ATB: Gonzaga & Butler – Same As It Ever Was

Posted by rtmsf on February 12th, 2010

WCC Dominance. #11 Gonzaga 80, St. Mary’s 61.  It was billed the Game of the Year on the west coast (keep the snickering to a minimum), but like so many of the others before it, the end result was the same with Gonzaga knocking off its top rival St. Mary’s tonight.  The Zags used a devastating early second-half 16-3 run to break a tight game wide open, and the sense for those of us watching at home was one of vague familiarity.  Elias Harris followed up his dunking exhibition from a month ago with a 19/4  night before ultimately fouling out, and Matt Bouldin had 18/5/4 assts in yet another WCC statement win for Gonzaga.  Just as in the last game in Moraga, the Zags scorched the nets with a 54% shooting night (57% last month), calling into question the ability of the SMC defenders to stay in front of the more athletic Zags.  With the win, GU effectively opens up a two-game lead over its closest competitor using the tiebreaker, and they’re now all but assured to get their tenth straight WCC regular season title in the next few weeks of action.  SMC at 21-4 (8-2) is an interesting case for the NCAA Tournament committee right now.  They have four ‘quality’ losses (Vanderbilt, USC, Gonzaga twice), but their only really good win was one over Utah State in Logan in December.  Their RPI is in the mid-40s, and the last four regular season games probably aren’t going to change that position much.  In our eyes the Gaels will need to win all four games to go to 25-4 and have another nice run in the WCC Tournament to ensure a bid this year.

Couldn't Have Said It Any Better (credit: Dan Pelle)

Speaking of Dominance. #15 Butler 68, Youngstown State 57.  With this win tonight, Butler’s fourteenth in a row, the Bulldogs clinched their fourth consecutive Horizon League regular season title with three games left in the race.  Gordon Hayward was awesome tonight, going for 22/17 in a game that was closer for much of the contest than the final score indicated.  Yet, Butler continued to show why they’re a cut above the rest of this league, overcoming an early eight-point deficit to take control in the second half and move to 15-0 in the conference.  We’re still a week out from the BracketBuster matchups, but if Butler can win its next two and Siena do likewise, then we’ll have the two teams with the longest current winning streaks in America facing each other in that game.

A Little Upsetting.

  • Michigan 71, Minnesota 63.  The wheels appear to be coming off of Tubby Smith’s ride, as the Al Nolen/Royce White/Trevor Mbakwe sagas appear to be taking their toll on his program in the form of an unexpected loss to a team that came into Minneapolis having dropped five of six with one road win all season (Penn State).  The Gopher defense gave up 27/7 to DeShawn Sims and 20/4/7 assts to Manny Harris, which was enough to hold off Minnesota tonight.
  • St. John’s 74, Louisville 55.  Speaking of wheels coming off, on the same day that rumors about Rick Pitino’s interest/non-interest in the Nets job came out, his team laid a gigantic egg in the middle of Madison Square Garden — seriously, you could make a Carnegie Deli-sized sandwich out of this egg.  A second-half 27-5 spurt embarrassed his Cardinals to the point where we wonder if he hasn’t already mentally checked out of the Big East.  Louisville is rewarded with a trip to Syracuse on Sunday for their troubles.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.11.10

Posted by THager on February 11th, 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 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Ole Miss @ Mississippi State — 9:00 pm on ESPN (***)

This game between in-state rivals could have a big impact on who will be dancing in March.  These teams are in the middle of the SEC standings, but both are within a game of SEC West leader Arkansas.  Their records (17-6 for Ole Miss, 16-7 for MSU) are pretty average, but if one of these teams wins their division it could have a big impact on the selection committee.  Despite their similar records, these two teams could not be much more different.  Mississippi State, who averages less than 73 PPG, ranks 90th in offensive efficiency and but ranks 17th in defense, and second in the country with 8.1 steals per game.  The Rebels average over 80 points per contest, but rank 86th in defensive efficiency.  Four of UM’s top scorers are guards, and Mississippi State may look to take advantage of their small lineup, as the Bulldogs are eighth in the country at over 38 rebounds a game.  The Bulldogs are also playing at home, where they are 10-1 on the year, so look for the Jarvis Varnado (11.3 RPG) to hit the boards hard as usual.  MSU won the first matchup in Oxford, and we expect them to beat a smaller Ole Miss club here.

