Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 25th, 2010

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

Looking Back

  • With an overall record of 24-16 through games of Nov. 23, the WCC might appear to be cruising along in the non-conference portion of the 2010-11 season. But looks can be deceiving, as only Gonzaga and Portland have faced challenging schedules so far while the rest have been staging versions of Patsy of the Week. Saint Mary’s is the poster child for weak competition, as Randy Bennett’s Gaels have romped over College of Idaho, Point Loma Nazarene, Mississippi Valley State and, most pathetically, Chicago State, whom they blistered 121-52. If the hapless Cougars from the Great West Conference had doubled their scoring through Divine intervention they still would have lost. A 76-71 win over St. John’s of the Big East has been the Gaels’ only proud moment so far.
  • Gonzaga has posted an unusually mediocre 3-2 record, including a rare two-game losing streak, but the Zags have faced, in succession, a tough San Diego State (L, 79-76), third-ranked Kansas State (L, 81-64) and Marquette, whom they topped 66-63 to end the brief skid. Portland took on powerhouse Kentucky and Pac-10 up-and-comer Washington State, but probably wished they hadn’t, being demolished by Kentucky 79-48 and wilting against Washington State 84-68.
  • Loyola Marymount has been given a chance for a break-out season and a challenge to Gonzaga’s stranglehold on the league championship (ten in a row), but the Lions haven’t given any indication so far that they are up to the task. Max Good has had trouble getting his players’ attention, going so far as benching fifth-year senior guard and putative team leader Vernon Teel in a 73-63 loss to Rider. LMU has also gone down to Morgan State and Bradley, while topping only weak sisters Chapman, LaSierra and Dowling.
  • San Francisco has probably had the most hopeful pre-season, as Rex Walters’ young Dons have beaten Seattle (97-76) and Colorado (83-81, OT), while losing on the road to an improved San Jose State (74-64).

Player of the Week

Angelo Caloiaro – San Francisco: The rangy small forward has done a lot to ease fans’ concern over the departure of high-scoring Dior Lowhorn, winning WCC Player of the Week honors following his stellar effort against Colorado. Caloiaro, whom the Dons list as 6-8, scorched the Buffalos for 6-for-7 shooting from three-point range en route to a career-high 26 points. It’s a close call whether that effort eclipsed Saint Mary’s forward Clint Steindl’s 7-for-10 three-point barrage against St. John’s, but it’s clear the Bay Area has a nice rivalry between sharpshooting small forwards.

Team-by-Team

  1. Saint Mary’s (5-0) wasn’t challenged beyond the St. Johns game, but Bennett was concerned with shaking the rust off transfers Kenton Walker in the post and Rob Jones at power forward, and he has accomplished that, along with the rehab of starting guard Matthew Dellavedova. Dellavedova missed the entire pre-season practice schedule along with the Gaels’ two scrimmages with an injured hamstring.
  2. Santa Clara’s (4-1) big question mark – the fitness of returning two-guard Kevin Foster – has been removed by Foster’s strong start. Although the Broncos have not beaten anyone of note (Cal State-Bakersfield, Rice, Bethune-Cookman and Northern Colorado), Foster has been exceptional, averaging nearly 19 points per game.
  3. Portland (4-2) is still searching for a point guard to replace T.J. Campbell, but junior Eric Waterford and freshman Tim Douglas have shown flashes of leadership. Senior forward Luke Sikma has been a beast on the boards for the Pilots, averaging nearly 13 per game.
  4. San Francisco (2-1) is smiling over the poise and savvy of freshman guard Cody Doolin and Caloiaro’s all-around excellence.
  5. Gonzaga (3-2) has encountered several problems in its early-season stumbles, most notably finding someone to run Mark Few’s usually high-powered offense. Few reached far down his bench for redshirt freshman David Stockton, son of legendary Zags and NBA guard John Stockton, for help in the pasting by Kansas State. Stockton showed some of the poise and playmaking ability of his dad, but seems smaller than his listed height of 5’11 and may prove a defensive liability for the Zags.
  6. Loyola Marymount (3-3) has tested Good’s short temper by its showing so far, with players and the Gatorade container feeling his wrath. Lions’ fans hope Good can solve the team’s problems before the WCC race begins.
  7. Pepperdine (2-4) showed signs of a resurgence with a win over Nevada, but is sweating out the return of star guard Keion Bell, who is nursing an injured thumb that kept him out of the Waves’ last two games.
  8. San Diego (1-3) has juggled many players in the early going, but Bill Grier has yet to find a combination to get the Toreros on track.

