Mary’s at home in its WCC opener on Jan. 8.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2009

checkinginon

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.

Standings (through games of 12/16/09)

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

Mysterious Doings

Although the overall conference landscape didn’t change much within the week, a mystery team has emerged in the form of Loyola Marymount. After stumbling through some early-season highs and lows, including a 67-59 win over cross-town rival USC on Nov. 21 that followed a deflating 84-78 home loss to UC Irvine, the Lions pulled off a stunning 87-85 upset over Notre Dame on Dec. 12 behind a Jared DuBois 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining. To say the Fighting Irish don’t often lose at home to non-Big East teams is a bit of an understatement – the last time it happened was four years and 41 victories ago.

Loyola had been hinting at a major turnaround from last year’s injury-plagued three-win disaster, but had been the epitome of close-but-no-cigar until the Notre Dame game. First of all the Lions restocked with high-profile transfers Drew Viney, a 6-7 sophomore forward from Oregon, and Larry Davis, a 6-4 guard from Seton Hall, and recruits Edgar Garibay, a 6-10 forward from Compton, CA, Alex Osborne, a 6-7 forward from Los Angeles, Given Kalipinde, a 6-3 guard from Zambia, Africa, and Ashley Hamilton, a 6-7 redshirt freshman forward from London. Combined with returning standouts Kevin Young, a 6-8 sophomore forward, Vernon Teel, a 6-4 junior guard, and DuBois, a 6-3 sophomore guard, coach Max Good had a strong nucleus to improve the Lions’ fortunes.

Besides the soul-satisfying win over USC, however, Loyola’s other games were mostly heart-breakers: a 90-87 squeaker to Boise State to open the University of Montana Tournament, topped by an even-closer 64-63 loss to the host Grizzlies; an 89-84 home loss to UC-Santa Barbara, then another crushing 76-70 defeat by Wyoming. Garibay then went down with a torn ACL, Davis missed four games with a heel injury and Kalipinde missed the Notre Dame game with a leg problem, but there is a lot of talent to make WCC foes wary of Loyola as the season moves ahead. With five winnable games (including two with Cal State Bakersfield) before conference play begins, the Lions could be well over .500 by then and ready to cause some serious trouble.

Steady as She Goes

Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga continued to coast atop the league standings, each winning two games in the week. The Gaels got additional bragging rights for the WCC by stopping Oregon 81-76 in Eugene for their third win in three years over the Ducks, and then revenged the league against Portland State of the Big Sky Conference with a 101-80 pasting in Moraga on Dec. 15. Portland State had upended the University of Portland and Pepperdine, both on their home courts, in earlier games, and posted perhaps the biggest upset of last year with a victory over Gonzaga on the Zags’ court.

The constant for the Gaels was center Omar Samhan, who scored 22 against Oregon and 31 against Portland State to go with 25 rebounds in a good week’s work against the state of Oregon. Samhan is averaging over 20 points and 12 rebounds per game in an All-American-caliber season for the Gaels. He became the first player in Saint Mary’s history to have a 30-pt, 15-rebound game, and only the second in all of college hoops this season to record 15 field goals and 15 rebounds in a game. Samhan and his mates have a shot at another WCC-slayer Friday night (Dec. 18) with a home game against Pacific, then head to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Tournament over Christmas.

Gonzaga breezed to wins over a struggling Davidson in the Battle in Seattle and over the NAIA’s Augustana College in Spokane. The only event of note was a knock on the noggin suffered by the Zags’ nonpareil guard Matt Bouldin in the Augustana romp, which kept him out of the Davidson game. Gonzaga made no official announcement about Bouldin’s status but most observers expect him back as the Zags take on #7 Duke Dec. 19 in New York, a chance to improve on their #15 ranking. The Gonzaga-Duke game will be televised nationally at 1 p.m. Pacific time on CBS.

Portland had a quiet week, posting a 72-62 win over Denver University and gearing up for a showdown with 24th-ranked Washington in Seattle on Saturday (Dec. 19). After attaining its first top-25 ranking in 50 years with early-season wins over UCLA, Oregon and Minnesota, Portland dropped out of the rankings with losses to Portland State and Idaho. A win over the Huskies would re-start its once red-hot hopes and set up the Pilots for its final four non-conference games before a conference-opening barn-burner against Gonzaga at home on Jan. 9.