Washington @ California — 9:00 pm on ESPN 2 (***)

The Pac-10 is a mess at the top of the conference where Cal sits a game ahead of five other teams.  Washington was near the bottom of the conference a few weeks ago, but four straight wins now have the Huskies at the top of the five-loss teams.  All of UW’s wins during the streak came at home, but they will now have to travel to Berkeley, and the Huskies are 0-5 on the road this year.  With the exception of the losses at Texas Tech and UCLA, the games have not even been close.  Cal averages 77.7 PPG and they rank sixth in the nation in offensive efficiency, but their defense is suspect with a defensive ranking of 63.  The Bears have not allowed an opponent to score 75 points in their last seven games, but they will have their hands full with Washington’s offense.  Led by Quincy Pondexter‘s 20.6 PPG, the Huskies have averaged 93.8 PPG during their winning streak.  In the last meeting between the two teams, it was downright ugly (16-48 shooting for Cal, 30-74 shooting for UW).  Jerome Randle, Cal’s leading scorer, only had five points in that game, and he should have a much better night at the Haas Pavilion.

St. Mary’s @ #11 Gonzaga — 11:00 pm on ESPN 2 (*****)

To get a feel for how good these teams are, they have combined for a 15-2 record in the WCC (one of the losses came during their previous matchup) and they have won over 85% of their games this season.  Both teams have won 11 of their last 12, and given the way these two clubs have played, this game will decide the WCC title.  People have been getting on the Zags about their lackluster defense, but they have played solid defense since the game against Loyola Marymount on January 23.  The Gaels, on the other hand, are 105th in defensive efficiency, and gave up 89 points to the Bulldogs in their first matchup.  Although Gonzaga’s Robert Sacre is a bona-fide seven-footer, Omar Samhan exploited the Zags in the post for 31 points.  Elias Harris, who matched Samhan with 31 points of his own in that game, has slowed down since his hot streak at the start of WCC play, but Matt Bouldin has picked up right where Harris left off.  With Bouldin’s ability to snipe three-pointers on fast breaks, both teams rank in the nation’s top 10 in field goal percentage.  St. Mary’s is also third in the country in free throw percentage, while the Zags are having their worst year at the line of the Mark Few era.  With 0.007 points separating these two teams in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, it should go down to the wire.  The key difference in their records?  St. Mary’s schedule is ranked 155th according to Jeff Sagarin, and the Zags have played Michigan State, Wisconsin, Duke, and Wake Forest.  Look for Gonzaga to take this at home.

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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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Set Your Tivo: 02.04.10

Posted by THager on February 4th, 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 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

#19 Georgia Tech @ #9 Duke – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Scheyer Meets a Wall of Ga Tech Defenders

Georgia Tech is fifth in the conference race at 4-3, yet the only ranked ACC team besides the Yellow Jackets is Duke.  GT has played average since the start of ACC play, but is 4-1 in their last five games to climb back into the thick of the ACC standings.  The Blue Devils, on the other hand, are coming off a bad road loss to Georgetown, their third road loss in a row.  Although Duke is known for their three-point shooting and second-most efficient offense, they give up even fewer points than the Yellow Jackets per game.  The main problem with Duke is how inconsistent they are.   They held Gonzaga, Clemson, and Florida State to 41, 47, and 56 points earlier in the year, but gave up an average of 88.5 points to N.C. State and Georgetown.  In their earlier matchup against Georgia Tech, Duke held GT to just 71 points, but 6-28 shooting from beyond the arc led to a loss.  The Blue Devils only shot 9-29 from three on Saturday, so they are going to have to shoot closer to 40 % if they want to win the game.  The Blue Devils have not lost back-to-back games all year, and given their 13-0 record at Cameron Indoor Stadium, look for Duke to remain atop the ACC tonight.