A Look Ahead

  • The honeymoon is over for many of the WCC teams who have been skating over weak opponents: Saint Mary’s heads into the finals of the South Padre Island Classic this week with a game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Friday, followed by either BYU or South Florida on Saturday.  After the Gaels digest that post-Thanksgiving feast, they will face undefeated San Diego State in San Diego on December 1.
  • Santa Clara faces by far its toughest test of the year on the 26th as well, facing off against Arizona in the Las Vegas Invitational.
  • Portland will close out the month with a pair of home games against difficult teams: UC Santa Barbara on the 27th and St. Louis on the 30th.
  • The path ahead doesn’t get any easier for Gonzaga, as they face always-pesky Eastern Washington at home November 30, then take on Big Ten power Illinois in the Battle in Seattle four days later.
  • If Loyola Marymount can figure some things out through tonight’s  game against Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, it will be tested further in a pair of road games versus Long Beach State on the 27th and UC Santa Barbara on December 1.
  • A tough road also beckons for San Francisco, as it goes to Louisville on December 8 to face Rick Pitino’s Cardinals and to Seattle on the 18th for a game with the Washington Huskies.
  • A trip to The Pit on the Albuquerque campus of New Mexico is probably not what Grier would prescribe for his struggling Toreros, but it is what the schedule has in store for San Diego on November 28 nonetheless.
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Set Your Tivo: 11.23.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 23rd, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Two good games from both Kansas City and Maui involving six ranked teams lead tonight’s slate. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Maui Invitational Semifinal: #3 Michigan State vs. Connecticut — 7 pm on ESPN (***)

It's Been Two Years Since These Teams Met in the F4

Each team played relatively close games yesterday. One was expected to, one was not. Connecticut got by Wichita State behind a 29-point second half from Kemba Walker. On the other hand, Michigan State actually trailed against Division II Chaminade for most of the first half and traded baskets with the Silverswords in the early part of the second half before pulling away with a 20-3 run and hanging on for an eight point win. Kalin Lucas was the star for the Spartans, scoring 28 points on 11-20 shooting. Lucas against Walker will be one of the better matchups of point guards you’ll see all season and it occurs here in late November. Walker is averaging 30 points in three games this year and is clearly Jim Calhoun’s go-to guy. Neither team played well defensively in their opening game in Maui but we don’t know if that can be attributed to the setting or maybe a lack of focus. Michigan State in particular, known for its tough defense and rebounding, had been playing well defensively coming into the game but gave up 46% shooting to Chaminade. This game will be a war on the boards as both coaches pride themselves on interior defense and rebounding. For Michigan State, the key could be shutting down Alex Oriakhi. Walker is going to get his share so if Tom Izzo’s big men can lock up the Connecticut sophomore big man, the Huskies will need someone else to step up because Walker won’t be able to do it all himself against a team as good as MSU. UConn is going to have to shoot the three ball very well in order to win, something Walker has struggled with throughout his career (35.3% this year however). Averaging 17 turnovers per game, the Spartans have to protect the ball against a Connecticut team that would like to get out in transition in order to prevent Michigan State from settling in on defense. Anything can happen in an early season tournament on a neutral floor but Michigan State should win this game.

CBE Classic Consolation: #23 Gonzaga vs. Marquette – 7:45 pm on ESPNU (****)

These two teams get together tonight heading in opposite directions. Gonzaga was flat out exposed, but not just by Kansas State last night. San Diego State also took care of the Bulldogs in the Kennel last week. Gonzaga has no clear point guard and that’s forcing Steven Gray to handle the ball much more than he should, often resulting in turnovers. Gray turned it over six times last night and as a team the Zags had 16 turnovers. Gonzaga also was dominated on the glass, not a good combination when you can’t stop anybody either. That was just the case as Kansas State shot 51% for the game. They now face a Marquette team brimming with confidence after a competitive loss to #1 Duke last night, a game we told you would be closer than you thought in this very feature 24 hours ago. MU was led by Jimmy Butler’s 22/6. We don’t know why people always underestimate Buzz Williams and his team as they have an awful lot of talent and looked like a top 25 team yesterday. Marquette may not actually be a top 25 team yet but they’re knocking on the door. A win tonight against Gonzaga should earn them some votes next week, if not actually make it in. The Golden Eagles turned Duke over 19 times, something that probably kept Mark Few tossing and turning in bed last night. Marquette needs a better outing from Darius Johnson-Odom and they should get it against the suspect Bulldog defense. The junior guard was just 1-6 from three and 4-15 overall. As a team, MU shot a dreadful 4-20 from deep, often leading to long rebounds and transition opportunities for Duke. One thing going for Gonzaga is their front court going up against Marquette’s interior. While they have defended fairly well in terms of two point FG% against, Mason Plumlee went off in the second half against the weaker Marquette bigs. Gonzaga has guys such as Robert Sacre who can score in the post and that will pose a problem for Buzz Williams. That said, we expect Marquette to turn Gonzaga over enough to win by getting more field goal opportunities. Gonzaga is not going to win many games against top competition until their point guard situation is under control.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Northwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2010

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

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

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

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

Thomas May be Small in Stature, But Not Talent

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

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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 1st, 2010

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

Standings (through games of 1/30/10)

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

Now it Gets Interesting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on 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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2008-09 Season Primers: #11 – West Coast

Posted by rtmsf on November 1st, 2008

Michael Chin is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference (WCC).

Predicted Order of Finish:

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

SleeperSan 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.

Others Considered. 

  • 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.

Bottom Feeders. 

  • 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.

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