Has Santa Clara turned the corner and readied itself for a run at the conference leaders? With two wins over lightly-regarded foes (Dominican, Houston Baptist), the Broncos headed for Rice in Houston Wednesday with high hopes. The streak stopped there, however, as the Owls hung a 70-57 loss on them. Another question mark team, San Diego, had an up-and-down week that didn’t settle anything as far as the Toreros’ ultimate success. They suffered a tough 82-78 loss to undefeated and #19 New Mexico on Dec. 9 at the Jenny Craig Pavilion, then bounced back with a 59-56 road win over Boise State. It must have seemed like old times for Bill Grier’s troops, as Brandon Johnson drained a jumper with 29 seconds left to seal the win. San Diego heads to Las Vegas for the weekend, with games against Southern Illinois and South Florida in the Holiday Hoops Classic.

For Pepperdine and San Francisco it was more of the same last week. Pepperdine surprised even its harshest critics by managing to lose to an NAIA team, Cal Baptist, by a score of 67-65, to go with an 80-72 loss earlier in the week to Fresno State. USF came close but went down 66-63 to Loyola of Chicago on the road.

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2009

checkinginon

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

Standings

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

Looking Back

Zags, Pilots, Toreros Notch Tournament Wins to Lead WCC Teams

It has been a tournament-heavy pre-season for the WCC, and it was in venues ranging from Maui to Anchorage to Anaheim that the early-season leaders made their marks. Gonzaga led the charge by winning the venerable Maui Invitational with victories over Colorado (76-72), Wisconsin (74-61) and Cincinnati (61-59) in a hard-fought tournament championship in overtime on Thanksgiving eve. The Zags had padded their resume with early home wins over Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne and Mississippi Valley State, and put the college hoops world on notice that 2009-10 is not a rebuilding year by taking second-ranked Michigan State to the wire in a 75-71 loss in East Lansing, MI on Nov. 17.

In battling Michigan State evenly and winning in Maui, Gonzaga answered the question of how it would replace departed front-line stars Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt. Seven-foot redshirt sophomore Robert Sacre moved commandingly into the post position for the Zags with an eye-opening performance against Michigan State – 17 points in 19 minutes of play limited by foul trouble. In case no one noticed that, they certainly took note of Sacre’s front-line counterpart Elias Harris, who notched 17 points of his own against Michigan State in the first big-game college appearance for the 20-year-old freshman forward who has logged considerable time internationally with the German national team. Harris has emerged as the early star of Mark Few’s collection of international players, which includes Sacre, freshmen Kelly Olynk and Manny Arop from Canada and Bol Kong, also from Canada by way of Sudan.

As much as Sacre and Harris elicited oohs and aahs, it was the Zags’ veteran trio of guards Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson that led them. Bouldin has emerged in his senior year as the indispensible hub through which all things offensive pass for Gonzaga. An intimidating 6-5 guard, Bouldin stage manages the entire offensive show, plus contributes double-figure scoring from both outside and inside. He can spot up for a three-point jumper or take his man off the dribble. Gray, who has struck many observers as a marvelously talented but under-performing member of the Zags offensive show, evidently decided that his junior year was the time to answer the nay-sayers. He has been virtually unstoppable, moving constantly without the ball and receiving Bouldin’s pinpoint passes anywhere from beyond the arc to under the basket. His jump shot is as sweet as ever, but he is infinitely more aggressive and confident this year.  If opponents somehow limit Bouldin and Gray, Goodson might steal the show as he did in the Zags’ impressive win over the fearsome Cincinnati Bearcats in Maui. On a night when Bouldin was struggling on 1-7 shooting and totaled only 6 points, Goodson made key baskets in clutch time to rack up 12 points. Bouldin and Gray shared the MVP trophy in Maui, but Goodson was an unsung hero.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #14 – West Coast

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2009

seasonpreview

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.   Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Portland (11-3)
  2. Gonzaga (10-4)
  3. Saint Mary’s (8-6)
  4. San Diego (7-7)
  5. Santa Clara (6-8)
  6. Loyola Marymount (6-8)
  7. USF (5-9)
  8. Pepperdine (3-11)

All-Conference Team:

  • 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

wcc logoWhat 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.

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