Maryland @ Florida State – 9 pm on ESPN360 (***)

Before Maryland’s last game against Clemson, we claimed that Maryland was not a lock for the tournament with an RPI of #50.  They lost to Clemson by nine in that game, but their ranking in the RPI only dropped to #51.  Virtually in the same scenario, the Terrapins will now face another solid ACC team on the road.  In Florida State’s last four ACC games, they have recorded three victories, but they are still looking for that signature win over a top conference team.  With a win against the second place Terps, the Seminoles may finally get that big victory to improve their tournament resume.  With just five losses and an RPI of #29, the Seminoles are likely in as of now.  Florida State’s solid defense will be keep them close against Maryland’s high scoring offense.  Clemson, with the third best defense in the country, held the Terps to just 53 points in that game, and the Seminoles have the best defensive efficiency in the nation.  Clemson held forward Landon Milbourne to just three points on Sunday, so he will have to play better to give UM a chance tonight.  Florida State’s leading scorer in Solomon Alabi only averages 12.9 points per game, so this game should be close no matter how well FSU plays defense.

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RTC Live: Gonzaga at San Francisco

Posted by rtmsf on January 30th, 2010

Hello everyone, and welcome back to RTC Live from the West Coast Conference, where the big bad Gonzaga Bulldogs visit the University of San Francisco Dons tonight.  We’ll be interested to see how the Zags respond from their extremely lackluster performance at Santa Clara on Thursday night, where it took a 22-4 run late to finally take control and win the game.  Of course, Mark Few’s team is led by the talents of Matt Bouldin (17/4/4 assts) and Elias Harris (16/9), the latter of whom is already being talked about as a first-rounder in the 2010 NBA Draft.  USF, on the other hand, is suffering a rough season on the Hill.  At 7-14 and 2-4 in the conference, there hasn’t been a lot to cheer about other than the two-time defending WCC scoring champ, Dior Lowhorn.  This year he trails St. Mary’s Omar Samhan and Pepperdine’s Keion Bell in that statistic, but we know that he can blow up for 25+ on any given night.  Gonzaga is the clear favorite tonight, but they also were on Thursday and they had to have a tremendous second half to get out of Santa Clara with a win, so the same thing could happen again tonight.  Join us on RTC Live to find out.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on January 26th, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.

1. I’d be fairly shocked if Gonzaga is any lower than a #3 seed when the brackets are unveiled in March. In fact, I’d be fairly shocked if the Zags lost again this season. Think about it: they’ve already notched wins on the road against the three teams most likely to shock Mark Few’s team by dispatching Portland, Saint Mary’s and San Diego on a single road trip. They have one challenging non-conference game left against a rebuilding Memphis team in which Gonzaga will surely be favored. The only team I could see possibly stunning the Zags is Pepperdine and their explosive guard Keion Bell. The Waves only fell by seven in the Kennel this past week behind Bell’s 37 points, but they’re still 7-13 on the season and I highly doubt Bell is going to post 37 again on a stingier Gonzaga defense. Win out and Mark Few is looking at 27-3 (16-0) heading into the WCC tournament where they could finish with a 29-3 (18-0) overall record and an RPI in the top-20 with their only losses at Michigan State, at home against Wake Forest and Duke in MSG. That sets up Gonzaga for a #3 seed in the Spokane regional, meaning two quasi-home games until the regional (and they could be in the Salt Lake City regional). German import Elias Harris has spear-headed the Zags hot streak. He’s averaging 16/8 and shooting nearly 60% in a tremendous debut campaign.

Vasquez heating up for the Terps

2. Remember that Greivis Vasquez guy on Maryland who’s had a pretty damn good career? After scoring in the single digits in his first four games and struggling mightily with his jump shot in Maui, the brash and often polarizing emotional sparkplug for the Terps is heating up in a big way. And that’s bad news for the rest of the wide-open ACC. Vasquez has now scored in double figures his last 14 games including a 30-point outburst at Wake Forest and 22 in a big home win over Florida State. He played his most efficient game Saturday in the blowout win over NC State, notching 19 points on 7-11 FG and 3-4 3pt. Despite the concerning start, Vasquez is now playing like the ACC POY contender he truly is. His 43% FG is only second to his 44% as a freshman (but he only needs three more shots to match the amount taken that season), his 39% 3pt is far and away a career best, and he’s also contributing with 6.1 APG and 4.6 RPG, solid totals for a 6’6 guard. I fully expect Duke to win the ACC- they’ve already played two of their three most difficult ACC games- but Maryland is absolutely a contender to finish second behind Vasquez, the continued improved play of Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes (46% 3pt), plus the superb coaching of Gary Williams.

3. Other than maybe Georgetown or Notre Dame, the most disappointing team in the nation last season may have been Baylor. The Bears entered the season fresh off reaching the NCAA Tournament just a few years following the Dave Bliss fallout with Scott Drew being lauded as one of the best young coaches in the game. Even though a late-season Big 12 Tournament and NIT push healed some wounds, the 5-11 Big 12 mark a season ago was still a campaign to forget. What led to the downfall? For one, Baylor ranked #103 in defensive efficiency in 2008-09. During their crippling six game Big 12 losing streak, the Bears surrendered 95 points to Oklahoma, 89 to Missouri and 83 to Texas Tech. In a related story, Baylor is ranked in the top 25 this week and ranks 41st in defensive efficiency. What has sparked the change? A big reason is the human eraser Ekpe Udoh in the post, a Michigan transfer who ranks sixth in college basketball in block percentage (Baylor ranks first in the nation in the same category). Baylor as a unit has also turned up the intensity on the defensive end, ranking third in the nation in opponents two-point FG% behind just Mississippi State and Florida State. Baylor hasn’t forgotten how to score, either. They rank 15th in offensive efficiency and eighth in effective FG%. Anyone who watched the Bears go toe-to-toe with Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse last Monday knows this team can play.

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ATB: Where is the Louisville Defense?

Posted by rtmsf on January 22nd, 2010

Louisville Joins UNC on the Early BubbleSeton Hall 80, Louisville 77.  We realize of course that Louisville has had a tendency in the Pitino era to start off slowly and finish strong, but we have a feeling that isn’t going to happen this year.  The problem is with a Pitino staple, their defense, the efficiency of which is currently the worst in the last five years for his teams.  The Cards allow a very average 46% from two and 35% from three, which mitigates the robust amount of turnovers that they   force in their trapping defense.  And tonight’s game against Seton Hall is a good example of the defensive struggles that Louisville is enduring this year — the Pirates shot 53% from the field, put all five starters in double figures, and even the human cannon known as Jeremy Hazell (25/5) hit a good percentage (9-12 FG) against the Card defense.  So what’s the answer?  We’re not sure that there is one with the personnel Pitino has at his disposal.  In the last three games (all losses), the Cards have given up greater than 1.15 points per possession against teams that do not typically do that well in that regard.  This loss puts Louisville at 12-7 and 3-3 in the Big East, but we could easily see seven or eight more losses in the conference for the Cards should they not tighten up that defense in the next few weeks.  An 8-10 record, even in the loaded Big East, may not be enough given that really hasn’t beaten a “good” team all season (and only three in the KenPom top 100!).  Seton Hall should be proud of itself for stepping up to take this game, which they very nearly let get away from them in the last few minutes.  Having lost four of five, the Pirates could have easily folded up the tent and allowed Louisville to steal a much-needed road win, but Bobby Gonzalez’s group instead showed their mettle and put came out with a win in one of their best performances of the season.

Seton Hall Didn't Back Down From Louisville (AP/Bill Kostroun)

Um, Who? UCLA 62, Washington 61. Someone named Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, a reserve guard who had taken only 22 shots all season coming into tonight’s game, received the ball at halfcourt with three seconds remaining on the clock and does what all players who are thrust in that position do: three dribbles, rise and fire.  His shot from the top of the key at the buzzer was all net, and UCLA earned a hard-fought win over what has to be one of the most disappointing teams (other than these very Bruins) in the country in UW. (see below at 1:00)  We’ve stopped trying to predict the crazy Pac-10 this year, but given just how poorly UCLA has played on both ends of the floor this season, Washington has no excuse for dropping this game, even in Pauley Pavilion.  Quincy Pondexter had 23/6, but he didn’t get much help with Isaiah Thomas only adding 11 and nobody else in double figures.  For a team averaging nearly 80 PPG, they were well below their normal offensive output.  As for UCLA, all we can say is that when a player like Abdul-Hamid is taking your game-winning shots, even if he’s making them, you have tremendous problems to solve.  All that said, it wouldn’t shock us if Washington ran off ten straight in this league now that we’re piling on them here.

Super Mids Keep Rolling.  #10 Gonzaga and #20 Butler got scares in their respective conferences tonight, but as usual, they both came out with another win.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on January 19th, 2010

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.

Standings (through games of 1/16/10)

  1. Gonzaga                       3-0 (14-3)
  2. Pepperdine                   3-0 (6-12)
  3. Saint Mary’s                 3-1 (16-3)
  4. San Francisco               2-2 (7-12)
  5. Portland                       1-2 (10-7)
  6. San Diego                    1-3 (8-12)
  7. Loyola Marymount       1-2 (10-9)
  8. Santa Clara                  0-4 (8-13)

Conference: Week Two

After two weeks of conference play the WCC can claim at least two major surprises along with a host of expected results. The biggest surprise has to be seeing Pepperdine tied with Gonzaga atop the standings with a perfect 3-0 mark, the first time the Waves have been in that position since 2002. In that year, Pepperdine and Gonzaga tied for the conference championship at 13-1.

Surprise no. 2, although not as big, is Santa Clara’s inability to win any of its first four games, which included two at home. The Broncos were picked to finish as high as third by some media outlets, but now find themselves looking up from the bottom without having played two of the conference’s strongest teams, Gonzaga or Portland. With four games coming against those two, plus Saint Mary’s in Moraga, Kerry Keating’s squad will have to scramble to get out of the basement.

Pepperdine achieved the top spot by extending its hex over Loyola Marymount 79-75 in Malibu to start conference play on Jan. 9, squeaking by Santa Clara 61-60 on sophomore guard Lorne Jackson’s steal of a Robert Smith layup attempt at the buzzer, and pulling away from San Francisco 83-68 on the strength of a 24-9 run in the last seven minutes. All three wins came at home, and the Waves will be sorely tested this week with away games against Gonzaga and Portland. Still, Tom Asbury’s troops cannot be disregarded despite their many struggles in the pre-conference, where they went 3-12 including an embarrassing 67-65 loss to lowly Cal Baptist. Pepperdine is an extremely young team and has shown signs of coming together at just the right time.

How young is Pepperdine? Gonzaga coach Mark Few, the league’s master propagandist, has induced the national media to incessantly note that the Zags started the season with ten new players, while omitting the fact that two of its key contributors, Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray, are four-and-three-year veterans, respectively, and redshirt sophomore center Robert Sacre has been in the program for three years. Only 20-year-old European veteran Elias Harris, nominally a freshman, is a truly new face among players that Few has counted on most heavily.  Asbury, on the other hand, starts three sophomores (Jackson, Keion Bell and Taylor Darby), and two juniors, (Mychel Thompson and Jonathan Dupre, a junior college transfer). All five scored in double figures against USF, with Darby notching a double-double (15/12) and Bell just missing a triple-double with 18 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. It is a talented five , but they will be strong underdogs in Spokane Thursday night against the battle-tested Zags, who breezed through a daunting three-game road trip in Portland, Moraga (Saint Mary’s) and San Diego to take a lot of the early air out of upset balloons. Nevertheless, any game against undefeated co-leaders counts as a showdown, and Asbury’s pups will be pumped to throw a major scare into the Zags.

Of the predicted Gonzaga challengers, Saint Mary’s fared pretty well in the first two weeks of the conference season, and Portland slightly less well. The Gaels underwent a bad stretch at the end of the first half against Gonzaga on Jan. 14, letting a close 36-33 game deteriorate into a 45-33 halftime deficit by not scoring in the last four minutes. They would spend the entire second half trying to overcome that 12-point margin, outscoring the Zags 49-44 and coming to within 84-80 with just under a minute left and the ball in their hands. A three-point attempt by freshman Aussie Jorden Page rimmed out, however, and Gonzaga ran out the clock at the free throw line for its 89-82 win. The Gaels averted disaster two nights later by struggling to a 77-72 win over Portland.

Portland came even closer against the Zags than the Gaels on Jan. 9, mounting a furious comeback that culminated with sharpshooting guard Jared Stohl trying a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime. Stohl took a pass on the sideline going away from the basket, under close guard, somehow turned his body 180° and launched a prayer that seemed laser-guided to the basket. It somehow missed and the Pilots were denied a chance to pull out a win in overtime. As close as those games were, however, Gonzaga prevailed in both in hostile environments, and made it three-in-a-row with a routine dismantling of San Diego at the Jenny Craig Pavilion, 68-50. Portland was counting on the season-opening encounter with Gonzaga on its home court to put a new leader atop the conference, but instead finds itself 1-2 with losses to the league’s two top teams.

The Zags get to go home for the next two games, the Jan. 21 encounter with Pepperdine, and a tussle with Loyola two days later. LMU has stumbled in conference play so far, losing its opener to Pepperdine and the next contest to San Francisco 70-67, before righting itself for a convincing 81-70 win over Santa Clara on the 16th. Like Asbury, LMU’s Max Good has a rather untested, up-and-down team to take into the raucous environs of Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center, where the Zags are 67-4 since it opened in 2004. The Lions will try to focus on their 87-85 upset of Notre Dame in South Bend on Dec. 12 and summon the magic that downed the Fighting Irish.

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RTC Live: Gonzaga @ St. Mary’s

Posted by rtmsf on January 14th, 2010

It’s already time for the first Gonzaga vs. St. Mary’s game that will establish conference supremacy in the WCC.  For the past several seasons, SMC has set its sights squarely on the Zags with the knowledge that breaking through in the WCC would be the first step toward consistent national recognition for the tiny school from Moraga, California.  The Gaels have gotten close, finishing second in the league (behind the Zags) in five of the last six seasons, including twice (2005 and 2008) where they finished a mere one game behind Gonzaga in the regular season standings.  Last year was thought to be the year, as SMC held a working margin in the first half of the Spokane game when superstar Patty Mills went down with a wrist injury, effectively ending the team’s hopes to catch the Zags last season.  There’s a similar buzz this year, though, even without the mercurial Mills running the show.  With center Omar Samhan coming into his own as a dominant big man (21/11/3 blks), and three-point bombers Matthew Dellavedova (13/3/4 assts; 42% 3FG) and Mickey McConnell (13/2/6 assts; 53% 3FG) torching the nets if left open, Gonzaga’s defense — its worst since 2006-07 — is going to have its hands full tonight.  The Zags are not the nine-time defending WCC regular season champs for nothing, though, and they have been known to step up in big road games a time or two under Mark Few’s direction.  There will be a lot of pressure on Robert Sacre and Elias Harris to handle Samhan inside, but if they’re up to the task and Matt Bouldin (15/5/4 assts) gets his stroke going again (he averaged 17.3 PPG in three games against SMC last year), then we could be looking at another close one.  The combined scoring of the last four games between these two teams in Moraga results in Gonzaga +1, as they have split the last four, all relatively close games.  Join us tonight for another great one!

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2009

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

Standings (through games of 12/23/09)

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

Dark Horse Rising

All the top dogs took their lumps last week, while dark horse Loyola Marymount continued its rise in both confidence and the conference standings. The Lions leap-frogged sagging San Diego to take over fifth place and served warning on Santa Clara that its fourth-place berth may not be safe. And, in case you missed it or thought it was a media hoax, Pepperdine upset Utah 76-64 on Wednesday night (Dec. 23).

Gonzaga had only one game in the week, and it was a slap in the face. Travelling to Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19 to take on Duke and possibly move up in the national rankings from its #15 spot, the Zags instead got a strong dose of help defense and Jon Scheyer. The final score of 76-41 may have been “an aberration” as Zags’ coach Mark Few described it, but the game itself was a lesson in preparation. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had scouted Gonzaga perfectly, and his team cut off the passing lanes and double-teamed the Zags big men Robert Sacre and Elias Harris. With leading scorer Matt Bouldin possibly feeling the effects of a head injury suffered against Augustana on Dec. 9, the Zags barely topped 40 points and suffered their worst defeat in 25 years. They have a long time to recover before returning to action on Dec. 28 with a home game against Eastern Washington.

Saint Mary’s, cruising along at 10-1 and rising to a #21 RPI ranking, also fell rudely to earth. Like the Zags, the Gaels were undone by a stout defensive effort, in this case administered by resurgent University of Southern California. The Trojans, showing that their 22-point upset of ninth-ranked Tennessee (77-55) on Dec. 19 was no fluke, shut down both the Gaels’ powerful inside game of Omar Samhan and Ben Allen, and its cadre of outside bombers, Matthew Dellavedova, Clint Steindl and Mickey McConnell, in a 60-49 victory in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. After completing the Diamond Head schedule, the Gaels return to action in Moraga in the Shamrock Office Solutions Classic beginning Dec. 29.

Completing a trifecta of peril for WCC leaders, Portland continued its descent from national prominence with an 89-54 thumping by Washington in Seattle on Dec. 19. The Pilots bounced back with an 82-52 revenge win over Idaho at home three nights later, featuring Jared Stohl’s record-shattering 10 three-point baskets to account for all 30 of his points. Stohl broke his previous record of nine threes set against USF last January. The win over Idaho avenged an earlier 68-48 loss in Moscow, ID, and set the stage for Portland to continue its resurgence against Nevada in Reno on Dec. 28

There was no fall to earth for LMU following its 87-85 upset of Notre Dame on Dec. 12, as the Lions dispatched WCC punching bag Cal State-Bakersfield 84-71 on the 19th and then toppled tough Long Beach State 85-80 in overtime on the 21st. That three-game win streak is the Lions’ first since 2007 and doubled the teams’ win total from last year. Loyola also moved up in the WCC standings and appears to be in good shape to challenge for a spot in the upper half of the conference and a first-round bye in the WCC tournament.

If Loyola does so it will be at the expense of San Diego and Santa Clara, both of whom appear to be losing their grip on a top-four finish. San Diego lost both times in the Holiday Hoops Classic in Las Vegas, first a 70-68 heart-breaker to Southern Illinois and then 69-60 to the Big East’s South Florida. The Toreros have three home games, beginning with a Dec. 29 contest against Savannah State, to right themselves before conference play begins.  Santa Clara appeared to have taken a large step forward by beating tough Pacific 54-53 at home on Dec. 21, but then stumbled against so-so San Jose State 74-68 two nights later. The Broncos host the venerable Cable Car Classic on Dec. 28, opening against Northeastern.

Pepperdine enlivened the bottom rung of the standings with its shocker over Utah, a perennial NCAA team and considered a top contender in the Mountain West Conference. Utah has been struggling and dropped to 5-7 with the Pepperdine loss, but the Waves had shown precious little to suggest they were capable of stepping up against the Utes. They came into the game at 3-10 following losses to Cal Baptist, Portland State and New Mexico State.

San Francisco suffered the same fate in the Holiday Hoops Classic as San Diego, falling to both South Florida and Southern Illinois, before bouncing back at the expense of hapless Cal State Bakersfield on Dec. 23. Dior Lowhorn with 27 and Kwame Vaughn with 22 points paced the Dons in their 82-73 win over the Roadrunners, but USF will not rest easily on its laurels: they face Pac-10 power Washington in Seattle on Dec. 27, and coach Rex Walters probably won’t show his guys the tape of Washington’s evisceration of Portland.

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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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Morning Five: 12.09.09 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 9th, 2009

morning5

  1. A little fun or a some serious jabs between UConn’s Stanley Robinson and Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins prior to tonight’s game in the SEC/Big East Invitational at MSG?  You be the judge.  Was Robinson joking when he called Cousins an “arrogant player?”  SeparateSources.
  2. Has Butler painted itself into a corner by losing nearly every one of its marquee games thus far this season?  Gary Parrish, Jeff Goodman and Luke Winn believe so, and we’re inclined to agree with them.  Horizon League POY Matt Howard has ok numbers, but he’s averaging a ridiculous FOUR fouls per game, including five DQs so far this season, which is 25% more than his career average of 3.2 FPG, so he really needs to get that under control.
  3. Remember former Louisville enigmatic big man Derrick Caracter?  In case you missed it, he’s currently at UTEP and the school is awaiting his grades to see if he will qualify to play this season.  UTEP is sitting at 8-0, so Caracter could help shore up a frontline that is already getting the job done.
  4. Here’s a whole laundry list of additional reasons why Expansion 96 is a terrible idea, building upon our argument from yesterday that there simply aren’t enough deserving teams.  Seriously, who do we need to bribe to ensure that this NEVER happens???
  5. Occasionally, we’ll come across a tweet that gives us a chuckle, and we’ll share it with you guys as part of this feature.  Today’s comes from the rather hirsute northwesterner, Matt Bouldin from Gonzaga, who succinctly puts his thoughts on head-shearing into tweet form.  We’ll be interested to see how it came out, Matt.

matt bouldin tweet

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